Tag Archives: matt wardman

JEEcamp 2010: Interview with Paul Bradshaw of Online Journalism Blog. By Matt Wardman

q-logo-jeecampPaul Bradshaw has run a conference “Journalism, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship” for independent and mainstream journalists interested in “making a living from journalism in the era of free information”.

In this interview, Paul explains to Matt Wardman what the aims and achievements of JEEcamp have been, and reflects on how his own blogging activities over 6 years has opened up opportunities for him personally.

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What I was told when I asked about blogs joining the PCC

Following recent coverage of the PCC’s Baroness Buscombe’s Independent interview where she possibly mooted the idea of the PCC regulating blogs, I thought I would share some correspondence I had with the PCC recently over the same issue. In a nutshell: blogs can already choose to operate under the PCC anyway.

I asked Simon Yip of the PCC whether a hyperlocal blog could opt in to the PCC Code and self-regulation. These are his replies:

“They can decide to adhere to the PCC Code if they choose. To fall formally within the system overseen by the PCC, they would have to subscribe to the body responsible for funding the Commission.

“I am afraid I am unable to answer the question of cost, as it depends on the circulation of the newspaper [sic]. As you can imagine, it would vary from publication to publication.

“For any publication to subscribe to the Code of Practice, the publication would contact Pressbof.”

So there you go. If you can afford to pay for a shiny PCC badge, then you’re welcome.

And of course, that’s the main hurdle to the idea of PCC regulation of blogs: few blogs could afford to pay, and even fewer would want to. Meanwhile, there is no financial incentive for the PCC to recruit blogs (nor is there any incentive for bloggers – yet – in joining an organisation whose 2 main purposes appear to be to stave off statutory regulation and to mediate disputes to avoid legal costs).

Whether there is financial incentive in trying to attract public funding to do so, or to use blogs as a common foe to do the same is, of course, a separate matter.

What is much more worrying than this blogging regulation sideshow is the apparent ignorance demonstrated by Baroness Buscombe in talking about Google and the news industry’s business plans, described earlier on this blog by Matt Wardman.

The most curious quote for me from her SoE speech is this one, following on from a paragraph which attempts to conjure up the now almost pantomime-like Monster Of Google.

“I urge you to recall the recent words of Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO: “We use as our primary goal the benefit to end users. That’s who we serve.” So there you have it: the end user matters, not those who create content in the first place.”

Is she saying that serving users above content creators is a Bad Thing? Weren’t newspapers supposed to serve their readerships as well? Or did that change while I wasn’t looking?

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

Baroness Buscombe, the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, gave a speech this week to the Society of Editors, followed by some comments to Ian Burrell of the Independent about a desire to “regulate the blogosphere “.

The Baroness has taken several steps backwards from her previous statements to Mr Burrell, and has attempted to emphasise that any proposals would be “voluntary”.

I am sceptical as to whether this is a true change of mind, or a simply more nuanced journey aiming for the same destination by a more circuitous, and perhaps better hidden, route. Ian Burrell has pointed out that he had a direct interview with her for 40 minutes, so making that mistake would not be easy. However, that has been addressed elsewhere by perhaps hundreds of people, with a vigorous collective letter from hundreds of bloggers.

For me, in addition to the “will we … won’t we … will we … won’t we … regulate the bloggers” game of Hokey-Cokey, this affair has highlighted a number of problems with both the Press Complaints commission, and perhaps with Baroness Buscombe herself.

Firstly, the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission is a position which surely depends on political and commercial neutrality. Perhaps it can only be compared to that of Speaker of the House of Commons. How is it possible for a Peer who takes the whip for a political party to be neutral?

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, having read Baroness Buscombe’s speech to the Society of Editors, I think that her, and the PCC’s, level of knowledge and understanding about the Internet is open to question.

And finally, Baroness Buscombe applauds the aggressive media investigations of the House of Commons, and MPs’ Expenses, yet suggests that they need to lay off the House of Lords – where she is a member; this at a time when the finanical skeletons have begun to emerge, creaking, from their Lordships’ cupboards into the light of day. That is a double standard.

