Diagnosing the noble disease – how we treat journalism in the 21st century.

peri

This is the original script to a short presentation I gave University of Northampton’s ‘Imagine Journalism in Ten Years’ Time‘ mini-conference chaired by Kevin Marsh,  and organised by John Mair. Other speakers included: Professor Jay RosenMatt Andrews who has his talk here ;Teodora Beleaga, who has her slides here, and Judith Townend who has put her slides and talk online. The talk is a development of one I gave last year at last years Nordic media festival and an ethics lecture I gave a few weeks ago. (which I may put up here soon)

Journalism education is at an inflection point. The mix of disruption in the journalism industry and in the education market has created a growing movement demanding a radical rethink of the what, how and who of journalism education. This paper takes the position that this also calls for a rethink of the way we frame journalism when considering how we might react to this changing environment. It rejects the idea of journalism as a profession in favour of the idea of journalism as a diagnosis.

In thinking about where journalism is going to be in ten years or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about big toes. I want to take the next 10 minutes or so to tell you why.

A few years ago now we actually got some people from industry in a room and asked them what the journalist of 2015 would look like. The first thing they said was quarter-past-eight was a more realistic goal. Twenty-five past eight is still not quick enough.

Here are some of the things the identified:

  • Technology and practice
  • Design principles.
  • Content management and online publishing
  • Storytelling and the impact of new mediums
  • Multimedia – video, audio, photography and image manipulation
  • Web technologies
  • Social networking and Web 2.0/3.0
  • Semantic web and what that means for journalists – Tagging, Geotagging
  • Search engines and their impact on content creation
  • Budgeting, business practice and legislation
  • Developing entrepreneurial skills
  • Building a personal brand
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Identifying, developing and pitching an idea for a multi platform project
  • Building Networks and Managing Relationships
  • The editorial, legal and ethical challenges of developing and managing UGC
  • Managing a complex multi-platform production

Thinking about what I teach, this is pretty much how things break down:

  • Social media
  • Curation (real time curation) -
  • Data Journalism – big data. Transparency vs accountability.
  • Community
  • Multi-platform – the impact of community and persistence
  • Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship

Much of that could be dissmissed as overly practical – lots of digital toys. But I just want to point out how much conversation they generate around law, ethics and personal and professionalism identity. This is not just playing on the web!

To try and some that up in to the kind of person we want to produce – the journalists of that future we are talking about today will be 

an innovative, social media savvy, data aware, community-connected, curator, working across multiple platforms…

Given where I am and who is the room I think it’s valid to take a little detour from what we teach to How we teach.

Like the journalism industry, education has been disrupted by new technology (and no small amount of political and social disruption too).

Howard Finberg one of the directors at the  American Poynter institute told an audience at the European Journalism Centre that Journalism education is at its own inflection point. He sees one possible response to this as 

 the unbundling of a journalism education from a journalism degree. Think about the unbundling of news and information from the traditional mass media delivery methods, such as a newspaper or television broadcast.

He questions who we care about the most in journalism education claiming that making about the faculty the center of the decision making process is a recipe for what Eric Newton at the Knight Foundation refers to this as a “symphony of slowness.

There is an element of the Utopian in a lot of the rhetoric around this idea; the idea that the internet will solve the problem; it will make information accessible to everyone. But there is also more than a good deal of commercial concern, often unspoken; can we make money?

One of the unbundling projects at Poynter’s News U (one that Finberg cites) charges $65 for their introduction to journalism module but (as of yesterday) it’s only available to registered students at Florida state.

In one sense might not seem so revolutionary when it’s not quite as unbundled as the ideal would have it – it’s more an extra to the Florida degree bundle. But the level of student engagement tells a story about the way that people want to learn as much as the state of the industry in general tells us about the way people want to consume news.

So, like the journalism industry, the education industry looks to change the way we do things.

Clearly that’s as much about the way we teach as what we teach.

