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Irish journos up sticks to expose themselves

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A selfie stick, a smart phone and a bit of practice is all you need to make compelling, broadcast-quality video packages, enthused Aileen O’Meara. Then, with a cheap extendable pole braced to her side she thrust her phone towards audience members quick-firing interview-style questions. Moments later she deployed the same pound-shop technology to demonstrate how she records a link “to camera”.

“A good story will always have value and and in a lot of cases, this is all that you need to tell one”, the veteran television journalist and radio producer said. “The technology that matters is the kit that you have with you when you come upon something interesting – and for most of us, that means our phone”.

The afternoon workshop on mobile journalism (MoJo, insist the cognoscenti) was the concluding session at Dublin Freelance NUJ Branch’s Autumn Freelance Forum, a twice-yearly training-cum-networking event for NUJ members.

O’Meara was joined on the stage by Glen Mulcahy, (@GlenBMulcahy) RTÉ’s head of innovation who predicted a bright future for freelance journalists able to offer short exclusive broadcast-able clips. “User-generated content only has value where there is a real exclusivity. After that, the skills of a professional journalist reap benefits – thinking about camera stability, lighting and sound quality as well as dependable attribution – these are also essential skills if you want to work on our news staff as well”.

By way of example, event organiser Gerrard Cunningham showed off the dramatic camera phone footage he had taken of an air ambulance winching onboard a gravely ill American tourist from a remote Donegal hillside. “I was driving my mother home after a routine hospital visit when I spotted the flashing lights from Police cars and rescue vehicles. I made more money selling that clip than I have from any single piece that I have written in many years as a journalist”.

O’Meara’s technique is strikingly simple. She recommends post-producing and uploading from a smartphone – “editing on a laptop is easier, but I never seem to get round to it”. She tops and tails clips using inexpensive apps such as iMovie, Vidtrim of VidEditor and uploads to YouTube “unlisted”. Links can be sent to potential clients who can download what they want to buy. The only additional equipment she uses is a Rode Smart Lav microphone and an extension cable. Even this is expendable, though, iPhone headphones include a useable microphone on the volume controller that works perfectly well in extremis, she says.

Formerly RTÉ’s health correspondent, O’Meara suggests a basic checklist for smartphone journalism: clear your phone’s memory to create capacity for what you shoot, switch to airplane mode so that calls and texts don’t disrupt filming, keep spare power with you at all times, clean your camera before filming and always shoot landscape. A bit of practice before you hit narrative gold dust will also pay dividends.

Much of RTÉ’s news footage is now recorded this way and the channel has recently screened a hour-long documentary, The Collectors by Eleanor Mannion, made entirely on an iPhone. “She actually found the minimal, familiar kit made her subjects feel more relaxed”, Mulchay said. “The only special equipment she used was a gimbal to hold the camera steadily as she walked around filming”.

Mulchay, who organises MoJoCon, an annual event for mobile journalists, envisages this kind of reporting expanding and expanding. “5G will be the key to unlocking 4K”, he prophesies, describing the next-generation phone network and the latest standard of video quality. He also predicts a rising demand for video news and features as driverless cars expand viewing time.

Other sessions at the Freelance Forum revealed the demands of two newspaper commissioning editors, Ros Dee of the Irish Daily Mail and Esther McCarthy (@estread) of the Irish Examiner. The latter said that freelances who could offer video and social media support for their work were particularly appealing to those who commission features.

A morning session on sports journalism also revealed the recent phenomenon of sports clubs employing embedded journalists to provide syndicatable coverage of their matches. Just as former staff photographers often find that their subjects now foot the bills once paid by publishers, sports reporters may be experiencing something similar.

Will selfie sticks become ubiquitous reporters’ kit, alongside phones, notepads and laptops? Quite possibly. They do have the great merit of being cheap and accessible. Journalism has always been a craft where guile and graft are both entry standards and principal requirements of success. Evaporating barriers to broadcasting, hitherto our most rarefied medium, may well usher in scores of have-a-go hopefuls. Skill, patience and imagination, though, will remain the hallmarks of those who capture compelling stories using what some mockingly term the “narcissist’s wand”.

