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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

Life maternal: coaching for mums is a business winner

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Lisa Pearson, aka mummywhispererblog.com, started blogging for fun, but won the ‘best business’ category in the ‘The Mad Blog Awards’ in 2011. Concentrating on strategies to make parenting fun and effective, her first posts were written as much for cathartic effect as anything else. Fortuitously, she started to find her voice just as her husband lost his job and consequently decided that a more commercial approach might be appropriate.

“I tried advertising, with Google ads, but the returns were not great”, she says. “The easiest way to make money, I found was with sponsored posts”. These are a little like advertorial features, in that manufacturers generally approach bloggers with products that they want reviewed. Some simply offer the product, in return for coverage. Blogs with decent traffic, such as mummywhisperer, command fees of around £100 a post. Pearson’s approach was laudably ethical – not sparing her critical judgment, and always signposting sponsored posts. Elsewhere in the blogosphere, things are not quite so cut and dried. Some bloggers keep quiet about what they have been paid to feature, others hide the sponsored posts.

With 300 – 500 daily visitors, however, Pearson has recently decided that her brand is better served by concentrating on writing books, which can be sold from her site. Her first, ‘Six Steps To A Sparkling You And Enjoying Being A Mum’ she self-published on Kindle and is currently selling enough copies to generate around £50 a month. On the strength of this, she has been commissioned to write a second book by a commercial publisher.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

October 11th, 2013 at 9:53 am

Posted in Blogging

Arts and crafts: quality content builds blog’s audience and revenue

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Case study, by Tim Dawson

Maggy Woodley started her blog, redtedart.com three-and-a-half years ago in the hope that it might be a way for her to sell some paintings. Finding that to attract an audience, she needed to regularly add content, she started writing up craft projects that she did with her children – and the site started to take off. “I get around 280,000 unique visitors a month now and the site generates around £1,000 a month from advertising”, she says. Ads are served on her site by both Google and niche agency Handpicked Media – and obviously she is fortunate that there is a close relationship between crafting and focused purchasing decisions.

Considered something of a guru among craft bloggers, Woodley has worked hard to build her audience. “One of the most important things to do when you start blogging, is to network and to find your community”, she advises. Needless to say, this is largely done via social media – getting involved in conversations on Twitter and joining discussions and groups on Google+. She has some specific technical tips – like taking part in ‘Linky parties’ where bloggers exchange bits of code to allow a small sample of their site to be displayed on those of others in the ‘community’. “Pinterest made a massive difference to my audience too”, she says.

In common with many bloggers, Woodley did not start out in journalism. With a degree in mechanical engineering and a career in management consultancy, blogging was something she came to during a career break necessitated by children. “I describe myself as a freelance writer these days. I am a blogger and I am proud of that, but the title rather belittles us, I feel.”

Advertising in not her only source of income. With her blog as a shop window, other freelance commissions have come her way from Tesco.com and The Times among others. And, impressed by the footfall her writing attracts, Woodley was commissioned to write a book based on her blog by Square Peg – an imprint of Random House. Her first quarter results are not yet in, but according to her publisher, sales are ahead of expectations.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

September 23rd, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Blogging

One to Watch: The digital fortunes of The Dish

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

This month saw the launch of a start-up which is being eagerly watched by observers of the media landscape. The Dish – not to be confused with a dreadful Australian film on which I wasted several hours of my life – is the latest venture by Andrew Sullivan, the political blogger who has been dominating the US scene for more than a decade.

An online magazine covering anything from politics to religion and the arts, The Dish is subscription-based, and entirely ad-free. It has already impressed media-watchers with its early success, securing nearly $500 000 before it even officially launched – enough to keep Sullivan’s seven-strong team going for a year.

Sullivan’s journey in getting to this point – a tale he tells in this piece in The Australian – is instructive. A political blogger since 2000, he wrote unpaid for some six years, building an online readership of around a million a month. Then, seeing the appeal of his readership to advertisers, he cut deals with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Publishing his blog on their websites helped them to build their digital readership, and gave him a share of the healthy advertising revenues.

