How to (not) kill journalism

I read this a while ago but I had a broken wrist and, while I could have potentially used all sorts of free online tools to get my point across, I really couldn’t face it. I was in pain, and I disagreed with this post so fundamentally, that the best thing to do was simply put it in the bottom drawer for a while. 

It’s been a while. I’m still disagreeing with this post but the beauty of time passing is that more commenters have arrived to give their point of view too. And what a disheartened bunch they are, in the main 

I’m not sure what I should expect from a post that’s titled How To Kill Journalism, but here are a couple of pars that struck me. Let’s start with the patronising: 

First, it needs to be said is that the author, a young widow in her early 40s, is extremely earnest, well-intentioned and one of the hardest-working administrators I know.

Bless! A young widow! Possibly facing the prospect of picking coal with her bare hands if she doesn’t toe the company line!

And then there’s the ‘slave labour’ kicker 

Unfortunately, she now works for a division of the Journal-Register Company, which is to journalism what a Soviet slave labor camp was to the union movement. In the process, she seems to have lost sight completely of what journalism is supposed to be.

JRC = Gulag. That’s not hyperbole in any way, is it? It’s the sort of rational thinking that, after just three paragraphs, tells me I’m going to get a reasonable argued, considered, piece of critical analysis. I guess Jack Lessenberry is deliberately courting controversy and doing what a good columnist should – stirring things up. But he’s got a lot of ‘hear hear’ responses from people, who obviously think slave labour is what digital journalism is about. 

I wrote this three years ago because I wanted to explore the different ways a reporter could tell and share a story using online tools; it’s now as antique as a Stylophone. I got some angry reaction too, mostly from Twitter and discussion boards, from journalists ex and present who thought I’d written a prescription for what they should be doing, rather than what they could do. 
And they were wrong, as well. As a reporter I always found time for the things I wanted to do; it was the boring, complicated or trivial that would slip down the to-do list.

In her memo to staff, the editor asks her JRC staff if they had…

• Crowdsourced so they could ask more relevant questions of local officials
• Uploaded the City Council’s agenda to the paper’s website using before the meeting and share it on social media so that readers would know that city leaders were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit 
• Checked in to the meeting on social media and then Tweet and posted on Facebook some of the discussion points during the meeting?
• Shot video of local residents during the meeting protesting the decision, processed it during the meeting, and posted it on the paper’s website before the meeting ended?
• Posted a paragraph on the website under Breaking News about the vote during the meeting and wrote the full story after, posted it online, and then pushed it out using social media, SMS text, or breaking news alert via e-newsletter subscriber list?
• Followed up on the issue by hosting a live chat the next day with local leaders and residents?

For suggesting the above, she’s condemned as naive and over-demanding, and of failing to understand just how busy her team are. 
This is more bullshit than I’m prepared to accept. 
Let’s consider the evidence…
Did you crowdsource so you can ask more relevant questions? – You did, didn’t you? After all, it only takes a “Off to Oxdown council meeting for #oxdowncuts debate – what do you think?” you crowdsourced the issue. If you were a smart journalist interested in writing relevant copy and asking the questions people care about, that is.

Did you upload the doc to Scribd? – This is one of the most labour-saving sites around; most national and regional titles I know of are using it to upload pdfs, reports and more. And they’re not alone – the Government Docs section of Scribd has everything from the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Accident logs to the a guide to UK Crowdfunding. Uploading the agenda of your local council meeting so people can see it is a no-brainer; it’s your job as a journalist to share information – especially public realm information that others may struggle to access. 

Did yyo use social media to check in and then update during the meeting? – Journalists regularly and accurately live-tweet evidence in court hearings without keeling over exhausted; tweeting “Labour has failed to win over independents on council over library cuts” and posting it via sms to Twitter during a boring stretch of debate is the work of seconds. 

Did you shoot video before the meeting? – Possibly you did, if you got there early enough. Did you edit and upload it during the meeting? – This one depends on your phone and some in-office co-operation really. I could edit and upload to YouTube (not my employer’s cms, but the code could then be copied by a co-worker) from my smartphone in a couple of minutes. It would be rough and ready but it would be a snatched moment-in-time, something the audience could experience only because I shot that video. 

