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Archive for the ‘Public policy’ Category

European unions advocate entrepreneurial journalism to beat austerity

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Mette Schmidt Rasmussen (far right) explains how the Danish Journalists Union recruits students

The biggest threats to professional journalism across Europe are: competition from non-journalists, threats to authors’ rights and the ageing profile of practitioners.  These were among the findings of a survey of 62 journalists’ unions from across Europe that were presented at a seminar in Vienna on 20 March.

The research – Confronting Austerity, Financial And Employment Models In Journalism In Times Of Crisis – revealed an enormously varied response to the media’s recent travails.

In many former Warsaw Pact countries, for example, trades union organisation is in its infancy and has achieved almost no industrial traction.  “There is little understanding of trades unions in Georgia, since the country has no such culture”, according to IAGJ, the nascent journalists’ organisation in the country.  By contrast, in Austria, where 95% of all workers are covered by collective agreements, a new deal between media employers and unions has just been signed that covers online journalists for the first time.

Some of the French journalists unions are skeptical about even organising journalists other than those who are employed, and traditional freelances.  By contrast, unions such as those in the Netherlands and the UK provide specialist training for members who wish to become “entrepreneurial journalists”.

The challenges of this route were highlighted by Professor Jane Singer of London’s City University.  Her study of entrepreneurial journalists highlights the challenges inherent in this type of work.  “The skills of understanding your audience, finding advertisers and thinking about journalism as a business model are not just difficult for many journalists, they are areas of expertise that most of them have almost deliberately not give any consideration, up until now,” she said.

Successful models considered by meeting included a football blog that spawned a best-selling book, Peter Jukes crowd-sourced funding of the ‘News International’ trial and, David Parkin’s thebusinessdesk.com.

The seminar – which was organised by the European Journalists Federation (EFJ) – also highlighted fault lines among journalism advocates – not least on the subject of Google.  “Google is pushing out other media, it is already taking 90% of the advertising revenue and it will destroy our democracy”, said Gerald Grunberger, General Secretary of Verband Osterreichischer Zeitungen (the Austrian Newspaper Association – which represents media employers).  His sentiment was approved by Martine Simonis of the Belgian Association des Journalistes Professionnels, in whose country a recent legal action settlement now governs how Google lists stories from that country’s papers.

Participants from other countries questioned this approach.  “Has the Belgian slaying of the Google monster led to a renaissance of traditional media in that country”, asked one participant from the National Union of Journalists in Britain and Ireland.  “No”, was the Belgian’s answer.

Other initiatives mentioned during the seminar included: the training academy for continuing professional development run by the Dutch Union, NVJ; paid student recruiters who sign up nearly all relevant students at the three Danish universities where journalism is taught; and, an ongoing suite of training webinars provided for the German union DJV for its members.

Several unions run web-based services to help freelances to market their services; in Norway and Sweden specific training is provided to help staffers become self-employed; and in the Netherlands NJV offers psychological testing to try gauge journalists’ aptitudinal suitability for freelancing.

Closing the seminar, EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård summed up its sentiments:  “Innovation in journalism goes hand in hand with new business models. Freelancers should be the driving force of the new business models that help create more jobs, more flexibility and more security in the future of journalism.”

Written by Tim Dawson

March 23rd, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Like a phoenix from liquidation – mag experiments with partnership model

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Case study by Alex Klaushofer.

When the numbers fail to add up, the publishers of most small magazines take the simple, expeditious step of simply folding the thing. But when weekly regeneration magazine New Start was deemed no longer viable, it embarked on a new direction which could point the way for other, similar publications.

The magazine, launched in 1999 when public sector journalism was burgeoning, quickly carved out a niche for itself among its professional, policy-oriented readership. Being small, it was sufficiently fleet-of-foot to move from London to Sheffield in 2002 and – when the going got really tough – to relaunch as a monthly at the beginning of 2009.

But by October 2010 the costs of print and distribution had finally become prohibitive, and New Start Publishing Ltd went into liquidation. Yet instead of disappearing, the title was acquired by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), a think tank based in Manchester.

