Monday, December 10, 2007
Their polite, but pointed reasoning is that as someone who's responsible for a network of regional news sites and who has for some time talked up the opportunities around online community publishing (it gets called UGC in some quarters), I should be aware that it's a highly risky endeavour.
All right. I am.
I actually think it has always been wrong to think of so called citizen journalists as full time reporters or replacements for journalists. That was never going to happen. The two things - user generated content and professionally generated content - need to coexist.
Steve Outing's experiment is a good illustration. Pure community reporting as a business model was always going to struggle. The real question is what part does it play in the content mix on a quality site? Is it emphasised alongside professional reporting, or is it something that forms an important part of the backdrop to a site?
My feeling is that for major news sites community contribution has to be there but professional journalism is the key driver. For regional news sites the weighting and mix may lean more towards the community contribution model.
Professional reporting and editing remain at the core though.
As for the term "citizen journalism", at worst it's misleading and at best less than useful in an Australian context. Jeff Jarvis has been talking about networked journalism as an alternative. I don't think this adequately describes what we're talking about either. But either way the debate would benefit from some clearer thinking around what it is we're talking about when we discuss the involvement of our readers in the publishing activity on our sites.
Friday, December 07, 2007
This afternoon staff received this note from Mr Hinton:
Sent: Fri Dec 07 15:06:38 2007
Subject: A message to all staff from Les Hinton, who has been tapped to be the new CEO of Dow Jones
To all Dow Jones staff:
Some of you will already know that I am to become chief executive officer of Dow Jones & Company next week once the acquisition by News Corporation is complete.
First, I want tell you how thrilled I am. I also want you to know that, even after a lifetime in the media, I have never faced a more exhilarating challenge.
Dow Jones has a great history and a great future as part of the News Corp. group of companies.
You will become part of what is, in many ways, a very different company to Dow Jones. However, News Corp.'s ambitions are just the same: to create and grow media properties that will thrive in the years ahead.
Under Rupert Murdoch's leadership, News Corp. has built itself through a readiness to challenge the odds and make radical, innovative decisions. Its principal resource, as with Dow Jones, is the energy and imagination of its people.
For the last 12 years, I have been executive chairman of News International in the UK. NI is the country's largest publisher of national newspapers, with more than 10 million readers each day. It has many of the same challenges and opportunities as Dow Jones, and we will gain a lot by sharing ideas and working together.
Meanwhile, there are many people for me to meet and there is much for me to learn. I look forward to working with you in the years ahead and seeing as many of you as possible in the coming weeks.
It's a good picture, from an online point of view. But some analysts are now questioning just how much of that growth is flowing to online news businesses.
In the US there's a looming debate about the gap between the phenomenal growth of online advertising and the share of that spend being collected by news organisations.
Alan Mutter makes the point that:
"Internet advertising sales at newspapers this year have grown at slower rates than those of competing media, shrinking the industry’s share of online revenues in the third quarter to the second-lowest level since 2004."Food for thought.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
- Bill Keller of the New York Times on "the newspaper in the days of digital anarchy".
- And Jeff Jarvis's response - which in inimitable fashion went on ... and on.
- A snapshot of Vint Cerf's guest edited Media Guardian featuring Chris De Wolfe, Chad Hurley and Biz Stone amongst others.
- And following on from last year's Australian Press Council State of the News Print Media report is their update for 2007.
- Making sense of the semantic web (see below).
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
APN News & Media is rolling out a series of classified internet advertising brands under the "search for" banner as the first step towards establishing a network of online community hubs based on the websites of its local newspapers.It's Search4, not "search for". And I even spelled it out. Sheesh.
Thanks Ben. (And you're right about the landing page.)
Monday, October 01, 2007
The Rupert Murdoch Film Festival is more a homage rather than a diatribe. It attempts to focus on the evil mogul but inevitably slides towards adulation. What can you say about someone who voices The Simpsons line himself (4:15 in this video): "I am Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire tyrant, and this is my skybox!"
As the narrator Jack Shafer says, "Perhaps Murdoch's embrace of his depiction as a cartoon figure of evil and low scruples akin to Charles Foster Kane isn't a joke on Murdoch. Perhaps the joke is on us."
No kidding, Jack.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Tim Blair linked to one of my posts and as a result this blog got more traffic in one day than it did in its first year.
As a matter of habit I regularly check the traffic logs, not because I get much traffic but because I'm curious about where people are coming from and what they are looking for. A fair percentage of the traffic is Australian, but about 50% is international. They find this site via Google and often they're looking for stuff on the Boxing Day Tsunami or Hunter S Thompson or a range of other, usually media related subjects.
For local readers the most popular posts in the last six months have been this one on Fairfax's view about charging for online access and this post on the old death-of-newspapers chestnut.
The average number of daily readers of this blog is around 20 - I write it for myself largely as an annotation tool so it's only an accidental publication. But on Friday Tim Blair sent me 1880 visitors. And then another 500 yesterday. Traffic, or audience, is a marker of success in publishing, and on that basis Blair is extremely successful. (The vital next step as a publisher, of course, is converting a loyal audience into dollars.)
