Tag Archives: journalism

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.

The BNP’s presence on Question Time isn’t worrying, but the fearful response from opposing politicians is.

It is a welcome ruffle of feathers that follows any headline that involves the BNP; a sure-fire way to inspire public interest and debate. This time though, I am somewhat flabbergasted. The news that the Nick Griffin may appear on Question Time has been recieved in a pitifully fearful fashion, particularly by the Labour party.

The party, who have previously had a strict policy against sharing a platform with the BNP, have been shaking their fists at the decision from Auntie following “evidence of electoral support at a national level”.

Firstly, if the BNP’s previous performance in the media is to go by there really is nothing to worry about. Those members of the Labour party scurrying away from the prospect of Griffin’s appearance have clearly not spent much time actually listening to him – and don’t even get me started on their website (in the spirit of shining lights on cockraches I have linked here for educational purposes).

The public can be trusted in their reaction to Griffin.

The public can be trusted in their reaction to Griffin.

The majority of what they say is simply non-sensical and factually laughable. So, it is the fear of other potential panel members that they would not be able to highlight it as such which should send shivers down the spine.

Question Time is the perfect platform, for want of a better word, from which the BNP can display their warts.

The decision to exclude them is bordering on media censorship, damages an intelligent audience’s trust in the programme’s impartiality but also marginalises and victimises the party, which are far more dangerous consequences. More to the point, this restriction clearly hasn’t worked in the past, allowing Griffin and co. to swipe a number of Labour’s northern seats from under their noses and consequently settle their despicable rear-ends in Europe. On one hand a restriction on their presence stinks of totalitarianism, on the other it seems lily-livered and worryingly in their favour.

I am still hopeful that many of the people who voted BNP do not share their most extreme views, views which need highlighting on platforms exactly like Question Time where an informed public audience and opposing political representatives can shine a light on their policies. They have only acheived their recent successes by shrinking underneath public scrutiny and proper interrogation.

A pathetic Labour response has included word that they will not “force” any MP to sit alongside Griffin if they objected. Yes, Griffin might not be your first choice at a candlelit dinner party but it seems to me there are slightly more pressing issues here than the sensitivities of Labour members who may not want to sit next to Griffin on TV. They should be chomping at the bit to attack Griffin’s racist viewpoints.

Luckily, the proposal has also been received warmly by those who see the need for an uncomfortable democratic debate to take place. Iain Dale hit the nail on it’s head on his blog:

“People are elected who we would rather not deal with. Tough. The BBC has done the right thing, and if Labour empty chair the programme, it will say more about them than it can ever do about the loathsome BNP.”

The BNP have sidelined themselves and cried victimisation, fuelling curiosity and opening up opportunities for them to peddle their own interests on street corners with little in the way of scrutiny. It is only with responsible publicity and decent interrogation that their ridiculous and sickening policies will be shown for what they truly are. Allow them to dig their own grave.

Clearing the clouds: MP’s expenses and a silver lining for journalism

The overwhelming saga that is the MP’s expenses scandal is nothing short of a journalistic triumph. Each day brings further revelations of both the trivial claims and dirtier manipulations of a system now in tatters.

With each new insight into how politicians have cheated the system come their pathetic bleatings as they attempt to shirk responsibility.

‘Oh dear, that particular claim was a mistake; but we weren’t breaking any rules; ah yes, now we look at it you’re right, the system is a little flawed…’

Each pithy excuse fuels further distrust in the current political system and the MP’s obsession with whether rules have been broken leaves a somewhat gaping hole in regard to  morality.

Importantly, the investigation has brought to light the most damning story of political corruption of recent years, and subsequently the power of the media to hold those in power to account has never felt stronger.

Despite a crumbling relationship between the British public and the political institution, we are seeing a new level of engagement between the public and the media, and a renewed vigour for the role of journalism.

The Telegraph’s treatment of this investigation has been nothing short of brilliant, and the sharp increase in circulation proves it.

