Aug 10

The web, RIP?

“Is the Web Dead?” ask the big red letters on the cover of the latest edition of Wired magazine. Twin pieces by Chris Anderson (Wired’s editor-in-chief and author of “The Long Tail” and “Free”) and Michael Wolff (of Vanity Fair and Newser) agree that the web is done for.

Both men are professional exaggerators and overstate their cases. Which is briefly that the web’s “open”, free-wheeling, browser-based serendipity era is over and being gradually replaced by closed apps and systems which will capture ever-larger chunks of what is now a fluid and fragmented markets in news and entertainment. Their pieces are here.

But as exaggerators often will, they have dislodged a cascade of interesting reflection. Some of it is accumulating on Twitter at #webdeath. Best of all so far is this commentary from Alexis Madrigal which carries a lot of links on the fallacies of technological determinism.

The relevance of this to journalism lies in whether digital publishing will eventually shake down into a faithful reproduction of the print or broadcast models which tend to create a small number of big players. An oligarchy of news if you like.

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Jul 10

Marr’s optimism, part 2

I mentioned a piece by Andrew Marr in which he had confessed his creeping conversion to reading news online. He’s now followed up with some optimistic conclusions. It sounds from this post as if he’s making a programme or programmes on journalism, so we’ll no doubt hear more on this before long.


Jul 10

Future of Journalism (part 94)

Some soundbites from a Future of Journalism conference in London yesterday organised by the Axess Foundation’s Media and Democracy programme.

  • The connection between new media and “regime change” in countries with authoritarian governments is much overdone. Mass protests fail much of the time. New media’s effect works at a deeper, slower level to change beliefs and assumptions in society. (Abiye Megenta, Ethiopian political journalist, Oxford University).
  • Citizen journalism doesn’t work as a standalone business. (Turi Munthe, Demotix).
  • News media agenda change: Metro is the most popular paper in Britain and it doesn’t cover cost of what the Daily Mirror covered in,say, 1980. (Professor Stephen Coleman, Leeds University).
  • Internet and new media did a lot in the 2010 election but didn’t change the dynamics of the campaign. (Andrew Sparrow, political blogger for The Guardian).
  • In a world in which more internet news sources go behind paywalls, an increasing proportion of those that remain free will be government-funded, such as Russia Today (rebranded to disguise its origins as the bland “RT”) or China’s new 24-hour channel. (Evgeny Morozov, Georgetown University).
  • American foundation-funded investigative startup ProPublica uses a network of 5000 volunteers to crowdsource. A recent project which dependent on that large number: did your Congressman get given free tickets for the Superbowl? (Paul Steiger, ProPublica).
  • Recall all the technologies which were said to be transformational and which weren’t: facsimile newspapers delivered by wireless (1940s), Citzens Band radio, the CD-ROM, the interactive TV red button. (James Curran, Goldsmiths University).
  • In 2002, only 4 countries censored the internet. Now, 40 states do so. (Peter Barron, Google).

Jul 10

Ponsford to Finkelstein: 5 ways to raise The Times game online

Discriminating and useful post from Dominic Ponsford of UK Press Gazette on The Times new site addressed, as I imagine it, to Danny Finkelstein, the man in charge. Dominic’s right (point 4) to draw attention to one of the oddest aspects of that elegant site: the lack of links going elsewhere. It just cannot be that readers born into the digital generation are going to believe that all the information they can need or want on a subject is going to be generated by one editorial staff.

While skirting the subject of paywalls, here’s the invaluable NiemanLabs on some of the latest thinking on new, painless (“skip the negotiation”) ways of getting people to pay for content. It’s dense, granular stuff but only that kind of work will crack open the solution to charging without having to erect walls which destroy linkage.

And lastly, a rare interview with the founder of Google News, Khrishna Bharat. Right or not, anyone in news or media needs to now what this man is thinking. (OK, I admit it: I haven’t had time to watch it right through. Yet).