Posted updates on the vote [etc] – Journalists have been filing copy over the phone for years, or in my case handing sheaves of written copy it to the passing bus driver to drop off at head office. Emailing something from your phone or ringing it to newsdesk is not unusual, nor is then tweeting to say it’s online.  I wouldn’t expect that same journalist to write the e-bulletin; I would expect a colleague on the digital team to push it out. 

Hosted a live chat the following day? – Happens all the time. If it’s a big enough issue, why wouldn’t you? One popular web chat we hosted brought the Media Wales sports editor and the Liverpool Daily Post&Echo chief sports writer together on a liveblog for a chat about transfers. A. Chat. But it was one readers could be a part of, by posting questions and comments. Thirty minutes flew by, everyone enjoyed themselves and the audience broadly thought our two sports guys were awesome for doing it. Not bad. 

What I don’t know – and what I suspect the writer of How To Kill Journalism doesn’t know, is whether that memo was sent as a round robin, or to an individual. If it’s an individual, I can see why they would feel concerned – without a manager sitting down and taking you through that sort of list and showing you how easy and fast these tools are – it would be daunting. If it’s a round robin then everyone involved in that article has responsibility: 

  • The news editor sending the reporter out is responsible for ensuring their workload is reasonable
  • The reporter is responsible for covering the meeting in the way specified (and that includes following the company strategy, which in JRC is digital-first, as well as the line manager’s briefing)  
  • The web team is responsible for offering support, curation and unique content to support the reporter
  • The editor, ultimately, is responsible for ensuring people have the adequate tools and training to meet her requirements
On the editor’s blog – I can’t link because Jack Lessenbury doesn’t link or reference her newspaper – one woman apparently posted “Is a reporter going to spend literally days covering one event?” 
To which I hope the Unknown Editor replied “yes, sometimes they do. Sometimes they sit in a court all day without filing anything other than a few pars, and sometimes they spend days on a story for it to collapse because the subject has had a change of heart. And if the event is important enough (and one might suggest a debate involving city leaders who were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit was important enough) then they would spend as much time as necessary covering it.”

Look how long the Middlesbrough Gazette spent on this story outing their local MP as less-than-dedicated – “The Gazette has been making daily calls to Sir Stuart’s Westminster office and Middlesbrough home over the course of several months. Despite making a total of 100 calls, no one ever answered.” Often, playing the long game is what garners the greatest rewards in journalism. 

Anyway, it might not mean much but I wholeheartedly support that Young Widowed Editor, whomever she may be. It’s not memos exhorting staff to engage more and ask the questions that matter to their audiences that will kill journalism – nothing, I suspect, is going to kill journalism; it’s just that some people won’t recognise what it’s becoming. 

A brief moment of newsroom nostalgia

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I was talking to a colleague recently who mentioned the days of “pots of Gloy“and suddenly, for the first time in years, I recalled watching newspapers being literally pasted together, while trying to avoid being walked into by men wielding scalpels.

Then I rediscovered a link Adrian McEwen sent me some time ago to the All On Paper experiment, where pre-computer technology was being used to produce a student newspaper.

And when I stopped to consider those two separate occurances – a conversation about how things were, and a student experiment of recreating the old, while learning the new – I realised any argument about people’s inability to adapt to a shifting newsroom culture collapses to nothing.

Writing a story used to involve a typewriter and carbon paper. It evolved into an boxy word processor (possibly resembling this):

Subbing a story used to involve physically cutting up hard copy and shifting paragraphs around, or inserting new ones (hence the pots of Gloy).
I did barely any page design, and was a true roving hack, but even I had a protractor.
Now, we’re designing data visualisations that allow readers to interact, to take the data and reuse, and (if we’re wise) to share our creations on their own publishing platforms.
Truly, the past is another country.

The days of people lighting a cigarette with one hand while taking a shorthand note, with the phone cradled somewhere between shoulder and ear, are gone. 
The passage of typewriters means the noise has gone too. 
Sometimes, when people are working flat out, the only real sound is of muted phone rings and the air conditioning. When the presses moved out of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo, the familiar rumble and shake from the bowels of the building ended forever, and another soundtrack to the industry was lost.

But media goes on. People keep making news, journalists keep reporting it, albeit in smaller numbers, and with vastly different tools. 
No old stager of a hack would leave the office without their mobile phone now any more than they  would their notebook – a small adaption but a significant one. My phone is an indispensable tool, just like the internet.

