Monthly Archives: October 2010

Are your tweets endorsed by your employer?

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Some things just brighten your day.

On Twitter this morning I mused – not for the first time – that those silly disclaimers people put in their Twitter profiles to distance their views from their employer are not worth the bytes they’re not printed on. Invariably, people in public-facing roles write something like: “All views are my own”, “These are not shared by [company]” or the more succinct “views here are mine”. A case study of these messages can be found in this list of BBC PR people.

While I can see the logic, I very doubt that in the (unlikely) case of one of those people embarrassing the Beeb with some off-colour humour or internal secrets that journalists writing diary columns and blogs would for one second separate the employee from the employer.

Not only that – would you really tweet all day about how amazing BBC3′s new schedule is if you weren’t paid to do so? So they’re not all your own views are they?

These people are being paid to spread the corporate message of their employer, albeit indirectly, so I find it odd that they consider a legal-style warning with no legal merit somehow necessary or in any way useful. Perhaps this is why I don’t work in PR.

Anyway, I expressed the problem thus:


Does anyone Twitter’s profile say “My employer utterly endorses all my views and shares the same prejudices I do” ? I’d like to see that.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

And to my delight @MikeAherne took the advice. Result!

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Blog to get a job in journalism: build a community, promote yourself and get networking

How do you get a job in journalism? Get a blog.

Well, it may certainly help you, but I’ve just seen a panel of speakers at City University and that’s what they said. Josh Halliday, Dave Lee and Conrad Quilty-Harper told a room of students how they found gainful employment in journalism through their own digital publishing efforts and here’s what went down… (disclosure: I know these people quite well through various connections…)

The night was organised by Press Gazette editor Dom Ponsford (for whom I used to work) who kicked off by admitting he wasn’t always an evangelist of the blogging ecosystem: “We would rather walk over hot coals than mention Hold The Front Page or Media Guardian,” he says. “But now we would rather mention them… it’s a waste of our time just re-writing things. We will often just link to something they’ve done. And they have started linking to us as well.”

I remember those internal debates at PG very well and it really was a change in mindset from “why should we send readers elsewhere?” to “aggregation is a service”. A small example of how far B2B journalism has come a looong way in the last five years.

Here’s the panel:

Josh Halliday

Josh is perhaps the most vivid example of how getting your own site can work in young journalists’ favour. Very quickly, he went from undergraduate journalism student with a hyperlocal blog in Sunderland, to a trainee reporter at The Guardian, in an age where The Guardian is not hiring trainee journalists amid a recruitment freeze.

He says social media, principally Twitter, was a foot in door:

So it was a way to get into those circles without being too pushy… then I got invited down to London and meet people which I wouldn’t have otherwise as I don’t have friends or family here

You should market yourself in a way that’s likeable… It’s about talking to people about things that you’re interested in, for me it was media and technology.

But Josh had meat on the bones: an actual news site updated every day, which had some features and gizmos that a fair few “big” media newspapers did not. As he puts it:

Do journalism. It cost me £30 to set up two wesbites over a year – you need to do something to set yourself apart. Any student can write for a student newspaper or even edit it…Let you work precede you.

Dave Lee

BBC World Service journalist Dave Lee blogged about various things, but got his first piece of notoriety by insulting legendary Sunday Times investigative hack Phillip Knightly, who came to give a talk at his university. Online journalism guru Martin Stabe (who then, like me, was at PG but is now at the FT) linked to his post and this “essentially started my career,” says Dave.

But Dave also makes his own luck: after uploading a video on YouTube of a small earthquake, noting how late the BBC in covering it compared to Sky, Sky’s Julian March called to offer £50 to use the clip. “If you give me a work placement,” was his response. “Every time you come in contact with someone, they can help you out,” says Dave.

On journalism skills: “There is no way I could go into the BBC Newsroom on the basis of my degree or work on the student newspaper… to show an understanding of how all this fits together is going to be your greatest asset.”

Conrad Quilty-Harper

A data mapping reporter at the Telegraph, Conrad is a good example of a digital native who now works at the forefront of data-driven journalism.