Let me illustrate this with a few extracts.

Political Neutrality

Baroness Buscombe opens with a recounting of her experience as a Shadow Minister fighting the current Labour administration, including:

Of course the fact that unfortunately we do have such a dysfunctional democracy – particularly given the House of Commons appears almost entirely to have forgotten what they are there for – means it is vital that the press is free to investigate and probe and tell it like it is.

You can rightly feel proud that, from unraveling the government’s misleading spinning of intelligence in the Iraq War to exposing uncensored details of MPs’ expenses, the British press has filled the democratic deficit in recent years.

Does this partisan accusation, whether true or not, have any place in a speech by the person who is ultimately responsible for determining the accuracy or otherwise of such claims made by newspapers?

And why has she not, at the very least, resigned the Conservative whip?

Understanding the Internet

Baroness Buscombe, on news aggregators and search engines:

Together the press, all commercial broadcasters, film, book publishing and music industries must now work together to find a new business model with the Search Engines. The latter, the aggregators, think it is ok to enjoy the use of all your valuable intellectual property and ad revenues for little or no return.

This statement is simply untrue. Major aggregators do *not* use *all* of the intellectual property of newspapers and media. Google, which is attacked by the Baroness in the following paragraph, runs the Google News service.

Google News takes 1) a headline, and 2) up to around 155 characters of text.

It must be very depressing for journalists who spend a whole week creating a 5000-word article to realise that only the first 2 lines and the subeditor headline are of any value !

Further, Google offers a complete opt-out service, either from having articles included in the site’s cache, or from having a site indexed altogether. I use it myself on the Wardman Wire to prevent caching, since I have taken the trouble to invest in a high-quality server and want the visitors to come to my site rather than read the Google cache.

If services such as Google News are covering content from newspapers and the media, it is simply because those newspapers have made a decision to allow Google to do so.

The issue of aggregators and search engines, and their impact on the revenues of newspapers, has been one of the very highest priorities of the industry for months, and it is worrying that the head of the PCC hasn’t got to grips with the basic concepts involved after 6 months with the organisation (Wikipedia quotes her start date as April 2009).

Leave their Lordships Alone

Baroness Buscombe on the Commons, and the importance of vigorous scrutiny:

I know that this is not a popular message with many of my fellow Parliamentarians, some of whom are bruised by recent coverage, but we must consider the MPs’ expenses furore as a whole, and not focus on individual injustices.

What is the main lesson to be learned?

Surely, it is that the absence of scrutiny in the first place allowed a culture of abuse to flourish. If trust in politics is at a low ebb, it is because there has been too little freedom to shine a light on politicians’ activities, not too much.

However, about 4 paragraphs later the tone of Baroness Buscombe’s speech changes:

Which leads me to the House of Lords. I may be partisan, but is it really in anyone’s interests for the media to be party to the undermining of our Second Chamber – one of the few platforms in this country where people can stand up and say what they believe without fear or favour?

This is astonishing at a time when the light of day is at last shining on abuses of the Expenses system in the Upper Chamber. This is not a good recommendation for a Press Regulator who is trying to declare her support for strong investigation by journalists.

And that letter …

The letter should should still be signed by as wide a range of bloggers as possible, because – even if we take Baroness Buscombe’s new position as being the real one – the PCC and the Baroness clearly need someone to explain to them how the Internet works.

Wrapping Up

You can find the letter and the argument behind it, and sign up, here at Liberal Conspiracy .

Before signing, I’d encourage readers to read the whole speech and judge my comments in their full context.

At present this riposte has been driven largely by bloggers in the political niche; I’d particularly encourage bloggers in the media and journalism areas to offer their support.

But the bloggers who I really want to sign up are those for either the Society of Editors, or the Press Complaints Commission.

Unfortunately, neither of them has a blogger. Perhaps that would be a good first step to find out more about the internet before Baroness Buscombe makes another speech.

They presumably already have an insight into how quickly the online community can react when necessary.

