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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Sep 10

The meaning of local

Martin Moore reflects on what “local” means when we’re talking about news media, concluding that if new start-ups replace the news organisations of the past they will have be grown from ground-level communities. Carving out a piece of territory, sending news to it and then hoping that you create a community as a result doesn’t work.

Everything in that post makes sense and I’d just add this perspective. Present-day local news media may look like businesses aiming at slices of physical territory or at selected “demographics”. But that isn’t how most local news began life. A community already existed and wanted to improve its common life: knowing things quicker, knowing where to shop for stuff, the tide tables or the football team’s score.

In the 19th century, the great growth era of local papers, cities were forging new identities and creating new bonds with new civic institutions whose doings made material for editors and publishers whose ambitions went beyond the parish. Cities in the 21st century, for dozens of reasons, aren’t the same places as they were then. The era when papers could be the romantic chroniclers of new urban life has gone. (For a taste of this in an American context see this Q&A with the writer Richard Rodriguez about San Francisco).

Town and cities made economic sense as well. Any city of 100,000 inhabitants or more could sustain an evening paper and usually did so for more than a century. Not any longer. Classified ads for houses, jobs and cars – once the bread and butter income for regional papers – moved faster than any advertising to the internet.

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