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September 15 2011

09:44

Daily mail student media awards?

Yeah, wouldn’t happen. But should it?

The always interesting Wannabehacks posted yesterday stating that The industry isn’t doing enough to support student journalists. The post really should have been titled The Guardian isn’t doing enough to support student journalists as it takes a pop at the frankly risible prize the Guardian is offering for its Guardian student media award:

[T]he quality of prizes has diminished year on year: “Seven weeks of placement with expenses paid (offered 2003-2006) is a good way to spend the summer. Two weeks of self-funded work experience is an insult to supposedly the best student journalists in Britain.”

It’s a fair point. Just how good you have to be to actually be paid to work at the Guardian?

Maybe we are being unfair to the Guardian though. Why do they need to carry this stuff? I know plenty of students who don’t want to work for the Guardian. So why don’t more papers step up? If it’s about spotting talent then shouldn’t every media org have a media award?

Truth is there is a bit of black hole out there when it comes to awards. Aspiring journos could be forgiven for thinking that there is very little on offer between that letter writing competition the local paper runs for schoolkids and the Guardian awards. There are actually quite a few – the NUS student awards for example. But none with the direct association of the Guardian awards.

But maybe it’s not about the award. The wannabe hacks post (and the letter it references) suggests that there is more a problem of expectation here.

The Guardian is a very attractive proposition to many aspiring journos. In a lot of respects it plays on that strength; it presents itself as a like the paper where things are happening. But there is a danger that things like competitions exploit that aspiration and begin to suggest a slightly dysfunctional relationship - aspiring journos trying their best to please the indifferent and aloof object of their affection.

Show them the money.

This isn’t just a print problem. The truth is the industry has a bit of problem of putting its money where it’s mouth is when it comes to student journos.

As an academic I see more offers of valuable experience than paid opportunities in my inbox. They tend to coincide with large events where industry doesn’t have the manpower to match their plans for coverage. In that sense there is no secret here, the industry is living beyond its means and it’s increasingly relying on low and no paid input to keep newsrooms running. But student journo’s bear the brunt of that. Yes, they get experience, but not much else.

No return on investment

Of course the flip-side to that argument is that many of those who enter the competitions would happily benefit from the association but don’t put back in. I wonder how many people who enter the Guardian student media awards have regularly bought the paper rather than accessing the (free) website?  You could argue the same when talking about work experience. How many students actually buy the product they aspire to work on?

But the reality is that, regardless of how much is put in, if you court an audience, you have to live up to their expectations – unreasonable or otherwise.

This is happening at a time when those same newsrooms are reporting on the commercial realities of education and how students need to demand value from their investment. As someone trying to respond to those expectations, perhaps I can offer some advice.  Perhaps the industry need to reflect on their advice to prospective students the next time they reach out or connect with student journalists.  Just how much are you expecting them to invest in your newsroom and what’s the return?

 

July 11 2011

04:38

NOTW staff: final crossword with a message to Rebekah Brooks, but rage is not an option

The Telegraph :: A source at the News of the World told the DailyMail that Rebekah Brooks had ordered two loyal Sun journalists to comb the papers looking for tricks. They said: "Rebekah tried everything to stop the staff having the last word and she utterly failed." She brought in two very senior Sun journalists to go though every line on every page with a fine tooth comb to ensure there were no libels or any hidden mocking messages of the chief executive. They seemed to have failed. Departing staff at the News of the World appear to have sent a parting message of disgust to former editor Rebekah Brooks in the crossword.

Taking revenge has never been a good strategy, although it's understandable. I hope that there will a process of coming to terms with the phone hacking scandal; a further investigation into who was responsible for what and what lead to such a decline that the most important principles of reporting were neglected.

Continue to read Raf Sanchez, www.telegraph.co.uk

June 30 2011

14:00

The newsonomics of the British invasion

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

With the United Kingdom one of the countries suffering the economic doldrums more than the U.S., maybe it’s no surprise that we’re witnessing a British online invasion. In short order, the Guardian, Mail Online, and the BBC, among others, are targeting American eyeballs and wallets in the urgent search for growth.

With Independence Day (from you know who) upon us, and memories of the Beatles’ assault on America rapidly fading into history, let’s look at the newsonomics of this new invasion. It tells us reams about the precarious states of news companies. As they scrape for revenue in the traditional home markets, and transition from print or broadcast to digital, they’re looking for new digital revenue building blocks.

The arithmetical imperative is crystal clear: The huge audiences that the distance-defying Internet has given UK news companies has not yet, largely, been accompanied by huge, even significant, pots of revenue.

Companies like the Guardian have seen this phenomenon: A third of its traffic comes from the U.S., a third from the UK, and a third from elsewhere. I’ve heard that tale widely, from the pre-wall Times, the Telegraph, and the FT, among others. When we first spotted big numbers for UK publishers among U.S. audiences, a lot of people attributed it to George W. Bush, whose cowboy policies alienated some Americans from American media, the idea went, delivering them into the hands of the more trustworthy Brits. But the big U.S. population — a population five times greater than the UK’s — is, W or no W, is still embracing non-national news sites. Maybe the math is fairly simple: We’ve got about a third of the English-reading people in the world, so serving up a third of the audience makes some sense.

