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Monday, April 28, 2008

US newspaper websites take 27% local online ad share

Advertising sales on US newspaper websites are in good shape, according to a Borrell Associates survey of 3,000 sites in various-sized markets.

The survey, reported by Publicitas, found newspaper sites earned more than $2bn from local online ad sales in 2007, which gave them 27 per cent of the total local online advertising market and put them ahead of Yellow Pages and television sites.

"The largest newspaper websites achieved a majority of revenue from non-print advertisers for the first time, developing a broader base of customers to generate new revenue streams. The online-only advertisers accounted for 59 percent of the total ad revenue generated by newspaper sites."

Interestingly, "websites who employ at least one salesperson dedicated to selling online advertising averaged 87 percent more revenue than sites that relied solely on print representatives to sell online ads."

I've had a number of people tell me that print sales teams often don't yet understand the online ad space and miss opportunities to educate and enthuse clients on its merits. This survey suggests bringing in specialised online staff may be an interim answer. Any thoughts?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Modesty Blaise, split infinitives and style guides

It's not every day you find a joke about split infinitives in the opening sentences of a novel. But Peter O'Donnell provided just that when he transformed Modesty Blaise (think Emma Peel combined with Lara Croft) from a cartoon character into a full-flesh master criminal turned special agent extraordinaire in the opening book of a series.

'I would suppose, sir,' he said cautiously, 'that Modesty Blaise might be a person awfully difficult for us - er - actually to get.' He blinked towards the big, grey-haired man who stood by the window, looking down at the night traffic hurrying along Whitehall.
'For a moment,' Tarrant said, turning from the window, 'I hoped you might split that infinitive, Fraser.' 'I'm sorry, Sir Gerald.' Fraser registered contrition. 'Another time, perhaps.'
Well, it was 1965, so I suppose your average pulp fiction reader would have got the joke, having learned grammar at school. Unlike those of us who fronted up at school after 1965, by which time rote teaching of grammar had fallen out of favour with the result that generations of students have graduated without the faintest idea what an infinitive is, split or otherwise, let alone a dangling participle or the subjunctive mood. Myself included.

My saving grace was picking up a style guide when I got into journalism. Style guides are created by publishers to set writers straight on matters of grammar and syntax and ensure they observe common spellings, styles, use of numerals and names. The idea is that consistency makes life easier for the reader and creates a sense of trust - if the publication gets the little details right, the big details must surely be right too.

There was a time when you had to work for a news organisation to get your hands on a style guide. Then some organisations started publicly publishing theirs as hardcover books. The first one I read cover to cover was a battered, borrowed Economist Style Guide. I say borrowed, but I just found it in a box of books - with Modesty Blaise and a pile of other 50s and 60s paperbacks accumulated somewhere along the way - so I guess it was more of a gift, given that I can't now remember who gave it to me. Oops.

Next came the perennial The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers and the elegant The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Both of which remain useful reads, the latter proving a particularly long-standing companion thanks to gems like this:
"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unneccessary words, a paragraph should contain no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell. - The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Nowadays many newsrooms publish their style guides online for anyone to use, and they can be very useful indeed. So here's a couple to be getting on with: The Economist, The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. I'd be glad to hear from you if you have links to any others.

As for the stylish Modesty Blaise - smart, elegant, discerning, rich, athletic, deadly - it must surely be time for a comeback (if only to give that Twittering Chuck Norris a run for his money).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The world according to news editors

OnlineJournalismBlog has generated some data maps showing how much coverage various newspapers' editors give to various countries. The country expands if it gets lots of coverage, shrinks like a deflating balloon if it gets very little. (Thanks to NZBC for the link).

Here's a couple. Click through to OJB see the rest, and the explanation.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The world needs more people who speak both 'user' and 'developer'

I spent much of today describing a website from the ground up. I say describing because I haven't drawn any pictures of it yet, haven't written a formal requirements document, and it's far from being built. At this stage it's just words on a page describing what needs to be included, and the preliminary decisions that need to be made about navigation, search, display, archiving, content entry and so on.