Written by Tim Dawson

October 21st, 2016 at 8:43 am

Spain is different: Iberia’s new-media Spring

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Spain’s media landscape is being fundamentally reshaped by journalist-run new media start ups – according to research by Asociación de la Prensa de Madrid (APM), the country’s professional journalists association.  Since the start of the financial crisis, nearly 300 web publications have been launched – some of which are now employing more than ten staff.

APM’s research shows that these endeavours cover interests as broad as the traditional newsstands, with sites providing international, domestic and local news, as well as sports, travel and ‘women’s interests’.  Most are websites, but at least 19 are new print publications.  The majority are backed by newly formed companies or coops, although some have been launched by associations and individuals.  Web advertising is the predominant revenue model, although there are also instances off crowd-funding, subscription services and not-for-profits.

Luis Palacio, who carried out the research for APM says: “A strength of many of these operations is that they have been launched by journalists, working together as a group.  Too many of these projects are still looking for ways to finance themselves, however.  It is interesting to see that there are attempts to get resources directly from readers but not via subscription basis.”

Palacio sees considers that one of the biggest challenges that they face is appreciating the different skills of journalism and management. Too many of these new media need a more professional approach.  To build strong journalist ventures you need well managed companies, commercially oriented and technologically updated.”

A recent article in The Guardian suggested that the impetus behind the blossoming of new media initiatives is a growing disenchantment with Spain’s establishment and national media.  Over the past five years, papers such as El País, El Mundo and La Vanguardia have appeared to be uncritical, for example of banks that many blame for the country’s economic meltdown.

Here is Luis Palacio’s selection of the most interesting of the new ventures.

Elconfidencial.com.- It is a website launched by journalists in 2000. In 2012 its turnover was €5.6 million and it has an operating profit of €0.5 million.  It has now a diversified shareholders group. Its founder and first editor lift the company four years ago to launch a new media (Vozpopuli.com). In December 2013 Elconfidencial.com had 2.3 million of unique users a month according to comScore data.

Jot Down is a lifestyle magazine with two editions: digital  and print. Launched in 2011, its income comes from cover price, advertising and other products (books). In the founders group there were not journalists. Financial data is unknown.

Eldiario.es is a digital daily of general news and information.  Launched by a group of journalists and other professionals (for instance, the former CEO of a Spanish media group, Grupo Zeta). Its editor and main leader is Ignacio Escolar, former editor of Publico, a now closed newspaper). In its first year (2013) its turnover was of €1.5 million, with a small operating profit. In December 2013 Eldiario.es had 1.0 million of unique users a month  according to comScore data.

Yorokobu is a lifestyle magazine with two editions: digital and a monthly print magazine. Launched in 2010 by a group of three journalists and a partner with a commercial background.  Admired for its design,  Yorokobu´s publishing company (Brands&Roses) now works for other companies (for instance, it currently makes the in-flight magazine of Vueling, a Spanish   air company). In 2012 Brands& Roses has a turnover of €1.3 million and small operating losses of €0.02 million.

Weblogs.- It is a blogs company launched in 2005. In 2012 its turnover was 2.5 million euro and an operating profit of €0.1 million. Weblogs´ blogs are technology (Xataka), cooking (Directo al paladar) or cars (Autopasion). They have a combined traffic of 5.1 million of unique users last December accodring to comScore data.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

May 7th, 2014 at 5:14 am

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

Offset opposition, the rise and fall of Britain’s alternative press

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Review, by Tim Dawson

The reappearance of Nigel Fountain’s ‘Underground, The Alternative Press 1966 – 1974’ as an eBook provides a timely moment to reflect on the clutch of magazines that he describes, and to ask whether they have any contemporary parallels?

His focus is the wave of publishing that grew up in the wake of Alan Ginsberg’s celebrated appearance at the Albert Hall in 1965.  Oz, International Times, Friendz and Black Dwarf and most of the other titles he describes did not survive much beyond the initial wave of enthusiasm that first spun them into orbit, but they did encapsulate the giddy moment of rebellion, self-expression and freedom that overtook at least one milieu in swinging London.