While America provides the audience, it doesn’t provide much revenue for most UK news companies. The Guardian derives all but a couple of points of digital revenue from its home market — leaving two-thirds of its audience, in the U.S. and elsewhere, effectively un-monetized. That’s largely true of the other UK-based general news dailies, with the Financial Times much more effective at driving print and digital revenue in the U.S., and the Wall Street Journal, conversely, having figured out how to drive non-U.S. revenue as well. Both, in addition to The New York Times’ long-established sales operations in Europe, are the exceptions that prove the rule about foreign market digital monetization.

As the Guardian, BBC, and Daily Mail plan new offense, each reacts to its woes back home.

The Guardian is in danger of running out of cash within three to five years, at its current trajectory, Guardian CEO Andrew Miller said plainly in mid-June. So he’s leading a top-to-bottom reappraisal of the outfit’s 190-year-old enterprise. On the examination table: a restructuring of the entire company, reducing the number of pages in the six-day-a-week print paper; rethinking (under digital innovator and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger‘s leadership) what readers expect in print and what online; upping its re-commitment to its open platform strategy led by Matt McAlister; doubling its digital revenue (which currently stands at 17 percent of its total revenue); and getting more money out of the U.S. market.

The Guardian’s U.S. plan includes the deployment of a revitalized editorial staff under Guardian vet Janine Gibson, and a re-strategizing of ad sales in the States. The Guardian’s new plan follows on a failed one, the Guardian America plan, tried and abandoned over several years. The new idea: Don’t put an American face on the trusty Guardian; keep the British face, but offer more British perspective on and from the U.S. The thinking: The Guardian’s very Britishness is why American readers come to its site.

For the Daily Mail, it’s about finding growth in a national news business (Associated Newspapers) that struggled toward revenue break — even last year, even as its parent, the diversified, global DMGT (events, B2B publishing, and institutional investment products), produced £320M in profits.

Mail Online, of course, is the new darling of those who religiously follow Big Numbers. It has surpassed HuffPo to claim the #2 unique visitor trophy globally, behind the New York Times, and a few days ago claimed 77 million global uniques, about a third of those from the U.S. The outlet’s rocket fuel is a heady mix of tabloid gossip fodder, great SEO, aggressive mobile productization, and, now, expanded commercial and editorial staffs in New York and L.A.

The BBC, funded by household TV licenses back home, has seen significant public funding cutbacks and staff reductions, buffeted both by UK politics and by the deep recession. While in the UK, the BBC can’t sell advertising, it can do so outside its home territory. Consequently, it has placed a first big target on the U.S., where it now claims about 18 million uniques.

The BBC’s American build-up is well underway. Herb Scannell, ex of Viacom, and Ann Sarnoff, ex of Dow Jones, joined to head up BBC Worldwide America as president and COO, respectively, last year. Seven weeks ago, Nick Ascheim, ex of the AP and The New York Times, became senior vice president for digital media. Back in 2008, ad veteran Mark Gall began building out the BBC Worldwide America ad sales team, focusing on multi-platform (BBC America TV  + BBC.com) revenue.

Ascheim identifies two major initiatives, as BBC.com — the BBC’s first separate-from-the-mothership website — tries to leverage and build on its found audience. One is video — a core strength of broadcaster BBC, which dominates much of online news video in Britain with its iPlayer — and the other is feature verticals, building beyond the Travel section that BBC built out, with its Lonely Planet acquisition, last year.

Let’s take a quick look at what it will take for the new invasion to be successful, doing a little handicapping of these three entrants:

  • Ad revenue: All the newbies face hyper-competition in the world’s most competitive digital marketing marketplace, one built both on the seemingly paradoxical tricks of leveraging long-term buyer/seller relationships and satisfying the dreaded “23-year-old” media buyer, one who may never have heard much about these foreign brands. Here, give a big lead to the BBC. It’s got a couple of years’ head-start on U.S. sales, and the brand that is most recognizable — and it can sell multi-platform, TV, and digital. Mail Online has a tough effort here, with comparatively little brand recognition and the suspicion that its pageviews are less-than-premium, more TMZ than NYT. The Guardian has a good story, but a history of failed ad attempts, including a Reuters network deal that fizzled. For all three of them, breaking through the noise — and providing more actionable audience analytics — is key.

    Beyond the sales infrastructure, these companies have different experiences monetizing their UK traffic, and that informs what may happen in the U.S. Compare the digital ad revenue per unique visitor for the Guardian and the Mail Online, and we see a differential of four-to-one, in the Guardian’s favor. (The BBC doesn’t break out digital ad revenue well enough for comparison.)

    The Guardian took in £37.5 million in digital revenue in 2010. Using the December ABCe number of 39 million uniques, each unique is worth about £.96, or $1.53 at today’s exchange rates.

    For the Mail, I extrapolate about £16 million in digital revenue for last year. Using the March (aligning with its reporting period) ABCe unique number of 66 million, I figure each unique visitor is worth about £.24, or 38 American cents, to the Mail.

    That’s a 4x greater yield for the Guardian than Mail Online, relating to some combination of brand, sales packaging, and engagement beyond simple unique visitor metrics. How much would/could that differential carry across the sea?