However credit should go to the ongoing campaign and hard work of Freedom of Information expert, Heather Brooke, who has been fighting for five years to increase transparency and bring into the public domain exactly what we are seeing now. Read her excellent G2 article about her campaign here.

It was encouraging to see Roy Greenslade praising Brooke for her work in his Evening Standard column when the story initially broke:

“Brooke follows in the tradition of journalists who pursue single-minded missions on behalf of the greater good, earning only a meagre reward for their efforts.”

Heather Brooke

Heather Brooke

Journalistic investigations that harness the skills that are all too often now called ‘traditional’ are the ones that will continue to sell the papers.

Journalists rarely get a pat on the back from the British public but there is a great sense of pride in the work done by both Brooke and latterly, The Telegraph. This is the kind of public-interest story that the next generation of journalists take as inspiration.

It is encouraging to know that, in a somewhat shakey industry, it is the foundations of good investigative journalism that still captivate the readership.

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.

susan-boyle-google-trends2

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.

New media demands more than ‘robo-journalists’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Twitter was once again the topic of choice in my online journalism lecture today.  Of slightly more interest this week was the ‘star-studded’ discussion panel (my lecturer Chris Brauer‘s own words) who were chipping in their well-received thoughts on the topic and on new media in general.

Talking and tweeting: the discussion panel at City University

Talking and tweeting: the discussion panel at City University

Blogger and new media expert Jemima Kiss (@jemimakiss) and director of POLIS, Charlie Beckett (@charliebeckett) were speaking, along with BBC’s Pete Clifton, writer Anthony Thornton and internet entrepreneur Matteo Berlucchi. One point of interest, on a brief vacation from the topic of twitter, was that of the concept of the ‘robojournalist’ and in particular how the role of the journalist is changing.

Charlie Beckett made reference to what can be seen as ‘old media’ and a time when television channels and newspapers set themselves up as the foundations of  society proclaiming, “we are the world!”.

Well, now that world has opened up, in a way we are only just beginning to realise. New media has transformed that out of date mode of thought and allows each and every one of us to engage with an entirely new range of audiences. It is time therefore for the next generation of reporters to step up to the plate.

In this world of new media one arrives, hopefully, multi-skilled and laden with gadgets. Armed and ready to capture every nugget and nano-second of news in order to throw it out to the world via the internet.

But Jemima Kiss,  now affectionately labelled ‘mistress of multi-skilling’ by Charlie Beckett, issued a warning. It simply isn’t enough to carry the tools around but to learn to use them effectively. Obvious, no?

Perhaps not, it seems many people think that by simply using the newest gadgets or latest medium they are, by default, successful journalists. Unfortunately not. It is now about learning the appropriate way of utilising each medium to communicate successfully.

Peter Thornton warned against a generation of journalists who are so multi-skilled they would simply be “crap at everything”. Instead, he urged, it is about learning about and selecting the tools you are good at using.

On a more general note, as old practice and new media grate alongside each other, it is clear to me that you cannot push new concepts into an old model. Charlie Beckett agrees, saying that this has been happening for too long, as new media is still not being taken seriously as a stand-alone idea.

I would be lying if, yet again, I didn’t feel a little overwhelmed on the topic of (here it comes again) new media. It is a tough job to balance both the innovative and traditional elements of journalism, but I really think this should be looked at as a positive challenge.

The fact that the boundaries of communication have been blown wide open should be seen as an exciting opportunity for budding reporters to approach journalism and engage with the world on a completely new level.

Editing Jefferson for the new media age

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer printed it’s last issue yesterday, prompting a cheesed off staffer to amended this classic Thomas Jefferson quote:

Black and white: the future of print media seems all too clear (Photo taken from Gawker.com)

Black and white: the future of print media seems all too clear (Photo taken from Gawker.com)

The Seattle-PI is now an online-only publication where there won’t be “specific reporters, editors or producers—all staff are expected to write, edit, take photos, shoot video and produce multimedia”.

Whether or not this pseudo guerrilla artist is still on the payroll of Seattle PI is unknown. Chances are though, no matter how much he or she is opposed to the new online format, and a homogenised editorial team, I would bet a fair share of my student loan that they didn’t voluntarily give up their position in a martyr- like protest.