The thinking behind the take-over was that, with both parties sharing a common audience and values, each would benefit from joining forces. A model was evolved which combined affiliation to the organisation with subscription to the magazine, and CLES membership and New Start subscriptions became part of a single package, with readers-members simultaneously sold a magazine, a platform for debate, and access to research, training and consultancy.

At the same time, the move cut editorial costs, since the magazine – which had lost its freelance budget and now had only two members of staff – was able to source much of its copy from non-journalist experts working elsewhere in the organisation.

With the last print edition appearing in October 2010, the magazine is now entirely online. A website offers a mix of free and paywall content, while a designed e-zine is sent to subscribers once a month. The dual online format presents a novel version of the print-versus-digital dilemma that has exercised magazine publishers in recent years, potentially pitting two rivalrous forms of e-publication – a news website and a monthly e-zine – against each other.

According to New Start’s editor Austin Macauley, the speed of web publication makes the conclusion obvious. ‘My view is that if copy is good to go and you have a website at your disposal, it should be published at the earliest opportunity,’ he says. ‘Perhaps more importantly, the web allows readers to respond immediately with their observations and hence we have a comment facility on all articles. We want to create a ‘community’ out of our membership.’

He insists that the magazine’s reliance on editorial from non-journalists compromise the quality of the journalism: ‘The New Start/CLES model is unusual – bringing together journalists and an established title with a team of researchers and consultants who are creating new material all the time,’ he says. ‘People are thinking more and more journalistically about their work,’ he says. ‘We’ve got to get the right balance; we’re not just a mouthpiece. We were bullish about that from the start.’

The coverage continues to come from a variety of quarters, including the think tank’s direct competitiors, he adds.

Of course, as a magazine published by an organisation with which it shares common ground, the New Start model is hardly new. But what makes its experiment interesting is the way it knowingly combines a common-sense alliance with the diversification characteristic of the successful new business models emerging in the digital age, by offering readers range of services all centering on a relationship with the brand.

But, even with costs cannily reduced in this way, will the money stack up sufficiently to keep the magazine in circulation for another decade? One suspects from Macauley’s response that the answer is in the future workings of the corporate psyche. ‘The view of CLES is that it has to be sustainable by itself,’ he says, adding: ‘In reality it’s not just about whether we covers our costs with subscriptions, it’s more that we add value and give them the edge in marketing initiatives.’

The switch from print to digital lost the magazine very few readers, and the magazine/think tank is now gaining new subscribers-members, so the future looks promising.

With the emergence of publications such as The Day, an online news service for schools and colleges sponsored by the likes of the Independent Schools Association, it’s possible that New Start is part of a developing trend of what could be called sponsored or partnership journalism.

Written by Alex

June 27th, 2011 at 5:35 am

Dale departure sparks debate about future of blogging

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The decision by veteran blogger Iain Dale to quit the blogosphere has sparked a debate about the future of blogging

Dale – widely acknowledged as the guru of political blogging in Britain, cited time and political backbiting as the reasons for stopping his daily blog, which attracted 130 000 unique visitors a month.

‘It’s a very aggressive, sometimes macho environment,’ he told listeners of this morning’s Today programme. ‘If you don’t defend yourself in the blogosphere, you get trampled on. Sometimes I’ve gone too far’

Meanwhile his co-interviewer, the blogging MP Tom Watson said Twitter had now replaced blogging as the medium for political debate and policy analysis. ‘I think the potency of blogging has gone.’

Dale disagreed. ‘I don’t think blogging is finished. There’s still a future for blogging.’

Written by Alex

December 15th, 2010 at 5:14 am

Hyperlocal pioneer welcomes cap on council mags

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Pravda by surfstyle (Flickr)

Government restrictions on council publications will give a much-needed boost to hyperlocal websites, according to NeighbourNet founder-director Sean Kelly.

‘Local authorities should be our biggest customer,’ says Kelly. ‘Over the last few years, they have turned into our biggest competitors. We are very hopeful that this is about to change.’

Kelly thinks that NeighbourNet – which he says is the UK’s only fully commercial hyperlocal network – would have grown much faster had it not been for the rise of council publications. He has no figures to back such a claim, but attributes the lower revenues generated by the NeighbourNet site in Hammersmith to the existence of a Hammersmith and Fulham Council freesheet which is delivered to 75,000 homes every fortnight.

