Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Press Complaints Commission consultation: respond by January 25th

The Press Complaints commission, which is the industry body which attempts to regulate the printed media, and now the corresponding websites, is engaged in a “Governance Review” – and is wanting responses by January 25th 2010.

The commission last had the attention of bloggers when a proposal was made by the PCC Chairman Baroness Buscombe that they should be regulated by the PCC. Unity, at Liberal Conspiracy, organised a response which drew expressions of support from perhaps 300 bloggers over the following 3 days.

At that point I also commented on some problems with the PCC itself :

Baroness Buscombe, the Press Complaints Commission and the Internet: Hard Questions

Firstly, the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission is a position which surely depends on political and commercial neutrality. (Baroness Buscombe takes the Tory Whip in the Lords)

Secondly, despite the Chairman of the PCC clearly needing to be a neutral figure, Baroness Buscombe used her speech to the Society of Editors to make party political points.

Thirdly, the PCC’s level of knowledge and understanding about the Internet is open to question; they appear not to understand News Headline Aggregators.

Fourthly, the PCC needs to defend vigorous investigative journalism. The Baroness – as current Chairman and a Peer herself – has suggested that the Lords should not be subjected to the same scrutiny as the Commons has been in the last 12 months.

Tim Ireland has been organising an excellent response , based around these five specific proposals:

SUGGESTION ONE: Like-for-like placement of retractions, corrections and apologies in print and online (as standard).

SUGGESTION TWO: Original or redirected URLs for retractions, corrections & apologies online (as standard).

SUGGESTION THREE: The current Code contains no reference to headlines, and this loophole should be closed immediately.

SUGGESTION FOUR: Sources to be credited unless they do not wish to be credited or require anonymity/protection.

SUGGESTION FIVE: A longer and more interactive consultation period for open discussion of more fundamental issues.

And he has done an excellent (and noisy) video involving space invaders, which you can see here .

The PCC has a special website set up, from where you can send your submission.

The closing date is January 25th 2010.

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Technology is not a strategy: it's a tool

Here’s another draft section from the book chapter on UGC I’m currently writing I’ve written which I’d welcome your input on. I’m particularly interested in any other objectives you can think of that news organisations have for using UGC – or the strategies adopted to achieve those.

A common mistake made when first venturing into user generated content is to focus on the technology, rather than the reasons for using it. “We need to have our own social network!” someone shouts. But why? And, indeed, how do you do so successfully?

A useful framework to draw on when thinking about how you approach UGC is the POST process for social media strategy outlined by Forrester Research (Bernoff, 2007). This involves identifying:

  1. People: who are your audience (or intended audience), and what social media (e.g. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, forums, etc.) do they use? Equally important, why do they use social media?
  2. Objectives: what do you want to achieve through using UGC
  3. Strategy: how are you going to achieve that? How will relationships with users change?
  4. Technology: only when you’ve explored the first three steps can you decide which technologies to use

Some common objectives for UGC and strategies associated with those are listed below:

Objective Example UGC strategies
Users spend longer on our site
  • Give users something to do around content, e.g. comments, vote, etc.
  • Find out what users want to do with UGC and allow them to do that on-site
  • Acknowledge and respond to UGC
  • Showcase UGC on other platforms, e.g. print, broadcast
  • Create a positive atmosphere around UGC – prevent aggressive users scaring others away
Attract more users to our site
  • Help users to promote their own and other UGC
  • Allow users to cross-publish UGC from our site to others and vice versa
  • Allow users to create their own UGC from our own raw or finished materials
Get to the stories before our competitors
  • Monitor UGC on other sites
  • Monitor mentions of keywords such as ‘earthquake’, etc.
  • Become part of and contribute to online UGC communities
  • Provide live feeds pulling content from UGC sites*
Increase the amount of content on our site
  • Make it easy for users to contribute material to the site
  • Make it useful
  • Make it fun
  • Provide rewards for contributing – social or financial
Improve the editorial quality of our work
  • Provide UGC space for users to highlight errors, contribute updates
  • Ensure that we attract the right contributors in terms of skills, expertise, contacts, etc.
  • Involve users from the earliest stages of production

Can you add any more? What strategies have you used around UGC?

UPDATE: ‘Pursue the goal, not the method‘ by Chris Brogan puts this concept well in broader terms.

NUJ's making journalism pay online: five points

NUJ logoThe NUJ’s New Ways to Make Journalism Pay conference on Saturday brought together a group of journalists and entrepreneurs who are making money through online journalism in the UK. Many of the speakers had toiled to build brands online, and those that had were now running sustainable businesses. If the future of journalism is entrepreneurial, then these speakers are evidence of it.