  • Brand: It’s clear that both the BBC and the Guardian have real brand meaning among certain news followers, but it ‘s not clear how growable the brands are. Are they second or third reads, or can they break through top-of-mind? Yes, they may both believe that Americans want a Brit take on things, but just how much of one do they want? Mail? Online? Wasn’t that the one with Meg Ryan? Does having a dot.com domain make a big difference? BBC and Mail have them; the Guardian doesn’t.
  • Digital circulation: That’s a big N/A — not applicable. The Guardian has been one of the most outspoken proponents of “open,” and while that doesn’t equate with free, it’s a close cousin. As the outlet moves away from print, it faces a huge question of where it is going to get “circulation” money. In the short-term, in the U.S., look for Guardian to try app or niche vertical reader revenue streams. The BBC’s news play is high-end mass and free, while Mail Online plies the pop free market.
  • Video: Hands down, the BBC has the edge here. Ascheim talks about adding new original U.S.-produced video to the riches of what BBC produces daily. In a coming 4G world, video may be BBC.com’s major point of differentiation in the States.
  • Mobile: Consider this the wild card. As mobile, especially the tablet, reshapes what we think is true about news reading “The newsonomics of the missing link“), it re-levels the field. So newer entrants, like all three of these invaders, can establish new habits for readers. Mail Online is already attributing 15 percent of its UK uniques to its new iPhone app. Guardian’s Eyewitness iPad app has seen a half million downloads and good sponsorship money from Canon. BBC has seen more than two million downloads of its BBC.com iPad app. As new habits form for iPad news reading, listening, and watching, these new contenders all have new shots at the American audience.

It could well be we’re reaching the end of the line for a much-cited quote often attributed to Churchill: ”England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” Well, he or G.B. Shaw may have said it, but marketers believe the differences are becoming more minor. It’s not just news people who grok the revolutionary economics in re-using and redistributing the same content you’ve already paid for; both Netflix and Hulu are moving to license more Brit TV for the same reason. In strong part, the new Brit invasion is just a re-stating of the produce-once, distribute-many core digital principle. In this case, though, it’s produce-once, (profitably) distribute overseas as well.

Image by Andy Helsby used under a Creative Commons license.

March 14 2011

18:54

When is an online comment defamatory?

Rob Minto looks at two recent cases that leave the field of libel online as confusing as ever.

For several years, newspapers, bloggers and other online publishers have been waiting for a landmark case to clarify defamation online.

The unanswered questions have been along the lines of: who’s responsible – the author or publisher (or even ISP)? What jurisdiction will it fall in? What kind of audience is required (if at all?)

In the UK, in quick succession, there have been two cases which have, if anything, muddied the waters.

Most recently there was the case of libel between Caerphilly town councillors Eddie Talbot and Colin Elsbury. Mr Elsbury claimed on Twitter that Mr Talbot had been removed by police from a polling station. Mr Talbot has successfully sued him for libel, and Mr Elsbury had agreed to pay Mr Talbot £3,000 in compensation, to publish an apology on his Twitter site, and pay legal costs.

At time of writing, Mr Elsbury has 30 followers on Twitter, a group that could easily fit into a pub (relevance will be clear later).

Some clarity, you might think – but earlier this month, Jane Clift lost her case against the Daily Mail, in which she was trying to get the identities of two commenters on a Daily Mail article to sue them for defamation.

This from Out-Law:

Mrs Justice Sharp said that Clift’s case was not strong enough to merit the identification, and that she should not have taken the comments as seriously as she did.

“It was fanciful to suggest that a sensible and reasonable reader would understand those comments as being anything more than ‘pub talk’,” she said in her ruling.

This raises a lot more questions than it answers. In no particular order:

  • The Daily Mail has an audience of millions. That’s far bigger than a pub. How is it not defamatory to post something libellous on a website? If the comments were not defamatory, then give her the names, let her try and sue, and she can lose that case in a court of law.
  • If the comments were not defamatory, then why has the Mail removed them?
  • Was Ms Clift penalised for looking like too much of a complainer? Originally, Slough council put her on some watch-list for complaining about a drunk, she then sued them (and won), and then has taken a legal case against the Mail. On paper, that looks like a lot of complaining. But then, what was she supposed to do? She’s in a Kafka-esque chain where one (legitimate) complaint has led to another, and to her life being up-ended. She’s using the courts, which is what they are there for. Except for libel, where she’s been restricted.

So, to sum up: if you post something libellous on Twitter about a local rival politician, and have only 30 followers, you can get sued. If you say something potentially libellous, using a pseudonym, on a UK newspaper site, with page views in the millions, you’re fine – that’s just “pub talk”.

I’m quite confused.

[Disclaimer: I work as the Interactive editor at the Financial Times. On FT.com we have users comments on our blogs and other sections of the site, and operate a post-moderation policy.]

February 08 2011

11:43

How private is a tweet?

The PCC has made its first rulings on a complaint over newspapers republishing a person’s tweets. The background to this is the publication in The Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday of tweets by civil servant Sarah Baskerville. Adrian Short sums up the stories pretty nicely: “We could be forgiven for thinking you’re trying to make the news rather than report it.”

The complaint came under the headings of privacy and accuracy. In a nutshell, the PCC have not upheld the complaints and, in the process, decided that a public Twitter account is not private. That seems fair enough. However, it is noted that “her Twitter account and her blog [which the Independent quoted from, along with her Flickr account] both included clear disclaimers that the views expressed were personal opinions and were not representative of her employer.”

