Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We're hiring

APN Online is looking for:

Two web developers, specifically with Python and Django experience.
An advertising operations manager
A product manager.
A producer.
A web designer.
And a graphic designer.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What's black & white and completely over?

Jon Stewart explains why it's all the internet's fault.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Reading Fairfax's tea leaves

Reading between the lines of the latest reports, including comments from industry analysts, it seems there may be a fair shake up inside Fairfax Digital once McCarthy gets his feet under the desk. There's no doubt digital is the future of the business, but there's plenty of debate about the right strategic path to success in this format, and the right structure to pursue within the company.

Here are a few choice quotes.

Malcolm Maiden speculating on Brian McCarthy's brief as new CEO:
"[McCarthy's] elevation following Kirk's departure would resolve a talent overlap at the top, and he would have a brief to accelerate the integration of Fairfax and its new businesses, including its online division, Rural Press and the former Southern Cross radio network."
Jane Schultz and Nick Tabakoff quoting Macquarie Equities media analyst Alex Pollak:
"With respect to Fairfax's ongoing migration to digital, McCarthy was not in the forefront of the digital strategy while at Rural Press (possibly correctly) so it will be interesting to see whether and how he manages this critical process at Fairfax."
Andrew Main in the Weekend Australian (not online) quoting Greg Fraser media analyst at Shaw Stockbroking:
"After pointing out that Fairfax's 'undoubted local content goldmine' could in the right hands become a multimedia powerhouse, as long as Brian McCarthy can upskill himself in that area as soon as possible, Fraser's note ends on a school yard analogy. 'If FXJ was in a game of media bullrush, it would be the big fat kid that knocks a few of the skinny kids out of the way but eventually gets bowled over by its more nimble buddies before reaching the safety line. Lose some weight, FXJ.'"
So, will it be integration and cost cutting at Fairfax Digital?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

How the papers covered the Kirk story

Reading the main papers today on the Fairfax story it's fascinating to see how the four broadsheets (including the AFR) have treated it. It says a lot about their current focus and strengths.

The Australian has done a fairly predictable Oz-type job: a "we told you so", chest thumping editorial, but also some really strong reporting from Andrew Main (currently not online), Jane Schultz and Nick Tabakoff who has led the way in covering the Kirk story for some weeks.

The SMH coverage is truly woeful. I can understand why they might be so timid on this issue, but it just looks pathetic given the scale of the story, its context in a tumultuous week (and year), and the competition from other publications, including within Fairfax.

The AFR does a pretty good job in print (tho of course not online) thanks to the steady hands and experience of Chanticleer's Alan Jury and the dean of Australian media writers Neil Shoebridge.

But my vote goes to The Age. They've gone hard - as they should have - but kept a good balance. They have a solid piece by media editor Matthew Ricketson, and a typically astute piece by the ever reliable Malcolm Maiden. Their straight business report doesn't add much that hasn't already been said, but I think the point about The Age's coverage is that it's bold and it shows that they are putting reader interest ahead of Fairfax politics.

Interestingly, there hasn't been anything from Businessspectator today despite a summary piece from Bartho yesterday. Gottliebsen's piece on the current Fairfax debt woes a few weeks ago pricked up a lot of ears but there hasn't been any more from him on this since.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life's photo archive

Good old Google brings millions of LIFE photographs together in an historical archive ...

Melbourne, May 24 1930, crowds cheer Amy Johnson after her long distance solo flight from London to Australia.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One word to describe Peter Costello? Peevish

The Howard Years was a great piece of television. I'm looking forward to the next three instalments.

But how about Peter Costello? He just can't seem to help himself.

In today's AFR the utterly brilliant David Rowe perfectly captured Costello's squirm inducing performance from last night.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monaco Media Forum

Nice place to have a media conference.

Here's Jeffrey Cole's keynote from last Thursday - he's still bullish on TV (kind of ironic given the only place to view the speech is Youtube).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Nocleanfeed

Protest is erupting against the Rudd Government's clumsy attempt to filter the internet.



It's a quixotic scheme - most likely technically unfeasible, and certainly of dubious economic value.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stevie Wonder's cure for current ailments ...

"Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" ... we were sitting too far from the stage for the picture to be clear but the screens either side of the stage help. And the sound is cooking. The Master Blaster was in superb form.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Newspaper cartoons online

I love John Spooner's online animations, and there's a slew of other Age cartoonists pieces on youtube. The Oz had Nicholson's equally brilliant animations, but they seem to have been discontinued.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reading between the lines with David Kirk

The Fairfax CEO gave a speech at the Sydney Institute last night defending his company's recent restructure announcements and outlining his vision for the future of quality journalism at Fairfax.

Here's a copy of the speech.