Fountain does not consider whether these titles and their staff can really be considered as linked phenomena.  His account of individuals swapping from magazine to magazine, learning in one place and applying the lessons elsewhere make this case for him, however.  Neither does the role of technology play an important part in his argument, although in his pithy phrase, ‘The IBM Golf Ball typewriter was the Kalashnikov of the guerrilla journalist’, he is on to a truth.  Offset litho printing and increasingly sophisticated typewriters were key to allowing the 1968 generation to find its voice in print.

As a piece of writing, it is a head-long rush, describing the events that shaped the scene as much as the publications itself.  As a giddy fast forward through the years in question, at least for the ‘turned on’ generation who emerged from the rapidly expanding university sector, it is a vivid picture that Fountain paints.  He is also good on the social changes that underpinned the scene – the arrival in London of baby boomers from the US and Australia and a cohort of grammar-school boys who were happy to side step the professions.

Writing in the mid-1980s, it is perhaps not surprising that the representation of, and work environment experienced by, women in the alternative print was at the front of Fountain’s mind.  Two decades on, the sexual revolution that It appeared to embody, in which women were expected to drop their prudish resistance to male demands, is an embarrassment brilliantly unpicked in this book.

At the time of his writing, Fountain could not have known that the City Limits on which he worked, as well as nearly everything recognisable as the alternative press of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s would have disappeared.  The 100 regular ‘alternative’ newspapers and magazines that mushroomed in the provinces disappeared in much the same moment – just as the internet was about to solve the problems of reproduction and distribution – if not income.

Tony Harcup, a long-time veteran of Leeds Other Paper and now a lecturer in Journalism at the University of Sheffield has had quarter of century longer to consider the question.  In Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices (Routledge 2013, £24.99, also available as an eBook) he detects a number of factors behind the abrupt demise of the alternative scene – exhaustion after the left’s political and industrial defeats of the 1980s, a shifting journalistic focus from news to arts and music, and the departure of the individuals whose fuse had been lit during the 60s and 70s.

Harcup puts a good deal of leg work into finding a new generation of angry young pen slingers focusing on the underdog.  He unearths a couple of contenders, Indymedia, Manchester Mule, a news website with a familiar alternative beat, and Knee Deep in Shit, a Bradford-based publication that is currently in abeyance.  All share DNA with the litho-produced titles of decades ago, although it is hard to locate in them the scope, range and élan of their forebears.

Perhaps the truth is that new technology has brought with it a paradigm shift.  The alternative press was a DIY phenomenon inspired by a desire to reflect the world in a way that was quite different to the traditional media.  Today, the internet makes getting your message out there simple and cheap; the challenge now is to attract sufficient attention to legitimise your endeavors and to generate a sustaining income.  Perhaps given the infancy of online publishing, by comparison with its inky predecessor, it is not surprising that these are questions to which we are still awaiting answers.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

March 18th, 2013 at 7:25 am

Inspired union: strategies for journalism to flourish

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Fiona Cullinan, Christian Payne and Lucia Adams

Conference report by Tim Dawson

NUJ freelances displayed an innovative range of strategies to survive and prosper at a one-day conference.  A capacity audience packed the event to hear from more than twenty speakers describing initiatives including: instant-video documentary making, selling into new foreign markets, self-publishing via Kindle, and creating iPad app publications.

Other novel funding sources and work models included crowd-funding foreign photographic assignments, working as a journalist on behalf of brands, cross-funding journalism with authoring corporate ‘white papers’ and, a number of successful co-operatively produced publications.

The event, organised by the London Freelance Branch, aided by the NUJ’s Freelance Office, was held at the London Welsh Centre on 17 November 2012.  Open to all, in excess of 200 people attended, more than half of them women, many of whom contributed to the lively event with their own questions and experiences.

Among the highlights was photographer, Guy Smallman, who has undertaken numerous assignments in Afghanistan, most self-funded.  By entering the country as a non-embedded journalist he has been able to cover stories that were not accessible to colleagues who worked more closely with the military.  The reputation that he has built as a result has more recently enabled him to source crowd-funding larger projects.