Back in 2007 he tried to join the NUJ, but he was rejected: “They said no because I sat between this weird hazy middle of being a student and doing journalism… I successfully joined but all this was chronicled on my blog.” I remember this being a small controversy at the time – which ened with Conrad being the union’s first “blogger” member.

But he points out that his blog wasn’t what you might expect: “Moaning and more moaning” and “boring essays” all featured heavily, as did an abortive interview with William Shatner (120k YouTube views and counting), a rap video and an interview with Ben “Bad Science” Goldacre, in a toilet. He says:

You want people Google you and get you: all your information, all your clippings and stories, your CV. All this helps you get noticed… It’s all self-promotion.

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i Spy: can the Indie’s little brother change the habits of a generation?

The first issue of iIt’s here: i, the Son of The Independent, hit the streets this morning. Touted as the first “quality” newspaper launch in 25 years, it’s a slimmed down version of the Indie designed for busy, younger readers who may have never got the paper-reading habit.

It’s a colourful read with none of the polemic, tub-thumping, liberal campaign-led journalism that loyal readers of the Indie so enjoy. In many ways it fills the gap (in the capital at least) left by the demise of both News International’s thelondonpaper and Associated’s London Lite.

This is a launch issue, but I counted 27 adverts on its 56 pages – a very healthy ratio, including five full-page ads.

Check out Sky News’s report on the launch here:

And here is i and Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner on the Today programme (not embeddable, for some reason).

As Evan Davies asked Kelner, is Lebedev working out whether the Indie should become a freesheet too? “He believes in the printed press, he believes that newspapers are a fundamental tool of democracy and he’s one of the very few people investing in newspapers,” he replied.

Behavioural problems

This is a clever strategy: repackaging The Independents content for a showbiz, “how-about-that”, 18-30 audience. It’s clear that no amount of marketing will see the Indie become a favourite of city-based commuters, not with the rising tide of iPhones, smartphones and tablets on the nation’s trains and buses, not with web-browsing at work and copious free, compelling content online.

But as ever, the question is will people pay? It’s “only 20p“, say the publishers, how could anyone not buy this quality newspaper at such a good price? they say (before, adding my least favourite news industry slogan, “it’s much cheaper than a cappuccino!“).

As my former colleague Robert Andrews once put it: people buy coffee because it isn’t available for free across the street. If the choice is between the perfectly readable and utterly free Metro on your 30-minute commute, will you buy a copy of i? Some people would:

@psmith I paid happily. As @garymarshall described it: “Metro for grown-ups”. I’d rather have quality for 20p than tat for nowt. #ipaperless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

But while it’s fantastic to see a national newspaper brand – one that blazed a new trail for quality papers when in launched 1986 – reconfiguring itself for a 2010 audience, I worry this product could fall between the gaping hole between paid and free and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this go head-to-head with the Metro in a free morning commuter battle some time next year. In the words of Chris Anderson, the gap between 0p and 1p is far bigger than the gap between 1p and £1

But the last word goes to the good Prof Greenslade, who surmises:

I would be surprised if it can locate that mysterious young audience that, for a variety of reasons – mainly cultural and technological – have turned their backs on print.

Update: I agree with this analysis from George Brock, now of City University and formerly an exec at The Times:

Is there really a market space between the convenience of free Metro and the younger reader who might pay more for the full version of the Independent? The publishers say that a circulation of 200,000 will do, but is this new seam of potential new buyers even that large?

Betfair, Google and digital competition

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An article for TheMediaBriefing, on the parallels between the success of the newly public Betfair – and the criticism it attracts – and digital media companies like Google. Here’s an excerpt…

Betfair revenue was up 13 percent to £341 million in 2009/10. The technology underpinning the system is second-to-none. The company claims that in the year to April 30, it averaged more than five million transactions per day - more than all the daily transactions conducted on European stock exchanges put together (via Marketwatch).

All is going swimmingly.

So no surprise then that the incumbant betting scions are not happy. William Hill’s CEO Ralph Topping wants Betfair to reveal more about its algorithm and, specifically, who bets on the site (via Telegraph.co.uk). And check out this diatribe from the British Horseracing Association, which wants Betfair to contribute more cash to the sport:

“We would entirely agree that Betfair has been ‘disruptive’ and ‘fundamentally changed the sports betting market’. Whether intended or not, it has certainly disrupted British Racing’s finances, and has created severe consequences. It has indeed, for its customers, ‘eliminated the need for a traditional bookmaker’, and markets itself as ‘cutting out the middle man’. At the same time Betfair has argued it should be treated as a traditional bookmaker for the purposes of its contribution to our sport. Betfair cannot have it both ways.”

