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‘Investing in news brings bigger returns’

I have always liked research which confirms what I have always believed. So I am delighted that a study by the University of Missouri-Columbia finds: “Newspapers are under spending in the newsroom and over spending in circulation and advertising.”

The full report is to be published in the spring (with convincing methodology, I trust) but one of the academics behind the research, Esther Thorson, has said: “If you invest more in the newsroom, do you make more money? The answer is yes. If you lower the amount of money spent in the newsroom, then pretty soon the news product becomes so bad that you begin to lose money.”

Another researcher said: “By looking at the data, investing in news quality does pay off. It improves circulation and advertising revenues, which are the bulk of a newspaper’s revenues. Better news quality drives circulation and circulation drives advertising revenues.”

The research covers US newspapers with circulations of under 85,000 where editorial spending has seemed generous compared with the UK. Lucas Grindley who led me to this research feels the conclusion is too simple in the face of the development of online news.

I have argued running online alongside print requires greater investment in editorial rather than redundancies. The bosses of the UK regional papers should read this report when it is published in April.

We media and the dragons’ den

I thought I was beginning to get a picture of the We Media conference last week until I read Bill Mitchell, editor of Poynter Online who makes it sound more like an episode of TV’s Dragons’ Den. The most interesting session, he writes, was when 10 media entrepreneurs were each put for a few minutes in front of a panel of venture capital investors.

And non of them got any money! The point, apparently, was to explore overall outcomes of the projects although some of the panel members urged the building of for-profit businesses.

Mitchell writes:

As many failed or struggling start-ups have demonstrated in the still emerging category of participatory publishing, all the clarity in the world won’t buy success without the means to sustain the initiative — technically, financially and otherwise.

The success or failure not only of the conference but of the whole concept put forward by Dan Gillmor in his 2004 book We the Media is being debated.

To recap for those who have not read the book, Gillmor envisaged an evolution from journalism as a lecture to journalism as a conversation. He wrote about the involvement of this three constituencies, journalists, newsmakers and the former audience co-operating in transformation not revolution. We the Media is available online.

After last week’s conference Rich Skerenta, co-founder of topix.net (a 75% share was bought by big media in 2005) wrote an obituary:

The problem is that the hopes that Dan Gillmor raised for the media industry in his book — which kicked off this whole business — have largely failed.

Jeff Jarvis thinks he is throwing in the towel too early just because people at the conference “couldn’t agree on how the various tribes of news can and should work together”. He approvingly quotes Richard Sambrook, who attended last year’s We Media but not last week’s.

Sambrook wants less agonising and more action:

Enough of conferences going over the same ground, enough of bloggers (several of whom make their living from consulting with big organisations) saying big media doesn’t “get it” and only they have insight, enough of big media publicly agonising over how to respond to the huge disruption the internet has brought. Enough of the fallacy of thinking there is some kind of power struggle going on. It’s about integration, not subsititution…

I think that pretty well accords with something Gillmor wrote in the introduction to his book:

Flawed as we may be in the business of journalism, anarchy in news is not my idea of a solution. A world of news anarchy would be one in which the big, credible voices of today were undermined by a combination of forces, including the financial ones I just described. There would be no business model to support the institutional journalism that, for all its problems, does perform a public service. Credibility matters. People need, and want, trusted sources—and those sources have been, for the most part, serious journalists. Instead of journalism organizations with the critical mass to fight the good fights, we may be left with the equivalent of countless pamphleteers and people shouting from soapboxes. We need something better.
Happily, the anarchy scenario doesn’t strike me as probable, in part because there will always be a demand for credible news and context.

I sometimes wish some of the evangelical zealots of “citizen journalism” would read the book.

What is the potential for local video advertsing?

While the US and UK local advertising markets are very, very different a report from a research and consulting company suggests a tend in video advertising that could be important everywhere.