A co-worker once warned me not to try and change X, because X had done it that way forever and wouldn’t change. Frankly, I can’t imagine many more insulting things to say about a colleague – especially a journalist. We change all the time, sometimes through choice, sometimes through circumstances; when we say someone else can’t change, we’re projecting our own fears and obstinacy on to them – quite wrongly in most instances, I’d imagine.
I enjoyed my little moment of newspaper nostalgia, courtesy of Gloy, but I couldn’t imagine going back to making news like that.

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The Gordian Knot of newspapers, journalism and making money

I have a lot of questions; I don’t have many answers.
Four years ago, I thought the questions I should ask were: Why aren’t we tweeting? Do we have a Facebook page? Shall we start a Flickr group? How do we go about running a 3-day liveblog? etc etc
About two years ago I started asking new questions. These were: Are we engaging enough? Why do we have so much online shovelware? Why are we holding that story for print? and – increasingly – Why aren’t newspapers doing more to help themselves? 
Twelve months down the line and there was another shift in questions. They became: Why are we still having this discussion? Does anyone really believe people will part with hard cash for what we currently offer online? Does anyone have any answers? 

Years of questions that went from being all about the shiny, dynamic world of digital journalism and engagement, to articulating concerns about the inability of the legacy end of the business to catch up, to frustration.
And you know what? There are a lot of people asking ‘does anyone have any answers?’ – you can almost hear the sound of cyber coughing, and the shuffling of digital feet, as we wait for someone to fill in the silence.

Last week, Alan Rusbridger had a go at filling the silence, and suddenly we all wanted to talk about it too. Kevin Anderson wrote this:

The Guardian needs an intervention. Digital first will not be enough to save it. It needs to remember that although they are supported by a trust, that is not a licence to completely ignore business realities. 

and sparked a pretty wide-ranging and long-lasting debate; even yesterday I saw on Twitter he was being challenged for this stance by Journalism Luminaries Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rose. However, as someone on the inside of the mainstream media (non-Trust), looking out, his thoughts on the need to be more commercially aware resonated with me.
I have sat through a lot of conferences where the future of journalism has been talked into submission but the survival of the mainstream media barely registered, which is fine if you don’t work in mainstream media but I do, and it’s a subject close to my heart.

When I read the Guardian announcement, my first thought was it seemed a slightly more elegant approach to the Gordian Knot that is the Future of Journalism/Newspapers than Alexander might have taken, but it was still from the same school of “FUCK THIS for a game of soldiers”. Maybe Rusbridger’s also had enough of asking Why are we still having this discussion? 

At the first News:rewired conference Marc Reeves spoke about the need for journalists to be more commercially savvy and aware of opportunities for their advertising departments. His message was misunderstood by some as saying journalists should sell advertising and he drew some criticism. Those people missed the point of his message.

I read this on Afrodissident today

I read with dismay a few days ago that Business Day was developing an app for iPad. I’m no Luddite, but I think it’s a crying shame knowing that money’s being wasted on a gimmick when it should be rather spent on improving the paper’s core product.

Personally, I doubt making an app will detract from the core product – resourcing an app is the tiniest drop in the ocean compared to keeping the legacy product afloat but it’s an eloquent blog post that poses some interesting questions.
Several years ago, when I first got to experiment with all sorts of digital tools for engagement, community building, conversation and interaction, for the first time I understood there was an audience waiting to talk to us about what we do, and had their own views about what we should and shouldn’t do. It was an exceptionally liberating and illuminating time. The Shiny doesn’t distract me from my job, it helps me do it better.
It isn’t the whole solution; perhaps it’s more important to work out much of the answer it could be. I don’t think The Guardian is going to act as a canary for the rest of the media in this – it is, after all, a unique beast – but the News International model hasn’t worked at regional level so far.
I guess it’s going to throw out a whole new set of questions.

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Newspaper choices: Build paywalls or build bridges with audiences?

I see another regional title is going to have a bash at paywalling content. Yes, I did just verb Paywall but if that was the only thing that bothered you about the opening sentence then well done, you’re an excellent sub. Now go correct lolcat spelling or something.

But kudos to Wolverhampton Express & Star for marking to the very month the anniversary of Johnson Press giving a midnight burial to its paywall scheme…by launching a paywall scheme.
The axed Johnson Press plan, which saw a £5 subscription levied on audiences who wanted to read stories on some local sites (the experiment was not rolled out across all group sites), was done away with in March 2010 although JP declined to talk about the whys and wherefores.
I’d imagine the why was because no one paid a bean towards looking at the content, but that’s just me speculating.

