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July 21 2011

15:30

The newsonomics of U.S. media concentration

The rise and potential fall of Rupert Murdoch is a hell of a story. It is, though, closer to the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins’ description Tuesday, “not a Berlin Wall moment, just daft hysteria.” Facing only the meager competition of the slow-as-molasses debt-ceiling story, the Murdoch story managed to hit during the summer doldrums. Plus it’s great theater.

Is it just imported theater, though? We have to wonder how much the cries of “media monopoly” will cross the Atlantic. Is there much resonance here in the States for the outrage about media power in the U.K.? Will the sins (its newspaper unit now being called to account by a Parliamentary committee for deliberately blocking the hacking investigation) of News International impact its cousin, Fox Television, the one part of its U.S. holdings regulated directly by government — or can it build a firewall between the different parts of News Corp.? (See “New News Corp. Strategy: Become Even More of an American Company.”)

Certainly, the tales of News International’s ability to strike fear in the London political class are chilling. Our issues in the U.S., though, are largely different. Both come down to who owns the media, and what we need in the diversity of news voices.

The question of media concentration here is tricky, complex, and a profoundly local question. Yes, there are national issues — but the forces of cheaper, digital publishing and promise of national and global markets easily reached by the Internet have spawned much more competition on a national level.

As to what kind of local reporting we get, we see powerful forces at work, shaping who owns what and how much. Likely, we’ll see some News Corp. fallout in FCC debates now re-igniting in and around Washington, D.C. — as the fire of regulating media burns more brightly here, even as Ofcom, the British regulator, grapples with similar issues.

That said, the question of media concentration, or what I will call the newsonomics of U.S. media concentration, will be fought out on two battlegrounds in the U.S. One is at the regulatory level, as the FCC looks at cross-ownership and the cap on local broadcast news holdings by a single national company, like News Corp., and may take into account its U.K. misdeeds. (Especially if the 9/11 victim wiretapping claims are borne out.) Second, and probably more important, sheer economic change is rapidly re-shaping who owns the news media on which we depend. The fast-eroding economics of the traditional print newspaper business are changing the face both of competition and of journalistic practice faster than any government policy can affect.

So this is how our time may play out. Smart, digital-first roll-ups align with massive consolidation.

First, let’s look at the print trade, at mid-year. The numbers are awful, and getting no better. We’ve seen the 22nd consecutive quarter of no-ad-growth for U.S. dailies, the last positive sign registered back in 2006. Further staff reductions, albeit with less public announcement, continue at most major news companies. This week, Gannett — still the largest U.S. news company — reported a 7-percent ad revenue decline for the second quarter, typical among its peers. Its digital ad revenues were up 13 percent, a slowing of digital ad growth also being seen around the industry.

We see a strategy of continuing cost-cutting across the board, with a new phenomenon — roll-up (“The newsonomics of roll-up“) — trying to play out.

Hedge funds — which bought into the industry through and after 14 newspaper company bankruptcies — are having their presence felt. Most recently, Alden Global Capital, the quietest major player in the American news industry, bought out its partners and now owns 100 percent of Journal Register Company. Alden, with interests in as many as 10 U.S. newspaper chains, apparently liked the moves of CEO John Paton. Paton’s digital-first strategies have more rapidly cut legacy costs than other publishers’ moves, and moved the needle more quickly in upping digital revenues.

No terms were announced, but Paton says “all its lenders were paid in full.” That would be a qualified success, given the bath everyone involved in the newspaper industry has taken in the last half-decade.

In JRC’s case, we’d have to say the push of hedge funds for faster change has been more positive than negative. Pre-bankruptcy, it was derided for its poor journalism and soul-crushing budgeting. Under Paton, who has brought in innovators like Arturo Duran, Jim Brady, and Steve Buttry, the company is trying to reinvent new, digital-first local, preserving local journalism jobs as much as possible. A work very much in early progress.

You can bet that Alden’s move is just one of its first. Sure, as a hedge fund, it may just be getting JRC ready to sell; hedge funds don’t want to be long-term operators. Before that happens, though, expect the next shoe to drop: consolidation.

