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Are Getty Images and Corbis getting too big?

On the day Getty Images announced the $200m purchase of Wireimages, to strengthen its position in multimedia material (Press Gazette), Lewis Blackwell, group creative director of the giant photo library, was defending their policy of acquisitions.

Last month Eamonn McCabe, former picture editor of the Guardian, wrote about the move of the Sygma picture library from its central Paris base. Sygma was bought in 1999 by Corbis, owned by Bill Gates of Microsoft.

McCabe was worried about the concentration of pictures under the control of Getty Images and Corbis. He wrote:

Today, the small family structures that still exist, and the mergers of photographers or co-ops, are faced with a colossal challenge: to convert quickly to digital in order to sell across the internet, or be reduced to the status of a museum. In the late 1990s, Sygma did not have the required money, but Corbis had the investment capital at a time when the work of over 10,000 photographers had to be digitalised to compete with the other major player in the global photography library business, John Paul Getty Jnr….
Getty and Gates are buying up photo libraries by the day, in order to one day own every photo used on the web. They already own between them a third of the world’s images, a fact that has to worry photographers. Gressent, the archive manager, is reassuringly passionate that the photographer will be king in his new library. At least the images by the 10,000 photographers who worked for Sygma are safe and in order, thanks to his team.

Yesterday, Blackwell responded in the Guardian saying that in the “vast, globalised net marketplace, photographers and collection-holders alike gravitate to companies such as ours because they offer the expertise to deliver image content into the right hands”.

He pointed out that Getty Images was not owned by John Paul Getty Jr, denied that the two giant companies owned a third of the world’s images and concluded:

Consumer choice now rules the market. Large players can only be successful if they offer something better than what is easily available in numerous places elsewhere on the web. The photographer remains king in this new environment – in fact photographers now have more options for sharing or making money from their work than ever. That’s something that anyone who cares about photography, and the impact it has on our lives, should celebrate.

There is no doubt that giant libraries made life easier for picture researchers and their employers but global dominance worries me.

Third Webby in a row for Guardian Unlimited

Winning the Webby award for the best newspaper website for the third consecutive year is a great achievement for Guardian Unlimited. The others on the shortlist were the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

The New York Times won the Webby for the best business blog with its Deal Book, a large-scale group blog. Both the Guardian (Comment is Free) and the NYTimes (The Caucus) were nominated for best political blog but the award went to Truthdig.

Later: I missed out the fact that the Guardian was also nominated in the podcast category which went to National Public Radio.

Murdoch aims to crown career with the WSJ

At the age of 76 Rupert Murdoch is showing no sign of slowing down. The question today is can he crown his career with a spectacular purchase of the Wall Street Journal, the second largest paper in the US?

With the controlling Bancroft family divided he stands a good chance of succeeding. The family said yesterday that it intended to cast “slighly more than 50%” of the voting stock against the $60 a share offer for Dow Jones, publisher of the financial paper. According to the WSJ that suggests about 80% of the family voting power is against a deal.

The family control depends on super-voting “B” shares with carry 10 times the voting power of “A” shares in Dow Jones. Yesterday two-thirds of the “A” shares changed hands as the price shot up by more than a half to $56.20, many of them going into the hands of investors who are likely to press for the sale.

Other businesses may decide to make bids but some of the suggested contenders have ruled themselves out of any contest.

Murdoch is moving to counter suggestions that he would influence editorial policy by offering safeguards including a separate board for the WSJ.

Jeff Jarvis and the undermining of journalism

Reading Jeff Jarvis at his Buzzmachine blog and his Guardian column I sometimes find things to agree with but the strongest sense is that he is on a mission to destroy journalism. He so often seems to want to undermine the imperfect practices of journalism that have developed over centuries that it is as if there is a Dalek loose on the web.

What I mean by journalism is the gathering and sifting of facts and opinions, cutting through the noise to present a coherent story. The outcomes of this process vary which is why it is important that there is a range of organisations carrying it out. Some will have been misled, some will be biased, some will have made mistakes and some will have found different facts and opinions. Over time readers decide which of these sources they mainly choose to trust. Readers, listeners and viewers who are more media literate will look at the output of several organisations and reach their own conclusions.

This week Jarvis starts his Guardian column (also at Buzzmachine) thus:

The fundamental architecture of news has shifted – again. We’ve already seen that news organisations’ exclusive hold on distribution and content creation has dissolved. But now it appears that their pre-eminence as news gatherers is also challenged, especially during breaking news events. So during big news stories, what is the role of the journalist now? To link, it seems.

Certainly the architecture of news is shifting as it did with the penny post and the telephone but faster and with greater effect. I am not sure that news organisations ever had an “exclusive hold on distribution” but a much wider range of the source material of journalists is now easily available to most.

“Witness reporters” have new tools (audio recorders, video cameras and mobile phones) and can distribute more widely through blogs, Facebook, YouTue and other channels that Jarvis mentions.

In the early days of newspapers they depended on letters from “witness reporters” brought by stage coach or sailing ship: letters from people on the scene have continued to be a valuable source until recently and people phoning home continue to be important.

