New Model Journalism

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Archive for the ‘Traditional media’ Category

Bureau of Investigative Journalism celebrates first birthday

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Pewari Naan (Flickr)

Case study by Alex Klaushofer.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the not-for-profit organisation established to help reverse the decline of investigative journalism in Britain, celebrates its first birthday today.

Launched on 26th April 2010 thanks to a £2 million grant from the Potter foundation, the organisation espouses an unashamedly non-commercial funding model, conducting the kind of in-depth investigations done less and less by the mainstream media.

A year on, with monthly installments of the grant supplemented by commission fees from sales to print and broadcast media, the Bureau is in a position to continue for up to five years without a major change in fortunes.

The arrangement funds four core staff, a dozen people on short-term contracts and a number of paid internships. Journalists work in topic-based teams covering issues such as Health, Human Rights and the European Union; recent stories include the revelation of widespread malpractice among big pharmaceutical companies operating in the US and, in partnership with the Financial Times, the discovery that tobacco companies have received public funds to the tune of three million euro. The scope of investigations is admittedly limited – many of the Bureau’s stories are done in partnership with other media organisations.

According to Bureau editor Iain Overton, the biggest challenge so far has been persuading media outlets to publish the fruits of the investigations. ‘The problem I have is not so much doing the journalism; it’s selling it,’ he says. ‘It’s a very easy thing to say that the reason investigative journalism is declining is because nasty people like Murdoch are holding the purse strings. I think it’s more complicated than that.’

Instead, he identifies a variety of factors that make for a climate hostile to investigative journalism: editors are reluctant to publish material considered too dry or complex to woo consumers fed on a diet of sensationalism, governments and companies try to bury bad news with bureaucratic language and cunning PR tactics, and journalists are increasingly tied to their desks.

The problem affects even with the most newsworthy material, such as the Bureau’s publication, in November 2010, of a story based on WikiLeaks Iraq War Logs about the killing of hundreds of civilians in Iraq by coalition forces, along with continuing prison abuse, post-Abu Ghraib, and widespread torture in Iraqi detention facilities.

The Bureau’s response to the problem has been pragmatic, prioritising the need to get the story out and offering material which can’t be placed free to anyone who wants it under a creative commons license. Overton rejects suggestions that giving away stories contributes to the problem of producing good, sustainable journalism which the Bureau was designed to remedy, arguing that material is sold wherever possible. ‘I’m subsidising,’ he admits. ‘I do get the market rates for print and broadcast stories, but they’re insufficient.’

He does, however, foresee the gradual evolution of a more commercial model to fund investigative journalism through the sale of access to documentaries on internet TV. ‘Over time the saviour of quality investigative journalism may be micro payments,’ he says. ‘People will gradually realise that you can’t always get quality journalism for free.’

‘It may take ten years, though,’ he adds.

In the meantime, the Bureau is adopting the strategy pursued by many media players in the digital age – building its reputation in the hope that the money will follow.

Written by Alex

April 26th, 2011 at 5:40 am

Old model for new journalism – weekly paper proves sustainable

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Case study by Alex Klaushofer.

You could call it the new traditionalism. The Cleethorpes Chronicle is a rare beast – a weekly local newspaper, a start-up bucking the trend of the decline of print, launched in the teeth of recession and funded by advertising.

The paper was founded in March 2008 by editor Nigel Lowther and managing director Mark Webb on the strength of personal investment plus bank loans. Both men had substantial experience in the area’s regional press – the former was deputy editor of the Grimsby Telegraph, while Webb had been managing director at Grimsby and Scunthorpe newspapers. They had done no formal market research to establish the paper’s viability, but had a ‘strong gut feeling’ that the town, which had never had its own paper, could support one.

Three years on, it seems they were right. The paper has a weekly circulation of 10,000 and is available at around 90 local outlets from newsagents to supermarkets. Firmly in profit, and with a total staff of 13, it draws most of its revenue from advertising, while a small proportion comes from the paper’s cover price of 45p.

In marked contrast to the regional press, where expectations of profit can hit 30%, the proprietors of the Cleethorpes Chronicle say they will be content with profits of 5%.

