Category Archives: Blogging

#SIPAUK2011: Links and slides from my presentation on journalism, aggregation and curation

Today I’m speaking at the Specialised Information Publishers’ Association’s UK conference on a breakout session on digital tools for editors and publishers, in a session with my erstwhile colleague Martin Stabe, now an interactive producer at

To sum it up very briefly, I was talking about curation, aggregation and the importance of transparency in online publishing.

Here are some of the links that I mentioned during the talk:

  • Ben Goldacre on why he doesn’t trust journalists that don’t link to primary sources (here, here)
  • Benoît Raphaël  of on the “Google newsroom”  - decentralising news production from a physical location and using free online tools to innovatively track trends, write analysis and use the wisdom of your audience.
  • Journal Register CEO John Paton’s excellent post of his excellent presentation at the WAN-IFRA Summit in Zurich last month. He really did reinvent the newsroom, the products and the business by putting online first and went from bankruptcy to profit by doing so. No gimmicks – he took costs out of the business, stuck print journalists’ ego with a big fork and focused on what matters.
  • Adam Tinworth on why there can be no special pleading of “our audience doesn’t get social media”.
And here are the slides:
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Busy times: TheMediaBriefing, conferences and student blogging advice

Hello there. Yes, it’s been a while, but I’ve been busy. TheMediaBriefing is taking up a lot of time and as I wrote here before it’s a very exciting project we’re building from the ground up. I intend to write more here about some of the interesting things we’re doing with content and technology, in the hope that someone might find it interesting.

But otherwise, here are a few things I’ve been up to:

Building a taxonomy and building a user-interface: type in a search query on TMB and look at the related topics, people, issues, companies. You can sign up as a registered user (for free) and track the topics you want to follow, as Martin Stabe points out very nicely. We’re working with Idio on this to make it better all the time so feedback is welcome.

Commissioning research reports: There’s one out right now on paywalls and subscription business models (it really is worth reading – get the exec summary for free here) and there’s one on the way on mobile apps. My job title is “editor and chief analyst” and much of what I do is far removed from the traditional newsroom reporter role that I’ve held in the past. We’re always interested to hear ideas for what we should next, by the way, so suggestions welcome on that.

Getting more into video: I have a Kodak Zi8 video camera – they are widely used by the Wall Street Journal and other news orgs – and as various conference delegates have found recently, I’m not afraid to use it. I’ve been to interview a few media luminaries recently and I’ve got a lot more lined up in the coming weeks. For example, here’s me talking to John Barnes of Incisive Media about digital strategy…

Student blogging advice: I was asked to talk to journalism students at City University, London this week on how to market their blogs and get noticed with “apps and widgets”. But as I told them, this is looking at the problem from the wrong angle. Good, relevant content tends to market itself simply because people like reading it and will recommend it to others. There is no app or widget that can make your blog readable – and in any case “blog” is unhelpful and outdated term that I personally would avoid. Anyway, here’s the video, via @ThoroughlyGood, and the rest of the night is rounded up by him here.

I also strongly recommend Martin’s talk, which really did get me reading my RSS reader more intently than I have been! He hits on something that every journalist could ask themselves: do you read enough? Do you know everything about your patch?

Lastly, it’s conference season: And I’ve been to some really interesting ones, some old ones and some new ones. AOP was good – it’s where everyone you want to see usually us (I interviewed Google UK’s MD Matt Brittin among others); Forrester’s Marketing Summit was an eye-opener and had lots of lessons for publishers and yesterday was my first time at the APA Content Summit, where Rory Sutherland gave what I thought was a splendid presentation on behavioural economics and advertising.

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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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Invisible blogging bogeymen and the non-existent threat to journalism

BBC Politics journalist Andrew Marr on the red...
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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 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.)

Say hello to a new algorithm publishing model for the media industry

I’ve been rather quiet in recent weeks and with good cause: I’ve been helping to build a new digital media business, Briefing Media Ltd, and its first site, which goes live today (Tuesday).