In a Fairfax piece a couple of years back I looked at blog popularity with "influence" as a key indicator. Blair featured at the top of the list then, though I used technorati inbound links as a metric rather than actual traffic. Influence is a problematic concept because it is very difficult to measure, however there's no question that large audience numbers confer a level of influence. This recent New York Magazine profile on Matt Drudge makes the same conclusion going as far as to call Drudge America's most influential journalist.
Blair and Drudge are similar in many ways. Not least of which is that when you get "Drudged" your traffic spikes noticeably. Whenever Drudge links to another site he invariably sends it a large volume of readers. I started noticing this on theage.com.au around the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003. My colleagues at the smh.com.au noticed the same thing. Since then the art of securing a link on Drudge, or Fark, or Slashdot or wherever has become a standard try-on in every young digital marketing exec's tool kit. It's far too important to be left to pure chance or, worse, to editorial.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
In a recent wide ranging and typically well argued piece, Simon Waldman makes the obvious, but no less important, point that Web 2.0 and its elements, including blogs, are part of a fundamental change to publishing. According to Waldman, this change has four main foci:
- The change from publishing once a day, to publishing immediately and constantly.
- The change from being entirely UK focussed (In the case of The Guardian) to having a global outlook.
- The shift from text and pictures to audio and video
- The shift from audience to community.
It's that last point that I think contains the key to longevity and future success for news organisations. Blogging is an important part of that, and no doubt we'll be discussing it next Wednesday, but it's only one part.
The blogging v journalism debate has run its course and the verdict is in. As Waldman rightly says: "If we say the two key pillars of journalism are original reporting and informed comment - we have to accept that there are hundreds of blogs that fit the bill."But community is something more. Sure, you can create a type of community around a blog. But at its heart a blog pretty much always has some sort of cult of personality. Community is richer, or more meaningful than that.
And therein lies the real challenge.
Waldman is optimistic, and he's right. There is a vital need for thoughtful optimism because the threats to newspaper revenues are very real.
A case in point is Google's recently announced intention to publish syndicated news wires. This will inevitably force many news organisations to cut deeper into their resources and come up with more unique content within their footprint.
In other words, newspapers will need to look to their own staff to provide more coverage of the stories the wires don't report in order to maintain their organic search rankings and keep their Google derived online audience.
When: Wednesday 12th September, 2007
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Museum of Sydney
Corner of Phillip & Bent Street, Sydney
Time: 6.00pm - 7.30pm
Cost: $50 (inc. GST)
Featuring Graeme Philipson, Founder, Connection Research; Chris Gilbey, CEO, Vquence Pty Ltd; Tony Walker, Manager, ABC Digital Radio; Pippa Leary GM Media, Fairfax Digital; and myself.
Moderator is Catherine Fox, Deputy Editor, BOSS Magazine.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Now we get down to the question of blogs on newspapers. For me they're kind of mongoose and cobra. For a blog to be on a newspaper it has to be doing something the newspaper is not.It's old news now, but I've just came across Cameron's interview with Jack Marx about his sacking from Fairfax. [Here's the MP3 file.]
News.com.au gleefully covered the story when it broke. And Evan's News blog, Splat, now seems to have be the beneficiary of some the former TDT audience. Nothing particularly surprising there.
So, was it that one post that caused Fairfax to pull the plug on Marx? Or was it - as the official line puts it - the straw that broke the camel's back? In which case, will Fairfax remove the archived blog? Given that Marx previously wrote the Radar blog for the Herald, there is rather a lot of his work floating around Fairfax servers.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Of course, paying for it is another matter. But the bottom line is that machines, ie. search, won't suffice.
Here's the interview with Kara Swisher:
Saturday, August 25, 2007
According to the study the web attracted more women last year, with those in the 25-34 age bracket, the most highly sought after age group by advertisers, spending more time on the internet than men of that age.
This first one is more of a ramble than a standard interview. But the fact it's the late Hunter S Thompson chatting with Keith Richards adds a certain fascination to their mumblings. And they do mumble.
Filmed in 1993 at Thompson's Colorado property it includes some live footage from Richards' solo tour around the time the album Main Offender was released.
From one extreme to another. This second piece is something of a classic. Taken from Dont Look Back it's the scene where Dylan the media critic excoriates Time reporter Horace Judson - who looks more like the historian of molecular biology he became than a rock journalist.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
I did, however, get to the PANPA conference in Melbourne last week. It was an interesting couple of days of conference sessions (Reiner Mittelbach from IFRA was a highlight) punctuated by the inevitable social occasions and culminating in (for APN AP) the Sunshine Coast Daily winning the middleweight Newspaper of the Year award for dailies and Sundays with a circulation of up to 50,000. Here's a happy editor, Peter Atkinson with his award:
The Age won the heavyweight Newspaper of the Year category for dailies with a circulation above 50,000. The award was accepted by editor Andrew Jaspan and MD Don Churchill (below). Mr Churchill is a rather tall chap and the editor is ... err, not. I don't think they've been photographed together too many times ...
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Via Stewart Kirkpatrick.
The technology worked, the panel discussions were terrific, and the audience participation across both San Francisco and Sydney was valuable too - although a little hard to manage when you can only see one group. Ambitious, but hugely worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Scott Karp makes the point that newspapers are at the nexus of the digital media revolution. I couldn't agree more.
