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Monday, March 31, 2008

NY Times tribute to Dith Pran

Dith Pran, the photojournalist who survived and documented the devastation wrought by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and whose story is told in the movie The Killing Fields, has died in New York.

The New York Times has done an impressive job bringing together his obituary - including adding a recent interview with him to their video project, the Last Word - with stories about him, by him, slide shows of his images and audio of his reactions to the first public trial of a Khmer Rouge figure. (You'll need to register with the NYTimes site to see some of this. Registration is free).

Seeing his images again is a reminder of how powerful pictures can be in storytelling.

Which reminds me, NZ journalist Chris Bourke wrote a couple of posts on photojournalism recently which are well worth a read. In one he reminds us of some of the biggest moments in photojournalism history...

... and he laments the decline of photojournalism: "I despair when I see quality magazines that once championed photo journalism now making do with endless bland images from agencies. The publishers are tight-fisted, so the photo librarians cut corners (there are plenty of gritty agency shots that aren’t “posed by models). The result is a vanilla magazine, from cover to back page."

In the other post he writes about an extaordinary interview he had in London with John G Morris who, among other things "managed the legendary photo-agency Magnum in its early years, and was photo-editor at the New York Times and Washington Post during the tumultuous 1960s".

He talked to Morris about
the front page images that helped turn Americans against the war in Vietnam, about the difference in coverage of World War II and the war in Iraq - “Let’s face it, [in the Second World War] we were propagandists. The American and Allied press was not neutral, we were fighting the war and we were an instrument of propaganda” - and much more.

Well worth a look.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

First, the bad news

Nothing like a bit of Silicon Alley Insider gloom for a Monday morning. So here's a piece about US newspapers experiencing their worst drop in paid advertising revenue for 50 years.

It serves as a reasonable opener to Eric Alterman's excellent essay in The New Yorker: Out of Print: The death and life of the American newspaper. (Thanks to Nathan and Jim for the link.)

Alterman notes in the opening paragraphs that, "Independent, publicly traded American newspapers have lost 42pc of their market value in the past three years, according to media entrepreneur Alan Mutter. Few corporations have been punished on Wall Street the way those who dare to invest in the newspaper business have... The New York Times company has seen its stock decline by 54pc since the end of 2004, with much of the loss coming in the last year."

He goes on to examine the impact of the web on newspapers.

"Until recently, newspapers were accustomed to operating as high-margin monopolies. To own the dominant, or only, newspaper in a mid-sized American city was, for many decades, a kind of licence to print money. In the internet age, however, no one has figured out how to rescue the newspaper in the United States or abroad. Newspapers have created websites that benefit from the growth of online advertising, but the sums are not nearly enough to replace the loss in reenue from ciruclation and print ads.

"Most managers in the industry have reacted to the collapse of their business model with a spiral of budget cuts, bureau closings, buyouts, layoffs and reductions in page size and column inches. Since 1990, a quarter of all American newspaper jobs have disappeared.

"The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies' solution to their problem was to make 'our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.' "
Along the way Alterman sweeps through the history of newspapers since their beginnings as political broadsheets and touching on the ideas that led to the press taking on the mantle of 'objective' recorders of important events.

And he does a good job characterising the somewhat fraught relationship between bloggers and newspapers, spending a good bit of time on the Huffington Post, as seen in this excerpt:

"In October 2005, at an advertisers' conference in Phoenix, [New York Times executive editor] Bill Keller complained that bloggers merely 'recycle and chew on the news,' contrasting that with the Times' emphasis on what he called 'a journalism of verification,' rather than mere 'assertion'.

" 'Bloggers are not chewing on the news. They are spitting it out," Arianna Huffington protested in a Huffington Post blog. Like most liberal bloggers, she takes exception to the assumption by so many traditional journalists that their work is superior to that of bloggers when it comes to ferreting out the truth. The ability of bloggers to find the flaws in the mainstream media's reporting of the Iraq war 'highlighted the absurdity of the kneejerk compairson of the relative credibility of the so-called MSM and the blogosphere,' she said."

