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More consultation on FoI changes

The Government has announced further consultation on its plans to neuter the Freedom of Information Act or, as Press Gazette puts it, kicked them into the long grass.

The new 12 week consultation period will effectively mean that the decision will not be Tony Blair’s but will be taken by Gordon Brown, provided he moves into the top job. Details of the new consultation are at the Department of Constitutional Affairs website.

Pro-am journalists to hit US campaign trail

An interesting experiment in “pro-am” journalism has been announced by Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.Net and and the Huffington Post. The idea is that amateurs (unpaid) will be recruited to cover the campaigns of presidential contenders in group blogs. The blogs will also contain useful information about the candidates, their speeches and news articles.

Arianna Huffington says this citizen journalism will be in addition to the coverage provided by Huffinton Post staff, regular bloggers and aggregation. In her words: “Our volunteer reporters will aim to provide an authentic counter-narrative to the lockstep consensus we often get from the mainstream media, and will take inspiration from bottom up efforts such as TPM Muckraker.”

Rosen says:

Our idea is not complicated: it’s campaign reporting by a great many more people than would ever fit on the bus that the boys (and girls) of the press have famously gotten on and off every four years, as they try to cover the race for president.

So instead of one well-placed reporter trailing John Edwards wherever he goes (which is one way of doing it) some 40 or 50 differently-placed people tracking different parts of the Edwards campaign, all with peculiar beats and personal blogs linked together by virtue of having a common editor and a page through which the best and most original stuff filters out to the greater readership of the Web, especially via the Huffington Post.

There will also be content at NewAssignment.Net. Rosen explains that behind each candidate page will be a contributors’ network built by hand, made up of people who would like to participate in the 2008 election by claiming a campaign beat and making their own news and commentary, in collaboration with others doing the same thing (but coming from a different place.) All overseen by an editor paid to make the whole thing run, and evaluated by how good the twelve pages are.

It will be fascinating to see how this works and whether it produces the stories that engage readers.

Editors optimistic about online transformation

Headline figures from a world survey of newspaper editors are necessarily all that illuminating — the devil is in the regional detail. But I was struck by a couple of pieces of information from the first Newsroom Barometer report from the World Editor Forum and the accompanying Trends in Newsrooms report.

First was a quote from Bertrand Pecquerie, director of WEF, who said:

Eighty-five percent of senior news executives see a rosy future for their newspaper, and it’s quite a surprise.
Editors recognize competition from online sources and free papers, and in turn are making efforts to adapt to 21st century readership. They know how to effectively make the transition to online journalism without reducing editorial quality. Editors-in-chief realise that content matters more than ever and cutting newsroom resources is not at all an effective solution: the reshaping of news will take place with journalists, rather than at their expense.

The second was that half of the editors believed that shareholders and advertisers present threats to editorial independence.

That suggests a worrying lack of accord and trust between editors and and owners in this period of rapid change when 40% of editors believe online will be the most common way to read news ten years from now. Only 35% believe print will reign supreme.

The research was conducted for the WEF and Reuters by Zogby International who interviewed 435 editors worldwide.

Guardian staff discuss 24/7 working

Roy Greenslade has been along to one of the staff meetings Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is holding to talk about proposals to introduce 24/7 working at the paper.

It is a fascinating glimpse of the paper’s open culture and deserves to be read in full. The basis of the debate was laid down by Rusbridger who said: “The print-on-paper model [for newspapers] isn’t making money and isn’t going to make money. It’s no longer sustainable. Though the future is unknowable, we are taking an educated guess about what we should be doing and where we should be going.”

Don’t write-off the blog

I missed the Sunday Times piece that suggested that because a lot of blogs are started and then abandoned the form is “destined to become a footnote in the history of computing”.

But The Australian republished it yesterday (via ABC digital futures). As a piece that provides an excuse to mention some celebs who have given up and print a picture of Lindsay Lohan it works.

There is no reason to dispute the “fact” that 200 million blogs have been started and then abandoned. It is probably as good a guess as any other.

But it means no more than one of those pre-written pieces for the thin news days over Christmas and the New Year about the millions of diaries that have been sold and that only a half of one per cent, or whatever figure is chosen, will be active come Easter.

It is simply the nature of the animal that most of those that are started will not survive for long. But hundreds of years show that the failure of most diarists to keep up their entries does does not mean the format is dead. Blogs have a lot of similarities.

Blog eats blog

A war of words has broken out between those who deny internet change at the Indy and the apostles of the new journalism at the Telegraph. First Tim Luckhurst at the Sindy took up the baton from Simon “who’s ever downloaded a podcast” Kelner and launched an attack on the Telegraph’s internet revolution.

Today the Telegraph’s communities editor, Shane Richmond, mounted a counter-attack in his technology blog.

I am rather with Richmond who felt the steam had run out of the debate on newspaper blogs and the Independent is rather late in the game. Having raised the question back in October, it seems to me that most of the fun has gone out of it.

But the Telegraph remains a fairly soft target. The first two of their blogs I looked at today were Commons Confidential, not updated since March 7, and James Quinn’s business blog with no new post since February 28.

But rather than looking for facts, Luckhurst fell back on on an anonymous comment from a “leading website editor” who asks: “What is the difference between a short newspaper article and a blog post anyway?” I can’t believe any website editor, leading or otherwise, could come up with such a question.