For the progressives, looking to the Internet enabled mass teaching movement, that’s as much about understanding that we need to engage with more than our students. We need to open up and engage with the community around us. Now I bet that does sound familiar to the industry people in the room…

A popular peg for this is the teaching hospital analogy. The idea of learning by doing is not new in journalism – education or industry. But the importance of community engagement comes idea comes from a heavy commitment to the Civic and participatory Journalism movements: It can’t just be an issue of practicing on the community it has to be practicing with them.

Digital as well as media literacy often go hand in hand in civic journalism.  Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation’s president and CEO commented on the importance of this (as he said thanks for a whopping great grant to help facilitate it):

“In the 21st century, successful communities will be those who can best connect with each other and the world using digital media. ”

The connection between what often gets called Media literacy and democracy is one that journalism has never been afraid to co-opt in to the formulation of its own identity the fourth estate. In that sense I suppose we could also say media literacy has never been too far removed from discussions of media ethics  - You need to understand what and how journalism works to be properly critical of it. A challenge for journalism at the best of times let alone, at least in the UK, in this post-Leveson world. 

So the idea is that we (journalism education) should educate people to the way we do things (essentially the practical stuff) in journalism as well as equip them to understand the way what we do affects their world is not just a key part of us surviving the disruption but a key part of sustaining democracy.

Enabling a plurality of voices is something that is meant to be part of what we do in journalism. But what is being suggested here is that we are also about aiming people to do it without us – to fill the gaps. It should be part of journalism educations job to enable the bottom-up corrective for the mostly top-down perspectives of the news media.’ Gans (2003:103).

This perspective inevitably gives rise to the idea of citizen journalism – trust me, it does!
And in that conversation about the way we teach this new cohort of semi-journalists to be media literate (how gloriously pompous is that!), draws our attention to the elephant in the room : Who we should be teaching?

So, as much as the journalist of the future may well be:

an innovative, social media savvy, data aware, community-connected, curator, working across multiple platforms…

 they may also be someone:

…who doesn’t work for a media organisation.

Perhaps we could call it unbundling journalism from the media.

At the very least its about finding a different way to talk about it that isn’t bundled so heavily with the institutions of journalism and journalism education. That’s why I like to think about the idea that journalism is a diagnosis not a profession

To finish, let me make sense of the big toe reference. I want to talk about gout.

Gout is a disease that’s typified by an inflamed, red, very painful big toe. It’s been referred to as a noble disease. One respect a noble disease is one that comes with no stigma – like cancer but unlike mental illness say. But in the case of gout, noble means: distinguished by rank or title.

It’s been called the patrician malady – “Historically seen as a disease afflicting upper-class males of superior wit, genius, and creativity” The The Oxford Illustrated Companion To Medicine notes that the Roman poets suffered a lot from Gout and notes that there was an effort to frame it as a noble disease whose sufferers could trace their family line back to Ulysses (Odysseus) the legendary Greek king of Ithaca. You know, the big poem.

The truth is it’s called that because you often get it from a rich and privileged diet – over eating and too much rich wine.  It’s confusing noble with privileged and trying to spin the negatives.

In some ways I think we have come to think of Journalism as a noble disease. You’re special if you have it. Second only to “kings and poets”.

Of course anyone can catch gout just as, in my view, anyone can catch journalism. Maybe we are guilty of building up a structure that simply sustains a romantic view of  what has essentially become an industrial disease.

When we talk about the future of journalism it’s clear we need to think about journalism differently. The core concepts of democracy and social responsibility are coming to the fore and in a practical and collaborative way that goes beyond simply claiming them as defining parts of a professional ethic – they are symptoms.

Clearly many people think that it’s the job of education to break out of the sanatorium business and help those who have caught it to manage the condition in a way that is beneficial to them and society. In that sense  trying to understand the future of journalism is an exercise in epidemiology rather than forensic pathology.

Notes:

As seductive as the teaching hospital model may be I don’t think it quite holds up in respect to its community service remit beyond filling a media hole.

