New Model Journalism

Tracking the media-funding revolution

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

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Case study, by Tim Dawson

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

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

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

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


Written by Tim Dawson

September 23rd, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Blogging

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

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Review, by Tim Dawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by Tim Dawson

March 18th, 2013 at 7:25 am

One to Watch: The digital fortunes of The Dish

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Alex

February 14th, 2013 at 7:26 am

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

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

The Writer’s Tale – Atwood surveys publishing revolution

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Last week Canadian author Margaret Atwood came to London to collect one of the highest awards Britain can give a writer. Becoming a Companion of The Royal Society of Literature, an honour bestowed on only ten writers at any one time, brought Atwood’s collection of awards to 99 – a recognition of a lifetime of writing which, so far, has resulted in over 50 works of fiction, poetry and essays.

Atwood was, of course, suitably enlightening on the usual writer’s subjects, such as how she started, her writing routine (or lack of ), and the current state of western society. But where she is especially interesting is in her role as insider-observer of more than half a century of publishing, at at time of enormous change.

In that same period, Atwood went from being a six-year-old who stitched together her own paper books in the Canadian backwoods to a world-famous seventy-something author with a passion for things digital. She has chosen to sign up to Twitter at a time when her fame could easily have freed her from all such digi-drudgery. She even devised, a few years ago, LongPen, a signature device that enables authors to sign fans’ books remotely.

In a piece for the Guardian earlier this year, she defended writing-sharing website Wattpad as a place where new writers can try their wings. Then, in what seems like a supreme act of authorial generosity, she collaborated with a younger, less established author in writing a Zombie series for the site. Launched in October, each author is contributing a chapter until the story concludes in January 2013.

Wattpad ‘can enable writing in other places where it doesn’t exist or are two expensive,’ she told her RSL audience adding that, along with other online platforms for writers, ‘Byliner fills the role that was filled by magazines in the 1960s and 1970s’.

Doubtless, her enthusiasm for innovations that can bring writers and readers together stems from her early experiences as a writer. Despite, or perhaps because of a rather isolated childhood in the woods surrounded by books, Atwood determined, at the age of sixteen, to embark on a professional writing career. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time – there was no national literature in 1960s Canada and few places for a writer to publish, on any terms. But over the decades Atwood made her way, writing a significant part of a national literature in the process.

Her own lived experience of the transformation of publishing has, it seems, allowed her to adopt a sanguine view of the digital revolution: ‘A tree falls in the forest. Other trees grow,’ she told us serenely, adding: ‘Is paper going to go away anytime soon? Actually not.’

At the same time, in other forums, Atwood has kept her acute eye on the vexed question of how writers are to earn a crust, asking: ‘Who’s going to pay for the cheese sandwiches?’

Written by Alex

December 6th, 2012 at 5:50 pm

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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

The story of the blues: how a football calamity spawned an underground bestseller

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Case study by Tim Dawson

Three weeks after it was published, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s ‘Downfall’ was the eighth best selling general paperback in the UK, according to The Sunday Times.  Tracking the financial crisis and subsequent insolvency of Glasgow Rangers FC, the book has nearly sold 9,700 copies, to date and less than two months after first publication, the book is into its third reprint.

These sales,  and hits on Mac Giolla Bhain’s website – the monthly tally of which has frequently exceeded half a million – have been achieved without a single review in the Scottish press and with some book shops declining to stock the book.  Indeed, hostility to Mac Giolla Bhain and others associated with the book has included multiple threats of violence.

Mac Giolla Bhain’s interest in Rangers came about accidentally.  Although brought up in Glasgow, he relocated to Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland, fifteen years ago.  Since then has worked as a staff journalist for Sinn Féin’s newspaper, An Phoblacht and has written freelance for publications in Britain and Ireland on social and political issues.  In 2008 he wrote about some Rangers’ fans singing racist songs.  That story sparked diplomatic contact between Scotland and Ireland, and Mac Giolla Bhain’s interest in the Ibrox club grew.

“Journalism abhors a vacuum”, he says.  “The mainstream, serious media in Scotland was simply not touching stories about Rangers, so although I had no real journalistic interest in football and had never written about sport, I was drawn in”.  Writing on his own website, from January 2009 he started tracking the financial turmoil that was to engulf the club.  As the story grew, Mac Giolla Bhain managed to steal a march on the newspapers – at times by several months.   Hits to his website peaked at over 650,000 a month, and he attracted more than 17,000 followers on Twitter.

He did not have the beat entirely to himself.  Rangers Tax Case Blog took a slightly different slant on the story – the quality of which was recognized with an Orwell Prize.  It is Mac Giolla Bhain, however, who has a bestseller in the bookshops.

“I never really had a plan and I never set out to make money.  It simply seemed like an important story that was not being reported because of Rangers cultural power in Scotland”, he says.  He did place Google ads on his site, but says that revenue  from those has not even covered a third of his mobile phone bill.

In June, Mac Giolla Bhain was contacted by publishers Frontline Noir with a view to him writing for them on another topic.  Declining the offer, he mentioned his work on Rangers and almost immediately agreed terms.  Nine frantic weeks later, the book appeared.  It gained some publicity when the Scottish Sun first announced in a double-page splash that it would serialise the book and then a day later decided against the idea. The Sun said that as a result of having read a post on Mac Giolla Bhain’s site, the paper felt that it no longer wished to publish his work.  Alex Thomson, the Channel 4 journalist who wrote the introduction to Downfall, believes that the true reason was a fire-storm of complaints and threats from Rangers fans.

Despite the lack of publicity, the book is believed to be the biggest seller in Scotland since its publication.  But although pleased with the impact that his book has had, however, Mac Giolla Bhain says that his project is a long way short of paying for itself.

Publisher Bob Smith, says that the book has sold nearly double what he expected, and anticipates that it might yet shift 15,000 copies.  “When I initially looked at Phil’s Twitter following – all of whom were interested in one issue – I estimated that we might sell 7,000 copies.  We have printed 10,500 copies so far, though, and are close to ordering another print run”.

Not all are persuaded by Mac Giolla Bhain’s account of the Scottish media’s track record.  “Many Scots sports journalists are not afraid to critically analyse both the game and individual clubs, including Rangers”, says one former Scottish football writer of many years experience.  “They have done it for years and will continue to do so.”  Explaining the book’s success, he said:  “There will be at least three likely audiences for the book: Rangers fans with a genuine interest in their club, Rangers fans with a genuine interest in their club but suspecting the motives behind this book and Celtic fans.”

Whatever you attribute the level of sales, and website hits, however, there is no denying that this represents the kind of hit for which many publishers would kill.  And surely the most obvious lessons from Mac Giolla Bhain’s success is that there is a market for detailed reporting, where readers really care about a subject, and getting to the book stands while an issue is still hot is vital if you want to reach the widest audience.



Written by Tim Dawson

October 31st, 2012 at 8:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Kindling for beginners: notes from a non-digital native

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

Dear Alex,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,


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

Written by Alex

October 1st, 2012 at 5:12 am