I'm taking this description to a meeting, in which most people will know a lot about the content and nothing about the back end of a website. The rest will know a lot about the back end but nothing about content.

I'm somewhere in the middle.

I've been to these kinds of meetings before and seen how badly awry they can go. I've seen people talking at each other, past each other, over each other's heads, but seldom to each other.

The first problem, naturally enough, is that each side knows nothing of how the other's domain works. The second problem is terminology. Words mean different things in different environments. And when you're in a meeting talking about things you don't readily understand, when you hear a familiar word you tend to assume it means what you've always known it to mean. Which can lead you and everyone else up the garden path.

Take the word template as an example. When I first got involved with websites I took one look at the form you used for entering content and called it a template. It reminded me of the templates you create in Word to prevent having to recreate standard documents from scratch each time. Made perfect sense to me.

But every time I used the word template in meetings with IT people, they thought I meant page templates - the fixed elements of the homepage, section pages and story pages across the website.

That's just one example but there are many more. I've noticed too that terminology varies from company to company, and from country to country.

It strikes me, though, that neither problem is hard to fix. It just requires someone from each side to draw some simple diagrams to show the main steps, hazards and outcomes of their domain, and to label the diagrams clearly so the terminology is understood by all. A brief explanatory/definition session in the first meeting would surely slash the confusion quota and improve productivity across the project's life-cycle.

I've never known that actually to happen, mind you. I've had people get cross with me, patronise me, ignore me and tolerate me. Happily, I've also had a few people demonstrate enormous patience and goodwill in taking the time to teach me, although generally these have been people I've approached personally.

But I can't see why every user-developer collaboration shouldn't start with an explanation/definition session. Sure, most people might know most of it, but at least the one or two who don't won't be left sitting in the corner unable to contribute because they can't find the terminology to do so. After all, their knowledge and ideas could prove hugely valuable.

It can also be hugely advantageous to have one or two people on a project who know a bit about every side of it, who can act as interpreters and make sure the various participants are communicating effectively. Business analysts can sometimes, but not always, fill that role in the corporate world but it seems to me there's room for plenty more to step in and specialise.

Meantime, in my website description document I'm trying to spell out terminology and write simple explanations as I go, and I'll try to draw some diagrams before my meeting. All going well, we'll have a productive meeting and a good project. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Less is more when updating news on Twitter

It's not just me, then. I see Jeff Jarvis is also getting annoyed with the way news companies are dumping multiple headlines on Twitter in big batches, with the result that they fill out people's Twitter boxes.

Jeff Jarvis jeffjarvis The roadblock of NYTimes tweets is irritating me. I don't want every damned headline as a tweet.

Duncan Riley on TechCrunch suggesting it was the only way for Twitter to make money: "Occasional ads in the Twitter timeline, in a similar fashion to what Twitteriffic users currently see (Twitteriffic runs its own ads on the free version) seems like the only real way to monetise Twitter, aside for premium subscriptions. The only question remaining is how Twitter users will accept the move after a two year free ride," he said.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'Why not make the Indy a magazine?'

If you haven't caught up with the appointment of former Observer editor Roger Alton as editor of the UK's Independent, here's a nice piece from the Guardian's Peter Wilby.

And then comes this blog post from Richard Addis with a few suggestions for Alton as to what he might do with the Indy once he gets his shoes under the desk:

Launch a daily magazine instead... The paper is already half magazine. The famous ‘viewspaper’ covers are straight from the magazine world. The consumery parts (50 best etc) and the promotions (mini-books) would sit comfortably in many a magazine package.Drop the idea of covering news at all, at least in the conventional way.
Instead you could transfer 85% of the staff to features duties and retain 15% to provide an excellent and intelligent news aggregation service that would be printed, say, in a single column on page one.

As for the website, apart from becoming the central exchange for directing readers to news sources, make it a TV station. All those new feature writers, not to mention educated readers, will have so much to say, so many background stories to tell and will so quickly learn to take a camera with them everywhere that you can see the Indy becoming a upmarket mini-You Tube in just a couple of years.

