Monthly Archives: February 2010

When travel bloggers say too much: bad taste or freedom of expression?

Here’s a strange tale. A young travel blogger, Steve Wade from Edinburgh, visits Thailand as part of an East Asia tour. While in Bangkok he takes part in some of the city’s legendarily seedy after-hours activities, gets drunk and has sex with prostitutes.

Not much unusual there – thousands of Western men do the same thing, despite the risks of AIDs and the common use of children in the sex trade (a UN report found that as many as 300,000 minors, many of them trafficked into slavery, are working in the trade at any one time).

But as Hannoi blogger Steve “Our Man” Jackson spotted, this guy uses  Travelpod site (“the web’s original travel blog”) to write about his conquests – and – how amusing he finds it that he managed to dupe hookers into giving him sex for free. We join him on a night out:

Got in about some thai women in this club but they were those rare, decent ones who don’t drop their knickers at the first sign of a 100 baht note so it was a no go. Ended up in a whore club called Spicy, we decided we’d try and pull a whore without paying for it….

…It was too fucking easy. Had these two chatting to us, pretending not to be whores, they love to pretend they work in hotels and offices so we just played a long, on a total wind up [...] Prossies who haven’t even mastered the art of getting paid for sex, you gotta laugh.

I’m not one for censorship. I don’t really care what Steve Wade gets up to, though his attitude to women is reprehensible. I am however amazed he posts this using a public profile, with a picture, that his mum, employer and the whole world can see.

For my money, this isn’t the kind of thing that potential Travelpod users – and advertisers – would expect to see. As I pointed out earlier, the page in question has ads from Finnair, Sta Travel and Saga travel. Would they endorse these comments about how easy the women are in Thailand, which is a massive, crucial market for all of them?

Answering my request for comment via Twitter, the company says: “I did not notice that post before, thank you for bringing it to our attention. It’s under review, ATM.”

So what should Travelpod do? Is there a PR route out of this? Should this have been flagged up earlier, or am I making too big a deal out of it? Thoughts are welcome via postcard, or more conveniently, in the comments below. I’ll update if I hear any more on this.

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Digital Election 2010 debate @ The Frontline Club – letting Twitter tell the story

I’m still taking in the feedback and discussion from a really lively event at the Frontline last night, on digital media and the election.

I’ve written a roundup here – with video and some audio – but in a sense I didn’t need to: the audience, using the #frontlineclub, hashtag gave a superb running commentary of the best speaker comments as well as adding their own thoughts.

It’s a real live debate that’s still carrying on now. So don’t take my word for it, just look at the tweets. And why not take part?

Big thanks to @jowadsworth and @natts for suggesting Twitter’s own search box widget as a way to collate tweets.

Video journalism on the frontline in Afghanistan

There isn’t much to add to the video below: in case you haven’t seen it, this is Frontline Club founder and journalist Vaughan Smith’s remarkable video report from Helmand province, where he’s been embedded with British troops for the last month.

What I will say: this is what solo video journalists can achieve…

(Big disclosure: I’m currently doing some work for the Frontline Club as part of its events team.)

Sky mobile TV: small and imperfectly formed, but with 3G streaming it’s a winner

For a while now I’ve been using Sky’s iPhone TV app. Sky has signed a handy deal giving O2 customers a three-month trial, so I’ve been able to watch football, cricket, american football, golf, Soccer AM and all the other sports I’m obsessed with, using nothing but my phone.

My trial expires soon, after which I’ll have to pay £6 a month. And will I pay? Yes. This is why:

My mind was made up this morning when I spotted an update of the app which reads:

  • “3G streaming now enabled for iPhone customers…”
  • “Adaptive bitrates for optimised streaming experience”
  • “Improved stability and performance.”

This means you can watch Sky Sports from anywhere with 3G coverage – this means football on buses, rugby on trains, cricket at work (well, if I had a job).

Here’s a video from d245770q of the app in action (I need to get a Flip cam…)

The experience isn’t perfect by any means: the picture quality is a world away from the flawless HD-as-standard TV picture that most new Sky customers now get. But it’s saved by the good quality sound: with some headphones or speakers and a stand to save your hands from getting tired, I’d call the overall effect a good one.

Ocasionally when the action is very fast, it’s can be hard to follow on a small screen, plus it is prone to crashes although that should be solved with the new update.

For people like me who aren’t keen on the minimum £18-per-month (plus installation and hardware costs) full subscription, it’s a good stopgap.

Having said all that, this is not the future. The iPad – if it will succed at anything – should corner this live/highlights TV market. for sports fan it could really shine, whether in or out of the home. The iPhone is just a little too small to be a real contender in the long-term.

As for sky, it’s strategy of pushing content out to digital platforms through Sky Player and now this – which effectively flies in the face of its time-honoured TV subscription mission – looks a sound move. I’m happy to be a customer because of the platform they’re offering.

In the next week I’m planning to write reviews of the SeeSaw beta and the very exciting Voddler, a kind of Spotify for movies.

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How much is a news article worth?