JRC owns numerous properties around Philly, and a roll-up with Greg Osberg-led (and Alden part-owned) Philadelphia Media Network, has been talked about. Meld the same kind of synergies, and faster-moving print-to-digital strategies of Paton with Osberg’s new multi-point, Project Liberty plan, and you have a combined strategy. Further combine the operations into a single company — removing more overhead, more administration, more cost — and you have a better business to hold, or sell, or still further combine with still more regional entities.

It’s not just a Philly scenario.

In southern California, the question is how the three once-bankrupt operations — Freedom Communications, MediaNews’ Los Angeles News Group and Tribune’s L.A. Times (still not quite post-bankrupt, but acting like it is) — will mate. Over price, talks broke down about merging Freedom and MediaNews (both substantially owned by Alden; see Rick Edmonds’ Poynter piece for detail). Yet, everyone in the market believes consolidation will come. Now with Platinum Equity, another private equity owner, putting its San Diego Union-Tribune back on the market just two years after buying it for a song, we could see massive consolidation of newspaper companies in southern California.

Media concentration, perhaps in the works: Southern California, between L.A. and San Diego, contains at least 21 million people — or a third of the total population of the U.K. Philly and Southern California may among the first to consolidate, but the trends are the same everywhere.

So this is how our time may play out. Smart, digital-first roll-ups align with massive consolidation. It’s time to get our heads around that. That won’t necessarily mean that Alden, or other hyper-private owners, keep the new franchises. Their goal probably is to sell. But to whom, with what sense of public interest?

Which brings us back to broadcast, to which newspaper people give much too little shrift.

Both those in the old declining newspaper trade and those in the mature and largely flat broadcast trade (as an indication, Gannett’s broadcast division revenues grew to $184.4 million from $184 million in the second quarter) are beginning to figure the future this way: there may only be enough ad revenue in mid-metro markets (and smaller) to maintain one substantial journalistic operation. Not one newspaper and one local broadcaster. But, one, presumably combined text and video, paper and air, increasingly digital operation.

So, finally, let’s turn back to the FCC. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals just returned cross-ownership regulations back to the FCC, largely on procedural (“hey, you forgot the public input part”) grounds. In addition, it will likely soon take up the national cap on local broadcast ownership. (Good sum-up of FCC-related action by Josh Smith at the National Journal.)

Which brings us back to the News Corp story. The national cap — how much of the U.S. any one national company can serve with local broadcast — is 39 percent. Fox News does that with 27 stations, and, of course, has lobbied for more reach. So, the media concentration issue may play out as the cap is further debated, and as cross-ownership — a News Corp. issue in and around New York/New Jersey — returns as well. Will Hackgate’s winds blow westward, as local broadcast news concentration comes up again?

Though it may be shocking to many newspaper people, though, local TV news is a major source of how people get the news. Some 25 to 28 million viewers watch local early-evening or late-evening TV news, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. That compares to about a 42-million weekday newspaper circulation, so those numbers aren’t quite apples to apples. In my research for Outsell, I noted that local survey data indicated that reliance on TV news equaled that of newspapers.

As Steve Waldman’s strong report for the FCC pointed out, local TV news is “more important than ever” — but thin on accountability reporting.

So while much of the media concentration questions centers on print, local broadcast ownership, and direction of news coverage, matters a lot.

Combine that local concentration — 39 percent or more — with the sense that the market may only support single journalistic entitities and we’re back to the theme of media concentration, perhaps on a scale hitherto unseen.

A declining local press, with signs of impending roll-up. Stronger local TV news, weaker in accountability reporting, and pushing for more roll-up. Winds of outrage wafting over the Atlantic. Regulatory breezes gaining strength.

These are powerful forces colliding, and in the balance, the news of the day won’t be quite the same.

July 18 2011

13:07

Wall Street Journal: politicians and competitors use the phone-hacking perhaps to injure press freedom

Here is a discussion which started after Wall Street Journal published its editorial yesterday. 