A lot of what Kirk said was his standard stump speech about the strength of the business and its ability to face the current cyclical and structural challenges, etc etc.

But in amongst his assertions of long term sustainability and general optimism about the future of Fairfax are some interesting conclusions. These are not obviously statements announcing direct action, but they will be the inevitable result of some of the foundations that Kirk's optimism rests on.

Here's a salient quote:
" [...] we are in the process of transforming Fairfax Media into a multi-media news and information company. We have a long way to go, but we have begun the process of converging editorial content development and management, and brand management and sales, across our distribution platforms."
Fairfax execs have been saying this for a while now. It's quite obviously become a central piece of orthodoxy in the Fairfax camp. That's good and well, but the really interesting question is - what exactly does it mean? My feeling is that a couple of years ago it meant one thing, but now it means something quite different. What might that be?

Here's another clue, from Kirk's speech:
"We have some of the most powerful brands in the country. And they carry an emotive wallop.

"Indeed, a lot of the public reaction to our restructure that I mentioned at the outset is because our audience feels very invested in the brands because of what they stand for.

"In that sense, a lot of the debate and discussion has actually been heartening to us because of the relevance of what we do for so many readers and listeners – in print, on air and online.

"And their message is to reinforce exactly what we want: to continue the high quality journalism that is so important to them, and to the strength of our brands.

"Our brands therefore are the glue in the relationship we have with our audiences built as they are on our long history of journalism of the highest quality.

"For over 175 years, our mastheads have been the newspapers that champion the community and dare to make power accountable.

"The challenge for us as a company is to stretch the brands – to modernise them – so that they are as powerful in the 21st century as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries."
Brand has always been critically important to Fairfax, but it could be that there is now a real willingness to align the brands properly across content channels.

There has traditionally been a good deal of tension between print and online representations of the metro mastheads, ie. the web sites lean towards the salacious and the newspapers steer through an AB heartland. Some feel that has been mismanaged. Others that it is the right thing for two different audiences.

The real problem, though, is not that there are two (or even three) different audiences for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, but that decisions about how the brand should be managed via each channel are not centrally controlled. Neither metro masthead editor has overall control of his paper's web site. Consequently that consumer brand attachment, which David Kirk rightly values, is at risk.

I posted on this a while back. At the heart of the problem seems to be an organisational disconnect between Fairfax Digital which owns the masthead web sites, and the editorial culture of the newspapers which maintains the tradition of quality journalism. 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. Whilst that continues, the brands will suffer.

But Mr Kirk's speech last night may be indicating a shift in position on the governance of the masthead web sites. Whilst he is very clear about the overall value of the digital business, the specific needs of the metro masthead web sites remain distinct from Trademe or essentialbaby or Stayz or any of the other non-news sites that Fairfax runs. For the news sites to work most productively with their parent masthead it is only logical that each metro newspaper editor be able to direct online operations.

No doubt there will be voices inside Fairfax Digital who will maintain that no Fairfax newspaper editor could possibly run a major news site. That is to be expected, but nevertheless it would be quite mistaken.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Palin v Biden

Today's much anticipated VP debate turned out to be a bit of a fizzer.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Online profits, Oz Twitter useage

Monday Note shines a light on the elephant in the online newsroom: the financial numbers don't add up.

But can they?

Scott Karp points out that Facebook is lagging badly in delivering revenue against its current valuation. It has 100 million users but 2008 revenue was projected at only $300 million. So where's the rest?

According to Karp the problem is with Facebook's value proposition to advertising clients. It ain't as compelling as Google's by a long way.

In other words even the newest players can take a leaf out of Google's book. It's really about delivering customer satisfaction.

On another note it's interesting to see the growth in Twitter useage in Australia.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Future of Journalism BNE conference

I was on a panel at the MEAA backed Future of Journalism conference in Brisbane on Saturday. Bronwen Clune and Cam Reilly have covered a lot of what was discussed. The Twitter feed from the day fills out some gaps.

As usual at these things, there was a lot of circular discussion, some confusion, and much furious agreement.

It seems to me the future of journalism relies heavily on the future of publishing. And it's in connecting those two things that the debate constantly gets lost.

But here's a practical idea - and a serious challenge to Chris Warren and the MEAA:

The current Fairfax layoffs will probably put more than 100 experienced journos on the market in Sydney and Melbourne. Many, if not most of them are not interested in turning themselves into publishing entrepreneurs. They want to keep doing journalism.

Most of them will be offered company redundancy packages. But rather than simply accepting a redundancy offer and hoping for the best, as some have suggested, why not take the opportunity to organise as a start-up publishing operation on a digital platform with a combination of syndication and display ad revenues? As an employee-owned, equity backed arrangement it could be a unique and imaginative attempt to find an alternative solution to the publishing challenge.

