Tag Archives: media

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.

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‘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.

Alan-Rusbridger-001

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:

guard

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.

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.

Twitter ye not…

twitterFollowing news about the onslaught of new tweeters, inspired by  ‘how-to’ supplement spreads and advice from master tweeter Stephen Fry, that have appeared in recent months, it is interesting to find out that only 40% will continue twittering away 30 days later.

This data (released by Nielsen Online ) comes as little surprise to me. It seems Twitter is a victim of its own medium.

Primarily I use twitter as a professional tool but the majority of people still see Twitter as a self-promotional and desperate attempt by people to engage with people about their breakfast or a missed bus.

I must admit that when given a stage, albeit a miniature one, on which to tell the whole world how you are feeling, it can be tempting to get carried away. It’s human nature to try and tell other people what you are experiencing, however banal, in order to feel connected to the world. (This is a subject worthy of much more consideration and something my friend Jenny Winfield has talked about on her blog.)

Saying this, I am still unsure about this seemingly banal and pointless tweeting. I use Twitter because I benefit from it, professionally. If I only engage with people about how tired/late/hungry they are then I am gaining very little.

For young journalists the benefits of using twitter are  information sharing and, of course, networking (involuntary heaving action should be experienced here). It has enabled me to engage with admired journalists, like @jemimakiss and @indiaknight, and promote my work.

It has also become the platform for a number of important campaigns and has been employed by news stations to track global disasters, such as the Mumbai bombings or #swineflu. These are of course, of interest to everyone but are only experienced after a prolonged and engaged use of the service.

The reason why people aren’t returning, as far as I can see,  is that those without an agenda to push see very little immediate reward in Twitter, unlike those sharing information or using the site for work.

It seems that for most people, with the speed and wealth of information available, anything that gives less than instant and personal gratification is no longer good enough.

Twitter demands some kind of loyalty from it’s users. If these everyday-life tweeters aren’t getting anything in return for devoting their precious time to Twitter, they won’t return to the nest.

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.