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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

Eastern promise – but will Mustard serve up real meat?

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City tv franchise roll out – comment: by Tim Dawson

East Anglian broadcasting has long been the butt of the nation’s jokes.  Ask those unfamiliar with Norfolk and Suffolk, ‘who is Norwich’s most famous son’, and ‘Alan Partridge’ is dependably their reply.  Steve Coogan’s hapless sports jock (BBC 1991 -, Sky) might be even be credited with putting Norwich on the map, were it not that the city’s reputation as a provincial laughing stock co-exists in the popular imagination with ignorance of its actual location.

‘Look Out East’, the ‘where-YOU-are’ slot on John Mottran’s Broken News parody show (BBC 2005-2006) clearly referenced the BBC’s Look East.  Britain’s entire regional television news was its target, but putting ‘East’ in the title signaled that Sarah, Phil and Russ, the fictional show’s anchors, would be a comic marriage of cheesy knit ware, cat-up-a-tree journalism and studio chemistry that was more Valium than Viagra.

From where Norwich’s reputation for televisual naffness springs, it is hard to pinpoint, although Anglia Television’s networked output of the 1970s – Gambit and Sale of the Century – should probably be in the dock.  Most blame, no doubt, attaches to the latter game show.  Its theatrically intoned introduction promised that:  ‘And now, from Norwich, it’s the quiz of the week!’  Thereafter, drab housewives competed to buy cut-price toasters and teasmaids, while Nicholas Parsons umed and arred his way through a script that would have embarrassed a washing machine salesman.

Against this backdrop, Archant, the Norwich-based newspaper and magazine group, launched a web preview of its soon-to-be-broadcast television station for Norwich, Mustard TV.  The publisher won the franchise in the government’s offer of 21 local digital terrestrial television stations and plans to start ‘proper’ broadcasting in the Autumn.

Considering the clips so far available, the fare looks little different from the more homely packages broadcast nightly on ITV and the BBC in eastern England – save for a focus that is even more relentlessly ‘Norwich’ than that served up to the region by the Norwich-based broadcasters.

Given some regional newspapers comically disastrous forays into ‘video’, clearing this quality hurdle can be considered a triumph.  Archant Anglia’s managing director and Mustard chairman Johnny Hustler (I am not making this up) promises that his station will: “extend the valuable service we have been providing the people of Norwich and Norfolk for the past 150 years through our printed and digital publications such as the Eastern Daily Press”.

In the world of provincial newspapers, Archant is committed to the communities that it serves – although being judged against the likes of Newsquest and Trinity Mirror, that is not difficult.  A cynic might argue that a newspaper publisher’s only interest in such local tv franchises is likely to be to tie up existing advertising monopolies.  Displaying a dogged will to self-preservation, however, is more than some regional rivals can muster, and is to be applauded.

It will be fabulous if Hustler is right, and that Mustard, and its counterparts around the UK thrive.  I fear, however, that their imagined harvest may relying on roots extended into stony ground.

City-wide tv franchises were a particular enthusiasm of the previous Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP.  His aspiration was that station’s as formidable and essential as those in the United State’s large conurbations might take hold on this side of the pond.  Some argued at the time – most notably Rick Waghorn – that the future of viable local tv would be based on communities the size of villages, rather than cities.  And, in opting for broadcast areas on the scale that this government has, it has ensured that the bidders would have to be reasonably substantial businesses, rather than back-bedroom broadcasters.

Perhaps Mustard will be the seed that flowers, and establishes for Norwich an entirely new broadcasting reputation.  To displace Partridge as the exemplar of East Anglian anchorman, however, will require quite some feat of broadcast journalism, alas.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

January 31st, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Broadcasting

Video is the crowd puller of the future

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Report by: Tim Dawson

Staci Perry – a knitting instructor from Austin, Texas – might not sound like the most typical new media entrepreneur.  But she has used her instructional videos on YouTube to attract 10,000 subscribers, who have viewed her content more than three million times.  Not only that, but the videos act as a spur to promote sales of the $8 knitting patterns that she sells via her website VeryPink.com.

“The videos are an instrumental part of my business”, Perry told the Austin Business Journal.  “The idea is to give and give – and take a very little.   Eventually, the take will be substantial, and that’s how I am making a living off this.