Well worth a read.

Mistakes are built into the system

I've had a few interesting conversations this week about quality control in newsrooms, in part sparked by the diagram I posted last week showing how many pairs of hands various kinds of news stories go through before being published.

One thing that came up was how irritated people are by the number of typos regularly seen on news websites - including and As Nathan said in a recent comment, "I generally expect better of professionals."

I haven't worked at either of those sites so I can't speak for what goes on there. But in my experience the problem is twofold: inadequate systems (Content Management Systems (CMSs) that require users to undertake multiple steps for simple tasks - increasing the likelihood of mistakes); and poor workflows that were designed decades ago for print and haven't been revised to account for the website.

Some typos simply come from typing too fast - you'll find plenty of these in blogs and comments (including mine) where people type quickly and give only a cursory check before hitting 'send'.

More prevalent in news publishing are cut and paste errors - where a sentence has been edited or moved and during the process a word/punctuation mark/sentence has been inadvertently cut out, cut in half, transposed or reconstituted without due care for syntax or grammar. (That's why you see double words in text and missing full-stops).

How does it happen? Easy. Take a breaking news story. They're often bits of wire stories spliced together with a few paragraphs filed by an inhouse reporter. Very often those paragraphs will have been filed by email and copied and pasted into the web CMS. Just as often, the wire story will have been copied and pasted into the web CMS.

Take all that copying and pasting and re-working of sentences, throw in some time pressure and you've got mistakes waiting to happen. Speed is of the essence so the story goes live without anyone else reading it. Even with less urgent stories there's often only one duty web editor anyway, so there's no one else around to have a look at it before it goes online.

So why doesn't someone read it after it's gone live? Good question. Some structured peer review could go a long way here. And as I keep saying, readers would gladly help if you made it easy for them.

Most stories, though, are prepared for the newspaper first before finally being loaded online late at night by a tired person. On the way, they'll go through nine or more pairs of hands, typically, and two CMSs.

Most likely both CMSs will make hard work of cutting, pasting, categorising and styling text - increasing the likelihood of mistakes being made along the way. Cyber, a system widely used for print in NZ, would fall into this category I suspect, based on my brief encounter with it. If you have a different view, I'd love to hear from you.

What's the answer? One, news organisations need better CMSs which have been designed for neutral input and multi-platform output - no more cutting and pasting, easier editing and mark-up, and the fewer steps the better.

Two, they need to take a critical look at their workflows and redistribute resources: essentially take a couple of those people in the right-hand columns and move them to the left.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tips on using social networks in medialand

A few tips on using social media from BBC blogger Robin Hamman:

"Social media isn't something you add to a website, it's something you do. When I look back over the social media projects I've been involved in over the years, it's obvious that the key variable upon which success, or failure, is dependent is to what extent social media has actually been integrated into the overall editorial proposition."

Among the examples Robin gives are:

Works: A chat room where the presenter dips in and out of the conversation, reads comments from the chat on air, uses the chat room to actually drive part of the programme works because the effort expended in hosting the chat is well spent.
Doesn't Work: A stand alone chat room fails because someone with better stuff to do has to sit there and moderate it.

Worth a look.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Outsourcing ads and consolidating sales

Another one for the outsourcing archive: a Fort Worth, Texas, newspaper, the Star-Telegram, is joining the ranks of US newspapers outsourcing advertising artwork to India. The paper is transferring 26 ad artist jobs to a US company working out of New Delhi.

And here's one for the 'well, that makes sense' archive: AP is consolidating its print, broadcast and sales divisions. 'in an effort to streamline its business dealings across media formats'.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

There's something wrong with this picture

On a similar tack to yesterday's post about when a story is 'finished' enough to go online, I was reminded while planning a sub-editing lecture recently of how lopsided today's newsrooms are when it comes to handling stories for web and print.

The image below is a rough snapshot of how many pairs of hands various kinds of stories might pass through in your average newsroom - from reporter through chief reporter, news editor, web editor, chief sub-editor, page layout, sub-editor, check sub, proofreader, editor, edition controller and so on.