But this would really only work with the MEAA's complete involvement in getting the members to consider a proposal. It would also require the MEAA to broker some sort of equity support - they'd need to find the partner. But the contribution needn't be a prohibitive amount. In fact the best PR Fairfax could get out of this situation is to support exactly this sort of initiative themselves.

But if Fairfax weren't willing, others might be. The creative and journalistic talent is there, it just needs a publisher with reasonable pockets and a willingness to take a risk. There are a few around. Eric Beecher is one who has put his money where his mouth is. In fact Crikey Blogs is not a bad model for exactly what I'm suggesting.

Who else?



At the Brisbane conference, discussing tools and techniques for digital journalism are, l-r: Bronwen Clune from Norgmedia, John O'Brien from the Courier Mail and David Higgins from News.com.au. Moderator is Peter Lewis from ABC's Landline.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A bad week for Fairfax is a good week for PR

Last week started badly for Australia's oldest newspaper company, and then it got worse. By the end of the week staff at the two metro dailies - The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald - were on strike and management was bunkering down to produce the weekend's papers.

All in all, the publicity was as bad as it gets for a major media company. The Australian, in particular, enjoyed the show and took delight in pointing out the shortcomings of their competitor, which of course eventually got right up the nose of Fairfax CEO David Kirk.

But traditional rivalry aside, the changes at Fairfax are really only good news for one group: PR people.

As a senior Communications executive confided last week, the Fairfax news made life for his staff better in two ways. With a flood of unemployed journos becoming available, suddenly the labour market would turn in favour of PR companies who had struggled to recruit quality staff in recent times. At the same time his people would be writing more copy for Fairfax as there would be less people in their newsrooms to knock it back or rewrite it.

It's a syndrome Nick Davies would recognise immediately.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Flat Earth News

In 2005 US comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term truthiness to describe the things people claim to know "from the gut".

It rapidly became part of the lexicon, achieved Word of The Year status, and culminated with the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association dinner where Colbert gave a bitingly satirical speech in front of an unimpressed President Bush.

As Colbert said later, "It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty."

This concept of assertion as fact is at the heart of Davies’ book, Flat Earth News. Facts still matter to the extent that they are necessary to fill pages and airtime, but according to Davies in newsrooms all over the UK the veracity of those facts is hardly ever questioned.

Davies is a long time Guardian journalist who is well placed to spill the beans on the inside workings of Fleet Street. And spill the beans he does with a quarter of the book dedicated to inside stories of UK newspapers’ failings, from management bungling and bullying to newsrooms’ use of dodgy or outright illegal tactics in the chase for stories.

Covered in particular detail are the slow death of The Sunday Times Insight team, the Observer’s support of Tony Blair’s march to war in 2002 and 2003, and the Daily Mail’s aggressive prosecution of everyone from asylum seekers to welfare organisations.

In addition to his insider knowledge Davies has applied the research grunt of a group from Cardiff University. The researchers contributed a study of the ten largest UK newspapers quantifying the volume of stories originating from newswires and PR versus original reporting. This underpins much of the first part of the book covering the current working conditions of British journalists as well as the external influences that come to bear on their professional lives.

In Davies’ hands it’s highly engaging stuff, peppered with anecdotes and written as well as you would expect of a seasoned professional. Nevertheless, it is a depressing read.

The title of the book refers to news created largely as a result of the commercial and political pressures on media organisations.

As Davies sees it news quality is in a death spiral. Most journalists are still struggling to do the best job they can, but against ever increasing odds and the results of their failure are visible every day.

The evidence is visible in reporters paying scant attention to context and subtlety in the stories they are covering because of increased time pressures. In other words producing what Davies calls “churnalism”.

The failure is obvious when newsrooms obsessively recycle the same stories other media are running to avoid being seen as behind the news agenda.

And it’s clear to Davies that self-censorship is rife, with newsrooms choosing to run stories based on “safe facts and safe ideas” for fear of the “electric fence” of government or corporate interests.

Government information management is pervasive and the power of commercial PR extensive.

Added to all this is the ever increasing significance of the single biggest driving force for modern media managers – the EBIT line.

It is very gloomy stuff, indeed.

Davies has no great conspiracy to report. What he has identified is instead a consequence of the drive for profits in publishing running up against the need of governments, NGOs and commercial interests to control the flow of information. Which of course means there are lot of small conspiracies.

Australia is not immune to his forensic gaze. He writes, “A 2001 study of major Australian daily newspapers […] found that 47% of news stories were created by press releases and other PR activity; and that these stories overwhelmingly expressed the angle chosen by the PR firm.”

And Australian journalists feature occasionally too, albeit somewhat out of context.