There are two phenomenon that everyone interested in the future of media should be tracking closely. The first is the iPhone, which is the first breakthrough mobile media device. The second is the transformation of newspapers [...].
Monday, July 16, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
Some highlights in the report include:
Eight developments in Media from July '06 to June '07. Examples of key developments, including industry transactions and acquisitions, layoffs, new channels, intellectual property, and censorship.
Shifting global advertising channels. Data and commentary on shifts in advertising spending, and a comparison of ownership of the online classifieds segment in the US, UK, and Australia.
Comparison of fastest growing properties and internet access. Exclusive original research from Nielsen/NetRatings, comparing uptake of new media properties in the US, UK, and Australia, and different online browsing behaviors across nations.
Key elements of Media business models. Following the Future of Media Strategic Framework from last year, this year's report has four complementary frameworks looking at scalability, value of distribution, value of advertising, and media personalization. These can be applied to understanding emerging media business models. Each of the frameworks is explained in detail.
Media industry network analysis. An analysis by Laurie Lock Lee of the recent acquisition of Southern Broadcasting Corporation by Macquarie Media Group, and insights on the impact on the Australian media industry landscape.
Media transactions. A list of media mergers and acquisitions of at least US$1 billion over the last 15 years, putting the massive surge in recent media industry activity into context.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
They've also launched a customisable homepage that's tab-related to Mgnet.
All good, as we say in Qld.
I think the value here is the mix of functionality and third party content (and widgets), and ease of use. It's a step beyond a standard personalisable news page.
Monday, July 09, 2007
But looked at logically, why should the failure of one community news site, or the survival of others, say anything categorical about the future or viability of community journalism?
Many of the sites that identify with the community media movement look and feel like old media. And there's the rub. Old media is still not quite comfortable with the whole web thing - let alone real communities, mobile extensions etc etc.
Real community journalism remains a significant challenge for traditional media organisations, but one that can be met. Calling for the undertaker because Backfence fell over is giving up way too easily.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
"Rupert Murdoch has succeeded with his $5 billion bid for Dow Jones, owners of the Wall Street Journal, according to sources acting for the Dow Jones board. Negotiations on price and matters of principle have been completed, though some details remain to be resolved. None is regarded by either side as a deal-breaker.
"The Dow board is confident that the terms of the deal will be accepted by the Bancroft family, which controls a majority of voting shares in Dow Jones, over the next few working days. A formal announcement is expected next week."
A Jupiter survey found "53 per cent of online shoppers go straight to the site they want to buy from, rather than being directed there by a social network site".
This is sort of stating the obvious, I would have thought. Yes, online shopping behaviour is reasonably well established and social networking with any sort of commercial outlook is still fairly new.
But what is interesting is that "12 per cent of online shoppers quizzed said they buy more than planned as a result of using a social networking site".
I reckon this points towards an important development. Add to that "social networking sites serve to reaffirm purchasing decisions, with 29 per cent of respondents saying they make better decisions using them", and there looks to be a definite trend.
That's kind of odd for an "Australian Augmented Social Network on the Internet", which is how they describe themselves.
Not much information about who's behind this, but Laurel Papworth has their number:
"Dunno about you, but I would've said that generic networks with no value add are over. MySpace had it's time, and we've moved on. Perhaps there is traction in local ads and classifieds - sort of craigslist for Sydney - and the 'entry portal page' concept, but the whole user experience needs an overhaul if that is the case. I'm of the opinion that copycat sites that are adapted for niches can work, but there has to be some adaptation."
Friday, July 06, 2007
There are still sites charging for columnists, archives, digital editions, e-mail alerts, and mobile services, but the study shows most are finding it best to make content free to increase overall traffic.
The list of speakers in both Sydney and San Francisco is impressive. I'm not actually speaking myself but will be doing a few intros from the Sydney end and helping Ross who'll be in San Francisco juggle the technology for the multimedia panel discussions taking in participants from both Sydney and the US simultaneously.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The Guardian, ABC News are just two that spring to mind, and watch out for relaunches of theage.com.au and smh.com.au shortly.
Here at APN we added our two cents worth with the launch of thedaily.com.au on Monday. Sunshine Coast news will never be the same.
Meanwhile, Read/Write Web has a review of new looks for three major US news sites: AOL News, USA Today, and CNN.
"... while CNN likely has the most attractive and professional-looking site (they could certainly win some web 2.0 design awards), USA Today has social media down cold. The fact that their users have embraced commenting and rating on news stories so vigorously, so quickly such that every day there are at least two or three stories with in excess of 200 comments is amazing and an affirmation of a tactic that has clearly paid off."I'm personally not so sure that two or three stories a day with that many comments counts as social media success. Still, it's always interesting to see how a new look and feel reflects the news organisation's view on where online publishing is heading.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
It's a smart deal and gets them some useful distribution points and content supplements in markets they are currently not strong in, as well as Sydney and Melbourne.
On today's news we can expect Fairfax to launch an online news site in Perth a la the Brisbane Times fairly swiftly.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The company sold the old building for US$525 million whilst the new building has cost in the vicinity of US$850 million. But the project was a joint venture and the newspaper will only be occupying half the floor space.
