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Digital revolution only just begun, report predicts

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Review by Alex Klaushofer.

For those hoping that the dust will soon settle on the digital revolution and that we can get back to quality journalism as usual, here is the bad news.

The transformations brought about by the digital revolution have only just begun, according to a report published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism earlier this month. In Ten Years that Shook the Media World, report author Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielson dismisses any idea that the current period of change is nearing its end. He puts it into historical context, arguing that ‘we are today about as far into the internet revolution as Europe was into the printing revolution in the late fifteenth century.’ It was over a century before the new media became dominant, he points out.

But the real interest of the report comes out of the main trends emerging out of the turmoil. The foremost of these – the expansion of options to audiences and concomitant dispersal of opportunities for advertisers – will have far-reaching implications for democracy as it continues to play out in future.

Here the news is decidedly mixed, nuancing the claims for the democratizing power of the digital revolution. In emerging economies such as Brazil and India, Nielson predicts, the expansion of popular media will bring news to tens of millions of new consumers, representing a ‘profound democratisation’ of information.

But in affluent democracies, the same trend towards a growing plurality of niche providers erodes the audience for and financing of well-researched journalism. The result is a widening of the gulf between a minority who will be more informed than ever before, and the many who will find less and less news targeted at them.

Well-funded public service media make powerful counterweights to a trend which has particularly affected the Anglophone world, Nielson points out. But it’s an observation that is particularly worrying in the British context where, apart from the BBC, there is little political appetite for public subsidy for journalism aimed at a general audience.

Will we have a growing inequality of information to add to the woes of our widening poverty gap? For those concerned about the future of media in Britain, that’s the most pertinent question raised by this timely and authoritative report.

‘Ten Years that Shook the Media World: Big Questions and Big Trends in International Media Development’ is available to download free here.

Written by Alex

October 18th, 2012 at 5:11 am

New model journalism, old model sexism – do we need a new e-feminism?

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Over the two and a half years I’ve been researching emerging forms of media for New Model Journalism and the NUJ conference which preceded it, a question has been slowly pushing itself to the forefront of my mind. It feels a bit like that story about the emperor having no clothes, but no one being prepared to say so, and it’s certainly too early for any data on the subject. But finally, I’ve got to the point where I can no longer stop myself from asking …

Where are all the women?

This question crystalised in my head, I had a rummage around the New Model Journalism archives, which are replete with case studies of impressive start-ups and reports of exciting new digi-developments. And there, my hunch was confirmed. From the founders of pay-what-you-want sports mag the Blizzard to the inventor of innovative advertising system Addiply, the population of pioneers is overwhelmingly male.

The process of deciding on the speakers for the conference on new ways to make journalism pay, I recalled, told a similar tale. It wasn’t that the organising committee unwittingly invited panels almost entirely composed of men; we noticed quite quickly that the lack of female speakers and scratched our collective head, but failed to come up with anything approaching a gender balance. Finally, we settled for a single woman speaker, resolving to break up the monotony with a few female chairs.

That single speaker was Angie Sammons, editor of Liverpool Confidential, a news and reviews website that has thrived since it started five years ago. During that time, Sammons has earned what she describes as a ‘good living’ from the site, and is as passionate as ever about ensuring a future platform for news about the city she loves. But she admits that, as a woman, the networking side of the job has been challenging.

‘I know that if I was a bloke I’d be perceived very differently,’ she says. ‘Websites are very blokey by their very nature, and it’s quite difficult, on a social level, to be that blokey. I’ve certainly ‘”manned up” since I’ve been doing this.’

‘As to women in this game, it’s the same old rule with just a different kind of ball,’ she continues. ‘The rule being “best batted by men”, and the ball is just digital media, rather than traditional media.’

Her experience chimes with that of Natalie Fenton, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, a longtime researcher into media and gender issues. ‘I don’t know of any data on this, but it’s classic stuff,’ she says. ‘Newsrooms are fiercely macho environments. They’re squeezing out an enormous amount of intelligence and communicative understanding that is critical to the digital age.’

