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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?

 

January 18 2011

19:21

6 Predictions For the Music Industry in 2011

The music industry had a wild ride in 2010. Companies came and went, layoffs hit every sector, rapid growth delivered opportunity, and Spotify still didn't launch in the U.S. This year, 2011, should be no different.

Here are some predictions and thoughts about what 2011 may hold for the music industry.

1. A Major Label Shakeup

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 10.33.20 AM.pngDespite all the talk about the major label system collapsing at any moment, it doesn't seem likely. However, 2011 may finally see a restructuring of assets and brands. EMI has no shortage of financial issues, and the current discussion points to Terra Firma handing them over to Citigroup in the near future. The big assumption is that EMI will be broken up and sold in pieces to the other three majors (Universal, Sony and Warner Bros). Of particular value is EMI's publishing division, and if the piecemeal sale does happen, there may be a fight for this asset. Of course, the other three majors aren't having the smoothest time with cash-flow either, so it remains unclear exactly who can buy what. At minimum, EMI will not look the same at the end of 2011 as it does now.

2. Indie Label Opportunity Grows

All music companies will be focused on streamlining their efforts in 2011. This involves smarter processes, innovative policies, and keeping overhead low. Independent labels typically have had to function with these elements in place from day one; their ability to stay nimble will allow for continued growth opportunity. As business partnerships continue to solidify between content owners and brands, smaller labels will be able to adapt quickly and profit at lower revenue thresholds. This creates a strategic advantage that, if managed properly, will see upward trends on indie label balance sheets.

3. Streaming Services Reach Critical Mass

spotifylogo.pngIn 2011, someone will become the Apple of streaming -- perhaps Apple itself. Consumers are getting closer and closer to accepting renting over owning content. Companies such as MOG, Rdio, Spotify, and Rhapsody are poised to capitalize on this. With good timing, savvy marketing, and clear messaging that succinctly communicates the benefits, a streaming music provider can easily take the leading role in this race. The safe money seems to be on Apple (in part thanks to the Lala acquisition), but the other contenders are quite serious and finding the level of funding necessary to compete. This sector is also making major moves into mobile and car audio; these additional distribution avenues only strengthen the push toward widespread adoption.

4. Free Continues Moving Upwards

"Free" has been a highly debated concept. One side states that the awareness and data capture free provides can be converted to sales over time. The opposition feels that free devalues content and sets the wrong precedent. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle, but it is clear that with the volume of free content (legal and otherwise) one has to be giving something away simply to stay competitive. This line of thinking is nothing new, but it has finally permeated the companies and artists at the top. The majors and superstars have relaxed their policies on free (especially when paired with data capture) and that trend will continue. This will happen in parallel with efforts to find techniques to convert free to paying -- a critical element to make this model work.

5. The Essential Toolkit Solidifies

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 10.35.31 AM.pngDigital marketers have an almost endless supply of new technology and techniques to try. However, over the past 18 months, many have faded away or a best-of-breed front-runner has emerged. In 2011 we will see this continue as it becomes more clear which technologies and techniques provide real value. In 2010, it became easy (and essential) to track true performance metrics; marketers now have multiple tools to evaluate effectiveness based on conversion, data capture, sentiment, and engagement. This analysis is helping define where to focus efforts -- and that is helping digital music marketing become a more precise practice.

Companies with momentum in the digital marketing toolkit space include Topspin, Bandcamp, Nimbit, Rockdex, NextBigSound, Rootmusic, SoundCloud, Buzzdeck, Artistdata, Mozes, and the ever-essential Google Analytics. Let's also not forget the mainstays -- Twitter, Facebook, and email-marketing platforms such as ExactTarget, Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

6. The Net Neutrality Debate Continues

The positions and arguments haven't changed much, but the Net neutrality discussion (particularly at the government level) has accelerated. In late December, the FCC approved rules that enable mobile carriers to regulate application use. Many members of Congress have already stated they will fight this by creating a new law. This debate is still far from over; expect heated discussion all year long.

In many ways 2011 won't look much different than 2010. The music industry is still suffering from steep declines and is still building strategies and systems to counteract this. The key words moving forward are innovation and experimentation; most people have accepted the fact that we cannot force consumers to behave as they did in the past. Instead, we must seek to better understand our audience, foster stronger communication, and be willing to take leaps of faith on a regular basis.

*****

What predictions do you have for the music industry in 2011? Please share them in the comments.

