Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Photo manipulation at theage.com.au

Is it just me, or is this front page photo on theage.com.au highly problematic?

The picture makes out that the subject, former Qantas steward Samuel Kaufman, is seated in an aircraft looking guiltily out the window, as if he might be wanting to make a fast getaway with an armful of (what could be) envelopes of contraband. He actually appears to be in the act of committing a crime.

The accompanying write-off with the picture reads: "Qantas first-class hostie Samuel Kaufman told police the envelopes only contained cash. Then they opened them."

However, when you click on the story you see this:

Kaufman is actually ducking as he leaves a building - the caption says "pictured in March" - and trying not to draw attention to himself. Either way, he is not obviously in the act of committing a crime nor  is he about to be apprehended by police.

The most generous interpretation of the doctored front page picture is that it is misleading. Others may be more vigorous in their criticism. 

It's certainly a very poor piece of editing by theage.com.au. And not what you expect from quality media that is soon to start charging for access.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is the media reinventing influence?

Darren Burden and Catherine Lumby discuss the changing nature of news delivery and its impact on journalism.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

News culture eats strategy for breakfast

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast" is one of those throwaway lines loved by PowerPoint jockeys and business motivational speakers (with apologies to Peter Drucker). But in the case of newspaper organizations it has a particular resonance.

A recent survey by the US based Project for Excellence in Journalism has shown what many in the digital side of publishing have known for years, namely that newspaper executives deserve the blame for not changing the culture of their newsrooms. The failure to find a successful business model in the transition to digital is really a failure of leadership.

"The core cultural issue, executives told the PEJ researchers is the tension between the old ways and the new ways — and some of that stems from newspaper leadership that came of age in the days of monopoly newspapers and 20% profit margins.

“'We haven’t needed innovative people,' explained one executive. 'So you get what you need. The kind of people that came into this industry were more operationally focused, executors instead of innovator risk takers.'"

One daily newspaper the researchers looked at with a circulation of less than 50,000 struggled with the change to a web-first organization because, although its managers acknowledged the importance of the new medium, they didn't reinforce that desire through their reward and accountability systems. "Print revenue and circulation remained the benchmarks of success, not digital revenue or pageviews. As a result, newsroom staff struggled to develop the kind of online content needed to expand the web audience."

This same attitude, driven by either short term revenue fears (swapping print dollars for digital cents) or ignorance, or both, has played out across Australian news organizations over the last ten years. There is an Us and Them divide between print and digital staff which is only just beginning to close in some of the more enlightened newsrooms. But still, digital people are being "grinfucked" (as an old boss of mine used to say) by print staffers and seeing their skills and contribution being undervalued as print "news talent" moves into newly created digital specialist positions.

As the print iceberg melts, or the deck burns, the refugees looking to jump aboard the digital lifeboats has increased. And just like an overloaded metaphor, the digital lifeboat is at risk of sinking.

News organisations finally lost their early mover digital advantage in terms of raw audience some time over the last 18-24 months. While Facebook and Twitter saw exponential growth, and Google was experimenting with Wave, Buzz and Plus, news publishers dithered. They waged hopelessly naive campaigns against Google and debated endlessly whether a paywall strategy was the right direction. Meanwhile, they stopped any broadly meaningful digital product innovation choosing to put all their chips on iPad apps, which at best have been a qualified success.

All in all, it has not been a period of distinction for the industry. And once again, the inertia and lack of energy reveals a problem with the leadership.

Donald Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company has admitted some of these failures. When asked recently by Vanity Fair if there was anything he wished he had done differently, looking back over his life at the Post, he said that he “replays” the mid-90s when the Post was first starting its web operation “all the time".

"We knocked it out of the park. We were in the help-wanted business three years ahead of anybody else. We started it with great editors and exceptional sales and marketing people, and we had good I.T. people, but we should have tripled up on that. We should have understood that this wasn’t a matter of presenting the news in another format. But I think every company in the news business would tell you the same thing."

There is certainly a consistent pattern.

One of those patterns is the ever recurring question: what is the future of print? As a medium news print may survive in a form analogous to classic music, or specifically opera. In other words, as a museum piece for a certain class of cultural animal. Frankly, it's the wrong question. A better question is: how do we ensure the viability of energetic journalism?

