Monthly Archives: November 2006

The future of newspapers

[Keyword: , , , ]. Article in the Independent, of all places (the least forward-thinking of the broadsheets) with quotes from various industry people. Most of it you’ve heard before – the usual waffle about ‘brands’ and ‘more people are reading newspapers than ever before’ and ‘it’s a two-way communication with readers’, but I like Piers Morgan’s to-the-point assessment: “It will be the newspapers who are the most dynamic online who win. “

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Column: whose content is it anyway?

[Keyword: , ]. Here’s my latest Stirrer column:

Andrew Neil is not happy. The BBC broadcaster and former editor of The Sunday Times is the latest news executive to attack Google News, the aggregation service that collects stories from news sources around the world.

Neil opened the Society of Editors conference in Glasgow with a complaint about the service: “We don’t charge them a penny for our hard-earned journalism,” he moaned. “It’s time for a conversation with Google. They can afford it.”

The Google News excuse is fast becoming a cliché in news circles, as newspaper revenues decline and executives cast around for someone to blame. In March journalists from The Times and the World Association of Newspapers used the Online Publishers Association to attack the service. Phillipe Janet, an online news executive with French newspaper Les Echos, said Google News should be banned form “stealing content and revenues from newspapers”.

One Belgian news organisation felt so strongly about the issue that when Google News launched its Belgian service they sued the company, saying “We are asking for Google to pay and seek our authorisation to use our content … Google sells advertising and makes money on our content”.

Now that’s not strictly true: Google News features no advertising. And when the Belgians won the case all they really won was the right not to be listed on Google. This is like suing WHSmiths for stocking your newspaper. I’ve never heard a better definition of ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’, and the newspaper website ad sales department must have been ringing with the sound of heads hitting desks.

Just as Andrew Neil bemoans the fact that newspapers don’t charge Google News for their journalism, Google News could argue “We don’t charge them a penny for sending thousands of readers to their website”.

What newspapers should be doing, of course, is making a deal with Google which allows the search engine giant to start advertising alongside newspaper content, with newspapers taking a cut.

But while the dinosaurs lumber over the pennies, a limber Google is testing out fresh ideas every day that just keep fillings its coffers. And its latest plan? Acting as a broker for people to buy advertising space… in newspapers.

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Google to Try Selling Advertisements for Newspapers

[Keyword: , ]. Attention Andrew Neil: Google is one step ahead of you: “Google will run a three-month test — set to be announced today — that is designed to make it easy for newspaper advertisers to come to the popular search-engine site, find a newspaper they want to advertise in, browse ad rates and buy an ad.”

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More on the BBC’s ‘web 2.0’ plans

[Keyword: , , , ]. Head of BBC News Interactive Pete Clifton is quoted in Press Gazette on the BBC’s plans to relaunch as a web 2.0-based operation next year:

“plans include increased personalisation features for the front page of BBC News Online, an expansion of the site’s live statistics tracker and possibly wiki-style pages that would let users contribute to compilations of information. A BBC News API (application programming interface) could let web developers outside the BBC access news content for their own projects.”

But perhaps more noteworthy is the (welcome) focus on possible structural changes:

“An important part of the review, he said, would be examining how BBC News needs to be organised to deliver information across platforms.

“We all have to look at our newsrooms and ask ourselves whether they are set up for the challenges ahead. Is it real integration, or is there a bit of lipservice to do it with a token web person sitting at the end of the row,” Clifton said, noting that competitors like The Daily Telegraph are working hard to integrate their newsrooms for multimedia publishing.”

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The rise of user generated content

[Keyword: , , , ]. Following my previous posts on US publisher Gannett’s move into citizen journalism, and the launch of MySun, Owen Gibson provides a comprehensive look at the rise of user generated content (registration required), as Channel Five launches “a major UGC drive” next Monday:

“I’m hoping people will get to know Five News as the place that really does listen to you about your story and cares enough to give you a credit, pay you and do something about it,” says [senior programme controller Chris] Shaw, who insists that it is about “much more” than simply a call for story tips and mobile phone clips. The idea of paying contributors has already been trialled with some success by the mobile network 3, which rewards contributors to its SeeMeTV service every time their clip is downloaded.

“[…] But it will face stiff competition, and the issue was hotly debated at the News Xchange conference in Istanbul last week.

“Pete Clifton, head of BBC News Interactive, said the corporation – which has for some time allowed viewers to send material via its “yourpics” facility – does not pay contributors, but allows them to retain copyright. In contrast ITN deputy editor Jonathan Munro said ITV has and does pay for footage – including “tens of thousands of pounds” for footage of the arrest of some people who attempted a copycat London bombing. “We pay because it’s a commercial commodity, a competitive market and has commercial value – and we’d try to recoup that value by selling the footage on to our clients.”