As Jarvis points out, most of the students at Virginia Tech who posted on the web were simply saying “I’m OK, Dad” and their audiences did not come to them with “journalistic expectations of completeness, verification, and identity”. He says that before reporters (he uses the pejorative “news vultures”) arrived at the university, news organisations depended on these accounts. The stories were already there and Jarvis asks: “What was big media to do, then? Link.”

Of course, linking has has to be an important part of the way journalism is done now. But Jarvis takes this argument further and suggests that technology now makes it possible for the “witness reporters” to stream live from the scene. He asks: “What does big media do when there is no time to vet and verify? They’ll have to issue caveats. And link.”

In these circumstances reporters have always used material prefaced by a phrase such as “according to unverified sources”. But they have also sought to verify and to filter out the gossip and outrageous surmises which surrounds every major event. Similar criteria have to be applied to linking.

Jarvis takes his linking argument further and discusses the Washington Post story about the treatment of Iraq veterans at an army hospital. The NY Times was criticised for not not running a story of their own quickly enough. He says: “The Times was better off linking to the Post and saving its reporting resources to uncover its own critical stories. The Times had a journalistic obligation to send traffic and support to the Post, to journalism at its source.”

I agree a quick story quoting the Post as the source and providing a link is right. But not to follow up, checking the story and seeking new information, would undermine the whole basis of the way journalism has, and should continue to operate.

Most stories which hold authority to account, as the Walter Reed hospital did, develop as more reporters carry out their own investigations. It is the pressure of intense investigation by the media which unearths new facts and detail which lead to getting things done.

As for the assertion the Times had a journalistic obligation to send traffic and support to the Post, that must come from some other world. Scoops are part of the fight for circulation and unique users which, in the end, pay journalists.

Jarvis argues that newspapers should stop wasting resources covering what everybody else is covering. Again, there is truth in this. A media scrum is often unproductive and a reporter on the scene should know when to call the office and say: “I”m leaving the doorstep to the agencies and going to talk to some people who I hope will give us a fresh angle.”

So to Jarvis’s “new rule for journalism: do what you do best. Link to the rest.” That, surely, is why news agencies were invented.

I have no argument with Jarvis’s call to work co-operatively with witness-reporters, community members, experts, people who publish on their own, finding and sending readers to the best and most reliable among them. This is a way to release staff to concentrate on new areas and the things they do best.

But simply linking sounds rather like a combination of blogging and Google. I don’t think that is what is wanted from trusted news organisations. And I very much doubt if it will fill many pay packets.

And yes, I am writing from the perspective of a reporter. I also believe that it also serves the reader best.

What was that about glasshouses and throwing stones?

The last item in the Media Diary in today’s Observer reads (sorry, I can find the link):

The Daily Express inteviewed Chelsea’s Sean Wright-Phillips last week, and included a blatant plug for the Nintendo games console he promotes in the story. Has the line between editorial and advertising now become so blurred it’s barely visible?

For the answer turn to page 20 of the Observer’s Business and Media section. Half a page of answer at that, headed “Dubai has the whole world in its sands” followed by a standfirst saying “Celebrities and the super-rich are snapping up new country-themed islands.” There is even a blob par at the end with the sales phone number.

Web ABCs: Guardian crows but Sun get more page hits

Not surprisingly the Guardian is crowing about the the first ABCe newspaper website figures which show they have nearly as many users as their rivals the Times (what has happened to the relaunch effect?) and the Telegraph (steady progress) have between them.

There is big blurb on the front page of the printed paper headed: “An end to web propaganda: now the first, official audited figures.” Willy waving?

Of course, it isn’t. Jemima Kiss denies the charge in the Organ Grinder blog writing: “… it’s about transparency, credibility and building trust with advertisers.”

While no print reader can be unaware of the figures, there is, oddly, no reference to them on the home page of Guardian Unlimited. But they are the second item on the Media home page.

Three other papers have come into the scheme for monthly publication of figures by ABCe — the Telegraph, Times and Sun (no comment on their sites yet).

The figures for March are:

Page impressions: Guardian Unlimited 146,979,741, Telegraph 69,559,359, Times Online 57,681,199, The Sun 151,438,441.

Users: Guardian Unlimited 15,093,058, Telegraph 7,392,803, Times Online 8,048,029, The Sun 7,797,032.

A table including user figures for February this year and March last year is at the Guardian.

It is not surprising that the Times Online users figure fell back from February when the relaunch of the site created a lot of interest, but 2.8m is a very big fall. There must be concern that the March figure is the lowest since June last year, raising questions about the relaunch.

The Telegraph has shown steady growth over the last year and the new figure is nearly 1.5m monthly users more than a year ago. The Sun must be pleased to be the largest newspaper website in the UK in terms of page impressions — the Page 3 effect.

Ultra-local news and England’s biggest selling regional

When it comes to understanding local news you have to listen to what the people at the Express and Star in Wolverhampton have to say. It has built itself into the best selling regional newspaper in England under its independent ownership.