In my latest post for Journalism.co.uk I look at the relative value of news articles. I’ve been thinking for a while about what happens when the economic unit of value – a newspaper – is superceded by individual articles online, or by online subscriptions. Here’s an excerpt…

… One of the problems of this brave, new paid-content world is that the news publishing industry has yet to move on from long-held assumptions about the value of content, inspired by centuries of physical, print distribution.

For example, just look at the sheer size of national newspapers: they are huge products, especially on weekends. Big is better, goes the saying – and mass reach gives you more circulation and advertising revenue.

But in the global, decentralised, just-Google-it content economy, it doesn’t work like that: the publishers that will win through will have the most relevant, findable, highest quality content – not just lots of it.

… And read the rest here. Also take take a look at J.co.uk founder John Thompson’s interesting subsequent discussion of what his own content costs to produce.

Terrorists, iPads, apps and paywalls

It’s been two months since I left paidContent:UK to do “other things”. It’s certainly been an interesting few weeks and – most importantly – it’s been busy.  There are some interesting longer term projects that I’m excited about being involved in, but in the meantime this is mostly what I’ve been up to:

– Being part of the events team at the Frontline Club: running a busy (if unconventional) networking party and next week’s Digital Election special (tickets still available).

– There’s also a panel debate on the death (discuss…) of the news media’s obsession with celebrities on March 24, with Heat editor Sam Delaney and others.

– I’ve also been reporting from the club and have interviewed some fascinating people. A recurrent theme has been Afghanistan and the Taliban, hence this post’s ridiculous headline.

– We are, incidentally, looking for people to come and help blog events at the club – text, audio, pictures, that kind of thing. Get in touch if you’re interested.

– Writing for Press Gazette: I have a feature in the current February edition on why and how the likes of Guardian Media Group and Telegraph Media Group are investing in mobile apps. I’m in the March editon too writing about paywalls (but to read any of this you will need to subscribe).

– I joined in with iPad Fever and wrote my thoughts for Journalism.co.uk.

Perhaps the best thing has been having time to meet interesting people and talk about future plans and ideas. Long may that continue.

Comic, tragic or good business? Trinity Mirror’s GMG Regional purchase in links

The week’s big news in the media biz is Trinity Mirror’s audacious bid for Guardian Media Group’s GMG Regional Division – an eyebrow-raising throwback to the days when newspaper groups had lots of money and acquired rival groups’ titles on a more regular basis.

This is what I make of it, but here’s a taste of what everyone else is saying:

  • Dom Ponsford of Press Gazette says that GMG has opted to sell its regionals “for a comparatively modest sum, rather than wait for the profits to return when the economy recovers.” Perhaps it’s more an if-those-profits-ever-return type situation…
  • Craig McGill of Contently Managed, reckons there are “no winners” here (via Journalism.co.uk): “The Guardian is the very title that tells us constantly – almost as much as it goes on about The Wire in fact – that local content is what people want, it’s the future, it’s the killer app that will keep people looking for news. If that’s the case why are they dumping all their local content creators?
  • Robert @ paidContent:UK: “Exactly how Trinity can make the operation successful where GMG could not is not clear – Trinity’s websites delight few visitors, and [Trinity CEO Sly] Bailey – who speaks of restoring the importance of direct traffic to news brands, rather than finding a place in the search ecosystem -  seems of the belief that newspapers’ current malaise is cyclical.”
  • Chris Tryhorn at Guardian.co.uk tells the history of the MEN’s – somewhat one-sided – relationship with The Guardian: “Over the subsequent decades, during which the Guardian was transformed into a national paper, dropping Manchester from its masthead in 1959, it remained dependent on the MEN’s profits… Take the 1970-71 financial year, the 150th anniversary of the Guardian, when [the paper's] £1.19m loss was offset by the MEN’s £1.44m profit.”
  • Laura at Journalism.co.uk talks to a former MEN staffer who is less than impressed by the deal. The whistleblower says: “The need to divert hundreds of millions of pounds of [MEN's] profits over the decades to prop up the loss-making Guardian has weighed heavily on the MEN… Now, in the first year the MEN makes a loss, that loyalty has been repaid with a near instant sale as the Scott Trust terms dictate that nothing can threaten the survival of The Guardian.

Manchester Evening News joins Trinity Mirror’s empire – but what comes next?

The biggest deal in regional newspaper so far this decade, is all systems go. Confirming the completion of earlier talks (via PCUK), Trinity Mirror this morning announced it has bought GMG Regional from Guardian Media Group for £44.8 million. Here’s the release.

The deal includes a £37.4 fee to cancel a long-term printing contract – the stumbling block of many newspaper buyout talks – meaning that GMG is essentially sold for a not-massive £7.4 million. That price must, however, reflect at least some ability for the Manchester Evening News and its sister titles to make at least some money. Trinity has to justify this to its shareholders somehow.

It is in a sense odd that Trinity would spend so much time and money reducing its exposure to the volatile print market in the past two years, only to go and buy an entire group.

Now it has a clean sweep of big northern cities and owns the main title(s) in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and more. It’s all about cross-group synergies and economies of scale.