Jason Feinberg is vice president, direct to consumer marketing for Concord Music Group. He is responsible for digital and physical direct-to-fan solutions for CMG's frontline and catalog including the Rounder, Fantasy and Stax labels. Recent campaigns include Paul Simon, Allison Krauss, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Carole King/James Taylor, and Crowded House. Follow Jason on Twitter @otmg

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September 30 2010

15:45

Ivory tower dispatch: Nothing is simple anymore

I’m going to try and share a little of what I do each week with the students and now that teaching has settled in a little bit after freshers it seemed a good time to start.

This week I wanted to get all the students thinking about some of the issues that contribute to the ‘changing media landscape’ that we have to function in as journalists.

Process in to content

For my second year, Digital Newsroom students I picked on process.

The lecture was really about how the process has changed because of digital. So I took a very basic view of the process – find, research and report – and looked at where in the process digital had made an impact. Here are the slides from my lecture (a bit cryptic without notes I know – come to the lectures!)

I started by saying that the reporting part was where the real medium specific stuff really made itself known (the mechanics of output for a particular platform). Given that we are platform agnostic, this was not where we wanted to be.  Maybe the first parts where more generic? More about broad journalism.

In truth, the process is no longer that discreet. In a multi-platform world we can’t simply focus on one ‘point of delivery’ when the point of delivery is changing all the time. By rights we are (and should be) generating content all the time; what Robin Hamman called turning process in to content. (I’ve written on that issue before.)

But in stumbling along to that conclusion we looked at how digital allows us to inject input from ‘communities’ in to the early parts of our process. We also started to explore the pros and cons of that involvement – legal, ethical and practical.

As a conclusion and starting point for more discussion later on, I picked out three ‘keywords’ that I wanted them to think about.

  • Community
  • Social media
  • Crowdsourcing

All of which, in some form, have contributed to the changing media landscape in which we practice, regardless of medium.

Where chips go, the nation follows.

I didn’t see the thirds year print students this week as they were putting together their first newspaper (1st. week back. No hanging around). But the time I spent with our post-graduate newspaper students looked at similar issues to the second years.

I started with a little debate. I split the group in to two. One side took the position “newspapers will die in five years”. With the other side getting “newspapers will survive the next five years”. As you can imagine interesting debates ensued. Including the position that newspapers weren’t even used to wrap chips in anymore(and the wonderful statement that headed this section), countered of course by ‘you can’t wrap your chips in an ipad’.

It was great to see that the range of debate broadly mirrored the industry concerns(or you may see it as a sad reflection of the echo chamber!) and that the students took a admirable middle ground. Passionate but realistic.

For them, the list of things to ponder was longer but similar:

  • Community
  • Multi-platform
  • Multimedia
  • Hyperlocal
  • Data Journalism

I also included Profile/engagement on the list but that became a broader discussion of brand and identity.  Something that began to touch on the deeper issues of professionalism and ethics.

Nothing is simple

If this week could be summed up in a nutshell it would be “nothing is simple anymore”. We don’t just simply write for newspapers ( or make TV/radio etc) – we have an eye on multiplatform.  It’s not as simple as just talking to the community anymore – we interact. Everything is made more complex by technology and the influx of digital. Some of it is in our control. Some of it isn’t.

What we can’t avoid is that some of that pressure lands on the journalist, right from the point they engage with a story,  regardless of where it ultimately ends up. It may not be your employer who brings that pressure to bear. It may be the audience…

PS. Just in case you thought that we do nothing practical they also started (or, in the case of the second years restarted) blogs (platform up to them) and google reader.  The postgrads got their beats and patches to play with and got to explore their hyperlocal/patch site.

Image from tim_ellis on Flickr

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March 15 2010

10:38

No such thing as free money to save the local press

As I was leafing through the Guardian on Saturday morning I came across an article with the rather alarming headline

Google news tax could boost local papers, report says

Google and other websites that carry news they do not produce should be taxed and the money generated used to prop up local newspapers, says a report which warns control of the media is concentrated in too few hands.

I tweeted it and got a number of interesting replies:

The report comes from the Carnegie trust UK’s commission on Making Good Society. It does indeed set out a suggestion for Industry levies citing Institute for Public Policy Research research that a 1% levy on pay TV providers of 1% “bring in around £70m a year”

A similar fee imposed on the country’s five mobile operators could generate £208m a year. Making Google meet its full tax liability in Britain would boost the pot by a further £100m.‘ The same IPPR report argues that ‘such sums could save many local newspapers and web sites from closing down, could stop the destruction of local and regional news on ITV and could help new media start-ups to plug these gaping holes in public service provision – all without the taxpayer having to stump up any more cash and without having to raid the licence fee.’

