It’s mine ya’hear. Mine. All mine: Ownership and innovation

From Flickr user Andyi

From Flickr user Andyi

It’s Carnival of Journalism time and Ryan Sholin steps up to the plate to host. He helpfully suggests a question to chew over for this months meeting of j-minds

What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?

Great question?

A lot of people have already posted great suggestions so some of the following may be repetitive (still it’s better to add a voice then stay quiet in agreement isn’t it)

So, the question. What should they stop doing? My answer: Stop trying to own everything.

We have an interesting problem in journalism at the moment, we don’t know who we are. Ask anyone in your newsroom what the function of journalism is, what is it for, and you get a number of different answers. (I know, we have tried) All of them are challenging or challenged by the ‘new’ media landscape.

You may answer, we are the fourth estate, we tell the audience what other people don’t want them to know. But a new media advocate may say that the audience can do that for themselves now, and (often) better.

You may answer that it is to entertain. That’s a great one for upsetting ‘trad’ journalists. Remember sonny, this job isn’t about fun.

For every defining action there is an equal and opposite old media reaction.

So given that we aren’t sure what we are or why we do what we do anymore, we revert to what we know best. Consolidate and protect. We strengthen the fortifications and move as much of the ‘community’ in to the city walls as we can.This isn’t just illustrated in attitudes. You can see the very real evidence of this all around us in the industry.

If a news org wants to do user generated photography it doesn’t use flickr or Photobucket. It builds it’s own photo sharing service. If it wants to run a blog, does it use Movable Type of WordPress. No, it builds its own blogging platform.

Why? Because then they can own the conversation.

This ownership thing, it must happen on our terms, is the single biggest problem the industry has right now and that stops innovation.

When it comes to technology, ownership encourages imitation and stifles innovation. When it comes to staff, ownership means the structures are there to support the company not the individual. They pay to own the innovators and then stop them innovating (hey, at least they aren’t innovating for anyone else). And when it comes to audience, ownership means taking and never giving.

So what do we do about it.

I think the first thing we can do is look at the ownership mindset. We need to try and educate people to a couple of simple points:

Ownership and control are not the same thing. You can be seen as owning something but not have control. That can be positive or negative.

Ownership is temporary: You’ve all heard the term no one owns the news. That’s been interpreted as meaning that we need to monitise it in a way that makes the maximum amount of profit in the shortest time. No. It actually means you need to keep turning out stuff that people want to see and so keep coming back.

Within the news rooms we can do one simple thing: Give away the one thing that you do own – time.

Give everyone in the newsroom playtime. I’ve said this again and again and other organisations like Google have so obviously benefited from it. Give every member of your newsroom staff a day a month (maybe) where they can explore, learn and develop skills. That doesn’t need to be on the web. It could be learning photography. Learning to dance at a local community center. It doesn’t matter. The key thing is that you only expect one in return – they share that experience. There is no budget line. If you get a story from it – bonus. If a great idea comes out then even better. But everyone shares.

If you asked me what the function of journalism is I would say that its ‘to be part of the society we live in and contributing to a greater understanding of that society by sharing information.’

That’s not about owning

From Flickr user occ4m

The long, long, long tail of digital revenue models

Just got home after ducking out of the Journalism Leaders forum which went under the title “Why isn’t more media translating into more money for mainstream media companies?”

The panelists where Chris Anderson of ‘The Long Tail’ fame, Anton Grutzmacher of Hitwise, Peter Kirwan of the Press Gazette’s Media Money and Rick Waghorn of

Anderson couldn’t stay for the whole discussion (he was live by phone) so he got the floor for the first part of the presentation. He had a few stones to lob in the water. “We don’t use the word media anymore” and the succinct advice for the MSM (should that be the MS?”) that we need to “find the market failure in the amatuer internet” to find the areas where we can flourish.

All the talk of market forces and free-conomics and changing models caused, as Mark Comerford noted on Twitter, a huge amount of wrinkled foreheads and worried looks amongst the totally male panel”. ( #ChrisAnderson will get you the discussion). But it also seemed to cause Anderson some consternation as well.

Continue reading “The long, long, long tail of digital revenue models”

The newspaper loyalty phone

 DN phone

Forget about the newspaper loyalty card the newspaper loyalty phone is the future.

According to a report in

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) has launched the world’s first ‘newspaper’ telephone to give users instant access to the paper’s online content.