Danuta Kean, books editor for the women’s writing magazine Mslexia, agrees. ‘In the creative writing industries, men do seem to get an easier time. The voices of men are taken more seriously, and it’s a question of women having to break into a boys’ club.’

‘People see the digital world as a shiny new world,’ she adds. ‘It isn’t. It’s the same old world. Why should we be surprised if we see the same sexism in the digital world?’

And, if current trends are examined further, it looks as if things will only get worse. According to Sammons, women in regional journalism are failing to acquire the skills necessary to participate in the digital revolution, and are getting left behind. ‘Most of the women I know in journalism don’t interact with the internet,’ she says. ‘And I don’t think it’s going to change.’

Meanwhile, says Fenton, the crisis afflicting the media industry is affecting women, who tend to work more on a freelance or part-time basis, particularly adversely. ‘When any crisis strikes, equality goes out of the door,’ she says. ‘The fragility of the business model is worse for women.’

At the same time, she adds, the 24/7 demands of the digital age mean that, for staffers on newspapers, it’s the women who are increasingly doing the online work. ‘They are very conscientious, and it’s communicative work,’ she says. ‘Women are better at that. I think they’re being exploited, because it’s so round-the-clock.’

‘As a result, they’re getting more kudos. But we know that, as time goes on, work is seen as less valuable because women are doing it. That’s a standard pattern that’s happened throughout the technical transformation of the working environment – think typewriters. Women end up doing the busy stuff, and men take the leadership roles and the kudos.’

‘That’s a pattern that’s difficult to break, because it’s patriarchy,’ she concludes, depressingly.

So is the digital revolution generating the need for a new e-feminism? If so, it’s too early to say what form it might take. No one I spoke to had any strong ideas about possible remedies; it seems that we’re still at the very early stages of diagnosing the problem.

(I am confident that two leading female players in the new media world – feminist blogger Laurie Penny and Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ’s first woman general secretary, could shed further light on this regressive trend, but neither have responded to interview requests. Laurie and Michelle, I’ll be keeping a watching brief on this area, and would still love to hear from you.)

In the meantime, dear reader, I’ll leave you with a provocative hypothesis from Danuta Kean that there’s something about the digital world, with its new forms of communication via forums and social media, that fosters a New Sexism.

‘It’s not a two-way conversation. You’re inside your head, and not empathising with another person,’ she says. ‘It’s quite a narcissistic medium, and maybe that suits men better.’

Written by Alex

November 28th, 2011 at 5:56 am

Social media platforms get canny with copyright

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Guest post by Mike Holderness.

What happens when a journalist decides to share some of their work with the world though one of those “social media” websites? A headache, first: if you want to be sure of retaining the rights that attend copyright, you’re enjoined to read some dense legalese.

The owners of the platforms have got canny. All the sites I checked – blogger.com, facebook.com, flickr.com, photobucket.com, picasaweb.com, twitpic.com and youtube.com – now say you retain all rights in works that you upload. This is not what I remember from a couple of years ago. I suspect the changes followed user outrage, and the suit and counter-suit between Daniel Morel and Agence France Presse over photos posted to Twitpic: see this report.

You may be familiar with the “you keep copyright BUT …” manoeuvre; these are similar. All require “a non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any content that you post on or in connection with their service. Fair enough, up to a point: the point of uploading something is to let others see it. Now for the devilish detail. Facebook, Twitpic and Photobucket (owned by News International) drop in a mention that this licence is “sub-licensable”. Picasaweb (owned by Google) clearly “includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals … for the provision of syndicated services”. Blogger, also owned by Google, does not.

Yahoo! as owner of Flickr, appears not to make sub-licensing a general condition. You can choose to allow licensing of photos through www.gettyimages.com/flickr – which is good … apart from wannabes undercutting professional photographers, which is a different discussion.

