Monthly Archives: December 2009

Portadista: the new editorial role of looking after the home page

When I translated the sixth part of the Model for the 21st Century Newsroom into Spanish, I learned some of the new roles for journalists in news organizations.

Now I have the chance to write about a new role for digital journalists thanks to my Argentinian colleague Alvaro Liuzzi, who recently visited Spain to interview some of the directors of national news websites for his documentary on Hispanic online newsrooms (Argentina, Peru and Spain).

The Editorial Director of 20minutos.es, Virginia Pérez Alonso, told him about a new position they created to permanently control the long home page of the site to make sure everything is correct (links, images, headlines) and to track the most popular stories in each column, using their own software that shows real time stats.

They call this new position the “Portadista” (Portada is Spanish for home page). This is how it works in the newsroom:

  • The “portadistas” are journalists [This may seem obvious but it is important to note that it’s necessary for the people in charge of this job to have journalistic skills].
  • There are three portadista shifts every day, and the first one arrives at 7 AM. They say it is a exhausting job so they change the people in charge every 15 days.
  • They receive all the information from the journalists via Google Docs and organize the home page according to that.
  • Then they proceed to review the hole home page, check the links, control that the verbal tenses are correct, the photos, etc.
  • They constantly monitor that the home page doesn’t exceed a maximum file size. If that happens they have to take out images, cut articles and reduce their size.

Google will give Murdoch what he wants if he renames the Sun as the Wapping News Journal

Has anyone pointed out the workings of Google Scholar to Rupert Murdoch? He’s going to have a fit when he finds out (first published here) …

Imagine if Google offered a deal like this to news publishers (as you’ll have guessed, this is exactly how Google Scholar works):

  • Where content is behind a paywall, Google will index it all and include it in its web results even if searchers who click through to the page are then told they can’t read the story without subscribing.
  • Google will work out which is the authoritative source of a story and show that – so newspapers breaking exclusives get priority over bloggers etc.
  • Google won’t differentiate these results in any way – searchers will think they’re going to see the content they can see in the Google results, but actually they’ll hit a paywall.

As I say, that’s exactly how Google Scholar works – but it’s not a deal that Google’s offering to newspapers Continue reading

Mistakes in the Big (and small) Media: Quality in Reporting

It is always fun when a hoaxed piece of research gets past all the filters and makes the newspapers, but what does it teach us? This is a video report from the Hungry Beast team in Australia, “proving” which part of Australia is the most gullible. The answer is, apparently, “the media”.

Link, in case the video doesn’t embed properly.

Here’s a different example from last week: Andrew Lansley’s insurance of a painting and medal on his Expenses as an MP.

All the papers quoted a value of 3500 ukp, except for the Independent which quoted a *premium* of 3500 ukp. Continue reading

Blogs, Twitter and a more accessible Media. Podcast interview: Mark Thompson, of Mark Reckons blog

Mark is a relatively new blogger, who has quickly come to a reasonable level of prominence in the blogosphere. In this interview Mark talks about himself, and how his blog has developed. We also talk about how blogs, and particularly Twitter, have made the national media more “permeable” – and what happens to nuances when blog stories are covered in the media.

We also think about choosing names for blogs, and why it’s a bad idea to try and compete in the search engines with the Head of the BBC. I also explain why I chose the name Matt Wardman when I started writing my own blog in early 2007.

This is an episode of the regular (ish) Politalks podcast. Politalks carries interviews with national figures about politics and current affairs, but also with lesser known figures who have an interesting perspective.

The Politalks RSS feed is here. There is also a newsletter.

Are the winds blowing in the direction of paid content, targeted advertising and better journalism?

Free does not mean that content has no value, but when the very sustenance of the entity producing that content is in danger, the concept of “free” begins to edge closer to devaluing content.

But even if content online has been free for so long, if it is captured back and tightly shut under a pay wall, does it become more valuable as a result? Or would news organizations have to earn that money if and when they finally achieve that pay wall?

As has been pointed out several times before, and on this blog as well, pay walls have been tried, tested and have, in effect, mostly failed. But many of the experiments that have involved paid content have erected pay walls around generic content or opinion that would perhaps be available elsewhere for free.