Christian Payne (documentally.com) describes himself as a social technologist, multi-tasking communicator or blogger.  After a career as a staff and freelance photographer, he now blogs and makes video documentaries, some following his own interests, others as commercial assignments.

Payne’s total engagement with Twitter started when, after a car crash, he used the micro-blogging service to ask, ‘what do I do now?’  “It was the first point of using social channels when I wasn’t bragging about myself.  I showed some humility, made myself look an arse and loads of people came to my aid.  At that point I decided to embrace the networks and be a storymaker”, he said.

He subsequently made a video from photographs he had taken in Iraq.  When he realised that more people saw his pictures on YouTube than had seen the same photographs when they were published in national newspapers, he decided that he was on to something.  “Although I wasn’t being paid for my pictures, I was building this huge audience of people who were interested in me, and some of them started to offer me work”, he said.

Fiona Cullinan’s (fionacullinan.com) entré to blogging came during a slow spell while she had been booked to work for a contract publisher.  “I would suggest to every journalist that they blog – not necessarily to monetise what they are doing but as a digital playground and as a place to experiment and to show potential clients what you can do”, she said.  Using her blog as a hub, Cullinan started writing about how her working life was developing – particularly as subbing opportunities shrank.  Subsequently, six months emailing a digital agency where she wanted to work eventually bore fruit.

“Freelancing has been a rollercoaster – but it suits me”, said Hina Pandya (@hinapublish).  After a varied career, five years ago she decided to freelance full-time.  Since then, relentless networking and going with the flow of work have been her watchwords.  After becoming frustrated with commissioning editors who would not pay, she published her own travel guide as an eBook and said that sales, to date, have exceeded her expectations.  Commissioned by the Syfy tv channel to blog about a television program ‘Continum’, Pandya found that her related Tweets about the program gained a significant following.  The broadcaster subsequently agreed to pay her to publish in this way.  Her tips for aspirant freelances are to make pitches short and sharp, try to negotiate your fee upwards every time, and invest in your own training.

Huma Yusuf spoke about ‘Breaking the BRICs’ or the media markets in such emerging countries as Brazil, India, Russia and China.  “Media is booming in these countries”, she said.  “In India, newspaper sales are growing at a rate of 1.5% a year and the Times of India has a circulation of 4.3m”.  Much of the media is trying to operate 24/7 so there is a desperate thirst for content – particularly news about how their country is viewed abroad, how their countrymen conduct themselves or are perceived abroad or more general diaspora news.

To break into these markets, Yusuf suggested initially offering material to smaller titles – for example in India the magazines Caravan, the Far East Economic Review or Outlook.  With your reputation established in ‘the only market that matters – their own’, approaches can then be credibly made to larger titles such as The Times of India.  Happily, at least in the case of South Asia, editors tend to display their email addresses on their paper’s websites, and most are ‘addicted’ to social media.  Pay rates vary between $50 and $1,000 for 600 words.  The best way to up these rates, Yusuf suggested, is to offer ‘multi-media’ packages, as many Indian papers have very ‘snazzy websites’ that are perilously thin on content.

The issue of credibility in foreign markets was also addressed by Max Glaskin (@cyclingscience1).  Specialising in engineering and technology, 20 years ago he faxed his details to 150 US magazines.  The replies were few, but made clear that a ‘as a Limey he was unlikely to be able to understand the complexities of American culture’.  Six months later, however, he received a fax from ‘Biophotonics International’ seeking a European contributor.  With credibility established at one journal he picked up work from publications in the same stable – and was then able to use those contacts to leverage work on other US titles.

Work in south east Asia came via a friend who moved there, that Glaskin nagged for work.  When his pal moved on, Glaskin stuck with the title and then made himself known to his friend’s new publication.  “I never pitch stories”, he said.  “I simply let publications know that I am here and that I can supply them whatever they want, so long as it interests me.”  Once his reputation was made with one or two ex-pat journalists, word of his competence was passed around.