Luckhurst seems to like anonymous sources. In the same article he quotes a “website analyst”. Last month he left himself open to a response from the BBC when he quoted “one BBC producer” in a critical piece about Radio Five Live.

The strangest part of his article is at the end where figures are given for the numbers of comments on blog posts at the Telegraph, TimesOnline, the Guardian, the Indy and the Daily Mail.

The Telegraph post got two comments while the Times post by Ruth Gledhill on her successful Articles of Faith blog had notched up 39 (the number has since risen to 49).

I have not traced those of the Guardian (two comments) and the Daily Mail (one) but the Independent example with 10 comments was easily found. It is headed Comedy in 2007 — Updated and carried the dateline of March 22.

Odd then that the first of the ten comments wishes the author Julian an “amazing Christmas” and is dated December 22. The post itself dates back to December 21 but has been rewritten a couple of times since then.

With such incompetent blogging it is surely unwise of the Indy to launch an attack on the Telegraph. More than unwise, the only rational explanation for drawing attention to such stupidity is that someone there was out to sabotage their own story.

Remote control subbing

Roy Greenslade sees the outsourcing of subbing, rightly I feel, as “probably just a stage on the road to a world without newsprint at all.” Writing last Friday he linked decisions of Tony O’Reilly’s New Zealand and Irish operations to outsource subbing and design work.

He speculates that, “if these two experiments at each end of the globe come off, then the subs at The Independent may well wonder if their jobs are safe for much longer.”

In the United States, Jeff Jarvis has picked up on Greenslade’s report and is wholly approving. He writes: “I’ve been wondering for years why Gannett, say, isn’t doing this: at least its national, business, sports, and entertainment page editing can be outsourced.”

He points to efforts he made at the New York Daily News Sunday edition get Tribune Media to take over production of the TV listings page. That sort of highly controlled outsourcing is entirely sensible: look at the Guardian Guide and you will see all listing information goes directly to PA.

It may well be more editorial outsourcing is appropriate in the US where many papers have for a very long time shovelled AP copy into their pages virtually untouched.

In the UK’s more competitive newspaper market my instinct is that the differentiation of brands is more important in every part of a newspaper in both its print and online editions.

Cosy cartel of sports reporting exposed

Media events of the past three weeks have passed in something of a blur as I have been laid low by some sort of bug. One of the symptoms has been a kind of keyboard dyslexia which made writing even a three line email a big task.

One thing it was impossible to miss has been the coverage of cricket World Cup events in the West Indies. An aspect of this has been the failure of sports journalists to behave like reporters.

Two former editors have commented — Peter Preston in the Observer yesterday, and Peter Wilby in today’s Media Guardian. Both concentrate on the failure of the pack to report fully on Flintoff’s boozing until the pedalo incident thather than what may or may not be the murkier background to Woolmer’s murder.

What we have seen is a pack of journalists who have been putting the people they write about before their readers. Preston asks why nobody rocked a very unsteady pedalo and says: “It would be have been difficult to make waves, to be sure. It would have seen the nark who wrote the big tale ostracised, even beefily thumped, at bars from Sydney to St Lucia. It could even have affected English team morale, for what that’s worth.”

Wilby amplifies this point writing:

But most sports journalists are neither critics nor reporters. They are more articulate versions of the fans they write for, echoing the typical supporter’s emotions whereby a team can be world-beaters one day and rubbish the next. This explains why scandals, such as “bungs” in football, are usually exposed by outsiders. It also explains why full-time cricket writers are always taken unawares by the kind of match-fixing that may have led to the murder of Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan cricket coach.

Cricket correspondents haven’t usually reported off-field misbehaviour during a tour. Many would see it as a breach of privacy.

This cosy conspiracy between journalists and the people they write about is being broken up in sport as it is in other fields. Wilby explains:

Twenty years ago, overseas cricket tours had few followers and they were – how shall I put it? – supporters rather than fans. They did not carry mobile phones to transmit instant pictures, nor did they think of themselves as “citizen journalists” who, if denied space in newspapers, would certainly get it on websites.

The Flintoff affair is another example of how old news conventions, many of them shared by professional journalists and the people they write about, are changing.

About time too.

Are Alexa stats worth the bandwidth?

Web traffic at the Times, Guardian, Telegraph and Sun are all down in the past year according to Alexa data shown in Visual Editors. Following comments, a caveat has been added to the report saying that Alexa rankings are a sampling of a small number of internet users.

The charts show similar declines among major US newspapers. I am wondering whether Alexa stats are worth the bandwidth to download them.

I gave up on them recently when their figures showed that Wordblog had its best traffic rank in the Philippines. I don’t think so.

Internet appeal boosts foreign correspondents

Exposure to a wider internet audience may be increasing the career opportunities for foreign correspondents. The Times has lost two middle eastern reporters — one to the New York Times and the other to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times’s middle eastern correspondent Stephen Farrell, who was kidnapped during the siege of Falljah in 2004, is moving to the NY Times, while Ned Parker, who also covers Iraq, goes to the LA Times.

A Times spokesman is quoted in the Guardian saying:

It’s interesting to see that our reporters are being hired by international news organisations.It is a reflection of the strength of the online presence of brands such as the Times and the Guardian that our talent is being targeted by groups such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and shows that British reporting is widely respected in the US and beyond.

The Times is also losing its chief political correspondent, Anthony Browne, who is moving to the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange.