Tag Archives: digital

The Rise of the Great Paywall

I have seen the future, sort of, maybe. No-one is really sure, but it is all anyone media types are talking about.

The Great Wall has landed;  The Times and Sunday Times paid-for websites have been revealed.

But before Murdoch‘s (or Harding’s, really) iron gates descend in June, we are free to browse.

Both sites, which are now independent from one another, are usable, look slick and as promised are far improved from the current Times Online format. Being frank, if they had stayed in the same clunky, unattractive style, no-one would have paid.

But yes, the paywall. Whether this is a genuine attempt to increase revenue, or a great PR exercise and fun media pawn-playing game for Murdoch, we will soon be asked to pay one pound per day, or two pounds per week for access.

The question isn’t really whether it is worth two pounds. In my mind, it obviously is but no-one yet knows how the digital masses will behave. In fact, I think varied as we are, there may well be room for both paid-for models and free online content.

Jeff Jarvis sees the move as lazy and weak displaying a lack of innovation and inspiration from The Times to compete in the online world. This is far removed from where editor James Harding positioned the decision:

“The Times was founded to take advantage of new technology.  Now, we are leading the way again. Our new website – with a strong, clean design – will have all the values of the printed paper and all the versatility of digital media.”

Jarvis’ point that Murdoch had until recently never used the internet does not lure me to his way of thinking. I highly doubt this was Murdoch’s decision alone, sent in a demanding note via pigeon to Wapping, in the same way I presume he isn’t spearheading the well received technical improvements to the website.

Harding accepts that 90% of Times Online visitors will be lost, but that these people will have been ‘window shoppers’.

But aren’t we all now part of this clan, curious consumers who are able to grab information, digest it quickly, share and move on? The variations lie in where we place our allegiances and which sources we value most.

Trying to align a business model which pays for journalism with the intangible value of the work itself and the requirements of its audience and in such a vastly uncontrollable and unchartered space is a mind-bogglingly complicated issue.

If The Times website does indeed lose 90% of readers, how will its journalists feel? What use is an exclusive story behind a paywall and… good God what will happen to sharing news on Twitter?

Realistically, this comes down to revenue. Journalism does need to be paid for, but whether this is the right format remains to be seen.

If this fails it may simply highlight the shift in the way the majority of internet users consume news, and the the digitally savvy reader will just go somewhere else for now. But I forsee that what may start with a loyal, dimished readership forking out for access will eventually grow into a trend, and more papers will follow.

Eitherway the installation of this paywall around one of the UK’s most influential news sites marks an unavoidable shift in the media landscape and perhaps worringly, Murdoch is at the helm.


‘Thanks Twitter’ – a real triumph for media freedom

Today we have witnessed, in Alan Rusbridger’s own words, a ‘great victory for free speech.’

As if you didn’t know, this afternoon, after a frenzy of online activity, a gagging order (a ‘super-injuction’ ) was lifted which had been imposed on the Guardian in relation to a question from a then unnamed MP, Paul Farrelly to Parliament about the oil traders Trafigura.

There is little to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said because over the last 20 or so hours I have witnessed the fascinating and wonderfully detailed unfolding of events, and I have been able to do so by reading comments from those in the thick of it, via twitter.

Once again the net has come up trumps, not only in the speed and efficiency that information has been passed on but by making a very important difference in the outcome of the case itself.

The ‘Kafkaesque’ restrictions were originally leaked on twitter by Rusbridger himself on 11 October – if you could call the small amount of information he was allowed to tweet a leak at all.


Rusbridger thanked Twitter users for their support

Breaking news. Guardian gagged by a company in the High Court. We can’t tell you which company, or why. Er, that’s it.”

In their original front-page story today, the Guardian said it was prevented from identifying the MP who had asked the question, what the question was, which minister might answer it, or where the question was to be found. They were also banned from telling the public why.

This totally unprecedented and ‘doubly menacing’ threat on media freedom, a restriction of reporting on Parliament, was met with fury online where the voices of those who could not be silenced rang out loud and clear.

The transparency and openness of the internet and the immediacy of twitter allowed fervent discussion to take place and revealed not only information about the gagging order but the outrage against those who imposed it.

Frankly it proved that a gagging order will not work when up against intelligent, media savvy internet users.

I follow a fairly media-centric group of tweeters, so it is understandable that my newsfeed was taken up mostly by comment on the #guardian #trafigura and RTs of @arusbridger but one glance at trendsmap shows that it wasn’t just media types entering the debate:


This amount of public involvement in media freedom cases should be celebrated. There was a sense  of accomplishment following the collapse of the gagging order, that the internet – which can often get a hard time from those with a stake in newspapers- made a substantial difference in a very serious matter.

More importantly it made a mockery of Trafigura who, let it not be forgotten should be under the spotlight for the horrendous and illegal fly-tipping of chemical waste on the Ivory Coast in 2006.

Alan Rusbridger on the future of journalism

I wanted to share this video of Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, speaking at an event at the Institut für Medienpolitik in Berlin.