Examples discussed at the event varied between techniques that have allowed jobbing freelances to reach new clients and extend their workbase, and more substantial business ventures.  The magazine that Una Murphy edits in Belfast certainly falls into the latter category.  View is a free-to-download digital magazine serving Northern Ireland’s voluntary and community sector.  Set up with Brian Pelan, like Murphy, a 20-year media veteran, the monthly magazine received modest grant support to get it established, but now survives on advertising from suppliers to voluntary organisations.  It is now generating more than £2,000 a month in revenue and is well-established in its target market.

Mark Watts, editor-in-chief of subscription investigative news service, Exaro (exaronews.com) said that although the traditional media model is breaking down, opportunities are also being thrown up.  “The real enemy of journalism is not Leveson, but accountants”, he said.  “Accountants told us that churning copy was more profitable than real journalism, and they were behind the budget cuts at the BBC.  But all over the place real journalism enterprises are springing up to meet real-news needs – so freelances should keep their eyes open, and if you can’t see what you are looking for, maybe do it yourself”.  Watts did warn, however, that freelance looking for work at Exaro should obey the old rule – check out the product first – and make sure that they have the right range of skills, experience and contacts for investigative journalism.

David Boyle the author of The Case For Media Co-ops described several publications that have enjoyed success anew, having adopted a co-operative model. The West Highland Free Press, for example, was bought by its 13 employees in 2009.  Today, they pay themselves well and, after servicing debt, make a return of two per cent on capital.

Marlborough News Online, in Wiltshire, was established as a workers’ co-operative by four journalists.   Providing news for a town without a newspaper, it already generates sufficient revenue to employ all four members for one day a week each and is ‘on track’ to increase this to full times jobs within five years, said Boyle.

At Ethical Consumer magazine, declining advertising revenue threatened the business’ survival.  An appeal to readers, however, raised an investment of £200,000.  The readers are now the magazine’s owners and receive a four percent return on their outlay.  “In the conventional media, the number of titles and reporters is down and so are circulations – but there are outliers where they are proving that local readers do want local content”, said Boyle.  “The great benefit of co-ops is that young talent is in the boardroom from the start, because all staff are involved”.

Alex Klaushofer, co-author of Help Yourself: New ways to make copyright pay, and joint editor of this site, (@alexklaushofer) highlighted a number of trends.  There is life yet in print, she suggested, citing The Blizzard, a quarterly journal of long-form writing about football.  The jury is out on advertising, with profitable hyperlocal news publications such as the Filton Voice (filtonvoice.co.uk) confounding predictions that the advertising model is definitively broken. Meanwhile, foundation and grant funding is supporting a range of new media from investigative heavy hitters ProPublica in the United States to village newsletter The Ambler, in Northumberland. But the States are considerably ahead of the UK in funding quality journalism, innovative practice and research into the changing media landscape, she observed.

Other initiatives mentioned at the event included Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s Downfall, the story of Glasgow Rangers’ recent travails that was spawned from a blog and has now sold more than 10,000 copies, the Berlin Newspaper Die Tageszeitung, which is owned by its 30,000 subscribers and The Bicycle Reader, a Kindle-only magazine whose first edition was produced with no capital and has already sold 1,000 copies.

Closing the conference, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stansistreet committed the NUJ to extending its services for freelance members.  “It is really clear to me that that this has been a fantastically useful day and as our industry is increasingly freelance, I know how important it is for you all to keep your skills up to date – but it is also good for me to hear from you what you need from the union”.  Stanistreet promised that contributions made during the day would inform the union’s work in the months to come.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

November 22nd, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Kindling for beginners: notes from a non-digital native

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Kindling for beginners. Humphrey Evans
Inspired by a case study in our recent ebooklet on New Ways to Make Copyright Pay, self-confessed non-techy Humphrey Evans launched himself into the Kindle world. In the letter below, he documents the nitty-gritty of his experience.

Dear Alex,

You asked about the learning points of my Kindle experience. I’ve just finished putting up another couple of titles in the Kindle Store, my fourth and fifth.

They’re the collected pieces I wrote for the Chief Sub column in the NUJ magazine the Journalist, plus a few more. The reason for two is that I split the material (about 20,000 words in all), at quite a late stage, when I realised I could put a price of around £3 on each, rather than, say, a more off-putting £5 for a combined book.

I made of note of time spent, and problems encountered.

