Monthly Archives: March 2010

Independent sell-off proves every old media business is for sale

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It was the title they’d never sell. Despite everything – INM’s massive debt and pending bond repayments, the falling revenue, the potentially rebellious staff – Independent News & Media‘s goal over the last two years has been: maintain and protect The Independent at all costs.

But now sell is exactly what INM is doing, handing the title to Alexander Lebedev for £1, the price of one copy – and paying him £9.25m to take it off their hands, due to long-term printing deals Independent Newspapers can’t get out of.

So here’s a lesson in why not believe a word that media executives say about the future of their businesses, especially when it concerns newspapers.

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Wishful thinking as News International hopes mass print audience and scarcity survive

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The latest accounts to be released from Rupert Murdoch‘s News International, covering the 52 weeks to June 28 2009, say much about the company’s content propaganda.

News Group Newspapers, the division that publishes market leading red-tops The Sun and News of the World, made pre-tax profits of £40.3m for the year – that’s 10 percent down year on year and not a bad performance considering the profit drop of various rivals. Revenue falls by £8.4m to £617.9m (Arif at Mediaweek has more on the nuts and bolts).

… Read on after the jump

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Kachingle: A route to revenue through community crowd-funding

In the new, revenue-shy era of online publishing, knowledgeable “amateurs” and self-employed journalists like me publish (theoretically) on an equal footing with Big Media. Hyperlocal sites are providing tiny communities and large towns with real, connected online news; expert, lay commentators on everything from sport to fishing are giving away the kind of insight and coverage that professional journalists tied to industrial print publishing cycles can’t compete with.

But there’s just that nagging question: how does any of this make any money?

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Is News Over? City University journalism chief George Brock says journalists should accept changed world

Update: Watch the whole video at this link (not embeddable, unfortunately).

Journalists still have a vital role to play in society as independent, informed, editors, finders and defenders of facts. No amount of algorithmic authority will change the vital role of reporters to hold authority to account.

All that’s according to George Brock, the recently-installed head of journalism at City University London who at an inaugural keynote lecture at City on Wednesday (read the whole thing in full here) made a staunch defence of the craft and trade of newsgathering, which has and is being so battered by a comprehensive, permanent technological and economic upheaval.

Brock was a senior editor of The Times and its international editor in a 28-year career there, during which he played a key role in launching Times Online. So he knows what he’s talking about and much of his argument is sound. Read on after the jump…

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Toyota, Word files and curing cancer

I do love a good online row. And happily, one emerged this morning on Twitter over the issue of press releases. It started innocuously enough…

It’s true: I have no time for Word as a programme and even less time for press releases sent as Word files. Usually I can open them as Google docs or as html, so it’s not a problem. Plus, most people these days include the release as a simple email, so everyone’s happy. I prefer releases to be online so I can (a) get an RSS feed of the latest releases and (b) link to them so readers can companies are putting out – like political speeches, the exact language companies use these days can be as interesting as the announcement. I’m not dismissing anyone’s message, just the medium. I often discuss things like this with PR friends online and offline. But it didn’t go down well with one PR professional…

No, Toyota’s head UK PR man Scott Brownlee doesn’t like the cut of my jib. To him, I’m arrogant and misguided; I’m overlooking an important information source. How would an editor respond if reporters refused to cover a story because the information was in a Word file? he asks.

No offence, but I’d ask him how a senior PR manager would respond if their staff spent time accusing journalists of arrogance for stating an opinion about the merits of word processing software?

Update: Read Brownlee’s reply to some of these points in the comments below.

I concede that the “journalists-hate-PRs” meme on Twitter is a bit tiresome. I’ve always admitted that PR is important to journalists – I have good relationships with many communications people; in the past week I’ve been helped by many of them on a magazine supplement I’m doing and I’m grateful for it. What I prize above everything is the willingness to give an honest steer on a story, outside the usual spin cycle.

What I don’t like, and people like Charles Arthur would agree, is being bombarded with irrelevant press releases on subjects I don’t cover – say, for example, I don’t know, cures for cancer – in file formats I don’t use. My tweet today was a plea for releases to be in a format that I do want to read. Is that too much to ask?

I wonder whether, as @Mike_lamb asks, would Toyota send out instructions to fix its cars’ faulty brakes via Word document?

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B2B publishers make money from paywalls; can consumer media do the same?

One of the main take-away truisms of the news economics debate is that the two strands of news publishing, consumer and B2B, have very differing chances of succeeding in charging readers online in the same way they do in print.

Generalist, too-big-by-half newspapers have one hell of a job on their hands converting its crafted physical page-based output to a paid online economy. Don’t expect the iPad, horrific “page-turning” digital editions or any other “page” based, print-fetishist publishing model to help much either.

For business titles, however, it’s a different story. The quick skimming of market-relevant content and data does translate to online – people in industry are generally happy to pay for their staff to be informed with latest trends and figures that could give an advantage. Or at least, that’s the theory – B2B is far from recession-proof.