Moving toward specialized content

It is a pretty reasonable assessment that the more reasons a news Web site gives its readers to spend time on a site, perhaps by offering in-depth, contextual and narrative journalism, the higher the chances are that they will linger on the page longer, and even buy products through targeted advertising. And for better or for worse, this idea that the most engaged readers of a Web site will not only be willing to pay for content but also click through and purchase products advertised on the side of it is catching on.

As Steve Myers writes in Poynter:

“…pay structures create narrower, more specialized audiences and offer more opportunities for higher-yield, behaviorally-targeted advertising, which changes depending on users’ online habits.”

He explains that as paid sites start to attract more focused readers who recognize and identify a brand and content, it would also make it easier for news organizations to use targeted advertisements.

Free and paid content can co-exist

What worries me, however, is that news organizations are looking at options as either-or propositions. Getting your users to pay for content does not mean you can do away with Google, like Rupert Murdoch seems to believe.

There’s no denying that random visitors that are led to a site through search engines account for a large enough percentage of revenue to be ignored, as Paul pointed out in a previous post. In fact, it’s been roughly estimated that stumbling from search engines can make a news site about 50c a day per person, way less than subscriptions can, but it is still close to a hundred million a year, considering the average newspaper gets about a million visitors per month through Google searches alone. For the actual math, I direct you to the excellent Ryan Chittum at CJR.

Hence, blocking Google might not be the answer, but it is also important to note that the Wall Street Journal does have over a million readers subscribing to its content monthly, and since these users prove to be valuable to advertisers, specialist content could well be the answer for other newspapers as well.

There have been complaints all around that for an industry on the brink of collapse, news organizations are less than savvy in the area of market research, and aren’t doing much at all to help determine the monetary value of the content they offer and the kinds of products they should be providing in order to make money.

Instead, what many news organizations have resorted to over the years, is the “massification” of news in order to appeal to the broadest conceivable audience, a process that merely erodes the quality of journalism, without offering solutions for revenue generation, since such audiences do not have a brand identity that advertisers can appeal to.

As Slate editor David Plotz points out, the more media companies and editors begin to focus on the numbers, the faster they will shift from their pursuit of a “mass audience” and begin to produce more exclusive, in-depth content. Along that line of reasoning, Steven Brill’s Journalism Online plans to charge only the most frequent users who seek very specific content while allowing cursory surfers to avail of most topical news for free.

Following the lead of financial publications

Successful pay models, such as the Economist’s premium content, and the Financial Times’ paywalls are, after all, based on loyal readers returning to a site frequently on account of the exclusive content it provides. Financial publications, of course, are in a league of their own when it comes to paywalls, because of their high value, well-differentiated content and affluent consumers.

But as WSJ.com’s Alan Murray explained in an interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab, most news organizations should be able to tap into the idea that loyal readers will pay for exclusive information, as long as they steer clear of charging for the most popular content, which has the potential to yield maximum traffic and hence, revenue.

Whether it is due to declining ad revenues and falling readerships or the recession, newspapers in the US from the Minneapolis Post to the Arizona Republic, are adopting the idea of pursuing these “loyal readers” to sell their content. Others, like the Tribune company, are merely seeking them to target advertising.

Very early this year, Andrew Currah, a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, called on news organizations to not give up their core editorial values in the quest for clickstream data, not simply because such lack of focus would be detrimental to journalism, but because it would not prove to be beneficial to revenue generation in the long run.

“The basic logic of a webcentric strategy is to maximise the size of the audience around the news, for as long as possible. But a rush to generate clicks may in fact erode the distinctiveness of the brand and its connection to a specific audience,” Currah wrote.

Regardless of what they’re seeking – direct payment for content or indirect revenue through clickthrough advertising –  specialized, in-depth content to retain that brand and connection has got to be good for journalism.

“Influential” nomination for GP’s blog post despite being ignored by BBC

In September I reported on a medical blogger’s criticism of a BBC News Online piece. That critical blog post by AnneMarie Cunningham, is now up for an Edublog Award for the ‘Most influential blog post 2009‘.

Which is a curious thing. As AnneMarie herself points out:

“It is about poor research and poor journalism. I’m not so sure how influential the article was, as none of the authors, the universities involved, or the publishers responded to my emails seeking clarification on the research.

