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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape notice...in a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of November 27, 2017

The unconventional in times of stress and confusion
more reality, please

In these strange times, certainly, one could believe a little satire - comedic relief - would be welcome. After all, comedy helps us untangle the various complexities that haunt daily life. Perhaps enough is enough.

The German edition of the famous French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo closed this week after a year-long run. Too French, the editors admitted. Circulation targets weren’t met, details left to the imagination. Charlie Hedbo launched in Germany December 1st, 2016. Most of the content was translations of the French edition.

“To us Germany seemed like an adventure playground east of the Rhine, with really great new seesaws and swings, which we mostly did not know how to use," wrote editors Gérard Biard and Minka Schneider in their closing message, quoted by Süddeutsche Zeitung (November 30). The “small, loyal readership really appreciated… the strange, sometimes disturbing… humorous culture.” Barely three months after Charlie Hebdo arrived the German Press Council took issue with a cartoon depicting holding a bloody knife in one hand and the head of a political rival in the others, a direct parody of a Spiegel cartoon showing US president Donald Trump beheading the iconic Statue of Liberty. (See more about media in Germany here)

In January 2015 twelve Charlie Hebdo employees were murdered by hate-driven extremists. Publishers across the world responded in solidarity with headlines: Je suis Charlie - I am Charlie. The first edition published after the atrocity sold 8 million copies, a record for a French magazine.

The final cover cartoon of the German Charlie Hebdo, using trademark yellow, featured a caricature magazine bubbling “Harassed for one year” chasing a caricature of Chancellor Angela Merkel saying “That’s enough.”

Also this week the irregularly offered sketch show fronted by TV satirist Jan Böhmermann was cancelled by German public digital channel ZDFneo. Schulz & Böhmermann, co-hosted with comedian Oli Schultz, ran weekly through much of last year, then monthly, now off. “Unfortunately, the unconventional talk show did not reach the hoped audience response,” said a ZDF spokesperson, quoted by media portal DWDL.de (November 29).

Herr Böhmermann reached certain notoriety for causing a diplomatic row with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who filed various claims and lawsuits, by offering a rather profane poem on his Neo Magazin Royale show in 2016. German courts decided that, yes, the poem was in poor taste and should not be repeated but, no, President Erdogan has no standing to sue. ZDF recently renewed Herr Böhmermann’s contract and, reportedly, he lives and works under police protection.

Looking into the inner realm of social media, what a lovely place
"The job can be demanding"

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for executives, PR flacks and ad sellers within the social media world. Their algorithmic genius is being peeled back. Now even the intelligence services are calling them out.

"These are huge digital companies that only see themselves as conveyors of information and hide behind the legal privileges enjoyed by platforms because they do not want to take over editorial verification of their content,” said Germany’s Domestic Intelligence Service (Bundesamts für Verfassungsschutz - BfV) chief Hans-Georg Maassen at a Berlin cybersecurity conference, quoted by Tagesspiegel (November 27). "Democratic pluralism loses its foundations if it is no longer based on facts and reality is reduced to opinions.” Like others across the world mandated to protect their nations, he noted that “politically divisive ads” placed by scurrilous Russian intermediaries appeared in Facebook feeds before and after the 2016 US elections. (See more about fake news here)

"Silicon Valley is undoubtedly good at rerouting our old industrial landscapes, but not always good at estimating the consequences,” he continued, referring to social media as a “fifth estate that claims but does not want to take social responsibility. The internet prophets… preach transparency and total networking in the cloud, but sow simulated freedom of information… and we are reaping real data insecurity.”

Legions of new Facebook employees - actually outsourced to Competence Call Center (CCC) - will glare into their screens in Essen, Germany looking for hate speech, pedophilia and anything else posted with a Russian accent. CCC will employ four psychologists on-site to help the 500 workers deal with the stress. "The job can be demanding,” said COO Ulf Herbrechter, quoted by Bild (November 24). “That's why employees are always looked after.” (See more about social media here)

Lawyers for Facebook and Twitter agreed to provide “some” details of posts emanating from the infamous St. Petersburg troll farm during the Brexit referendum run-up, reported the Guardian (November 28). “I think we have a right to know what was going on,” said UK MP Damien Collins. Social media providers have been reluctant to divulge too much, citing privacy concerns

Differing views of what is and is not promising
very hot right now

While online media faces many challenges, largely financial, in the Russian Federation times are particularly complicated. (See recent article about online media woes here) Russian online media is certainly available, even the occasional independent source, but market penetration compared with social media is quite low.

Online publisher Pronto Media is “soon” to close its websites, reported business daily Vedomosti (November 23), citing “competitive weakness.” In 2015 the publisher ceased printing Hand To Hand, a classified ad free-sheet, in favor of the web. Also to close is employment classified portal jobs.ru. Pronto Media is a subsidiary of Trader Media East, itself a subsidiary of Turkish publisher Dogan Yayin. New investors or a buyer had been sought but “it was not possible to find agreement with any of them.” (See more about media in Russia here)

Global online measurement supplier comScore is withdrawing from the Russian market beginning at the first of the year, reported RBC (November 24). “The decision is connected with the necessity to develop mobile measurement globally in countries that require large investments,” said comScore Russia sales director Sergey Onishenko. “Countries had to be prioritized. Unfortunately, Russia is less promising.” Data catchment will continue in “automated mode,” he said, but results will diminish in time.

When online news portal lenta.ru was given marching (and editorial) orders from Russian authorities three years ago, editor Galina Timchenko was fired. Undaunted she and about half the lenta.ru staffers decamped to Riga, Latvia and launched Meduza.io, an online portal covering all the news from Russia. Its reporting is so highly regarded big name publishers have been ripping its stories. In August news portal BuzzFeed began a cooperation led by world editor and former Guardian Moscow correspondent Miriam Elder. "News from russia is hot right now," she said at the time. (See more about online news here)

Another Russian exile, former Yukos Oil chief executive and Russian jailinmate Mikhail Khodorkovsky is consolidating his Open Russia websites into a single portal, according to the website (November 23). The new website is registered in Estonia and will “promote Russian-language journalism.”

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