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A week is a long time in media


Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The last seven days have not been dull.

With the UK launch of Huffington Post utterly overshadowed by the on-going crisis (for once, this word is justified) at News Corporation, it’s one of those weeks where stories normally found on the media/business pages rocket their way to the front pages and the top of broadcast bulletins.

I wrote a few things on this:

– Phone hacking, journalism, transparency and why the readers are gaining power over brands - for

– News of the World closure underlines Murdoch’s desperate objective: acquire Sky at all costs - also on TMB, and

– Why we’ll miss the ‘Screws’, for, where I try to say something positive – or at least somehow balanced – about a newspaper which did have a proud tradition of investigations and exposure.

Also check out’s podcast last week on the launch of HuffPo in the UK, featuring me blathering on about why I think it’s an exciting business model and why I’m not particularly outraged by the idea of people voluntarily writing for the site without being paid.

As I say on the pod, people write for a variety of reasons that don’t involve money. It’s interesting that the people actually went out and found some bloggers who are more than happy to contribute on an irregular basis. As so often happens, @Adders makes this point far better than I could.

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Highly commendable disruption

If personal blogs aren’t for self-aggrandising posts when something good happens, then what are they for?

I was very pleased to be “highly commended” (a phrase reminiscent of school homework) in the Digital Editorial Individual category 2011 at the AOP Awards last night. See the full list here and congratulations to Emma from the Telegraph for winning the overall individual prize.

As if my swollen ego needed boosting further, the judges also provided a testimonial quote:

‘Single-handedly established a very credible and respected new brand for quite a cynical audience!’

Briefing Media – the parent company of, which I edit – was also up for Independent Digital Publisher.  We lost out to Magicalia, well done to them, but it’s fantastic to get that sort of recognition so soon after launching.

Disruption in action

Self-promotion aside, there is a serious point to make here about the industry and digital media. Rory and Neil founded Briefing Media because there was a gap in the market for a digital B2B company. It’s still very early days in the evolution of what we’re doing but in nine months we’ve: published two world-class research reports; ran a leading summit on monetising media; organised a second conference (it’s about mobile, it’s on Tuesday, last few tickets remaining); sent out thousands upon thousands of email newsletters and been nominated for two industry awards alongside the biggest names in UK media.

TheMediaBriefing is just the first of several sites we plan to launch in different professional niches. The aim has always been not just to build a site but a diverse multi-platform company. On that note, by the way, we’re always interested to hear from digital journalists and sales/events professionals who might want to work with us.

So in short, I think that shows what’s possible when you launch something new.

Celebrating 100 Audioboos – my Leeds Trinity Journalism Week speech

Ahem. Without wanting to become one of those people that apologises “for not posting in while” – I realised I haven’t said much for a long time.

And for some reason I didn’t post my speech from Leeds Trinity’s Journalism Week earlier this year, organised by my alma mater, Leeds Trinity and All Saints College. I recorded it on Audioboo – my favourite audio tool – and since I’ve just passed 100 uploads, it seemed a good idea to share.

I waffle on about my career so far for quite some time (that is what they asked for…) so skip to 12.40 for some some thoughts on journalism skills and some advice for the students at TASC.

I talk about Twitter, blogging, thinking digitally, why writing still matters as much as it ever did, why you should beware of PR people (but they can help you)… and lots of other stuff.



Update: Somehow, I managed to miss that I’ve passed the 100 uploads mark on Audioboo. A swift headline change and maybe I can make it look like I planned this all along.

For interviews, bits of conference speeches, occasional whimsy and the odd guitar-based noodling, you can follow my boos here.

The journalist’s guide to the internet… from 1999

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Do you remember when the internet was all new and strange? When being “online” felt like a distinct and separate experience to simply doing normal things?