From left to right:
Breaking news for the web
Web-only stories
Newspaper stories
Web shovelware
(where stories are readied for the paper and subsequently posted online at the end of the print day).

Hard to imagine anyone allocating resources like that if they were designing a newsroom today, isn't it.

On the upside: there's lots of pairs of eyes on those newspaper and shovelware stories to catch mistakes before they're published.

On the downside: there's lots of pairs of hands on those newspaper and shovelware stories to introduce mistakes before they're published.

Not to mention the extraordinary length of time it takes to get a story online using the shovelware method.

Time for a rethink, surely. A rethink, a critical analysis of newsroom processes, a redesign, re-training and roll-out.

BBC's mobile update

I meant to link to this a while back. For those of you interested in mobile developments, check out the BBC's latest offering of the mobile version of

Finished? No, it's the story so far

Shane Richmond (the Telegraph's Communities Editor) does a good job revisiting the issue of what 'finished' looks like in the fast-paced world of digital publishing.

In print, a story wasn't published until it was 'finished': written, edited, edited again, sub-edited, sub-edited again, proofread and so on. Only then did we hit 'send' and hand it over to the printers - at around 9.30pm, the deadline for the first edition of a daily newspaper.

But, as Shane points out, it wasn't so much that the story was 'finished', more that it was "as good as it could be" at the time the print deadline rolled around.

"The years of habit, the mere notion of a final edition, have created the illusion that news stories can at some point be considered finished," he says.

"All we ever do when we publish a newspaper is run out of time. Given more time there would always be more to add to a story, more angles to pursue and newer stories to find space for. We can never be completely correct, only as correct as possible in the time available. We check as much as we can but we still get it wrong sometimes, all of us.

"The internet removes the time barrier. Without it, we never stop, and still we're never completely right. But everything can be changed. Publish what you know now; learn more, add more. It's never finished and it's never completely right."

Worth a read. As ever.

Semantic markup - a public sector debut

I've been reading Jason Ryan's blog post about experimenting with the use of semantic mark-up in government press releases. I think it's well worth a read for two reasons: one, he does a great job explaining it in simple terms, and two because it's a development that's nice to see in NZ and worth watching.

I'll be honest, this is an area I don't know much about. Web code for me is like the language of a country I've visited once or twice - I recognise phrases and get the gist but can't speak it very well.

But I'll hazard a broad outline: in a nutshell, semantic mark-up adds information to the underlying code of web pages which makes them easier to read - for people and computers.

The extra markup might mean, for example, that people with vision impairments who use screen readers can see more of the page (images, pointers and directional headlines are spelled out as well as the main text).

It could also mean that pieces of information on the page can be retrieved for further use - such as plucking out key dates and adding them to a calendar, or populating news/updates/events sections of other websites.

Jason points to a Firefox extension (due to be part of Firefox 3) which "allows you to click on microformatted information in web pages and it will initiate application sequences. So, in the case of hCard, clicking on the microformat will open your address book (in Thunderbird or Outlook, say) and you can save all the information then and there. Geo formatted information will open Google Maps and show you exactly where the place or event is, hCalendar will open your calendar application and allow you to save the event."

Bring it on.

Interesting to see this taking shape in the public sector (Jason edits the Network of Public Sector Communicators weblog) - government, in other words. Will the news business keep up with the pace?

Friday, March 21, 2008

PA chooses open source

"We were being asked to do things that we just couldn't bend the system any further to do."

Sound familiar?

That's PA's IT development manager Paul Berman talking to about the company's decision to use an open source platform, Nuxeo, to build a better content management system.

Like everyone else on the planet PA is handling an increasing volume of video, audio and slide shows as well as text and they need a system that can manage that simply and efficiently.

Anyone who works in a newsroom will know that the legacy systems we have simply aren't up to the job. Older web CMSs weren't built for multimedia in any volume and no matter how many scripts the good people in IT write to make the ageing print CMS talk nicely to the ageing web CMS, it's not a smooth process. In most newsrooms reporters still write into the print CMS.