It’s an aspiration, says Lowther, very much in keeping with the climate that traditionally nurtured local journalism. ‘We’re coming full circle,’ he says. ‘A hundred years ago, local newspapers were owned by local businesses who wanted to promote their message and make a contribution to the community. That’s exactly what we’re doing.’

Being at the heart of the community, he says, is key to developing the clear editorial vision central to the paper’s success. Despite their higher cost, it was decided from the outset to have offices in the town centre so that paper and community could communicate freely. The result is the classic local paper blend of stories and listings about what’s going on in the town’s schools and WIs – what Lowther calls ‘below-radar community journalism’.

Surprisingly, this is achieved with only one full-time reporter, supported by part-time staff who come in to produce the paper on a short press cycle. ‘Editorially, we are a lean, mean team,’ says Lowther. ‘If you’ve got a good team, they know what they’ve got to do, and it’s very focused.’

To avoid spreading the limited resources too thinly, the Chronicle has no news website, maintaining an online presence solely through a static, showcase-style site. And, if and when an online news operation is launched, the proprietors have already made some clear decisions about the business model.

‘We’ve always said we will never put our content online free of charge,’ says Lowther. ‘No other business does it, so we don’t see why newspapers should.’

Written by Alex

April 4th, 2011 at 4:34 am

IPC’s cautious embrace of digital

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Case study by Tim Dawson.

As publishers fall over themselves to unveil iPad editions, IPC has the quiet satisfaction of being well ahead of the game.  The magazine publisher has been offering online subscriptions through Zinio for seven years.  Today nearly all of its 60 titles are available through the multi-platform American distributor.

“Initially we offered online subscriptions to more tech-oriented brands, such as Webuser and Digital Camera Pro, ” says Lindsay Greatbatch, who manages IPC’s relationship with Zinio, as well as acting as publisher of Decanter.  “It is not a significant revenue stream at the moment, but it is one that we expect to grow”.

The online product’s role is probably best expressed by Keith Foster, the publishing directory of Cycling Weekly – which has around 29,000 subscribers and around 1,000 who read the magazine digitally.  “It is a useful service, particularly for overseas subscribers for whom postage is prohibitive, but we have never pushed it in the UK because online subs don’t count towards our audited circulation figures – and thereby contribute to what we can charge advertisers.”

That is expected to change next year, at which point online might become more of a priority for the company.  But, given the dramatic price differential in subscription costs, it is possible that subscriber migration might start to ring alarm bells somewhere within IPC.  A regular subscription to Cycling Weekly costs £137 – online 52 issues costs a mere £38.  The differential is not so great on other titles, but nevertheless, if readers to get the iPad mag bug, they could quickly recover a device’s cots in savings.

Zinio, which is based in San Francisco, has been in business since 2001 and offers device independent online subscriptions to around 2,000 magazines.  More than 5 million customers have so far used the service. The company is owned by Gilvest LP, an investment firm which is owned by David H. Gilmour, a hotel and real estate entrepreneur who also founded the Fiji Water beverage firm.

Publishers supply print-ready files to Zinio, which turns them into a digital product.  Interactive material and download buttons can be added, or not, as a publisher chooses.  The publisher also sets subscription costs.

The end product nicely replicates a magazine’s pages which, on an iPad, readers can turn by sweeping their finger across each page.   The IPC magazines lack the bells and whistles of Richard Branson’s Edition, for example, but are a neat substitute for space-hungry paper products.  Sales are unlikely to amount to much while the company affords its digital editions so little priority, but that is likely to change as advertisers wake up to the potential of the measurable quality of online ads.

Written by Tim Dawson

March 28th, 2011 at 4:53 am

Foundation funding reveals murky world of farm subsidies

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Case study by Tim Dawson.

Michael Heseltine always enjoyed being considered one of the ‘big beasts’ of British politics.  Less well known, until recently, is that he has long been a recipient of around £90,000 of annual funding from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  Lord Hesseltine, who founded the magazine company Haymarket, is thought to be worth around £200m, farms around 1,255 acres in Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire.  