Then let’s transport you right back. I stumbled across this: a guide to online journalism from 1999, written by Mike Holderness. He provided it as a free resource for students – apparently under the banner of the UK’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) – and it says so much about how the industry viewed the web back then, and to extent betrays attitudes still prevalent now. (I spotted this while looking at work by @LibbyGalvin, a student at City University, London, where I teach occasionally)

The internet is the reporter’s hangout of the future

What’s immediately striking is how much of Mike’s advice is still valid. He opens with the first thing any digital publishing trainer would tell you today:

In order to understand the internet and other on-line services, you have to use them

And then, anticipating the sharp cuts and job losses across the industry in the 2000s, Mike gives his rationale for online journalism as a career choice (emphasis is mine):

At some point in your career you are going to be freelance. Believe me.

When you are a freelance, you will need to specialise. In many specialist areas, the internet is the native form of communication of the people you are writing about. If you refuse to enter bars, it is extremely difficult to be a crime reporter; if you refuse to enter the internet, it will be extremely difficult to cover science – including the social sciences and criminology – technology, and an expanding list of other areas.

Who could argue with that? Looking at this now, this point seems more true than Mike could have envisaged: in order to fully report specialist areas, reporters have no choice but to engage online with communities that understand them. We’ve even seen general news reporters, with the advent of liveblogging, use online as the principle mode of communication.

Imagine a world without Google

The students graduating from City University this summer probably have no idea what Alta Vista, Lycos, Usenet and telnet are – but anyone interested in online stuff in the 1990s will know exactly what they were.

But almost everyone alive of sound mind knows what Google is – but Google as still in beta in 1999 and had yet to revolutionise search. It seems nostalgically quaint when Mike makes the distinction between automated and manual directories. “Machine-generated indexes have the advantage that their contents are not filtered – computers are, so far, not capable of introducing political bias,” he says.

Skills for journalists, via the Wayback machine

“Often, the best way to find someone’s email address is a phone call“, says Mike. Today we might use Twitter, LinkedIn or Google, but back then none of them existed.

It’s sobering to think that Mike’s best advice to finding a URL – in the absence of a comprehensive real-time all-web catalogue – is just to hit and hope: “Often, the best way to locate such a directory is to make an informed guess at its ‘URL’.”

Mike suggests that the only people you might want to contact using the internet are techies and academic boffins – a reasonable idea 12 years ago. As he puts it:

The Web was, after all, invented by academics tired of answering colleagues’ questions in email. Then you call them or email them for the soundbite, knowing what to ask for.

Mike’s general advice for people baffled by all this is salient too:

If you stay calm and don’t get carried away with the newness of the technology, you’ll find this is just the same as evaluating material you find in the Real World™.

Stuff you pick up in a mailing list has the same value as stuff you pick up in (a conversation in) a bar. (It makes some difference whether it’s the bar of King’s College Cambridge or the Axe, Hackney Road…)

Google fails on press freedom search

A triumph for historic irony, Mike’s take on the in-beta Google search engine is worth quoting at length:

The Google search engine (which was still in “beta test” in August 1999) is interesting. It ranks pages according to the number of pages which link to them. This makes it very good indeed at finding home pages for organisations and individuals – or at least those which have had Web presences for a while. It did well, too, on Genetically Modified Organism* but averagely for press freedom.

Ten years later Rupert Murdoch would accuse Google of being a parasite, getting rich from the hard work of his editors and journalists, before taking his sites off Google News’ search index. What will be said of Google in another 10 years, I wonder…

p.s. This article from Mike in the Indy from 1992 prefaces the rise of Wikileaks by nearly 20 years

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Teaching online journalism at City

Some very exciting news to announce for me: I’ll be teaching on City University London’s journalism department from this week.

Specifically, I’ll be running workshops on various aspects of online journalism for the magazine journalism MA students for the next six weeks (on a part-time basis) and helping with introducing some current industry thinking and skills to the classes. I am still editing as a day job (and working on some fantastic new research products and events for the media biz).

Reporting live

This week we’re tackling live, mobile reporting: how to cover an event on the go, which tools to use, how to curate coverage… and also questions such as: when is it right to use video and audio? How do you practically fit the editing time into a news cycle, when you have a news-desk demanding a story right now? Would a constantly updated liveblog be more effective or something such as CoveritLive/Scribble Live?

