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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

More heat than light in the debate about UK press regulation

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Report by Tim Dawson

The continuing discussion of the Leveson Inquiry proposals has thrown up a number of abiding mysteries – which were sharply highlighted, but entirely unresolved by at the Soho Sceptics meeting last night at London’s Conway Hall.

To consider the case for regulation of the press defined in statute, Nick Cohen and Suzanne Moore (against) faced Natalie Fenton and Evan Harris (for). Neither side had much new to say.  Cohen and Moore (columnists on The Observer and The Guardian respectively) argued that any regulation would tend to lead to government interference in the media, that newspapers were on their way out, that outrages that sparked Leveson were illegal anyway and that in an era when ‘anyone can be a journalist’ newspapers should be no more regulated than bloggers.

Fenton and Harris (Goldsmiths academic and former Liberal Democrat MP) tried to persuade the capacity audience of over 300 that a form of regulation was possible that would not inhibit free speech, that the BBC was evidence of this and that the lack of plurality in the British media was a far more pressing issue than control of a narrow elite.

As theatre, the juxtaposition was intriguing.  Cohen and Moore were passionate and combustible and were worth listening to just for their off-the-cuff curios.  Cohen asserted that ‘Murdoch and Dacre are  on their way out, yesterday’s men’.  Its an odd contention from a writer so closely associated with a media organisation that has shown the catastrophic commercial ineptitude of The Guardian/Observer.  Still, if Moore is right that what sells newspapers is sport, horoscopes and her opinions, then all she need do is add some astrological element to her columns and Alan Rusbridger can abandon his current plans to sack a fifth of the journalists working at Kings Place.

Their opponents cool, and apparently forensic approach was considerably less fun – but my impression was that speaking to an audience in which there were but but a handful of journalists, they had the larger part of the room on their side.

Like the antis, however, they did this without mention of a single scrap of evidence to demonstrate the effects, baleful or otherwise, of press regulation, however it is organised.  There are press councils in around sixty other countries, but their work went unmentioned.  Both sides quoted from the US constitution, but neither shared any knowledge of how this impacts on that country’s media.

In the Republic of Ireland, for example, the country that is most like the UK, there is a press council, underwritten by statute.  Some aspect of its work might have provided the killer blow for either side, but like the rest of the Leveson debate, the panelists preferred argument from first principles rather than dipping into the murky waters of empiricism.

At the end of the debate, the capable chair, Helen Lewis from The New Statesman, asked the audience how many had changed their minds are as a result of the debate – perhaps a dozen raised their hands.  That’s hardly surprising.  If the platform speakers demonstrated anything, this is a debate in which neither side is listening to the other.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

January 18th, 2013 at 7:51 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

Digital revolution only just begun, report predicts

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Review by Alex Klaushofer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Alex

October 18th, 2012 at 5:11 am

Status politics: could local newspapers be allowed to become charities?

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Report by Tim Dawson

With a UK Communications Bill White Paper expected in early 2013, there is a growing hope that one of its provisions might be to make it easier for local newspapers to operate as charities.  A consortium of charities and trusts has already made a submission to this effect to the Department for Culture Media and Sport to this effect.

The Charities Act of 2006 requires that, to obtain the benefits of charitable status, an organisation must comply with one of charitable purposes mentioned in the Act, none of which provide an obvious way in which a publisher might comply.  Wikimedia UK, the UK arm of Wikipedia did obtain charitable status in 2011, after a long and complex negotiation with the Charity Commissioners, which it likened itself to the nineteenth century reading rooms that provided a ‘public resource’.  Derived from a statute of 1601, however, this route is thought to be off-puttingly complex for more mainstream publications.

It is not hard, however, to find evidence of the benefit to communities that newspapers can provide when they are produced by charities.  In Northumberland, for example, the Ambler is a bi-monthly newspaper, produced for the former mining village of Amble, by the Amble Development Trust.

Edited by Anna Williams, who is employed by the Trust, the paper is largely produced by volunteers and is distributed free to Ambles 6,500 residents.  An allied website is updated daily.

‘Our mission is to promote community cohesion’, says Williams.  ‘We were fortunate that, from the beginning, people took the paper to their heart and thought of it as their own.  And we are lucky to be in a village that is small enough for people to know who you are talking about but big enough for there to be something going on’.

The Development Trust obtains its funding from a range of statutory and other agencies often having to trim what it does to fit with the funding available.  The Trust provides the paper with a comfortable home and the computers that are required for production.  Williams’ salary is also met by the Trust – for whom she undertakes other work as well as editing the paper.