Davies retells a story about the Murdoch owned National Star which received a tip off about information on the earlier disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. After convincing the Star he had evidence the tipster persuaded the paper he needed $20,000 to hand it over. The Star reporter who flew to Cologne cash in hand to make the exchange was Piers Ackerman.

As it turned out the evidence, inside an airport luggage locker, was a pair of old brown shoes supposedly worn by Hoffa when he was murdered. The shoes had never belonged to Hoffa. The Star ran the story anyway.

Flat Earth News is rich with this sort of detail, and for anyone who cares about journalism it is confronting stuff. Davies is passionate about the cause but admits that in “trying to expose the weakness of the media” he is really only “taking a snapshot of a cancer”.

The strength of the book is its passion for journalism and the depth of detail about the practical working lives of newspaper reporters and editors. Where Davies is a little less clear is on the philosophical underpinnings of journalism.

On one hand he argues that truth is the primary obligation of journalism. But on the other hand he is equally adamant that objectivity in reporting is impossible. This raises an inherent conflict that Flat Earth News never resolves. If all reporting is necessarily and honestly subjective, what happens to truth?

The closest Davies comes to answering this is by suggesting that honesty is the critical element of good reporting.

The real problem, as this book points out, is that there is a conspicuous lack of honesty operating at all levels within the biggest newspapers in the UK. And because the media is still notionally operating within the traditional fourth estate role this lack of honesty is having a devastating effect, not just on the sustainability of newspaper journalism but democracy as a whole.

Whilst Davies’ conclusion is pessimistic nevertheless there are glimmers of hope. Anyone who loves newspapers ought to read Flat Earth News and grasp the truthiness of it.

Flat Earth News
By Nick Davies
408pp Chatto & Windus

This review is published in the current Walkley magazine

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Blogging Future of Media 2008

Ross Dawson has a review of FOM2008 and a roundup of subsequent comment from a variety of sources.

This was the third FOM event Ross has staged and it went off very smoothly. The technology has been improving year by year so the cross-continental panel discussions worked better than ever.

I was on The Future of Journalism panel with Jane Schultz from the Australian, Jonathan Este from the Media Alliance and Stephen Quinn from Deakin University. We only linked across to Silicon Valley as an afterthought at the end of the session, but it was this topic that seemed to spark the most passionate responses of the day ... mostly on Twitter.

The Twitter streams focus some angry microbursts largely against Oz Media editor Jane Schultz whom the twitterers identified as representative of a counter-productive old media attitude.

Jonathan Este wrote a delightful piece a day or so later that encapsulates the problem as it was manifest last Tuesday. The problem of "Old Media", as such, is given full bore treatment by Stilgherrian.

What surprised me on the day was the attitude of the new media evangelists. They latched on to some generalised points Jane made and then made their own generalisations in turn to cover off the whole of the media. It's intellectually lazy, but it does fit some of the more wild-eyed enthusiasts' view that the MSM is broken beyond repair.

Once that line was off and running it didn't matter what the rest of us on the panel said.

I must admit, though, it was interesting to watch. Here was a bunch of passionate and intelligent new media consultants and proselytisers who believe deeply in the inevitability of the digital media future, who appear not to have the first clue about the way MSM actually works, and who cling violently to a set of pre-ordained notions about said MSM. So the minute any capital "J" journalist makes a disparaging remark about bloggers or blogging they leap on it and shout "told you so!"

It's a two-way thing, though. Of course ...

But it's still annoying how long this same debate has been going round in circles. Back in January 2005 Jay Rosen declared Blogging v Journalists is over.

In June that year I was writing the Media Blog on theage.com.au and I asked Tim Dunlop from The Road to Surfdom to guest blog and discuss some of these issues.

To my mind Tim personified the best Australian example of non-MSM blogger-as-journalist. I later hired him to write the Blogocracy blog on News.com.au.

It should be said that Tim resists the description "journalist", and although we discussed it at length from his perspective he is a political writer in the public intellectual mode rather than the journalist mode. He nevertheless mixes solid occasional reporting with high quality analysis and comment written in an engaging style. Does that sound like journalism?

It's fair enough that he should choose not to be described as a journalist, but my response to Tim back then was that the best journalists are also public intellectuals of one sort or another. The two things are in no way mutually exclusive. It may come as a surprise to some of Tuesday's critics that even in Australian journalism there is a strong tradition of public intellectualism.

I think this sort of example really shows how pointless the argument is.

Maybe one day we can all move past the schoolyard syndrome and just get on with the job of making, distributing and selling great material ... in whatever format.