“Authenticity is another potential banana skin […] Safety issues are another consideration with viewer-submitted content. Fran Unsworth, head of newsgathering at the BBC, admitted to being concerned by much of the footage that had been sent in from last year’s gas explosion at Buncefield.

“A lot of teenagers were coming to our link on the ground and they provided the best pictures of the day by getting far closer than the BBC’s own camera crews would go,” she said. “When we said we can’t use this because it’s too wobbly, they said ‘I’ll go out and get some more’.” She said that as employers, the BBC could be exposed to legal action if they could be shown to have encouraged members of the public to put themselves in danger.

“But even more important than the practicalities, says Shaw, is a shift of mindset. Like many others, he believes that news organisations will have to come down from their lofty perch.”

Sadly, Channel Five still seem to be ghettoising user content by putting it in a “specific portion” of the news programme.

Equally interesting are similar moves in the world of TV:

“Celia Taylor, the controller of Trouble, a digital channel aimed at 16-24 year olds, was ahead of the curve in launching Homegrown in May this year and last week the first TV programme culled from its thousands of clips was aired. Now ITV is looking at launching its own UGC site and has commissioned Endemol to make a show derived from viewer-submitted content, Sky has unveiled plans to launch a UK version of Al Gore’s Current TV and next year the BBC will embark on a wholesale revamp of its website for the broadband age.

“I wanted it to become an original place for people to play and I’m pleased to say that’s happened,” says Taylor, relieved that most contributions appear to have been
made specifically for the service rather than merely re-posted from elsewhere.
“What I didn’t want was lots of people lighting farts and falling over,” she adds. The clips that have made it to the channel include soaps made in people’s living rooms, skits and comedy sketches. “It’s really funny, incredibly creative and the quality is outstanding,” insists Taylor. On one level, sites like Homegrown can act as a massive talent filter, she suggests. Meanwhile, Trouble is also looking at ways of linking the website with the TV channel – Homegrown users were asked to remix a video for an Oasis track that will feature on their new DVD, for example, while the hosts of X-Factor style dance show Bump ‘n’ Grind encouraged viewers to compete via the website and showed the best clips on air.”

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USA Today publisher to bring citizen journalism into mainstream?

[Keyword: , , , ]. Wired News reports on moves by Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, to begin

“crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions. Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened “information centers,” and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like “data,” “digital” and “community conversation.”

“The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

A fascinating example comes at the tail of page one of the piece:

“In May, readers from the nearby community of Cape Coral began calling the paper, complaining about the high prices — as much as $28,000 in some cases — being charged to connect newly constructed homes to water and sewer lines.

“Maness asked the News-Press to employ a new method of looking into the complaints. “Rather than start a long investigation and come out months later in the paper with our findings we asked our readers to help us find out why the cost was so exorbitant,” said Kate Marymont, the News-Press‘ editor in chief.

“The response overwhelmed the paper, which has a circulation of about 100,000. “We weren’t prepared for the volume, and we had to throw a lot more firepower just to handle the phone calls and e-mails,” Marymont said.

“Readers spontaneously organized their own investigations: Retired engineers analyzed blueprints, accountants pored over balance sheets, and an inside whistle-blower leaked documents showing evidence of bid-rigging.

“”We had people from all over the world helping us,” said Marymont. For six weeks the News-Press generated more traffic to its website than “ever before, excepting hurricanes.” In the end, the city cut the utility fees by more than 30 percent, one official resigned, and the fees have become the driving issue in an upcoming city council special election.”

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Neil to Google: we want our cut

[Keyword: , , , ]. Andrew Neil has a strong opinion on Google’s news aggregation service, as Roy Greenslade reports:

“The BBC broadcaster and chief executive of the Barclay brothers’ group, Press Holdings, not only launched a by now familiar attack on Google’s news aggregation service but, pertinently, castigated the media industry for not clubbing together to demand payment for content just as the music and broadcasting industry was doing to YouTube.

“”We don’t charge them a penny for our hard-earned journalism, the former Sunday Times editor said in the conference’s opening lecture. “It’s time for a conversation with Google. They can afford it.””

This is a much more refreshing approach than the Belgian newspaper which sued Google to stop it publishing its articles. ‘Cutting off your nose to spite your face’ sprang to mind then, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect Google to give a cut of advertising to content providers. Remember the time when “content was king” and wannabe ‘portals’ were scrambling to pay publishers for feeds that could draw users in?

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