Sometimes a series of simple news stories can sum up the action more efficiently than anything else – plus this means the reader has to invest less of their time in finding the key points: signalling what is important and why should be a key objective., for example, has developed a good style of live-blogging that sums up the biggest developments for readers who are dipping in and just want to know the headlines.

I think the answer is that it broadly depends on the audience, the resources available and the type of event being covered, but I’m looking forward to discussing this with the group.

I hope to write more about this – including the things I learn, as the weeks go by.

The behavioural economics of free media: how to make users choose you

The way the media economy is right now, it’s no surprise the talk is all of how publishers can rake back some of the money they used to enjoy in advertising and, for newspapers, print circulation. It’s not unreasonable to ask users to cough up to cover the cost of content creation.

However, just because companies can charge their readers or viewers directly, that doesn’t mean they necessarily should. Free is fine in some cases and publishers are showing it can make sense – but for a free model to work is dependent on the context in which content reaches the consumers…

Standard’s freebie gamble pays off

Here’s what I made of the Standard going free back in October 2009, writing for paidContent:UK:

It’s a brave and aggressive move: many people looking at advertising declines in regional papers wouldn’t go near a business model that was dependent solely on print display, classifieds and sponsorship. But the decision may have more to do with necessity than strategy…. this looks like a last throw of the dice to make the loss-making title profitable again.

The collapse of the freebie thelondonpaper and the widespread [job] cuts at Metro appeared to show that publishers have lost faith in free—there is a prevailing view, it seems, with the ad market only expected to limp back to mild growth next year, reach alone just isn’t enough.

And now? As Roy Greenslade reported last month, the paper has grown to 92 pages a day – bigger than in its DMGT-owned days. Ads are – the Standard says – on the up.

I worried whether anyone would be bothered to read a proper paper on the bus, with its leader columns and seriousness, especially with two freebies, TheLondonPaper and the London Lite, to compete with. But both titles were closed without much outpouring of grief from Londoners.

And in their place the journalism the Standard produces each day is good consistently. The Dispossessed campaign, led by features writer David Cohen truly was a great populist campaign and won him a big award this week.

But here’s why it works commercially: With a captive audience and exclusive distribution deals, there is no reason free newsprint can’t succeed, although London may be in unique in this respect. It might not have a direct competitor for readers, but it still competes in a dangerous sharkpool when it comes to advertising: 700,000 readers pick up a copy every weeknight in one of the world’s biggest cities and for ad buyers that’s enough.

Behavioural context is everything

Do I want to read a newspaper at work? No. At home relaxing (or, more likely, working)? No. Do I want a read on my 40 minute tube journey: yes.

He’s talking about advertising, but Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy and IPA is still relevant on how media might market its content to readers: “Behavioural economics shows by and large that every decision people make… is massively affected close to the moment of decision by the context in which you decide.” When you target customers and what you put next to the advert is as important as your advert.

Here’s the video of him in action at the Content 2010 conference.

So, in that context is a news-stand the best place for your newspaper to be? What are the behavioural triggers that will make some change their normal routine – perhaps even begin an entirely new kind of behaviour, namely reading newspapers?

That’s the challenge for print – but a similar one remains for untethered digital media. If the decision to click or not to click. to share or note to share, to purchase or to scan on to something else… if all this comes down to the environment and context you make the pitch, then surely it’s in our hands to generate the right conditions to make it work.

TheMediaBriefing event on paywalls

As it happens, TheMediaBriefing is running its first conference in February on this very issue – I very much think there’s more to say to the issue that subscription business models and paid content will permanently be a part of almost every big league publisher in the next decade.

Our excellent all-you-need-to-know report on the matter, written by Peter Kirwan makes the point very well that digital paid-for content is neither anything new nor something that consumer and B2B pubs need to be scared of. (The report comes free with your conference ticket, by the way, plus you get entry to our official launch party the same day – this extended plug is now over).

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