The numbers are big, but the NYT Company has clearly hedged cleverly by joining with Forest City Ratner Companies and ING Real Estate bringing its share of the costs in at around $100 million.
Fairfax is currently moving its two metro mastheads for not dissimilar reasons: business integration, updating technology etc. The Age is in more or less the same situation as the NYT in that it has owned the building it occupies. However, unlike the old NYT building The Age is one of the worst eyesores in Melbourne.
Like David Dunlap I remember the sound of the presses starting up in the basement of that old building and shaking the foundations every evening. He makes it sound nostalgic, but there's a good reason why there aren't too many metro newspaper left printing papers on the same premises the editorial is produced.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
No wonder it was spiked by Good Weekend.
The Monthly also has a piece by Eric Beecher lamenting the threat to quality journalism brought about by commercial pressures generally and the internet specifically. Beecher writes,
"The reason that the internet isn't - and in my view can't be - the saviour of quality journalism is the vast expense of running a serious-minded editorial operation. In the US, it has been estimated that the newspaper industry spends US$7 billion each year on news and editorial operations. Translate that into the cost of running the journalism of a serious daily like The Age, The Australian or The Sydney Morning Herald, and you come up with figures like these: 400 editorial staff (say, $45 million); travel and international coverage ($8 million); news services, contributors and other costs ($4 million); support staff and overheads ($10 million). That's more than $60 million on pure journalism which, on the internet, would need to be recouped in advertising alone. Not a likely proposition."This is too simplistic by far. $60 million in editorial budget is pretty steep. The Age has been south of $50 million for some time (of course this is still a large amount of money). And why does a digital strategy have to rely purely on display advertising? It's a big mistake to assume this.
So, what is Beecher really after? Is it protecting newspapers in their current form? Or is it safeguarding so called quality journalism? The paragraph quoted above seems to confuse the two.
If it's the latter then there are already examples of online only publications that are attempting to do quality journalism subsidised in one or other of the traditional ways: Slate, Salon, sp!ked, for example, and in Australia On Line Opinion, New Matilda, Smart Company and even Beecher's own Crikey - though not too many commentators would call Crikey "quality" journalism. Nevertheless, quality is a subjective term so we can stretch it in a lot of different directions.
The point is that the operational costs of traditional mass circulation daily newspapers are quite different from online publications. Unlike Beecher I do believe that it will be possible to produce high quality journalism profitably for digital publication.
I actually don't understand Beecher's fear of the commercial demands on journalism. It's always been this way. The Sulzbergers, Grahams and the Scott Trust are so rare as to be the exact exceptions that prove the commercial rule of journalism. Wishing for charities or benevolant billionaires to come riding to the rescue of quality newspapers seems delusional and even irresponsible.
Beecher has his own internet publication, but on a broad scale his message seems to be that it's all too hard to figure out so we should just get misty about the good old days.
He finishes his essay in The Monthly with a Rupert Murdoch quote from William Shawcross's 1983 biography:
'"All newspapers are run to make profits. Full stop. I don't run anything for respectability. The moment I do, I hope someone will come and fire me and get me out of the place - because that's not what newspapers are meant to be about." As we are now becoming all too aware.'That final sentence seems to completely misunderstand Murdoch's point. Why should quality journalism, or newspapers, be about respectability? If afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted is an ideal of quality journalism it stands considerably at odds with respectability.
That Murdoch quote was from 25 years ago. Here's one from last week:
"How do I see newspapers? You have the opportunity to make a difference. But any difference we make today is providing more choice. We've kept papers alive for years or part of them … took the losses for 15 years or more to develop franchises to give people alternatives.These two positions are not inconsistent. The Times and The Australian are quality papers that strive to be profitable. The fact is they cost a lot of money to run. But respectability is not the issue.
We've done it with The Australian, The Times in London -- and no one can say that they're not today very, very fine newspapers."
So we come back to the core question around the cost of producing journalism. Are newspapers still the best or most efficient platform for this? And the answer is no.
Editorial independence and the Wall Street Journal
WSJ has a strong Q & A with Murdoch where he let's fly at some unlikely targets. When questioned on his reputation for interfering with or influencing editorial direction he takes a swipe at the Daily Telegraph and its editor.
"WSJ: There seems to be other examples. The Daily Telegraph in Sydney a few weeks ago devoted most of its front page to your announcement that News Corp. would reduce its carbon emissions. The company logo was in the headline and there was an editorial that suggested you were a visionary.Crazy greenie is not quite the way I'd describe Penbo. Still, there's no denying he's caught the bug.
"Mr. Murdoch: [Laughter] I don't know anything about that. And we sure didn't do that in the Post, which I'm closest to, hardly got them to notice it. Actually, it's interesting. It caused huge excitement among our staff in Australia and in Hollywood. And a fair bit in London. New York was pretty cynical.
"WSJ: Isn't this shilling for News Corp?
"Mr. Murdoch: That is, absolutely. Shouldn't be. That's bad.
"WSJ: The editor told us he was proud of it.