Under the current legislation there is nothing to stop other community charities from establishing newspapers, as they have in Amble.  For a charity to take over an existing newspaper, or for a charity to be established whose main purpose was to publish a newspaper, however, would almost certainly require a change in the law.  The main benefits that charitable status provides is that it provides access to some funding streams.  Slightly more nebulously, it could also provide newspapers with a badge to demonstrate their community worth.

Given the tumult of the Leveson enquiry and the potentially far-reaching consequences of the Hargreaves Review, it remains to be seen whether such a measure appears to be sufficiently attractive to the Government for it to appear in a Bill.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

July 9th, 2012 at 5:02 am

Clutch of hyperlocal newspapers launch in south London

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Friday saw a strange phenonmenon in Media Land: the launch of seven hyperlocal newspapers across south London. The weekly newspaper South London Press, now nearly a hundred and fifty years old, is printing seven editions specific to particular areas. Streatham, Brixton, Wimbledon, Wandsworth, Dulwich, Deptford & New Cross and Forest Hill & Sydenham are to get their own papers, while a stand-alone edition will continue to be sold in areas without hyperlocal editions. All have a cover price of 50p.

Given that local papers have long been at the sharp end of the crisis in journalism, can such a move be successful? Proprietor Sir Ray Tindle, the eighty-something owner of over 200 local papers, is well-known for his upbeat attitude to the difficulties of local journalism. His papers have continued to thrive during the downturn, and in June 2011 he launched fortnightly hyperlocal The Chingford Times, which is reportedly doing well.

The key to success is, apparently, lies in a hyperlocal approach to news that is rooted in old-fashioned journalistic values rather than a trend emerging out of the digital revolution. When taking over the failing Tenby Observer, Sir Ray’s first move was to reverse a decision to extend coverage to several towns. Every line of every story must relate to Tenby, he instructed: ‘A cat must not have kittens in Tenby unless it’s covered in the Observer’.

Yet coverage at this level of detail is labour-intensive and so costly. It is not clear whether any more staff have been taken on at the South London Press, but Sir Ray’s comments, quoted by the Press Gazette, will speak volumes to anyone who has worked in a newsroom during these difficult times: ‘I stood up last Friday afternoon and asked if they could do it in 14 days. Somebody whispered to me, ‘you’re asking them to do six new paid-for papers in six working days’, and I said, “these people can do it”.’

At the same time, in the responses posted to news of the launch, experts including James Hatts, veteran hyperlocal editor of SE1, observe that the main edition of South London Press has been thin on content for some time.

A new crop of print hyperlocals launched by lone operators suggest that the South London Press may be missing another key ingredient to success. In founding the filtonvoice, a monthly newsy magazine serving an area of Bristol, Richard Coulter says that rootedness in the community is essential: ‘You have to live in the neighbourhood to do this properly. I don’t think you could do it remotely,’ he says. The magazine has been an immediate success with readers, both in terms of editorial and advertising, and was profitable from Issue One.

Between Sydenham and Streatham, two of the areas served by the new South London Press hyperlocals, lies Crystal Palace, also with its monthly lifestyle magazine The Transmitter. Printed on high-quality paper, full of photos with local people and places and contributions by residents, the publication oozes the kind of celebratory granularity that digital hyperlocals have developed so well.

Publisher-editor Andy Pontin admits that the magazine makes a small loss, but adds that this situation could be quite easily changed: ‘My personal issue is that I have a full time job and four kids, so how I manage my time is to jettison any attempt to get advertising in order to focus what little time I have on the magazine editorial and photography, which is my hobby,’ he says. ‘If I, or someone on a commission basis, spent more time trying to get ads, then I am 99% positive it would be in profit.’

Time will tell whether the new generation of South London Press hyperlocals can combine the virtues of old-fashioned journalism with the allure of organically-grown publications.

Written by Alex

June 11th, 2012 at 4:51 am

The places that the tablets can’t reach

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Rupert Murdoch’s reputation as a media visionary might have taken a battering in recent months.  His famed enthusiasm for iPads as a news deliver device, however, is beginning to look as if it might yet prove to be as shrewd as his gamble as the one that he made on subscription tv two decades ago.

Research by Forrester, the US based consultancy and research firm, shows how profoundly the acquisition of an iPad changes users behaviour.  Around a third of those answering the company’s questionnaire said that they read fewer books and used their personal computers less frequently after buying an iPad.  One in four say that the number of newspapers and magazines they read fell, and 20% found themselves using their MP3 players less.