Now, however, the communities minister Eric Pickles plans to curtail council publications, dubbing them ‘town hall Pravdas’. As a result, Hammersmith and Fulham Council has already decided to stop publishing its paper.

Kelly is hoping pick up some of the advertising custom, and is undeterred by the threat of restricted budgets. ‘We can say “how can we work with you to save you money?”‘ he says.

Over the ten years since NeighbourNet began, he has seen plenty of hyperlocals come and go. Many enthusiastic local community publishers have fallen by the wayside as their sites, having started without a clear business model, fail to generate revenue. ‘They do it for a couple of years, and then they think “why am I bothering?”‘

By contrast, NeighbourNet’s survival vindicates its businesslike approach. ‘From the very beginning we were always avowedly commercial,’ he says. ‘We feel we can do a lot in the community because we’ve got the resources to do it.’

And, now with media giants like Trinity Mirror try to jump on the hyperlocal bandwagon, another new trend in hyperlocalism is emerging. Can the conglomerates succeed where so many have failed? ‘It’s going to take a long time,’ says Kelly. ‘Whether they’ll have the patience, I don’t know’.

He doesn’t see how community-based hyperlocals responding to Trinity Mirror’s offer of a ‘partnership’ arrangement to feature their content on its new network of sites can benefit. ‘We don’t see the mileage in giving away the content to them for nothing,’ he says.

Written by Alex

November 22nd, 2010 at 4:10 am

Which way for public policy journalism?

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Photo by Tim Green (Flickr)


The publication of the government’s ‘transparency database’ this week is the latest policy change aimed at creating greater levels of transparency about public services and spending.

But while, from the voter’s point of view, the availability of more data looks like an unqualified good, the state of public service reporting presents a more complicated picture that highlights a wider issue about the future of journalism.

Traditional public policy reporting has been particularly hard hit by the crisis in journalism, with the publications that provide close scrutiny either folding or becoming so cash-strapped that staff devote themselves more to ‘churnalism’ than investigation. Their ad revenues are likely to fall further as the squeeze on public spending and government caps on public sector advertising budgets kick in.

Meanwhile, the new tools that are emerging to reveal the workings of the public sphere bring greater opportunities for the citizen reporter. Innovative approaches such as the Armchair Auditor have been widely welcomed. And, as Laura Oliver points out, the transparency database opens up new channels for professional journalists.

But, without sufficient resources to interpret what’s going on behind the data, will it still be possible to tell a coherent story about public services? All of which raises a key question about the changing state of journalism in Britain – how far can the new models deliver?

Written by Alex

November 10th, 2010 at 7:34 am

Armchair auditors make life less comfy for councils

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Photo by Katey Nicosia (Flickr)


As part of a series examining what the digital revolution means for public policy, NMJ talks to the man behind Armchair Auditor

With the spotlight increasingly on public spending, websites like Armchair Auditor and Spotlight on Spend are coming into their own.

The sites aim to make the spending data published by councils accessible to the public in a way that has, in the past, required specialised journalists to dig around and extrapolate the information for a meaningful story.

Adrian Short started Armchair Auditor after the general election, motivated by frustration at the way councils present the public with huge, undigestable tranches of raw data. His site, by contrast, breaks down information from his local council Windsor and Maidenhead into details of specific services and suppliers. ‘Most people are not so interested in the data as a whole, but a particular council service or supplier,’ he says. ‘They not looking at the big picture; they’re looking at the small picture.’

Fired by the idea of making such data nationally available, he also put a piece of opensource software up on the site, which is downloadable and customisable for use in other boroughs. And, while not making any money from this, he has found that as a pioneer in the field, his services have been in demand by those wanting training to install and use the software.

Short had been quietly beavering away with his open data campaign for years, pestering councils to make details of their spending more accessible to the public. And now, with the government’s request that councils put details of all expenditure over £500 online by January 2011 looming, councils have a good reason to jump on the open data bandwagon.

