Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Broken news

I was lying on a beach in Fiji last week (had to throw that tidbit in somehow) so I missed this announcement about Fairfax buying Essential Baby. But it wasn't news. I reported it here 6 weeks ago.

Now, I don't say that just to be a smartass. I seriously believe there is a valuable place for honest reporting on blogs as independent voices in the mediasphere. I've argued this for quite a while.

Back in early 2005 I ran a few pieces on that dug into this debate. Funnily enough The Age's blog editor James Farmer revisited it 16 months later. James' take, though, was that "Journalism is a profession and journalism provides for the quality and breadth of content that keeps an enormous number of readers coming back for more. Sites that are based around "citizen reporting" are unlikely to ever have appeal outside of uber-niche areas".

I couldn't disagree more.

Anyway, as it happens I no longer work for a major news organisation so I don't have any obligation to break stories for an employer. On the contrary, as a newly minted independent publisher I'm going to be doing my best to break them via blogs.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New style publishing

Ross Dawson has a good post about professional networks - a topic he has written a lot about. But my main interest here is in the book he mentions: Small Business, Big Brand by Carolyn Stafford.

The book sells itself as having "33 fresh marketing tips that will change the way you market your business forever".

One of the case studies is Superwoman, the project I left for.

Tim Harrison talks about the Superwoman brand as a case study for Carolyn's book, but there is a very interesting story to tell about the publishing model that accompanies it, which I will expand on in time. For now, you can get a summary version of the book from Ross's blog.

Advertising and content has a dominant Vista ad at the top of the page today - taking over the whole feature editorial space. Lotsa money involved, no doubt.

This is the sort of thing that some editorial people absolutely hate. I take a different view.

The proposal actually came up when I was still editor late last year and I remember discussing it with the publisher and the product manager. One of the big concerns for news sites is revenue, always has been, so you can't afford to take a holier-than-thou approach as editor.

Still, the key was always going to be in the execution, and I think they've done a fairly good job here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Myspace in court

Myspace is in trouble over "sex traps" created by predators on its network. It's happened before and, you might assume, will happen again.

Each of the girls was allegedly lured into meetings with men who had chatted them up on MySpace then plied them with drugs or alcohol and sexually abused them, according to the suits filed in Los Angeles.

Here's what their chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam had to say in response:

"MySpace serves as an industry leader on Internet safety and we take proactive measures to protect our members.''

"Ultimately, internet safety is a shared responsibility. We encourage everyone to apply commonsense offline safety lessons in their online experiences and engage in open family dialogue about smart web practices.''

How about that? An industry leader on internet safety? Hhmm, we can only be glad Mr Nigam doesn't work in the airline industry.

And of course let's throw responsibility back to the family.

As Adam Loewy, a lawyer for some of the girls, said: "Blaming the families of abuse victims who were solicited online, as some have done, is a cynical excuse that ignores the fact that social networking sites can lead to heinous abuse by internet predators.''

Myspace is definitely in need of a more adept public spokesperson.

Thing is, there's a serious and complex issue here. One that may well be beyond the capacity of Myspace to solve regardless of the technical solutions they attempt.

But it does looks like this is one of the ways next generation social networking sites will find their mark.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Newspaper wars, part 1

A wee dart from today's Crikey:

Opportunities for wild, rumbustious old-style newspaper wars are limited in an era dominated by one-paper cities and corporatised journalism. But Melbourne could be about to see one unfold with yesterday’s appointments of a new guard to run the Herald Sun, the city’s dominant newspaper.

As reported in Crikey last month, Bruce Guthrie will take over as the paper’s editor-in-chief and the man he succeeds, Peter Blunden, will take over as the paper’s managing director later this year. Guthrie is a highly respected former editor of The Age, and Blunden is one of the toughest street-fighters in the media business – a lethal combination which could spell big trouble for the other daily newspaper in town, the increasingly directionless and morale-depleted Age.

Guthrie’s appointment will enthrall the majority of The Age staff, especially those yearning for a move to an editorially professional working environment (ie most of the journalists). He will be able to pick off the best of the Age journalists with a phone call or two – and in many cases the phone calls will be initiated by the hacks themselves.

But it's the appointment of Blunden to spearhead the business end of the war that should be of much greater concern to The Age. In concert with what is likely to be Guthrie’s editorial blitzkrieg on its broadsheet competitor, Blunden’s take-no-prisoners management style could shake the The Age to its very core.

As newspapers fight for their relevance in a new media world, and as The Age watches helplessly as its classified advertising – and profitability -- ekes away to internet rivals like Seek and, a Guthrie-Blunden pincer movement against Fairfax’s strategic southern flank is not a prospect the company’s “heavyweights” will savour. That’s if they notice.