All of which explains why companies like UBM and Emap are now reverting to charging readers after trying the the free-to-air route online. Not only that, the prevailing mood in those companies and elsewhere is that magazines are just one part of a complex multimedia strategy of monetising brands.

Here’s an excerpt of my interview with Emap CEO David Gilbertson for the March edition of Press Gazette (subscription only and not online):

“We’re moving the mindset of our audience, our own people and advertisers to think that this isn’t a magazine but an intelligence provider,” he says.

And it’s working, so far: new subcription rates have more than doubled on those titles, while some have seen new subscriptions and renewal rates multiply by four or five times. Gilbertson says his target is to reach an annual ten percent lift in renewal rates across the company this year.

Interestingly, Gilbertson also spoke of how the paywall can improve business journalism. Previously, news editors had to make tricky decisions about when and where to publish news: does a scoop go online immediately? Or is that compromising print subscribers? The solution is to make everything paid-for so all news is published online in real-time for subscribers. He says:

“This makes it clearer for editors to understand how to marshall content. Once you’ve got a free-to-air environment and and hard copy environment it’s quite complex, maybe even impossible to know how to treat the two surfaces from an editorial point of view”.

AS for UBM, have a read of paidContent:UK’s chat with CEO David Levin. The company is investing in things like internetevolution, which PCUK’s Ingrid describes as “an online community for tech news that aggregates blog posts, video posts and other social-media content from its own stable of writers plus contributors from the industry.”

If entertainment-based, general interest newspapers and magazines hope to repeat the success of their business cousins, they will need to replicate the content-specific relationships and products B2B titles offer. Don’t give readers – and therefore advertisers – what they might be interested in, give them what you know they’re interested in.

Update: Read the comments below for an interesting take from @simoncrobinson on how RBI is building an audience with free content and monetising it with real-time market information. RBI are just one of several publishers that are making a success of their online business model and I’m sure I’ll be writing more about them in future.

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Exclusive: Demand Media now accepting UK, Canadian freelance writers

Demand Media is now accepting freelance writers from the UK and Canada – the first outside the US – as part of the first step in a planned European expansion.

The company had 7,000 freelance contributers in February, produces something in the order of 4,000 how-to articles and videos a day, serves two million YouTube streams a day and has already had hundreds of applications from UK writers. If you’re interested, go to

I met Demand EVP Steven Kydd on Wednesday and he told me that the operation is now up and running, just weeks after the company launched a UK version of its mammoth-size eHow site. Continue reading

Tangerinegate: why I worry about the British press

I’ve seen a lot of dodgy reporting since I started writing about the media business, but you’d have to look long and hard to find something as quietly depressing as this.

Here’s the short version: prankster Robert Popper – author of the very funny Timewaster Diaries – calls the LBC radio station to join the “Gordon Brown is a bully” debate, in character as his Robin Cooper alter ego. He alleges that Gordon Brown once threw a tangerine in anger while visting a “laminating factory”. In a fit of fury he calls someone a “citric idiot”. Listen to the audio here:

Needless to say, at no point did LBC try to verify his claim – all we get is a weak admission at the end that Downing Street has “yet to corroborate” the tangerine story. That could have been the end of it, but no:

  • The Sun reported this incident as fact, even quoting Popper as a “factory worker” (and getting the quote slightly wrong).
  • According to, “One of the factory workers told The Sun Mr Brown became angry and threw a tangerine he was holding into a laminating machine causing it to breakdown.” I’m all for intelligent aggregation, but the risks of repeating whatever you come across is writ large here.
  • Apple Daily, the same Hong Kong news outlet that hilariously animated Brown’s alleged hissy fits last week, gave Tangerinegate the same cartoon treatment.
  • At least the FT took a slightly sceptical view.
  • Read Robert’s own account of it here.
  • Maybe I’m over-reacting, maybe this doesn’t matter. The press has always been duped by pranksters and, hey, here’s another one. Big Deal.

    But for me it does matter: we’re less than two months from an election and the Prime Minister is dealing with some fairly atrocious press at the moment. One more tangerine in the works won’t make the difference between defeat or an unlikely victory – but why should we believe newspapers when the work of a piss-take artist is reported as fact without any question? It’s another Flat Earth News story.

    Even worse, this hasn’t just happened – The Sun and the Telegraph reported this one week ago: these stories are still sitting there unchanged, for all to see, with no hint to their complete untruth. As founder John Thompson put it aptly earlier on: “This is the sort of thing mainstream media accuses the internet of uncritically propagating; reality is there is often more accountability online.”

    News International – eventually – wants to charge us to read all its content online. The least it can do is make sure its news stories aren’t fictional.

    Sidenote: Does anyone else think it’s strange that none of the commenters on the The Sun story have pointed this out?

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