Big Media is at the mercy of the tech giants and it’s their own fault

How are changes in technology and audience behaviour affecting news values, shapes and structures?

This is a question I have been asked to answer. Well, not answer, but at least research the issues enough to stimulate some debate. So over the course of a few blog posts I intend to share some of what I uncovered and solicit some feedback. Am I on the right track? You decide.

I think the best place to start is where technology in journalism is, and where it could or should be. I really liked this extract from Jeff Jarvis’ new book Public Parts and I think it gets to heart of the problem with what most media companies are trying.

Today, publishers as a breed have so far tried little more than reproducing their old content and business models in new forms, from CD-ROMs to the web to iPads. It was the same in the Renaissance. The earliest publishers made books to mimic the work of scribes, even designing their typefaces to look like scribes’ handwriting. Printing was promoted as automated writing. “They appear not to have perceived the printed book as a fundamentally different form, but rather as a manuscript book that could be produced with greater speed and convenience,” Leah Marcus says in “Cyberspace Renaissance.” They didn’t yet see the possibilities.

Matthew Ingram at GigaOM remarks on the pride media companies are taking in creating new Facebook applications.

But there’s another aspect of these launches that’s troubling, and that’s the pride so many publishers seem to take in having produced a Facebook app, as though it’s the pinnacle of media innovation.


But if all you are doing is creating widgets for people who live inside a specific walled garden, then I think you are missing the boat.

This is part of a larger worrying trend.  Media companies are relying on technology companies for solutions to their problems. There were no doubt “Hallelujahs!” from media proprietors  as Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad and Jeff Bezos the Kindle. But where is the innovation from within?

Amazon did not sit around and wait for the decline of its book selling business. It took the initiative and created its own hardware and content ecosystem, ensuring its own longterm future. Where are the media companies doing this?

By relying on technology companies, media companies are setting themselves up for a great fall. This was perfectly illustrated when Apple decided it wanted to take 30% of the subscription revenue for publications on the iPad. Companies had to pay up or remove subscriptions and in-app purchases from their apps.

This video from 1994 was produced by American newspaper giants Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy Company). They had their own design lab working on technologies that are remarkably similar to the tablet devices of today. What happened to this innovation and foresight?


Don’t let new media distract from the fundamentals

In writing about the skills a future journalist will need it’s easy to dive into new media, innovation and the web.  The reality is for the most part they are distractions.

So much is assumed of the fundamentals of journalism.  The skills of “old” journalism are taken for granted when talking about the new.  Maybe it’s the arrogance of youth, but nothing can be assumed of these skills and in fact, they’re increasingly important.

The newsroom has changed.  Gone is the familiar structure of reporter, sub and editor.  In many newsrooms, such as Trinity Mirror Merseyside where I recently completed work experience, levels of sub editors have been reduced drastically. There is now much more onus on the reporter to sub their own work by writing to template and writing their own headings.

The killer app on your mobile – the phone bit.

My lecturer Andy Dickinson, coined this succinct phrase when speaking at the launch of the CNN mobile app at London’s Frontline Club. The telephone is a powerful journalistic tool, far more so than any twitter or email app on your mobile.  You’ll get much more out of your sources from having a chat than any email exchange. 

Shorthand is far from dead.  Many newsgroups will not employ you if you do not have shorthand.  For all the new media tools and audio recorders available to you, there’s many courtrooms and council meetings where they are not permitted. In cases of libel, shorthand notes are a protection where audiofiles may have been deleted.  There’s also technological and ethical problems with recording phone calls.

But new media and web innovation are important. They’re the added nth percent. They’re what will make you stand out as someone who is alert to the changes in journalism.  They’re excellent ways of consuming content and in a few cases have created great stories, but they’re no where close to usurping the old skills.

Cheating Foursquare to tell a story

Popular geolocation site/app/game Foursquare can be cheated. Right now I could check in to the The Luxor, Las Vegas and in 5 minutes I could into Luxor, Egypt.  This is open to abuse. When Foursquare offered mayor specials to Dominos Pizza in the UK, I tried cheating to become mayor of my local Dominos (I soon got bored and gave up).