Wall Street Journal | Opinion :: WSJ - When News Corp. and CEO Rupert Murdoch secured enough shares to buy Dow Jones & Co. four years ago, these columns welcomed our new owner and promised to stand by the same standards and principles we always had. That promise is worth repeating now that politicians and our competitors are using the phone-hacking years ago at a British corner of News Corp. to assail the Journal, and perhaps injure press freedom in general. ...

Access the full editorial here: online.wsj.com

Only a moment later the response came in as tweets  ... 

Jay Rosen (via Twitter): "Deluded dishonest whining victimology delivered in the form of a Wall Street Journal editorial on the phone hacking crisis"

Jeff Jarvis (via Twitter): "Journalists at WSJ, those with self-respect left, should rise up in protest vs its Murdoch-mouthpiece editorial."

Sarah Ellison (via Twitter): "Tonite's WSJ Editorial is sad. I've always defended the Edit page, but now It's a PR arm"

Jay Rosen is is a notable media critic, a writer, and a professor of journalism at New York University. Jeff Jarvis is the author of What Would Google Do?, blogs about media and news at Buzzmachine.com. He is associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program and the new business models for news project at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. Sarah Ellison is contributing Editor at Vanity Fair, author of "War at the Wall Street Journal".

What do you think?

July 15 2011

12:20

Rebekah Brooks's resignation letter: "Today we are leading the news for the wrong ones"

Rebekah Brook resigned over phone-hacking scandal today. The Guardian published the open letter she wrote to inform staff that she was stepping down. This time Rupert and James Murdoch accepted her resignation.

Guardian Rebekah Brooks's resignation letter. How News International's chief executive informed staff she was stepping down

[Rebekah Brooks:] At News International we pride ourselves on setting the news agenda for the right reasons. Today we are leading the news for the wrong ones. The reputation of the company we love so much, as well as the press freedoms we value so highly, are all at risk.

Continue to read the entire letter here www.guardian.co.uk

06:30

Phone hacking: Rupert Murdoch calls in PR firm Edelman

News International probably plans to reinvent itself. They company now seeks professional PR and communication assistance after the phone-hacking scandal lead to the closing of News of the World. They will need it. But without a substiantial turnaround communication will fail.

Guardian :: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has called in PR and lobbying specialists Edelman to help the embattled company handle mounting public anger and political pressure over the phone-hacking scandal in the UK. The PR company will report directly to Will Lewis, general manager of News Corp subsidiary News International, the publisher of Murdoch's British newspapers.

Continue to read Rupert Neate | Mark Sweney, www.guardian.co.uk

06:12

A family affair - BSkyB: Rupert Murdoch and Chase Carey overruled James Murdoch

Could be a screenplay for a new Hollywood movie: Scene: Three people in the room. Father, talking unemotionally: "Son, we just wanted to let you know that we've decided upon BSkyB in the meantime" .. silence in the room. - I just wonder HOW that scene might have taken place in reality. 

New York Times The decision to withdraw the bid for BSkyB, as the satellite broadcaster is known, was made as a contentious family drama played out in recent days. James Murdoch, a leading contender to replace his father as chairman and the driving force behind the News Corporation’s bid to take over BSkyB, argued that the company should press for regulatory approval of the deal, but as New York Times reports Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation’s chief operating officer, Chase Carey, overruled the younger Mr. Murdoch, consulting him only after the decision was all but final.

Continue to read Jeremy W. Peters | John F. Burns, www.nytimes.com

July 14 2011

10:49

Tom Crone, legal head of News International leaves company

Reuters :: Tom Crone, the legal manager at Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper arm, which is fighting widespread hacking allegations, has left the company, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Wednesday.

Continue to read Georgina Prodhan | Jodie Ginsberg | Rosalba O'Brien, www.reuters.com

04:46

Bancroft family members express regrets at selling Wall Street Journal to Murdoch

Pro Publica ::  A number of key members of the family which controlled The Wall Street Journal say they would not have agreed to sell the prestigious daily to Rupert Murdoch if they had been aware of News International's conduct in the phone-hacking scandal at the time of the deal.

