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Very local news gets attention of MSM

The idea that the future is local news is getting a lot of play in the papers today. Both Peter Preston in the Observer and Tim Luckhurst in the Independent on Sunday discuss the BBC licence fee settlement and consider what it means for plans for more local TV.

On the print/internet side Tim Robinson in the Observer says, “the humble local paper is about to become even more parochial”.

At lot of the piece is devoted to the thoughts of former Daily Express editor Richard Addis who believes print it the answer for the time being. He says: “The web’s still not user-friendly enough and a lot of us are struggling with our broadband. I don’t see any reason why you can’t do it in print now with the aim of turning it into an internet business when we have 90 per cent broadband penetration. There is a three-year window.”

John Fry, chief executive of Archant, believes the internet may be better placed to meet daily demand. The East Anglian Daily Times site, eadt24.co.uk is cited as an example.

By coincidence, one of the pages in my browser tabs was a page from eadt24 that I had opened yesterday in search of local news. The storms last week have left some homes in Essex and Suffolk without power for several days. My home is in Suffolk, but I have been in London since Wednesday, and I wanted to check up on the latest situation.

Unfortunately the story paints with a very broad brush. Only the small town of Lavenham is mentioned by name. And when I refreshed the page this morning I could see it had not been updated for 25 hours. Worse than the story posted at 9am on Saturday had been written the previous day.

So I read that on Friday 7,700 homes in Suffolk and 3,400 in Essex were still without power. What has happened since? This looks more like shovel-ware than a 24-hour local news website. If very local news means anything there should be details, community by community and they should be up-to-date.

By Saturday lunch-time the BBC site tells me only 1,000 homes in Suffolk remained without power.

If existing media businesses are really to adopt the idea of very local news they have a lot of changes to make in attitudes and business organisation.

Where is UK in media blogging league?

Frank Barnako at Dow Jones Market Watch has published an interesting table of the number of visitors to blogs at the top US newspapers in December. It shows USA Today at the head of the list with 1.239m visitors. Second is the New York Times with 1.173m visitors. The blogs now account to 13% of site visits.

I have looked for comparative figures for UK sites but have not been able to find any. However, page hits suggest that The Guardian could be well up in that league, if not ahead.

Earlier this month Neil McIntosh, head of editorial development at Guardian Unlimited, wrote: “To lift the lid on stats we normally keep pretty quiet: blog traffic of 1.2m page impressions in December 05 grew to a record 7.1m pages in July 06 as the World Cup and troubles in the Middle East sparked lively discussion across our sites.”

The BBC, even allowing for any differences in statistical methods, is well ahead of any US newspaper. Robin Hamman, the broadcaster’s senior community producer for the English regions, has revealed that the BBC’s blogs had over 2.06m unique users in October. Page hits were 5.7m in the same period.

McIntosh’s lastest figure being for visits a spike month, it is difficult to draw any conclusions. But it looks as if the Guardian could be ahead of any US newspaper if the relationship of hits to visitors is similar to that at the BBC. I hope he will come up with some more details.

Comparative figures from other British newspapers including the Telegraph, Times, Mail and Sun would be good to have too.

Jade, Shipla, Dave, Tony and the Daily Mail

Coming out of the supermarket this afternoon, I paused to look at the poster front page of the Daily Mail. In white on black it shouted, “THE BIG ISSUE?” followed by the sub-head, “Prisons full…NHS in crisis…more soldiers dying…inflation and bank rates up. So what was obsessing our political leaders yesterday? The Big Brother ‘racism row“.

Accompanied, of course, by large pictures of Jade Goody and Shipla Shetty, rather than Tony Blair and David Cameron.

And what is obsessing Daily Mail readers this evening? The top four stories on the paper’s web site were: 1. Diplomatic row deepens over Big Brother race allegations, 2. Big Brother and a diplomatic storm, 3. ‘I am a victim of racism’, says Shilpa as diplomatic row grows and 4. Jade and Shilpa go head-to-head for eviction.

And in the site’s poll 64% believed the bullying of Shipla was racially motivated while 34% did not think so.

Long Tail author finds Vanishing Point

Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail, has “finally come up with the right metaphor” to describe the fact that the news value of any event decreases with distance. He calls it, “The vanishing point theory of news”.

What, I wonder, is wrong with the proximity of news theory which has served us well as long as I have been a journalist. The proximity can be either physical, cultural or emotional. It explains why, for example, international news is given a domestic angle and why in news terms the US often has greater proximity to the UK than Germany.

Do I sense a new book on the horizon? “Vanishing Point” is certainly a better title than “Proximity”.

