Jan 14

Laboratory sites are re-inventing journalism on the run

For the past fifteen years, an argument has been reverberating in and around journalism. The digital era, argued one school of thought, is a total re-set: nothing will – or can – survive of the old news media dominated by print and terrestrial broadcast. Rubbish, argued the other school: digital journalism can’t do original reporting and when the world clocks that fraud, mainstream media will revive.

I parody the opposing positions, but not by much. The quarrel was static and often sterile. I’ve argued (here and here) that the task of journalists in the digital era is to adapt old values and ideals to new circumstances and possibilities. In other words, a lot needs to change to renew an old ideal: telling people useful truth.

This stale dispute from the past is now being rendered irrelevant by new online news businesses which have the experimental drive, technological confidence and resources to try new ways of doing things – and which have already won a sizeable audience to try them on.

Experiments small and large with everything from how long the ideal list should be to the ideal width for pictures to the right tone for longform reporting are conducted one the run, at speed and with a wealth of data about what is shared and how much. Failed experiments are dumped and forgotten. Online sites are not inhibited by caution about their reputation; they have won millions of users but not yet prestige and respect. Such sites are run as laboratories for the next news.

Continue reading →

Laboratory sites are re inventing journalism on the runLaboratory sites are re inventing journalism on the runLaboratory sites are re inventing journalism on the runLaboratory sites are re inventing journalism on the runLaboratory sites are re inventing journalism on the runShare This Post

Sep 12

Funding journalism: not before a sharp, painful squeeze

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, sinking in the polls and suffering the media persecution which goes with that, thinks that newspapers won’t be around when his children are grown up. He implies that because printed papers might vanish, journalists of the future won’t pick apart the performance of politicians. Or at least they’ll be nicer when doing it.

Less naive, but nevertheless mistaken is the idea floated by David Leigh of The Guardian (declaration: he’s also a colleague at City University) that the financial problems of newspapers could be solved by a £2 a month levy taken from internet service providers (ISPs). Journalism has always been cross-subsidised, so it’s the right question. But the wrong answer.

Taken together these fragments of the debate about what’s happening to journalism show that a stark idea, long discussed by those who study this stuff, has now gone mainstream. Change in newspapers will be transformative and not just adaptive. And it’s coming very soon.

Take a quick look at the recent print circulation figures of the five serious national dailies (FT, Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Independent). Taking the figures from June 2011 to June 2012 (i.e. excluding Olympic effects) year-on-year falls range between 8.52% (Telegraph) and 44.62% (Independent). Take the Independent out of the equation on the assumption that the figure is distorted by some statistical manoevre and the bracket is from 8.52% to 17.75% (Guardian). Now imagine the effect of those numbers on print advertisers (still probably at least two thirds of the income of these papers) and speculate about the tone and type of discussions that are going on inside the offices.

Continue reading →

Sep 11

Hari: act of contrition for the weekend

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post here about the Independent writer Johann Hari which made a mistake. Time to rectify that.

Two days ago, Hari handed back his Orwell Prize and published a long and somewhat weaselly mea culpa in The Independent. (Readers new to this saga start here). Hari’s confession included confirmation that he had gone to considerable lengths to boost his friends and smear his enemies on Wikipedia under an assumed identity. The full extent of his lifting material to embroider his interviews is also now clear (see the critical comments at the foot here).

I didn’t condone Hari’s actions in my premature post. But I did argue that George Orwell would have taken the view that ridicule and revelation were enough, and that Hari needn’t have been stripped of the prize. That judgement looks particularly foolish in the light of what we now know; it was silly as it was. As Bagehot of The Economist pithily says, this isn’t a matter of training and teaching but a more basic one of character and integrity.

Nov 10

The Times paywall numbers: what counts for what

By bundling together different varieties of consumers of the digital versions of The Times and the Sunday Times which might usefully have been kept separate, the two papers managed to squeeze a headline figure – 105,000 – just into six figures.

That number is for “customer sales” for the past four months. As a method of   The Times paywall numbers: what counts for whatreporting this doesn’t even begin to be convincing. Any business journalist on either title confronted with this sort of chicanery from another company in the online market would gleefully rip into the executives releasing numbers in such opaque form. But it’s not very likely that News International will be getting that treatment in the pages of either paper.

The best analysis I’ve seen so far has been from Rob Andrews of PaidContent and Ian Burrell of The Independent. The most detailed working of the figures is here. Burrell defiantly continues the quixotic old-fashioned practice of actually ringing up experts and recording what they say.

Six quick observations to help interpret the interpretations: Continue reading →

Oct 10

The new “i”: a launch against the odds

The spin from the parent paper, The Independent, has been that the arrival of “i” is the first national newspaper launch in Britain for 25 years.

Except that it’s not mostly new. i’s staff of ten are repackaging the content of The Independent: smaller paper, chunkier mid-market design, more pictures, shorter stories, tweet-sized fragments of “commentary” and the dull stuff (politics, economics) taken out or truncated.

But will it work? For a survey of opinion see here (UK-centric) and here (European dimension); for an optimistic take, see Dominic Ponsford here. The best argument for launching such a paper in a declining daily print market is that the readers of the free Metro find the paper so unsatisfying that they will shell out the 20p for a nicer class of quick read. But I doubt that it’ll work. I was wrong about the Evening Standard going free, thinking that sums would not add up. But that move, under Lebedev family management, seems to have worked.

So here is a cautious list of reservations about i. Continue reading →

Apr 10

Rebekah and James go postal

The stresses and strains at the top of NewsCorp are beginning to look like King Lear in slow motion. When will ageing

Rebekah and James go postal

James Murdoch

King Rupert let go the reins of power and who will be best placed to benefit?  The tension burst into view when the heir-presumptive James Murdoch and News International’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks invaded the offices of The Independent to complain in person to Editor-in Chief Simon Kelner about a recent front page knocking Murdoch.

Michael Wolff of Newser is sometimes offbeam on Murdoch and NewsCorp, but this analysis of what’s at stake in the British election seems right on the nail.

Continue reading →