Our editors & readers talk
Interesting reader question asking if Reuters has a reporting presence in Myanmar and whether that influenced our 1998 decison to stop calling the country Burma.
Yes, we do have a reporter based in Yangon. His name is Aung Hla Tun and he has worked for us for about 15 years. He reported bravely and openly throughout the recent disturbances, providing the world’s media with detailed coverage of the protests and their suppression. He took the photograph that accompanies this post.
And no, his presence in Mynamar had nothing to do with our name change. We take great care over the safety of our staff. But the naming decision was based on other factors. Many other international news organisations without reporters based in Myanmar have made the switch.
It was pointed out that the BBC still calls the country Burma. The British broadcaster argues that is because its audience is more familiar with that name than with Myanmar. That’s one where we differ from our colleagues at the BBC.
The recent violent crackdown on anti-government protests has thrust Myanmar back into the spotlight and with it the question of what news organisations should call the country.
Reuters has called it Mynamar since 1998, when we switched from using Burma. At the same time we altered our style on Rangoon, the country’s main city, to Yangon. The changes have long been unpopular, particularly with exiled pro-democracy protesters. They argue that accepting the ruling junta’s 1989 decision to change the English version of the country’s name is legitimising the military authorities, who have ruled since a 1962 coup d’etat. The junta refused to accept the victory of The National League for Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, in elections held in 1990 and since then has vigorously quelled political protest. Reuters is supporting “an illegal coup” by calling the country Myanmar, say readers who have emailed us recently.
Here are some of my musings on the current state of journalism delivered in a speech at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford.
I truly believe in the power of community and community sites, like a Facebook or a MySpace, to transform the way we think about the transmission of information; I believe that sites like Newsvine will challenge the way editors select and prioritize news.
We’ve done this to help foster a healthy debate on the issues raised in those stories, as the United States moves toward one of the most significant elections in decades.
Always nice to hear praise from the media industry for our work. Follow The Media reckons Reuters owns the story from Myanmar. It notes that CNN was sourcing some of its coverage to Reuters.com, the only access to Reuters news for the Atlanta-based outfit after it ended its contract with us.
I posted recently that news agencies need to deliver indispensable and unique content to customers if they are to be more than providers of low-value commoditised information. Myanmar is a case in point – Reuters has a reporting presence there while most others do not. Yangon is a very difficult and dangerous place to operate and the Myanmar authorities are refusing visas to journalists. Without access to agencies like Reuters, online readers and other news organisations would be relying on incomplete accounts from bloggers and opposition sources within Myanmar.
Reuters has a proud history of factual, unbiased news coverage. In our news articles we let the facts speak for themselves; opinions are clearly sourced to the experts whom we interview.
But we have our own experts as well. And I want to let them increasingly have their voice on Reuters services.
A lot of media interest recently in CNN terminating its contract with Reuters. It was the end of a 27-year relationship in which Reuters supplied the Atlanta-based outfit with a wealth of text news, pictures and television images. CNN says it wants to grow its own content stream, Reuters says commercial terms could not be agreed.
Some piquancy subsequently when Reuters was first to source and distribute a new video tape by Osama Bin Laden, the first in three years from al Qaeda’s leader-in-hiding. The New York Times reported considerable discomfort for CNN at being unable to access the material. It would be tempting to blow our own trumpet on this were that not an invitation to all and sundry to mock when we aren’t first with a story. One account of how Reuters pipped CNN to the OBL tape suggests it could easily have been CNN’s triumph.
I posted recently that at Reuters we prefer gender neutral terms for people’s occupations. Where possible we use the same term for men and women, e.g. mayor or poet, not mayoress or poetess. But we stay away from less common usages, such as ‘chairperson,’ and avoid absurd non-discriminatory coinages such as ‘peopleslaughter’ (for ‘manslaughter’).
A colleague asked why then in soccer stories do we use linesman instead of FIFA’s preferred ‘referee’s assistant’? I turned to Reuters sports editor Paul Radford for help. A woman in a Reuters soccer story would be the referee or the lineswoman, Paul told me. Women officiating in professional soccer is relatively new and still rare. When we write about it the gender of the official is often the point of the story, he noted.
This week we introduced a new feature on reuters.com — a recommend button on all our articles. The idea is that if you like what you’re reading then you can simply click on the button to register your approval, so letting other readers and the editors here at reuters.com know what’s good on the site.
In addition to being able to see how many other readers have recommended the particular story you’re looking at, we also collect the data to show you the most recommended stories across the site in the past 24 hours. So now you can not only see which stories on reuters.com have been most read, but also those that have been both read and recommended. (And if you’re wondering what the difference might be then look at our our most popular module on our articles to compare the two measures.)
We started our User Generated Content site You Witness about nine months ago and I’m happy to report that it is doing well.
Our weekly slideshows are steadily getting better and, together with the very popular Reuters Photographers blog, our goal of building a community around pictures is slowly but surely becoming a reality.