Twitpic now has you grant a licence to all users of their services to display your work “within the functionality of the service”. Photobucket has you grant users a licence to “make derivative works”, so I won’t be going there again.

All require that you give permission for them to modify your work: the lawyers probably justify that to allow thumbnailing photos, but that’s not what it says.

All say they won’t be responsible for anything. Flickr, Blogger and Twitpic have explicit clauses making you “indemnify” them – that is, agree to bear the full cost of any lawsuit resulting from what you upload.

Several services once earned opprobrium by stripping out “metadata” – the fields within an image file in which you can indicate ownership. I ran a few simple tests, and all now seem to preserve the basic “IPTC” information, except Facebook, which stripped out everything but copied the “copyright” line into the Facebook text database. Blogger stripped everything from a resized photo, but not the full-size version.

Picasaweb and Flickr now display an “all rights reserved” message alongside photos.

The conclusion? Building your own website to publish your work seems the only safe way to go. And, sorry, but you’ll still have to check the terms for yourself; they may well have changed since I looked on 30 September, and I deny all liability for missing anything.

Mike Holderness is the editor of the Freelance, the newsletter published by the London Freelance Branch of the NUJ. An earlier version of this piece appeared in the October issue.

Written by Alex

November 14th, 2011 at 5:29 am

Under the spotlight: Citizen journalism site Blottr

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Since launching a little over a year ago, Blottr, or ‘the people powered news service’, has been growing exponentially.

With regional sites covering eight UK cities including London and Leeds, Blottr has recently expanded overseas, launching sites in France and Germany. Its traffic is impressive – 1.6 million unique users a month, or nearly four million page impressions – and the site’s own research suggests that the demographic of the readers is reassuringly mainstream: a quarter are students, and the rest an equal male-female split of adults aged 18-52.

Founder Adam Baker, a former digital projects director at Northcliffe Media,
is evangelical about the ability of a news service largely created by ordinary people to ‘disrupt’, as he puts it, the practices of traditional media organisations increasingly struggling to put reporters on the ground. ‘That’s the power of citizen journalism’, he says. ‘People at the scene are best placed to report it.’

‘The riots did us a massive favour,’ he adds. ‘We got nearly three million unique users over three days that propelled us into mainstream awareness, and broke the riots exclusively in Ealing and Woolwich.’

He also claims that Blottr published the first footage of the shooting of Gaddafi in Europe, just eight minutes after the event, considerably before mainstream media such as Sky.

The 24-hour news operation is overseen by a single editor supported by a handful of community and country managers, who monitor the content contributed by the public and alter it, post-publication, only if it is libellous, malicious, offensive or grammatically faulty. But editorial influence of a more traditional kind is exerted over the home page, which highlights selected stories deemed most likely to appeal to the Blottr readership.

The site’s revenue-sharing scheme pays selected contributors £1 per thousand views, an arrangement which says a lot about the way the model privileges popularity over labour; contributors are invited to join the scheme only after they have proved that they will be of continuing value to the site by regularly pulling in the punters via social media.

‘It rewards them for the popularity of their content; they’re not getting paid to write; they’re getting paid to promote their story,’ Baker explains. ‘It’s based on how valuable they are to us – they can write one brilliant post, but if they don’t write regularly, they’re not going to go on it.’ (The contributor of the Gaddafi photo-scoop, for example, did not get paid.)

Early indications suggest that, for the chosen few – about a hundred out of nearly 1600 contributors – the revenue-sharing scheme can be lucrative: ‘Last week we paid someone £230 for a three paragraph article because it was really very popular,’ he says.

The scheme is in keeping with another unusual feature of the site, an ‘authentication algorithm’ which attributes influence to each contributor, breaking down the number of people who have contributed to a story, whether in the form of photos, videos or revisions and additions.