Ouch! Eric Beecher has long been outspoken about the management of Australian metro newspaper but that's a fairly dire prediction. I wonder what commercial direction Blunden will really add to the HWT? It's certainly true, though, that Guthrie will be a very strong E-i-C of the paper.

I may be wrong, but wasn't Guthrie editor of the Sunday Age, rather than The Age?

Monday, January 08, 2007

The year of web 2.0

Dion Hinchcliffe has a nice rundown of the best web 2.0 software of 2006 - though the list is largely sites broken down into categories such as social network, start pages, social bookmarking, peer production news etc. Still, it's software that enables these sites, right?

Myspace is an interesting example. Their software is cruddy, and strictly speaking they're not a content site, but it is a genius marketing operation.

There's some great stuff on Dion's list. And it's going to be fascinating to watch where they go this year.

According to Techcrunch there has been a fair number of additions to the DeadPool list of web 2.0 start ups. But that's to be expected.

My tip is 2007 will see an upsurge in useage as more and more of these sites go mainstream outside of US based demographics.

It's an exciting time to be working in this space ...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Big bad blogs v poor old newspapers (again)

How's this for an opening gambit in a newspaper oped:

"DO BLOGS spell the end of moderated opinion? As expected, internet enthusiasts say "yes"."

Moderated opinion? Interesting concept. I've been trying to figure out exactly what that means. Is it an opinion held by one person but moderated by someone else? What would that make it? Whose opinion would it be, and how valuable?

It doesn't sound like an opinion modified by debate.

But it does sound like one of those slips that unintentionally blows the smoke away from the mysteries of the oped page - or rather, one writer's relationship with it.

Leslie Cannold's piece in yesterday's The Age was a wobbly swipe at the straw man that is unfettered blog opinions. It was a little like Monty Panesar prodding outside offstump at Glenn McGrath - he knows there's something there but he just can't make contact.

And to extend the analogy a bit further, Monty wasn't selected for his skill at playing Glenn McGrath ... neither was Leslie Cannold.

Cannold is a feminist academic and an ethicist. Which qualifies her nicely to write on, well, feminism and ethics. But yesterday she overreached in attempting to take a stand on the horrors of blogs running wild and the last stand defences of traditional editing skills against a world of chaos.

I'm the first to admit that blog is a horrible word. It sounds like something you might wipe off the sole of your shoe. It's been over-hyped and misunderstood all over the place - particularly in the MSM.

But one thing is absolutely clear. The phenomenon of blogging has become a proxy for describing a massive shift towards user generated content on the internet: opinion, news and analysis, and creative works in a range of formats. No matter what newspaper oped writers might want to believe.

Any way you look at it this shift is a threat to old media. And that is in spite of the print and broadcast giants maintaining (for now) large audiences and dominant businesses.

In arguing for the primacy of traditional publishing, Cannold manages to completely miss the point of distinction between old fashioned "gatekeeper" editing of newspapers and magazines and the new fangled user-filtering mechanisms and community editing processes on blogs, wikis and social bookmarking sites.

This is the central challenge to old media publishers such as Fairfax. It's not good enough to assume, as Cannold does, that "traditional editing practices are one of the only ways we've got to achieve reasonable levels of accuracy, veracity and good clean copy".

And it's laughable to suggest, as Cannold does, that the gateless internet allows "semi-literate rants by myopic, racist, sexist, and/or homophobic cretins with tickets on themselves and barrows to push" as if there are no well paid newspaper columnists who perfectly fit this description. Suggestions?

The issue is not really about gatekeeping and the elitism it implies, especially in the context of opinion and analysis. The bigger issue is about trusted sources of information. Who, or what are the trusted sources of information for audiences on the web?

The power of web technologies allows the enormous volume of information on the web to be searched, filtered, ranked, recommended, referred, and commented on. This means that readers are easily able to bypass traditional publishing packages - even the online versions of big newspapers or magazines. And they are doing so in their millions every day.

There are millions of blogs on the web. It proves nothing to say that a large percentage is rubbish. The best of them are compelling reading within their individual sphere: informative, educative and entertaining in the same way that the best newspapers and magazines aspire to be.

The question really comes down to this – how do you find them and how do you access them? And that's where web sites and tools such as Technorati,, RSS, and Netvibes or Webjam come in. Free and easy to use, they allow readers to search and select "feeds" from recommended or popular sites and blogs and then display them in their own, personalized web page.

The very real problem for the old gatekeepers who don't learn to become facilitators of information exchange and active users of web filtering tools such as RSS readers, is that they will be rapidly left behind.

News of the death of print may be premature, but online culture is thriving and regular internet users buy fewer newspapers than non-internet users. The end may be a while away yet, but the conclusion is inevitable.

In the meantime we need to find a better term than that awful word, blog.