Update:

* Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen have continued the discussion with particular reference to curmudgeons. Jeff's initial example of curmudgeonly attitude happened at a Blogging conference and came from an MSM news editor. By contrast, last Tuesday's panel in question was on the future of journalism, and while there was indeed some provocation most of the curmudgeons were non-MSM types. So, while I agree with Jay that there are entrenched curmudgeonly attitudes within newsrooms all over the country, I would also say that there are equally entrenched attitudes within the digerati that are simply antagonistic to journalism.

* I ruffled a few feathers by saying that the contributions from the floor last Tuesday displayed a negligable understanding of the way the MSM actually works. And I stand by that. Jarvis and Rosen have both spent a lot of time in and around newsrooms. By contrast being a "tertiary trained" journalist or a freelance contributor is a quite different type of experience. Ben Barren, on the other hand, certainly does understand the challenges facing major media organisations and he also knows a lot about some of the initiatives they are developing in the social media space.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Future of Media Summit

I'm speaking at the Future of Media Summit in Sydney on Tuesday on a "Future of Journalism" panel so have been contemplating talking points ...

Stewart Kirkpatrick has a strong view on the future of journalism question. I tend to agree with much of what he says, although I'm perhaps not quite as pessimistic being still very attached to and ensconced in the newspaper industry.

In the same context, I just stumbled across this video. It references The Economist from nearly two years ago, but the points are still relevant.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Gawking at Gawker's pay rates

From Radar: "for Gawker writers, a million pageviews a month to an individual writer's blog posts will now net that writer $5000. Just back in January, a million pageviews would have gotten a writer $7,500. The reduced pageview rate means that writers must do more—or, of course, more popular!—work to even receive the same rate of pay."

$5 cpm's down from $7.50 at the beginning of the year?

As Jason Calacanis points out, that still ain't bad ... but the pressure is on.

Interesting insight into the way Gawker pays its writers, though.

Masterful PR at Vanity Fair

You've got to hand it to them.

Consistently first class stories, beautifully written and accompanied by the best photography. Vanity Fair is an editorial-led magazine. And it is the complete advertisers' package.

The advertising pages in VF are beautiful to look at - they don't yell at you, they beckon seductively.

It takes nearly a whole month to enjoy this magazine properly. I love it.

I also love the way they use their web site. vanityfair.com is really a PR and marketing tool masquerading as a full service magazine site. The site is free, but the magazine leaks articles, on to it one by one as promotion for the current and upcoming print issue.

There's nothing particularly radical in that. But when your site content is as strong as vanityfair.com you can take a different tactical approach.

Their approach is to use PR to drive print sales, which of course is where they make the real money.

They do this regularly. Sometimes it's an Annie Leibovitz cover like pre-internet the one of a pregnant Demi Moore.

Today it was a Christopher Hitchens piece about letting himself be subjected to water boarding. theage.com.au lapped it up.


The story was a reprint from The Guardian, two days ago. The Guardian writer had taken Vanity Fair's bait ... and their hook and their line and their sinker too. But theage didn't mind.

I can't understand why theage didn't just write its own version. They did do a video piece. But the way video is presented on the Fairfax sites it really just looks like an afterthought to the serious work of putting words together.

By the way, if you're ever looking for Vanity Fair in an Australian newsagent you'll need to look in the "Women's" section.

Funny that ...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bully for him ...

John Lehmann, former editor of The Bulletin, is enjoying life in Noosa as a wine merchant.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

WAtoday launches in Perth

It was one of the worst kept secrets in Australian online publishing, but after much speculation Fairfax Digital has launched WAtoday.

In design terms the site is more or less a direct copy of theage.com.au, minus that site's feature strip below the splash at the top of the front page. At least it looks better than the Brisbane Times.

Most of the copy is currently coming from the smh or theage, but you can't hold that against them at this stage. With eight dedicated reporters I expect they'll start generating local coverage fairly quickly. It remains to be seen how deep that coverage will go, however.

I suspect they'll struggle for local readers. After more than a year the brisbanetimes.com.au's unique Queensland audience is pretty small and if Watoday does better - given the relative size of the market - it will be surprising. But it does allow Fairfax to flog a (notional) national online reach.

What's the bet they'll do Adelaide next?

Murdoch and the future of newspapers


"Newspapers are in a sad way in America. Readership continues to fall. Advertisers are deserting them for newer forms of media. Revenues are plummeting, as the costs of printing and distribution mount catastrophically. ... In the eyes of many media experts, print journalism, that stubborn 15th-century technology, appears at long last to be on its deathbed.

"Except that Murdoch is investing in it."
Read the Full article in the Atlantic Monthly.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Rainy Monday (holiday) reading

Rob Curley’s response to this week's WSJ article on LoudounExtra.com [via AD]

Steve Ballmer on changes in technology and the media (and Yahoo!) [via Cameron]


Lawrence Lessig talks about the link between battling government corruption and media reform

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

ninemsn execs abandon ship

Tony Faure, the head of ninemsn has quit as chief executive claiming he is "not the right person" to take the business forward.