Borrell Associates, in a report entitled, “The New Frontier: Local Online Video Advertsing”, (free executive summary) says:

Could it be? Are newspapers making more money from video advertising than local TV stations?
On the Internet, it’s true – and will continue to be true for at least another year. In 2006, newspaper-run Web sites captured about $81 million in locally spent streaming-video advertising, while local TV broadcasters captured about $32 million. Although it is small potatoes in the $280 billion U.S. advertising industry, it spotlights a fascinating phenomenon: Print media are using the Internet as a crossover platform to tap traditional TV advertisers, just as TV stations (and others) are trying to use the Internet to tap traditional print advertisers.

This is a tiny market and estimated to grow to $371 million this year. But in five years, Borrell predicts, local online video advertising will surpass $5 billion, representing more than one-third of all local online advertising. I am always suspicious of research from businesses which also offer consulting and sales training but even if that eye-watering figure is not reached there is probably something in this.

In the UK it seems to me that online video has a lot of local potential. Much of the video on national newspaper sites is replicating the national and international news that can easily be seen on digital TV and broadcaster’s websites. Many of the stories covered by regional newspapers are simply not covered by TV and there must be an opportunity in that.

(Via CyberJournalist.net)

A formula for online journalism productivity

A hard-nosed commercial approach to deciding which web projects to support is being taken by Lucas Grindley, content manager of HeraldTribune.com. He has developed a formula for deciding which ideas should be supported. It attempts to evaluate the traffic in terms of views per work hour.

Writing in his blog he is careful to say the formula has to be applied with care, is subject to the demands of bosses and has to make room for “good journalism that might not explode in page views”. He adds: “And remember this is all based on estimates, and you could be wrong. Page views per work hour helps offer perspective, not an absolute timeline.”

How well the formula will work I have no idea but it is clear that a lot more thought has to go into the commercial potential of web content.

‘Quality’ papers in blog skirmish

It’s not a blogwar, but more a blog skirmish as the Telegraph’s Shane Richmond sallies forth from Victoria to harry the Guardian in its Clerkenwell redoubt. Not surprisingly the Telegraph has taken exception to Peter Wilby’s robust criticism in Media Guardian on Monday which detected a “whiff of Kulturkamf” .

Richmond’s return of fire is concentrated on one of Wilby’s minor points, where he claimed the Telegraph defied the first rule of blogging: “Do it often and build up a following.” The lack of activity from the crime and religion correspondents was cited.

In return, Ricmond writes:

Every so often someone from the Guardian explains how Comment is Free knocks other newspaper blogs into a cocked hat, which conveniently ignores the fact that Comment is Free is not a blog….

Why isn’t it a blog? First of all because a substantial number of the posts that appear there are simply articles from the newspaper with comment boxes stuck on the bottom….

Trying to define blogs is not a simple matter but I do have some sympathy with Richmond. When I questioned the purpose of newspaper blogs back in October I found the Guardian’s offerings were very different and wrote:

The Guardian’s score of 12 is rather misleading as only two of them have an author’s name as the title. They include readers’ reviews in the travelog blog, and the paper’s podcast feed. Jack Schofield has expanded his weekly computer agony column into a blog leaving Roy Greenslade on the media as the paper’s individual blogging voice.

I have not checked recently on how things may have changed but at the time Neil McIntosh, Guardian Unlimited’s head of editorial development, responded that they prefered group blogs.

The argument about what is a blog will roll on. But one that is not updated regularly does not deserve the name.

On this point, I reported on January 28 that the Independent had removed the link to its blogs. It is back but the latest post on any of its blogs remains the one that starts: “Just a quick note to let you know that a round up of Christmas gigs… is now available on the main site.”

That is definitely a dead blog.

Later: McIntosh has responded to Richmond saying in effect, who cares what you call it so long as it works for the readers.

Sunday paper breaks story on week day

One of the frustrations of working for a Sunday paper is getting good stories which you know will not hold until the weekend. Someone else will get hold of it and present it as their exclusive.

The web offers an alternative: break it yourself. This is what the Observer and their health editor, Jo Revill, did last week when she revealed dead turkeys from a Bernard Matthews’ plant in Hungary could be the source of the bird flu outbreak in Suffolk.

Today she writes in Media Guardian about the breaking of the story and tells how the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs attempted to sabotage the exclusive.

She put the story to the press office to give them a chance to comment. They did not come back to her and after two hours she approached them again and was told they were putting out a statement which would go to everyone.