But what if as a journalist or media org, I could cheat Foursquare to tell a story. For example if I were writing for Blog Preston and I had a council story. I could check in at the Town Hall with a link to my news story and post that to twitter. I then have a location and social network tied to my story. A national news organisation could map the country or even the world with their stories.

The possibilities are numerous for this. Foursquare checkin data can be exported as a feed and used as map data. Below are my recent checkins as viewed on Google Maps.

A hyperlocal news site could integrate this map data to show where their news stories are originating from. It’d be really interesting to read local news but also have a sense of where they’re happening in relation to me. It would make local news that much more immersive.

I welcome any critique of this idea in my comments or tweets to @djbentley. Or please gladly link me to people already implementing this.

Thoughts on the @Guardian WordPress plug-in

Today The Guardian announced a new WordPress plug-in, a tool designed for bloggers to incorporate full Guardian articles into their blog. As a blogger on media issues this immediately caught my attention as a tool that might be useful to me. But the more I read about it the more I failed to see it’s usefulness, for me anyway.

I tweeted about it…

and attracted the attention of Michael Brunton-Spall a developer advocate for who had a hand in creating the new plug-in. He invited me to email him my thoughts on the plug-in and what I think could be done better. So here is that email. I look forward to Michael’s reply and will follow up accordingly.

Hi Michael,

Just to expand on my thoughts regarding the Guardian’s WordPress plug-in.

Code: I don’t like the idea that for these features I have to install extra code on my WordPress installation. However light or simple it may be it’s still taxing my server resources.
While I commend the Guardian’s innovation in this area, and to my knowledge you’re the only group currently doing this, I don’t like the idea of having to install a new plug-in for each media organisation. I will sometimes on my own blog want to talk about a Guardian article but this may be a couple of times a month maximum, unfortunately not enough for me to warrant installing this code. You’re also, as I understand, installing some sort of analytics code through the plug-in? Understandable from your end, but not something I like.

Style: If you continue to be the only group using this then, as a blogger, I’ll need to adopt a different style of blogging for referring to Guardian content as opposed to other media orgs. As I understand from the T&Cs of the plug-in I may not alter the original text of the article, but its generally considered good blogging practice to quote small sections and link to the full article. I don’t really want a full article by somebody else on my site.
It may set a precedent of people doing ugly, and without proper provenance, reblogs of entire articles from other sites who don’t have such a platform.

Openness: I really love the OpenPlatform initiative from the Guardian and it’s already lead to some great sites and data access. However is it really “open” if you’re promoting the use of one blogging platform and tightly integrating with it at code level? I’m not a web coder so forgive my naivety but is there no Guardian server-side way of delivering content to a variety of platforms? A “post to blog” button alongside the usual tweet/email/print buttons?

I appreciate you’re not enforcing the use of the plug-in and I can carry on about my business the way I was before. I’m not criticising innovation in delivering content, it’s an area that excites me. These are just my thoughts why the WP plugin is not for me, and I believe I’m approximating the target user for this sort of thing.


Daniel Bentley

Excuse the Silence: Personal News

Excuse my lack of post-election blogging but in all honesty I was a little burnt out. Before the election there were things to be excited about, afterwards I felt disengaged from it all.

But now I have things to be very, very excited about.

Pluto – UCLan’s Student newspaper is getting a much needed redesign, in paper and online. Dave Stubbings will be taking over as News Editor and has appointed myself and Hannah Breeze as his deputies. We’re very keen to move the news section forward to something genuinely interesting and engaging to the student population of Preston. We’re aiming for close ties with the Student Union and in turn in the students themselves.

BlogPreston – A tale of serendipity. A snowball of events led from a prospective enquiry for media access to the general election count at Preston Guild Hall. Within hours we were covering the event for BlogPreston. Now I’m involved with BlogPreston in an area which genuinely excites me, podcasting.

With the help of the unapologetically enthusiastic Sean McGinty of BBC Radio Lancashire, a contact made from that serendipitous night at Preston Guild Hall, I will hopefully be pulling off the podcast I envisaged.

I think a local site like BlogPreston will benefit greatly from a podcast, a format I personally find extremely engaging. Hopefully it will generate more traffic for the site and the site drive listeners for me. Also I can’t wait for the invaluable broadcasting experience I’ll hopefully acquire from Sean. I’m bursting with ideas and can’t wait to get started.