Montgomery finds new friends in the City

David Montgomery, and his Mecom investment vehicle which has been collecting newspapers across Europe, seems to be gaining new friends among london’s institutional investors.

Remember that back in July when he acquired Orkla Media in Norway there were rumours that he could not raise enough money in the City. In the even the Orkla group, keen to get rid of their media arm, took £73 million in Mecom shares and made a loan of £93 million.

Now Orkla has sold its 20% share in Mecom to various new and existing shareholders following a series of presentations to institutional investors. And the price of 68p a share gives the Norwegian group a nice £25 million profit.

Kristine Lowe who, as ever, is on top of this story, quotes an employee representative as saying: “I think they realised they would have attracted a lot of criticism for some of the unpopular decisions Mecom makes.”

As a result of the sale, Orkla’s Roar Engeland leaves the Mecom board. In the Mecom announcement Montgomery said: “We are delighted to have widened our shareholder base as a consequence of the placing.”

Only last week employee representatives from Mecom businesses in Norway, Denmark, Holland, Germany and Poland met in Oslo to set up a formal network. They fear that the 713 job losses announced for 2007/8 will not be the last and that the high demands for profitability will need more extensive cost cutting.

Journalism training must face up to rapid change

A debate about the effectiveness of journalism training and education in meeting the needs of rapidly changing and converging mainstream media is taking off in the United States. The issues are similar here.

I was alerted to the discussion by Ryan Sholin who is working on a thesis at San Jose State University about the adoption of weblogs at US newspapers. He wrote in his Invisible Inking blog:

Hey Spartan Daily kids (and all J-School students everywhere). Those of you just writing stories for the print edition, not participating in the blogs, not asking your faculty advisers when they’re going to get you one of those great audio recorders, not asking where you can borrow a video camera from, not asking the online editor to show you how the content management system works… WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Good luck at the internship with the weekly paper, but seriously, if you want more than that out of a journalism career, it’s time to either start learning on your own, or asking for more from your school.

If you ask them to teach you more, maybe they’ll get the idea that they should be teaching you more.

It is tough for the teachers too. How do we cram more into a course? What goes? J-schools like mainstream media have business models which are slow to change and people who do not want to change. Then there is the need for alterations in courses to go through validation processes which were not designed to meet the needs of anything which is changing rapidly.

And, yes, there are teachers who don’t get the web and would rather carry on doing what they have always done. You spend time in some pretty bruising meetings on the way to change. But we are getting there. It was pleasing last week when a visitor said he found better multi-media capabilities among our students than he did in other places.

That is reflected in the jobs our students get but I know we have to do more. We are making some progress so I was interested by Rob Curley’s post revisiting the state of journalism eduction which he wrote about in 2004. He writes:

I still see much of that same near-disdain-for-new-media attitude in far too many of the younger reporters in our newspaper newsrooms. In fact, if we want to do something cool on one of our sites, we’re much more likely to get help from either a mid-career journalist or a senior reporter.

He recently gave this advice to an aspiring journalist:

Know how to write. Know how to tell a story. Know how to conduct an interview. Know how to research your ass off.

Traditional journalism skills will *never* go out of vogue. I don’t care what the latest gizmo is, the foundation that everything will be built upon are those core journalism skills.

But also understand that things are changing rapidly in our industry.

Hear. Hear. Those are the skills that have to be applied to all journalism but the web is here and that means a lot of exciting new ways of applying the basic skills.

Howard Owens, director of digital publishing at Gatehouse Media, writes:

I’ve run across far too many recent J-school grads that are as traditional in their thinking as any crusty old city editor you care to name. I’ve talked to other hiring managers about how hard it is to get recent J-school grads to take positions in the online departments — they all want to work for print. I’ve seen shiny new grads in newsrooms who won’t pick up a video camera or file a web-first story. It’s a pretty amazing phenomena.

In a separate interview with Innovation in College Media, Owens gave this advice to J-schools:

One of my big concerns about j-school professors today is that many of them don’t get the web. You blog, but how many others do? How many have done anything to participate in the participant culture, even so much as be a regular on a message board or mailing list?

So, again, you’ve got to understand to teach. You can’t just read about it in a book. Of course, I have no numbers to know if my perception is accurate or not, but I’ve run into so many recent J-school grads who seem intent on protecting old-school journalism, or worse, would rather write for print than web.

Educators who get the web, and get what needs to be done can communicate with some authority. I know some have required students to blog. They should make sure that student publication policies reflect the three prime strategic initiatives I outlined above. Students and faculty should just assume their future is online, and design curriculum and publication efforts accordingly … be even more dismissive of print than mainstream pubs are right now.