When questioned about an apparent contradiction in the idea of caring about the people you work with in a community – something I talked about in developing the broad themes I teach, I made the point about the difference between the care and commitment an individual journalist makes to a person or audience vs a media organisation, both different in their own way, For me the model of the individual, socially responsible journalist is the more robust in the future. The institutional social responsibility of the media organisations (you get what we think is best for you) is, for me, one of the key factors in msm’s engagement problems.

You have no idea how long I have been searching for diseases to use as an analogy. I think gout works well but maybe the fact that I looked so long says that the whole endevour may not be worth the effort.Sorry for those who have had to sit through me trying it out and  I’d love to know your thoughts on the whole thing.

Image from Wikicommons and officialpsds

It’s not SEO it’s human linkbait

Quinoa

Quinoa: When popular stories go against the grain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As optimisation (and seo) are on my mind at the moment, it was nice to see an article on the fears of populism in the age of search engine optimisation by Guardian readers editor Chris Elliott.

Serendipitous as it was, it was also a little frustrating. Essentially the article (in a stereotype busting style for the Guardian) is about an article about quinoa - Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?

With a headline like that, you can imagine that it generated a good deal of controversy. But Elliott used it to highlight another point:

Notwithstanding the controversy, the article generated a massive amount of traffic through the Guardian’s website. On the whole, generating traffic, like selling newspapers, is crucial. But in the last six months three colleagues have written or spoken to me to express concern that the entirely reasonable desire to attract people to the site may be skewing news and features agendas.

He continues”

One conflicted colleague said: “There have been occasions recently where stories have been commissioned by editors who have talked about how they hope it will ‘play well’ online – this appears to have been at the very forefront of their mind when commissioning. Certainly this is the prime driver of many online picture galleries. Obviously … we want to be well-read and popular, but it is a slippery slope, and it now appears that in a few cases we are creating stories purely to attract clicks.”

My answer to that would be…“and your so called point would be?”. Doesn’t having a web site that’s built on the strategy of community rather than paywall or another model mean that you can, no, must reflect the audiences interest as well as serve the demand to inform? Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I’m not working at the Guardian.

Thinking about it reminded me of the evidence that Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) gave Leveson (Vol 1: P170) - I know, I’m just so street!

Mr Staines also stated, in a parallel that he himself has drawn with the former editor of The Sun, Kelvin Mackenzie, that he would run stories that are single sourced if the story was of little consequence, or in keeping with the overall tone of the Guido Fawkes site, namely, that it was gossipy or humorous in nature

I’m sure many at the Guardian would be happy being lumped in with Paul Staines and less with Mackenzie but, in the end, isn’t it great to be able to have parts of your output that make the distinction between news, gossip and comment so clear? Isn’t part of the deal that you are setting a tone for the Guardian?

Anyway, what got me frustrated was not the apparent dissonance that ‘open journalism’ seems to be creating at the Guardian. No, What bugged me was that the article isn’t talking about SEO. It’s talking about Social media optimisation (marketing if you insist).

There isn’t anything in the headline or otherwise that would suggest the classic SEO habits alluded to in the article (it’s more complex than that anyway). It’s link bait to be sure, but community link bait – there to catch humans not machines. Equating popularism with SEO is a little old school and over simplifies the complex dynamic that newspapers manage with their audience online.

Aftermatter and updates

Chris Moran, SEO editor at the Guardian has been tweeting about the guardian article:

@ Genuinely understanding our traffic doesn't suddenly remove editorial insight and also helps us promote good journalism
@chrismoranuk
Chris Moran

In a related post “Guardian Mol” Alley Fogg ponders the value of reader interaction and the ‘bottom half of the internet.

Ivory tower dispatch: Headlines, SEO and WordPress.com

Online Journalists can learn a lot about optimising content from the likes of the Daily Mail but can we put it in to practice on WordPress.com blogs?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking to first year journalists about blogging and the starting point is why blogging is a a bad idea.