I’m the editor and chief analyst – a title which when explained, does make sense – and I’m really excited to see what the world makes of it. You can read some pre-launch media coverage here, and this is out corporate video featuring co-founders Rory Brown and Neil Thackray (made by Adam Westbrook):

Briefing Media from studio .fu on Vimeo.

In short, TheMediaBriefing is a real-time intelligence platform for the media industry; a constantly updated resource bringing together all the  best news coverage and analysis from the big media players in media reporting, as well as the individual bloggers and thinkers – and everything inbetween. It’s all hand-picked by us and we think you’ll find it interesting stuff.

Our system indexes the headline and a small part of each article, and we automatically link back to the original source at the start and the end of each article. The point is to send readers to the best industry coverage out there.

On top of that, we commission people to write expert commentary and I’m really pleased that the likes of David Gilbertson from Emap and Peter Bale from MSN agree to write for us in our launch week. Expect more original views from big media names and from regular expert columnists including Greg Hadfield and Jon Slattery. If you’re interested in writing a media thinkpiece, get in touch.

But what makes TMB different is our algorithm: we semantically tag every single company, person, product, issue and profession that you need to know about, allowing people to track the trends they want and none of the stuff they don’t. We’ve indexed more than 20,000 topics in the few months we’ve been running in stealth mode and that’s just the start.

As for the analyst bit of the job title, we’re commissioning some heavyweight must-read research reports on media strategy. The first is from the excellent Peter Kirwan, one of the best thinkers on B2B/consumer new publishers – look out for that late next month.

It’s a work in progress, and this is just the start for Briefing Media, but I hope you find it useful.

p.s. As this is taking up a lot of my time, I am leaving my role on the events team at the Frontline Club. The club is hiring for someone to partly replace me but also to do lots of others things, so if you’re interested in that drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch (look at Gorkana now for the job advert).

p.p.s. Forgive the promotional post – normal blogging will resume shortly!

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Link to the past: why do some news sites STILL not link out in 2010?

Journalists now invariably have to take part in web journalism and an increasing number of them only write for the web.

But despite that, not all of them use hyperlinks - one of the main things that elevate digital journalism above and beyond its print counterpart by adding relevance, context, facts, proof and sometimes wit to an otherwise dry and mundane story or sentence.

I would challenge any non-digital platform to offer readers the amount of information that sites like paidContent (my former employer) crams into its “the story in links” posts, usually collated after the sale of a big company, like this one following Bebo’s recent sale for a pitiful sum.

Linking – sometimes referred to as “in-line linking” – has a fundamental role: it conveys information faster and more efficiently than writing it all out again from the original source. The ethos of sites like paidContent is: why waste time re-writing a press release when you can link to it and add value?

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Rafat’s leaving paidContent… but we can still be cheerful about digital media

Is there reason to be cheerful about the future of digital media? Answer: of course there is. But you wouldn’t think it sometimes, with stalling advertising rates, UK start-ups scaling down and the niggling feeling that the future is always somehow a couple of years away.

So why not get some people together to talk about what’s good about the digital life? That’s what my former employer paidContent:UK did on Wednesday night, an event spurred by the fact that paidContent founder, publisher and all-round blogging chief Rafat Ali is leaving the company in the next few weeks to do new things.

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Delicious links: Should they stay or go?

Image representing delicious as depicted in Cr...
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Being a busy person, with (thankfully) multiple clients and places to be, I don’t update this site as often as I’d like. I find time to write at least one substantive post a week and I write about the events and major things I attend, as a rule.

Like lots of bloggers, I use Delicious to automatically generate daily posts of the things I’ve been bookmarking – here is the one from today. It’s a very easy way of pointing readers towards what you’e been reading – though you could just bookmark my Delicious feed, boot up the RSS feed or alternatively go for my Google Reader shared items.