Further Coverage

  1. Mark Pack has a slightly less pointed critique of Baroness Buscombe’s speech.
  2. Roy Greenslade has three articles about the “blog regulation” incident.
  3. The Heresiarch has a different angle entitled “Bloggers Repel Boarders“. Ooh-arr, me hearties.
  4. Liberal Conspiracy has the “Unity letter“.

The Revenge of Lilliput: Former-SPCK Bookshop Campaign blog passes 150k visitors

20090824-spckssg-news-blog-past-150k-pageviews-screenshotThis morning the SPCK SSG News, Notes and Information campaign blog passed a total of 150,000 page views since it was established in June-July 2008.

This is a story which is an excellent example of both investigation by a network of people, and campaigning blogging. It shows how a coalition of individuals can make a significant difference. You can read a brief outline on the blog’s introductory page.

The blog is about the mismanagement and destruction of a chain of 25 Anglican bookshops, which have been around since the first half of the 20th Century, by two brothers based in the USA, J Mark – who is a lawyer – and Philip Brewer. They took over control of the Bookshops from the SPCK charity with the promise of maintaining and improving the business back in 2006. They used a charity called the “Society of Saint Stephen the Great” (SSG) as their vehicle.

Since then there has been a saga of “shenanigans”, including sackings by email, bullying of staff, “Cease and Desist” attempts to suppress straight reporting, creation of half-a-dozen business entities to confuse everyone, a fake attempt in the US at putting the core charity into bankruptcy (declaring only liabilities not assets) where the court has no jurisdiction anyway, and much much more, which I will be describing in some detail in a series of podcasts.

I (along with many others) helped promote the new campaign site in summer 2008 when Dave Walker the blogger doing the existing reporting (75 posts in about 18 months was one of several threatened legally by Mark Brewer; here is an example of the style of letter used – this one was published by Sam Norton. An instant archive of these deleted posts was of course established within days on the blog Open Debates not Libel Threats .

20080827-philip-brewer-of-spck-aircraft-for-sale-1-small1There have also been some lighter moments, such as the lawyer running a chain of religious bookshops being instructed by the Court to take remedial education in bankruptcy law and legal ethics, and the discovery that his brother possesses a private “hobby” aircraft painted in “Trotter Trading” yellow, which was maintained at charitable expense . However, the core objective is to make sure that the mismanagement of the chain is scrutinised, and the miscreants brought to book.

The campaign blog now has nearly 250 articles, and has received 2500 comments. Here are the visitor statistics from the WordPress stats module. You can see the initial surge, and how interest has been maintained at around 10k page views each month.

20090824-spckssg-news-blog-past-150k-pageviews

Though very respectable, this is not a huge amount of traffic, but a successful niche campaign does not need a huge amount of traffic – and it could even be a distraction to receive many more comments than we do already.

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Ultralocal blogs update and a new local directory: nutshell.org.uk

Last week Paul Bradshaw and I launched an exercise (background) last week to identify and map as many “ultralocal” (*) blogs and websites as possible.

We have had almost 140 blogs and websites added, albeit with a certain amount of “creative marketing” in the mix, which will reduce the total – depending on the criteria used by each person using the data.

There are so many blogs which can be called “local”, with a wide range of purposes, that I think we are likely to end up with a series of directories rather than a single monolithic website. Otherwise the directory might become so large as to be unmaintainable.

Life in a Nutshell

I have an interest in independent commentary and a movement to rebuild politics from the grassroots upwards. I think a key to this is to react to the recent political scandals by seeking a broader, more rounded view of politics, rather than either rejecting or ignoring political life.

So I’m kicking off with a directory – called Nutshell – based on the following criteria:

* Sites focused on a defined and identified area or community.
* Sites edited and controlled from within that area or community.
* Sites which are editorially independent.

I’m also listing local websites (such as forums) which are not on a blog platform, local aggregators, local directories and networks of sites which are centrally managed.

20090817-new-nutshell-local-blog-directory-launches

Nutshell is built using WordPress, but I’d hope in the future to move to a platform which will enable website-managers to create their own accounts and edit their own details.