While Baker is unfazed by questions his model raises about the quality of such future journalism, his answers do reveal a certain respect for traditional reporting. Does he think the citizen-based news model will replace news-gathering by professional journalists?

‘It definitely won’t replace it,’ he says. ‘It’s not analytical enough – that’s the reason I pick up The Guardian every day.’

And he denies that there’s a risk, if things go as profitably as he hopes, of a Huffington Post-style rebellion from unpaid contributors in future. ‘We’re really different from the Huffington Post,’ says Baker. ‘The Huffington Post are looking for professional bloggers to contribute content without being paid; that’s not what we’re trying to do.’

‘If you’re a journalist and you can’t get published elsewhere, a student trying to build a portfolio, or a member of the public just wanting to capture something, we provide a platform,’ he adds.

So far, the prospects for a profitable future are promising. Having been bankrolled for the first year by Baker, Blottr earlier this year secured a £1m investment from Mark Pearson, founder of web-marketing outfit Markco. ‘We’re not breaking even yet, but we’re close to it,’ says Baker. ‘We’re ahead of our projections, especially for traffic and revenue.’

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the revenue comes from non-traditional sources. Some 80% comes by selling licenses for the software developed to enable the Blottr’s user-generated content to other publishers, now branded as Newspoint; the remaining 20% comes from self-serve advertising in the Gumtree mould, persuading customers able to advertise events and services free to pay to have their adverts promoted.

It’s hard to tell, at this stage in Blottr’s development, whether the news site is really a basis for a new form of quality journalism, or whether it’s the product of a canny business mind that has seen an opportunity to ride a profitable new wave of technology and culture. But its early success certainly testifies not just to the healthy demand for web-based news, but also to the growing appetite of citizen journalists to report it.

If you have any feedback on Blottr or other initiatives reported on this site, please tweet us @newmodeljourno or email us directly.

Written by Alex

October 31st, 2011 at 7:14 am

Life after digital dependency – Hamlet’s Blackberry

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Photo by Joeshoe (Flickr)

Review by Alex Klaushofer.

Summer 2011. I’m sitting in the garden with a book on one of those still, warm afternoons that are perfect for outdoors living. But something keeps tugging at my consciousness, and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. After a moment, I realise the anxiety has something to do with my e-life; a sense of something left undone, or more needing to be done. I’ve been on the computer all morning, have dealt with my email correspondence, tweeted and sent a LinkedIn invite or two. Yet still there’s this sense that, rather than being in the here-and-now, enjoyably immersed in my chosen activity, I should be back at the screen, initiating more communication or checking to see if someone is trying to communicate with me.

The phenomenon of digital dependency is the central problem addressed by William Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy, a book published in paperback for the first time in the UK tomorrow, although it’s been out a year in the States. It’s publication comes the week after a new survey by communications watchdog Oftel finds that over a third of British adults consider themselves ‘highly addicted’ to their smartphones, along with 60% of teenagers.

Powers is a US-based technology journalist with a philosophical bent, and his book – the very one I was trying to read the afternoon I detected my own digital dependency – diagnoses a culture infected by ‘digital maximalism’, the unconscious assumption that the more we are ‘connected’, the better.

What distinguishes his analysis from other recent publications, which largely deal with the impact of digital technologies on social behaviour, is its focus on how, if unchecked, they can lead to the loss of inwardness, or what he calls ‘depth’. Building on a natural human craving for more and more stimuli, the development of a ‘digital consciousness’ means we get less out of life rather than more.

In one particularly clear example, he recounts how he called his mother on his smart phone while on the way to visit her, rejoicing in his new-found ease of communicating with a loved one made. But the true joy of the conversation, he goes on, only comes about in the pause for reflection that follows it – something precluded by the rapid switching and multi-tasking that so often accompanies the use of digital technologies.