Invariably getting something online involves multiple steps, things to remember, repetition and miles of mouse clicks and keystrokes.

That makes it difficult to distribute the burden of marking up and loading web copy among authors and editors, who are the natural candidates for the role in a web-first operation.

If it's a really complicated process, they're not going to want to do it, might not understand it well and cut corners, and will be distracted from the business at hand of researching and producing good stories.

"We have some really very specific requirements for our editorial applications in which we want to deliver a very effective tool for our journalists to do things with as few keystrokes as possible, efficiently and quickly," Paul Berman told

On the reason for choosing open source, he said: "It's a mixture of the flexibility, the cost and the potential to scale it and make it really adaptable for our environment."

Interesting to see a major news group choose open source given the customary preference in such organisations for proprietary 'best of breed' systems.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Twitter in 'Plain English'

The smart people at Common Craft have turned their talents to explaining Twitter 'in Plain English' to people who've never heard of it.

The video misses some of my favourite things about Twitter, such as being able to see what people are reading and follow the link they've posted so you can read it too - in other words that it's another window onto the online world. (In fact, thanks to @FND who posted this link on Twitter).

Nor does it mention the way you can build up communities of people who share your work or personal interests and pick their brains.

But it does a good job with the basics (as ever):

Telegraph's guide to integrated story management

I came across this report quoting Telegraph Media Group's digital chief Ed Roussel and thought it was worth a re-run.

Roussel was talking at the DNA2008 conference about the role of editors in the Telegraph's integrated newsroom and how they go about commissioning and publishing stories online.

The Telegraph was an early adopter of web-first publishing - where stories go online before they are readied for the paper - and redesigned its newsroom to bring web and print operations together and integrate the story commissioning and publishing process.

Roussel described the online story management guidelines thus:

  • When news breaks send out immediate alerts: SMS, email, desktop
  • After 10 minutes get 150 words on the website and solicit reader help with images/video or other accounts
  • Within an hour update story to 450 words and add additional images and video
  • Then look to commission analysis and opinion pieces, develop a topic page with multiple angles and multimedia
"This integrated news environment only works if you have got very strong leadership and you have strong people as heads of departments, running key departments, sports, business, news and the picture desk, but for a big story you want to have a story owner, and that person needs to be really, really good," Roussel said.
"They are essentially fulfilling three tasks, one is that they are constantly planning the story. We have something called the grid where owners enter their plan for the story, and they are constantly revising that plan, constantly talking to key people involved in it.
"Secondly, they are commissioning the stories, and they are being really specific, they are entering on the grid: Edward Roussel to file 300 words by 12.15pm, so that goes in the grid and my job, my contractual obligation, is to produce that content.
"Thirdly, they are monitoring it, making sure that the content that has been commissioned is published on time and equally looking at the competition so if there are any great ideas we can make sure we are stealing those ideas, making them our own and making them better."
Interestingly, Roussel said looked well beyond breaking news.

"It's been interesting to hear over the last few days about the web being all about breaking news and the newspaper being about analysis, we don't agree with that.
"We think the future of successful websites is that we need to have everything, the first word and the final word. And that means analysis…we want to have the best people reporting directly for the website.
"It's about serving the customer, not serving the newspaper."

100pc growth encourages Guardian to add more community content

The Guardian is increasing community content as part of the ongoing redesign of its website, working closely with social media company Pluck, according to

"A new community area is planned for later this year which will aim to identify the 'most useful' members of the Guardian's community of readers and develop a means of asking them questions and gauging their opinions on specific topics, director of digital content Emily Bell told the audience at the Guardian's Changing Media Summit."
"The focus on user-interaction has been strengthened by the success of the arts, sports and Comment is Free sections of the site, Bell added, which have shown a 100 per cent year-on-year growth in page impressions and unique users since adding commenting facilities for readers."
Interesting that the focus for the new community area appears to be picking the brains of the 'most useful' members of the community rather than, say, extending the community and letting readers blog as and The Sun have done.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Breaking news: car stalled on Kahekili Highway

I've signed up for Twitter reports from the police department in Hawaii. No particular reason, just because I could. And because I thought it'd be interesting to see how Twitter might work for hyperlocal news services.