In the past I’ve tried to make the case for blogging – of course you need a blog – but the upshot of that is that some students dismiss it as ‘something they have to do’ and file it as ‘look at when the assessment is due’. At least by talking about the downsides – time, dealing with trolls etc. – you can discuss motivation in a constructive way. So they all start (or, for many, restart) a WordPress blog.

Outside of the usefulness of blogs to them as journalists,  one of the reasons for introducing blogs in the module (essentially basic online journalism practice) is that it gives them a platform to experiment with things. This week it was a way to look at headlines.

When you deconstruct how and why headlines work differently online you end up taking about two main themes:

  • Grabbing attention – not only how your headlines have to grab attention and get people to read on the page but also outside your site – different platformsaggregation etc.
  • Serving different audiences – how you need to tailor you headline for the reader, search engines and social media. 

It’s clear that there are a number of different strategies to do this and all require levels of optimisation and it was interesting to explore how accessible ways to do this in practice are when you’re using WordPress.com. 

Getting noticed in search

We know that search engine optimisation has become a more complex thing than simply loading your headline with key words. That’s great news for the reader as headlines are now slipping back in to the more descriptive eye-catching headlines we might associate with print; stuff that is as useful to the reader as it is to your ranking.

A simple, but not always obvious way this works is to take advantage of technology (and your CMS) to use different headlines in different places.

The Daily Mail are experts at this.Take this story on the Eastleigh by-election:

  • Front Page: ‘Beastly in Eastleigh’: Conservatives in crisis as UKIP push Tories into THIRD place after Lib Dems hold onto must-win seat with dramatic by-election victory
  • Article Headline‘Gutted’ Tories plunged into crisis after being pushed into humiliating THIRD place behind UKIP in Eastleigh by-election as Lib Dems cling on to must-win seat
  • HTML Title: Eastleigh by-election: ‘Gutted’ Tories plunged into crisis after being pushed into humiliating THIRD place behind UKIP as Lib Dems cling on to must-win seat  | Mail Online 

That last one is in the code (Right-click and look for something like view source and you’ll find it in between <title> </title>).

What’s immediately obvious about this, outside of the technical, is that writing a headline for the web is really writing headlines for the web. Who says technology simplifies things!

Each one of those headlines, in it’s own way, is designed for attracting attention. But, at risk of oversimplifying things here, although each one contributes to improving the searchability of the piece, it’s the title that does a lot of the heavy lifting (find out some more about the title and seo).

So can we do something similar with our wordpress.com? The short answer is no.

In a WordPress blog, unless we spend money on a fancy template, getting a ‘magazine’ style layout where we can trail content on a front page is nearly impossible. Even if we splashed out on a custom template it’s still almost impossible to specify a custom headline for the front page. So our attention grabbing front page headline is out!

At a post level, the title for the post and the title in the html are the same.  So whatever I put in the title box, WordPress will use that as the html title as well. The only difference is that it will add the blog title to the end.

  • Post title: SEO headlines are tricky to write
  • HTML title: SEO headlines are tricky to write | andydickinson,net

The only thing we could conceivably do at this point is to change our blog title to include some keywords that generally relate to everything we write about. A little generic though. So no search engine headline ‘hidden’ in the code.

We are left trying to write a headline that balances the needs of the reader who wants to know what’s in a story and if it’s for them, and the benefits we would get from a little tweaking to suit a search engine. Luckily all the evidence points towards a happy medium.

If you can get strong keywords – in journalistic terms the who, where and what of a story – in to the front part of your headline then you’re on to a winner – both readers and search engines like it when you put proper nouns up front. Taking the Daily Mail example above, the HTML title headline

Eastleigh by-election: ‘Gutted’ Tories plunged into crisis after being pushed into humiliating THIRD place behind UKIP as Lib Dems cling on to must-win seat  | Mail Online – would be our best choice.

There’s plenty of advice for picking good keywords including using tools like Google Trends and Google ad words tool to help identify good keyword contribution.