As the digital revolution spread and advertisers became pickier, revenues fell. Sullivan’s little blog-craft – by now he had acquired business partners – looked in danger of running aground. Yet the period of financial success had clearly demonstrated the readers’ appetite for quality journalism. So he decided to cut out the advertising man and ask readers to pay for the content they loved directly.

The Dish is based on the freemium model, with the blog acting as the taster, while access to more in-depth material requires a subscription of $19.99. But is the model sustainable? Writing on the media startup Pandodaily, Hamish McKenzie raises doubts, pointing out that following the initial burst of enthusiasm Sullivan’s subscriptions have already slowed considerably. ‘If his rate for converting unique visitors to paid subscribers is the same as the New York Times’ – about 1 percent – then revenue from readers alone simply won’t be enough,’ he says.

As McKenzie points out, the bigger media players in the US are watching the Sullivan experiment with interest because its ‘leaky meter’ model so closely resembles their own. But the future fortunes of The Dish have a wider importance. Inspired by a clear vision about the value and purposes of journalism, it embodies much of which has always characterised good journalism: ‘I wrote a blog every day purely out of fascination with the idea of reaching readers without any editor or proprietor interfering,’ writes Sullivan of his early blogging years. ‘I did it free – because the editorial freedom was worth it.’

Now he is hoping that readers, too, will recognise the value of editorial independence to the extent that they are prepared to pay for it regularly. ‘There was something honest and real about asking readers to pay me to write,’ says Sullivan of his decision to The Dish. ‘No agent will take a cut; no editor can complain.’

It’s a purity of aspiration echoed by the editor of Canadian start-up Best Story Warren Perley, who resolutely insists that the future of quality journalism is reader-funded and advertising-free. And there are many other media pioneers out there who share the same high-minded approach which blends old-fashioned journalistic ideals with the realities of the digital age.

The Dish has the other ingredients – the distinct editorial vision, a personality, if you like – that have always characterised the most successful publications, and have more recently been redefined as the elusive ‘relationship’ with readers by digital development guys in big media organisations. The key question, as for many other online experiments, remains: will the readers buy it?

Alex is no longer blogging here, but tweets about media and publishing matters @alexklaushofer.

Written by Alex

February 14th, 2013 at 7:26 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

From newsroom to blogosphere – the sexism goes on

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Where are all the women? That was the question behind an NUJ fringe meeting at last week’s TUC women’s conference.

A wide range of women gathered from all sections of the media. Shadow media minister Helen Goodman, citing the coalition government’s plans to relieve Ofcom of the duty to promote equal opportunities in TV and radio, concluded: ‘Things are moving backwards. Things are getting worse’.

NUJ activist Jess Hurd gave some depressing examples of the naked sexism that still prevails in newsrooms and the photography business.

New Statesman journo Helen Lewis reported on the rise of online misogyny which leads to women writers getting violent threats and personal, sexualised abuse. A fuller account is here. She argued that such threats and intimidation need to be taken more seriously by employers and police if society is to convey the message that using the internet for such abuse is not acceptable.

Veteran activist Linda Bellos said she still gets responses to her articles whose ‘vitriol, [the] hatred reminds me of the reaction to the formation of the feminist movement.’

But there were reports of positive things being done.

Broadcast magazine editor Lisa Campbell and Lis Howell, head of broadcast journalism at City University, outlined the reasons for their joint Expert Women Campaign, based on research which highlights the gender imbalance in media experts. Radio 4’s Today programme has a ratio of six male experts to every female, for example.

They’ve launched a petition asking for a modest 30% representation of women. (‘We’re not even asking for equality; we’re not that daft,’ said Howell.) Sign here now.

Meanwhile, frustration at not seeing women’s views represented adequately led Alison Clarke to found Women’s Views on the News, which covers under-reported stories such as Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s endorsement of the view that ‘men are fundamental, women are second-rate’.

Sadly, being entirely run by volunteers, the site suffers from the same absence of a business model that afflicts older feminist sites.