Undaunted, the Express & Star is planning a new ‘premium’ section on its website which audiences will have to pay to see. The full story is on Hold The Front Page (not too many comments from anonymous keyboard warriors yet but give them time*see update below) but these, for me, were the standout points:
  • The Midlands News Association title will continue to publish highlights of the day’s news on the front page of its website
  • “We’re not trying to sell this as a standalone, in competition to the hard copy paper. It’s a package to add value and help the overall circulation.” [Deputy editor Keith Harrison]
  • Editors will decide which stories will appear on which side of the paywall on a case-by-case basis

I don’t believe paywalls on regional titles are the solution to media companies’ troubles; I blogged the reasons for my views here and here and nothing that’s happened in the regionals sector since then has led me to change my mind.
The other school of thought is to drive revenues through apps. I did buy Vanity Fair as an iPad app in February – I wanted to read the Assange interview on a plane journey – but I never got around to reading it as I got the full gist of what he said on the Guardian website (via Twitter). Free. If it hadn’t been in the Guardian, I would have got it off a blog site. Free.
I haven’t read the rest of VF either and I can’t be bothered – it’s Too Much Information presented in a linear way, and I’m just not in the market for it. I don’t want my print content reproduced electronically; I want a Pulse, or a Flipboard approach ( with good content, please); I am a distracted individual and if you want my attention for long you need to start telling me what people like me are interested in as I probably don’t have the time or the inclination to discover it for myself. 

Is there anything in an average newspaper’s editorial pages that I would pay to read online? Doubtful. Information is just so ubiquitous that I can’t imagine not being able to get, if not the whole story, at least the shape of it from my networks. Plus I’d get their views on it at the same time.  

I would possibly pay to be part of a newspaper’s reader club if – big if – there was value in it for me. But then you’d need to start working out what’s of value to your disparate audience and tailoring packages to their requirements, which would mean Marketing is probably the most important department in a newspaper business at the moment.
The old newspaper model was built around providing a platform for people who wanted to buy space somewhere that had many eyes on it, and it’s been blasted apart by the internet. The new way of doing business means phrases like customer relationship management, consumer insights, digital footpaths and the like are crucial to the wider business. 
 Equally, journalists who can strike a good working relationship with the digital marketeer in their department is also going to be a step ahead of the competition in terms of what’s being read, discussed, shared, downloaded, reblogged, ‘liked’ on Facebook or any other myriad sharing sites you care to mention. For me, newspaper companies would be better off investing in digital marketing than in building paywalls. There are enough barriers between us and audiences already.
* Update: The keyboard warriors have indeed arrived. As has a David Higgerson blog post on the issue)

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The power of saying yes: The Register Citizen Open Newsroom project

I am fascinated by what’s going on at the Register Citizen Open Newsroom Project – I genuinely can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll read one of the team’s blog posts, look at some videos of opening day, and then go about my usual daily whatevers. Then, a while later, I find myself back reading another blog post by or about the project, looking at some more videos or photos, and still I am fascinated/impressed/jealous/desperate to steal their idea and do it too.

I know how hard it can be to get things done in mainstream media. The simplest of things – from replacing a lost cable on a piece of kit to adding a bit of code that lets users retweet stories – can take an age to achieve because media firms are big companies. And in big companies, fairly little tweaks tend to pass through several pairs of hands even though everyone agrees it’s the right thing to do. And sometimes they get caught in the cog wheels of corporate mechanisms. Or someone in charge of a part of the project leaves, and there’s no one to take up the slack… the reasons not to complete things stack up ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

But, just sometimes, someone says yes and things happen. I remember David Higgerson and I pitching the ‘let’s liveblog a day in the life of the Liverpool Daily Post‘ to the editor in early 2008, and he said yes. It felt so good to have someone say ‘yes’ without shining a light in every dark corner to spot the potential problems. We didn’t really know what we were getting into but we made it through ok and you know what? The paper still comes out, and the website is still there. The sky did not fall in for want of rubber-stamping.