Part of the reason for this appears to be that iPad users have different attitudes and expectations compared to other device users – one survey in the US found that among all computer users just 5% were willing to pay for news, rising to 12% among iPad users.  Murdoch’s The Daily, which is not available in the UK, might not have been a runaway success, but the 120,000 subscribers that they reported last October is a respectable and growing base. And surprisingly, most opt to subscribe for a year at a time, rather than on a rolling daily basis.

In 2011, 56 million people found themselves owners of a new tablet computer.  Forrester predicts that global sales will rise to 375 million by 2016.  Taking into account those that are discarded, broken or lost, this suggests 760 million tablets in use around the world by 2016, a third of them by business and 40% of them in emerging markets.

As Ken Doctor, author of Newsenomics has noted, “surveys show that people seem to like reading news on tablets, with many saying they prefer the tablet experience to that of the newspaper. As tablets become cheaper to buy, it’s merely a matter of time before newspapers flip the switch and stop printing altogether in favour of digital editions”.

At one level I suspect that he is right – not least as I am among those iPad newspaper subscribers.  However, I have been exercising my political-activist muscles this past few weeks by indulging in that bedrock of electioneering – delivering leaflets.  It is a miserable and thankless job.  Apart from the chance to examine unfamiliar neighbourhoods at walking speed, delivering to letterboxes is without relief.

With time on my hands for thinking, though, I could not help but wonder whether there was not a better way to get messages to householders?  Surely email, Facebook and Twitter could replace shoe leather when it comes to identifying potential voters?  Could my leaflets not be simply ‘pushed’ to the putative voter iPads.

I discussed the idea with my local party organiser – a talented electioneer of long experience, who travelled to the US to work on Obama’s first election campaign.  He did not give me much hope that my days of expressing my commitment in shoe leather were coming to a close.  “Social media has some uses among activists, it is good for getting messages out quickly and I have even managed to recruit on Twitter.  For communicating with the electorate itself, however, it is all but useless.  However high the take up, we are nowhere near the point where half the electorate can be reached by electronic means (apart from the telephone).  For so long as that is the case, electoral politics will always start with leaflets and printed election addresses”.

These twin truths appear to place us in a strange an paradoxical position.  On the one hand the rush to new media will quite properly be the main concern for most media companies.  In this respect, tablet formats that retain clear editions and create a clear revenue stream, will be the rightful preoccupation of many.

However, there will be a mass analogue market for many years to come.  Eric Gordon’s optimism about genuinely local papers – expressed here – might sound backward looking.  But I suspect that even now there are a few journalists entering the trade even now, who could see out their careers committing their words to ink –  albeit they are likely to be at the resolutely local end of the game.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

May 8th, 2012 at 4:20 am

Paywalls proliferate, despite their detractors

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Comment by Tim Dawson

A string of positive recent headlines suggest that paywalls will be with us for some time to come, however regressive some consider them.  The New York Times a few days ago announced that it has 455,000 paying online news users – and reduced the amount of free content available on its sites.  News International released figures showing a 20% growth in digital subscribers over the past year and, Gannet announced that in the US it plans to restrict access to 80 of its titles.

The Daily Mirror says that it plans to launch a sub-£10 a month iPad edition.  And, The Australian sold 30,000 digital subscriptions in the first six weeks of erecting a paywall around its content.  In the US, 43% of daily papers now restrict all or some portion of their web content.

None of which has quietened those such as Clay Shirky, who argues that paywalls have a future that is about as promising as that enjoyed by audio cassettes as a means of listening to pre-recorded music.

In the long-run Shirky may just be right – although I am sceptical.  What he seemingly refuses to accept in the here and now is that those who are charging for their content (such as The Times and The Sunday Times – the latter of which I continue to be a regular contributor to, incidentally) are sanguine about the ‘lost millions’ of readers from their pre-paywall metrics.  The Times tally of digital subscribers has almost certainly now passed the daily circulation of The Independent, so can’t be dismissed too easily.  With almost no costs of distribution or printing, and most of its content garnered from the paper’s print editions, it surely represents a sustainable model?

There has also been a significant shift over the past five years to an acceptance that it is necessary to pay for digital content.  Apples iTunes currently has two hundred million credit cards registered – a massive customer base of customers who have accepted the need to pay.   Add to that the four million who are thought to have bought Kindles, and will consequently paid for their content, the case that sufficient consumes will never pay to sustain digital editorial products seems increasingly hard to argue.

Of course that does not mean that everything in the garden is rosy.  Research by the Pew Centre, which has been mentioned on this site before, shows just how hard it is to replicate ‘print-size’ revenue with that from digital.  Today’s trickle may never turn into gush, but that is not to say that it won’t sustain a good few media business in the coming years.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

March 26th, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Posted in iPad apps,News,Paywalls

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