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Media Guardian, spooks mag and UFOs revealed

A piece in today’s Media Guardian about Mark Birdsall running the successful Eye Spy magazine from a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales conjured up the picture of a life-style many journalists dream of. It required further investigation.

First stop, the Eye Spy website. Somehow the readers’ offer of a camera disguised as a spectacle case for £215 did not tally with the serious analytical magazine I had been reading about a few minutes earlier.

The editor Mark Birdsall is described as an investigative journalist, but without further details. So, some more Googling. And the results were very strange.

Lots of stuff about UFOs, alien abductions and that sort of thing came up. Now there were clearly a lot of Mark Birdsalls around so even the Yorkshire connection was not conclusive (Yorkshire is England’s largest county).

Then I found things written by both his brother and sister, also involved in the UFO fraternity, referring to their brother Mark as the Editor of Eye Spy. So the Mark Birdsall, editor of Eye Spy, is the one who has been searching for UFOs in the Pennine hills for years.

An interesting piece appeared under the heading “Alien Cover Scam” in the Fortean Times in March 1997.

Well, some of the things spies get up to have always been stranger than fiction.

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Slate founder to join Guardian

Exactly ten years ago on June 24, 1996 Michael Kinsley launched Slate as its first editor. Today, the Guardian announces that he is to join them to “drive its online push into America”.

It is the latest in a stream of announcements from the Guardian. Printing in the US, a pdf paper updated every 15 minutes and news first on the web, among them.

The appointment of Kinsley, although exactly what he will do is unclear from today’s report, is a clear signal that the Guardian is determined to increase its reach overseas.

And it raises another question. Is the Guardian starting to move from being a British voice which is listened to around the world, to becoming a world liberal voice?

In 2001 the readers’ editor, Ian Mayes, wrote about emails arriving from around the world and quoted the editor, Alan Rusbridger, as saying: “I suppose that once you are aware of this international dimension you can’t help but think a little more internationally and be a little less anglocentric.”

With the Guardian staking its future on the web, it also needs to find new ways of making money from news and comment on the internet.

At the launch of Slate, Kinsley said: “And we want to be self-supporting. Indeed one of SLATE’s main goals is to demonstrate, if we can, that the economies of cyberspace make it easier for our kind of journalism to pay for itself.”

Has the web and print magazine, originally owned by Microsoft but sold to the Washington Post, succeeded? The latest annual report of the Washington Post shows Slate made a loss but another section says: “Slate, our new acquisition at the start of last year, turned in unexpectedly good results.”

Online ads keep Tribune steady

Newspapers continue to report increased online advertising revenues. This week the Tribune company, owners of papers including the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times, announced that first quarter interactive advertising revenues were up 31% to $51 million.

The figure sounds good but it was put into perspective by Dennis FitzSimons, of the Tribune company, at a Newspaper Association of America conference reported by Online Media Daily. He said the expected online revenue this year of £225 million would be about 6% of the business’s publishing revenue.

“We look to increase to… approximately 12% to 15% of publishing revenues in 2010,” he said.

Overall the group’s ad revenues during the quarter were flat increasing by 1%. Circulation revenues were down by 4% for the quarter.

This all looks far from healthy for journalism with ad revenue effectively moving from print to online but not growing overall to support the extra editorial costs of running and developing web sites.

Norwegian journalists face culture shock

With the City increasingly confident that David Montgomery, former chief executive of the Mirror, will buy the Norwegian publisher Orkla Media, journalists there will be looking closely at the experiences of their colleagues at the Berliner Zeitung.

Mecom, Montgomery’s business, yesterday confirmed it was in negotiations for a “significant investment”, believed to be the £700 million take over of Orkla Media.

Earlier this month the Guardian reported on turmoil in the offices of the Berliner Zeitung, an earlier Montgomery acquisition, after the broadsheet’s editor was replaced by a man from a popular tabloid.

There is already concern among Norwegian journalists about the impact of British newspaper culture. Kristine Lowe, a Norwegian freelance has explored the cultural issue a few days ago.