But the Register Citizen Open Newsroom Project is another proposition altogether and I would love to know the steps by which it was achieved, and how long it took to get there. Because it takes the whole idea of open journalism and transparency to a new level by inviting people – anyone – to ‘come in and be part of the operation’.
Just stop and consider that for a minute; most newsrooms have policies on the numbers of people who can physically enter the editorial space – there’s the security issue, the health and safety issue, the inevitable fire risk assessment – that can make inviting people to see us in action difficult.
The Register Citizen has spilled itself out, however, and engulfed the community, rather than the other way around; this is clever. It’s made a public space – a newsroom cafe – and occupied that, alongside all the locals who chose to occupy it as well.

Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe from Journal Register Company on Vimeo.

Another thing I love about it is that John Paton doesn’t just say things, he does them.
He says:

Lousy journalism on multiple platforms is just lousy journalism in multiple ways.


Stop focusing on the Print. It is in any newspaper’s DNA. It is not like you are going to forget to put out the newspaper. 

and (drum roll)

Put the Digital people in charge – of everything.

Really everything? Because, uh, I’m a digital person and I wouldn’t want to handle the payroll. But, joking aside, I get what he means. It’s like Opposite Day in the Register newsroom – instead of putting things in the paper then putting them online (unless it’s breaking news that everyone has, in which case it’s not considered precious) they do things the other way around. And online (and real world debate, courtesy of their public space) informs their print coverage. It’s so simple, and yet my brain struggles to grasp how someone managed to turn a ‘Why don’t we…’ into an actual, physical reality without crashing into a million different versions of “Yes, but…”.

Finally, there’s John Paton on the Benjamin Franklin Project:

We are changing our culture at JRC.With lousy I.T, and tools this project is happening. We have built sales support systems using an iPhone and free Google tools.
We have successfully printed pages on a press using only free web tools.
The next time some rep comes to your shop brandishing a $20M system – tell the price just went down. Way down.
Our Capital Expenditures have been reduced by half. Half.
But more importantly –
We have harnessed the power of our employees
And are starting to create a culture where they are empowered to experiment
We share all of the information and tools publicly.

Of all the things he says in that paragraph, the one that could make a difference is about Cap Ex being reduced by half. Because the money-go-round is where people start paying attention.

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Five things regional newspapers should aim for in 2011

How do you answer this question…

What do regional newspapers need to do in 2011?

…in less than 100 words?
It taxed my brain sorely last week when Peter Sands asked me for a few pars in response to include in his annual newsletter; I eventually sent back this:

Don’t waste time and energy wondering how to charge for news online; readers won’t pay for commodity news, and unique content has a half-life of 30 seconds. Instead, build thriving, engaged communities that can be commercialised by marketing and advertising teams, growing relationships across all platforms through data-capture, collaborative reporting, contextual and behavioural ads, crowdsourcing, linking and conversation.

I’m not sure it’s the single most important thing newspapers need to do next year but I believe community is a far more significant indicator of a newspaper’s online performance than we always appreciate or give time to.
Also I just don’t buy that page impressions without context satisfactorily address advertisers’ needs; as customers become more aware of the transient nature of web traffic, I reckon advertising sales teams will increasingly find themselves being quizzed by clients about specific details on page views and unique users.

I’ll be interested to see the responses of others he asked. Also, as I start a new job, with new responsibilities and accountability for addressing just such issues, in 2011 I’ve found myself thinking about it as the days have passed. So, what would I have said regional newspapers need to do in 2011 if I had had no word count to work to? So many things but in no particular order…  

1. Communicate better
I suspect that grammar should dictate this read Communicate More Effectively but I couldn’t bring myself to write the phrase in cold blood. Communicate better with the outside world, of course, but mostly I mean internally. Between departments and between colleagues in the same departments; a journalist working in digital can often offer a different perspective on things because they spend a lot of time unconsciously noting trends as part of their job – what people are commenting on, what’s trending on Twitter, how fans on Facebook reacted to a specific story, and what tone their conversations took – digital desks can lightening responses, in 140char sentences, and these offer valuable insights. Equally, painstaking research by a reporter into data could be sped along by involving others (including PAs – the true Excel Gunslingers in a newsroom). Communicating between departments can so often depend on knowing the right person to go to, or knowing an approachable person to go to; sales reps know they can go to the newsdesk if a customer has a story, but would a reporter know who to go to in Advertising with a client lead? Ideas and opportunities stifled by lack of dialogue must be a feature of every business, not just newspapers, but we’re the ones that purport to be experts at communication.