Wrapping Up

I’m expecting other directories to be coming along, I hope including one from Talk about Local listing the 150 sites that the project aims to help set up as they are created.

And someone needs to create a Google map of the sites submitted.

Watch this space.

Opportunities for local news blogs: Trends in Blogging

In the last year or so there have been a number of new blog / news sites developing which provide commentary for a geographically identified area, covering politics but also giving a more rounded view of life in the area.

The site which has drawn my attention recently is The Lichfield Blog, which I mention on the Wardman Wire or on Twitter (follow me to keep up to date) from time to time. There are examples of sites with a similar ethos established for some time, including some personal blogs, and I’d mention Londonist and Dave Hill’s Clapton Pond Blog (Hackney), but also sites such as Created in Birmingham (Birmingham Arts, mainly) and Curley’s Corner Shop (South Tyneside).

Some areas have a range of local blogs. The tiny Isle of Thanet, for example, has Bignews Margate, Thanet Life and Thanet Online, in addition to the more idiosyncratic Thanet Coast Life, Eastcliff Richard and even Naked in Thanet. It’s worth noting that – once again – this set of blogs are all edited by men.

And if you think that Thanet is small to have all those local blogs, try the Plight of Pleasley Hill, an ultra-local blog specifically created to foster community in an area of 3 or 4 streets in the Nottinghamshire village of Pleasley Hill, near Mansfield. I did a podcast interview with Mark Jones, who has triggered the project, for the Politalks podcast. One interesting point is how the creation of a website has helped “institutionalise” a small group internally, but also how it can help externally in the process of persuading large bureaucracies (e.g., the local council) to engage with the group.

Some of those sites have political stances, and some don’t. The common factor is that they provide coverage of local life and grounded politics, and don’t pay unnecessary attention to the Westminster Punch and Judy show.

Occasionally “ultra-local” has been used to refer to areas the size of a London Borough, or a provincial city. I’d suggest that we need to think in *much* smaller areas. I wonder if the one-horse-town newspaper of settlers’ America, but written by local people for themselves, is where we are going to end up, and then with sites covering larger communities, areas and specialist themes which are able to draw an audience.

I’d suggest that there is also a new opportunity opening up for these independent commentary and reporting sites due to a pair of current trends:

  • The drive by national media sites to find new ways of persuading their readers to pay for parts of their web content – pay-walls, charges for special services and anything else they can dream up. As the editor of an independent “politics and life” commentary site with a number of excellent contributors, I can’t wait for the age of “Pay 4 Polly” to arrive.
  • The continuing liquidation of our local newspapers and regional media.

Locally focused blogs with a more rounded coverage may provide an answer to consistent criticisms made of “the political blogosphere”:

  • Political bloggers only do partisan politics (which is wrong, but it can sometimes look as if it is true).
  • There is too much coverage of the Westminster Village (which is right, but someone has to do it, and it is the place where many decisions are made).

I think group blogs with varied teams of contributors may be best placed to provide a decent level of coverage and draw a good readership, while competing effectively with other media outlets. That is a trend we have seen in the political blog niche over several years – the sites which have established themselves and maintain a position as key sites have developed progressively larger teams of editors, and provided a wider range of commentary and services.

A team of contributors allows a site to benefit from the presence of real enthusiasts in each area of reporting, from the minutiae of the Council Meetings to Arts Events at the local galleries.

I’m developing a list of sites aiming to rounded provide coverage of a defined local area, town, or community. If you run a good one, or know of one, please could you drop me a line via the Contact Form on the Wardman Wire. Alternatively, use the form below:

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(Note: if you want to know more about local news blogs in general rather than what I think can be done with them, the go-to place is Talk About Local.)

Parliamentary website TheyWorkForYou launches redesign

MySociety, the non-profit organisation led by Tom Steinberg, has redesigned their TheyWorkforYou.com website with data about UK Parliamentary politics.

The site provides easily accessible records of the UK Parliamentary process, and now contains data going back to 1935.

The immediate benefit for journalists is that the records going back this far are now far more accessible than previously. Previously, the archive data only went as far back as 2001. Continue reading