Apr 11

Blogs, paywalls: trends and straws in the wind

Two signposts for two clear trends this week.

Last night a journalist whose form is live-blogging won the “Political Journalist of the Year” title at the UK Press Awards. This is Andrew Sparrow of The Guardian, who has carved himself a niche as the Westminster reporter who writes minute-by-minute bulletins of big political set pieces and crises. What makes Sparrow good is his blend of old skills and new form. He is fast, but he is also wise.


As I’ve heard him explain, he began as a normal political reporter and just evolved his live-blog speciality as he went along. He doesn’t think live blogs on any subject replace reporting of a more conventional kind; they complement and enrich it. His strength lies in a combination of “old” qualities (journalistic self-discipline, background depth) and the “new” digital opportunity to distribute updates frequently and instantly.

Second trend sign: people experimenting with paywalls. It isn’t a coincidence that at least two newspapers on either side of the Atlantic announced digital charges this week: in Wolverhampton and Tulsa (with perhaps San Francisco to come). This isn’t just a metropolitan rarity any more. And we had the first public appearance by the two head honchos at the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger and Janet Robinson, since the paper announced its metered payment system.

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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).