I banged the drum I started thumping on this site in November, and puzzled over the fact that, amid all the experiments currently being conducted in making journalism pay, few pioneers seem to be women. Did the internet, with its adrenal, long-hours culture, I asked, foster and reward a kind of ‘digital machismo’?

Members of the audience helpfully suggested other contributory factors: the techy nature of many of the new business models, and the enduring fact that women carry the larger burden of care in families, and so have less time and energy to be entrepreneurial.

Whatever the case, it seems that there’s plenty for the latest phase of feminism – I forget which wave we’re on – to address in both old and new media.

Written by Alex

March 19th, 2012 at 7:03 am

Come the revolution, Sister – if we can afford it

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

My last blog reported on the curious absence of women among the pioneers of digital journalism – a regressive trend seen by some as symptomatic as an emerging form of e-patriarchy.

But hang on, isn’t the beauty of the digital age the new opportunities it opens up, the way it affords everyone, including those historically with the least access to the means of (print) production, to have a voice? In theory, the digital revolution should bring us a new era of protest and debate, in which old hierarchies can be challenged and more powerful, inclusive forms of campaigning created. At the very least, you get a few good feminist websites.

Let’s head over, virtually speaking, to one such. Run by a team of volunteers, The f-word started as a forum for reviews in 2001, becoming a collective blog several years later. Yet ten years on, the team is only just starting to think about a business model, and are finally putting together a funding committee to look at ways of bringing in revenue.

With the only revenue raised so far having come via an appeal on a blog for donations to cover the costs of a re-design, attempts at income generation have been ‘slow-going’, admits music review editor Holly Combe.

But looking back, she goes on, it would have been almost inimical to the spirit of the project to think in cold commercial terms.

‘A lot of women have come together to do something that’s almost anti-organisation, and anti-business model,’ she says. ‘Gradually they do more and more, and then they start to wonder how they’re going continue to do it, and earn a living.’

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a stellar example of a website run by and for women. With revenue of £3 million this year, Mumsnet can hardly be accused of not being business-like. And, with 1.7 million unique users a month, it uses its considerable influence to campaign on behalf of women, raising everything from the over-sexualisation of girls to the impact of night car parking charges on women.

Yet the path to success was hardly a clear, or even a thought-out one. For the first few years, according to co-founder Justine Roberts, the aim was simply to provide a forum for parents to exchange ideas and support each other. The site’s campaigning voice first emerged when an advert about Madeleine McCann advert caused an outcry among Mumsnet members. As time went on, politicans started to take notice of this vocal constituency, but it wasn’t until the ‘Mumsnet election’ of 2009 that the company finally decided to invest in some dedicated campaigning staff.

‘We didn’t start off with the intention that we would be a campaigning website,’ says Roberts. ‘We became large enough and attracted the interest of politicians. We thought it would be remiss of us not to use that access.’

Even more compellingly, she admits that the first business model she drew up in 1999, based on e-commerce, ‘wasn’t worth the paper it was written on’. But while its contemporaries over-invested in costly infrastructure, Mumsnet survived, thanks to a low-cost, slow-grow approach which enabled it to gradually build large numbers of engaged visitors. Running the site was effectively a voluntary job for years, with its founders relying on the family income earned by their partners. (Roberts is married to Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz.)

Yet – and here comes the paradox at the heart of the Mumsnet model – Roberts acknowledges that the site’s success depends on, well, its success. ‘Having a voice that people will listen to means that you have to have scale,’ she says. ‘The only way your voice will be effective is to have scale. You have to have a business model that works. It’s chicken and egg.’

The Mumsnet secret, it seems, boils down to a blend of hard graft, patience and something that its more idealistic counterparts lack – a canny willingness to identify and act on commercial opportunities. The site is now entirely sustained by advertising, to the point where even media folk wanting to access its membership are sent to a Worldpay page charging £30.