Anyway, I'm finding the Hawaii police reports strangely comforting. They are almost always traffic incidents and so far wonderfully benign:

traffic incident - no collision 124x ainakoa ave
about 1 hour ago from web

ktlink stalled/hazardous vehicle 46010x kahekili hwy kahekili dip kaneohe
about 1 hour ago from web

Doesn't Kahekili sound nice and exotic. Could be an absolute dump for all I know but I'd like to visit.

Not a bad idea sending out traffic reports on Twitter, is it? Users could read them in their browser at work before heading out the door or have tweets forwarded to their mobile.

Guy Kawasaki read my mind

I wrote yesterday about Alltop, a new site that makes it easy to read stories and blogs on a particular topic in one place without having to set up RSS feeds and a reader.

I hadn't had a good look around yet yesterday but had begun wondering what it was like as a news aggregator and how well it would work for journalism blogs.

As if by magic, I got an email overnight from Guy Kawasaki, one of Alltop's creators, telling me about the site and pointing me to a journalism page which collates journalism blog posts.

Can't fault the content. It's got most of the journalism blogs I read, a fair few I haven't and includes my own blog which is naturally rather pleasing. In all I counted 85 blogs on the journalism page, each with the five latest headlines listed.

Hover over any headline and you get a preview of the content along with a time and date stamp so you can decide whether it's worth your time to click through. Very nice.

I like looking at headlines on a page like this, too. It's a much easier way to scan multiple blogs for good stuff to read than scrolling vertically through a reader.

Verdict: works for me.

Perhaps we'll hear fears voiced that this 'best of' approach to filtering content limits the information people are exposed to and skews the news agenda.

But I see it like travel. This kind of aggregation is like a package tour - not to everyone's taste but great if you like a crowd, have limited time or aren't a particularly confident traveller. Doesn't mean you can't book the plane ticket yourself next time and meander along on your own. is a must-visit for anyone working in journalism.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

People are missing out on blogging goodness

Richard MacManus's review of Alltop on ReadWriteWeb this week caught my eye for two reasons - the site seems worthy of exploration and he took a swipe at mainstream media's portrayal of blogs.

Alltop is a simple-to-use site designed to make reading stories and blogs from across the web easier for people who've yet to get to grips with RSS feeds.

I've been wondering for a while how people who don't spend much time online can get a taste of all the good stuff out there.

I spent months meandering along link trails trying things out until I found a few sites I liked enough to stick with. It took a while to set up the paraphernalia too - RSS feeds, readers, bookmarks etc.

Not everyone has time to meander and Alltop looks like a good middle ground - somewhere web part-timers can dip their toe in and find new voices to read.

Alltop "imports the stories of the top news websites and blogs for any given topic and displays the headlines of the five most recent stories". There are roughly 40 topics including News, Culture, Living, and Geekery.

Richard gives the content a thumbs-up: "The... selection on Alltop is smart and savvy - these are quality blogs." I haven't looked too closely yet but can't see any reason to disagree.

Richard goes on to wonder whether blogs mixed in with news stories will appeal to web part-timers and lays some blame for scepticism about blogs at mainstream media's door:

"While some people recognise that blogs are as much a part of the news ecosystem
as mainstream media these days, many others still see blogging as a way to let
the world know what you had for breakfast.

"So a service like Alltop is unlikely to change the latter attitude, which is
unfortunately the most common one (not helped by mainstream media, which often
portrays blogs as superficial social networking sites)."

His comment hurts a bit but it's not entirely short of the mark.

A lot of news websites are getting better at serving up their own blogs and figuring out where blogs fit into the news smorgasbord. But reporters and columnists are often miles behind.