Liveblogging the Election & Old Media’s Failure

Two phonecalls, four coffees, four laptops, a camera and a mobile phone. This is all it took from an initial idea on Tuesday to liveblogging the election on Thursday.

Having an initial idea on blogging the election I contacted the Preston Council press office and a few friends and got together on a battle plan.

We’d be covering it for Blog Preston, a local blog site which is aiming to move into hyperlocal news territory. Dave Stubbings would be our photographer. Joseph Stashko would be our “colour commentator” and mobile media recorder. Andy Halls would be updating a WordPress blog and I’d be charged with monitoring the CoverItLive liveblogging platform we were using.

We didn’t know what to expect. Would there be WiFi? Would we actually have anything to cover? Are there too many or too few of us? It turned out we got the balance just right.

I can’t emphasise enough how important the balance of the team was with each member working to their strengths. I was very impressed with the CoverItLive platform (despite the site crashing 30 minutes before we were due to blog!). We were able to pull in peoples’ tweets and comments using the #Preston10 hashtag, embed audio and video which we’d recorded on Joseph’s phone and have a running ticker of results.

Using Joseph’s Android phone the HTC Legend and the apps Qik and Audioboo we were able to instantly record and upload interviews with the candidates live from the count room at Preston Guild Hall.  The BBC were represented there, the Lancashire Evening Post too but it was us that got the results and interviews out there first. Not five minutes after Mark Hendrick’s re-election was announced I was interviewing him and the video was instantly uploaded to Qik and embedded on our liveblog.

It was the Lancashire Evening Post that failed the most covering the election. Their poor correspondent was left twiddling her thumbs for most of the night only to have to desperately file copy at 5.30am for the morning’s paper. Why didn’t they employ someone to liveblog the event and drive traffic to their site? It required very little technical know-how to get the system up and ruinning. Their loss, our gain.

Finally credit must be given to Preston City Council as they tweeted and used facebook to update people with from the counting hall. We got them to use the #Preston10 hashtag and were able to pull their tweets into our coverage. Very slick.

Social Media Tips for Journalism Students: #1 twitter

This is the first in a series of posts on what I find useful as a journalism student in the world of social media. It’s by no means definitive, just what has worked for me.

Twitter – Become a conversationalist

Your twitter account is part of your online identity and is a great tool for journalism students. You should have a twitter account that you’re proud of and that you would want your editor to read.

The mistake of those new to twitter is to merely be a broad

caster or spamcaster. My heart sinks when I click to someone’s twitter profile page and see no @replies or #hashtags.

It’s important to join the conversation.

If you find something interesting that others may not have seen retweet it, if you have something to add or disagree with someone’s tweet then @reply them. You can build valuable relationships very quickly on twitter by joining in the wider conversation taking place.

Follow interesting people, and for the most part I don’t include celebrities in that. Most journalists of note are now on twitter and there’s invaluable information that you can garner from them and your opinion you can share back with them.

Look at who the people you follow are retweeting and linking. If you like the content that someone you follow has retweeted, click through to the origin of the retweet. It might be a valuable new person to follow.

Attract more followers and readers with #hashtags.
You may only have 20 or 30 followers in your first few weeks on twitter but what if you have something you’d like to share with everyone? Hashtag it! If you have an insight or news about the British General Election then end your tweet with #ge2010 and it’ll be discoverable to people interested in the election. Want to comment on Question Time? Hashtag with #bbcqt.

Just as you impart information, knowledge and opinion through an article, do so the same on twitter. If you have a blog publicise new posts on twitter. It’s a good way to drive traffic to your blog and get people commenting on and interested in your work.

At the time of writing I follow 580 people which might sound large but I’ve added each one of them because they’ve had something interesting to say and I don’t really suffer too much from twitter noise.

Twitter is a great platform for journalism students as it forms relationships based on insight, knowledge and wit. You’re created equal to every other journalist out there and have a direct means of communication with them and the genpub.  Your looks, friends, popularity and how much you go out don’t matter here. Your thoughts are your currency.