To counteract the development of a digitally-induced short attention span, Powers calls on some great thinkers to give lessons on how to live well in hyperconnected times. Thus – rather in the manner of British philosopher Alain de Botton – he derives distance from Plato, detachment from the crowd from Seneca, and positively-motivated self-denial from Benjamin Franklin. Thoreau is recruited to provide a 21st-century ‘Walden zone’ – the idea of the home as a place of sanctuary and simplicity – while Marshal McLuhan’s updating of the myth of Narcissus explains the particular lure technical gadetry has for humans. Following the wisdom of these ‘philosophers of the screen’, Powers’ offers his own recommendation of an internet Sabbath, observed by him and his family which involves, quite simply, going offline for the weekend.

It’s all beautifully done, with the learning presented lightly and the points made clearly. And its undeniable sagacity mean that, like the best self-help books, it’s one to return to when a top-up innoculation against digital addiction is needed. The book will stay on my shelf as a salutary reminder that we need to learn how to reap the benefits of digital technology while limiting its dangers.

In the interests of freeing ourselves from digital dependency, this will be the last blog post for August, although – in a healthy and self-aware manner – we will probably manage the odd tweet. Full service will resume in September.

Written by Alex

August 8th, 2011 at 3:18 am

Hard data shatters hyperlocal dream

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Crystal Palace transmitter by Lancey (Flickr)


Report by Alex Klaushofer.

When hyperlocal publisher Chris Thomas was casting about for a topic for his postgraduate research, he decided to investigate some of the claims about the rise of hyperlocalism, and come up with some hard data about who is using them, and why.

‘There’s a lot of hype about hyperlocals, but there’s very scant research,’ says Thomas, who has just completed an MA in e-commerce at the University of Wales Trinity St David. For his dissertation, he decided to take a close look at how far such websites have succeeded in replacing more traditional local media, and the profile of their keenest users.

The London suburb he chose for his case study – which happens to be the much-loved habitat of your correspondent – was a rich source of material. Known for its strong community spirit and villlagey feel, Crystal Palace has a healthy range of hyperlocal media, from long-established community website Virtual Norwood to the celebratory local lifestyle mag the Transmitter. Thomas himself runs the online edition of its predecessor the palacemag

He first conducted a survey, leaving paper forms in the local library and cafes and inviting online responses via his website. Almost two hundred people responded, and the findings were then supplemented by a longitudinal study, conducted in February this year, of the ways in which people use Virtual Norwood and the community website for the neighbouring area Sydenham Town.

The key findings suggest that people see hyperlocal media as one small part of the information sources available to them about what is going on locally. ‘Users interact wtih hyperlocal media primarily for their information needs – they’re not looking for entertainment, or community interaction,’ says Thomas.

And it seems that digital media lags behind good old-fashioned word of mouth communication. Person-to-person communication ranked top of the list of thirteen channels delivering local news and information, with social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter coming in the bottom five.

Other results are somewhat disappointing for those who hail hyperlocals as the means for a new wave of citizen-based community activism. Just 3.8% of the members of the community websites were responsible for all contributions to debates, a finding which rather debunks the idea that the web is bringing about a new form of participatory democracy.

Meanwhile, the demographic of those taking part is narrow, with the under-twenties notable in their absence. The standard of users’ education was unusually high – more than double that of the 2001 census data and 22% higher than the average person in the research sample.

‘Hyperlocal websites are affected by an extremely narrow social demographic, middle class, middle aged and highly educated,’ says Thomas. ‘This is far higher than is seen in general web use and much higher than in general society. This lack of diversity could mean that similar opinions are being made by similar voices.’

Shrewdly, Thomas also uncovered some hard data to evidence the dynamics of local politics by asking whether fear of negative reaction put people off contributing to discussions: some 61% of respondents said they had hesitated in posting something due to fear of criticism.

The anecdotal responses that emerged en route were particularly revealing. ‘Some members of the forum complained of pettiness, and people hiding behind their avatars,’ he reports. Other respondents suggested that some posters used multiple screen names to launch attacks on people with opposing views.

