Monthly Archives: June 2010

Help Me Investigate shortlisted for Multimedia Publisher of the Year

UPDATE: Help Me Investigate finished second and was “Highly commended”. The winner was Scottish news site The Caledonian Mercury (well deserved).

My crowdsourced investigative journalism site Help Me Investigate is up for Multimedia Publisher of the Year at the NUJ’s Regional Media Awards.

Also nominated are:

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The curious case of More! magazine, Twitter and the mocking retweets

Here’s the strange tale of Blair and More! magazine. Blair is a fashion blogger who picked up a copy of More! magazine, didn’t like what she saw, and tweeted it.

More! then retweeted Blair’s critical opinions to their 11,000-plus followers – along with a couple of tweets that Blair had directed at a friend. Continue reading

4 things you need to know about Google this week

1. Google encrypted search

In a move which could have enormous implications for online publishers, Google announced that it is experimenting with encrypted search.

In plainer language, this means that – if someone is using the service – you won’t know what they have been searching for when they arrive at your website. This is great for privacy, but clearly scuppers any plans publishers might have to sell advertising based on what people are searching for when they arrive at the site – or, indeed, plans to adapt editorial based on what users are most interested in. Continue reading

Let's stop this 'Curation is King' crap right now

Here comes another chant for publishers to reassure themselves with. ‘Curation is king’ is becoming a cliche so quickly I probably don’t have to explain it. The idea runs thus: we are so overwhelmed by information now that the role of publishers is not to gather the information so much as to filter it, manage it and present it.

Isn’t that convenient.

…Because they were doing that already.

Like ‘Content is king’, ‘Curation is king’ is a comfort blanket for the afflicted, a sticking plaster for injured pride. It says nothing about the new environment in which we’re operating; it suggests we do nothing other than more of the same; and it suggests our old position as arbiters of The Truth is unaltered.

And it’s a pile of crap.

Yes, curation is an important part of how information is disseminated online, but in a networked environment curation doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the behaviour of a million internet users measured by an algorithm, and to the six degrees of separation in our social networks. We’re in there somewhere, like an Indian traffic policeman, but let’s once again not conflate the act with the platform.

The problem with ‘curation’ is that it’s a misnomer. As one actual curator said:

“We go to museums to define ourselves, the world and the civilisation around us. If the curator is devalued cheapened through this woolly thinking then museums could lose all respect as cultural bastions. When I asked what the most important function of curators was, we saw how complex and varied the job was and not a single person said “selecting“.”

So if curation is king in online journalism I guess I missed the coronation. Curation is a usurper, here to distract us from the bloody mess we’re in with the message ‘Business as usual’.

If curation is king I say it’s time for some regicide.

Skiff: Murdoch tries to buy the news platform. Again.

News Corp’s acquisition of the Skiff e-reader platform has been widely reported in the last few hours. It’s a completely sensible move from an organisation which understands that it has to control every part of the news chain if it is to extract as much value as possible from content, advertising, and user data.

Of course we’ve been here before with MySpace – a distribution network, database, and content platform that Murdoch acquired to howls of derision – then applause, when an enormous advertising deal was brokered with Google – and derision once more as MySpace failed to meet targets stipulated by that deal.

Skiff, however, is a rather different proposition. Interestingly, News Corp have bought the software but not the device it was supposed to run on. That may be because it was already developing one.

I’m not sure whether it is a wise move to compete with the technical expertise and experience of Amazon and Apple – but you can bet that, commercially, News Corp has a very strong hand.

One point to note is that Apple’s business model is primarily based on selling devices; Amazon’s is mainly about selling things; but News Corp is mainly about selling the intangibles of advertising and content. That may give them cause to discount their technology heavily as a mass-market offering to tie people in, and acquire customer data.

News Corp is a network, not just a series of holdings. And the latest acquisitions suggest they’re not going to let someone else control their market without a fight. The question is: how soon will they put the gloves on? And how hard, and long, can they fight?

More from #JNTM: Flawed thinking behind government local TV plans

Following on from the previous post, another government policy up for criticism at this week’s Journalism’s Next Top Model conference was the much-mooted local TV plans.

This was a recurring theme of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt‘s speeches while in opposition, and this week he announced that Nicholas Shott, Head of UK Investment Banking at Lazard, will “look at the potential for commercially viable local television stations within the local media landscape right across the nations and regions of the UK.”

Roger Parry – credited with much of the thinking behind Hunt’s proposals – backed the plan, seeing it as being more about local multimedia than local TV. He expected around 80 local TV stations to be made available on Freeview with a consumer-focused mix of programming (gardening, DIY, etc.) and sponsorship rather than spot advertising.

But Clare Enders (Enders Analysis) and Will Perrin (Talk About Local) were hugely sceptical of the commercial basis for a local TV market in the UK.

Enders pointed out that while local newspaper advertising was worth £2.6bn this year, £1bn of that came from classifieds – a form that doesn’t translate to TV (ITV’s previous experiments with ‘video classifieds’ was, she said, a “disaster”).

She also highlighted the vast differences between the US local TV market – where national networks support state affiliates and states have their own “separateness” – and that in the UK where, she predicted, impending budget cuts “will kill some local economies – not inspire ad growth. It will get worse.”

“[Local TV] hasn’t panned out and my goodness has it been looked at in the past couple of decades.”

Government 'doesn't understand economics' over relaxing ownership rules – media economist

On Wednesday I spoke at the thoroughly enjoyable Journalism’s Next Top Model conference at Westminster University. Highlight of the day was keynote speaker Robert Picard, a media economist able to separate publishers’ sense of entitlement from the hard realities of economics and business (mis)management.

Journalism will survive, he said, because there will always be a demand for it. But most print publishers will die because over the past few decades they quite simply haven’t managed their accounts responsibly. While a typical business should have a debt-to-equity ratio of around 1:1, some publishers have racked up ratios ranging from 6:1 to 66:1.

“If you haven’t managed your balance sheet you get in trouble in a recession. Do I feel bad for them? No. They made stupid mistakes.”

One particular mistake highlighted by Picard was the switch in the 1990s from making acquisitions with stock to making acquisitions with debt.

“All the newspapers were making profits when they went bankrupt,” he pointed out. It was their handling of debt that killed them.

I asked Robert about the government’s plans to relax (and consider removing) local media ownership rules – and whether that would indeed create the environment for entrepreneurialism they want to encourage. His response was simple: “You don’t encourage competition by relaxing ownership rules.

“They don’t understand economics,” if they thought that would happen, he continued. “We need people to start more media organisations, not merge into fewer organisations.”

Picard seemed to feel that the Dutch government’s moves to provide funds to help news organisations restructure, or to re-skill journalists, were more intelligent responses.