That it is possible to find out about these payments – and those to other farmers all over Europe – is thanks to farmsubsidy.org, one of the few examples of successful foundation-funded journalism outside the United States.  For the past six years it has been publishing details of where the European Union’s €55 billion farm subsidy budget is spent. A parallel project, run under the unberella of EU Transparancyfishsubsidy.org does the same for the €6 billion Common Fisheries Policy.

Since its establishment, farmsubsidy.org has received approximately $800,000 from foundations, the largest portion of which has come from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.  This has been used to pay a small team of journalists, researchers and website authors in countries around Europe to fund freedom of information requests, and to develop the website on which details of farm funding are published.

The initiative is the brainchild of Jack Thurston, a former special advisor in the British Ministry of Agriculture and Nils Mulvad a Danish journalist.  Inspired by the US Environmental Working Group, Thurston wrote a pamphlet in 2002 suggesting that the recipients of CAP funding should be made public.  This led to a Fellowship with German Marshall Foundation, during which time Thurston made a successful FoI request for the British subsidy data.

“Around that time I convened a meeting at the offices of the German Marshall Fund”, he explains.  “We realised that few media organisations had the time or resources to do this kind of FoI work or to analyse such big data sets.  The Danes were a bit ahead of me, but we agreed to work together to establish a network to help journalists and researchers make effective requests for the data and to provide a publication platform.”

Since then FoI requests around Europe now mean that nearly every territory is covered, and the organisation’s easy-to-use online website makes it simple to find out who has received what. 

With the raw data on tap, farmsubsidy.org has also worked with journalists from the traditional media to make sense of the great gush of information.  In the UK this has produced a steady steam of stories about subsides paid to the well-known and the well-heeled like Heseltine.  In the US, reports on the Washington Post and the New York Times – and here and here – have undertaken significantly more radical work on how US agricultural multinationals have moved into east European farming – in part, with funds provided by the EU.

farmsubsidy.org makes it clear that while it is in favour of transparency, it does not adopt a particular stance on the desirability of particular funding decisions. “We do have to operate a kind of Chinese wall between data provision and more work that is more policy-based,” says Thurston.

He attributes the organisation’s success in fundraising to a pre-existing relationship with the main funders. “I sense that foundations fund people as much as they fund projects – which could be the worst kind of old-boys network – but it has meant for us that we have not had to devote all our time to chasing funds … It has made a difference having funders who trusted us for a few years.”  Although there are some foundations that will fund journalism in Europe, there are far fewer than in the US, he adds.

But despite its success, the future of farmsubsidy.org is in doubt.  Last November, a group of German farmers took a case to the European Court of Justice which ruled that publishing the names and addresses of CAP payment recipients breached the farmer’s privacy. 

Thurston believes that the judgement can be overturned, but even if the ruling stands, Thurston and his colleagues have directed a considerably shaft of light in the hitherto murky world of EU agricultural subsides, and shown that foundation-funded journalism can work in Europe.

Written by Tim Dawson

March 14th, 2011 at 2:27 am

iPhone meets longform – with mixed results for magazine journalism

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A techy tale for our times comes from the Big Apple, where sophisticated commuters are turning to their iPhones to satisfy their craving for substantial magazine features.

They had to wait awhile, recounts Kat Stoeffel in the New York Observer, as the technology – designed to deliver only micro-bites of online info – wasn’t up to it. That all changed thanks to Instapaper, an app which takes articles and saves them in a format that can be read offline, on an iPhone.

The moral of the tale? Even time-poor, peripatetic readers want longform, and new media technologies can deliver it to them. But, with the new channels cutting out magazine publishers’ advertising revenue, the search for the right economic model continues.

Written by Alex

January 26th, 2011 at 6:50 am

Hunt for new media model doomed

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Bonnie-Brown (Flickr)

A thought-provoking assessment of what technological change means for journalism comes from Paul Armstrong of @themediaisdying.

Armstrong, who has been relaying his observations of the changing face of the media for the past couple of years via his Twitter account, has now reached a firm conclusion. The hunt for a new business model is fundamentally doomed, he argues, and those on it would be better advised to ‘stop trying to refine and redefine journalism … serve the reader not the business model’

In Armstrong’s view, the digital revolution is shaping a future where readers increasingly demand personalised news and consumer info which can only be provided as aggregated content delivered by apps. As result, he says, efforts by many in the media industry to find ways of selling long-form content through variations on traditional mechanisms are misplaced.