Social media optimisation

Making the effort to strike the balance between search engine and reader friendly optimized headlines is worth the effort but search engines are not the only place we find stuff these days. Social media plays a big part in the recommendation and discovery process so optimising our content for those platforms is going to be worth some effort.

Ensuring our headlines travel across and round social media whilst retaining that ‘attention grabbing’ quality is a challenge. Take twitter for example. We don’t just have the headline to worry about, we also need to leave room for a link and, maybe, space for anyone who wants to retweet to add ‘RT @ourname’. So we actually have a limited amount of space to work with.

The advice is to work with a headline of around 65 characters. That gives you a headline that will appear on Google searches without getting truncated and if you wanted to tweet it, used along with a URL shortner like Bitly or wordpress.com’s  built in shortlink generator, you leave enough space for people to add their own stuff. Using something like Bitly also give you the added bonus of some nice stats to help track your social media traffic.

Excerpts

It’s worth noting at this point that the excerpt function in WordPress.com can play a really important part in selling your content. Some WordPress  ‘magazine’ style themes use it as the article summary, but if you add an excerpt it is used as the meta description for your article.

That ‘code’ won’t necessarily peak the mechanical interest of a search engine like the title tag does but it’s what appears under your (carefully crafted) headline in search engine results. It’s your chance to reinforce what the article is about and draw the reader in.

It also gets a lot of use in the social side of things. Look at this code from the header of a wordpress post using the standard 2012 template.

<meta property="og:type" content="article" />
<meta property="og:title" content="SEO friendly headline here. It&#039;s the headline and html title as well." />
<meta property="og:url" content="http://andystestpress.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/seo-headline-in-the-html/" />
<meta property="og:description" content="This is the excerpt but it&#039;s used as the META description which google will use as the &#039;snippet&#039; under the title." />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Andy&#039;s Testpress: its great" />
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@wordpressdotcom" />
<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary" />

The og in there means open graph and that means Facebook. This code essentially controls the information that Facebook uses to display details of your post when someone shares or likes the link on Facebook. The Twitter one does the same thing for the twitter card that’s displayed.  The title is the same as before.

On the face of it, using WordPress.com for blogging  may not give us the flexibility that the big players have to craft different versions of headlines. To get that you need to install your own version. But out of the box it does a lot of stuff for us. All we need to do is pay a little attention to the content.

If we want to get the best out of our headlines then they need to be attention grabbing, relevant, hooks for our articles that are no longer than 65 characters and front-loaded with appropriate keywords. And if we want to start optimising for social media we need to give the excerpt some attention as well.

Note: Clearly content optimisation (search or otherwise) is a complex and rich process – I’ve not even scratched the surface of some of the stuff specific to wordpress.com let alone SEO in general! Simply tweaking a headline or excerpts is only the tip of the iceberg. I’m not suggesting that working your headline is in anyway SEO or that good content, carefully crafted for your content is not just as (if not more important). Just saying :-)

Note 2: Not all wordpress themes are the same. As much as we might argue that HTML is not something journos need to engage with (btw, yes they should) having a root around the header of your chosen theme to see what meta is kicking around is not a bad or techie thing to be able to do.

Note 3: Paul Bradshaw has a great blog post about using the wordpress editor which has some good stuff to say about URL’s and links – two factors in google ranking.

In praise of the Final Salute

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They are the troops that nobody wants to see, carrying a message that no military family ever wants to hear.

It begins with a knock at the door.

Making documentaries has put me in the room with people sharing some dark moments.  The impact of that is hard to sum up but it must be just a small part of the challenges some journalists face in day to day reporting – being there when they come knocking or having to do the knocking yourself.

Gauging a respectful distance, knowing when to ask the question or point the camera/microphone in the face of someone grieving or dealing with something life changing, and when not is a real skill, hard won and one that gets my deepest respect.