But what can GMG journalists expect after the big switchover? Trinity is a ruthless, cost-cutting, driven company that doesn’t shy away from taking tough decisions – including shutting or merging titles, making large-scale redundancies and shutting offices (though MEN Media has had its fair share of that in the past year already…).

Let’s examine some recent Trinity p45-giving form over the last six months:

And that’s by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to add any other notable budget cuts in the comments. But on the other hand, Trinity is a company that understands digital publishing – probably better than its peers – and it’s investing for the future with things like online classifieds businesses, hyperlocal initiatives and putting online at the centre of its newsgathering.

Journalists may grumble that cuts are on the way, but Trinity has taken those tough decisions in the past year to keep its title open. The alternative, running papers the same way they’ve been run for the last 100 years is… well, there isn’t an alternative.

Pic credit: Erin Maochu, via Flickr

Mobile journalism tools: broadcast yourself with Audioboo


It’s not enough to write the news anymore, apparently you’ve got to talk it now as well.

But that’s OK, because there are lots of ways to do it fast, for free and to a surprisingly good standard. Mashable has these handy tips for reporters on the go (via Sarah), but I thought I’d add some thoughts on how I capture, upload and publish audio interviews.

This neat guide on AV story-telling from Adam Westbrook shows just what you can do with little resources to really tell a good tale  – e.g. why not bookend reports by setting the scene at the start and summing up the the issues at the end. Add some narrattive and reflection.

But if you haven’t got any fancy kit at all – except perhaps an iPhone -  Audioboo allows the recording of five minute audio clips, which can be quickly uploaded and embedded into news stories much like YouTube videos. Reporters only need ask one or two questions and a two-minute audio interview can really lift a boring -text-and-picture article.

It’s fast, it works, the iPhone mic is easily good enough to broadcast short clips – but with a good quality mic the results are great.

It’s not exactly Pulitzer Prize stuff, but here’s me speaking to BBC journalist Jon Manel and human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith at the Frontline Club last month – this went in the middle of a text report of a event that night and Stafford Smith’s reply in particular was well worth the effort…

And this is Google exec Hugo Barra speaking to me at a conference in London, where I was reporting for PCUK.

I was lucky enough last week to join a private beta that allows recordings of up to 15 minutes and queuing of uploads. This means you can record, say, ten quickfire interviews on the go without any wifi and 3G coverage, which can be uploaded later whenever you’re in coverage.

As if that wasn’t enough, your boos can be subscribed to via RSS or iTunes: you’re very own podcast, for free.

N.B. The Audioboo app is only available for iPhone and Android, so that is a bit limiting – but you can record using your laptop mic or try the “massively under construction” Phoneboo service, which allows the recording of boos by calling a regular number. I haven’t tried it and would be interested to hear from anyone that has.

Book publisher shows HowTo make money from Google ads and free content

It had almost become true simply by repetition: last year publishers of all kinds of written and visual content scrambled to declare there’s no business model in ad-funded free content online and that readers must be charged. Alan Rusbridger’s recent Cudlipp lecture was a welcome reminder that the debate is not as simple as that.

And here’s just one example of why the idea that Google is a value-sucking leech doesn’t always ring true.

HowTo.co.uk, an independent multimedia publisher based in Oxfordshire, is doing quite nicely from its relationship with Google and has big hopes for the future – but to successfully monetise its content it’s turned the publishing cycle on its head. Previously only a publisher of printed, how-to guides, in 2009 the company experimented with putting books online for free to see how much money it could make. The results were surprisingly positive.

It then took a leaf out of Demand Media’s book and began using SEO techniques to boost page-rankings and commission content based on search trends and metrics, as well as commissioning writers to give readers exactly what they want, instead of guessing and hoping they might be interested.

It’s still relatively early days, but as Howto’s Chris McVeigh told me over coffee recently: the company made about £120,000 from Google ads last year and it aims to make between £250,000 and £300,000 this year. After that, the target is to make half a million. Not bad for digital revenue alone and only using the much-maligned Google Adsense. It’s not major money by anyone’s standards but for me it shows there is a market for relevent, timely content that serves a very specific purpose. Some more stats:

  • Howto sells about one physical book for every 400 online visitors, even though they are mostly available for free
  • Across all users, the average ad clickthrough rate is around the four to five percent mark
  • Some articles generate an ad clickthrough rate of 20 percent
  • Now – since our meeting, in fact – HowTo has taken yet another que from Demand and is openly recruiting online, freelance contributors for one-off commissions. It doesn’t pay a fortune – perhaps up to £50 a month, relative to ad impressions – but writers are guaranteed that revenue infinitum.

    So Google monetises content better if publishers understand where the money is and commission accordingly: HowTo and Demand consciously publish content based on what readers like and advertisers want to advertise against.

    No one is suggesting – as some horrified newspaper types appear to think – that editorial judgement should be replaced by a malevolent algorithmic supercomputer in a “race to the bottom” in which quality is the real victim. But newspaper/magazine groups are multiplatform publishing companies now and should be looking at all remedies to make what they do more relevent and profitable.

    Photo credit: Babblingdweeb on Flickr, via a creative commons licence.