Especially risible is the tendency to characterise all blogs as the preserve of talentless writers with dull lives. The blogosphere I live in is a vibrant place brimming with well-articulated insight - often superior to that carried by newspapers on their comment and features pages.

The problem, I think, is that many reporters don't spend enough time online, don't take it seriously, wouldn't know an RSS feed from a keyword and consequently make themselves and their news organisations look out of touch.

Three cheers, then, for Wintec, AUT, Whitireia and other journalism schools in New Zealand which recognise the need for digital training and are starting to do something about it. More about their various intiatives later. Here's hoping the recognition catches on in newsrooms too.

Let's talk about how we communicate, says Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, told CNET blogger Caroline McCarthy at the SXSW conference in Texas that he was a little tired of the way the press focused on the sensational stuff - how Business Week journalist Sarah Lacy had the audience turn on her over the questions she asked, the Beacon fiasco and the US$15bn valuation of the company. (Here's the link for video of Zuckerberg/Lacy keynote interview).

He'd prefer to talk about "the way in which we help people interact and communicate, both on a subtle level of helping people make connections and increase the number of people that they can keep up relationships with, and increase their trust...(and) the sum of all those connections, and all that communication that's being enabled through the service."

Well, good luck with that, Mark.

Meantime, he did manage to tell CNET more about:

  • Facebook's plans to reduce app spam (by curtailing the activities of annoying applications that demand you bombard all your Facebook Friends with requests and invitations).

  • Plans to introduce a PayPal-like payment system for Facebook apps and users.

  • Having plenty of hardware lined up to support continuing growth: "We have multiple data centers. We have a couple on the West Coast. We have somewhat of a cluster on the East Coast too," he said. "We basically have this model where we can just put servers anywhere."

  • Why it hasn't jumped into Google's OpenSocial developer initiative yet having earlier raised questions about its security: "We're still kind of in somewhat of the same place, where it hasn't launched yet. So we're still kind of waiting to see how it plays out. I have a lot of confidence in those guys."

  • And on saving the world, a la Bill Gates' 'creative capitalism': "I think at this point, because we're not incredibly profitable, we're not at that stage of the company - hopefully we get there -that's not really something that we can do a lot of," he said in an interview on Monday. "But I'd like to think that just what the company is trying to do in general, just helping people communicate, is actually making the world better."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How did Malcolm become Michael overnight?

There I was yesterday, banging on in a lecture to journalism students about sub-editing. Specifically, about the importance of checking facts and figures in stories and getting names, dates and places right. Small mistakes can have a disproportionately large effect on a reader's trust in a news organisation, said I.

And what did I see on the front page of the Herald this morning? A story about the Vatican's revamp of the seven deadly sins attributed to a reporter called Michael Moore. But it wasn't by Michael at all, but by Malcolm Moore, the Telegraph's Rome-based correspondent.

Deary me.

More interesting was the fact that the paper carried a different version of the story than, which went for a Reuters version by Philip Pullella.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Easily digestible data

Two examples of ways to present data in a new, palatable and engaging way online.

This is from Dow Jones Insight Election Pulse blog and illustrates domestic issues coverage across mainstream and social media in relation to the remaining US primary candidates. Thanks to Tim O'Reilly for the link.

It's a quick visual snapshot of who's connected to coverage of which issues. "Biggest one to note: Health care remains big for the Democrats (24% of all mentions) and small for the GOP (9%). The economy is No. 1 for everyone."

This is from the New York Times and shows box office receipts for movie releases since 1986. The image lets you click once for a small pop-up with more information and click again to read articles about the movie. The graphic itself shows weekly revenue plus how long it ran in cinemas.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Your readers are here to help

The folks who told us 67% of Americans are unhappy with the quality of journalism these days may not have come up with any concrete suggestions for how to make them happy again, but Jeff Jarvis has one: invite your readers to collaborate with you.

Here are a few of his suggestions:

* Put large amounts of data or documents online and ask the public to help find the stories there. The Dallas Morning News did this with the just-released JFK documents. The Ft. Myers News Press did it with a FOIA on a botched hurricane-relief effort. The Sunlight Foundation has us exposing earmarks in spending bills.