The wider issue is of course about privacy as a whole, and about the relationship between our professional and private lives. The stories – as Adrian Short outlines so well – are strangely self-contained. ‘It is terrible that this civil servant has opinions and drinks occasionally, because someone like me might say that is it terrible…’

Next they’ll be saying that journalists have opinions and drink too…

February 01 2011

14:35

Sources fight back: fabrication, complaints, and the Daily Mail

Juliet Shaw writes in a guest post on No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands about her experience of fighting The Daily Mail through the courts after they published an apparently fabricated article (her dissection of the article and its fictions is both painstaking and painful).

There is no happy ending, but there are almost 100 comments. And once again you are struck by the power of sources to tell their side of the story. For Juliet Shaw you could just as well read Melanie Schregardus, or the Dunblane Facebook Group.

Among the comments is Mail reader Elaine, who says

“I have always taken their stance and opinions with a large doze of salt. It will be even larger now. Thank goodness for the internet – as a balance to the Mail I can access the Guardian and the Independent to see their take on a particular world/UK event.”

But also in the comments are others who say they have suffered from being the subject of fabricated articles in the Mail – first Catherine Hughes:

“The article was so damaging to my freelance career that editors I was working with now no longer answer my emails. ‘Heartbroken, devastated and gutted’ doesn’t even come close to how I feel. It happened in September and I am still distraught.”

Then Pomona:

“[I have] been a victim of the Daily Fail’s “journalism” on two occasions: once when my first marriage broke up and they printed a lurid and utterly innaccurate story about me (I’m no celeb, just Jo Public), and more recently when one of their journalists lifted and printed a Facebook reply to their request for information (leaving out the bit where I told them I did not permit them to use or reprint any part of my post)”

And Anonymous:

“The Daily Mail said they were looking for a real life example of a similar case of teachers exploiting trust to complement a news story. They promised to protect my anonymity, use only a very small picture and as one of a number of case studies. A week later a double page spread – taken up mostly with a picture of me – bore the headline ‘Dear Sir, I think I Love you’. The quotes bore no resemblance to what I said and made it sound like I liked the teacher?! Instead of what really happened – a drunken shuffle in the back of a car and a feeling of abuse of trust and sadness the next day.”

Jon Morgan:

“When the article was published, my role as welfare officer was never mentioned, the average overdraft had become *my* overdraft, and I was apparently on the verge of jacking in my studies in despair.”

Anonymous:

“I applied as a case study, the photoshoot, the invasive questions. Took months to get my expenses after dozens of ignored emails. Thankfully the article never went to print. At the time I was annoyed but now I am thankful. I also work in PR and would feel extremely uncomfortable offering anyone as a case study for a client. No matter how large the exposure.”

Dirtypj:

“I complained to the editor. He insisted that all journalists identify themselves as such every time. And that his employee had done no wrong. In short, he was calling ME a liar. And as all interviews are recorded he could prove it. I said, Okay, listen to the recording then! He replied, No, I don’t need to. I stand by my writers.”

Other comments mention similar experiences, some with other newspapers. It’s a small point, driven home over and over again: power has shifted.

December 13 2010

15:41

Plagiarists should at least be *competent* plagiarists – Media Ooops 002

Plagiarism is an interesting game.

You can either rewrite the piece, find a bit more information, leave other bits out, and – if you’re the Daily Mail – reduce the reading age by a year or three.

Or you can acknowledge that the story came from somewhere else, and give a hat-tip for a nugget, or a small fee for an article.

Or you can try and ride both horses and end up sitting on your backside in the middle.

So, we have Exhibit A, from Dizzy Thinks:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has a dedicated civil servant working on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012? Not particular shocking really, but there is an oddity.

According to an FoI release, one of the roles of this civil servant is the development of equalities impact assessment for the Queen’s celebratory bash. Why does a celebration for one person need an equalities impact assessment?

Mind you, as an eagle-eyed reader put to to me. Perhaps it’s because she’s (a) a woman, (b) a pensioner, (c) dependent on state benefits, and (d) married to an immigrant?

and Exhibit B, from the Daily Mail:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has a dedicated civil servant working on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. One of the roles of the civil servant is the development of an ‘equalities impact assessment’. Why does a ­celebration for one person need an equalities impact assessment? Is it because she’s a woman, a pensioner, relies on the state for handouts — and is married to a foreigner?

It’s clearly derivative, and it’s a complete item in a Diary column, for heaven’s sake. A tip would cost about twenty pounds or a gift voucher, and an acknowledgement would cost nothing.

There appears to be an opening in the market for “how to plagiarise stories without making it patently obvious” at the Mail.

November 30 2010

15:00

CCTV spending by councils/how many police officers would that pay? – statistics in context

News organisations across the country will today be running stories based on a report by Big Brother Watch into the amount spent on CCTV surveillance by local authorities (PDF). The treatment of this report is a lesson in how journalists approach figures, and why context is more important than raw figures.

BBC Radio WM, for example, led this morning on the fact that Birmingham topped the table of spending on CCTV. But Birmingham is the biggest local authority in the UK by some distance, so this fact alone is not particularly newsworthy – unless, of course, you omit this fact or allow anyone from the council to point it out (ahem).

