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Web threat to small political publications

Tribune, the left wing weekly, which quietly passed its 70th anniversary this month, is under threat from the internet according to a former editor, Paul Anderson.

It has always been a shoe-string operation and the threat is not immediate: but the string is getting rather frayed as distribution and sales become more difficult and the potential readership looks increasingly to the internet.

It is not just Tribune that is in danger. Anderson writes:

The problem is rather that the economics of small-circulation left-wing print periodical publishing are becoming ever more precarious.

The big distributors and wholesalers have increasingly decided in recent years that they don’t want the bother of handling minnows that make them little or no money — which has had the effect of squeezing Tribune’s newstrade sales and forcing it into ever-greater reliance on subscriptions. But that’s old stuff: a far bigger challenge is posed by the internet — which is steadily undermining the habit of paying for news and opinion, particularly among young people, and thereby threatening the very existence of an independent left press.

He concludes with a warning that readers will have to continue to subscribe and get others to join them. “If you want serious left journalism, it cannot be free at the point of use,” he writes.

Would it really matter if Tribune closed? Bloggers could take over, unmoderated, but as a social network. I believe it does. We need a diversity of views and Tribune has long provided a platform for serious thinking on the left.

In the past I would sometimes get a copy from a newsagent but I have not seen it at the right time for years. Now I would prefer to be able to read on the web. But, as a casual reader, I am not prepared to take out a subscription for print or online.

If we are going to pay for web content of this sort we do need the online equivalent of loose change in our pockets. Easy to use: like the Transport for London’s Oyster card. There is talk of extending the use of this smart card, so mayor Ken Livingstone could help Tribune — and a lot of other publications — survive.

Ananova remembered: return of the newsbot

If you remember Ananova, the world’s first avatar newsreader, fondly, she seems to have changed her hair colour, put on glasses, called herself Miranda and found a new job at the Welwyn and Hatield Times. The synthesised voice is as irritating as Ananova’s was.

Ananova was launched by the Press Association with much drum-beating and fevered speculation about her first words in April 2000. In the end she said: “Hello, world.”

By July, PA decided to let Ananova go and she moved to Orange in a £95 million transfer deal. While her site continues, she has been unavailable since sometime in 2004, according to Wikipedia.

Oddly, there is still a video link on the Ananova site. It takes you to a page with a small picture, a message that she is under development and suggesting a return visit.

So are there any advantages in newsbots? Well, they are cheap. And they may be useful for blind people although if they use their text-to-audio readers they could choose the voice.

Reporting on Miranda’s debut, Hold the Front Page says that rather than employing a real flesh-and-blood human to do the job, the Archant weekly has hired a virtual newsreader.

If the idea catches on this time, it could help the BBC meet the funding shortfall it faces as a result of the new licence fee settlement. But, for the moment, I prefer Natasha Kaplinsky.

Telegraph’s Will Lewis at the blog front

Having revisited The Times blogs (see previous post), I felt it was time to take a look at the Telegraph’s, another of my targets last October when I asked what was the purpose of newspaper blogs. There I found editor Will Lewis busy at the Davos Diary.

He was tired of talking about blogging. He had gone to one of the high-powered meetings to talk about how traditional media has to adapt their business models to meet the challenges of the web and broader digital changes.

But he found it all got bogged down by colleagues, Americans in particular, who wanted to talk about the “meaning of blogging” and whether old media journalists should do it.

In his mind there was no debate to be had. “Blogging and enabling readers to interact and comment on our thoughts is part of what we do at the Telegraph,” he writes.

I still have not looked at changes in the paper’s blogs but I did find the editor leading from the front.

Times gets into the swing of blogging

The Times is really getting into the swing of blogging and having a conversation with its readers. Sometimes the frustration shows as in this post from India Knight on the Big Brother Blog (We watch so that you don’t have to):

Could we please desist from the embarrassingly babyish, inarticulate, mud-slinging posts? I’m personally disinclined to moderate anything this evening if I have to wade through any more of this BORING offensive crap – you know who you are. I’ve got a Ban button, and I’m going to use it. Allright?