2. Accept change
In our newspapery heart of hearts we don’t always accept change. We talk about cultural chance, structural change, changes in the way we produce and distribute news, and we perceive that more change is inevitable – consider the debates about paywalls, or about iPads, but I don’t think it’s the same as accepting change. Accepting it all the way down to your journalist’s soul means we make digital is as much an understood part of the day as missing the last print deadline by several minutes. You don’t ask ‘did we get video?’ you discuss in advance how stories should be told across the different platforms your brand has because, frankly, video may not be the best option, and you don’t do things based on your gut – you do them because you know your audience, talk to them and listen to what they tell you.
That’s accepting change – making an iPad app that is basically a page-turner of your paper isn’t the same thing at all.

3. Be creative with shovelware
In today’s newsrooms, where Churn – by which I mean relentless writing and filing of copy, not the rewriting of press releases – is a fact of life, much online content can be a mirror image of print  – aka shovelware.
Using the wit and thought we’d put into a print headline to make shovelware sing should be a 2011 goal. It doesn’t have to be static – something as simple as a reader comment can take a story in a totally different direction as readers move from what the journalist has written about to adding their own views and links. Shovelware can accrue layers of interest; sometimes I start reading the top articles on the Guardian website from the bottom up as I know the essential facts of the piece (from the headline and intro, or from radio or a discussion on Twitter) and what I’m interested in is how people feel about it. The comments add a layer, and sometimes links in the comments add further layers.
Knowing how your audience feels about something allows you to make more informed editorial judgements, whether it’s to repackage comments, or more follow ups (or to stop ramming a hobbyhorse down their throats).

4. Not every training need is filled by a law course
Not every story needs to be seo-ed within an inch of it’s life, not every article needs a page break to drive up impressions. And even a little bit of creativity within content – like a street view grab, or a quick visualisation – adds something valuable and potentially memorable for the reader.
We need to ensure all journalists  have the right skills to source information properly, use online tools to interpret and present it in ways that are relevant and valuable to audiences, and that make the collection and collation of such information simple, rather than painstaking, even if there’s a digital team dedicated to making online content.
Knowing that data can be scraped, that rss feeds can be pulled together in a reader, or that postcodes in spreadsheets to populate maps quickly is time-saving, valuable information. Legal training can keep a newspaper out of court and, rightly, it’s the hardy perennial of pdrs. Learing how to use an Excel spreadsheet and online visualisation tools might not help a reporter challenge dodgy Section 39s, but it would help him or her quickly identify which magistrates were most likely to impose incorrect orders or easily research potential postcode lotteries surrounding local courts, court officials, and severity of sentences.  

5. Collaboration can led to commercial opportunities
Use online analytics and ad tools to create better, richer, more appropriate content for audiences, and use that information to build thriving, engaged communities that can be commercialised by marketing and advertising teams, growing relationships across all platforms through data-capture, collaborative reporting, contextual and behavioural ads, crowdsourcing, linking and conversation. Seek opportunities for collaboration: Internally, with marketing, advertising, newspaper sales teams who really know (via data, not hunches) what sells what people are searching, reading, buying and talking about, online or otherwise. Externally with audiences via crowdsourcing, data investigation, social media, and being engaged in conversations.
You’re less likely to hear the phrase “We already do data journalism – it’s called school league tables” now than even four months ago, but to do data journalism to the best of your ability and resource can seem like a commitment. But from those papers who have used it (like Birmingham Mail’s Race for a School Place) the payoffs have been tangible in print sales and online value.  
Also, whenever we can (and whenever technically possible) making that data freely available so others can use it to create content. should be an aim Link out to sites that have relevant data, link in to stories you’ve previously done on the subject, and credit externals who have done work that you then benefit from (like posting FOIs on What Do They Know?)

I didn’t plan to write about five things I’d like newspapers to do better in 2011 but those are the headings I started to note down when thinking of a response for Peter. Of course, ‘five things newspapers should do better’ actually translates as five things I’d like to do better in 2011. Maybe in January 2012 I’ll have a look back at this post and see whether I managed that.


