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July 31 2011

05:14

Who owns a Twitter account? - How the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers to ITV

The Wall :: Back in March, Tom Callow wrote this piece looking at the ownership issues around Twitter profiles used for professional purposes. He noted that sensible consensus seemed to be that a personal feed, with no inclusion of a company or brand name, is owned entirely by the individual behind it, whilst a corporate feed, with no inclusion of an employee name, is owned entirely by the organisation to which it makes reference.

However, the post raised the issue of Twitter profiles that combine both employee and employer names. At the time, Callow mentioned that the account of the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, was the perfect example of this – @BBCLauraK. What would happen, if she left the BBC for a rival media outlet? Would the BBC keep her Twitter account and reassign to her successor, or would she be permitted to take it with her? Last week we got our answer. ... On Thursday 21 July, Laura Kuenssberg renamed her @BBCLauraK account to @ITVLauraK, taking 60,000 followers with her.

Continue to read Tom Callow, wallblog.co.uk

June 11 2010

08:43

Media economist: Government ‘doesn’t understand economics’ over relaxing ownership rules

On Wednesday I spoke at the thoroughly enjoyable Journalism’s Next Top Model conference at Westminster University. Highlight of the day was keynote speaker Robert Picard, a media economist able to separate publishers’ sense of entitlement from the hard realities of economics and business (mis)management.

Journalism will survive, he said, because there will always be a demand for it. But most print publishers will die because over the past few decades they quite simply haven’t managed their accounts responsibly. While a typical business should have a debt-to-equity ratio of around 1:1, some publishers have racked up ratios ranging from 6:1 to 66:1.

“If you haven’t managed your balance sheet you get in trouble in a recession. Do I feel bad for them? No. They made stupid mistakes.”

One particular mistake highlighted by Picard was the switch in the 1990s from making acquisitions with stock to making acquisitions with debt.

“All the newspapers were making profits when they went bankrupt,” he pointed out. It was their handling of debt that killed them.

I asked Robert about the government’s plans to relax (and consider removing) local media ownership rules – and whether that would indeed create the environment for entrepreneurialism they want to encourage. His response was simple: “You don’t encourage competition by relaxing ownership rules.

“They don’t understand economics,” if they thought that would happen, he continued. “We need people to start more media organisations, not merge into fewer organisations.”

Picard seemed to feel that the Dutch government’s moves to provide funds to help news organisations restructure, or to re-skill journalists, were more intelligent responses.

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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March 03 2010

19:22

Newspaper bias: just another social network

Profit maximising slant

There’s a fascinating study on newspaper bias by University of Chicago professors Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro which identifies the political bias of particular newspapers based on the frequency with which certain phrases appear.

The professors then correlate that placement with the political leanings of the newspaper’s own markets, and find

“That the most important variable is the political orientation of people living within the paper’s market. For example, the higher the vote share received by Bush in 2004 in the newspaper’s market (horizontal axis below), the higher the Gentzkow-Shapiro measure of conservative slant (vertical axis).”

Interestingly, ownership is found to be statistically insignificant once those other factors are accounted for.

James Hamilton, blogging about the study, asks:

“How slant gets implemented at the ground level by individual reporters. My guess is that most reporters know that they are introducing some slant in the way they’ve chosen to frame and report a story, but are unaware of the full extent to which they do so because they are underestimating the degree to which the other sources from which they get their information and beliefs have all been doing a similar filtering. The result is social networks that don’t recognize that they have developed a groupthink that is not centered on the truth.” [my emphasis]

In other words, the ‘echo chamber’ argument (academics would call it a discourse) that we’ve heard made so many times about the internet.

It’s nice to be reminded that social networks are not an invention of the web, but rather the other way around.

h/t Azeem Azhar

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