"Mr. Murdoch: They're all crazy greenies over there …"
Saturday, June 09, 2007
"Should the BBC retract the edition of Panorama that stated authoritatively that Woolmer was poisoned, or simply pretend that the show was never broadcast?", he asks.
But the bigger problem is what he calls "a growing impatience with fact".
"These problems have occurred because of significant changes in both the speed and the durability of journalism."
It's still possible to find much of what was written about Bob Woolmer as a murder victim. There are interviews with an early "suspect" and reams of scandalous insinuation about the Pakistani players.
But how much old fashioned investigative research could have unearthed this mistake far sooner?
As the Sunday Times reported on June 3:
"Woolmer was found dead in his room at the Pegasus hotel in Kingston on March 18, the day after Pakistan lost to Ireland in the World Cup. There were traces of vomit but no bruises on his neck and no sign of a struggle.Last week I was at a dinner in Melbourne with the British pathologist Sir James Underwood who was visiting Australia on a lecture tour. According to Professor Underwood much of the general evidence that ultimately led to the conclusion Woolmer's death was not murder had been reported in the media. In other words, there were clues in the public domain that led experts to suspected problems with the murder conclusion well before Dr Carey was asked to report on the case.
"[Jamaican patholigist] Seshaiah said after his initial autopsy that the cause of death was inconclusive. When he reexamined the body, he decided Woolmer’s death was the result of “asphyxiation as a result of manual strangulation”, pointing to bruises in tissues of the neck.
"Despite the initial uncertainty, his findings were enough to convince police. [Investigating officer] Shields stated he was “100% certain” that Woolmer had been strangled to death.
"The police decided against carrying out a second postmortem, and sources close to the investigation later claimed “significant” levels of herbicide had been found in Woolmer’s body, suggesting he had been poisoned.
"It was only when the postmortem report and photos were examined by Dr Nat Carey, the British pathologist, that the investigation began to fall apart. Carey concluded it was more likely that the bruising in Woolmer’s neck was the result of the postmortem itself."
Professor Underwood says it was evident in those first reports: "There were traces of vomit but no bruises on his neck and no sign of a struggle."
It seems that Woolmer had been on some medication - which would have been on his medical record - but despite this, subsequent confusion over the toxicology results of the autopsy can still be attributed to false positives that pathologists say are not uncommon post-mortem. A good pathologist would be on guard against those sorts of misleading clues.
It's easy to be judgemental given the scale of the stuff-up in the Woolmer case, but from a journalistic point of view you have to wonder why none of the news organisations reporting the story sought expert pathology advice? It was already being discussed amongst British pathologists, some of whom had doubts. They would presumably have been willing to air these about an international investigation.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
It's a quick read with some entertaining anecdotes about the characters - mostly unnamed and mostly from The Sydney Morning Herald - who populate Australian newspaper newsrooms.
However, it's somewhat backward looking. It reeks of nostalgia for the glory days of print.
But that's OK. Pre-internet newspapers were something to behold. Of course they still have a place, but that place is changing radically.
Despite his sentimental attachment to print, Young does explore some of the questions for newspapers around the challenges of the digital age. Sort of:
"The print product will retain one distinct advantage over the internet - credibility - and while such credibility remains, the traditional media will continue to influence and form public opinion."The problem here, of course, is that he confuses the whole of the internet with specific elements of media discourse.
A recurring theme through the book is that the internet is not to be trusted. By which he means that not all the information one finds on the internet is trustworthy or reliable. This is a bit of a straw man and really only exposes Young and the many Australian newspaper editors he quotes as uncomfortable and somewhat lost in a digital environment.
He asks: "Who will survive in this competitive environment?"
"Different media groups argue their specific corners. Tabloids argue that they will survive because they understand exactly what their readership wants from the net and are well placed to deliver infotainment and celebrity news with short snappy news headlines. This, they say, is what they are good at, and they can easily adapt their content to the cyber-environment. Broadsheet editors see this as a flawed rationale. The net, they argue, is already saturated with this world of infotainment and instant gratification, and that tabloids are simply repeating ad nauseam what is already available on the net in bucket-loads. The way forward, they argue, is to use the multiple technology platforms to deliver quality journalism and content in various guises, each developed to fit the medium that carries the message. This is the view of Fairfax."Young is clearly a broadsheet kind of guy, but his analysis of this brave new world towards which Fairfax editors are charging is lacking in any economic context or feel for the culture of the web and it's digital extensions. It's all a little too corporate and anodyne.
News Ltd, of course, is a different beast.
"The Australian takes a contrary view and sees middle-brow newspapers such as those published by Fairfax as most vulnerable because of what it describes as the group's move towards 'fridge-door' journalism that confuses infotainment with news. The Australian claims that its own core value of editorial quality is the model that will endure. But The Australian, although sporting a strong web site, seems bereft of a strategy that embraces the inclusive new media landscape and its weakness lies in its mission, as a national newspaper, of trying to be all things to all people."Note the reference to "inclusive new media landscape". Unfortunately, it's easy to write but more difficult to actually explain this concept in the context of current major Australian news sites. And Young doesn't really try.