The biggest problem, at least the one that put the biggest delay in the process, was completely unexpected. After I’d gone through the complete preparation and uploading process, Kindle queried whether I actually had to right to publish the material – on the grounds that much of it was widely available on the web. It turned out that they were basically seeing my own website, where I had put up much of the material.

It took a long, detailed email and a two day delay to sort this out. It’s worth bearing in mind for anyone else pulling together material that has already been published on the internet. Kindle doesn’t seem to be bothered by the idea of republishing material; what it is worried about is becoming the battleground for some copyright dispute.

The main problem, for someone who is not very technical, is of being on edge the whole time. It seems so easy to make a major mistake – at one point I found I still had the entire 20,000 words in one book, when I thought I’d cut 10,000 out when splitting it.

The Kindle manual is good in that it is comprehensive and exact, and the Kindle website interface is good, but there are still moments when you have to work out what it is that a computery person expects you to do next.

I’ve given myself an extra problem because, although I could do the main editing on my normal computer, with a large screen, I had to use a netbook to do the covers and the Kindle process because that’s where I’ve got Microsoft Office 2010, which includes the Paint programme for the covers. That means using a touchpad instead of a mouse, which I would never recommend for fiddly work.

The basic editing of the 20,000 words took about two days. That’s collecting and arranging the various articles into one file and splitting it, making all the headings and intros roughly the same length, providing material for the title page, copyright notice and so on, giving it a final read for sense and proofreading it. This would have to be done whatever route you would be taking into publication.

Next came styling it up typographically, which took about half a day. On top of that was something like an hour establishing the two Contents lists.

Then came the covers. They are just typographic, which is as cheap as it comes and shows up brilliantly well in the small sizes of Kindle listings. I could do these in Paint, which comes free, bundled up in Microsoft Office 2010. It is an irritating programme, because it doesn’t allow you to go back and make corrections, or to establish a template (did I mention it is cheap?). If you want to resize one element after you see how it is working with another, you have to scrap what you have done and start again from scratch. Anyway, it took me about an hour to do the two.

The final Kindle stage, working my way through the Kindle website interface, took exactly 45 minutes to do the two. You then have to wait about 12 hours for them to go on sale live.

It is interesting, pulling together these bits and pieces which otherwise would probably have no further life – I could never see this Chief Sub material making a printed book, for example, although I have used it when teaching.

As to money, I will let you know what happens.

Best wishes,

Humphrey

Humphrey Evans’ Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors and other titles are available here.

Written by Alex

October 1st, 2012 at 5:12 am

Narratively: long, slow journalism from The City that Never Sleeps

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

The new longform website Narratively has attracted interest ‘beyond our wildest dreams’, according to founder Noah Rosenberg. Even before its launch earlier this month, coverage of the New York-based magazine has been wide, while expressions of support have come via social media from around the world.

Such enthusiasm, thinks Rosenberg, is a measure of the appetite for in-depth storytelling not dictated by the 24/7 news agenda, and of a desire to get under the skin of a city such as New York which could easily be replicated in other parts of the world.

‘I’ve realised we have a readership which is beyond our base in New York,’ he says. ‘There are people who want the “slow journalism” approach'”.

The finance for the first six months came via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Rosenberg looked at other quality journalism projects and saw that longform science journalism project Matter, for example, hit its $50 000 target within a few days.

Rosenberg decided to adopt a similar approach for the start-up, and $53 000 was raised for Narratively. Meanwhile, the fundraising process created considerable publicity: ‘It’s not just a way to generate the money,’ he says. ‘It’s also a way to generate a tremendous amount of exposure.’

Narratively backers can choose from a series of packages which give you more involvement the more you pay. $10, for example, buys the opportunity to vote on the themes to be covered during the launch period, while for $10 000 the Narratively team will fly out and spend a week covering ‘under-the-radar human-interest stories from the location of your choice’. (No one, so far, has gone for this.) In between, are a range of packages which include dining events, customised products and the services of a photojournalist.

The Kickstarter appeal secured around 800 backers, a number of whom, Rosenberg admits, are close friends and family. The rest are made up of journalists passionate about the project and consumers looking forward to a good, in-depth read. The pledges he’s proudest to have secured, he says, are the lowest amounts, indicating a vote of confidence from those who don’t have much cash.