Whenever I think about that I think of a piece of multimedia journalism called Final salute by a newspaper called the Rocky Mountain News. It was produced in 2006 as part of an in-depth feature:

Rocky Mountain News reporter Jim Sheeler and photographer Todd Heisler spent a year with the Marines stationed at Aurora’s Buckley Air Force Base who have found themselves called upon to notify families of the deaths of their sons in Iraq.

It (rightly) won them a Pulitzer prize.

What drew me to the piece was not just the effort that went in to making the online version as rich and as deep as the print version. It was the first time I had seen an audio slideshow really used to it’s best effect.

FinalSalute_15

One slideshow follows Katherine Cathey as she met the body of her husband, killed on duty. Heavily pregnant she spends the night sleeping next the coffin. The access is intimate – in the slideshow we hear her voice – the coverage immensely emotional. It got to the point that I had to leave the room when I showed it to a class. I wish I could show it to you. But I can’t.

In 2008 the paper closed.

The website is still there, a bit of a memorial now. The Final Salute page is still there too but the files (save a few places that have some of the print pdfs) are gone.

In among all the things that we might regret about the way the industry is dealing with everything it has to face especially the loss of jobs, perhaps it’s a bit churlish to regret the loss of a bit of content – is 6 years a respectful distance? But I’ve yet to see such a coherent and emotional piece of reporting that makes such great use of multimedia.  Yes, multimedia packaging like Snowfall is stunning and, in their way no less emotional and journalistic and of course there is plenty of powerful journalism going on. But this was 2006.

This was benchmark, defining multimedia journalism. It’s a shame it’s gone.

Timeline of online journalism events

In 2008 I made a timeline of ‘key events in online journalism’ based on posts by Mindy Mcadams, Paul Bradshaw and a few others. I added a few of my own (and other peoples suggestions) and made a Dipity timeline

A lot has happened since then so the timeline needed some updating and a lecture to the first years which usually contains a bit of a ‘history’ segment seemed like a good time to do that.


The page layout here makes things look a bit squashed so you could try a a bigger version (on a page) here.

The new version of the timeline has been made using the rather nifty Timeline JS script which allows you to build a timeline from a google spreadsheet (it does JSON and promises Storify at some point too!).  There is a great online version of the tool you can play with without having to load the script on your own site. As well as being a very nice looking (IMHO), the ability to use a spreadsheet means that the ‘data’ for the timeline is a bit more accessible, so you can get a copy of the spreadsheet it if you have Google drive.

Because this was done with a lecture in mind, the methodology behind the content is a bit mixed. As well a the defining moments from other peoples posts, and mine, there are some that are there to allow me to join this in to other stuff I’ll be doing with the students. The last item, for example, is the NYT snowfall piece. That’s in there as it allows me to talk about the form of online journalism as something unique with it’s own storytelling techniques and opportunities. Hey, if you don’t like it, download the spreadsheet and make your own :-)

As part of the lecture I also generated some Spotify playlists – well it’s not taking my clothes off but I hope it adds a little interest – which you might want to try. One is of the decades featured and one is for UK singles of each year mentioned. The methodology there is based on sales (well some wikipedia work), not quality. If you bought records in the 90′s you’ve only yourself to blame!

There’s a bigger version (on a page) but in the meantime let me know what you think and if you have any additions to suggest then feel free to let me know.

Interesting stuff I’ve seen in January

Stuff and such from the netwebs that caught my eye.

And a few links on the whole National Newspapers, links are copyright stuff

  • http://bit.ly/RwjeLu - Statement from National Newspapers of Ireland on copyright, online news articles and linking
  • http://shar.es/4opLO - Irish newspapers issue statement clarifying that they really are being a bit silly

Potholes make for good content. No.Really!

I always make a point of looking over the local and free papers when I visit a place, it’s a nice snapshot of a place. So, visiting the out-laws in Plymouth over new year gave me a chance to catch up with The Herald

One story that jumped out was about Potholes. A perennial of local papers (along with dog muck and traffic chaos!) but given a fun spin with the introduction of Pothole Pete. That’s him below.