Her technique is simple.  She makes videos explaining technical tips and tricks for knitters.  She has evolved camera technique that allows views to see her from both the front, and a larger view looking down at the work in hand.  These packages are then embedded into the frequently updated page on the VeryPink website.  Some viewers come to the site direct, others find Perry’s content by searching YouTube.

She is one of a burgeoning new world of content producers whose main route to market is via video channels.  Daisy Whitney is another.  Four years ago she started producing NewMediaMinute, a personal, online newscast covering the internet video business.  Each edition typically featured an industry expert talking about an aspect of their business as part of a short package for which Whitney provided a studio-shot intro and outro.

Whitney’s success has been such that she now has paying jobs working as a new media correspondent for several outlets, including TV Week, Media Post and several others, as well as securing a book deal with Little Brown to publish her fiction.  As a result she says that she has produced her last NewMediaMinute.

Some think that even this kind of success is just the tip on the iceberg.  Cisco Systems estimates that 90% of web traffic will be driven by video by the end of 2013.  The reason for this, they argue, is because video is so easy to syndicate.  Printed words appear on just one site – from a single location, video can be embedded in dozens, or hundreds of locations, including social media sites, such as Facebook. Video also more immediate than the printed word, is easier to differentiate from the written word and works better on mobile devices.

Perry and Witney’s trajectories show two of the uses to which this potential can be put – one, direct sales, the other the creation of a media brand that allowed Witney’s career to develop in new ways.  Other video entrepreneurs have gone further and created entire web-based television programs.  Jesse Draper’s Valley Girl Show, for example, comes in fifteen minute packages and generally features entrepreneurs, mostly from the new media, being interviewed by Draper in her ditzy ‘valley girl’ persona.

Now into its fourth season, the Valley Girl Show is shot on a mobile studio that Draper and business partner Jonathan Polenz transport in a U Haul trailer.  Initial funding for the project came from an acting job that Draper had on childrens’ tv and while Valley Girl is reported not to have made any real money yet, Draper says that it pays for itself with advertising, merchandise and related websites.

Whether it will facilitate her ultimate ambition to take her idea to regular tv remains to be seen, but for a Californian actress in her mid-20s, she has already made quite a splash.  She has also demonstrated that as the costs of entry to video program making have tumbled, it becomes ever more possible for anyone to be famous for fifteen minutes – even if Perry, Whitney and Draper’s experience suggests, that the acquisition of such celebrity still requires a good deal of hard work.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

May 21st, 2012 at 7:26 am

Posted in Broadcasting,US

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

Moving to a new beat – online music tutorials flourish after band bookings bomb

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Case study by Tim Dawson

Two-and-a-half years after fully focusing on producing online bass-guitar tutorials, Paul Wolfe is earning around £70,000 a year from his business.  Approximately 500 subscribers pay $127 annual subscription for his weekly magazine and instructive video, other eBook products sell hundreds of copies at prices generally between $100 and $200.  Indeed, so confident has Wolfe become of his methods that he now offers consulting services for those hoping to emulate his success.

It is a dramatic turn around from 2007 when 48 year old Wolfe’s party-band business was hit hard by the recession.   But while his tutorials have taken off in ways that he did not anticipate, a great deal of work goes into his product.  He estimates that he devotes three full days a week producing new material for students.

How-to-play-bass.com started life when a friend’s child asked for help mastering the bass.  Wolfe, who has earned his living as a musician since abandoning a career as a surveyor in his 20s and is based in Wimbledon, in south west London, started recording lessons, which he posted on Youtube.  This mushroomed into a free weekly newsletter, which he gave away in the hope that he might sell some allied eBooks.  As his list of subscribers climbed towards 4,000, though, Wolfe realised that not enough of them were actually converting to paying customers.

“From the moment when Lehman Brothers when bust, our phone stopped ringing.  Eighty per cent of my band’s customers were corporate and from that moment on I realised that I had to make the internet business work, or rob a bank”, he says.

What he calls his ‘genius feature’ was the product of a happy accident, however.  On early tutorials, which then and now he creates in his home studio with a single, self-operated camera, he explained how to play the notes and played along with a recording of the song.  These were caught by Youtube’s copyright filter and deleted.  To get around this, Wolfe stated to create two qualities of tutorial.  On the free-to-view variant, he talks viewers through the notes and techniques, and plays along to a metronome.  A far more detailed, subscriber-only version, includes playing along with a proper recording and a more detailed instructions.