[Christopher Bancroft:] If I had known what I know now, I would have pushed harder against the Murdoch bid.

The comments by family members in interviews with ProPublica came as the crisis engulfing Murdoch's News Corporation threatened to spread to the U.S. with two senators calling for an investigation into whether the company broke U.S. laws over the phone hacking scandal.

Continue to read Richard Tofel, www.propublica.org (This story was co-published with The Guardian.)

04:38

Credibility of news brands: if you make mistakes admit them, they will surface with the coverup

CScape.com :: Reputation and brand equity are rapidly becoming the primary assets of any media business. So when we damage them, we damage the entire industry, starting with those companies closest to the offender.  The News of The World phone-hacking scandal does damage others in the News Corp. family, like Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch. Trust is something that has always been hard to earn, but has become even harder to come by in recent years.

In the media, as in politics and government, the real problems tend to surface with the coverup, not the original crime.

Larry Cramer - Why journalistic integrity means even more In the digital age and why the coverup was the real problem.

Founder and Former CEO of CBS Marketwatch.com. The first president of CBS Digital. Sits on the Boards of Discovery Communications, Inc., American Media Inc., Freedom Communications, Inc., Black Arrow Inc., Harvard Business School Publishing, Appinions. Former reporter and editor for The Washington Post and San Francisco Examiner. (click on photo for contact info)

Credibility - Continue to read Larry Cramer, paidcontent.org

July 13 2011

20:29

David Carr, New York Times: A kind of British Spring is under way

New York Times :: In consequence of the phone-hacking scandal, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation summarily slid the 168-year-old News of the World, U.K., under a double-decker bus on Sunday, closing it down completely. It is a chance for the country.

[David Carr, New York Times:] A kind of British Spring is under way, now that the News Corporation’s tidy system of punishment and reward has crumbled. Members of Parliament, no longer fearful of retribution in Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids, are speaking their minds and giving voice to the anger of their constituents. Meanwhile, social media has roamed wild and free across the story, punching a hole in the tiny clubhouse that had been running the country. Democracy, aided by sunlight, has broken out in Britain.

Continue to read David Carr, www.nytimes.com

July 11 2011

06:49

NOTW - 1500 on Thursday: end of an era? Why do all politicians kow-tow to Rupert Murdoch?

BBC News :: The primary function of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper and TV empire and Jonathan Harmsworth's Daily Mail and General Trust, these journalistic centres of power, is to dispense approval or disapproval to politicians. A News International journalist is reported to have said to Labour leader Ed Miliband: "You've made it personal with Rebekah so we're going to make it personal with you.". Paul Mason, BBC News: "That is the kind of power that, until about 1500 on Thursday, journalists in that circle could wield."

The question everybody has been asking journalists and politicians last weekend: why do all politicians kow-tow to Mr Murdoch; what is it that makes them incapable of seeing the moral hazards of the relationship?

Continue to read Paul Mason, www.bbc.co.uk

04:46

NOTW e-mails found - Evidence of alleged criminal behaviour: payments to the police

BBC :: As BBC reports News International found e-mails in 2007 that appeared to indicate that payments were being made to the police for information, although this evidence of alleged criminal behaviour was not handed to the Metropolitan Police for investigation until 20 June of this year. According to sources, these e-mails were in the possession of the firm of solicitors, Harbottle & Lewis. They were retrieved from Harbottle & Lewis by lawyers acting for News Interernational and for William Lewis - general manager of News International - who is in charge of News International's clean-up of what went wrong at the News of the World, and who was recruited by News International last July.

Continue to read Robert Peston, www.bbc.co.uk

July 10 2011

20:21

Telegraph: 'Former News of the World journalists' silenced on Twitter

Telegraph :: Twitter accounts purporting to be held by former News of the World journalists went silent today and the majority of their tweets were deleted. The @ExNOTWjourno account, which had been threatening to release damning new information about News International, had all but three tweets deleted just after 10am and all of its 20,000 followers were dropped.