Oh No! Pothole Pete. The caption to this picture read “CALAMITY: Pothole Pete poses to show how he may have looked if he had crashed his bike in a pothole”

Pothole Pete will doggedly search down the potholes in the area and get a good pic of them.He even has a twitter account!

It may not be to everyone’s taste and some may think it’s a little twee (a little too local newspaper perhaps) but I have to admit it  I kind of liked it and it did make me smile.

Looking at the images, it’s generated a new angle on an ongoing problem (as well as some great trick perspective photos!). And whilst the idea doesn’t need the web to work, the social element of Pothole Pete adds a nice dimension to the conceit –  an appropriate use of the medium to develop an idea.

You could say the same thing of this fantastic video that (in the serendipitous way the web has) came my way on Twitter today.

STORYBOARD: A Day With New York City’s Pothole Repair Crew from Tumblr on Vimeo.

The DOT in NYC have a Tumblr called The Daily Pothole which obviously caught Tumblr’s eye. The video, produced with the help of the great Tumblr storyboard crew, follows the NYC pothole repair crew. As Bob says in his tweet:


Video storytelling doesn’t need to be boring: check out this one on potholes from Tumblr’s video team: http://t.co/zLe0iyzy
@bobsacha
bob sacha

One mans pothole…

One of the things that teaching journalism does is force me to see the different perspectives and editorial drivers across the ‘types’ of journalism the students engage with. The differences in what a sports journo may consider newsworthy compared to a local newspaper journo etc.

Potholes couldn’t be a better example of that. The kind of idea that would have a good number of my students (and many Journos) turning their noses up. But a bit of imagination and a bit of fun and you’ve got good content.

 

 

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Youtube the cable company, longtail and the rise of JWplayer

I’ve played with video online for a long time (more hours of code bashing than I care to think of or could remember!) and I’ve tried every combination of video player/platform etc. in developing web provision at work.  Just recently I’ve spent some time writing ‘widgets’ to get popular open source video player JWplayer in to our Escenic CMS. I’ve always been impressed by it and diving in to the code etc. just underlines that.

So it was nice to catch up with the news that, late(ish) last year, the makers of JWPlayer, Longtail video, secured $5million in venture funding. One of the investors,Ian Sigalow, blogged about the motivation for the investment reasoning that JWPlayer “will be the platform of choice for the next generation of online video sites, just as it was for YouTube when they first launched”

Given that JWplayer is perhaps best known as a free video player it’s not a surprise that some would question it’s capacity to go toe-to-toe with the big players. But as All things D reported:

CEO Dave Otten says he’s doing fine. He says LongTail is profitable and will come close to $10 million in revenue this year.

Ian’s post makes for some really interesting reading in terms of his view of where Youtube might be going…

Over time YouTube is becoming more like a cable operator, with dedicated content supported by the YouTube sales team.

… and his interpretation of video stats and the move away from big sites to the ‘longtail’ of smaller sites.

First off, while the long tail represents 58% of the video views, it represents nearly 70% of the time spent watching online video.  Facebook and Youtube have large audiences, but the average video on these sites is just over 3 minutes long.  In the long tail, the average view clocks in at 7.6 minutes, the longest duration of any market segment.  Second, the long tail is growing at a much faster rate than the rest of the market.  Viewership in the long tail is up over 33% since September 2011, compared to overall flat market growth according to Comscore.

The figures mirror some of the general engagement figures I’ve seen for tablets and socially shared content, so maybe Ian is not far wrong. The post is worth a read.

(h/t to Jonathan Dube at  CyberJournalist for the link to Ian’s post)

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What instagram tells me about newspapers

Dear reader, I have an admission to make.

I got caught up in all this talk of the end of days.

I know, it was foolish but like many others, I gathered all my belongings, closed up shop and headed for higher ground.

I ran from the instagramocalypse.

The news that Instagram was going to take all of my pictures, photoshop Kim Kardashian and Justin Beiber in to them (drinking Bud) then sell that on Facebook was just too much to take.  So I downloaded my pics and went to Flickr until someone explained the point of Kim Kardashian to me.