Sound familiar? Anyone that has been watching the news industry’s reaction to Google’s rise in the last decade will recognise this argument, which is essentially: “You’re spoiling this for everyone because your system is more efficient, effective and innovative than ours.”

Read the post in full right here.

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Smoke and Mirrors: Why the Daily Mirror will not build a paywall

Daily Mirror front page, 2 December 1976
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The headline on Marketing’s website reads: “Daily Mirror’s plans online paywall“. The Twittersphere alights with it-won’t-workisms. The article says:

Executives at parent group Trinity Mirror are finalising which content to charge for on Mirror.co.uk and Sundaymirror.co.uk. Final details of the strategy are expected to be confirmed later this year.

Daily Mirror columnists, including political writer Paul Routledge and sports columnist Oliver Holt, will provide the foundation for the title’s premium content strategy. However, the Daily Mirror’s general news will remain free.

But wait: the headline on Wednesday morning now reads: “Daily Mirror’s plans for online content charges revealed (The old version is handily immortalised on TheMediaBriefing plus still appears in the article’s URL).

Leaving aside the fact that the headline promises the revelation of “plans” but then reveals that said plans are yet to be revealed, this talk of paywalls doesn’t add up. Here’s the problem with stories like this: There is no one-size-fits-all solution; to charge for content is not to erect a paywall.

The Times, Sunday Times and News of the World have genuinely built paywalls: three (mostly) impenetrable barriers to all their content.

The FT and Wall Street Journal have something similar, but offer some content for free: more of a pay-picket fence, or a members’ club with very restricted opening hours for non-members. The wall comes down at certain points, but it’s still a wall. Countless B2B titles and other content producers have different models still.

Editors’ Weblog has it that these plans are being finalised, but I’ve spoken to more than one person at Trinity Mirror and right now, while nothing is ruled out, not much has been finally agreed. But it’s safe to say Trinity is not keen on the idea of all-encompassing walls. In fact, it’s not all about monetising content through a simple fee for news and comment – but about making the most of relationships with readers through games and niche products. NMA’s article spells it out:

The publisher, which has traditionally been opposed to paywalls, said that while it won’t charge for ‘ubiquitous news’ which sites like the BBC provide for free, it is looking into a range of options for growth, including testing the appetite for paid-for content around its sport and entertainment verticals, 3am and Mirror Football.

Group head of digital Paul Hood tells NMA:

As we learn more about our player base, and as they give us more information about themselves, we can use our rich archive of content to hook them deeper into the Mirror Football site and convert them from casual readers to committed fans.

Doesn’t sound very wall-like to me. In fact it’s pretty much what Trinity Mirror CEO Sly Bailey has been saying for some time, such as during this earnings call in March (via paidContent:UK):

There will be some opportunities to charge for specific content but we don’t think a paywall around everything is the right strategy

The digital paid content debate cannot be reduced to a simple binary choice between “paywall” and “no paywall”. TheMediaBriefing’s forthcoming paywall report, written by Peter Kirwan (and available to order with an early bird discount right now), tackles this head-on and concludes that there are in fact six discernible online paid content models, not one.

Given that the Mirror has charged for its print edition for more than a century, executives don’t see charging for other products (note: plural) as particularly different. That doesn’t mean the Mirror can’t also sell advertising against its paid digital products, although convincing advertisers to do so is now a central challenge for the entire industry.

A wall with no Mirror

But what I don’t think will happen is that the Mirror sets up a universal, lock-down walled garden and take itself away from Google and the public stream of recommendations and personal networks.

And it’s also mistake to compare the challenges facing  Trinity Mirror’s three four national titles (Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, the People) with News Corp’s predicament: all of News International’s decisions are being driven by owner Rupert Murdoch’s ideological scheme across all of his empire – it’s a war against Google, whom he accuses of leeching from his journalists’ hard work, and the devaluation of content by our copy-and-paste global digital culture.

