Thursday, 26 November 2009

The embargo is dead - long live 24 hour news

It was a big day in Liverpool today as the government returned its long awaited (much too long awaited) decision on whether Everton FC can move to Kirkby.

As you would expect, the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo were all over the story.  The implications for the decision were massive for two camps:
  1. Everton and its fans
  2. The residents of Kirkby.  
That's a lot of people, making it a massive story.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The revolution starts here - Grassroots politics on Facebook

Politics is changing. [Stick with me here.]

As we all know (and as I've already mentioned), the political elite are flocking to the likes of Twitter as an instant and effective way of getting their message across - potentially to an audience who have never before been engaged.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Journalism Flash Forward: Could the Guardian's 'beat blogging' posts be the future of journalism

The Guardian group announced three new journalism vacancies last week.  Headline news in itself these days.

But with these new 'beat blogger' positions, the Guardian has unveiled what could very well be the future of journalism.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Comments and the death of the author: Putting the reader at the start and heart of the story

Most journalists consider themselves wordsmiths. They toil and sweat over every word. But we know from reader research that readers very rarely get beyond the third paragraph.

What's more, reader comments are becoming as important to the audience as the story.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Twitter: the political tool greater than the party political broadcast? But by God it can bite

For followers of UK politics the past three weeks has been what the world cup finals are for football fanatics.

Although the party conference season is over, politics isn't - in fact it's alive and kicking (hard) on Twitter.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Could regional 'print' companies be the saviour for regional ITV news?

So Ofcom has warned that regional news programming on ITV could be losing up to £64m by 2012.

That leaves a mighty hole in the budget given how much quality ITV now produces ... you know, like errr I'm a Celebrity, or errrm All Star Family Fortunes, ok,what about errrm Grimebusters, hmm.

Anyway, moving on ...

So more cost cutting looks to be on the cards after the last round of moneysavings announcements back in March. [Read all about it here, including which quality programming survived.]

So what will more cuts mean to the company's regional news coverage. More importantly, will we in Liverpool notice any more cuts from the Manchester-centric Granada news coverage?

ITV has been hit by the recession and the downturn in advertising spend, as well as increased digital competition. Everything the print media is well aware of.

So apart from axing ITV regional news altogether, what's the solution?

The government is now proposing to allow a consortia to bid for local news programmes.

Hmmm, who could go for that? Who has invested in video? What ... regional print news organisations you say. Of course.

Over in Manchester MEN's well established Channel M produces some excellent video packages, while in Liverpool Trinity Mirror's Liverpool Daily Post & Echo is leading the way with live interactive broadcasting [examples of which
you can view here]. Former print companies - now multimedia companies - across the region are producing video news packages on a daily basis. Many have invested heavily in video training and multimedia kit. But how many are making money on the back of that?

There's no doubt that more training and development is required to bring former regional print companies up to video broadcast standard, but the possibility is there for these companies to join forces to bid to supply video packages for ITV regional news services.

What better way to monetise video content. And what better way to finally improve Liverpool news coverage on Granada.

You can read Ofcom's full reports here.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Everton FC fans show how citizen journalism should be done

The Liverpool and Everton Banter sites have been running for a couple of years now.

The brainchild of David Higgerson, the sites are an amalgam of contributions from Liverpool Daily Post & Echo journalists and fans in general.

This morning, one of the newest contributors on the Everton site, Peter Reed (nb not Reid), posted his first entry - a video entry featuring his brother John and nephew Charlie's predictions on how Everton will fair against Wigan followed by a review of the predictions following the game.

What you get is an excellent example of how citizen journalism works.

The video is clever, insightful and funny. A must watch for every Blue, and well, football fan as a whole.

You must click here to watch the video!

Monday, 13 July 2009

How to save newspapers - beg!

Not so long ago, I heard a senior reporter suggest a campaign be launched to warn people that unless they buy their local newspaper, the newspaper won't be around for much longer.

And he wasn't joking.

His unimaginatively named 'Use it or lose it campaign' has been picked up.

Thankfully, this is a joke ... isn't it?

(Someone pass the begging bowl.)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The Wire: Reflecting life as it is - including the newsroom battleground

I was wondering if people in the real world know just what is happening to the media industry, or is the grim knowledge contained just within the inner-sanctum of the media circle?