The Nokia 6120 handset features a special DN button that gives subscribers direct access to the daily’s website, according to Agence France-Presse

It is available to buy from the website and “includes a 199 kroner-a-month (around £20) call plan for those who sign up.”

dn-phone.jpgI think this is a great idea. Forget about the huge ad market you can push in to. Think about Reuters multimedia trial. One of the problems with trying to get some kind of multimedia app on a phone to deliver UGC content back to a publisher is the problem of platform. How do you guarantee that it will work on the range of phones out there?

This solves the problem. I’m thinking that the next lot who try this idea should think about putting another button that is an ‘send my pictures/video to the paper”

See the all singing, all dancing (all Swedish) flash site for the phone 

Jay Rosen: The UK is two years behind the US

Credit where credit is dueAfter listening to a panel discussion on local journalism Jay Rosen says that the UK is two years behind the US when it comes to collaborative journalism.

It got me thinking about why.

Jay was one of the panel at the 7th Journalism Leaders Forum held at the Department of Journalism. The topic for discussion was Local Turf Wars, a look at how different media where tackling the hyperlocal problem and where the people formally known as the audience fitted in to making this happen. (you can see a webcast of the discussion here)

Jay kicked off the discussion with some insight on his collaborative journalism project Assignment Zero. For Jay it was as much an exercise in working out how elements of complex stories can be distributed to groups of experts to make better content as it was the end result. It was a proof of concept.

BBC angle

Emma Hemmingway, academic, broadcaster and author of Into the Newsroom gave us a peak inside the BBC’s efforts to get hyperlocal broadcasting off the blocks with a pilot study for LocalTV in the Midlands.

The BBC are presenting it as a success but the evidence suggested otherwise. In working out how to ‘use’ the audience , the BBC had divided them in to

  • Can’s – Those with the kit and the know how
  • Could’s – Those with the know how and no kit
  • Cant’s. – Those with no know how and no kit

Over nine months producers battled with content and in apparent frustration with some of the communities ability to live up to BBC standards many producers ended up shooting and editing content themselves. It seems that in dividing up the audience there was one category they all fell in to – Not BBC!

Another panelist Neil Benson, Editorial Director for regionals for Trinity Mirror, thought this was the typical BBC “imposing their own standards and pomposity” on the project. Along with Darren Thwaites of the award-winning Evening Gazette in Teesside, he talked about some of their hyperlocal adventures.

He also took the opportunity to announce a new project called ‘Make the news’. Although he was light on detail (commercial reasons, darling) he says he was heavily influenced by Jay Rosen’s assignment zero.

According to Neil, journalists needed to start thinking like radio producers.

It was a point that wasn’t expanded on but one that I really liked.

Thinking like a producer

Coming from a broadcast background I’m comfortable with the idea of a producer. They are the ones driving the project, managing the team and pulling everything together to tell the story. Even though they have a firm hand on the editorial tiller, they rely on experienced researchers, expert advisers and experienced technical crew to bring the programme together.

I think Jay’s idea of collaboration is a lot like that. He said that the biggest challenge for journalists is controlling the division of labour. Working out who is best to handle that element of the story whilst keeping an editorial line.

That team effort is recognized in the credits that role at the end of a programme. The producer, director and Executive producer get to go last in the list- in UK TV that denotes that they are the most important – but everyones contribution is noted.

That’s in sharp contrast to the way things are done in newspapers.

Credit your sources?

One question from the floor wondered how we can get the specialist correspondent with 30 years experience to engage with citizen journalists to help tell stories. I responded that perhaps that was a case of the journalist recognizing that some of those ‘citizens’ where actually more experienced and knowledgeable than they where.

That wasn’t a criticism. What I meant was perhaps they needed to see their relationship with some of the audience differently and recognize a level of ‘professional equity’. They need to say, ‘we are both great at what we do. Working together we can produce something fantastic’(one of the driving aims of Rosen’s Assignment Zero) and then credit that relationship to reflect the level of collaboration.

But it was clear from the discussion and the insight Emma offered in the BBC approach that we still have a very obvious them and us mentality in journalism. If you are not a journalist, working in our organization, in the way we work, you are the audience. It doesn’t matter that you may be a nobel prize winning scientist, or a ‘person on the street’. Whenever we talk to you, you are all the same.

For me that’s the fundamental reason we are still lagging behind.