Oh, and grow UP (unless, as I suspect, you’re 12, in which case I might tell your mummy).

Very human! This short-term team blog is getting lots of comments and linking to other newspapers including the Standard, the Guardian and the News of the World.

Another new blog, Alpha Mummy, is linked from the women’s section and is not even mentioned on the blogs home page. It is another team blog written by five writers — four mothers of two and a mother of one. It is difficult to describe but the phrase “eclectic mix” comes to mind.

Pieces about choosing schools are mixed with videos, including one from You Tube of a woman with no arms changing her baby’s nappy with her feet.

There has been a real change in The Times’s blogs since I counted 40 in October and questioned their purpose. Now the number linked from the blogs home page is down to a more select 22. They look good to me and I hope they are bringing in the visitors. With blogs accounting for 13% of visitors to the top US newspaper sites (I wish there were figures for the UK) their importance is becoming increasingly obvious.

‘Polluter pays’ threat to London’s free evenings

A London council is getting tough on the litter caused by distribution of free evening papers. Westminster City Council is threatening to ban them if the publishers of London Lite and thelondonpaper refuse to tackle the problem.

The council, whose area includes the West End, has increased the number of recycling bins to 131 but estimates another 300 would be need to handle the volume of waste. The cost would be £500,000 over the first two years.

It estimates that a quarter of all waste in the West End is free newspapers and cannot be recycled because it gets mixed up with other street rubbish. The council has the power to ban the newspapers under a law which was introduced in 2005, according to the Press Gazette.

Both papers say they are working with the council to resolve the problem. The council says it is an established principle that “the polluter pays”.

That is a new factor in newspaper economics. Other London boroughs are expected to follow Westminster’s lead.

Mail’s Dacre rants at BBC, Times, Guardian and Indy

There was an extraordinary rant by Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Mail, at the London College of Communications last night. Roy Greenslade was there and gives a flavour of the attack on the BBC, Guardian, “the pinkish” Times and the Indy.

They form, it seems, the “subsidariat” of which the BBC is the worst part. It was a rare chance to hear the views of the man who has made the Mail so successful. His complaint was really that the BBC and his other targets failed to agree with the Daily Mail, Greenslade concludes.

How can journalists work without newsreaders?

A very good question is asked by Lost Remote. Why don’t more journalists use news readers? I would never have come across this posting if my daily routine did not start with making a mug of tea, perching it on my desk and opening NewsGator.

Lost Remote explains: “Reporters and producers can widen their perspective beyond the AP, Reuters, and their local newspapers by taping into alternative publications, niche websites, and yes, blogs. Newsreaders help you scan more content tailored to your needs more quickly than visiting individual websites.”

This afternoon I will be meeting a new group of students for the first time and, as always, their initial task will be subscribe to a newsreader and populate it with feeds.

For those who don’t understand newsreaders, they depend upon the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds provided by news organisations, businesses, PR people and bloggers to provide lists of the latest additions to their sites. Once those of interest are feeding the newsreader it is very easy see what is new. It is difficult to understand how any journalist can operate without this service.

I use NewsGator because I like the ability to have the feeds download to my computer which makes browsing faster even than broadband. But when I am away from my own desk I can look at the same feeds on the web.

For students, I recommend Rojo which is entirely web-based, has some advantages and fits their needs better.

Mystery of blog heads that work

Richard Sambrook tells us that four weeks after experimentally putting up the post heading “Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt Exclusive!” it has not significantly boosted the hits on his SacredFacts blog.

He says: “Perhaps I should be heartened by the quality of my regular readers.”

I tried a similar experiment, putting “sex” in a headline. That too failed to bring in more readers. But words and phrases like “citizen journalism”, “religion” and “blog” seem to boost visits.

But the longest, thickest tail belongs to “Among the dinosaurs and evolvers of journalism“. It was posted back in early August and this month is still at number five in the list of most visited pages.

I really don’t know what heads are going to work best but I suspect that the rules people give for news sites don’t necessarily apply to blogs.