I think his comments about “inverting the journalistic model” are particularly interesting. Journalists can no longer hand out “pearls of wisdom” to people who “actually know more than we do”. Instead we should use the wealth of information available to us and strike up conversations between experts and journalists in order to improve the content of papers…

Anyway, watch for yourself:

Ordering the news; spot the trend or follow it?

It is the foolhardy prerogative for any journalist to want to be at the epicentre of all the action. Arguably in the case of swine-flu it is less so.

However, having spent the past fortnight working at The Scotsman in Edinburgh, I found myself in the middle of something equally viral; the Susan Boyle effect.

I am fully aware of the global nature of the sensation that is Susan Boyle but, what with her being oh so very Scottish, I can’t help feeling I had my head right next to the speaker on this one.

Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent Photo: Flickr

Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent Photo: Flickr

In a totally unprecedented form of self-harm, I shall take this opportunity to continue the now thoroughly worn out discussion of the ruddy-cheeked singing sensation. Namely, because my overexposure to the Boyle-effect made me think, once again, about digital media and how journalists are now producing and gathering news.

One look at Google Trends shows the search patterns for Susan Boyle. It also shows the news reference volume. This is a perfect example of how web users have dictated the news content by creating an overnight celebrity. For over a week she had more searches than Britney Spears, Cheryl Cole, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek – combined.


As marketing expert Niall McKinney, CEO of utalkmarketing.co.uk told me, in the past this level of global recognition would have taken tens of millions of pounds to generate and quite frankly, it wouldn’t have happened. Certainly not in the space of 11 days (as it was at the time).

Journalists had immediate and ongoing knowledge of just how interested the public were in Susan Boyle, and they capitalised on that. Fair game, and I’m sure ITV are happy.

What interests me however, is the blurring of lines between how the agenda of news is set, the extent to which journalists feed into trends or whether they simply reflect them.

Journalists are aware of the massive influence they have in driving trends and this is why press officers regularly regurgitate into reporter’s mailboxes. But in a struggling industry we also need to remember to take on board the current interests and trends that are driving our audience. Websites such as twitter and tools like Google Trends allow us to do this.

The problem lies in an increasingly complex relationship between branding and advertising agencies and the media. As agencies discover more innovative and subversive tactics to get their message across, it becomes more difficult to identify the real interests of our audience and seemingly natural trends that have actually been cultivated in other ways.

Although these tools will never replace traditional journalism, they can help reporters identify with their readers requirements and interests, it’s up to the reporters to identify what is news and what is simply creation.

Newspapers & advertising: an opportunity for innovation

Newspapers need to innovate to survive. The speed of the internet makes it a perfect bed partner for breaking headlines and up-to-the-minute (often milli-second) current affairs, so it would be ignorant to think the future of news lies anywhere other than on the web.

However, this fact which many journalists view with such gloom is by no means the nail in the coffin lid for print media – as long as they are prepared to look to the future and innovate.

Many newspapers are dragging their heels at a time when they can’t afford to, resting on the laurels that a tradition as the fourth estate has given them. Self-promotion seems to be something which most papers consider below them in their role as the purveyors of information.

As one of the three factors in a newspaper’s revenue model (along with the digital part and, oh yes, the readers), advertising space  is top priority, and a reason why the recession has hit print media so hard. (The advertising revenue from digital is still not strong enough financially to buoy up a fledgling paper).

Seeing as newspapers are a key medium through which all global brands communicate with consumers, why do newspapers struggle to speak about their own brand effectively?

Recently, a fellow City University student, who was working at The Sunday Times, blogged (unfortunately on an internal University page) about what can only be described as an employee pep-talk by James Murdoch.

Murdoch says a refusal to change the way in which we think about newspapers is "pathetic".

Murdoch says a refusal to change the way in which we think about newspapers is "pathetic".

“The newspaper industry is in one of the greatest opportunities for innovation I have ever seen, and if we don’t grasp it we’re pathetic,” he said.

The FT write about him saying something very similar at the Monaco Media Forum here.

She noted his “overwhelming positivity” in regard to the newspaper industry (a rarity these days) – yet also his urgent call to address the issues faced by papers and embrace change.

On his blog, The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki makes a well-known but problematic observation:

“When it comes to promoting themselves, newspapers have historically been almost completely uninterested.”

Put simply, this just won’t do.

Not only do individual brands need to consider their identity and differentiate themselves to be marketed effectively, newspapers across the board should be reconsidered in terms of what they are offering readers as a product.

Murdoch spoke of a focus on engaging customers, communicating with them effectively and building strong, quality and long-lasting relationships. This may sting some traditionalists but thought needs to be given to what a newspaper can offer other than simply the news.

This is a great opportunity in print journalism to take a fresh perspective on how to communicate with readers. By no means should there be limits put on the quanitity, or quality of the news but perhaps thought should be given as to how best newspapers can address consumers needs, and promote themselves effectively in what is becoming a vicious market.

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