The project has been in-the-gestation for the past couple of years, as Rosenberg has gradually been getting other media professionals on board. Weekly editorial meetings in a New York cafe have attracted a dozen to forty journalists all keen to contribute. To date, no one has been paid for their work, including Rosenberg, who has been supporting himself on a modest freelance income supplemented by savings.

But from now on, he says, contributors will be paid ‘a few hundred dollars a piece’, a rate which he hopes will rise to the level of the fees paid in the freelance marketplace.

How far is this is feasible will depend on the success of the three-pronged business model designed to sustain Narratively after the first six months. Discussions with advertisers begin this week. Then comes the possibility of syndication to a global media prepared to pay for high-quality content about The Big Apple. But the key plank is to be a premium membership/subscription package which will buy readers access to exclusive content such as a monthly ebook, interactive city guides, and live storytelling events.

The scheme is designed to create the ‘sense of community’ – aka brand relationship – between publication and readership that has long been at the heart of established media, while quietly selling non-editorial products as part of the package.

Further down the road, Rosenberg envisages an occasional print edition and expansion into other cities.

What’s not to like? As is so often the case in this brave new world of media pioneers, the editorial aspirations are laudable and there is doubtless an appetite among readers for what the Narratively team can produce. It remains to be seen whether the money will follow.

Written by Alex

September 17th, 2012 at 7:51 am

Perfect pitch – publisher invites the public to vote with their wallets

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Mitchinson: funding revolution

Case study by Tim Dawson

“The books industry has been very poor at getting money off people who love its products”, says John Mitchinson, the founder of crowd-funded publisher Unbound.  He promises to revolutionise both the financing of book production and the relationship between authors and readers; and over the past year has raised enough money from online pledges to turn 18 ideas into ‘beautifully produced volumes’.

The idea is simple.  Author’s take their ideas to Unbound, which is run by Mitchinson, Dan Kieran and Justin Pollard, who between them have considerable track records in publishing, book selling and writing.  Pitches for ideas that Unbound like are posted up on their website with an invitation to those who are interested to pledge financial support.  This can range from £10, in return for a digital copy of the book with the supporters name listed in the back, to £20 for a hardback edition and a supporter listing, to £150 in return for a book, various goodies and a lunch with the author.

At the moment, the potential books featured – 50 have gone up so far – are by established writers, or people with a pre-existing profile.  “Many are attracted to us because they have become so jaded with the traditional publisher/author relationship”, says Mitchinson.  “Others want to pursue projects that are a bit left-field for their existing publishers”.   At the point that a book is accepted costings are agreed for the production and marketing of the book, as well as the time that the author is willing to put into promotion.  Once these costs are recovered, profit is split 50:50 between Unbound and author.

The appeal for writers – and Stephen Fry, Robert Llewellyn and Terry Jones are among those who have signed up – is that they get significantly more control of their end product.  They are also able to develop a direct relationship with readers – indeed, some offer sponsors such opportunities as having characters in books named after them.

In the year since it launched, Unbound has attracted 24,000 registered users, around 70% of whom have pledged to support projects, with an average pledge value of £32.  Although the typical time to fund books has been six months, not the expected three, Mitchinson says that his model is viable, and expects to be in profit in year two.  “Its not quite a full-time job for us yet, we do need to work elsewhere to make a living but it pays us a small amount, and we have not fallen over so far”, he says.  With proof-of-concept under their belts, the founders will be seeking further funding towards the end of the year.

Mitchinson’s hope is that, in time, it will be possible for unpublished authors to pitch on their site.  For now, however, he thinks there is value in their ‘curation’ of the projects to which they give visibility, as well as the editing, designing and marketing familiar from traditional publishing houses.

Unbound has also diversified into live events where authors pitch in front of an actual crowd.  Some have even deployed highly theatrical devices – one appeared in pajama bottoms and a gas mask to perform a wordless routine of aerial acrobatics.  “I am painfully aware that there are some great authors who will never be comfortable in front of an audience”, Mitchinson accepts.  “Some love it though and the events have worked very well in terms of brining in pledges”.  Plans for ten further events will be unveiled in the next few weeks.