Much more interesting was the fact that the second biggest spender was Sandwell – also in the Radio WM region. Sandwell spent half as much as Birmingham – but its population is only a third the size of its neighbour. Put another way, Sandwell spent 80% more per head of population than Birmingham on CCTV (£18 compared to Birmingham’s £10 per head).

Being on a deadline wasn’t an issue here: that information took me only a few minutes to find and work out.

The Press Association’s release on the story focused on the Birmingham angle too – taking the Big Brother Watch statements and fleshing them out with old quotes from those involved in the last big Birmingham surveillance story – the Project Champion scheme – before ending with a top ten list of CCTV spenders.

The Daily Mail, which followed a similar line, at least managed to mention that some smaller authorities (Woking and Breckland) had spent rather a lot of money considering their small populations.

How many police officers would that pay for?

A few outlets also repeated the assertions on how many nurses or police officers the money spent on surveillance would have paid for.

The Daily Mail quoted the report as saying that “The price of providing street CCTV since 2007 would have paid for more than 13,500 police constables on starting salaries of just over £23,000″. The Birmingham Mail, among others, noted that it would have paid the salaries of more than 15,000 nurses.

And here we hit a second problem.

The £314m spent on CCTV since 2007 would indeed pay for 13,500 police officers on £23,000 – but only for one year. On an ongoing basis, it would have paid the wages of 4,500 police officers (it should also be pointed out that the £314m figure only covered 336 local authorities – the CCTV spend of those who failed to respond would increase this number).

Secondly, wages are not the only cost of employment, just as installation is not the only cost of CCTV. The FOI request submitted by Big Brother Watch is a good example of this: not only do they ask for installation costs, but operation and maintenance costs, and staffing costs – including pension liabilities and benefits.

There’s a great ‘Employee True Cost Calculator‘ on the IT Centa website which illustrates this neatly: you have to factor in national insurance, pension contributions, overheads and other costs to get a truer picture.

Don’t blame Big Brother Watch

Big Brother Watch’s report is a much more illuminating, and statistically aware, read than the media coverage. Indeed, there’s a lot more information about Sandwell Council’s history in this area which would have made for a better lead story on Radio WM, juiced up the Birmingham Mail report, or just made for a decent story in the Express and Star (which instead simply ran the PA release).

There’s also more about spending per head, comparisons between councils of different sizes, and between spending on other things*, and spending on maintenance, staffing (where Sandwell comes top) and new cameras – but it seems most reporters didn’t look beyond the first page, and the first name on the leaderboard.

It’s frustrating to see news organisations pass over important stories such as that in Sandwell for the sake of filling column inches and broadcast time with the easiest possible story to write. The result is a homogenous and superficial product: a perfect example of commodified news.

I bet the people at Big Brother Watch are banging their heads on their desks to see their digging reported with so little depth. And I think they could learn something from Wikileaks on why that might be: they gave it to all the media at the same time.

Wikileaks learned a year ago that this free-to-all approach reduced the value of the story, and consequently the depth with which it was reported. But by partnering with one news organisation in each country Wikileaks not only had stories treated more seriously, but other news organisations chasing new angles jealously.

*While we’re at it, the report also points out that the UK spends more on CCTV per head than 38 countries do on defence, and 5 times more in total than Uganda spends on health. “UK spends more on CCTV than Bangladesh does on defence” has a nice ring to me. That said, those defence spending figures turn out to be from 2004 and earlier, and so are not exactly ideal (Wolfram Alpha is a good place to get quick stats like this – and suggests a much higher per capita spend)

August 24 2010

12:56

July 16 2010

11:57

July 08 2010

20:14

News Organizations Must Innovate or Die

People in news don't generally think of innovation as their job. It's that old CP Snow thing of the two cultures, where innovation sits on the science not the arts side. I had my own experience of this at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington a couple of months ago.

After one of the sessions I spotted an editor whose newspaper had adopted hNews (the Knight-funded news metadata standard we developed with the AP). "How's it going?" I asked him. "Is it helping your online search? Are you using it to mark up your archive?"

Before I had even finished the editor was jotting something down on his notepad. "Here," he said, "Call this guy. He's our technical director -- he'll be able to help you out."

Technology and innovation still remain, for most editors, something the techies do.

So it's not that surprising that over much of the last decade, innovation in news has been happening outside the news industry. In news aggregation, the work of filtering and providing context has been done by Google News, YouTube, Digg, Reddit, NowPublic, Demotix and Wikipedia...I could go on. In community engagement, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter led the way. In news-related services (the ones that tend to earn money) it has been Craigslist, Google AdWords and now mobile services like Foursquare.

Rather than trying to innovate themselves, many news organisations have chosen instead to gripe from the sidelines. Rupert Murdoch called Google a "thief" and a "parasite." The U.K.'s Daily Mail has published stories about how using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer,, referred to someone as a "Facebook killer" (as in murderer), and runs scare stories about Facebook and child safety. And let's not even start to take apart various news commentators' dismissive attitude towards Twitter.

When they have seen the value of innovation, news organizations have tended to try and buy it in rather than do it themselves, with decidedly mixed results. Murdoch's purchase of MySpace initially looked very smart, but now, as John Naughton wrote over the weekend, it "is beginning to look like a liability." The AOL /Time Warner mashup never worked. Associated Newspapers in the U.K. have done slightly better by making smaller investments in classified sites.