They did not send it to her but she got it from a colleague on another paper. The Observer put out a press release saying they were breaking the story.

After Sky News ran with a line saying the Observer had reveled a link between meat and the outbreak, Defra rang up to remonstrate saying they had got their statement out first.

“If this is the way a government department deals with one outbreak how will they deal with the emergence of a pandemic?” Revill asks.

This is the first time the Observer has broken a story during the week. Expect more Sunday paper originated exclusives to appear before Sundays. It is another inevitable change in the way journalism works.

Bad blog day

It’s been a bad blog day — everything has seemed to turn to dust under my fingers on the keyboard, not turning out as I intended. To cap it all my wife decide to check my name on Google and typed in — accidently, she says — andrew rant-adamson. Damn Google, it asked “Do you mean Andrew Grant-Adamson?” Sometimes I hate the way it knows.

Keeping focus on the real audience

Last night I noticed a lot of searches that led people to Wordblog were looking for information about the political blogger Guido Fawkes. I could not work out why but this morning six of the last ten searches were for Guido.

The reason seems to be that they wanted more information following a BBC Radio 4 profile of him on Saturday night. Back in the early days of Wordblog last summer I posted on the oblique way some newspapers were pointing to Guido Fawkes as the source of stories about John Prescott and his association with the man who had taken over the Dome, but not actually saying so.

Then I noticed search enquiries such as “who is Guido Fawkes” coming up and decided to help the searchers with a post headed: Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes is… It provides a link to sourcewatch’s biography of him.

This has become one of my most visited pages with surges whenever Staines gets into the news. Nice as these hits are they are outside the rather narrow media audience I had in mind for Wordblog. There was a temptation to change direction to gain a larger audience but I decided this would blur the focus of the blog. Since then, I have stuck much more closely to the media audience.

This post was prompted by Peter Preston’s look, in his Observer column today, at the issues surrounding the running of print and online operations. It is thoughtful, difficult to summarise and looks at the difference between print and online audiences. It should be read in full.

Guido Fawkes turns to law after MP’s post

Guido Fawkes the blogger who dishes the dirt on politicians has reacted strongly to a post on the blog of Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, today. Fawkes, who is also known as Paul Staines, says legal letters went out at 12.30pm and suggests the post by Watson has been removed.

4pm The remainder of this post (mine) has been removed. I had been looking at Watson’s blog earlier and jumped to an assumption about the post that Staines was complaining about. Watson mentioned Staines in two posts today. One post has been replaced while the other other remains as written.

6pm A post relating to Staines has also been temporarily removed at Pickled Politics for legal reasons. Author Sunny Hundal promises: “This ain’t over yet.”

Thought needed before jumping on video band wagon

The two national newspaper websites re-launched last week offering lots of video as well as text and stills, The Times and the Mirror, have settled down and ironed out technical glitches, but not all of them. The Mirror’s choice of video content is inexplicable: almost entirely US from AP. The tone and content of much of it is entirely unsuitable for the audience.

The Times video player defaulted to a world news bulletin from Reuters, anchored from New York. But they do have the alternatives of Sky content as well as Fox.

My exploration has been limited because I have had real problems with the video players on both sites — links to individual items doing nothing, the start and pause buttons behaving erratically and general slowness. They are both using a system from ROO which serves advertising and video reports.

At the end of last month it was announced that News Corp, parent company of the Times, would buy up to 10% of the ROO syndication and technology business. Like Rupert Murdoch’s business it originated in Australia.

According to Techcrunch, Fox Interactive, which is meant to lead News Corp business on the internet, did not know about the deal in advance. Techcruch quoted one Fox insider saying he couldn’t believe News Corp invested in that “fucking disaster”.

Fox was said to have been having conversations with ROO’s competitor Brightcove.

And Brightcove was the choice of the Wall Street Journal for the video service on its recently redesigned site. That works beautifully on the three computers I have used to view the three sites.

The technical problems will be sorted out leaving the much bigger question of the bias towards US content. When people from around the world visit a British site they are looking for a distinctive and different voice. Globalisation should not mean an American view point dominating. It may be cheaper but I doubt if it makes commercial sense in the long run.