That would be a luxury many journalists would be grateful to have. In reality, we’re going to have to link it or lump it.

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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Kate Peyton Inquest: How far is too far?

Kate Peyton

Kate Peyton

A number of stories have been scrolling through my Feedreader this evening regarding the inquest into the death of Kate Peyton, a former reporter who was tragically shot while on assignment for the BBC in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

This Guardian article caught my particular attention.

With the clarity of hindsight, it is understandable that the mother of Kate Peyton regrets not talking her daughter out of the trip. However, what concerned me as a journalist is her mothers admissions of what Kate herself said about the trip before leaving: ‘This will prove to them that I am committed’.

Her mother goes further, saying Kate saw a direct link between the trip and ‘her contract’ with the BBC. In addition, the risk assessment form was described as ‘basic’ by a freelance journalist who worked in South Africa with Peyton. I find this shocking considering how dangerous an area she was visiting.

There are always going to be calculated risks when working on projects such as this (not forgetting the thrill of being of the ‘frontline’ itself) but how much responsibility should a paper, or in this case, the BBC, take to ensure the safety of their reporters? It is a practical issue which I currently don’t know a great deal about. Personally, I draw the line at risking my own life for my career, and personal limitations have to be set.

If her mother’s understanding of Peyton’s sentiments is to be believed then I am left with a rather sour taste in my mouth regarding this case. Of course we all want to go that extra mile to be successful, but it is the rationale behind this which concerns me. It is the direct link of the pressure to go on such a dangerous trip with employment contracts, rather than for reporting quality news and journalistic praise that makes me feel uncomfortable.

Am I being naive, do such decisions come down to contracts and paychecks, regardless of consequences?

****

The Guardian reports here developments in the inquest. The coroner has stated that Peyton only took the assignment in Somalia because she felt her “job was on the line”.

The BBC say that no career ‘should suffer’ as a result of not taking on assignments, however I can’t see how this can be the case. Technically there should be no negative consequences of turning down a job in terms of contract renewal, to take this specific case, but as a journalist your job is made up from the stories you write. It may often be that by putting yourself in a sticky situation, you are the journalist that gets the scoop, but when do you draw the line between your job, and your life? It is a difficult thing to ask a journalist to do; give up a story, and this is where the pressure lies, as well as from editors and contract writers.

Updated 27 Nov 2008

Pushing the agenda: politicians as columnists

It was recently questioned by one of my colleagues whether politicians who are still holding office should write columns in newspapers. His argument was, with specific reference to Boris Johnson’s column in the Telegraph, that a politicians remarks are greatly influenced by his or her current political affiliations and thus the columnist cannot be said to be practicing unbiased journalism.

This colleague went further, saying that he could not ‘trust’ Mayor Johnson as a journalist, and that he ‘switched off’ as he was reading the piece when it became clear that he was pushing his own agenda.

It seems obvious to me that in general columnists are constantly pushing their own agenda, or if not this then certainly personal views, and cannot be said to be unbiased. I do not read columns as examples of neutral reporting, quite the opposite and I often glean more enjoyment from a piece pushing an agenda which I am strongly opposed to. It gives me a chance to rant and scoff and all those things which a young journalist enjoys indulging in, as well as allowing me to consider an alternative viewpoint.

Personally, I think it is a great shame more politicians don’t have columns, or perhaps, write blogs. It seems an obvious arena for well thought out agenda pushing. I presume the majority, if not all, of the people that read a politicians blog will be aware of their political alliances. These shouldn’t be read as a means of employing subversive tactics to brainwash the reader, they should be read as another, perhaps more transparent and honest approach by the politician in communicating with the interested reading public.

When all we often receive from politicians is ‘sound-bites’, it is actually enlightening to see a carefully considered and crafted piece of writing which allows us to engage with them on our own turf, as it were. If only more politicians were more open about their personal opinions in columns and blogs then there may be an environment of trust, rather than caution.