So the thinking there about online and citizen journalism which is explored in an interview with the deputy editor, Keith Harrison, at journalism.co.uk is a must read.

Micro-local news, he says, is what is going to survive. To do that the paper will need 500 citizen journalists. The picture which Harrison paints suggests an online version of what a multitude of small weekly newspapers did until not all that long ago.

Harrison says ultra-local is definitely the way to go and continues:

If you promise ultra-local, you’ve got to be able to deliver it. The number of journalists we have [60] is huge compared with many other regional papers – but, even with that many, we can’t deliver ultra-local news all the time. To do it, we’re going to need another 500 reporters – we can’t take them on, they’re going to need to be citizen journalists. They want to get this information out there; we need to say “yes, we’ll be your electronic parish noticeboard, come give it to us and it will be in the Express & Star” – whereas, if you just set it up on your own, you’re only going to have a limited audience.

The only way we can do it is not by paying our full-time staff to do it but by giving our readers outside the opportunity to do it and for them to contribute and feel part of the newspaper.

I am increasingly convinced that he is right. It is not only about providing content it is about connecting with the community, maintaining a sense that it is their newspaper.

Harrison says that one man still sends the Express and Star the pigeon club report on postcards. That takes me back to my second job, on the Buxton Advertiser, and collecting various scraps of paper with reports of flower shows, the service at the Methodist Church, funeral reports and accounts of the most interesting object in a matchbox competition at the Women’s Institute meeting.

From there I went to the Western Daily Press which, under editor Eric Price, was the fasted growing regional newspaper at the time. He combined innovative design with a fairly brash approach to world and national news and intensely local, but lively, coverage. We wrote features on villages, found stories in dahlia shows and recorded golden weddings.

Some of the skills of that era of newspapers and a whole lot of new ones are needed to make a success of online ultra-local news. That raises a whole lot of questions about recruitment and training.

Fight between Google and MSM approaches

Roy Greenslade has picked up on Telegraph editor Will Lewis’s opening address at the 6th International Newsroom Summit and thinks it implies that the Telegraph group is going to follow other mainstream publishers into battle against Google.

According to ifra, Lewis called on newspapers to welcome transformation as a friend. The traditional business model would be replaced and he warned news organisations making the digital transition must both invest in training and be alert to attempts to cannibalise their material. He continued:

Our ability to protect that content is under consistent attack from those such as Google and Yahoo, who wish to access it for free. These companies are seeking to build a business model on the back of our own investment without recognition; all media companies need to be on guard for this. Success in the digital age, as we have seen in our own company, is going to require massive investment; [we need] effective legal protection for our content in such a way that allows us to invest for the future.

It would seem to be an obvious step for publishers to follow those who have reached agreements with the secretive Google company. It is difficult to build a picture of what is happening but Lewis’s speech follows one earlier this month by Samuel Zell, new owner of the huge Tribune group in the US .

In a speech (Washington Post) at Stanford Law School he said newspapers could not economically sustain the practice of allowing their articles, photos and other content to be used free by other Internet news aggregators.

He asked the question: “If all of the newspapers in America did not allow Google to steal their content, how profitable would Google be?” and provided his own answer: “Not very.”

Associated Press has an agreement with Google and a copyright case brought by Agence France-Presse was settled recently. In Belgium cases have either resulted in settlement or a finding against Google.

As Greenslade points out these are piecemeal agreements and, “Globally, publishers and news agencies need to get together to reach a sensible, comprehensive, macro agreement with Google and Yahoo.”

It will certainly be a big fight. As Business Week pointed out recently: “Google is ground zero in a battle among traditional media and tech industry leaders and startups alike for the hearts and minds of the world’s consumers—or at least their eyeballs and wallets. ”
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Video help needed at Reading

Guardian Media Group has a lot of expertise in doing online video so it’s a pity it is not shared around all their papers. A bulletin by the Reading Evening Post’s sports editor, David Wright, is a “new contender for the worst newspaper video” according to Paul Bradshaw, who teaches online journalism at the University of Central England.

One can only pity the people involved who have obviously had no, or inadequate, training. Bradshaw sees a lesson in how not to do online video and provides eight rules which are so basic they should not be needed.

I have doubts about the value of reporter on camera bulletins with a few stills, but surely GMG has someone who could help the people are Reading do it better.

Why don’t printed papers get promoted on websites?

Journalism students at Bournemouth University are asking a very relevant question: Why do newspaper website in the UK so so little to promote the printed version on their websites?

The students examined newspapers and web sites for encouragement to use the other version. In a Times Saturday edition they found 101 directions to timesonline but on the website not a single exhortation to buy the paper.

The picture was similar at the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Sun and orther papers they compared. Peter Jackson, the students’ lecturer writes about their investigation in the Independent.

If you visit any US newspaper you are likely to find encouragement to take out a subscription for the paper at the top of it’s website’s home page. So why not something similar here? OK, the distribution systems are different but there should be a way round that problem.