Most news organisations do not see innovation as a critical element of what they do. This is not that unexpected since they spend their day jobs gathering and publishing news. Unfortunately for them, if it doesn't become more central to their DNA they are liable to become extinct.

Speed and Unpredictability of Innovation

At last week's Guardian Activate Summit, Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, was asked what kept him awake at nights. "Almost all deaths in the IT industry are self-inflicted," Schmidt said. "Large-scale companies make mistakes because they don't continue to innovate."

Schmidt does not need to look far to see how quickly startups can rise and fall. Bebo was started in 2005, was bought by AOL in 2008 for $850 million, and then was sold again this month to Criterion Capital for a fee reported to be under $10 million.

The problem for Schmidt -- and one that is even more acute for news organizations -- is the increasing speed and unpredictability of innovation. "I'm surprised at how random the future has become," Clay Shirky said at the same Activate summit, meaning that the breadth of participation in the digital economy is now so wide that innovation can come from almost anyone, anywhere.

As an example he cited Ushahidi, a service built by two young guys in Kenya to map violence following the election in early 2008 that has now become a platform that "allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline." It has been used in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Pakistan, Gaza, Haiti and in the U.S.

He might also have cited Mendeley, a company which aims to organize the world's academic research papers online. Though only 16 months old, the service already has over 29 million documents in its library, and is used by over 10,000 institutions and over 400,000 people. It won a prize at Activate for the startup "most likely to change the world for the better."

The tools to innovate are much more widely available than they were. Meaning a good idea could be conceived in Nairobi, Bangalore or Vilnius, and also developed and launched there too, and then spread across the world. "The future is harder to predict," Shirky said, "but easier to see."

That's why Google gives one day a week to its employees to work on an innovation of their choice (Google News famously emerged from one employee's hobby project). It is why foundations like Knight have recognized the value of competition to innovation. And it's why Facebook will only enjoy a spell at the peak.

Some Exceptions

There are exceptions in the news industry. The New York Times now has an R&D department, has taken the leap towards linked data, and published its whole archive in reusable RDF. The Guardian innovated with Comment is Free, its Open platform, and the Guardian Data Store. The BBC developed the iPlayer.

The Daily Telegraph had a go, setting up "Euston Partners" under then editor Will Lewis. (Although setting up an innovation center three miles away from the main office did not suggest it was seen as central to the future of the business.) The project was brought back in-house shortly after Lewis left the Telegraph in May 2010 and has been renamed the "Digital Futures Division."

But mostly people in news don't really do innovation. They're too focused on generating content. But as the Knight Foundation has recognized, doing news in the same old way not only doesn't pay -- it doesn't even solve the democratic problems many of those in news are so rightly concerned about. For some people FixMyStreet.com or its U.S. equivalent SeeClickFix is now more likely to give them a direct relationship with their council than the local newspaper.

News and media organizations have to realize that they are in the communications business, and being in that business means helping people to communicate. Giving them news to talk about is a big part of this, but it's not the only part. The sooner they realize this and start to innovate, the better chance they have of surviving the next couple of decades.

June 28 2010

08:29

The Media Blog: Mail falls for fake Steve Jobs tweet

Daily Mail managers might need to invest in some social media lessons for their journalists. If  you haven’t already noted the paper’s impressive Twitter fail, in its research for a misguided article about the iPhone 4, read this.

Mashable also has an account; read it here.

The Daily Mail reported this morning than an iPhone 4 recall is underway, but don’t believe it; the UK publication’s source was a tweet from a fake Steve Jobs Twitter account. Apple hasn’t announced any plans to recall its new phone.

The original story (headline captured by Journalisted here) seems to have disappeared from the Mail’s site.Similar Posts:



April 20 2010

16:35

Daily Mail explains why it plans to stay free online

It’s not often that I have myself in agreement with The Daily Mail. But it made a good case for staying free on the web in its presentation to shareholders at an investor day on Monday 19 April.

The slides of the day provide an outline of the publisher’s strategy. Among the key points on charging for its services:

  • “Readers will not pay to consume general news on the web.”
  • “All news has traditionally been free – except print.”
  • “People pay for the convenience of print in recognition of the special cost of production and delivery of a tangible product and because they purchase it whole.”
  • “Which is why they will also pay for news on mobile devices.”
  • “We will also experiment with niche paid-for web content.
Daily Mail's dubious claim about NHS dentistry
Image by engineroomblog via Flickr

The Mail acknowledges that the reason people pay for a newspaper is not because they are comfortable with paying for the news.

Rather, the newspaper provides a convenient package which offers a wide range of items of interest to many.

This includes such non-news products such as horoscopes, crosswords and Sudoku.

The problem for print isn’t getting people to pay for the news online, but rather the unbundling online of news package known as the newspaper.

The Daily Mail’s strategy is looking at ways of providing service through new products and devices.

What it is selling isn’t the news, but rather convenience.

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February 01 2010

11:11

What does John Terry’s case mean for superinjuntions?