The linkposts get very little traffic, so much so that I am now asking: Should I keep these posts or axe them? Here’s the survey, which asks one question and one question only and will take two seconds to complete. Results to come soon…

17:30 Update: The results so far: in the Yes camp, 28.6 percent of you; the “no”s to the left are well in front 71.4 percent. I’ll bring more news on this exciting story as it happens.

19:00 Update: It’s now 75:25 in favour of ditching the linkposts so… they’re gone! Thanks to everyone that contributed.

Click here to take survey

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Tips for trainee journalists: be digital, promote yourself and find a niche

The Andrew Kean Learning Centre
Image via Wikipedia

Today I’m speaking to journalism students at Trinity and All Saints College in Leeds, where I graduated with a journalism degree a few years back. Here’s a flavour of what I’m telling them, with some links and media for anyone that decided to turn up in person…

It seems odd to be giving advice when I still feel that I’m starting out, but I suppose that’s never stopped me before, so here goes:

Get digital

Despite the digital revolution that is creating so much turmoil in the industry, storytelling, news sense and feature writing haven’t changed that much and essentially involve the same skills. But having a few digital journalism skills up your sleeve can help you stand out among the multitude of journalism graduates out there.

Very simple things can transform everyday stories into something more compelling and interesting. What about a bit of html editing – e.g. could you quickly embed a photo or video into a web page? Do you know how to customise a Google Map or collate huge amounts of data into a presentable package for online readers? Are we allowed to take that photo from the internet and use it? These are the kinds of things news organisations are grappling with every day and they’re looking for young journalists to tell them how to do it.

Why not learn video and audio recording and editing? Lots of software is free, the kit isn’t as expensive as you might think – as Adam Westbrook will tell you – and learning the discipline of broadcast story-telling and the technical aspects of editing are things that everyone can do. You can even use something like Audioboo, the iphone app which provides idiot-proof audio interviews with one button and the result is this:


On top of that, it’s worth considering what journalism is these days: increasingly, publishers are hiring people with news skills and knowledge of maintaining and growing online communities. Is that journalism? If it pays the bills and it’s a rewarding job, does it matter?

Tweet early, tweet often

Twitter probably isn’t the most important thing for journalists, plenty of award-winning hacks refuse to use it. But all I’ll say is that I’ve been commissioned because of it, I’ve made some great friends and it continues to inform and enrich almost everything I write. For example I asked people what I should tell TASC trainees and here’s just some of what they said:

Promote and sell yourself

How are you going to tell the world about what you can do? Do you have a website/blog? Freelance journalist Anne Wollenberg put it succinctly at a recent Frontline Club event on how to be a freelance (you can watch the whole event here, I would recommend it): if an editor wants to contact you, doesn’t have your contact details and can’t find you after five minutes searching online, they just won’t bother. Having a single page, like this, that sets out who you are, what you can do and what you’ve done is a big help. And that leads on to:

Find a niche

If you are lucky enough to get a job on a local or national paper, then you can afford to be a generalist – a jack of all trades covering everything that goes on in a town or a patch. But the reality is most people will struggle to find paid employment right away, especially as a standard “reporter” without a specialism. However, if you do know and care about a subject and can prove it you may find a lot more doors open to you.

For example, if you love videogames, why not write a blog about it? Showing some sort of passion and critical knowledge of the games landscape and the industry could help you pitch for an internship, some reviewing work and maybe even a job at the many games mags and online publications that are currently faring better than some other consumer sectors. Editors want to know: does this person really know the subject? Are they passionate about anything?

Do it yourself

Since you have all the tools at your disposal online, there’s nothing stopping journalists at any stage of their development to get online and start writing. If you fancy being a reporter and are interested in your local community, you could set up a blog or Ning-style community site that covers the area in detail – there’s a whole “hyperlocal” generation of sites that are covering communities, even individual postcodes, with more depth, scrutiny and collaboration than printed newspapers could ever match.

The Guardian now has three “beatbloggers” in Leeds, Edinburgh and Cardiff and journalism student Josh Halliday’s SR2 blog is a cracking example of local online journalism made on a budget. Talk About Local is a good place to start for advice if you’re interested in doing the same.