This is in addition to Chris Noone resigning as head of mobile. And it follows recent departures of commercial director Jason Scott, marketing director Tony Thomas who quit in March, and Jane O’Connell, the head of content and network innovation who quit in December and is now working for ninemsn partner Microsoft in Singapore. Scott has also turned up at MSN's Asia Pacific operation.

It's not a good look.

Wonder how much is attributable to the private equity influence?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brisbane Times grows market? I don't think so

This headline in a recent Adnews - "Brissie Times grows market" - caused a chuckle. Lovely spin from the Fairfax Digital guys, but the numbers don't reflect reality.


The chart above shows the 12 month growth in UBs to the Courier Mail and the Brisbane Times since the launch of the Brisbane Times. At first glance it's impressive enough - both trending up; the newcomer snapping at the heels of the incumbent which lifts its game in response.

At least that's how Adnews reported it. And of course, that's what Fairfax wanted.
"We've actually grown the online news reading habit," said Pippa Leary, MD of media at Fairfax Digital. "When we tested people before entering the market we found they weren't interested in hard news or credibility. Now that's changed."
Well, I'm not so sure about that. Let's look at the numbers a little more closely.

If we take average daily UBs since January 1, 2008 the figures stack up like this:
Courier Mail - 45,826
Brisbane Times - 29,542
Keeping in mind that Brisbane has a population of nearly 2 million, that means on this calculation around 75,000 people a day are looking at the two news sites, and that's not taking into account any duplication between the two audiences.

In other words about 3.75% of the population is interested in "hard news and credibility".

But actually the number is a lot smaller. And the reason is that most of the audience viewing these sites actually comes from outside Queensland. Rather than growing the news audience in Brisbane, what Fairfax Digital and News Digital Media are doing very well is moving traffic from their high volume sites in Sydney and Melbourne to their Brisbane sites.

Fairfax is exceptionally good at this. But News Ltd has a slight home town advantage with the Courier Mail brand reflected in stronger local viewing numbers.

In a trade release this week announcing the success of their new product, The Vine, Pippa Leary gave something of an insight into how Fairfax Digital uses its big traffic generators to spin off new commercial products.
"We were looking at fairly aggressive growth, but were surprised to get four times that in the first three weeks," said Leary.

Leary said Fairfax Digital had done "almost nothing" in the way of marketing the site other than directing existing Fairfax Digital users to the site through cross-promo ads on the SMH and The Age websites.
And that's exactly how they've built traffic to the Brisbane Times. Here's how the state based numbers break out (this is the stuff Adnews should have looked at):


It's clear that only one-third of traffic to the Brisbane Times comes from Queensland. And a little more than half the Courier Mail traffic comes from Queensland. Almost everything else comes from Sydney and Melbourne. I haven't bothered including the other states as they only contribute about 10% of traffic to both sites.

So in terms of "growing the market" the total figures mentioned above, and those used by Adnews, don't illustrate any real growth in the local online news category for Brisbane.

It is good spin, though.

(All stats from Neilsen Market Intelligence)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bring out yer dead ...

More doom and gloom about the newspaper industry. The Economist ran this line back in August 2006 with a cover story titled Who Killed The Newspaper? That one got up a lot of noses in the industry, and now they're at it again:
"... although all newspapers are being buffeted by the internet, their ability to respond will probably depend on whether their audiences are national, metropolitan or local. The first category can afford to invest in distinctive international or business coverage, while the last can prosper by becoming 'more intensely local'."
Which means, of course, those metro papers in the middle are probably stuffed.

The other publication taking aim at newspapers recently has been The New Yorker.
"Until recently, newspapers were accustomed to operating as high-margin monopolies. To own the dominant, or only, newspaper in a mid-sized American city was, for many decades, a kind of license to print money. In the Internet age, however, no one has figured out how to rescue the newspaper in the United States or abroad. Newspapers have created Web sites that benefit from the growth of online advertising, but the sums are not nearly enough to replace the loss in revenue from circulation and print ads."
So, is there an alternative view? The Guardian thinks so. Or rather, according to a recent report "newspaper editors around the world remain overwhelmingly optimistic". Which of course, is not quite the same thing.
"In one of the largest surveys of the worldwide news industry, 85% of editors said they were optimistic about their newspaper's future. At the same time, a rising number predict that print and online news will both be free in the future."
Bit of a disconnect there, but what can you expect? Editors sullying themselves with commercial imperatives? Not likely.
"George Brock, president of the forum and Saturday editor at the Times, sought to explain the disparity between the results and falling circulation and squeezed advertising revenues. 'This is a survey of editorial opinion," he said. "Most pessimism is a survey of commercial opinion.'"
Commercial opinion?