Some may see that as an positive, egalitarian approach. But if we want to take full advantage of the opportunities to connect with people that digital affords then we need to move beyond thinking of audience and contacts and seeing those we use to tell our stories, experts or not, on a more equal footing. That doesn’t mean trying to turn them in to journalist or relinquishing that term to all to use.

It simply means that we need to be more transparent, open and honest about the increasingly important role they play. But I’m not holding my breath for the day a list credits appears alongside a print story.

And if you don’t think you we have a way to go on that front, you ask any newspaper journalist if they are prepared to share their byline with any of the people they ‘crowsourced’ or the citizen journalists they used.

Get on board with your audience.

Jay Rosen ended the evening with an analogy.

To him the industry standing on the edge of digital ocean trying to work out how to get to the other side. We know that a lot of the ‘people formally known as the audience’ have already set sail.

But there is a chance that if we get on board and share with the those digital communities about to set sail, we may just get to the other side in one piece.

The problem is that journalists are still only willing to share the boat if they can be the captain. Everyone else has to be satisfied with being crew.

If we get over that then maybe we can make up some of that two years of lost time.

Interesting events for Digital Journalists

A few work related  events have come across my desk in one way or another that may be of interest.

 First up is the 7th Journalism leaders forum at Uclan on the 16th October. The event, Local Turf Wars Notes from the digital news frontline, includes contributions from:

Andy Mitten, a graduate of the department who, at 15, founded the hugely popular fanzine, United We Stand (which he still edits). Andy is now also the author of a string of books about United, as well as a sports  correspondent for The Independent, GQ and others.

Joining Andy is Trinity Mirror Regional’s editorial director Neil Benson,  Press Think blogger community media advocate and scholar Jay Rosen and BBC Local TV researcher Emma Hemmingway. Mike Ward will chair the panel entitled, ‘Local Turf Wars- notes from the digital news frontier.’

The open event, which also marks 45 years of Journalism at Preston, starts with a networking reception at 5:15pm in Greenbank foyer. The panel discussion is at 6pm in Greenbank Lecture Theatre.

More details about the Forum, which will also be webcast live, is at: RSVP to:

Associated with that is an event from the Digital Editors Network (join the facebook group as well) who are also meeting on the 16th October.

[they] will be focussing on what works in online publishing, getting the best out of video and how blogs and the established media can work together.

The three discussions will form part of the 7th Journalism Leaders Forum, on October 16, featuring the regional editorial director of Trinity Mirror Neil Benson, who is amongst the panelists considering the global impact of the local news business.

There will be a number of ‘seminars’ on digital things ( including one from me)

very much in the style of an open discussion, with the use of an internet connection to highlight features and examples and so letting people share their own insights and observations.

Read more about it over at Craig McGinty’s Blog.

Press Gazzette: Managing the new media rush.

I got a mention in Press Gazette this week thanks to Graham Holliday asking my view on “handling the increased time demands of producing new and old media”.

The piece also has views from The Sun’s Graham Dudman and offers a nice insight in to the way they handle the digital transition in the newsroom.

As an extra bonus, it runs alongside a story about the Lancashire Evening Post newsroom – fast becoming the poster child for digital integration.

Here’s what I said to Graham in full:

Without fail, the overriding concern of people engaging with digital stuff is time.  But a lot of that concern comes less from the realities of the job and more from badly managed expectations.

There seems to be a general feeling in the industry that anything new equates to ‘just one more thing’. It’s piled on top of the existing stuff. Part of the problem here is that there often isn’t that expectation.  Managers don’t really know what it is that they want and are simply tooling the journos up with the skills to be able to tell them.  Its the industries emotionally stunted way of inviting everyone in for a conversation on where it goes with this stuff.

Of course there is always the problem that, for many, digital means more for less. So I’m not dismissing the legitimate concerns that journos have about doing more for less. But if it is going to work more kit or training needs to go hand-in-hand with a change of cultures.

The places that digital has worked as a new strand to the newsroom are those that did a lot of hearts and minds stuff before the kit landed or the training started.

Communicate clearly about what is expected and what will happen in return. Sounds simplistic I know but a lot of people both journo’s and managers are just falling back on those time honored traditions of them and us.

On a more practical note I would suggest play time. Everyone in the office gets a few hours – even if that’s once every month – to experiment.  Say to them: ‘here is a list of how-to’s and self-paced stuff on starting a blog, using rss or creating a slideshow. Go and have a go’.