But the trend towards greater transparency brings new problems. Short warns against councils ‘doing it on a tick-box basis because Pickles said they should’. Making data accessible can be a costly process, especially as publication may generate more requests for information. So, he argues, councils need to complement greater transparency with a public engagement process so that the benefits are widely felt: ‘It’s not just about the tools; it is about the whole political process.’

Otherwise, as pursestrings tighten, there’s a risk that the open data culture could go into reverse. ‘In two or three years’ time, you could look back at open data and say, “people promised a lot of stuff, and it never happened.” It’s quite possible.’

Written by Alex

October 15th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Can armchair auditors scrutinise public spending?

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Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar (Flickr)

It looks like the government’s cost-cutting agenda is dovetailing nicely with the rise of citizen journalism.

Abolishing the Audit Commission in August, Communities minister Eric Pickles called for an army of ‘armchair auditors’ to help scrutinise public spending in future.

The minister may have in mind the likes of Adrian Short, who runs Armchair Auditor, a site offering downloadable opensource software to make local authority data accessible to the public.

Short started the site after the general election showcasing data from his own council, Windsor and Maidenhead. A software developer by trade and open data activist by passion, he hopes that the software – customisable for each local authority – will become widely used.

It does not, he told NMJ, attempt to do the journalist’s job: ‘It’s a research tool – the tool itself does not tell stories. There are stories embedded in the data. If you’ve got a particular interest, you can follow it up.’

Meanwhile, audit experts are taking a measured view of what armchair auditors can achieve. In a recent interview for Elected magazine, Audit Commission chair Michael Higgins said: ‘They’re not auditors in any technical or qualified sense of the word – they’re simply informed citizens who by virtue of greater transparency and the web will be able to investigate.’

He added that armchair auditors might better be called ‘armchair comparators’, complementing formal audit by providing the public with the data to compare performance across particular sectors.

Upcoming policy developments will create more opportunities for the scrutiny of public spending. In January, all local authorities are ‘requested’ by government to put details of all spending over £500 online. Councils dragging their feet may find that legislation to enforce this follows.

While publications covering the public sector increasingly retrenching, the combination of a politically-driven transparency agenda and the rise of the citizen auditor are likely to make for interesting times over the next couple of years.

NMJ will publish a case study of the Armchair Auditor at a future date.

Written by Alex

October 4th, 2010 at 3:59 am

Council paper clamp-down announced

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Local authorities will be prevented from producing more than four newspapers a year, and ‘propaganda papers’ will no longer allowed under new rules proposed today by UK Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

Initiating a six week consultation of the draft regulations, Pickles, a combative former leader of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, said:  “An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy helping local people scrutinise and hold elected councillors to account. The rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long allowing public money to be spent on frivolous town hall propaganda papers that have left many local newspapers looking over the abyss – weakening our free press”.

Written by Tim Dawson

September 29th, 2010 at 8:14 am

Government details plans for local TV

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Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to take another step in realising the government’s vision of a network of local TV stations today. Hunt, who has yet to convince the industry that there will be sufficient advertising revenue to fund the initiative, is to lay out his plans in a speech to the Royal Television Society.

Written by Alex

September 28th, 2010 at 3:10 am

Hyperlocals influence housing policy

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Photo by Calotype46 (Flickr)

There are signs that the new wave of hyperlocals springing up across the country are having an impact on the decisions and services that affect people’s homes and local areas.

Research for a recent article on Inside Housing turned up plenty of examples of influencing policy at a ‘granular’ level.

Residents of one particular street in Bournville, Birmingham, were disgruntled that Birmingham City Council were no longer planting trees outside their homes due to the higher costs of planting in a paved area. But online publicity on hyperlocal website Bournville Village and a discussion with the local councillor brought about a change of heart.

Site editor and social media lecturer David Harte said: ‘We might have had an impact on changing council’s policy on planting trees in the pavement,’ he says. ‘In some ways it’s trivial, but it’s the kind of thing that gets residents uptight.’

He added that traditional local media would not have covered the issue: ‘The newspaper might be interested in it at the point at which it becomes a row between two councillors, but not at the point of influencing policy.’

For some of NMJ’s case studies of hyperlocals, click here and here.

Written by Alex

September 26th, 2010 at 11:14 am