[@ExNOTWjourno:] they are attacking me from all sides.

The Telegraph mentioned that @EXNOTWjourno said in one tweet she had postponed the disclosures following advice from lawyers.

Continue to read Katherine Rushton, www.telegraph.co.uk

15:17

Protect whistleblowers - Rupert Murdoch thanked the NOTW's staff for their loyal silence

Guardian :: The truth about the truth. Nick Cohen: "We like to think of ourselves as speakers of truth to power. The British national stereotype holds that we are a sturdy people, who are proud of our right to speak our minds. Our behaviour at work belies the cliche. I know good journalists at News International, but not one of them challenged a management that was presiding over a criminal conspiracy. If they had spoken plainly, their editors would have fired them and in all likelihood they would never have worked in the media again, because no other manager would want them to do to him what they had done to his predecessors."

[Nick Cohen, Guardian:] Spill the beans on your company's criminal activities and you'll not just lose your job, you could lose your career

Continue to read Nick Cohen, www.guardian.co.uk

11:54

The Sun, News of the World - tabloid's goodwill is (was) important politically

The New York Times :: “The tabloid press in Britain is very powerful, and it’s also exceedingly aggressive, and it’s not just News Corp.; The Mail is very aggressive,” said John Whittingdale, a Conservative member of Parliament who is chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

[John Whittingdale:] They do make or break reputations, so obviously politicians tread warily.

But politicians have always been most afraid of the sting of The Sun and its Sunday sister, at least until this Sunday, when it is to close, The News of the World, because the papers’ good will is so important politically.

Continue to read www.nytimes.com

July 09 2011

15:25

James Murdoch 'could face prosecution' over his role in phone hacking scandal

Telegraph :: James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, could be prosecuted over the telephone hacking scandal, a former home secretary said. David Cameron also piled the pressure on James Murdoch by suggesting that he had “lots of questions that need to be answered”. Alan Johnson MP, the Labour home secretary from June 2009 to May 2010, suggested that Mr Murdoch could be charged under anti-snooping legislation. This was because Mr Murdoch had admitted in a statement on Thursday that he had approved out of court settlements to hacking victims.

Continue to read Christopher Hope | Katherine Rushton, www.telegraph.co.uk

July 08 2011

10:45

After the end of News of the World: who will pay the bill? - Shocked, angry, the employees

New York Times When the chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, walked onto the floor of the News of the World newsroom on Thursday afternoon and began speaking, many of the paper’s 200 or so employees thought she would be announcing her resignation after scrutiny of her role in the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Britain this week.

But instead, according to reporters present at the speech, Ms. Brooks told the gathered crowd that she and others at News International, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, “had considered every option” before deciding that the public would “never forgive us”... . But The News of the World would be closed down. ... 

Continue to read Ravi Somaiya, www.nytimes.com

July 07 2011

21:59

UK Phone-Hacking Scandal Shows Clash of Privacy with Need to Know

British journalism has undergone one of the most radical weeks in several decades this week.

398px-Rupert_Murdoch_2011_Shankbone_3.JPG

"Rocked," "chaos," "shocking" -- use whatever adjectives you like, but news this week that the News of the World (NOTW) tabloid hacked into the phones of child murder victims, families of July 7, 2005 terror attacks and parents of soldiers killed in action has turned the stomachs of much of Britain.

Now Rupert Murdoch's News International has shut down the NOTW after 168 years. This weekend will be the last edition of Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

The public appetite for information, particularly about celebrities and major news stories is insatiable -- until it becomes an intrusion into your own individual life. Is the duty to provide information more important to society as a whole than individual privacy? Does the civil "public interest" test outweigh the private protection of an individual?

'Hackgate'

The phone hacking scandal, or "hackgate" as some have dubbed it on Twitter, is a long-running saga and the New York Times Magazine investigation last year remains the best and most detailed single explanation. The Guardian has steadfastly kept attention on the matter.