"The malaise that afflicts The Australian is one that has permeated through the organisation from the top down in the parent group's slow uptake of the net's benefits. Les Hinton, Murdoch's trusted lieutenant who runs News Corp's British newspapers (the very newspapers that lectured News Limited's Australian executives on how best to tackle the net), said in an interview with Media Guardian that News Corp failed to understand how the web works and is still trying to develop a way to make money out of the web."I don't think this is an accurate reading of News and its attitude towards online publishing. It's also an inaccurate reference to a video conference that took place on the evening of July 17 last year.
On P.179 Young writes:
"In mid-2006 Rebekah Wade, editor of The Sun, and Robert Thompson, editor of The Times (whose site is far more sober than that of the Sun), addressed a key group of Australian news executives by video from London. The thirty-two executives gathered in a television conference room in Sydney to hear Wade and Thompson extol the virtues of their web sites. Every editor of every Murdoch Australian paper attended this lesson in global communications."I was at that meeting, and Young's account is wrong on a number of points:
- Les Hinton didn't lecture anyone. After initial introductions he sat quietly in the background while Rebekah Wade and Robert Thompson spoke. And they didn't lecture anyone, either.
- Wade and Thompson didn't extol the virtues of their web sites. On the contrary there was a frank and open discussion about the specific challenges all were facing in terms of newsroom management, production operations and the effects of the new environment on the journalism their newspapers produced.
- The meeting was not attended by every News Ltd editor but only by the metropolitan newspaper editors and online editors.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Here's a snippet from the session on user generated content. This is the pointy end, as far as I'm concerned. And it's interesting to see who's in the vanguard.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
It's a fascinating list and shows just how robust local new media initiatives are. I hope Ross repeats this exercise in a year's time. It will be intriguing to see how that list evolves and expands.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
There were a stack of other worthy winners, but ever since Holovaty came to prominence with chicagocrime.org he has been watched closely by anyone looking for clues as to where the combination of software and data might take journalism.
And now that he has quit Washingtonpost.com you can bet his new venture EveryBlock will be the focus of a lot of interest.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Friday, May 11, 2007
"At this point in time when we look at our current online set, we don’t see anything that is unique. But that said, if we were to bundle certain information together, we may be able to create an offering that people would be willing to pay for, we are constantly looking at and testing that concept," Leary says .
This is an interesting admission that reveals a number of the structural problems, in organisational terms, Fairfax Digital suffers from at the moment. And despite an apparently strong commercial position those problems are inhibiting Fairfax Digital's ability to really address the challenges they face in the longer term.
As Director of news and information Leary is responsible for content. She is a very smart operator but she doesn't have an editorial background, and that's part of the problem. She was responsible for bringing the discipline of the ninemsn product development strategy to (then) f2's commercial team which was a significant achievement and led to her being promoted from running the product development team to effectively managing the market facing strategy of the two major sites (plus Brisbane).
This is consistent with Fairfax Digital's view that the newspapers are the content engines for the web sites so uniquely produced online material really only needs to be marginal in volume. The majority of material comes from the papers and is shovelled on to the web sites by the online editorial teams at theage.com.au and smh.com.au.
Despite making some noise about the few dedicated online reporters Fairfax Digital has painted itself into a bit of a corner here. By sidelining editorial input, and focusing heavily on commercialising newspaper content at the expense of creating online environments that are adapting to and evolving with the new digital space, they are fast approaching a showdown with the newspapers over who actually "owns" the masthead web sites.
It's worth remembering that Fairfax Digital is a separate company from Fairfax Media. What that means in practice is that the web sites of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are not the responsibilities of Andrew Jaspan and Alan Oakley but rather of Pippa Leary. The fact is that the online teams under Simon Johanson at theage.com.au and (until recently) David Higgins at smh.com.au are proud of their associations and work hard to maintain good relationships with their print colleagues. But when push comes to shove it's Pippa who has the final say.
So her statement above, about not seeing anything unique in "our current online set", is really an admission that the strategy of separation - of print and online - is not working. Right now Fairfax's approach is to tell print journalists that they have to "adapt or die", give them a few gadgets and a couple of days training and tell them about the wonderful integrated newsroom they'll soon be working in.
However, the ongoing separation of the two businesses - print and digital - means that the newspaper journalists have every reason to stay suspicious about the way their efforts will be treated online.
When the Director of news and information at Fairfax Digital is betting on bundling certain information together "to create an offering that people would be willing to pay for" you can be sure those supplying the information will be sensitive to how that bundling process is being handled, particularly if they're told there's nothing unique about their material.
If, on the other hand, the editors of the newspapers were given full responsibility for their masthead sites - notwithstanding the economies inherent in shared technology and other resources - then the print staff could reasonably be expected to take a more positive view about their own activities online.
Structural remedy needed
Since the late nineties Fairfax has more or less copied the nyt.com in all things digital. For a while that was OK as nyt.com was clearly one of the early leaders in online news. But ever since the failed registration strategy at theage.com.au and smh.com.au - based, as it was, on the successful nyt.com registration format - it's been clear that simply aping your favourite US newspaper site is not a long term option.
As far as organisational structure goes, even the New York Times has adapted to new imperatives. In 2005 they rolled the former New York Times Digital business into the New York Times company rather than keeping them as two separate businesses.