But the report also makes it clear that the money would come with something of price

Levies on the use of aggregated material have the potential to generate significant revenue to support the production of new public service and local content, involving civil society associations. If this form of funding were to be explored, changes in regulation would be needed to ensure that revenues go to original news producers and not just to those who present and disseminate material. Original news reporting needs to be supported so that it is financially viable; this could require charging those who are not authorised to use and distribute this material.

Not quite free money from a google tax.

The whole report makes for an interesting read (I mean genuinely interesting not that other academic definition of interesting)

It’s pretty wide ranging but it singles out “democratising media ownership and content as one of it’s four main areas where “a stronger civil society could make the most difference”

A whole chapter (chapter 3) is devoted to trying to understand the pressures and drives on news production and the impact that has. They are clear that technology plays a key part citing radical cultural shifts associated with pervasive technology and the rise of ‘digital natives;’ as an uncertain driver of change. But the discussion is a bit more broad ranging:

…[D]espite the proliferation of online platforms, more of the news we receive is recycled ‘churnalism’ and aggregated content. Trends of concentration in media ownership and increased pressure of time and resources have narrowed the sources from which original news derives. Moreover, the centralisation of news production and neglect of local issues has particular repercussions for access to information across the UK and Ireland, especially in the devolved nations.

And it’s clear where the problem is:

…the central issue affecting traditional news providers is not the decline of audiences or interest in news, but the collapse of the existing business model jeopardising the democratic role of journalism. According to the National Union of Journalists: ‘The media industry is essentially profitable but the business model is killing quality journalism.’

Media concentration.
When I first read the Guardian article I bristled at the idea of a google tax of newspapers. Why? Because we would essentially be propping up commercial organsiations who still work at a profit. It would be akin to a bail out. So I found myself drawn to the areas of ownership and centralization in particular. The report is pretty robust here.

The challenge of creating original content and the diminishing number of newspapers is further compounded by the concentration of media ownership in relatively few hands…..with four dominant publishers controlling 70% of the market share across the UK

That concentration of ownership and the influence it exerts is cited as a “key obstacle to transparent policy-making which incorporates a sustainable role for civil society associations” Which comes from the ‘continuing and intimate relationship between key corporate interests and policy-makers; a relationship whose bonds are rarely exposed to the public’

Their suggestion seems to be that the Scott Trust/Guardian model is more likely to serve the development of a pluralist media landscape than a purely commercial one. But it sounds a note of caution

While independent funds directly supporting journalism can come with strings attached and endowments are not immune from economic pressures, philanthropic funding can help preserve journalistic independence and secure guarantees on public service content.

General suggestions.
The big ticket suggestions like tax breaks and levies are balanced by some more specific suggestions that form the main discussion of the chapter.

  • Growing local and community news media.
  • Protecting the free, open and democratic nature of the internet.
  • Strengthening the transparency and accountability of news content production.
  • Enhancing the governance of the media.
  • Protecting the BBC.
  • Redirecting revenue flows to promote diversity and integrity.

Their ideas for strengthening transparency include the suggestion of a Kite mark that shows no dis or mis-information. Good luck with that one.

But back to funding, the last three points are interesting in themselves.

When they talk about enhancing the governance of the media they say that”

“All news organisations in receipt of public funding should actively engage with the public and with civil society associations, through their governing bodies as well as through their daily practice.”

Which could only really mean the BBC right? But in developing the suggestion of redirecting the revenue flow they:

…want to see new funding models explored: for example, tax concessions, industry levies or the direction of proportions of advertising spend into news content creation by civil society associations, or into local multimedia websites.

The price of public money.
My reading of the report was that nothing comes for free. In an earlier chapter the financial sector comes in for a real battering. But though the media orgs are more delicately handled the implicit message is still the same. All the money that could come from tax breaks, funding and other sources comes at a cost. That cost is de-centralisation, openness, stronger regulation and in transparency (a phrase that seems to disappear mid report to be replaced by integrity)

Would be nice but I can’t see it happening.

The full report is available here.

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December 12 2009

16:53

Print and the newsroom center of gravity.

“In every newsroom there’s a power center, and the reporters know where the power center is and they will follow it,” says Ken Sands, former online publisher at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. “I can’t think of one regional paper that is run by a Web person. You have [print] people running them who have been in the same kind of jobs for 25 years. At the regional level, that is jeopardizing the need to make substantial changes.”

That’s a quote from an interesting article on Editor and Publisher which asks When Will a Web Editor Lead a Major Newsroom? . The article is specifically about the changes at the Washington Post. But that quote resonated with me. Especially the part about the regional level.

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