Then I got to episode three, season five of The Wire and I heard a speech being delivered by a fictional executive editor to the fictional newsroom of the non-fictional Baltimore Sun. What he said are words that have been echoed in newsrooms around the world.

It's a bad time for newspapers. As you all know.

The news hole is shrinking as advertising dollars continue to decline. Our circulation numbers are also down as we compete with a variety of media. Technology is driving distribution and the internet is a free source of news and opinions. Seeking a balance in this new world we are now faced with hard choices.

We opened our first foreign bureau in London in 1924. The Sun's foreign coverage has been a source of pride ever since. So it is with tremendous regret that I tell you that Chicago (head office) has made it clear that the bureaus in Beijing, Moscow, Jerusalem, Johannesburg and London will all be shut. Elsewhere in the newsroom there will be a fresh round of buy-outs. Chicago has given us some specific budgetary targets that will require some hard choices throughout the newsroom.

We are quite simply going to have to find ways of doing more with less.

Sound familiar?

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Charge for online content - kill the online audience

So here it is again, raising its ugly head - 'newspaper' companies scrabbling around looking at ways of generating revenue by charging for content.

Charging for online content is an old fashioned business model which is the last resort of old fashioned businesses.

It's not how the web works or how readers use the web.

The latest last gasp of desperation of the innovativeless business leaders was sparked by Rupert Murdoch who recently suggested that his monopoly of media businesses would look into developing a model for charging users subscriptions.

When Rupert speaks, the world listens.

The newspaper industry has been slow to evolve with the rapid pace of new media. The charging for online content policy is the fall back position for an industry which has leaders who are failing to innovate. And that is to the detriment of the sustained future of journalism and online news.

It is a crisis. How do you make money from online content?

But it isn't a crisis which the newspaper industry has faced alone. The music industry has been there and done that.

The music industry has faced the online revolution in clear stages. Initially there was denial, then there was panic as sales and revenue nose dived, then there was innovation and experimentation (including ye olde fall back - charging for content) and now there's the first sign of a solution - Spotify.

The problem with making money online (or not) doesn't lie with the content producers - the journalists. It lies with the money men. The ad staff have failed to take the web by the horns. And as a result news companies are now desperately looking at ways of countering falling revenues, partly due to the recession, but mainly because of a failure to fully capitalise on opportunities digital has offered mainstream media companies.

For too long they were allowed to bury their heads in the sand.

So now back to the trusted fallback.

To make online charging work, whether that be via subscription, or pay per click (however much that may be) news companies will need to produce content which isn't being served by the world's media, or the world's bloggers. And if you can find a niche willing to pay, it won't be your niche for long, as the BBC or the legions of bloggers will come charging (or rather not) over the hill.

But to end at the beginning: Charge for content - kill off your audience. Where's the revenue in that?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Simple Minds on Twitter - I'm not talking about journalists (... ok I am)

Twitter is now everywhere. It's mainstream. It's the new black. It's how oppressed protesters communicate and how the world's media follows those protests. It's how the world's celebrities communicate and how the world expresses its reaction to the death of celebrities.

It's been knocking around for a few years now, but this year Twitter fever has taken hold. It's like swine flu - but bigger.

And I know you already know all this because you're on it, and you've read about it, and heard about it, and you've got the t-shirt.

So I won't go on, except to say I saw a very interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday.

Jim Kerr, lead singer of Simple Minds (@jimkerr09), was crowdsourcing opinion on the price of tickets to see live shows. Brilliant.

He asked:
His followers weren't slow in voicing their opinions, luckily for Mr K, all said Minds ticket prices were value for money.

This isn't the first time he's asked for opinions. One of the first questions he asked the Twitter family shortly after joining up was which song they think should be the first single from the band's excellent new album Graffiti Soul. What resulted was one song for Germany and another for the rest of the world.

Whether that had anything to do with the opinions expressed on Twitter is doubtful, but it goes to show that the lead singer isn't afraid of rolling his sleeves up and getting down and dirty with his followers/fans. Asking questions, fielding questions, being part of the community.

Journalists could learn a lot.