Silly me, some would say. All you have done is run from the frying pan in to the fire. ‘Fool, we told you this would happen’ said the smuggers who never went on Facebook in the first place because it is evil. (and wander round comment threads like the bloke with the ‘end of the world is nigh’ sandwich board around their virtual necks).

The truth of it is that I was an avid user of Instagram. I don’t know why, it just tickled my fancy; I’d grown quite attached to it. What made me move was not the idea that they were going to sell my pictures but that it wasn’t clear what they were going to do (and the tech commentators made it no clearer).  A communication problem then. One that’s still food for thought as Tim Worstall over at Forbes said

Is it really true that a business valued at $1 billion just recently cannot in fact find someone able to draft a clear explanation of their terms and conditions? I have to admit that if the answer to that is “Yes”, well, it doesn’t make me any happier about Instagram to be honest.

It’s funny isn’t it. When one person starts something that’s a lot of brain for a small thing – makes them look like a genius. When it turns in to a huge corporation that is still run by one person, that brain begins to look pretty small. Like putting Einsteins brain in a whale. Big stuff often acts really dumb! But I digress.

Social quid pro quo

We all know that in the social media world there is a quid-pro-quo. You give me the service and I give you my content. As long as we are both open and honest about what we get from it then I’m happy. I get what I want and, well, good luck making anything from the drivel I produce.

When you don’t like what I do you can ban me from the service. When I don’t like the way you work then I can withdraw my labour. And that’s what I did.

Some people cited the heavy hand of the evil Facebook empire behind the changes (Some easy tech-commentator maths here -  (Flop share float / platforms to monetize)*Facebook = evil corporate sell outs) But trust or respect for Facebook was not the issue for me here. My main worry for Facebook’s involvement is always that they would just render the whole thing unusable with their shitty user interfaces and api’s. If I sense anything it’s a huge corporation that doesn’t really know what it’s doing (see Forbes quote above).

So, I’m not the naive idiot that some commentators would paint those of us who left Instagram. When I talk about ‘open and honest’, that has some pretty strict limits. I just played the game and made the point.

And that’s what got me thinking about newspapers.

Print’s instagram moment

When was the Instagram moment for the newspaper industry? At what point did they cock-up communicating what they did so badly that people just upped and left? When did they change the T&C’s of what they did?

Was it the threat of a newspaperpocalypse? Whilst the high priests of journalism where sacrificing another celebrity, could we all see the countdown of the ABCe’s getting close to zero and the end of times (democracy)?

And look at the way they have dealt with it. Whilst Instagram (and others before themtook to their blog to explain their thinking, the press got the Leveson Enquiry. The (probably equally expensive) equivalent of eavesdropping on the Instagram/Facebook lawyers meeting where they cooked-up their ill-conceived changes.

You’ve got to think differently in this day and age. Where is my ‘we are listening’ article from the owners and editors of newspapers? Where is the quid-pro-quo?

Maybe we need to draft some new T&C’s for the newspaper industry.

You need me to put effort in to finding you online, to helping you with community/social material. I’ll do that. Every so often you do some proper democracy protecting stuff that’s useful for me so I’ll maybe even keep buying your product once in a while. But like Instagram it’s got to work for me. Work for me enough that I’ll even come back when you make stupid mistakes. And like Instagram it’s got to come with a little openness and honesty.

I’m not being naive here by using a word like honesty when it comes to newspapers.  I know the corporate strings get pulled, the few bad apples etc. etc. Like Facebook, I’m less worried about evil empires (Murdoch etc.) than I am the apparent ease with which newspapers seem to cock-up every possible opportunity with corporate cack-handedness and closed-shop mentality.

So, dear reader, I’ll be going back to Instagram in the New year. Confident that my pictures could just as easily end up being sold without my knowledge, still with no idea what the point of Kim Kardashian is but confident that’s what they intended all along.  I want to say the same thing about newspapers.

Happy new year.