I’ve yet to see that as a coherent approach in the industry but I am seeing an effort to give people some space to try new stuff work on an individual level. That’s going to be to everyones benefit.

We’ve seen that work at an editor level. We take groups of editors and over the week look at the impact of digital across the range of what they do. Marketing, editorial, multimedia. The works. After that week they go back enthused. They have tasted what’s possible. And often thats all it takes.  A little time to see the possibilities and put some shape on the unknowns. I suppose in the model of a training course it falls in to the definition of ‘structured play’ but it’s playtime none the less.It’s a week where they get that free time to think – it makes all the difference.

That’s how I’m trying to approach teaching this new stuff.

I was once asked at a conference that if I was going to teach basic video editing all journo students ‘what was going to go’. I was genuinely at a loss to answer that question. The improvements in technology means that you can spend a small amount of time teaching students how to use the kit and more enthusing them about the form of journalism. Not just digital journalism but journalism full stop. Storytelling.   The nice thing about education is that everyone has time to study on their own. Playtime is almost built in.

I want the students to look at a digital camera in the same way that they look at a pen and pad. I want them to see a video editing or slideshow app as the same thing as microsoft word – just a tool.

So for me nothing has to go for the student other than the expectation that it will all happen in the dedicated class time. My job is to make them feel like it is worth investing in in personal study time.  An ivory tower version of that hearts and minds stuff. All that has to go is that old expectation that we cannot do it any other way.

Kudos to Graham for finding something useful in there.

Google+Agencies= return to good content?

Google news has announced a deal with four of the big news syndicators. You can read about it here , here and a good take from Paid content

The New York Times article ends with a doomsday warning to newspapers

Because of Google’s campaign to simultaneously reduce duplicate articles, the original wire service article is likely to be featured in Google News instead of versions of the same article from newspaper customers, sapping ad revenue to those newspapers.

Panic ensues. But according to coverage in Forbes. It seems that figures may not support that

Referrals from Google News accounted for 2.2 percent of the traffic at newspaper Web sites during the week ending Aug. 25, according to another research firm, Hitwise. Broadcast sites got 1.5 percent of their traffic from Google News during the same period, Hitwise said.

Of course the article doesn’t go in to what the conversion rate on advertising is on that 2.2 percent – it could be a pretty rich 2.2%.  But with so many organisations looking to online ads as a key economic pillar in their strategies, regardless of the percentages, this is bound to hurt.

Fear not though. In the same article in Forbes, Josh Cohen of Google thinks this is an opportunity for news sites:

“This may result in certain publishers losing traffic for their news wire stories, but it will allow more room for their original content,”

Now you might  think that Google telling media sites to effectively go away and produce some original stuff is a little rich. But consider this from Doug Fisher who ponders what the reaction of media groups will be in retaliation:

If publishers drop the words, can the video stand on its own on those Web sites? Will those newsrooms even want it to? (My prediction — yes, because it’s an easy, cheap way for a lot of newsrooms to make it seem like they are “doing” video.)

Media organisations have been using wire copy, not just video, to give the impression that they are doing journalism for a long time. And now that Google have used their financial and technical leverage to do the same – without any pretense to the lie that all this copy is analysed and finessed by journos –  it’s easy to despair at the lack of forethought by media groups.

If it highlights nothing else, the talk around the deal shows just how much the industry has relied on a model shovelware publishing of news feeds to get a foothold in the digital arena.  And now that the economics have priced the trad media out of the game it is also a timely reminder of how the outsourcing of content creation  coupled with the underfunding of proper analysis will hurt journalism in the digital future.

On that note Alf Hermida has good advice:

The message is clear. Start building up your original content, be distinctive, offer something that readers cannot find elsewhere, rather than simply filling up your news site with recycled agency copy

The audience is the media and newspapers are just their platform

I have loads of stuff to catch up on this week, waiting accusingly in my google newsreader box. But I just wanted to post a little about a concept that is striking me as a growing area as I’ve been browsing around.

We should let the audience make the content. We should just print it up for them

It came it to focus for me as I read an article by in the British Journalism Review by journo/management prof Dr John Hill called tomorrows world is digital.(Hey, I’m supposed to be an academic after all.)

He suggest that newspapers are struggling because they are a ‘one size fits all’ product in a market that wants a more personal approach. To succeed he says papers need to become more like consumer goods manufacturers:

Ideally this means providing each reader with a range and depth of stories in which they have expressed a personal interest. In short the ‘me’ newspaper.