There are self-serve advertising services like Addiply that allow such sites to make money: journalists will have little choice but to become more entrepreneurial in the coming years, so it makes sense to understand the commercial side of online publishing now rather than later.

Broaden your horizons

I started out aiming to get a job on a local paper, but it didn’t happen. I ended up on a trade magazine, Press Gazette (to which I still contribute occasionally) and wrote about the comings and goings (mostly goings) of the regional and national press for two years.

There are a whole host of opportunities out there beyond the newspapers and magazines that you might read: there are countless B2B trade titles, in-flight magazines, not to mention travel sites, agencies, charities, NGOs and – dare I say it – PR firms, that can offer experience or paid work. After doing work experience at the Indy a friends of a friends recommended me for some shifts at a railway trade mag. I already had accepted a job at that point but I sometimes wonder what could have been…

Know your numbers: don’t be scared of the balance sheet

One thing that is always in demand is financial reporters. It’s good to get to know your EBITDA from your net profits and underlying profits from like-for-like profits (not the same thing; usually it’s the last one you’re interested in). Being able to decode a balance sheet and tell readers whether a company has made a profit or loss in under 15 minutes is a perennially useful and required skill. The financial news agency Bloomberg is – apart from a recessionary blip – always hiring in its London office; Reuters has a trainee scheme (you need two foreign languages, but hey) as does the FT. And in terms of impressing editors, to say you have sound economic and financial know-how is always a good card to play.

Just as an example, Andrew Gilligan won Journalist of the Year at the 2008 British Press Awards for his work on the London Evening Standard exposing Ken Livingstone’s dodgy and still mostly unexplained and unaccounted for payments to charity groups linked to his staff. He did this by mixture of good contacts, digging and looking up Companies House accounts from the comfort of his home office. “Follow the money” is indeed a good maxim to live by.

Work your contacts, keep in touch

Every single person you meet along the way might be someone that helps you out in future. If you make a good contact on a titles you want to work for, drop them a line now and then to ask how things are, maybe drop in a few story ideas, ask if there are any shifts going. I’m always surprised by how few people do this.

The key for freelancers is find out who the person to speak to is – in most cases when you’re starting it’s a waste of time to just email the editor speculatively; there’s usually a section or deputy editor that is more open to taking ideas.

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Advertising with Addiply: no more Rochdale car ads

Rochdale badge
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I’ve always been a fan of “the practice what you preach” maxim. After writing about it, speaking to its creator and watching its gradual but promising growth, I’ve signed up this site to the advertising platform Addiply.

Those red boxes on the sidebar are available for text ads at £0.50 a week; a banner ad (see below) is also available for £0.50 a week. It’s not much, but it’s something.

I don’t expect or intend to get rich through this site or through online ads in general. But hosting isn’t free. And if there’s a way to help advertisers get their message across, I’m happy to help.

Addiply founder Rick Waghorn – whom I first wrote about my then colleague Martin Stabe wrote about exactly three years ago when he left the Norwich Evening News to concentrate on digital publishing – took me to task last week for hosting Google Ads which do nothing for either my meagre revenue or for the community I write about/for.

Ads for cars in Rochdale don’t say much about what I do, he rightly says. The £6 I’ve earned so far from AdSense would suggest it’s never going to be a significant earner. With any luck, to prove the point, this panel should show up something equally irrelevant:

[ad#Google Adsense]

And though Addiply has been more closely associated with the “hyperlocal” movement of blogs and sites that cover tightly defined geographies that are increasingly ignored by anemic local papers – check out the Lichfield Blog‘s healthy looking inventory – there’s no reason it can’t work on niche, industry-specific sites either.

As I look to advise clients on what ad platforms to use and why, I can now report to them that Addiply is fast, simple and transparent. But as Rick is fond of saying, you have to sell the space to really make it work…. so if you’d like to advertise to a growing band of 2,000(ish) readers a month, take a look at what’s on offer.

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