But it’s in the nature of changing times that no one agrees where they are going. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on an intellectual backlash against social media in the US, where a growing number of ‘cyber-sceptics’ are arguing that, far from enhancing communication, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are isolating and diminishing us.

And, as noted here previously, there’s even the odd rumour of a marriage between tradition and innovation.

Written by Alex

January 24th, 2011 at 5:56 am

New magazine aims to cash in on Good Life

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Photo by Max (Flickr)

Amid the endless tales of failing titles, the launch of a new monthly suggests the traditional model for magazine publication may be alive and, er, laying.

Your Chickens, which goes on sale tomorrow in newsagents and supermarkets across Britain, aims to find a market among the 500,000 people who keep hens in their back gardens.

Publishers Archant South West decided to launch the title when readers of their successful magazine Country Smallholding indicated there was a demand for something more specialised.

‘Over the last twelve months we’ve been getting more and more enquiries from people keeping chickens in their back garden. It was very difficult to cater for them in Country Smallholding,’ Anna Atkinson told NMJ.

Your Chickens, which will have a print run of 25,000, will offer readers tips from celebrity hen keepers, advice from poultry experts and pieces for children.

Archant is sticking to the traditional business model, and plans to draw a maximum of 35% of its revenue from advertising and the rest from its cover price. ‘We have no doubt in our minds that it will work,’ said Atkinson.

If it does, Your Chickens may be further evidence that at least part of the future of journalism is niche.

Written by Alex

January 12th, 2011 at 7:29 am

Sunday Times iPad app tops chart

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The Sunday Times is bragging today that its iPad app has topped a chart rating design, functionality and use of multimedia.  The chart, published by iMonitor, rated Story Magazin from Hungary and Viva HD second and third.  The Washington Post and Pearson’s Intelligent Life came in at four and five.

Acclaim for the product may not, however, translate into sales – figures for which News International has not yet released.  Wired Magazine sold 100,000 copies of its first iPad app, generating waves of interest among other magazine publishers.  Richard Branson quickly unveiled ‘Project’ and News International let slip that it was planning an iPad newspaper, to be called ‘the Daily’ in the new year.  Since then, however, according to The Financial Times ‘after an initial spurt of enthusiasm, sales (of paid for iPad publication apps) have been dropping’.

But it is probably too early to write off the iPad magazine market.  Apple has already sold 7.5m iPads and some analists predict that tablet and e-reader sales could hit 50m this year.  And most publishers appear to be feeling their way in the market somewhat uncertainly.  Some change more for online publications for print editions, other load products with so many hard-to-download features that mobile consumers are likely to stick with print.

The iPad publication chart does pose a bigger question, however.

Apple has traditionally demanded high and expensive compliance standards of app developers – which probably explains the dominance of the iPad app market by major traditional publishers.  Whether consumers will warm to a market where there is such a significant barrier to entry, after a decade of anyone-can-do-it internet publishing, remains to be seen.

Written by Tim Dawson

January 5th, 2011 at 8:40 am

What will 2011 mean for journalism?

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There are no clear-cut answers to this question, obviously, but the Poynter Institute identifies some emerging trends in investigative journalism in the US. It is thriving, it seems, but only if you’re good with data and social media.

A similar blend of tradition and innovation is keeping the magazine world alive, according to the Innovations in Magazines 2010 World Report, as covered in the Huffington Post.

Written by Alex

January 4th, 2011 at 9:47 am

Readers still love print, survey suggests

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New research into how readers like their journalism suggests that traditional media are holding up well, reports Press Gazette.

The vast majority – 86% – of the two thousand people who responded to a survey conducted by KPMG said they preferred to read material in print form rather than on-screen. Almost 80% had read a newspaper or a magazine over the previous month.

But the ‘media and entertainment barometer study’ had less encouraging results for paywall advocates, with just 2% of people who currently use a website for free admitting they would be prepared to pay for access.

Written by Alex

December 6th, 2010 at 8:01 am