Weekend reading — from the serious to the silly

From lessons we should learn from the coverage of Nicola Bulley’s disappearance, to AI copyright, to that weird, mysterious content on TikTok, it’s all here.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Lessons from coverage of Nicola Bulley's disappearance

Non-UK readers will have been spared this, but our media have been locked into a weeks-long obsession with the disappearance of a middle-aged woman. Her body was recently found exactly where the police expected it to be: in a local river.

Quite why specific people get this level of coverage when they go missing and others are all but ignored still puzzles me. For example, over five years ago, a former Estates Gazette colleague went missing — and has never been found. His disappearance has never troubled the national media, although it did make it into the relevant locals, despite the fact that his wife is a fairly well-known cookery writer.

Nicola Bulley was one of those whose disappearance gripped both the media and the public. After her body was found, the family issued a statement which did not hold back in its criticism of the media for their coverage of Nicola's disappearance.

It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family. This is absolutely appalling, they have to be held accountable; this cannot happen to another family.

There's been some worthwhile looks at what went wrong and why, and they should be a trigger for us to try and learn something from this. Who knows if they will, though…

Members of the public

Charles Arthur takes a look at how the amateur sleuths of TikTok and YouTube got involved, the consequences of their work, and how bloody quickly they moved on…

Murder, she vlogged
Meanwhile, the AI tsunami overwhelms an SF magazine, lawyers fret, and search margins narrow

The press

For InPublishing, Liz Gerard, of the late, lamented SubScribe blog, takes the word “press” very literally in the family's statement, and goes deep on the newspaper coverage.

Liz Gerard’s Notebook
How Fleet Street covered the disappearance and search for Nicola Bulley, contrasting coverage (north and south) of Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, The Times goes after the water companies and front page of the fortnight.

The press part 2 (including broadcasters)

And, in typical abrasive and uncompromising style, Mic Wright takes the whole damn industry to task.

No shame in the circle jerk
The link between appalling coverage of Nicola Bulley’s disappearance and cheers for a Telegraph hack heading to GB News? An industrial absence of embarrassment.

The Instagram photographer who faked the whole thing

What's interesting about this is not that he managed to fool a lot of people with his images, it's how much work it actually took. He didn't just take the AI images raw from the machine — he worked on them.

Viral Instagram photographer has a confession: His photos are AI-generated
Artist wants to “come clean” and highlight a new media process.

Over in the states, Kris Kashtanova, whom I taught during their undergraduate degree at City, has been fighting to defend their copyright on a graphic novel they created using AI. To be clear, they wrote the script, laid out the pages, added the speech and narrative bubbles — and created the prompts used in Midjourney to generate the images.

The US Copyright office has decided that they have copyright in the writing of the book, and in the arrangement of the images on the page, but not on the individual images themselves.

And so what will be a burgeoning field of AI copyright law starts to develop…

AI-created images lose U.S. copyrights in test for new technology
The decision is one of the first by a U.S. court or agency on the scope of copyright protection for works created with AI.

You can read the full ruling here.

An AI sceptic writes

I keep saying that AI is not ready for use in search just yet. Ryan Broderick is prepared to go one step further and say that it never will be any good for that, and he makes an intriguing case:

My hunch is that AI is just not good for search and actually never will be. And to be honest, I’m a little confused as to why we think it would be. It’s like giving a guy that’s high on acid access to the biggest library in the world.

I'm still not completely convinced. The AI of two years' time might be much better at this. Anywhere machine learning gets applied, the quality tends to rise dramatically as it gets used more. So, we'll see.

An infinite dream machine
Read to the end for two real good audio deepfakes

Why the algorithm loves nonsense

If you've been spending any time on TikTok or Reels on Facebook or Instagram, you'll have come across the phenomenon of inexplicably pointless videos. You may even have watched them multiple times, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. And that, in itself, is the point. And, as Freddie deBoer argues, this is the inevitable result of our current media landscape:

I’m talking about videos in which the purpose is to drive “engagement” through a given clip’s lack of sense and meaning and nothing else. They’ve taken the monetization of attention to a certain logical endpoint: their creators understand that there are few things people like less than the feeling of being confused, and that most of us will seek help to understand something we can’t figure out on our own. Seeking that help by sharing or commenting gooses the algorithm.
The Bitter End of “Content”
The video, shot on a cellphone from a first-person view, takes place in a bathroom. Embedded at the bottom are the words “what every teenager hides from their parents.” The person holding the phone takes a golf ball and briefly runs it under water from the sink. They then rub the golf ball against a…


Seriously Long Read

I'm not joking: this is long and intense. But it makes the case that the evidence supports the idea that social media is a significant cause in the declining mental health of teenagers.

As the father of two pre-teen daughters, this is giving me plenty to think about.

Social Media is a Major Cause of the Mental Illness Epidemic in Teen Girls. Here’s The Evidence.
Journalists should stop saying that the evidence is just correlational

What a visual intro

This is a bizarre story, and a slightly disturbing one, but just look at the visual impact of the opening image. I'm mildly obsessed with the “15 second experience” — how does the journalism feel in the first 15 seconds after you click through to a piece? — and this is a fantastic example of how to keep people on page.

China’s Bid to Improve Food Production? Giant Towers of Pigs.
High-rise hog farms have sprung up nationwide as part of Beijing’s drive to enhance its agricultural competitiveness and reduce its dependence on imports.

And finally…

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.