After years of almost non-existent marketing, Simple Minds now appear to be making waves again. And it is no coincidence that Jim has been spearheading the campaign himself using social media as one of the main tools to get the band back on the public radar.

Of course it helps that he's got a great album to shout about.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Journalists rise up and retake the newsroom ... I'll give you a banana!

Another thing that digital guru MarkMedia Comerford raises in the interview mentioned in the previous post, is about technology and the journalist.

Many journalists are forever proclaiming their own ineptitude when it comes to anything technical in the newsroom.
And that is to the detriment of journalism.

In the interview with Medie varlden, Mark says:

Journalists must understand the technology, otherwise we are transmitting power to the techies. Red Key Skills are a big problem
You bring a monkey into a room and it learns that there is a large red button and if you press it, you get a banana. If you then insert it into a warehouse full of bananas but with no red button, it will starve to death. So it is with journalists who do not understand the new technology.

The only way for journalists to regain the newsroom and regain the reigns of the rapidly evolving industry, is for them to take on the technology.

Many newsrooms are currently in the hands of the techies, or the backroom boys and girls who very often flex their technical superiority by saying, "It can't be done."

Bollocks to that.

Journalists need to now take back control away from the techies by arming themselves with a greater knowledge of the technology and what it can do for journalism.

I'm not saying we all need to become programmers or IT specialists, but I am saying understand what can and can't really be done.

Then we need to ask the question of the technical support staff: "This is what I want to do, how can you make it happen?"

Knowledge is power, and currently the power is in the wrong hands.

Now where's that red button?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

What to do with the newsroom anti-digitalists: "Fire the fuckers"

Every newsroom has its anti-digitalists. Yes still, after all the goings on in the industry, where the future of news has never looked more clearly digital, there are still those who proclaim proudly their disdain for the web.

And they are very often very vocal about their beliefs. "The internet is killing newspapers," is their favourite chant. Before turning to to update their Facebook status.

While many are just simply taking a vain stance against an inevitable digital future others are simply blustering, like the person who pretends he can't use a mobile phone.

My response to these people is to show them what digital can provide them. Clever use of SEO can simply bring more eyes to their work. Clever use of social media, can widen their sphere of influence as well as enhancing their contacts book beyond the restrictions which they are used to. Etc, etc.

All basic steps which make a huge difference for a journalist. And all the subject of training.

But how far do you go, and how long do you wait for the digital penny to drop?

In a recent interview, one of the forerunners of the digital news revolution, and a leading digital journalist trainer, Mark Comerford, clearly and characteristically draws a very verbal line in the sand.

If journalists aren't willing to develop and adapt, then "fire the fuckers," he tells Medie varlden in Sweden.

Strong words - particularly in Swedish "Brand jävlar" (if Google Translator is to be believed).

The man who set up Europe's first newspaper website (Aftonbladet) explains that those who are hostile to the web have an "unwillingness to see the future" and take "security in looking backwards".

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The egg that lays itself: When the advertising is the thing that attracts the eyeballs

It's that age old debate which has rumbled on in newsrooms around the world: Which department is most important, editorial or advertising?

Ad staff obviously say they are the engine of the operation bringing in the wages with the column inches they sell.

Meanwhile, the journalists say you won't have any advertising without the quality penned journalism.

Chicken or egg anyone?

When the egg can lay itself, who needs the chicken.

As fewer and fewer eyeballs are boring into our pages, does that mean the journalism is any less good?

But online there's eyeballs galore - but are they looking for quality journalism? Or are they looking for the latest news on the soaps, girlie pic galleries, etc?

And then you look at what online services and products the major 'news' organisations are launching online. Business directories. Credit card services. Etc. Etc.

Traditional newspaper-style display ads like banners and buttons just haven't brought in the revenue. So news companies are now widening their sights.

In the case of business directories, news company advertising departments are going back to the tried and trusted - local advertising for local people.

But the trouble with service-based advertising is that the service itself is the attraction.

If I want a local florist I'll go to the business directory and find myself a florist. I don't want to read articles about florists, or read how one local florist has been named chairman of the local Rotary Club - I just want the flowers and then go back to searching for the latest Hollyoaks news.

Our quality journalism is now no longer the thing that attracts the eyeballs to the advertising.