By adding progressively to the song-tutorial videos, he draws customers in through search engines and then starts to attract them towards his ‘sales funnel’.  At the moment he attracts around 600 unique visitors to his site a day.  His free weekly newsletter is sent to around 8,000 people and around 500 pay for the 50 page weekly magazine and video lesson.

He undertakes all the web coding and page layout himself, so the only costs to his business are accountancy, web hosting and email management, which cost him around £2,000 a year..  His main website is written in static html, although he says that were he starting again he would use WordPress, for its ease of whole-site revisions.

“I price in dollars because 80% of my market is American”, he says.  “Europeans are used to working in more than one currency in a way that Americans are not.”  Subscribers are offered early deals on other eBooks – he has recently published one on playing in the style of Motown bass players – and some have bought as much as $1,500 worth of product from him.  “It is both a humbling and slightly weird experience to have sold so much”, he reflects.

Needless to say, Wolfe is by no means the only person offering online music tutorials.  Search Youtube for instruction to play the part of a particular instrument on almost any well-known song, and there are plenty of amateur videos.  There are also paid for courses from quite slick providers, such as teachmebassguitar.com, beside which Wolfe’s offering is positively home brew.

His formula works, however, because he has a likable, easy-to-follow manner to camera and, he visibly works very hard to deliver for his audience.  A teenage ambition to write popular fiction has given him an easy facility with words and, although his screen style is low key, he leaves you in no doubt that he knows his stuff and he is passionately committed to passing on his skills.  Whether his sales continue to grow as they have over the past two years remains to be seen, but he seems to be as savvy about his business as he is rhythmically sound when he picks up his guitar.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

November 7th, 2011 at 5:27 am

Light-weight content is key factor in podcast’s success

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Case study by Tim Dawson

The Outdoors Station, whose podcasts have been downloaded more than 2 million times, was born out of Bob Cartwright’s frustration with shop assistants.  Searching for specialist equipment for backpacking, he found that retail staff rarely knew the products they were selling and could offer little by way of specialist advice.

“I had become interested in special, ultra-light weight equipment that was available in the USA and Japan, but not over here”, he explains.  “I decided to start importing equipment and quickly realised that to sell the stuff it would be necessary to provide a lot more information for consumers”.

With a background in broadcast media production, the answer seemed obvious.  So, in October 2005 he started producing podcasts and videos reviewing and explaining products at the level of detail in which he himself was interested.  Initially these were posted on his etailing site backpackinglight.co.uk.

“Quite quickly we found that there was an appetite for reviews of lines beyond those that we stocked ourselves, so I set up a parallel operation theoutdoorsation.co.uk on which we posted a more general backpacking and outdoors podcast”.  As well as equipment reviews, the podcast includes interviews and more general pieces – although many of these also include consideration of equipment used in the field.

“It is absolutely critical for us to maintain high professional and journalistic standards.  Lots of equipment manufactures now send out products to bloggers for review – but it quickly backfires on them because most bloggers have little or no credibility.  What distinguishes us is the quality of our output – listeners are always telling us how much they appreciate it”, says Cartwright.  He and his wife do most of the work, with a handful of friends also contributing to the site, unpaid.

With 85,000 downloads of the podcasts a month, he clearly reaches a large audience.  How effectively that turns into income, however, is harder to say, however.  The general podcast site clearly builds audience and credibility for the sales site.  The business, which supports Cartwright, and his wife sells around 1,000 items a month and sales of any given line generally jump by around 20% when the are mentioned on the general podcast.

“My priority has to be making an income and sometimes that has meant concentrating on the etail site before the broadcasting, but the ideal is that they can cross-promote one another.  With every sale, we give away a CD of past episodes, and we know that lots of customers come and listen to the podcasts and then decide to buy”.

Other initiatives have included a tie up with a publishing house to profile some of their authors and an imminent review of book and walking trail on Gurnsey. 

For the future, Cartwright is optimistic.  “I am convinced that we can grow the business to at least four times the size in terms of sales.  There are also enormous opportunities for good journalism.  The days of commissioning people to write things, per se, may be over, but there are opportunities when a package of sponsorship and tie ins can be created.”