The superinjunction obtained by England Captain John Terry was overturned on Friday – and the case raises some interesting issues (cross posted from John Terry: another nail in the superinjunction coffin):

  • Ecen when the superinjunction was in force, you could find out about the story on Twitter and Google – both even promoted the fact of Terry’s affair – via the Twitter trends list and the real-time Google search box.
  • No one got the difference between an injunction and a superinjunction - the former banned reporting of Terry’s alleged affair, the latter banned revealing there was an injunction. They weren’t necessarily both overturned, but there was a widespread assumption you could say what you liked about Terry once the superinjunction was overturned. This wasn’t necessarily the case …
  • The Mail and Telegraph seemed to flout the superinjunction – as did the Press Gazette which decided if wasn’t bound as it hadn’t seen a copy. This seemed risky behaviour legally – which makes me wonder if the papers were looking for a weak case to try to discredit superinjunctions.
  • This superinjunction should never have been granted. What was the original judge thinking?

Google and Twitter ignored the superinjunction

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

The superinjunction was overturned at about 1pm or 2pm on Friday. Needless to say, the papers had a field day over the weekend.

But if you wanted to find out the story on Friday, it was relatively simple to do so. I typed John Terry’s name into Google on Friday at about 11.15am – long before the injunction was lifted – and saw the screenshot, above.

Google’s real-time  search box revealed tweets about John Terry and Wayne Bridge (and there were some giving full details of the affair – including the stuff that didn’t come out until Sunday). Later on Friday, Google pulled the real-time search box – whether this was algorithmic or for legal reasons, I don’t know. But if, spurred on by the clues Google was offering, you typed both Terry and Bridge into Google or Twitter search, and it was simple to find the full story.

And by Friday lunchtime, both John Terry and Wayne Bridge were trending topics on Twitter, raising the profile of the issue. If you clicked on either to see what was being tweeted, you’d have found out about the affair instantly.

Shortly after, a judge ruled there were no grounds for the injunction, super or otherwise.

Guardian links to Twitter search for John Terry

As an aside, I noticed that the Guardian, in its coverage of the superinjunction, even included a link in one of its pieces to a Twitter search on John Terry.

They’ve removed it now (well, I can’t find it anyway and probably for the best. You should either have the balls to run the full story or not. I don’t think publishing a link to a twitter search is a reasonable half way house.)

Confusion still reigned

Once news that the super injunction had been lifted, no one knew (or perhaps cared) where they legally stood on Friday afternoon (as I’ve pointed out before about blogs and reporting restrictions).

It was reported that the superinjunction was lifted – but not whether there was a separate injunction relating to the facts of the case (ie could you report that JT had obtained an injunction, but not say why?).

Despite this, everyone went ahead and shouted about it all over the internet. If there was a separate injunction, it was finished.

You can see the confusion in the comments on this Guardian story from Friday afternoon

Seastorm: I’ve no interest in gossiping about EBJT, but I am a little confused….is the paper concerned now allowed to go ahead and publish the allegations?

Busfield (replying to seastorm): The judgement means that we can now report that there was an injunction. The judge then says that the newspaper concerned will have to make its own assessment of the risks involved in publishing whatever the allegations may be, which will involve considerations of the laws relating to privacy and defamation.

Gooner UK (replying to seastorm): Nope, the removal of the superinjunction means that newspapers are allowed to publish the fact that an injunction is in place, and name the parties involved, but they are still not allowed to publish the subject matter itself.

The injunction still stands, it’s just that we now know an injunction is in place. A superinjunction is so damaging because it means we (the public) are deliberately kept in the dark as to the very existence of an injunction.

And bear in mind that an injunction is in theory an act of last resort anyway. A superinjunction adds another level to that, which can be very dangerous in terms of press freedom.

Busfield (replying to Gooner UK): my understanding, and I am not a lawyer but I have spent much of the day talking to one, is that both the super and the injunction have gone. It is up to the paper concerned to decide whether it can publish its story without breaking the laws of defamation and relating to privacy.

The background: two papers ignore the injunction

It’s also interesting that two newspapers decide to ignore, or sail very close to the wind with regards to, the superinjunction – ie they ran stories that appeared to be in breach of it.

Mail reports injunction’s existence

As the Press Gazette reported on Friday morning (ie before the superinjunction was lifted):

A new “super-injunction” has been used by a Premier League footballer to stop national newspapers reporting his alleged marital infidelity.

The Daily Mail identifies the man only as a married England international.

The Daily Mail today reports, in apparent defiance of the order: “So draconian is Mr Justice Tugendhat’s order that even its existence is supposed to be a secret.”

(It’s interesting that the Press Gazette felt able to run the story about the existence of the superinjnction stating “Press Gazette has not been served with the injunction.” – I would have thought that this was also sailing close to the wind. It knew there was a super injunction, and I’m surprised its lawyers didn’t make an attempt to find out the full details.)

The Mail’s piece had a couple of nods and winks to Terry’s role:

A married England international footballer was granted a sweeping injunction to prevent publication of his affair with the girlfriend of a team-mate … It could be anyone from the captain of the top team in the land …”

What, like the captain of England and Chelsea, you mean?

As does the Telegraph

On top of this, the Telegraph had run a piece, too, according to the Guardian:

Yesterday [Thursday] The Daily Telegraph technically breached the “super” part of the superinjunction by reporting that the courts were hiding the identity of a footballer and allegations about his private life. (This piece appeared in print but is no longer online).