So as news companies move from 'news' to 'service', how long will it be before someone at the top of the tree (more often than not someone who isn't a journalist) asks themselves, just why do we go to the expense of having journalists?

... just a thought.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Can newspapers survive online without Google?

I've been reading David A Vise's fascinating story behind Google which is aptly named The Google Story. Thanks to colleague Jo Kelly for the recommendation.

There's no denying that Sergey Brin and Larry Page have revolutionised how we use the web. The duo have opened up what was once purely the domain of techies, the world wide web, to the masses.

The Stanford undergraduates couldn't have known what their early online experiments were to become, or how their brand new invention would change the media industry forever.

And while some newspaper companies recoiled in horror when Google unveiled its Google News service, most of these companies have now learned the error of their ways and have rushed to register their sites. The reason is simple - it's where the traffic is. And while news companies' advertising departments struggle to get their heads around the web, there is one thing they understand - traffic equals cash.

But given the former newspaper companies' difficulties in monetising their web offerings, should they/we be looking into going into partnership with Google?

After all Brin and Page not only devised the best search engine, but with CEO Eric Schmidt, they found the Holy Grail ... how to make money through online advertising. Money which once flowed through the pages of newspapers, now goes into Google ads.

Many newspaper companies have long been facing the abyss, the current world-wide financial crisis hasn't made matters any easier, as revenues have dried up. Newspapers' most valuable commodity is their content. But every company has so far failed to find a way of monetising that content.

Meanwhile, Google has, and it isn't in the internet giant's interest to let newspapers die. It is newspapers which generate content, which in turn is attracting users onto Google News.

You could argue that Google has become the biggest media parasite in the world. Mr Schmidt has ruled out a Google bail out for troubled newspaper companies (see here for a Wired account), but Google could still very well be the saviour of news companies.

While Google relies on news companies producing content, news companies rely on ad revenue. What better time for a mutually beneficial arrangement between Google and the news industry where revenue is shared turning Google from media parasite to media company symbiont.

It's at least worth further investigation - what's the alternative?

Monday, 5 January 2009

Julian Todd - the man with the head of a developer but the heart of a journalist

If you want to view the future face of journalism, then look no further than Julian Todd (or you could if you could find any photos of him!).

Anyway, in the absence of a pic you'll have to make do with my description.

Julian, who I was fortunate enough to hear talk at the recent BarCamp Liverpool,  has the head of a developer, but the heart of a journalist and he is using his techie expertise to break down the barriers to democracy ensuring that information is available to all.

He is one of the collective brains behind the mySociety project which itself is behind:

Other sites which adopt this hyper-relevant/local journalism approach include StreetWire and

Julian is also working on a project to 'scrape' relevant information from Merseyside Police Force's website to allow residents from throughout the county to find out why the Force helicopter is out and about above their houses.

The work that Julian and the mySociety team are doing was once the domain, and the domain solely of local newspaper reporters who would once scour agendas and minutes to provide all the latest information relevant to their readers.

Even now, planning applications are a primary source of news for any good local newspaper. But Julian and his colleagues have taken it one step further and used their knowledge to automatically scrape relevant information for users.

Julian is in the very truest sense of the term a data miner - a modern day investigative journalist.  These are the people who uncover gems of information which are invaluable to readers and users, both in print and online.

The Future of Journalism

It is people like Julian and his fellow developers who we must look towards for the future of journalism. Not only to his skills to be able to source information and scrape websites to uncover hidden facts and relevant details, but it is also to his drive and determination to uncover these facts which journalists must aspire.

No longer is journalism the domain of the English graduate, it is now the stomping ground of developers, programmers and those who know how to source information for those who know their way around the web.   Journalists must now be able to source information and be able to use all of their expertise and know how to uncover the truth for their readers.

Convergence isn't just about the newsroom, it's about the journalist and the role of the reporter. Reporters were once known to be jacks of all trades and masters of none. Now they must be jacks of all trades and masters of all. And this is no more true than using the web as a tool and uncovering new ways of getting information.

People like Julian Todd are leading by example and the journalist must take note.  This really is the future of journalism - relevant information made accessible to the reader.

Welcome to the future of journalism.