A substantial redesign of the Ourdoors Station site is underway, as are plans to take feeds from elsewhere and hopefully to make the site a hub for all who are interested in self-powered transport in general.

Written by Tim Dawson

June 6th, 2011 at 8:10 am

C4’s Snow appeals for snow news from citizen journos

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Photo by Anirudh Koul (Flickr)


Covering the chaos at Heathrow on this evening’s Channel 4 news, Jon Snow has appealed for passengers inside the airport to send footage and pix to the programme.

Accredited journalists have been banned from filming inside the airport, which is owned by private operator BAA. Snow described the decision as a ‘deliberate policy’ to prevent showing the public the ‘agony’ of passengers.

Written by Alex

December 20th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Shott – in the dark

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Nicholas Shott’s report into the feasibility of new local television services in the UK envisages ten or twelve stations that initially piggyback on terrestrial television services. Until the arrival of universal high-speed broadband, Shott anticipates two hours per night of local content that could be accessed from the programme guide or a ‘yellow button’.

It is a vision which explicitly contemplates stations being run by pre-existing local media groups such as newspapers.

The report estimates that funding such services will cost around £25m.  It suggests that £15m of this should come from an underwritten advertising contract with an organisation that has pre-existing experience in such a market (such as ITV), £5m might come from the BBC, under its commitment to acquire more local news, and finally £5m per annum might come from selling advertising locally.

That Shott – a veteran of Express group newspapers and now a merchant banker – should come up with such a limited vision should, perhaps be no surprise.  And a package that offers jam tomorrow to existing press barons has obvious political use for culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who commissioned the report.

Nevertheless, this report could have offered so much more.

Creating stations in cities, such as Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne, will provide more local news for areas that are already well-served by regional television news. Ceding control to local media organisations will bolster press groups most of which have already treated the communities they serve with disdain. But worst of all, such an initiative could crowd out genuinely local, small-scale internet television operations.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

December 17th, 2010 at 11:02 am

Small-screen western – myCornwall.tv broadcasts hyperlocally

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Spackman: internet tv is the future

The pitch for local, internet television is easy to make.  Regional tv has always addressed vast geographic footprints few of which have any emotional resonance to viewers.  And we are now used to consuming tv and video via the internet.  With many new televisions linking directly to the internet, the viability of local broadband broadcasting is surely a no-brainer?

There are plenty that have tried and failed, however, Felixstowe tv, and Kent tv among them. 

In Redruth, Cornwall, however, Dorian Spackman, founder of myCornwall.tv believes that he can realise the promise of the local broadcasting proposition.  The station, which is just one of the outputs of Spackman’s company, Insider Knowledge, delivers video features from around the county, as well as recreational and tourist listings. 

“Five years ago I was working for Celedor (the tv production company best known for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire), looking for new ways to make money from their brands”, he explains.  “Lots of technology ideas came across my desk, most of it was rubbish, but I was really struck with internet tv.  Why spend £2m to put a channel on Sky and talk to eight million homes, when you could spend a fraction of that and speak everyone on earth with a broadband connection, I thought?”

He decided that the technology had much to benefit Cornwall, for which he has long been a passionate advocate.  “Cornwall has always been ill-served by local television, which addresses a huge south-western region covering four or five counties.  Cornwall actually comprises a number of far more local communities – and we wanted to give those communities a voice”.

With a fifteen-year career in commercial roles in media and new media behind him, Spackman was able to attract £222,000 private investment.  An application to the European Regions Development Fund (known as Convergence Cornwall) netted an additional £126,000 that is being paid to the company over two years.

Insider Knowledge now employees around 20 staff, has an annual turnover of more than £500,000.  It offers a broad package of television production related services and undertakes full-service commercial production work.  It also runs internet television services on behalf of the Eden Project and the Cornish Pirates Rugby Football team.   For the latter it provides live match coverage which is broadcast over the internet. 

These outlets provide income, as does advertising and licensing of internet platforms developed by the company.  Spackman says that more than 50,000 people a month are now accessing myCornwall.tv, and the company is breaking even.  Like the Caledonian Mercury, myCornwall.tv has also benefited from an interested diaspora far from Cornwall’s borders.

For the past two years, their editorial bias has been deliberately ‘telling stories and featuring people’, says Spackman.  “We have avoided news, because of the obvious costs, but we are likely to do more current-affairs type programming in the near future.”