As a basic summary, a reporter or private investigator would dial into the cell phone of a celebrity, politician or other public figure and then use a four-digit PIN number to access the voicemail. Many people never even change the PIN on their mobile voicemail or know how to do that. Investigators might pose as the celebrity in question and call the cell carrier saying they lost their PIN and need to reset it.

guardian phone hacking.jpg

The technique first began to unravel in 2005 when messages to Royal family aides were appearing read and saved, even though they hadn't heard them.

That eventually led to the conviction of NOTW Royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Police said Mulcaire's notebook had thousands of names and corresponding details of cell phone numbers and PIN numbers.

Since then, attention has always been on which celebrities, MPs or other public figures had their phones hacked -- a practice which is illegal, except by the security services with a court order.

A Widening Scandal

That was until this week. When it emerged on Monday that Mulcaire had accessed the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler who went missing, and deleted messages in some cases giving the impression she was still alive to worried family members, the public reacted. Only on this past June 23 a man was convicted of murdering the schoolgirl so it was still fresh in the public's mind.

The revelations have continued, with more alleged hacking vicitms: the parents of murdered children Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, the family members of victims of the London terror attacks on July 7, 2005, and the parents of fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has also been revealed that up to five Metropolitan Police may have been paid bribes of £100,000 for information, from the same force that was supposed to be investigating the allegations of phone hacking, throwing the entire voracity of the inquiry into question.

So, how widespread is the practice of phone hacking? There have been reports -- by the New York Times feature last year in particular -- that other newspapers may have bought information obtained through phone hacking, or phone hacked directly, or that the technique was common at the NOTW. Although there have been a handful of arrests from within the NOTW, nobody has ever been charged beyond the original Royal reporter and private investigator. No other newspapers have yet been identified by police.

Pushing the Boundaries

I know a fair number of reporters and not one of them would engage in illegal activity for a story. Have we sometimes pushed boundaries? Of course. Do we sometimes feel a bit questionable afterwards? Yes. We're human.

When a newspaper told me they wanted a picture of school pupils but with "no fatties, uglies or ethnics," they apologized but that was the style of the paper. That's not illegal, but it's not the journalism I believe in.

Stories are regularly "spiked" because of the biases or agenda of a paper. Thankfully the UK has enough publications that almost any story can end up in print eventually, despite those barriers.

This story is still moving rapidly. Advertisers were pulling out of the paper. Ford was the first, very early on after the revelations and before any social media campaign really got going.

Social Media Pushes Advertisers Out

Mitsubishi said they were second on Tuesday as "morally right" to suspend advertising with a paper. Based on a suggestion from one of their Facebook followers, they are diverting the money to a children's charity instead.

As the week went on and the public identified which advertisers were in the weekly paper -- particularly thanks to data from the Guardian -- many other firms have pulled the plug, including the Royal British Legion on Thursday morning.

tesco campaign.jpg

Tesco, the UK's largest food retailer, said they wanted the police investigation to take its course, even while people on Twitter and Facebook bombarded them demanding they pull their advertising.

The Co-operative Group confirmed they heard from members by email, phone and via Facebook and Twitter while they were already reviewing their advertising, which they have now suspended.

Airlines, phone companies, the Post Office, and others have all pulled their advertising. One parody story even joked that Fish Refusing to Be Wrapped in the News of the World.

Other social media suggestions have included canceling subscriptions to Sky TV (i.e. BSkyB) which News International is trying to buy, or avoiding shops that sell the paper.

Closing NOTW

And then late on Thursday afternoon, News International chairman and Rupert's son James Murdoch told staff that the good work of the paper had "been sullied by behaviour that was wrong -- indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company."

james murdoch.jpg

"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself," he said.

Ultimately, the paper was in decline already. Circulation of the NOTW fell from 4,104,227 in October 2001 to 2,606,397 in April 2011, a drop of 36.5 percent. That is a significant pressure on any paper.

Total sales for 10 Sunday papers in October 2001 was 14,044,396. That has plummeted to 9,082,065 as of April, a drop of 35.3 percent. But the UK remains one of the most read newspaper markets in the world.