He reconginsies that this is a not a new concept but argues that it’s been ignored by newspapers in particular because ‘traditional printing presses cannot be modified sufficiently to make it economically viable’. Until the technology exists and is embraced by all, Hill suggests an intermediate step of segmented coverage. Not just in geographic terms but also on demographic, psychographic and behavioristic needs.

Now that was written in 2006 so there are no awards for being ahead of game in anything other than recognising how late newspapers where to this whole web thing. But reading Jon Fines post betting on which major newspaper group will ditch print first it rang some bells.

It tweaked a little feeling I had when earlier this year I read about Trinity Mirror’s plans to start publishing free newspapers filled with stories gleaned from its hyper-local citizen journalism. Darren Thwaites, editor of the Teesside Gazette told

“The reality is that we would not have been able to populate papers at such a hyperlocal level without the content that has come to us through the micro-sites, we simply would not have the news content,”

You could argue that this is just an extension of the resource starved newspapers using punters to do what they should be doing anyway. But the idea that print could flourish from from the way community and hyperlocal can flourish online, punters and newspapers, is one that is gaining ground.

It’s a point that is picked up by by ex-Gannet journalist K. Paul Mallasch talking to Matthew Ingram (which I linked to in my post about hyperlocal) about his CJ project the

“One of my short term goals to increase cash flow is to start-up a print component (free, weekly tabloid reverse-reverse published from website content.) There’s another 5 to 10 years worth of (big) revenue in print … at least.”

And what would he do with that money? He wants to pay his contributors. You still get a newspaper, you can still sell ads but you become a facilitator of the conversation and the audience is benefiting as well.

And that’s what really struck me about this approach. It’s a model that could really work because it puts the punters in the driving seat when it comes to deciding what is important. It puts the print product in the position of distributing that to a wider audience- less involved practically but no less interested. Tapping in to that market seems to me to be the heart of this hyperlocal debate.

The problem seems to be in identifying the relationships and attracting them to your site. Identifying those relationships and defining the separate segments Hill talks about is proving the big challenge.

In a great post, Ryan Sholin, suggests that there are plenty niches – hyperlocalised areas of interest – that can be exploited if you know where to look. He warns about the coverage of demographics:

Sell to a niche, not a demographic. Local moms are a niche; Women are a demographic.

Ryan suggests that ‘If your newspaper isn’t covering it, it’s unserved’. Maybe so. Or maybe they are serving themselves.

Newspapers are built around demographics and increasingly these niches are rejecting their style of broad identity and serving themselves by simply engaging with the new technology that newspapers are just about getting to grips with.

Vin Crosbie at Rebuilding media comes at it with another angle but thinks he sees a more pressing reason when he comments on Fines post and talks about newspapers not closing but outsourcing.

The real problem, Mr. Newspaperman, isn’t that your content isn’t online or isn’t online with multimedia. It’s your content. Specifically, it’s what you report, which stories you publish, and how you publish them to people, who, by the way, have very different individual interests. The problem is the content you’re giving them, stupid; not the platform its on.

Given the struggle to identify an audience in such an individualized market place and the lack of resource given to generate effective content at a local level, maybe the model of giving the audience control over the content at a local levl is what we need to do. And maybe publishing it for them is the role we are increasingly destined to take.

I’m not suggesting that would work, or is desirable at all levels of the industry. We still need to exercise that journalistic muscle to tell people whats important even if they don’t think it is (Ryan title his post ‘Find yourself a nice comfortable niche and sell it like blueberry pancakes’ and we all know that people will gorge on the pancakes when stuff that is good for them is available).

But simply offering the capability to print and distribute it in return for the right to advertise around and maybe reuse the content elsewhere could be the niche that everyone is looking for. It takes hyperlocal to its logical conclusion and makes more sense of the convergence of old and new media. It could make Parish pump a reality when a purley digital hyperlocal strategy is obviously struggling to find a foothold

In his conclusion Hill says that for newspapers to survive ‘ a new printing process is imperative’. He sees the segmentation, the appeal to the niche as a stepping stone to the necessity of a printed publication based on an ‘individuals’ requirements. A real ‘daily-me’.

I don’t agree. That’s trying to make a process fit a need that it was never designed to do. But I agree that a new process is needed. The process of making a newspaper has to change if print is to survive. As Hill concludes:

Those papers that do not change, or which delay those changes inordinately, will disappear.