British seniors have taken to the internet

Britain’s older generations have caught on to the internet in a big way. All those age profiles suggesting web content should be geared towards the young are out-of-date according to the latest report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Two thirds of 50-64-year-olds in Britain last year said they went online or accessed the internet to send and receive email. This is just one percentage point behind the leaders, Canada and the United States.

Just three years earlier three in ten Britons in this age group went on line. Growth in use by the older generations has far outstripped that among younger groups where usage was already much closer to saturation.

Among the over 64s we are still well behind the US and Canada with a quarter using the internet compared with a third across the Atlantic.

In the youngest group surveyed, the 18-29-year-olds, Britain (89%) is now ahead of the US (81%) and a little behind France and Canada among the seven countries in this part of the survey.

There is a mass of information in the report from the American Pew Research Center making historical comparisons between 13 countries.

What it clearly shows is that the internet is maturing and coming to more closely reflect the age profile of the country. No doubt, every newspaper and magazine that puts content on the web will be looking at these figures very closely.

And my hope, as one of the older age group, is an end to those patronising books on the internet for the over 50s.

CMS database peril hits Gloucestershire weekly

The perils of failing to keep track of versions of a story when you are running a newspaper and a web site are illustrated by a recent complaint to the British Press Complaints Commission.

Mrs Helen Backus was given copy approval of a sensitive article about her childhood for the Stroud News and Journal and asked for changes to be made. They were for the print edition, but the unamended version was uploaded to the web site.

After Mrs Backus complained to the Gloucestershire paper, a part of Gannett’s Newsquest group, the story was taken down. But it was still there.

Sue Smith, the editor, explained to me in an email: “…the person uploading stories for the web that week pulled the original story from blacks and uploaded that without realising changes had been made. We removed the story completely from the web after Mrs Backus complained.

“However, there was then another glitch when the web site was changed and it popped up out of some dark recess in the archives. We have now completely wiped it from the system to avoid it happening again.”

The dispute was resolved by the PCC without the need for an adjudication after Ms Smith apologised and explained exactly what had happened.

The complaint was made under Clause 1 of the Code of Practice which, in part, says: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.”

In retrospect, it is easy to see how it could have happened. The story was removed from the pages but remained in the database. Perhaps all journalists now need to know something about how their contents management system works.

More on the perils 

Added June 22 14.47 BST

Since writing the above I had seen a similar story on the Press Gazette site but this time about an expensive libel case. The Sunday Telegraph, apparently, has been forced to pay a second time after it left a libelous story on its website. Having paid £12,000 in an out-of-court settlement for the newspaper story it has had to make a second payment of £5,000

Papers should charge for online content — WPP boss

Newspapers should charge more for online content, Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, told a Newspaper Society conference on in London yesterday (Tuesday).

He said, according to a UK Press Gazette online report (available free): “I’ve always had a problem with free content. It goes against the grain of the Manchester Evening News issuing a free newspaper; we’ve got the FT doing it and Associated. I think if the consumer values the content I think you should charge him or her for it. The logic is don’t do that build readership then you can charge for advertising.”

You may be able to work out what that last sentence means but it got worse when Sir Martin went on to explain that companies needed “separate verticals” to grow online.

This bit of jargon was new to me, so I plugged it into Google and came up with only 44 hits. Felt better after that, but not much wiser. What he seems to be saying is that traditional print managements are not quick enough to cope with rapid online development.

Separate verticals are mercifully missing from the Newspaper Society’s own report of the conference. Sir Martin and Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, discussed the “development of media channels.”

Bowdler said: “The rate of investment in digital publishing will continue to increase rapidly with the clear objective of providing local communities with the leading local digital platform to complement our strong local print brands.”

That sounds as if it was lifted directly from a rather complacent annual company report. From the reports, it does not appear the conference furthered understanding of how we might make real money out of the web — or that the regional press has really grasped how radical are the changes it will have to make.