‘It seems that participation inequality is higher in hyperlocal websites than in forums in general,’ says Thomas. ‘This could be because people are more passionate about their own locale, as what happens there affects them directly. This is particularly the case in areas such as planning, crime, shops and services. When key local campaigners get involved in postings they will have their own agenda and try to influence others as much as they can.’

So what should media-watchers conclude from these findings? At this early stage in the digital revolution, such research is as valuable as it is rare. But rather than throw out the baby with the hyperlocal bathwater, we should perhaps use it as a reality check, a reminder that the claim that new media alone is capable of opening up a brave new world, should be treated with caution. It’s still the old world, with all its human failings, and a bit of new technology thrown in.

Written by Alex

June 13th, 2011 at 5:01 am

Is it payback time for the free culture?

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By Alex Klaushofer.
Signs of a growing backlash against the journalism-for-free culture come from – yes, you’ve guessed it – the States.

Like many others who have been supplying the Huffington Post with free material, Visual Art Source is disaffected with the translation of their goodwill into the $315 million that the sale of the HuffPo’s to AOL has made its founders. The publishing company is calling on the HuffPo’s other unpaid writers to join them in a strike until their demands for payment for all contributors are met.

News of the sale has inspired much comment about the HuffPo’s business model, which has been described by Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times as a ‘galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates’. Adrianna Huffington responded to accusations of exploitation in an interview in the Media Guardian with a blithe: ‘We’re hosting people who express their ideas and if they want to write, fine, and if they don’t, fine.’

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the New York Times is to start charging for content soon, using a model close to that of the Financial Times.

Written by Alex

March 3rd, 2011 at 7:15 am

New website wages war on churnalism

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By Alex Klaushofer. Today sees the launch of Churnalism.com, a website aimed at discouraging the practice of recycling press releases instead of researching original stories.

Created by the Media Standards Trust, the site invites churnalism-spotters to paste a press release into a box which is then compared, via a constantly updated database, with news articles that have been published online. Articles are given a ‘churn rating’ which indicates the proportion replicated from publicity material, while a side bar lists some of the most popular examples.

(At the risk of generating an infinite regress, we’d like to point out that this post was based on a story by Press Gazette, which was itself based on a press release.)

Written by Alex

February 24th, 2011 at 6:03 am

Hyperlocal wins grant funding

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The announcement yesterday that Blog Preston has won public funding is surely a sign of a growing recognition that hyperlocals have a key role to play in British media.

The site, whose bid was made in partnership with other local organisations, is one of 16 community projects to have succeeded in the Neighbourhood Challenge run by NESTA – the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

According to blog founder Ed Walker, the grant will provide ‘significant funding’ for a collaborative media project aimed at creating ‘a surge in community journalism’. As www.journalism.co.uk reports, it will fund the recruitment and training of a number of citizen journalists.

But, with Preston one of six hundred projects who applied for an award, grant funding is unlikely to provide a sustainable future for most of the hundreds of hyperlocals now beavering away around the country.

Written by Alex

February 18th, 2011 at 7:41 am

Jury out on Twitter- consultation about court reporting launched

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A consultation on the use of Twitter in court reporting has been launched this week.

The consultation is primarily concerned with the risk of prejudice to a case posed by live reporting from court.

‘The use of live, text‐based communications from court may fuel the potential for jurors, whether accidentally or otherwise, to encounter prejudicial or inaccurate material online,’ writes the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. ‘Live, text‐based communications from court may be used by witnesses to find out what has been said in court before they give evidence themselves.’

As www.journalism.co.uk points out, the consultation also raises questions about the definition of a journalist which could result in bloggers and other non-accredited reporters being prevented from using social media in court.

Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg is firmly on the side of Twitter in court.

The deadline for responses is 4th May.

Written by Alex

February 10th, 2011 at 4:59 am