Although Insider Communications is, at its core, commercial, and Spackman in unashamed about wanting to grow his business, he is keen to emphasise the communitarian worth of what they do.  In particular, he offers media work opportunities for young people in the county, who would otherwise have to leave to develop their careers.  “I see the company as being like a raspberry ripple”, he says.  “The vanilla is the commercial part of what we do, the ripple is our altruistic work.”

Spackman also hopes to replicate the local-tv-service model elsewhere.  He is an advanced stage of planning a service both in the north-east of England and elsewhere in the south west.

He certainly appears to have the ambition to carry this off – although even Spackman accepts that he faces a considerable challenge.  He told one recent conference that to stay afloat his company had to ‘beg, borrow and steal’, and recent funding problems at the Cornwall Pirates could spell the end for that income stream in the new year.

He also faces an uphill slog simply attracting the notice of the communities that he seeks to serve.  One BBC reporter who has lived in and reported on Cornwall for 20 years told me that he had not heard of myCornwall.tv. 

Graham Smith, the former current affairs editor of ITV Westcountry said: “Content-wise myCornwall.tv seems like an online version of the glossy lifestyle mags such as Cornish Life, that sell very few copies but carry lots of advertising.  If they are getting 50,000 hits a month, well done to them, but I have no sense that they have made themselves known to Cornwall at large – and there is certainly nothing on the site that would cause me to cancel my local newspaper subscription”.

If Spackman succeeds, however, he will certainly have created a model that many will try to emulate.

Written by Tim Dawson

November 25th, 2010 at 6:39 am

STV rolls out local news sites across Scotland

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Brown: investment is on journalists

STV Local is among the UK’s most ambitious attempts yet to create a network of local, internet-based news services.  The independent television franchise holder for Scotland aims to create up to 120 community-based news sites.  Six pilots have been running since September and the company intends to launch six to nine new sites a month, and promises a footprint covering a fifth of Scotland’s population by Christmas.

The pilots are based in the North Lanarkshire towns of Aidrie, Bellshill, Coatbridge, Cumbernauld, Motherwell and Wishaw.  In each, a community editor is responsible for news gathering, writing and co-ordinates input from voluntary contributors.  Larger towns, including those in the pilot, will be served by a full-time editor.  The next wave of openings will be in the north-east of Scotland, with smaller settlements, such as Buckie, in Aberdeenshire, having a quarter-time editor.

STV won’t be drawn on the scale of their commitment.  “We are investing a significant amount into STV Local – and we are spending most of it on employing journalists”, says Alistair Brown STV’s head of digital. 

David Milne’s appointment as executive editor of STV local signals the company’s commitment that the quality of journalism on the sites equals that of their broadcast content.  Milne, a former deputy editor of The Sunday Herald and digital editor of the Herald group, will manage a group of regional editors, who will oversee community editors.

“We hope that the sites will become part of their communities they serve”, says Milne.  “But as well as being STV Local, it is also STV Anywhere.  We don’t care where you are when you view the sites.”

Milne: if you are interested, we are interested

Milne also stresses that he sees the local services radically changing STV’s overall approach to news.  “Until now, lots of people with great stories did not come to STV because they thought that we would not be interested.  Now we are saying, if you are interested, we are interested.  And when stories are really good, there is no reason why they should not be used elsewhere in our news provision – all the way up to the national news.”

STV plans for the sites to generate revenue through advertising, one of the company’s hopes being that the aggregated market to which its sites offer access will be sufficient to tempt national advertisers.  The sites also feature Addiply slots – although, to date, few are filled.

Brown and Milne place heavy emphasis on the partnerships they are striving to build, with local authorities, police forces and health boards.  Although they don’t describe these as primarily commercial relationships, it is clear that part of their vision is to provide a communications channel with local communities that can be profitably exploited.

STV makes much of not having any ‘legacy media’ to consider  when approaching advertisers – an acknowledgement that newspaper publishers find it difficult to focus on online advertising when printed advertising rates remain so much higher.  Indeed, much of STV’s offer is couched in terms of offering additional consumer choice.  Whether newspaper groups will continue to take a relaxed approach to incursions into markets that they have considered their own for decades remains to be seen.

Written by Tim Dawson

November 11th, 2010 at 8:01 am