* Ask the public to help gather data points around a story. The quickly classical example of this was Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show asking listeners to find out the prices of milk, lettuce, and beer to find out who is being gouged where (which then enables the journalists to ask why — put their price maps against maps of income and race in New York and stories emerge). This should work particularly well on a local level: Ask people to tell you the price they pay for drugs and doctors and map that. Ask them to tell you just how late or dirty their trains are. And on and on. If you get enough data, you can pay attention to the center of the bell curve; the outliers are either mistakes are damned good stories.

* Get the public to help file no end of FOIAs to birddog government. Create a FOIA repository where you can help train them how to do it and record the responses (that bit’s a great idea from Tom Loosemore in the UK) and collect what’s learned.

There are more suggestions along similar lines. Plus this last one: To get started, I’d hire a collaboration editor charged with getting such projects going all around the newsroom.

I like that. Anyone looking for a collaboration editor?

67% of Americans are unhappy with quality of journalism

More for the doom and gloom file. A survey by Zogby International shows that almost half of Americans get their news online and 67% are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism:

"For the second year in a row we have documented a crisis in American journalism that is far more serious than the industry's business challenges - or maybe a consequence of them," said Andrew Nachison, co-founder of iFOCOS, which organised the We Media Forum and Festival hosted by the University of Miami School of Communication - where the survey results got an airing.
"Americans recognize the value of journalism for their communities, and they are unsatisfied with what they see. While the U.S. news industry sheds expenses and frets about its future, Americans are dismayed by its present. Meanwhile, we see clearly the generational shift of digital natives from traditional to online news - so the challenge for traditional news companies is complex.
"They need to invest in new products and services - and they have. But they've also got to invest in quality, influence and impact. They need to invest in journalism that makes a difference in people's lives. That's a moral and leadership challenge - and a business opportunity for whoever can meet it."

Hmm, the report's a little short on suggestions on how to make journalism better but there are some interesting figures in there and Silicon Alley Insider's summary is worth a look.

Traffic's up, where's the revenue? and the Financial Times have both picked up traffic to their sites since dropping their paywalls but there hasn't been a corresponding rise in ad revenue, according to Silicon Alley Insider. A couple of interesting comments on the SAI piece.

Better players make for better video

A couple of lines of advice about getting video to work on news sites from US photojournalist Colin Mulvaney, as found on Newsgang.

1. Fix the players. Too may newspaper websites have crappy video players that take too long to load, don’t work with all browsers, have no full screen mode, don’t allow you to embed code or share with social media sites. Video need to be tagged so search engines can find them.

4. If people can’t find your video, then it’s not worth the time or effort to produce. Some videos or slideshows take off and become viral months or years after they are produced. Why? Because they are findable in an archive. Too many newspapers post a video for a day or two and then it drops off the radar.

5. Invest in a decent content management system. Too many websites, like mine, have been cobbled together with legacy code that doesn’t allow you to use Web 2.0 tools to enhance media distribution.

6. Propagate your video. It doesn’t have to live just on the “multimedia page.” Embed it in your newspaper’s blogs, stories and home page. Upload it to You Tube, iTunes.

7. Invest in technology that will speed up the editing process. There’s a whole new generation of video cameras coming out that are tapeless and allow you to cut the capture time by 90 percent.

8. Train, train and train some more. Multimedia quality won’t improve if producers don’t know how to do it better.

There's more in there. Also worth a look is his video blog about life in Spokane on

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why is it so hard to buy a newspaper?

I want two things in the morning, at the same time - a newspaper and a coffee. I can't imagine I'm unusual in that. But trying to find the two together is harder than you'd think.

Take this morning. I drove into town round the waterfront. There's a guy outside Hammerheads who sells coffee there, but no newspapers as far as I can gather so I didn't stop.