You can read a breakdown of all the speakers’ points at Ian Wylie’s blog and if you scroll back on my twitter account @Coneee. Here are five points from the conference that jumped out at me.

1. Getting to a sustainable position is difficult.

David Parkin, founder of Thebusinessdesk.com, took two years to raise the £300,000 he thought he’d need to survive an estimated 18 months of operating at a loss. In the end it only took 9 months after an expansion into the Northwest, but it was still very “hairy.” He had to “make noise”: put up posters, give away coffee on the street, and branded mints to posh restaurants where businesspeople dined. Daniel Johnston, founder of Indusdelta.co.uk, had to live off his savings for the first 18 months. The site is now profitable, and supports the salary of another staff member.

2. The rules of the journalism game aren’t changed by the internet.

Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog gets up at 6.30AM, and is still up when Newsnight is on in the late evening. He hasn’t got any ins with big politicians, and most of his news comes from disgruntled interns. No wonder! David Parkin found that for him, starting a successful venture was still “very much about contacts.” Daniel Johnston, although professing to not know whether he was a journalist, borrowed the principle of independence from good journalism: providing a counter point to the Government view (which he said was “gospel” before he came along) of the welfare-to-work industry also allowed him to build a sustainable business.

3. Traditional media doesn’t do investigative journalism.

Gavid MacFadyean, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, said 75% of investigative journalism is now done by foundations or NGOs. This is because of cost cutting at newspapers and in TV, but also because foundations offer a far more effective environment for investigative journalism. Gavid said: “Foundations say just do your worst, and we’re trying! It’s no strings attached money,” which seems to be bliss compared to less independent advertising-supported models.

4. Email is important.

Many of the speakers had collected the email addresses of their readers in the tens or hundreds of thousands, allowing them to quickly notify readers of news, while also opening up possibilities for making money. David Parkin recalled success with sending emails when the interest rates changed. By providing this information within 2-3 minutes (speed which the BBC and “big media” don’t bother with) after it had happened, businesspeople could be more informed. Angie Sammons of Liverpool Confidential said having an email list of interested individuals means you can directly provide them with sponsored offers, making you money and also helping your readers.

5. Local freelance journalism is dying.

Since this was an NUJ conference organised by the London freelance branch, it’s not surprising that the room was full of freelance writers, many of them used to pitching stories to editors of local newspapers. Note that many seemed to be “used to” doing this. A combination of a crash in rates, an unwillingness for local editors to commission work and the virtual impossibility for newcomers to get their first (paid) start gave me the impression that it’s never been harder to get work as a freelance local journalist. Fortunately, the overriding message from the day was it’s never been easier to make it online.

Also see:

Leak-o-nomy: The Economy of Wikileaks

Stefan Mey from Berlin talks to Julian Assange, the spokesperson of the whistleblower platform Wikileaks.org. The interview took place during the 26th Chaos Communication Congress where Assange and his German colleague Daniel Schmitt gave a lecture on the current state and the future of Wikileaks.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange (photo: flickr.com by Esthr, cc-by-nc-2.0)

At the moment Wikileaks.org has an unusual appearance. The website is locked down in order to generate money. The locking-down of the website was first planned until Jan 6, then Jan 11 and now it has been announced that it will last “until at least Jan 18”. How did you decide in favor of this tough step?

In part, this is a desire for us to to enforce self-discipline. It is for us a way to ensure that everyone who is involved stops normal work and actually spends time raising revenue. That’s hard for us, because we promise our sources that we will do something about their situation.

So, you strike?

Yes, it’s similar to what unions do when they go on strike. They remind people that their labour has value by withdrawing supply entirely. We give free and important information to the world every day. But when the supply is infinite in the sense that everyone is able to download what we publish, the perceived value starts to reduce down to zero. So by withdrawing supply and making our supply to zero, people start to once again perceive the value of what we are doing.

Do you urgently need money?

We have lots of very significant upcoming releases, significant in terms of bandwidth, but even more significant in terms of amount of labour they will require to process and in terms of legal attacks we will get. So we need to be in a stronger position before we can publish the material. Continue reading

Wired stands by story after Guardian denies iPhone app paywall plans

If, like me, you’re a regular reader of The Guardian‘s media coverage, or you listen to their Media Talk podcast, you might have been surprised to have read the following in the February 2010 UK edition of Wired:

The Guardian… hopes users of it’s £2.39 (iPhone) app will pay extra for privileged access to in-demand columnists. (p.89)

This seems to fly in the face of what I know about The Guardian‘s digital strategy. The Guardian have always seemed to be staunch opponents of paywalls, and Emily Bell, Director of Digital Content at Guardian News & Media, always seems to me to take a particularly strong line that she doesn’t want to charge for online content. I asked her to comment on Wired‘s claim. “I’m not sure where the ‘columnists’ assumption comes from, not us, that’s for sure. Bit off beam” she told me on Twitter (incidentally the ‘columnists’ in question include David Rowan, Wired‘s Editor, who co-wrote the piece).