One non-press colleague said yesterday: "Everyone talks about freedom of the press. They've had their chance. Take it away."

Hundreds of people have worked for the NOTW as staff, hundreds more as contributors, and thousands more have been willingly quoted in the paper.

The actions of a handful of reporters or those they hire does not in any way dissuade me from the importance of journalism, a free press or a "smart, fearless journalism," as Mother Jones magazine aptly puts it.

Feeding the News Appetite

I personally don't know any reporters who lack souls. We don't exist in such realms of black or white, good or evil. But I know all of us are under pressure to feed the ever increasing news appetite, often within ever shrinking offices of demanding firms with expectant shareholders.

In one case, a colleague was required to supply one story each week on Harry Potter author JK Rowling, no matter what. "No" isn't an answer to the boss. They achieved those results perfectly ethically.

To interpret pressure as justifying unethical and illegal practices is a choice of individuals. They are culpable, as are any bosses who knew of them.

However wrong the hacking activities were and are, many of those leaping to condemn them are not without bias themselves.

Broadsheet newspapers are almost gloating at the peril of the tabloid press which disgusts, but outsells, them.

MPs have repeatedly been caught in adulterous or worse behavior by the tabloid press over the years, but would never dare speak out against News International prior to the current public furor.

And government opponents see this as a chance to extract blood from Prime Minister David Cameron for making the mistake of hiring former NOTW editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief (who might be arrested tomorrow).

Final Consequences

Ultimately we have a clash of what my retired philosophy professor father refers to as the "social duty to provide as much information as possible", and the duty of "non injury to others." So which trumps which?

The question now is what will happen in this Sunday's last ever NOTW. What will the NOTW put on its front page (one tweet suggested the word "Sowwy" and a picture of a kitten)? Will it come back in another form in a few months?

When the Sun published lies about the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, it has arguably never recovered sales in Liverpool and is still reviled. That may well have happened to the NOTW, but would have requited more than 2.6 million customers to switch off to the celeb gossip and "real life" coverage they are in the habit of devouring. Has the Murdoch empire now successfully drawn a line under this sordid tale by closing the paper?

It is only one product -- the conflicting appetites for information and privacy are not going anywhere any time soon.

Disclaimer: I have, a few years ago now, been paid for freelance stories and tips by the Scottish editions of the News of the World and the daily sister paper, The Sun, and more recently by the Sunday Times. I stand by those individual stories.

Photo of Rupert Murdoch by David Shankbone via Wikipedia.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson is a Canadian freelance reporter based in Glasgow, Scotland, operating as the W5 Press Agency.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

06:18

UK - What (Rupert Murdoch's) papers won’t say

The Spectator :: News International, owner of the Times, the Sunday Times, the News of the World and the Sun, owns approximately one third of the domestic newspaper market. And last week, Jeremy Hunt ruled that Murdoch, who owns a 39 per cent stake in BSkyB, can now buy it outright (save for Sky’s news channel). This consolidates Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born mogul as by far the most significant media magnate in this country, wielding vast political and commercial power.

How does current market share influence news coverage (think of the recent phone-hacking scandal)?

 Watch the chart - continue to read Peter Oborne, www.spectator.co.uk

July 06 2011

21:17

On BBC News - Hugh Grant: How I exposed phone hacking by the media

BBC News :: The actor Hugh Grant has been speaking about how he recorded a conversation between himself and Paul McMullen, a former Deputy Features editor at the News of the World 1994-2001, in which the journalist revealed details of phone hacking by the media. Details of the exchange were then revealed by Mr Grant in the New Statesman. Here an excerpt:

[Hugh Grant, in New Statesman, 06 Apr 2011, 22:11:] ... he was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle ... on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim – a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time ...

Mr McMullen joined Mr Grant on the BBC's News Channel to debate the issue.

[Hugh Grant addressing Paul McMullen, at 04:21 in the video]: Your only motive is profit. You are no journalists. You have no interests in journalism. It's just money, money, money ...