In July this year, the site launched the Bloggers Network, a scheme allowing contributers to take a share of revenue based on the number of page views their work generates. ‘It doesn’t feel right to take people’s work and publish it without sharing the potential revenue,’ says Roberts. ‘The Huffington Post model didn’t feel right for Mumsnet.’

But, the almost serendipitous success of Mumsnet aside, the problem of how to sustain campaigning websites remains. Courtney Martin, editor of
Feministing, a US blog started in 2004 and run entirely by women in other full time jobs, puts it starkly:

‘So I’m sitting here, mindful of my own legacy and very struck that what one might reasonable argue is the most robust, powerful medium for feminism today is being created in a truly unsustainable way,’ she writes in a post earlier this year. ‘I start to daydream about all of the amazing things we might be able to do if we actually had the funding, space, and time to do more than keep our heads above water.

‘I just can’t shake the feeling that one of the biggest mistakes my own generation is making is accepting the status quo of an unsupported blogosphere and losing the opportunity to make an even larger impact,’ she adds.

Written by Alex

December 12th, 2011 at 5:33 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

New media manners – the case against digital rudeness

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Comment by Alex Klaushofer.

In keeping with the back-to-school feel of the week, today’s post is about a little-discussed aspect of journalism in the digital age – the rise of a new form of rudeness, and the concomitant importance of good manners.

I’m not talking about the negative effects of new technology on everyday behaviour, like texting while you’re on a date (no, women still don’t like this) or emailing while in the middle of a phone conversation (yes, I can hear the tap-tap), the implications of which are increasingly discussed. What I’m referring to is a little-noticed phenomenon specifically of interest to those of us who write in the online age: the fact that some readers freely use the comment sections of websites to launch personal attacks on authors.

This line of thinking was prompted by a piece by comedian Robert Webb in the New Statesman in August about how he gave up his weekly Telegraph column because he could no longer face the aggressive responses that came from a vocal minority. He calls them the Ghouls – ‘the online green biro brigade who turned up every week to tell me what a useless bastard I was’, and his portrait of their comments will be familiar to anyone who’s published online with a well-used forum. ‘[They] were characterised by a suspicion of nuance, a tin ear for irony, a conviction that political correctness and Stalinism were the same thing, and a graceless irascibility of the kind we are now expected to find endearing in Prince Philip,’ he writes. ‘There was also an assumption of intellectual superiority, rather cruelly undermined by a vulnerability to cliché and an inability to spell.’

A week later, on Radio 4’s Today programme, journalist Sam Delaney reported similar experiences of ‘flippant obnoxiousness’, with his commentators going so far as to cut and paste their unfavourable remarks on his Facebook page to make quite sure he saw them.

Here, too, at the virtual space that is New Model Journalism we have been Shocked and Disappointed by the unexpected levels of online rudeness for which decades of writing for publication have left us unprepared. Alex woke up one morning to find that an unpaid blog she had written for a well-known publication had generated an entire post on a personal website devoted to impugning her professionalism, while Tim’s innocent bicycling copy has won him a near-death-threat. (No, we aren’t linking to them.)

Doubtless, the reasons for this kind of aggression have to do with the ease of reply provided by the internet – if you had to get out your manual typewriter and walk to the post box every time you read something you thought was written by a twat, well, you probably wouldn’t. The impersonality of the medium also gives license to a freedom to voice your thoughts that doesn’t generally prevail at a dinner party, meeting, or in the pub – in the absence of face-to-face contact, it’s easy to forget that the other party is a person, just like you.

I suspect it also has to do with the emergence of an internet culture that is peculiarly British – on the one hand, we tend to believe that the expression of opinion is a Good, the taking-part in a debate even a duty, while on the other, there’s a perceived need to take down a peg or two those who have had the gall to publish something, especially if it’s in the mainstream media.

Does it matter? Shouldn’t we just grow thicker skins? I suggest it does, because it affects the experience and practice of journalism at a time when the profession is under threat; I did feel worse about my work when it subjected to a gratuitous personal attack.

