24
May 10

Unplugged offcuts

I posted two days ago from the Al-Jazeera Forum Unplugged new media day but confined that one to the new initiative AJ is launching in this area. Here are a few bits and pieces from the other speakers which caught my ear.

Josh Benton of NiemanLabs. Demand Media (which matches freelance writers with commissions and/or payment) is now handling 5000 pieces of news a day; lifestyle journalism is very cheap to produce. Anyone thinking about paywalls has to reckon that there will always be free quality alternatives. The BBC, NPR, PBS & Co aren’t going away.

News is moving from being a manufacturing activity to becoming a service industry. The average US newspaper spends 15% of its budget on journalists. Young people in America spend an average of seven or eight minutes a month on the websites of newspapers; in the same period they spend seven hours on Facebook.

Benton, incidentally, turns out to be the reason why the NiemanLab blogs are so useful and well-written. He edits the material. Shocking, I know.

Joi Ito of Creative Commons. The key element of internet architecture, the heart and soul of the matter, is that the system allows people to connect without permission. Charging model that seems to work best is part-free, part-paid but with larger sums coming from fewer people. But he admitted that his best examples were not journalism: the rock group Nine-Inch Nails and Japanese anime companies.

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22
May 10

Unplugged in Doha

Excellent roster of speakers in Doha for the Al-Jazeera Forum’s “unplugged”  day on new media and I unfairly assumed  aljaz2that the opener from AJ’s director-general Wadah Khanfar would be bland welcoming pleasantries. In fact Khanfar spoke strongly of Al-Jazeera’s importance in raising standards of journalism in the Middle East in general and in the Gulf in particular.

He then announced a 4-part “initiative” from Al-Jazeera on internet freedom. I’d link to the press release if I could find it (one version here), but the main points are:

  1. All AJ’s web content will be free and stay free.
  2. AJ’s human rights desk will act as a collecting point and campaign hub for freedom of expression cases and issues across the region.
  3. AJ’s training centre will work with other news media on the principles of professionalism to promote “independent free journalism” in the developing and Arab world.
  4. AJ will equip new media activists with cameras, smartphones and other hardware to boost grassroots journalism and will give this material priority on the screen.

Point 3 alone, never mind the rest, is huge and overdue agenda. A cynic might say that words are free but results cost more. And Khanfar seems to have something of a habit of announcing big “Al-Jazeera” initiatives. But AJ is now huge force in its own right in the Middle East and to see such a broadcaster putting its weight behind the good use of new media in a region where it could make a difference is a start at least.

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