“I discovered later that the BBC were not the only people to publish the story. Most of the main UK newspapers had also picked up on it. So as google-sidewiki appeared at the same time I went around leaving links to my blog post anywhere that I could not leave a comment directly.”

Certainly the blog post kicked up something of a stink on Twitter and other blogs, but what influence did it have? The Editor of BBC Online Education wrote AnneMarie off as having some sort of agenda. It’s a reminder that however much we may crow about the power of the internet to give a voice to the voiceless, and identify flaws in reporting, there will always be those who find reasons not to listen.

NATO engages with Bloggers for first Briefing

q-logo-natoAt the start of this week, Dave Cole of the Atlantic Council of the UK organised the first visit to NATO Headquarters for bloggers.

I should have been on that trip on behalf of the Wardman Wire . Instead I found myself in a nearly built new wing of a Nottinghamshire Hospital, chattering with other patients about politics and NATO.

An objective for the Atlantic Council was to encourage an already quite wide ranging public debate about their “Strategic Concept” to include bloggers and independent commentators. It was also a “first” for NATO in attempting to engage new media commentators. Roughly, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, and the changes in role that have developed since, NATO is asking the question:

“Who are we? Where are we? What are we doing here?”.

I’ll write about the Strategic Concept later, but for now I’ve a few comments on the bloggers’ briefing itself, which was organised by the Atlantic Council UK.

First, a disclosure: I did a small project earlier this year as a consultant/adviser to the Atlantic Council UK in setting up this process and visit.

NATO is – by its nature as an organisation which provides a platform for political, military and security co-operation over timespans of decades or even generations – necessarily conservative (with a small c), and highly security-conscious.

The visit was under the auspices of Dr Stephanie Babst, NATO’s Assistant Deputy Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. As others have commented, it is a new departure for an essentially conservative organisation to engage with a field of commentators as varied – and as changeable – as bloggers.

NATO’s “Strategic Concept” incorporates more than just straight politics. The role of NATO has developed to include providing infrastructure for peace-making / peace-keeping, support for humanitarian relief, activities touching on civilian policing, and providing resources for other organisations (such as the European Union) seeking to develop their own role. Also, the NATO has moved beyond its traditional area of operations. Some of these have developed on an ad-hoc basis, or as a result of NATO being the only organisation capable of meeting certain requirements.

Therefore commentators from other niches within the blogosphere may be just as interested as those of us who focus mainly upon politics. A change in the Strategic Concept can have an effect on, and therefore needs to incorporate insights from, for example:

  • The world of politics.
  • Military and weapons specialists.
  • Policy wonks, and think tankers.
  • Development organisations.
  • Human Rights campaigners.
  • Communities which may be affected by changes in the military – consider the impact on Yeovil if there was a smaller (or larger) role for British made helicopters.
  • Traditional troop towns, and their local politicians.
  • Expatriate communities in the UK from countries where NATO operates.

All of these niches and communities have their bloggers, and have different thoughts and viewpoints to bring to the conversation. All will all ask highly targeted questions based on their own knowledge, and the host organisation needs to have the relevant people available to engage with the different questions.

Further, bloggers are also not always as familiar with normal “rules of engagement” with the media as professional journalists, and we hate being either “bullshitted” on the one hand, or “stonewalled” on the other.

NATO also needed to be sure that it would be a useful exercise to host the visit, and to appreciate the more informal way which bloggers operate, compared to more traditional media outlets.

Combine all of those, and there is plenty of potential for misunderstandings, wheels to fall off, and thereby the prospect of future repeat visits to be derailed.

I hope to do a more detailed case study of the project later.

Bloggers who attended:

Luke Akehurst (lukeakehurst.blogspot.com)

Martin Butcher (natomonitor.blogspot.com)

David Cole (davecole.org)

Mehdi Hasan (newstatesman.com)

Sunny Hundal (liberalconspiracy.org)

Zohra Moosa (thefword.org.uk)

James O’Malley (poddelusion.co.uk)

Will Straw (leftfootforward.org)

Bloggers who have commented:

Sunny Hundal: NATO hosts first ever briefing for bloggers

Will Straw: NATO: We won’t bugger off

Mehdi Hasan: My conversation with a Nato brigadier-general

Luke Akehurst: NATO holds bloggers briefing