The lesson is that the fanciest, most high tech integrated newsroom is not enough on its own. The company's organisational structure needs to reflect the mantra of "integration" in a comprehensive way that encourages staff to feel an ownership and attachment to the digital products in the same way they do to the print product.
But there's one other missing element here. Leary's statement to B&T is focused very much on static content, packaging that content and selling it. In other words trying to attract specific demographic groups to traditionally produced material and wrapping advertising around it.
What's missing is community. Where is the vision at Fairfax Digital for new modes of publishing? Why are we just hearing about re-packaging content and charging users, as if this was the smartest way to grow an online business?
I don't suggest that Fairfax should give up serious journalism, but while some people may read Pippa Leary's search for unique content in order to charge readers for access as an implied need for investment in journalism and journalists, I think it just illustrates the failure of imagination and leadership at Fairfax Digital.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The article quotes Bill Tancer, Hitwise general manager of global research, as saying, "It's the participatory aspect of Web 2.0 that is still in a very nascent stage. When online participation goes mainstream, we can expect an explosion of new content on the web."
But here's the rub. What exactly is web 2.0 and when does nascent become mainstream?
The debate over a definition has been going on for a while. In fact, I'd argue it has become more a debate about what the definition applies to. In other words, what is the user experience on engaging with a so-called web 2.0 site that encourages meaningful interaction?
As far as the other question goes, 12 percent strikes me as something more than nascent. Of course, this is only US traffic and so not representative of all markets. I'd like to see a similar study for Europe and Asia. I suspect the percentage would be lower at the moment, but the growth rate strong.
Networks and the News Corp approach
Rupert Murdoch is cleverly positioning News Corp to take advantage of the trend networking and social media ahead of the competition. Murdoch's dinner guest Jeff Jarvis has a bit of an insight into the recent News offsite in California, and he adds this point about the culture at News:
"The good and the bad of News Corp., I’ve long said, is that they fly by the seat of their pants: They make decisions quickly and decisively and some are brilliant and some are not but at least you can get a decision and move on. Now, of course, you can disagree with those decisions. But I would reassure the people at Dow Jones that this is not the News Corp. of fable. Murdoch is not an ogre. He’s a gracious and charming mogul. And the reason his people like working there is that he leaves them to operate more independently than I’ve seen in other companies — so long as they succeed, of course."Having attended some Australian company conferences, and seen the Chairman in action, I couldn't agree more. The bottom line is always the bottom line for News. To succeed means to make money. And why not? It's a business, after all.
And that's one of the fascinating aspects of the current state of the media industry, one which Murdoch recognises. As he writes in the current issue of Forbes, "Companies that take advantage of this new meaning of network and adapt to the expectations of the networked consumer can look forward to a new golden age of media."
The issue, of course, is how do you deliver anything like the same margins in a digital publishing environment as was previously available in a print environment?
Monday, May 07, 2007
The journalist 'besieging' the Treasurer from behind in this clip, adding a couple of nicely timed eye-rolls, is Dan Silkstone from The Age.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
It may be that the Dow Jones' internet properties are the main attraction to News as The Oz reports today, but it's interesting that this comes at a time when Rupert Murdoch has assembled senior editorial staff at his California property to map out the future of News Corporation's online news delivery.
"It's really focused on what the newspapers are doing online and how they adapt to the new world," News Digital chief executive Richard Freudenstein said of the conference.
The subtext being that the newspapers need to do a better job of digitising their businesses. Video is a major focus, and getting journalists to work across multimedia formats. But more than that developing new commercial models is a major challenge, one that needs to go hand in hand with refined editorial approaches.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has its own view on what life as a Murdoch-owned paper would be like.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
It's an interesting experiment, but the real reason for posting today is that I just noticed a reasonably significant feature on the Australian Defamer site. Back in February Paul Montgomery raised the obvious question about a licensing exercise like this: why wouldn't you just go straight to the original?
Well, guess what? You can't. The link to the "US edition" at the top of the Australian page points straight back to the same (Australian) page. What's more, type the URL to the US edition straight into your browser and you bounce right back to defamer.com.au.
Are they paranoid? Or shall we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's a mistake? I've emailed the editor and we'll see what she says.
Meanwhile, Gizmodo, the Australian partner site to Defamer, doesn't feel the need to restrict its readers from accessing the US edition.
Update: Redirect quietly corrected
Well, no reply from the editor but strangely enough the re-direct has been fixed. (And no, it wasn't my imagination in the first place. I tested it on two machines.) So, how about that? Let's assume it was an innocent mistake and not an attempt to keep Australian audiences from going straight to the source.
Now we can all see how much copy is being duplicated.
Monday, March 26, 2007
"[T]he MSM guys love to hear Jeff Jarvis's message of gloom and doom, but feel threatened by my prescription for embracing the new media, a message of hope, of finding new relevance for the skills and experience of professional journalists."
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Cold Chisel were a great Aussie band who broke up in 1983. Here's a clip of my brother-in-law's band with their version of the Chisels' Rising Sun for a soon-to-be-released tribute album.
I remember seeing the Chisels a number of times at Festival Hall in Melbourne (OK two all ages gigs, I was only a kid), shows that are still up there with the best I've ever seen. The LTE boys have nailed this song beautifully.