So, order is restored to my universe: The Guardian is still the bastion of free online content, creatively looking for another way to make digital pay. But wait, what’s this? Wired have weighed back in, with this tweet:

@jonhickman @emilybell Came from a senior Guardian exec who demonstrated the app in person, actually

So, are The Guardian really thinking about paywalls? Was this loose talk? Has there been a misunderstanding? Is someone fibbing?

I don’t know, but I think it matters. The Guardian‘s online brand seems to be about free: free data, free access, free comment. If there’s a grain of truth in Wired‘s claim, what does it tell us about the future of online access?

What is User Generated Content?

The following is a brief section from a book I’m writing I’ve written on online journalism. I’m publishing it here to invite your thoughts on anything you think I might be missing…

There is a long history of audience involvement in news production, from letters to the editor and readers’ photos, to radio and television phone-ins, and texts from viewers being shown at the bottom of the screen.

For many producers and editors, user generated content is seen – and often treated – as a continuation of this tradition. However, there are two key features of user generated content online that make it a qualitatively different proposition.

Firstly, unlike print and broadcast, on the web users do not need to send something to the mainstream media for it to be distributed to an audience: a member of the public can upload a video to YouTube with the potential to reach millions. They can share photos with people all over the world. They can provide unedited commentary on any topic they choose, and publish it, regularly, on a forum or blog.

Quite often they are simply sharing with an online community of other people with similar interests. But sometimes they will find themselves with larger audiences than a traditional publisher because of the high quality of the material, its expertise, or its impact.

Indeed, one of the challenges for media organisations is to find a way to tap into blog platforms, forums, and video and photo sharing websites, rather than trying to persuade people to send material to their news websites as well. For some this has meant setting up groups on the likes of Flickr, LinkedIn and Facebook to communicate with users on their own territory.

The second key difference with user generated content online is that there are no limitations on the space that it can occupy. Indeed, whole sites can be given over to your audience and, indeed, are. The Telegraph, Sun and Express all host social networks where readers can publish photos and blog posts, and talk on forums. The Guardian’s CommentIsFree website provides a platform where dozens of non-journalist experts blog about the issues of the day. And an increasing number of regional newspapers provide similar spaces for people to blog their analysis of local issues under their news brand, while numerous specialist magazines host forums with hundreds of members exchanging opinions and experiences every day. On the multimedia side, Sky and the BBC provide online galleries where users can upload hundreds of photos and videos.

The term User Generated Content itself is perhaps too general a term to be particularly useful to journalists. It can refer to anything from a comment posted by a one-time anonymous website visitor, to a 37-minute documentary that one of your readers spent ten years researching. The most accurate definition might simply be that user generated content is “material your organisation has not commissioned and paid for”. In which case, most of the time when we’re talking about UGC,we need to talk in more specific terms.

Amazon.co.uk Widgets

iPhone News Apps Compared

We’re all being told that mobile is the next big thing for news, but what does it mean to have a good mobile news application? Jonathan Stray reports.

Just as an online news site is a lot more than a newspaper online, a mobile news application is a lot more than news stories on a small screen. The better iPhone news apps integrate multimedia, social features, personalization, and push notifications.

Not all apps get even the basics right. But a few are pushing the boundaries of what mobile news can be, with innovative new features such as info-graphic displays of hot stories, or integrated playlists for multimedia.

Here is my roundup of 14 iPhone news offerings. I’ve included many of the major publishers, some lesser known applications, and a few duds for comparison.

NYTimes
The New York Times Company
Free

The New York Times iPhone application

The New York Times iPhone application

The Times doesn’t do anything new with this application, but they do everything fairly well.

The app is designed around a vertical list stories, with a headline, lede, and photo thumbnail for each. Stories are organized into standard news sections, plus the alway interesting “Most Popular.”   Banner ads sometimes appear at the bottom, plus occasional interstitial ads when appear when you select a story.

The focus of the news is of course American. There’s no personalization of news content based either on interest or location, which may well prove to be a standard feature for mobile news applications. Fortunately, the app includes a search function, though it only seems to go a few days back.

Downloaded articles are available when the device is offline, which is a useful feature. Favorites stories can be saved, or shared via email, text message, Twitter, and Facebook.

The UI has a few quirks. The “downloading news” progress bar is expected, but the sometimes equally long “processing news” phase makes me wonder what the app is doing. The photos in a story very sensibly download after the text, but the scroll position jumps when the photo appears,which is hugely annoying.

There’s little innovation or differentiation here, but the experience is smooth.

Continue reading