Monday, March 24, 2008

What is wrong with the Beijing Olympics?

Well, let's start out with the restrictive media service and then move on up to the human rights abuses.

According to the charter of the Olympic movement, "the goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

Ironic then, that the Olympics come to a country where the youth are educated in discrimination, there is no spirit of friendship between China and Tibet and there is no fair play for the media.

Consider what will happen when the media roll into town, and find out that their internet access has been severely restricted by a government wanting to present a sanitized version of itself to the world.

Even the biggest of internet corporations Google has found itself regulated to within an inch of its life for wanting to move into the expanding Chinese market. So is any journalist that covers the Beijing games truly free to send their thoughts home? Or will they be thoroughly 'fact checked' before being allowed to be broadcast?

Certainly the western fear is that the Chinese government will be doing its very best to ensure that only positive articles reach the eyes and ears of a western audience. It seems that the truth will only have one flavour once 8.08.08 rolls around.

Much has been written since Beijing was first awarded the game about this being a chance for China to join the wider international community, but is it truly making efforts to join or to remain a isolationist state?

China's recent conflict with Tibetan protesters in border towns, and it's funding of the Darfur atrocity is a clear indication of the aims of the Chinese government in acquiring these games.

Instead of making an effort of 'restore' ties with Tibet and open negotiations about tentative independence, the Chinese government persists with a clearly unpopular crackdown on the protesters.

So it clear that Beijing does not want to join the international community, but rather show off the country in all of it's self righteous glory to an international audience. It is using the games to reinforce it's own position on human rights, rather than using the games as a starting point for a healing process.

One has to feel sorry for those caught in the middle of this ideological struggle, the athletes.

Instead of being asked questions about their performance and how they think they'll fare at the Olympics, increasingly they're being trust into the political limelight. They struggle to field questions about their stance on human rights abuses, and who could blame them?

Their life is about the pursuit of excellence and competition, so musing on human rights and media rights violations doesn't often enter the minds of the athletes. Those with political leaning you feel, are being gagged by the various sports bodies wanting to avoid controversy.

The standard line "I'm looking forward to competing against the best in the world, and right now am focusing on that" is being offered through clenched teeth by athletes when grilled on human rights.

So does the Olympics serve the ideological agenda of the Chinese government or highlight the human rights abuses evident in the country?

Well, the fact that I'm writing this post has to be a positive thing. Any raising of awareness in regards to a violation of human rights must be a positive thing. But will the asking of all these questions actually solve anything, or just highlight the hypocrisy evident in the policies of western governments toward China? The western governments that eye China with greedy eyes are the ones that could actually put pressure on China, if they wanted to.

I'll leave you with one final question to ponder about this complicated issue.

Can you put a price tag on human rights abuses?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What is wrong with Yahtzee Croshaw?

Well, nothing.

Many of you may have stumbled upon the unique reviewing style of Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw with his Zero Punctuation reviews. Those of you who haven't stumbled upon his humour yet are advised to do so immediately. I'm not going to provide a link, I'm going to let you google the term and come across the link yourself, in addition to the raving fan boys that praise his every word.

Why not? His humour is more often than not pitch perfect, and cuts a swathe trough the games industry at large. The problem is however, the slew of imitators that have cropped up.

Take a look at the Review Forum on the Escapist Forums and you'll probably find one or two people imitating his style...badly. Heck, I've even done it for kicks, but there is something very simple that these people can not seem to understand. That without the use of visual aides, Yahtzee's humour would fall flat.

You see, Yahtzee's style so relies on the visual effect of his illustrations that if you were to transcribe the audio from one of his reviews, the effect would be none too effective. It is because of this new style that Yahtzee has enjoyed great success.

The fan boys would have you believe that Yahtzee is a brand new revelation in the gaming journalism world, but he's been around for more than a year or two. So why haven't we heard of him before this point?

More than likely, his reviews for print media (He wrote for Hyper I think, and now writes for PC Gamer, but don't quote me on that) just haven't struck a chord with the audience the way his Zero Punctuation reviews have.

So what happens when unskilled citizen journalists get wind of his popularity and start writing text reviews in his style? Well, they usually fall flat and get savaged by the unkind world of anonymous feedback.

That's why I personally have steered clear of trying to imitate his style (save for effect), and heavily criticize those who do choose to imitate Yahtzee. Instead of writing balanced, well thought out reviews that may be of some use to the community, the imitators decide to get lazy and copy and paste the formula for their own ends.

What really is confusing about all this business, is repeat offenders.

They commit the same crime again and again, and yet maintain that writing in this style 'expresses their own voice'. Bullshit. They see something popular and jump on the bandwagon.

In closing (I fear I've gone on a bit too long), copying a style that is effective in entirely another medium is folly upon madness. So what's wrong with Yahtzee Croshaw? Nothing. It's his 'fans' we need to watch out for.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What is wrong with Online Journalism?

In short, it's that journalists treat it as print. They're getting better, but there's still a heck of a lot of crimes against the series of tubes going on.

For a start, they write in long paragraphs. Journalists and citizen journalists alike don't seem to be able to grasp the concept that four or five sentences for an online paragraph is too damn long. People don't want to be staring at the same area of screen for too long.

You see, staring at a screen for too long will make your eyes sore, so that's why our natural reaction is to look away. Eye strain is something that a lot of journalists just don't take into account when writing an article.

Think about it. Have you ever read an article or forum post only to close the browser a minute or two later? Have you ever just looked at an article and gone to another page? A quick look at Google analytics will tell you that people spend only a minute and a half on any given blog post.

People are picky about their online writing. If they are going to spend too long reading it, they're just not going to read it. If they are going to read it however, they won't be wanting to spend all their time rereading that particular sentence over and over again.

The difference, in my opinion, between citizen journalists and established journalists is vocabulary. Citizen journalists seem to be hell bent on telling the world 'I have a vocabulary, tell me how smart I am', whereas established journalists take their audience into account.

They want to make their article accessible for as many people as possible. They will avoid jargon (unless writing for a specialist publication) and keep their language as simple. This becomes even more important when writing online, because rereading a sentence online is something that is just not done.

It's okay to admit that you pick up the Sunday paper, and have to reread sentences in certain articles. That's okay, everybody does it. A good journalist will try and make sure that you never have to reread a sentence, but in print it is forgivable.

Online, that's another story. Because people don't like to spend too long reading on-screen text, making the reader reread a line wastes valuable time and leads to eye strain. The same principle goes for structure and grammar.

Ideally, you want an article to flow. You want to be able to jump from one subject to the next with great bridges between paragraphs. Like I did just there, you want to let the reader know what to expect before they get there.

That's what a great article should be, a scenic drive. It should feel like nice Sunday drive into the countryside where the roads are smooth, and the banter between driver and passengers is just so.

Online journalism, at it's ideal, should be about simplicity. Yet, many people seem to think that because they're writing for the World Wide Web that they have to show how clever they are. If you want to show me that you're clever, create witty and insightful comment using simple language.

Just as the best meals are simple feasts using hearty ingredients, so should online journalism be about creating masterpieces out of the bare essentials.