Instead I pushed on and parked my car in the Civic carpark. I walked to the nearest coffee shop on Queen Street. Coffee, but no paper. I looked in at another three coffee shops in the same block. Same deal: coffee, but no newspaper.

And not a newspaper honesty box in sight nor a cheerful chap selling them on the corner.

I had to go out of my way to buy a paper. Why?

And this in times of falling circulation. By all means newspapers should focus energy on expanding their product range to include the web where so many of their readers are migrating, but let's not forget the basics - if you can't find a paper you can't buy it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

List of news groups posting to Twitter

This is worth a look if you're a news-hungry Twitter fan. It's a list of news organisations posting updates to Twitter. Thanks to the compiler, Carlos Granier-Phelps.

In search of a better online metric

A guest post on ReadWriteWeb from Muhammad Saleem takes a look at the need for a more useful online metric. It notes that using page views is flawed, partly because high incoming traffic amounts to little when there's an equally high exit rate and little engagement.

"Furthermore, the rise of new web technologies such as AJAX which don't require page reloads to refresh elements or modules in a page, or video embeds (such as from YouTube) that allow you to watch a video and then browse related videos without ever refreshing the page, are making page views a mostly inaccurate measure and rendering it largely irrelevant."
Some suggested alternatives include attention-based metrics - which calculate the total time spent on a site or interacting with a page (or element on a page in the case of Facebook applications) as a percentage of total time that people spend online. Another is Yahoo's Buzz, which relies on popularity indicators such as comments, ratings from users, number of times something is shared and clicks on ads.

"The problem it seems, arises because there is a disconnect between the advertising industry and the publishing industry. The reason why there is an eternal quest for traffic, not only in terms of unique visitors, but also maximizing page views per visitor, is because advertising networks let you in on the basis of how much traffic you're generating, and your eventual income is based on the number of impressions (and clicks).

"While it is true that the page view as a metric is on it's way out, this isn't going to happen unless a new metric comes from within the advertising industry, which, with over $20 billion at stake, has the most to gain from a more accurate way of determining where to spend their money."

Balance in all things, even venting

A week or so ago I mentioned, a site designed for journalists to vent about all that irks them. To this casual observer the limited choice of adjectives on display is disappointing but the site's clearly hitting the spot - more than 1200 comments had been left at time of writing.

But now there's a new development -, where journalists can write about what they like about their jobs. Ah, now that's journalism for you, always striving for fairness and balance. is brand new, so last I looked there were just four comments.

Interestingly, while allows anonymous comments, requires a name. I wonder how many journalists will be game to publicly declare their happiness? (I dare you).

Also of note, was created by Joe Murphy, a programmer with some reporting experience who works with the online team at the Denver Post. Another great reason to bring programmers to the conference table - they're positive about the possibilities.

The case for hiring a video strategist

There are a few nice notes in this post about online video strategies from Liz Foreman, a former TV manager who jumped to a Gannett newspaper site, in Cincinnati.

For a start, Liz sees newspapers as being more serious about online than TV:

"My boss’ mantra: ‘Write for online, update for print’ permeates the newspaper newsroom but the online thinking also extends into other departments for a very good reason - online is a serious money-making component of the business. Although many TV stations are getting more excited about the web, their websites just aren’t bringing in the bucks like newspaper sites are (I know, there are exceptions,) and consequently they just aren’t as serious about it."
She notes that while video is gaining popularity with online news sites few have a coherent strategy for it:
"As a result, newspapers need folks not only to shoot and edit video but also to help the staff understand what types of video will work online and how to monetize their video efforts."
She summarises her job as being an ambassador for video:
"Reminding staff that we 'do' video, suggesting video ideas during the story planning process and politely saying certain ideas won’t make good videos, motivating newsroom staffers to shoot video and disseminating video statistics so that people can observe traffic growth.
"Based on my experience, the job is akin to my early days of running a TV news website - you must be a good salesperson, good at collaborating with other departments and religious about communicating what works and doesn’t work."
She offers some good pointers for anyone moving into a video management job, and let's hope a few such jobs will be created in New Zealand soon.