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Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from the future is ours – 2020 Vision What will the media look like in 2020

The future is ours – 2020 Vision
What will the media look like in 2020? An opportunity for senior editors to outline their vision for the media in the future.
Chaired by: Alastair Stewart, Presenter, ITV News
John Mullin, Editor, Independent on Sunday
Maria McGeoghan, Editor, Manchester Evening News
Douglas McCabe, Press and Online Analyst, Enders Analysis
Jodie Ginsberg, Bureau Chief UK and Ireland, Reuters

Alastair Stewart… Appetite for information is healthy as ever but people are finding different sources free to them but costly to us.
Douglas McCabe…
Diversity – whether platform, audience or commercial opportunities
Internet growth has not peaked, television consumption goner but newspapers circulation dropping at accelerated rate from 2003.
Deloittes survey – people who love newspapers have increased that love in the past two years
Ofcom survey – 2% would save print over all their media products.
He also referenced the lack of newsagents and said that would only continue. (This seems to be a recurring theme from people talking; maybe everyone should consider running “save your newsagents” campaigns!)
“there isn’t a single media company not going through this – every medium is but news is going through more rapid change.
Times – quality audience pitch
Mail – quantity audience pitch
Jodie Ginsberg…
Publishing is not about the number of stories we publish it is about how we engage people – that js through fast relevant actionable and engaging content.
Chatroom/comment deb age between audience and journalist is important – combining facts, data, analysis and comment in an intelligent way.
Maria McGeoghan…
Ugc… We have to be aware of the power of ugc. Community editors, media teams in schools, proms – we put a panel in print and online and got 800 pictures.
Data journalism is very important and will be doing more in the future. Figures that you can use.
We need to ask audiences more about what they want. We have asked all our  weekly titles to vote for their own mastheads.
People lover court lists but also want the divorce lists back so we are looking into that. [That raises the question of public interest or interested public. I can hear the irate calls to news desk now…]
Partnering with local journalism college to give students a break into print is the next plan.
John Mullin…
Confidence has taken a dip over the last ten years. We have seen tighter budgets tougher management falling revenues and circulations
But we are producing much better products. We should remember that
We allowed ourselves to be intimidated and let younger tech savvy cohorts set the agenda; because the consumer is king or queen, the role of an editor was diminished, we believed.
That has started to change now. Journalists as we would recogniser them are much more to the fore than previously and are taking charge.
I don’t know the future but without confidence in our abilities we will not get there.
Dominic Ponsford of Press Gazette asked if the Enders prediction about 2014 newspaper closures was still fair.
D Mc… “No, it is pessimistic, it is always a risk when you talk about number of closures. The structural changes in newspaper industry were underrated. Business will do everything possible to survive.”
Alistair Stewart ” the people who will be around in 2020 are not in this room today – they are the small start ups.”
He also raised the issue that no one was really taking about convergence of media businesses.
Richard Tait, head of Cardiff School of Journalism
What they bring with them is of great value because they can use the skills they have learned and the skills of the editorial envelope around them to develop themselves and stories in new ways. We need more focus on how the technologies will transform journalism.
John Mean, editor Hull Daily Mail, asked what could be  done to halt Enders decline graphs
DMc … “The advantage regionals have id the vast majority of the news you cove is unique to you. Flood the market in any way that you can to meet the demand.”
MM… “There are interesting things happening all over the country. The audience issue is very interesting but getting money out of that audience is where we have to look.”
Sent from my iPad

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Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from Winning Online and In Print session, Presentation and Q&A with Martin Clarke, Publisher, MailOnline

Notes from Winning Online and In Print session at Society of Editors conference 2010
Presentation and Q&A with Martin Clarke, Publisher, MailOnline.
MailOnline 10% of traffic via Facebook; it is second biggest referrer to the site after Google.
Re sending links via Facebook: “The costs of serving page to someone who doesn’t come back is marginal but if she gets six links in a week she will probably become one of our online readers. I don’t know why the web go for monthly users – it means nothing compared to daily users. We are reaching millions more than we used to and reading content from a paper they don’t normally buy is not going go make them less likely to buy it.

“Many are male readers the mail would not have reached without a free website. Newspapers with the healthiest websites have the healthiest circulation in print according to Jim Chisholm’s research.”
He quoted stats from Comscore regarding visits, time on site, pages per person, sessions per person in the Daily Mail v the Times for September – showed massively greater response from Mail users who access the site for free.
“Mobile will be a revolution that dwarfs what has happened on the web. But before we get carried away with the iPad we should remember html5 brings all the glossiness of app. There is a good chance that in a few years time the apps we love will have become redundant, but they may have helped people understand that while the tethered wry on their desk is free the mobile wry on their tablets is not.”
On the future of print “There will still be a DM pin print when I collect my pension. I am 46.”
“Papers have permanence and prestige” – eg. The Daily Beast merging with Newsweek.
“We won’t win any design awards bug we designed the site around the content. We get 12,000 or more comments a day.” Web traffic includes a regular visitor from Nth KOrea. Is KIm Jong Il a LAdy GaGa fan?
Comments moderation: “we have a hybrid system wife as many as where are comfortable with are unmoderated. Other stories that are contentious we moderate from the get-go.”8
Wouldn’t discuss the Baskers question.