All of which amounts to a genuinely innovative boutique-approach to publishing that, in return for cash, promises reader and authors a richer experience.  Quite possibly, in the remorseless shift to ebooks, the market for an enhanced-value reading opportunities will be considerable.  Will history judge Unbound’s crowd-funding to be a paradigm shift that overtook publishing in the early years of twenty first century?  As the Chinese communist leader Zhou Enlai is reputed to have said of the significance of the French Revolution, “It is too soon to say”.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

September 11th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

OUT NOW: Free ebooklet for writers from New Model Journalism

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By Alex Klaushofer.

Against the background of change and struggle that has afflicted the media and publishing in recent years, one strand of good news has consistently emerged. This good news story of the crisis in journalism tells of innovation and experimentation, of pioneering practices and the opening up of new frontiers, as writers of all kinds develop cutting-edge models to sustain quality work.

So we’re pleased to have the opportunity to gather together some of the best, and most distinctive, examples of this pioneering trend. Some of the case studies, such as Disability News Service and iPad magazine Sail Racing, are updates on initiatives we’ve been tracking for a while. It’s been great to see them going from strength to strength, refining their models as they do so.

Other experiments, such as community newspaper The Ambler or author Simon Winchester’s enhanced app Skulls, are new to us or have received little coverage in the British media press. Most are working as individuals or in small groups, and all are entrepreneurial – but not relentlessly so. Some are combining their new projects with other ambitions or commitments, fitting them into their own temperaments and particular circumstances. In every case, the innovators share the lessons learnt (so far), details of the nuts and bolts of their models, and offer ideas on how their models might be replicated by others.

The forthcoming e-pamphlet has been generously sponsored by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society and supported by the NUJ. Freely available to members of both organisations, it is effectively a gift to the writing community. The hope is that readers will draw both inspiration and practical advice from its contents.

‘Help yourself: New ways to make copyright pay’, is available here.

Written by Alex

July 2nd, 2012 at 6:13 am

Readers will pay for quality journalism, insists editor of new longform site

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Launched barely a month ago, the new longform website beststory.ca is nothing if not journalistically ambitious.

According to its founder, Warren Perley, the Montreal-based site is unique as a platform for quality, exclusive stories offered to readers on a pay-as-you-go basis. The site carries no advertising, neither does it follow a news agenda; instead freelance journalists contribute the stories they want to write. After extensive editing, the published stories earn them a royalty of 25 per cent.

The project has been in the making three and a half years, and the founders have invested a significant amount of time in developing the proprietary software that makes possible a magazine-style layout with quality pictures appearing perfectly in tablet form.

Perley says that he and his partners have also made a ‘substantial’ financial investment in the business, although he doesn’t want to reveal how much. But the company did, he volunteers, turn down offers of outside investment in order to maintain editorial independence.

The decision was a reflection of the thinking that has underpinned the project since its conception. Now that the advertising model that has sustained journalism for the past hundred years is broken, argues Perley, the task is to re-educate readers about the need to pay for quality writing.

But at 40 cents – US or Canadian, depending on where the reader is – the fee per story is remarkably low. Readers are offered three packages, the lowest a bundle of three stories, and the highest ten dollars’ worth of articles, including some yet-to-be published.

The corollary of such pricing is that the writers’ earnings will be similarly low.

‘We have to keep the price exceptionally modest, because first we have to get readers used to the idea of paying for intellectual content,’ says Perley.

He adds that, once the readership has built up and the site developed a reputation, prices – and therefore royalties – may go up. In the meantime, the priority is to establish a new paradigm for digital publishing in which people are prepared to pay for quality reading matter.

The beststory model, he agrees, combines old-fashioned publishing values with a determination to make digital content pay. In the meantime, it is clearly not going to generate anyone a living wage any time soon.

‘Will it be a financial success?’ asks Perley. ‘We’ll see. I think it could be. But I only know one way to do business, and that means producing quality.’

Written by Alex

May 14th, 2012 at 10:46 am