And here are some of the other Aussie artists on the album talking the Chisels' songs and legacy.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Kevin Anderson and Suw Charman are also covering the conference. (Now why doesn't Anderson blog this event for The Guardian, given he is their blogs editor?)
His conclusion is based heavily on the problems being faced by the music industry, specifically around CD sales.
Problem here, I think, is that this is more a format issue than a content creation issue, per se.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
But since then no one has been willing to follow the LA Times example and give it another shot.
Jimmy Wales makes the obvious point that "The LA Times experiment with a wiki really pretty clearly failed because it didn’t bother to first cultivate a community of users".
I've always thought that a wiki could work really well properly directed at, for example, a fans' view of their sporting club. The history of, say, Collingwood Football Club as written by its supporters would be a great read. The Wikipedia version is OK, but a bit sterile. If an Australian news site could get its act together to encourage Magpies or Rabbitohs fans to tell their stories through a wiki you could get something really powerful working.
Same goes for local history. The old whaling town of Port Fairy on the Victorian coast has a page managed by its historical society and an entry in Wikipedia. Both are unsatisfactory, but a news site could encourage small regional and suburban communities to tell their stories via a wiki. Over time this would develop into great content, as well as being a great way for building engagement with the news brand via a community service.
As Wales says, "if [news sites] think of a segment of the community that it isn't serving well and which it can't serve well because the economics don't work out then this new method of production means they can actually provide a new service."
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
"According to VentureOne, a research firm, nearly $500 million in venture- capital money was pumped into social-media companies in the first nine months of 2006. [...] As in the last bubble, sites blossom out of nowhere and quickly fade. The average user of Xanga, the buzzy social-networking site of the early Aughts, spent 15 minutes on the site in December, down from around an hour and a half in October 2002. Friendster, the massively VC-funded social-networking service whose demise is being hurried along by the more free-wheeling MySpace, topped three hours per user last February, only to drop to a quarter hour in December."Right. Well, I suppose that does it then.
Problem is, the rest of the piece is more or less opinion based around the author's observations of a select number of web sites.
I love The Atlantic, but it's really very conservative on new media.
These earlier social media sites, like Friendster and even Myspace, are, I think, too narrowly focused on specific types of functionality, eg.: video sharing, bookmarking links, sharing music, photos, blogs, and customising RSS feeds into a personal page. The "whatever" features Hirschorn refers to.
And they often have a pretty horrid user experience, or the set up process is incredibly complicated. That's no problem for the teenage, geeky types, or the older long time web user, but it's not very attractive to the general user.
So in broadening out the application of social media the user experience needs to become simpler, more mainstream, if you like. And the offering needs to become more practical. Which it inevitably will. In other words there needs to be a good mix of useful functionality and meaningful community interaction, with professionally produced content alongside user generated content. As this happens the use of social media sites will expand, not contract.
In commercial terms, all of this needs to be underpinned by an opportunity to transact. Users need to be able to easily evaluate and ultimately purchase the products advertised within that social space.
The three elements are:
- Content - professional and user generated
- Community and interactivity - honest engagement and real, practical functionality
- Commerce, or transactions - the next gen social media site enables a market place for commercial clients to connect directly with users.
Another aspect of the current social media hype is non-related businesses thinking they can get on the bandwagon. Hirschorn refers to Doc Marten's new social networking site Freedm2.com. That strategy didn't work for Walmart. And I suspect it won't work for others like Nike, either, despite their CEO's confidence at the recent WEF. Nike as a social networking community just doesn't do it for me.
It all seems a bit narrow. Sure, it's a good thing that companies want to engage more with their customers, but I don't think it that has to be, or even can be, via a social networking strategy.
You have to approach these things as publishing ventures, not just add-ons to existing businesses. They need to operate successfully in their own right, and users are pretty good at sniffing out frauds.
The key as far as timing goes, is the commodification of technology, the boom in web based applications, and the rise in online populations via broadband uptake and better awareness of the web and the concurrent migration in advertising dollars. These are significant differences from the situation in the lead up to April 2000.
Monday, March 19, 2007
In the UK they need to generate enough quality content via the web to populate a channel on the pay TV network. They're focusing on students and young people and have 25-30 facilitators or producer-type crew educating, encouraging and working with these communities to generate the videos.
The reverse broadcasting formula back into a TV network is understandable, but it seems to be a bit of a backward step. If nothing else, the Current TV content that makes it on to BSkyB will inevitably have to conform to general broadcasting standards, not just in production values but also in terms of content style and type.
18 Doughty Street, on the other hand, doesn't have any pretentions to being old fashioned TV. It wants to break the mould. This is uncompromising right wing stuff, but the structure, and the way they go about engaging their audience, is very clever.
The company is owned and funded by Stephan Shakespeare, the co-founder and Chief Innovations Officer of YouGov Plc. who has put in US$2 million. It's advocacy TV and at this point they are not trying to make money, which sets them apart from Current TV which does have a defined business model.
Their audience is still small, but they are getting a fair bit of coverage in the UK media. This recent piece posted on Youtube has been viewed 250,000 times and has reportedly had a strong flow-on effect in traffic to the site.