Well, there you have it.

It just depends who you ask, really.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

State of the news media 2008


The annual Project for Excellence in Journalism report is out, and not surprisingly online features even more than in recent years.
The number of people going online for news on a regular basis is rising.
The audience for major news sites is also continuing to grow.
But the questions of who will pay and how they will do it seem more pressing than ever.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

ABC local and regional online

Writing in The Oz today, Mark Scott makes the claim that "The ABC has no rival in rural, regional and local news gathering and with fast broadband coming to the bush, the ABC will be the 'town square' where events, issues and community information is posted and debated."

I wouldn't argue about the breadth of regional news gathering resources the ABC has, but I would definitely dispute that this makes the ABC Online the 'Town Square' for localities across regional Australia.

ABC Local is 60 new local web sites delivering - according to Scott - "not just local news, weather and sport but also video and audio, reflecting local events and culture and opportunities for audiences to contribute".

In theory that's fine. In practice ABC Local is a mess.

The layout of the opening page is all over the place. From a useability perspective it's nearly impossible to tell how to navigate to any region. There is a map, but it's hard to read. Once you do find your way to a regional location there's no apparent way to navigate back again.


Getting the UI right, as well as the data relationships, is critical to developing the community aspect successfully. We spent a lot of time doing that for Finda and while it's not finished yet I think we're on the right track.

ABC Local has a bit more work to do there.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Atlantic Freely

For years my favourite US magazine was The Atlantic. It published quality essays and reviews and strong political and cultural analysis all at length and all broadly inclusive of places beyond the geographic boundaries of North America.

I started reading it in the mid-90s. But particularly under the editorship of Michael Kelly from 2000-2002 it attained a real zip and cutting level of insight, analysis and pure joy in the written form. Every edition was gripping, even if you weren't quite sure of the technicalities of a particular issue under discussion. The writing was compelling.

As a reader remote from domestic US politics it was dramatic, and fun, reading.

I let my subscription lapse in 2004, after about five years as a subscriber. It happened partly because I moved house and the new address got mixed up.

But only partly.

Anyway, I had actually tried to re-subscribe but none of my efforts could connect with the circulation department at Atlantic Media. I even telephoned a couple of times.

Despite the fact I wanted to, I couldn't renew my subscription to the magazine.

The complicating factors were:
  • I am resident in Australia
  • The Atlantic was in the process of moving offices from Boston to Washington
Maybe there was more. But it seemed, at the time, that these were the reasons.

However, as part of my original subscription I had received a username and password to access the web site wherein full current and archive issues are available, and more.

That access remained active even after my paid subscription had lapsed. Which meant that from 2004 until early 2008 I had ongoing access to the Atlantic.

During that time, I read the magazine less. I printed articles from the web site fairly frequently, but I didn't buy the magazine often. Largely because I felt it just wasn't up to scratch. Worth a quick look, but not worth $15.

It seemed like it had lost its way a bit. It had drifted into very dry economic territory leaving behind the type of quality journalism that had long been the foundation of its success.

So I read Vanity Fair instead. And paid $18.

Always keeping an eye on what was happening each month at The Atlantic.

And then on January 22 the magazine announced it was "dropping its subscriber registration requirement and making the site free to all visitors".


Which, practically, didn't make a lot of difference for me, but is, I think, a good thing generally.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Finda.com.au

We launched a new site today at APN Online, which I think is going to do good things for us. Finda.com.au has its first iteration in Toowoomba, and we're planning on rolling it out to the rest of regional Queensland and Northern NSW over the coming months.


It's initially focusing on news and events. But it has a few nice features enabled by the crossover taxonomy and geo-targetting that allows news stories and diary events to be themed together under content or category types. This sort of data configuration allows a lot of flexibility in the way you can mix and mash content.

I was encouraged to see this reference in the Newspaper Next 2.0 report from the other day, because it's exactly what Finda is aiming to do :

“Looking at the possibilities that lie beyond the boundaries of traditional newspaper companies the report describes how such a ‘former newspaper company’ might look several years in the future, in the eyes of the consumers and businesses it aims to serve:”

TO CONSUMERS
  • The source I try first whenever I’m dealing with a local want, need or problem
  • The source I use most often to know what’s going on here
  • The best source of facts, knowledge and wisdom about this place
  • A source available in the times, places and circumstances in which I need it
  • The town square and connective tissue of community life here
  • The place I go to be part of the fabric of life here