There is more than one option when it comes to monetising content and relationships. I hope the conversation and coverage around this debate recognises that.

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Invisible blogging bogeymen and the non-existent threat to journalism

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A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people

So says Andrew Marr, formerly the editor of The Independent, formerly the BBC’s political editor, now chief political interviewer and radio host at the BBC. Marr wrote one of my favourite books on journalism in the last decade: My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism; he’s got political/historical knowledge of the sort that most journalists don’t have.

But isn’t it funny: whenever a prominent “old media” figure attacks what they perceive as “bloggers”, they never have the nerve to name anyone.

A lot of bloggers? Come on, Marr: exactly who is it that is so “angry and too abusive”? Has he got it in for Guido and Dale, with their hundreds and thousands of readers and staff in tow? Is it Belle de Jour or Zoe Margolis‘s x-rated updates or the army of special interest sports, games, tech, sci-fi, mummy, foodie, hyperlocal writers that get his goat? Can he not abide Stateside bloggers like the newly cash-rich Mike Arrington?

Or, has he never heard of any of these people but still see fit to criticise them publicly?

Look at what Marr is saying and it seems he isn’t talking about blogging – i.e. someone who isn’t an old media luvvie writing some thoughts online somewhere – but comments:

Terrible things are said online because they are anonymous. People say things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying in person

Some very good blogs are anonymous, and with very good reason. But then how many anonymous sources – often, in political journalism single unattributed sources – would say things about their political rivals to people like Marr that they similarly wouldn’t dream of saying in public? Could you imagine Alastair Campbell or Damian McBride (or, ahem, Andy Coulson) acting the way they did professionally outside of the workplace?

Blogs belong to the late 90s/early 2000s when the idea of a weblog was a new and interesting concept that spread from the genuine bedroom-dwelling early adopters to the public at large. Is “blog” a word to be used in an intelligent discussion about publishing in 2010?You are reading a website published by me (thanks, btw); The Guardian publishes a host of continuously updated streams of rolling news and comment. paidContent is a famous “blog” that stopped being a blog when Rafat Ali started hiring a bunch of journalists and grew the business across three continents.

The importance of whatever blogging is or might be is over-stated by its advocates and underestimated by its detractors. As this splendid social media map of the world  from xkcd.com shows (spotted via the @Adders) the importance of “blogs” vs other forms of online interactions starts to look somewhat insignificant.

But to the communities and peer-groups that we’ve each built up, what we publish isn’t insignificant at all. And that is surely why we do it, both for professional and reasons.

(Thanks to Chiara’s editing tips – see comment below – that is indeed an internet bonus.)

What newspapers could learn from supermarkets

A Tesco Hypermarket in Prokocim, Poland
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Light blogging of late, with the day-to-day management of TheMediaBriefing.com. So here’s an excerpt of an article I wrote today for TMB about CRM and supermarkets, making the point that news organisations need to know much more about their customers, just like Tesco does…

Sir Terry Leahy turned around Tesco from a failing also-ran supermarket chain with a tainted brand and no hope to a global player. Tesco’s Clubcard played no small part in this. As a fascinating series in FT put it recently (paywalled, of course), the card was a marketing masterstroke: “…it gave it a mass of data to mine about how people shop. It could not only analyse consumer habits but spot gaps in what it offered. As a result, Tesco has come to know more about Britons than they do themselves.”

So when Tesco doesn’t serve the needs of its customers, it changes what it offers. The FT quotes Clive Humby, who devised the system that analyses the Clubcard data:

At Christmas, people wanted to buy ‘posh’ wine; those who usually bought cheap wine went from spending 2.99 a bottle to 5.99 a bottle – but where were the people who should have been trading up from 5.99 to 7.99? They were at Oddbins… because Tesco didn’t have a full enough range?

To stretch analogy out to news, what’s for sale on your shelves? The kind of thing you think consumers are after, or what you know they want to buy? In a print age there is only hope and focus grouping: the call is made by the editor and publisher each day what goes into the paper both editorially and commercially, largely based on flimsy research and an instinctive understanding of a title’s brand.

Read on here….