Maybe since the Trafigura injunction, newspapers have been looking for a way to kill off superinjunctions. If they wanted a weak super injunction to pick on as a way to discredit them, this seemed a prime example.

Whatever their reasons, nothing seems likely to happen to the Mail and the Telegraph for breaching or nearly breaching this one – unlike in the Trafigura case, it seems unlikely John Terry is going to successfully sue anyone over this issue.

Conclusion

The Mail sums it up well:

In a scathing ruling, the judge made it clear he suspected Terry was more afraid of losing the commercial deals than anything else.

He said the footballer appeared to have brought his High Court action in a desperate move to protect his earnings – rather than the woman with whom he had been conducting his affair.

(And given this, it’s hard to see how the superinjunction was ever granted.)

There are legitimate reasons for injunctions and even superinjunctions.

But judges need to think very carefully before granting them. And the British courts and the right to privacy should not be used to protect the commercial interests of the “father of the year”.

December 09 2009

09:10

MediaGuardian: DMGT records second highest ever profit

Interesting to note amidst a backdrop of job cuts and industry crisis talks that the newspaper industry is still a business – and sometimes still a big money one.

In its annual report released yesterday, publishing group Daily Mail & General Trust announced an operating profit for 2009 of £278 million.

The group’s businesses now make up 73 per cent (£203 million) of this operating profit, with newspaper publishing only accounting for 27 per cent (£75 million). Compare this to 1996 when DMGT’s newspapers made up 86 per cent of this figure.

“My father made a decision some 15 years ago to diversify the group away from the UK newspaper market into other media less dependent on newspapers, advertising and the UK. Given what has happened in the last year, that decision has proved to have been inspired. From next to nothing then, our B2B businesses have this year contributed nearly three quarters of the group’s profit, with over 60 per cent of our profits coming from outside the UK. While some of the diversification has been more successful than others, in total it has been a well executed expansion, largely into the United States, graveyard of so many UK company expansion plans,” said group chairman Viscount Rothermere in a statement.

Full story at this link…

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November 11 2009

14:13

Sun misjudges readers’ mood over Gordon Brown letter

The Sun is running a despicable campaign against Gordon Brown. But I’ve analysed the comments on its website – and readers disagree with its stance by a ratio of more than 3 to 2 (on top of which, there are now accusations that the Sun is censoring pro-Brown comments).

The paper has exploited the grief of Jacqui Janes over her son Jamie’s death in Afghanistan to attack the PM – because his handwritten letter of condolence was supposedly disrespectful due to sloppy writing and (disputed) spelling errors.

It’s loathsome journalism that ignores the effect of his disability (the PM is blind in one eye).

And it seems Sun readers are mostly on the Prime Minister’s side.

Of the 100+ comments on the story (don’t worry, I’ve nofollowed those links) when I checked, 111 expressed a view for or against Jacqui Janes or Gordon Brown (the rest commented on other issues or corrected people’s spelling errors). Of these:

  • 42 were anti Gordon or pro the Sun’s stance.
  • 69 were pro Gordon or anti the Sun’s stance.

So that’s more than 60% who don’t agree with the Sun, and less than 40% who do.

Sample comments from those who agree with the Sun’s stanceanti-gordon-brown

Some comments from those opposing itpro-gordon-brown

Conclusion

The Sun is channeling this woman’s grief into a personal attack on the Prime Minister.

It’s refusing to make allowances for his disability (maybe we could next attack the war wounded for being workshy benefit scroungers?).

And it’s facilitating her breaking data protection laws by releasing a recording of a private phone call.

The whole thing is sickening – let’s hope that observing its readers’ reactions will lead to an end to this (not that this happened in the Jan Moir case) – and preferably prosecution of the Sun over the data protection offence. What’s more, Daily Mail readers are pro Brown, too. The Sun has got this badly wrong.

November 06 2009

12:14

PCC rules Daily Mail not in breach of code over Iain Dale diary piece

The Press Complaints Commission has ruled that the Daily Mail was not in breach of clause 12 (discrimination) with a diary piece that described blogger and aspiring Conservative candidate Iain Dale ‘overtly gay’.  Commenting on Dale’s bid for the parliamentary constituency of Bracknell, the piece commented it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause’.  Dale lodged a complaint, claiming that the references were pejorative and the article homophobic, the PCC noted.

Today the PCC reported:

“The Commission could understand why the complainant found the comments to be snide and objectionable.  However, it did not rule that there had been a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code.  It noted that the item had used no pejorative term for the complainant, nor had it ‘outed’ him.  In the Commission’s view, the piece was uncharitable, but – in the context of a diary column, known to poke fun at public figures – was not an arbitrary attack on him on the basis of his sexuality.

“The Commission said that: ‘where it is debatable – as in this case – about whether remarks can be regarded solely as pejorative and gratuitous, the Commission should be slow to restrict the right to express an opinion, however snippy it might be.  While people may occasionally be insulted or upset by what is said about them in newspapers, the right to freedom of expression that journalists enjoy also includes the right – within the law – to give offence.’”

In the wake of the Jan Moir episode at the end of last month, a petition to Gordon Brown was launched, questioning the impartiality of the PCC and calling for its replacement by a public body. The PCC’s deputy director (and soon-to-be director) Stephen Abell subsequently defended the position of Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, as head of its code committee.

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