Some news organisations are addressing this question seriously, and attempting to resolve the crippling  issues that continue to prevent them from wholesale cultural reinvention. There is a new crop of younger media CEOs now, not all with ink in their veins.

It's a good start. But is it too late to prevent news publishers experiencing their own Kodak moments?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

State of the News Media 2012

New devices and platforms spur more news consumption ... but at the end of the day it's all about mobile.

The Pew Centre's latest report on American journalism.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Guardian's Three Little Pigs

 Just caught up with this brilliant piece of brand advertising from The Guardian.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A senior editor

John Clarke and Bryan Dawe's sketch from last night's 7.30 Report. "Instead of analysing the news, and encouraging people to think deeply about what's going on in their world, we are going to try and put people more in touch with the way they feel ..."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What's in the digital store for 2012?

It’s been a horror couple of years for media businesses in the ANZ markets, and on the revenue side things don’t look like getting much better any time soon.

Despite some optimistic predictions by analysts pre-Christmas, early new year indicators from the retail sector are that there is little if any growth to count on in 2012. So display advertising is likely to remain soft.

The car industry is struggling, real estate prices are flatlining, and whilst employment rates are still holding up relatively well job ads are stagnant at best.

Europe is either officially in recession or about to be, depending on who you read, and the only glimmer of hope for developed economies seems to be that the US might just pull a very small rabbit out of the hat and post some limited growth this year.

All of which will leave China wondering who it is going to sell to and trying to figure out how to manage a precariously balanced domestic economy as it grows by a forecast 8.3% this year.

With such challenging external factors media companies are looking to get their operational businesses streamlined and positioned for the next economic upturn, or at least refocused into new markets.

And any way you look at it the name of that game is digital.

Locals will watch with interest as News Ltd puts a price on The Australian’s paywall and starts to charge consumers in February some time, and then extends that to its other news properties. Will they follow a similar model to Slovakian media company Piano Media and introduce a unified paywall for all their sites and channels? Or will they price individually by product and brand?

Meanwhile, Fairfax has taken initial steps with AFR.com by bundling print and online subscriptions, where once there was a distinct price regime for each point of access. This has stimulated useage of AFR.com and provided some good initial data which will no doubt feed into the next iteration of the AFR’s digital strategy.

Other publishers are starting to use detailed information about patterns of useage to feed into cross-selling and build new value for clients.

And this, I think, is the key point for media in 2012: data. Data in all its forms can add enormous value for publishers: data about reader habits and preferences, data about customer needs, and data as a basis for new forms of journalism.

In 2012 innovative, consumer focused product development that takes advantage of all available data inputs for marketing and sales – and data output for editorial – will deliver much needed trial, purchase and loyalty as publishers look to grow valuable digital audiences.

The past ten years have shown us a lot, and one of the lessons is that audiences expect creativity and technical excellence in production values, as well as good content. “Quality” content on its own will not convince consumers to pay online. Quality – whatever that is – needs to be packaged cleverly, it needs to be easily accessible on all devices, searchable, filterable, and able to be interacted with.

In digital publishing terms we’re about to step into the interim stage of maturity as an industry. We’ve left infancy behind, but we’re not yet fully formed. The need for experimentation hasn’t passed, but at the same time expectations are vastly higher than they were five or six years ago and cost management is more critical than ever.

Just as the first phase of digital product development in media publishing was characterised by a serendipitous relationship between traditional journalism and the disciplines of software development, so the next phase of digital publishing needs to take advantage of other non-traditional media skills and expertise. 

Some publishers have begun creating new roles in their newsrooms and marketing teams, whether it be social media managers or visual data journalists. This is a good step, but the challenge is to do more than simply retrain the smartest young reporters in the newsroom. Those smart young reporters have a lot to offer, but they won’t provide the solution on their own. So bringing in new skillsets, such as computer scientists, and training them as computational journalists is an example of the kind of direction publishers need to go.

Publishers have been on a set path for some years now, following the advent of new information and communication technologies. But for too long most didn’t really want to acknowledge this new reality. During 2010 and 2011 there was a belated recognition at the highest levels that digital really is the future. 2012 will be the year to act on that.

 It’s going to take more careful planning, and in some instances a new culture of innovation and in others a whole of business transformation; it will take a fair degree of courage and even some luck, but the alternative is not pleasant to contemplate.