Overall, I agree with him but don’t think we should be dismissive of print. It is going to be an important part of journalism for a long time both for magazines and newspapers. There is a focus in these US posts on newspaper journalism but the web is having a profound effect on broadcast journalism too. All aspiring broadcast journalists now need to be able to write for the page (web or print) as well as for speech.

Most of our students are now blogging, some are coming up with innovative ideas for the web and I don’t see much of this “I only want to work for print” attitude. From what I have read of student blogs from other UK universities that is a fairly general situation.

In some ways the issue for journalism eduction is that when students arrive we don’t know what the industry will be looking for at the end of the course. How do we cope with that?

Later: I have just read a great post from Mindy McAdams who teaches online journalism in Florida. She asks this question: “How many j-schools are permitting students to graduate with a journalism degree and inadequate skills to pursue a career in journalism?”

Link to Independent blogs shrinks

I thought for a few moments this morning that The Independent had put its blogs out of their misery. But no. While the big link has gone there is still a small text link towards the bottom of the third column.

There is nothing new to report there. The latest post is still the one on comedy from December 21 which was added to on January 14. I am really beginning to feel sorry for this bemused blogger who has responded to the latest comment suggesting some updates with this: “I feel that some of these comments seem to be about the blogs in general and I will pass them on.”

At least that proves that the author of one of the blogs is looking at them, but is anyone else at the Indy?

Later: Curiosity took me to Gadgetcast, (the link is next to blogs) the Independent’s first video version of their gadget podcast and produced “in association with Vodaphone”. It is worth watching for journalist David Pehen explaining the Nabaztag computer “rabbit”, a wireless broadband device which tells you when you have new emails and how your shares are doing. It waggles its ears too.

I suppose they had to have something to keep the ads for phones apart. All in all it looks like the out-takes from a Price-Drop TV audition. It is billed as the the Indy’s first gadgetcast. Will it be the last, dispatched to join the disappeared Sony technology blog?

Seriously, I would like to know what is going on at the Independent. They seem to be intent on damaging their own brand.

Micro-local news is a threat to weekly papers

Last week while I was rambling on about the lack of really local news on the web, the New York Times was writing about “citizen bloggers and deep-pocketed entrepreneurs… creating town-specific, and even neighborhood-specific, Web sites where the public can read and contribute items too small or too fleeting for weekly newspapers”. It has some good examples.

Lucas Grindley, content manage of HeraldTribune.com, took up the matter in his personal blog, saying newspapers create financial support for start-ups by setting ad rates too high for small business owners. His second point was that cash-strapped newsapers move too slowly to recognise the emerging market where the seemingly unimportant news is still read by someone.

His is a well-reasoned post of the dangers for newspapers which start losing market share.

Howard Owens has extended the debate away from geographic niches to subject specific blogs about food, gardening, law, entertainment and so on.

It all adds up to a warning to local newspaper and specialist title groups that they are going to have to rethink the way they run their businesses. If they don’t they will loose it to start-ups which don’t have the same costs.

Shock horror! Newspapers advertise on Google

Shock horror! The Wall Street Journal reveals that “Britain’s famously competitive newspapers” are advertising themselves to prospective online readers.

The story, behind the pay wall, reveals that the Times and Telegraph are buying search words on Google which means they appear at the top of relevant searches as sponsored links.

An example, from the Telegraph which has bought the phrase “North Korea Nuclear Test”, is given. Personally I avoid clicking on these sponsored links and this is a good example of the reason. Instead of taking you to something on the subject it takes you to the Telegraph home page. A picture of Helen Mirren is always pleasing but nothing to do with the atom bomb. Sponsored links never seem to give you what you are looking for.

The Telegraph is also using straightforward Google advertising some of which has been placed on Wordblog although I doubt if I have made any money out of them.
Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade, who must have a subscription to the WSJ, says “Excuse me, but didn’t we know this?” of the sponsored links. More interestingly, he says the WSJ “reveals” that Times journalists are being trained to write in a way that makes their stories more likely to appear among unpaid search results through their tagging and spider systems.

I seem to remember Shane Richmond, the Telegraph’s technology blogger, writing that they were working on extending the use of tags from their blogs to main site copy. But a click on “tagging” in his tag cloud did not take me to it so perhaps it was someone else, or another paper.

Edward Roussel, the Telegraph’s digital editor, told the WSJ: “The most important driver of all readers [to our site] is Google, except for people who know us and come directly. It plays a critical part of exporting our brand, particularly to the U.S.”

The fact is that every news site should be doing all they can to optimise their search results. For the record, the tags on this post are journalism, newspapers, search, Google, Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Roy Greenslade, sponsored link, advertising, Shane Richmond and tagging.