TO BUSINESSES
  • Big, comprehensive solutions for reaching people
  • Narrow, targeted solutions for reaching people
  • Small, low-cost ways to reach people
  • Ways to reach specific target groups, niches, interests
  • Ways to create one-to-one customer relationships and build loyalty
  • Ways to build my image or brand
  • Ways to reach people when they are most likely to buy
Stay tuned for more releases soon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Newspaper Next 2.0

Released yesterday the American Press Institute report "outlines a broad new vision for what newspaper companies must become if they are to survive in today's heavily disrupted media landscape. It also presents 24 case studies of new products developed using Newspaper Next principles and methods, and seven profiles of organizations that have made significant structural changes in the process of developing these products. And it examines the most promising areas for maximizing online revenue generation, with assessment tools and practical guides any newspaper can use to begin taking advantage of those opportunities."

Full report ...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Underbelly

"In Melbourne criminals have a saying: We catch and kill our own ..."

Jason South's photo of Carl Williams as a pallbearer at Andrew Veniamin's funeral

John Silvester's opening line of the feature he and I worked on together with Simon Johanson and Matt Absalom-Wong at theage.com.au in 2004 sets the scene for the story of Melbourne's gangland killings more powerfully than any of Vince Colosimo's posturing on nine's Underbelly.

And Dave Steel's throbbing, sinister slide guitar track adds just the right threatening atmosphere to our "tour of murderous Melbourne".

Underbelly, however has a dinky little soundtrack that does nothing for the atmospherics and only works as an illustration of what a missed opportunity this show already appears to be. Can you imagine the Sopranos without the funky "Woke up this morning"? Or The Godfather without Larry Kusic and Nino Rota's famous theme?

Underbelly has been banned in Victoria, but I watched it in Brisbane last night and many Victorians will no doubt be watching it from today after downloading it from Bit Torrent sites like mininova, iso-hunt and Torrent-finder.

Vince Colosimo as Alphonse Gangitano in Underbelly

On a lot of levels it's a disappointing effort. The performances are quite strong but the timeframes feel too rushed. Some of the events portrayed - particularly around the murder of Greg Workman and the shooting of Alphonse Gangitano - directly reflect news reports of the time, but the sequence and lead up events are not clearly communicated to the viewer. So if you aren't already familiar with the stories on which the performances are based the storyline is confusing.

Alphonse Gangitano in Lygon Street

Gangitano is a good example. The guy was clearly deranged, but the producers have missed an opportunity to create a powerful figure in the tradition of deranged criminality, whether a Sonny Corleone or a Clyde Barrow. Instead we get superficial glimpses of Gangitano at home with his family contrasted with scenes of murder or mayhem that don't do much at all to expose why this guy might have acted in such a way.

Another missed opportunity.

It's almost as if in trying to capture the whole messy era in one (13 episode) series they've bypassed a great dramatic opportunity in favour of a quasi-documentary style. David Chase would have done this slowly across five or six series. The material warrants it. It's a pity Australian producers don't have the confidence to approach such rich material in the same way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Myspace and the future of social networking

... in their own words: Chris DeWolfe and Amit Kapur

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Going hyperlocal with Holovaty

Adrian Holovaty has just launched his latest project - Everyblock.
"EveryBlock filters an assortment of local news by location so you can keep track of what’s happening on your block, in your neighborhood and all over your city."
They've launched with Chicago, New York and San Francisco and presumably have much more to come.

Bulletin to cease publishing

The magazine that has run some of the biggest names in Australian literature during its 128 years - Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Joseph Furphy and Miles Franklin, amongst others - has published its last issue.

PBL Media CEO Ian Law said that the publication had been making a loss for a number of years and they "could see no prospect of this trend being reversed".

As might be expected, the "impact of the internet" was cited by ACP chief Scott Lorson as a factor in the decision.

That's too easy, though. Magazines - weeklies and monthlies - are actually less effected by the internet than newspapers.

The truth is it had lost its edge.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

P.S. I don't love you

I admit it. Stories like this are too compelling.

I mean, all that chopping must have been hard work ...



But then, looking at that page, what really distracted me from the chopfest that was going on with the news item was the MPU ad for "One of the year's best love stories" starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler and Friends "icon" Lisa Kudrow: PS, I love you.

Ahh, the wonders of contextual advertising.

"The humanizing moment" Bollocks!

Hillary Clinton has beaten Barak Obama in the New Hampshire Democratic primary

At NYT.com The Caucus reported that "Terry McAuliffe, Mrs. Clinton’s chairman, on MSNBC attributes her apparent victory to her tearful moment yesterday: “That humanizing moment yesterday,” he says. “That did it.”"

That wasn't a tearful moment. It was pure theatre by an expert performer. Have a look.

But the "tearful moment" was reported seriously all over the place. So it worked a treat.

Schmucks.