If you try to integrate journalists too much you end up with a crap website and a crap newspaper. Better to have people getting out of bed thinking ‘how do I do the best for the web/newspaper’.
What works for us won’t work for everyone. What you can’t do is ignore it. Find a way to make it work because it won’t go away. Should newspapers link to competitors websites on stories? “we link out on some stories and we will do more in future I think as the web matures. If you don’t link they will find it themselves anyway. Sent from my iPad

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Getting over a blogging breakdown

Dear Blog, 

I’m sorry I’ve been away; it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I have had very little to say for myself and you, Blog, are partly to blame for that.
You see, when I first hooked up with you and gave you your name, I also saddled you with a mission statement – the rather ponderous
Thoughts on changing times for journalism and newspapers that still sits just beneath your title today (although that may change soon). And lately I haven’t had many thoughts about journalism or newspapers, at least not any that would stand sharing.

Because recently, Blog, I have found it increasingly hard to negotiate the choppy waters of ‘changing times’; I have, if you like, lost my compass. I have striven to be optimistic about newspapers and the future but sometimes the words rang very hollow indeed.

Like, I’m interested in data journalism, visualisations and applications but I don’t think it’s the sole rock on which a business should be founded. I’m interested in apps but I think probably mobile web is just as important if less headline-grabbing, I’m interested in story-telling yet I’m bored of big reads – but if you hit me with nothing but headlines and push Slow Journalism off the page, I feel superficial and guilty that I don’t care enough to read 3,000 words of deathless prose.

So I’m afraid I’ve been ignoring you, Blog, but if it makes you feel better, you aren’t the only one. I deserted my other online playgrounds too – even the BFF ones like Twitter, and Google Reader, and Delicious. Not only did I have nothing to say, I didn’t want to hear anything interesting from anyone else either. Because it might not make a difference to how I felt, and that would mean that the estrangement was probably going to become permanent. 

What changed things was, randomly, a delayed hair appointment. I was stuck in a coffee shop with wifi, waiting for the clock hands to move, when I logged onto Twitter and instead of my recent lurking, I gatecrashed a conversation between Nigel Barlow, Jo Wadsworth and Andy Dickinson. The subject interested me, and within a few tweets the conversation had grown to include thoughts from Glyn Mottishead, Sue Llewellyn, Sam Shepherd and Mary Hamilton

It grew into a really interesting debate – the type of thing you’d like to move into the real world and accompany with some ale – and it reminded me how valuable my online networks people and conversations are to me. It reminded me, Blog, that I started you so I could have conversations with myself and others about journo stuff I was trying out, and thoughts or half-baked ideas I’d had; I realised that going dark was just another way of sulking because the Utopia I had in mind when I started blogging in 2008 hadn’t panned out. 

The Panning Out is still going on, and it’s going to continue for a long time – in fact, it’s never going to stop. It will just move on to the next thing, and the changes will keep happening. The trick is not to start longing for and end to change, I guess, because newspapers and journalism stopped changing for a long time and that is, in part, what’s led to the current crisis. 

Anyway, Blog, that’s all I wanted to say. I’m sorry I stopped talking to you, and I hope we can move on from our brief falling out. If it makes you feel better, I had a catch up with my mate Neil MacDonald earlier and he revealed, unprompted, that he’d had a blogging crisis and had ground to a halt. I see he’s over it now though. I’m not quite, but I think I’m getting there. 

Love always, 

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Pew Director: How news consumption has changed since 2000

Really interesting presentation from Lee Rainie, the Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, on the latest data and trends at the Newhouse School’s MOB (“Monetizing Online Business”) Conference.
The slides cover everything from how the ‘media ecosystem’ has been changed by digital developments to how Americans share news, participate and day-part.
The implications section is particularly interesting and I noted with interest Implication 4 –

Much news is a commodity and consumers displaying[sic] a classic response: They don’t want to pay for something that is abundant

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