Yet, Bowdler’s Johnston Press is well ahead of most of the regionals. At the end of last year I did an online piece for Media Guardian about the way in which their weekly, the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, had coped with the huge Buncefield fire. They certainly followed a web first policy and have the hits and Google News listings to prove it. The Gazette has also been increasing its print circulation.

The Newspaper Society is the association for regional newspapers.

Regionals ad gloom is not lifting

Johnston Press, the UK’s second largest regional newspaper publisher with 250 titles including The Scotsman which it bought this year, has seen no sign of the advertising gloom lifting.

A trading update issued today says that in the five months to June 3 ad revenues on a like-for-like basis, excluding acquisitions, were down 9.4%. This is a slight improvement on the year-on-year figures given in March.

The company blames higher unemployment and lower vacancies; lower car sales and dealer consolidation; weakness in consumer confidence and poor results from a number of high street retailers.

But property and other classified advertising continued to grow. Circulation revenues were ahead of last year and there was good growth in internet publishing activities.

Doubleclick (UK) changes name to Telegraph Media Group

The secretive Barclay brothers’ Daily Telegraph could have acquired part of the UK arm of Doubleclick, the billion dollar internet advertising business. No announcement has been made but on May 16 Doubleclick UK’s name was changed to Telegraph Media Group Limited.

The Companies House database lists the advertising business, formed in1977, with the address of 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, where the paper has its headquarters.

While there are many companies registered with doubleclick as part of their names, a Google search shows the Doubleclick group was trading as Doubleclick UK. In June last year Doubleclick was bought by Hellman and Friedman LLC, private equity investors with offices in San Fancisco, Ney York and London. Their web site says:

DoubleClick is the leading provider of technology and data solutions for advertising agencies, web publishers, marketers, and catalogers to plan, execute and analyze their marketing programs. DoubleClick’s marketing solutions – – online advertising, search engine and affiliate marketing, email marketing, database marketing, and data management – – help clients yield the highest return on their marketing dollar. DoubleClick Inc. has global headquarters in New York City and maintains 21 offices around the world. In July 2005, Click Holding Corp., a subsidiary of Hellman & Friedman LLC and JMI Equity, acquired DoubleClick in a transaction valued at approximately $1.1 billion.

In August last year an annual return was filed for Doubleclick (UK) giving the Canada Square address. The current Doubliclick group web site gives three addresses in south east England for various parts of the business but without precise company names.

Earlier today Jeff Jarvis reported in BuzzMachine on a survey of international blogging behaviour conducted by the Telegraph Media Group. He found it odd that while the story was reported in the Guardian, he could not find it in the Telegraph.

It is too late now to make phone calls to people in the UK who could elucidate, deny or confirm. The Barclay brothers, David and Frederick, who live on a tiny Channel Island bought the Daily Telegraph in 2004. The Sunday Times Rich List valued them at £1.3 billion last year.

Clearly the Telegraph needs to develop both its print and online business which is a good reason for conducting surveys and being involved in internet advertising. No doubt we will find out soon where this trail leads.

Guardian announces "free" downloadable printed edition

Another internet initiative has been announced by the Guardian. From later this summer an eight to 12 page A4 printable edition, updated every 15 minutes will be available from the Guardian Unlimited site.

G24 is being sponsored by BT, the telecoms business, and will be aimed at commuters. The “free service” is not quite so free as Metro when the transferred cost of printing is taken into account but it will be more up-to-date.

Comments by editor Alan Rusbridger seem to link it to the recent “web first” policy when he says: “Increasingly, readers are demanding editorial content tailored to the time and place of their choosing, rather than to artificial deadlines dictated by old print production schedules.”

Accodting to chief executive Carolyn McCall, quoted by UK Press Gazette, it will meet the “changing needs of our online users and readers”.

There is an example front page available on the page making the announcement. But it contradicts the copy by clearly not being A4 in size, wasting trees with huge top and bottom margins when printed. Looks rather like an announcement that has been rushed.