Perhaps more importantly, how we treat each other online sets the tone for the future culture in which publication, as it becomes more accessible and widespread, is forever changed. In the rush of excitement about what’s made possible by new technology, it’s important not to forget what it is to be human, and that we are creating the terms of engagement in this evolving world.

‘Can’ does not imply ‘ought’. So please, as the new term gets underway, let’s mind our new media manners.

Thank you.

Written by Alex

September 5th, 2011 at 4:20 am

Back to the future with Huffington Post UK

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Comment by Alex Klaushofer.

The much-heralded Huffington Post UK last week appeared amid a fanfare as quiet as, well, the one that greets a New Model Journalism launch. Even before the announcement of the death of the News of the World stole its thunder, the response on Twitter (#Huffpouk) consisted of a few cheerfully self-promoting tweets from its newly-recruited bloggers and the odd comment from seasoned media-watchers.

So far, the consensus among the latter seems to be that the new site is underwhelming. It’s generally acknowledged that the line-up of bloggers – which includes culture minister Jeremy Hunt and comedian Ricky Gervase – is impressive, and there are rumours that Tony Blair is to join the crew. But the resulting content doesn’t seem to add up to that distinctive, must-read British version that made HuffPo such a phenomenal success on the other side of the pond.

It may well be to do with the way the UK edition has yet to produce an unmistakeably British feel. The site has a decidedly American look, and signs that readers in Blighty may find this off-putting have been manifesting in irritated comments about capitalised headlines, and the over-large sensationalised banner over the lead story.

Matters of font and case may strike as trivial, but they are key to conveying a brand, and so to creating that relationship widely seen as the path to survival for media organisations in the digital age. And the wisdom of coming across as irremediably American is questionable, raising the possibility that HuffPoUK is raising anti-colonial hackles in the cultural battle that endures subliminally between the US and the UK.

The issue that has dogged the Huffington Post in recent months – the fact that it doesn’t pay its bloggers – may be another contributory factor. The practice was relatively trouble-free until the sale to AOL earlier this year netted Arianna Huffington and founders a cool $315 million, precipitating a strike among its US contributors which is still ongoing.

Arianna’s line, when she appeared on Woman’s Hour the day of the launch, is that the operation employs a healthy editorial staff of 1300, while providing a ‘platform’ for unpaid bloggers to ‘write when they want’. Others come to her defence with the argument that publications have long made use of contributions from organisations and individuals writing on a quid-pro-quo basis, while paying professional journalists to produce material that needs objectivity.

But the problem – just as anyone knows who’s worked on a magazine where slashed budgets herald a sudden injection of puff pieces – is that writers who write for nothing do so to further their interests in other ways. A glance through the blogs of Huffington Post UK suggests that the site may already be afflicted by the same problem – many of the blogs are by think-tankers and NGO directors, along with the odd Lord and actor. The Ricky Gervais offering is a case in point: the short piece marking the 10th anniversary of The Office ends with the injunction to – excuse our language – ‘Now buy the fucking anniversary DVD Box set’.

All of which rather makes me inclined to answer the trenchant question raised by Arianna in her launch editorial – what will the next stage of capitalism be like?’ with a sniffy ‘Rather like the old one’. It seems that HuffPo’s famed brand of leftish netizenry rather loses its sparkle when absorbed into Britain’s political elite and celebrity culture; instead of tapping into the new political zeitgeist where people are looking for alternatives beyond banker’s bonuses, the editorial vision trades on an outdated neo-New Labour attachment to status and power.

In the months to come, it looks as if one of the useful functions that a specifically British HuffPo might fulfill is to act as a testing ground for how far its brand of ‘open journalism’ can succeed here, and how willing British writers are to build its success for free.

In the meantime, my favourite response to the Huff Po so far has to be one ordinary reader’s review on YouTube. (Who says you can’t play ‘Boo?’ on the internet?)

A laugh courtesy of HuffPo UK might have come from ‘Dove Ruins Cat Nap’ – had the video not been almost immediately taken down ‘due to a copyright claim by Charles Mantha’. Wry laughter to that one.

Written by Alex

July 11th, 2011 at 3:49 am