Update: For further details of the phone hacking practice you should also watch the interview: Jeremy Paxman asks Paul McMullan, what he thinks about the allegations that voicemails on murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's mobile phone were allegedly intercepted by the newspaper (second link below).

Hugh Grant vs Paul McMullan on BBC News video online - watch it here www.bbc.co.uk

Jeremy Paxman asks Paul McMullan on BBC News - watch it here news.bbc.co.uk

May 27 2011

18:56

#newsrw: ‘We know more now that we ever have’ about our audience

Gathering audience data has led to changes in content type and style for many news rooms.

Ditching newspaper-style headlines in the subject lines of emails in favour of shorter, more emotive sentences has increased the click-through rate from newsletters.

The boost in page impressions of the websites, was just one example from John Barnes, managing director of digital strategy and development at Incisive Media.

Ron Diorio vice president of product and community development at the Economist Online gave example of how they have been learning from social gaming.

Chris Duncan from News International, which owns the Times and the Sun, said: “In terms of audience data, we know more than we ever have, we are collecting it in more ways than we ever have.”

Diorio spoke of “lies, damn lies and product development”.

“Data from users on a product helps decide whether to keep the product the way it is or change it.

“But part of the challenge in getting audience feedback is that there are so many ways to get data.

“It’s getting harder and harder based on the sheer amount audience data available,” he said.

“We’re continuously inundated with this deluge of data,” citing Facebook and Twitter as relatively new sources.

But Facebook can also be a user audience research tool and surveys can provide immediate feedback

He gave the example of the ‘well-red quiz’, launched when the Economist started noticing a trend in social gaming.

“We launched it but people weren’t coming back as they were only getting two out of 10 answers right,” he quipped.

Barnes spoke of the rise in audience data in its ability to cater to niche market titles, such as B2Bs and said it’s “good play for B2B publishers as we can create close and intimate interactions with the audience”.

He said they continue to use demographic and behavioural data, reader surveys and more recent tools such as cloud scores and web trends.

One of many examples he gave of learning from the audience was when he consulted them on the length and frequency of videos and has found his formula to be to keep videos between three and five minutes in length and to broadcast them three or four times a week.

The result has been a 900 per cent increase with most watching to the end. And that success can lead to revenue as it is something that can be commercialised, he explained.

Chris Duncan director of consumer management at News International said his research used to be mainly about the product and now its about the people.

Demographics still are broadly insightful, he said, stating that “high income lowers churn risk; life stages, such as the birth of a first child, generates purchasing patterns; and gender can still be highly indicative of copy preference.”

He talked about the changes since the birth of tablet devices.

News International’s websites experience a peak during the morning commute as people use tablets, an 11 o’clock spike on the website when people are at their desks and another tablet spike when commuters are returning home.

How do we get a continuous content journey across different devices? is a question News International is seeking to address.

When questioned about recent changes at the Times – with the launch of the paywall last summer and the launch of the iPad app, which took place exactly a year ago.

“The launch of the iPad one of the more terrifying days of my life,” Duncan admitted

Asked about the Times paywall he spoke of the “challenges of managing muiltiplatform devices”.

“Operationally it was more difficult than I thought,” he said.

“It’s very clear that  all content is not the same. Some is very good at driving acquisition, some is very good at driving retention and there is some content that is not good at either” but said people complain if it is removed and that’s when “the customer service centre will blow up”.

Edward Barrow, chief technology officer at Idio, discussed the technology around understanding “customer journeys” and the customisation of news based on gathering data on what a person is interested in.

His team believe how long someone spends on reading an article can provide a measure of what they are most interested in and can then be given more targeted news and demonstated how the  Media Briefing is doing just that.

“Successful publishers are reorganising and restructuring around the customer,” Barrow said.

And learning what the customer is interested in is possible through data gathered by people logging in via Facebook or LinkedIn, he said.

“The more you know your customers, the more money you can make out of them,” Barrow said.

He advised transparency in engaging customers in the data gathering process and used Facebook, with your personalised news feed; Amazon, which knows what books you read; and Google as examples of personalisation technology.

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