Jun 10

In memoriam Norman Macrae

I was poised to write a highly serious post about the creeping tendency towards ideas about state subsidy for news organisations when I took a look at The Browser and fell across an long, affectionate obituary from The Economist for Norman Macrae, the paper’s deputy editor for 18 years. Macrae, a defender of open markets in a collectivist age, would have had no truck with the idea of government’s subsidising the provision of news.

Macrae was influential and at the same time almost unknown. The obituary opens with the astounding observation that when Macrae died this month, not one newspaper mentioned the news or his career. Macrae was not self-promoting, never became The Economist’s editor and worked much of his career at a paper which doesn’t print bylines. But even so, this is quite some indifference to the journalist who “discovered” Japan and its economic potential in the 1960s, was one of the first people to understand modern computing at the internet (he coined the term “telecommuting”) and more generally was a formidable explainer of post-industrial society. But read the piece for yourself.

The comments, including one from Macrae’s son Chris, are just as well worth reading. Many of Macrae’s ideas would have been regarded as daft when he first expounded them (a handful remain dotty) but in the long run he was often proved right. Time is a great reviser of reputation.

(Update 26/6/10: a week later, the Financial Times prints an obituary.)


Jun 10

Men nervous about spaghetti

Addressed three hundred German news publishers and editors this morning at the “Zeitung Online 2010” conference in Dusseldorf and spoke on themes that I’m almost getting bored of hearing myself say. (Presentation slides here).

At the start of the huge changes driven by digital technology…Companies that expect uncertainty and surprise will fare better…experiment frequently, fail often…don’t assume that internet advertising will match or replicate print income…the iPad probably isn’t the white knight that you hope it is…your once captive audience has escaped. OK the bit about the iPad is a recent addition, but the rest isn’t new and not even completely original (even if true and important). I mentioned the importance of throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall.

It wasn’t that the audience was shocked or surprised by any of this. The reaction of the room was more sullen disappointment. Before I spoke they had been treated to a snazzy presentation from a designer, Lukas Kirchner, happily plunging into iPad design projects. Kirchner’s slides included a set of five American magazines on the iPad and the homepages looked remarkably like the magazine covers in print. This sight was greeted with an almost audible sigh of relief and happiness. “At last,”  that sound seemed to say, “along comes a device which makes the future look like the past.” German publishers – and they’re hardly alone – can register with their heads talks which stress unpredictability of the changes driven by new media; but in their hearts they yearn for the familiar.

I told them that the first version of the iPad doesn’t have the openess and connectedness of the iPhone (bookmarking, linking and blogging all made difficult) and that this might turn out to be a problem, however popular the device was to begin with. I wasn’t making much impact.

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Jun 10

Moore of MST: this sounds about right

This piece by Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust in London cropped up in my Delicious clips (which appear just to the right of this post in “what I’m reading“), but it’s so judicious that it deserves more prominence.

What I like here is the rigorous separation of the fate of journalism from that of individual journalists, the stress on the experimental mixture of things which are going to have to be tried to rebuild and sustain journalism on a useful scale and the mention of Roman Gallo’s Nase Adresa initiative in the Czech Republic (background from this blog here). Above all what’s appealing is the lack of dogmatism and admission of uncertainty.


May 10

Is the future…possibly…bright?

The future for printed daily papers has looked gloomy for so long that people have forgotten what sunlight looks like. I’ve seen a cluster of pieces in the last few days which stare into the future and they share two striking characteristics: they are more optimistic than pessimistic (about news publishing if not about print) and they see a role for something definable called journalism.

If you only have time to look at one of these, read James Fallows on Google and journalism. The history of news media shows that journalism is always being turned upside down and Fallows talked to the top Googlies about how they see the latest revolution.

To whet your appetite here are two short passages to illustrate why this piece is upbeat and required reading. Google-bashing is daft: the Google thinkers may not be right about everything but they are smart enough to be worth arguing with. Fallows noted that people in Google are finding it easier to think about how to sustain journalism because they are not in the newspapers business. He illustrates it like this:

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