NZ blog gets a boost from going into print

Here's an interesting case study of a neighbourhood blog gaining some early success - in part because it's printed and delivered to local letterboxes.

It's a NZ site called Flying Pickle (but thanks to UK blogger Seamus McCauley for the link) and it serves three suberbs outside Wellington - Korokoro, Maungaraki and Normandale - with an approximate population of 6,500 people: "peaceful, sleepy, middle class suburbs with a handful of local shops, 3 schools, 3 kindys, reasonable broadband penetration, a good deal of home-based businesses."

"At first, the website was advertised on community noticeboards and in several shop windows. It scored several hundred hits from curious locals. The first print edition resulted in a surge of traffic, posts and comments from the residents."
They say lessons to date include: it pays to automate the ad booking and print-preparation process; keep an open editorial policy; gaining local recognition and trust is key to winning over advertisers.

This is a really interesting idea and one to watch.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RSS for beginners

Every day's a good day for some Web2.0 for beginners from Common Craft. So here's RSS feeds in Plain English.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

An interactive guide to how many trees go into your daily newspaper

If you've ever wondered how many trees will be sacrificed to keep you in newspapers during your lifetime, wonder no more.

National Geographic have come up with a nifty multimedia feature called Human Footprint, which lets you see how much you use of given commodities in a lifetime. You can see a lifetime's worth of milk bottles, the eggs and potatoes you'll eat, the petrol you'll use. Each comes with some useful comparators to help give perspective.

It turns out I'll be responsible for 220-odd trees getting pulped so I can read the paper each day, although I'm not too sure what to do with that piece of information just yet. There's a 'behind-the-scenes' video about what happens to all those newspapers after they go in the bin. At least I think that's what it's about, the video lapsed into a weird staccato when I tried to watch it - that'll be my local broadband infrastructure straining at the seams again. Sigh.

Viewing problems aside, the interactive feature is nicely done and worth a look.

Social media with a French accent

"If the news is important enough, it will find me."

That quote kicks off this video from San-Francisco-based entrepreneur and blogger Loic Le Meur. He's the (French) man behind Seesmic, a community video site that's currently in alpha testing and getting a fair amount of attention on places like Twitter.

It's a nice wrap of how we can (and do) use social media to write and distribute content, share it, find it and read it.

Using games to tell the news

The Beat Bloggers - a group of US journalists who are experimenting with using social networks in newsgathering - have posted about using games to tell the news.

This might sound a little odd at first but it soon starts to make sense - it's another way of engaging readers and letting them have their say about what's going on in the world. The post points to a game that ReadWriteWeb has been running:

You could be a developer, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc, and predict what they would do next and how they would react to future circumstances.
From ReadWriteWeb:

"How it works: in this particular game you can choose to play the role of any of 4 different players: Google, Amazon, Microsoft, a Market Analyst. Then you can either predict what will happen, or voice your opinion about what should happen. Or both. If for example you choose to play as Google, you can predict that Google will open up the languages beyond Python. If you voice an opinion, you are guided by several "advisors" - in this case we have RWW, CNET and Dave Winer. The difference between predicting and voicing an opinion is that you may not necessarily agree with what you predict Google will do, so you can then cast your opinion about what you think Google ought to do!

Now I know what you are thinking, "too techie." Again: Look past the tech subject matter - this is a method that can be used to cover ANY topic from the environment to your local city government. Turn the news into an educational game.

UK Telegraph talks about a year of newsroom integration caught up with my former colleague Chris Lloyd, assistant managing editor of Telegraph Media Group, at the Online Journalism Symposium in Austin, Texas. He talked about the challenges the group faced in integrating its newsroom, including structural and cultural changes. Worth a listen if you haven't heard much about the process of integration before.

Papers sideline agency with content-sharing deal

News agencies take note. A group of newspapers in Ohio have banded together to share content - three months after the group voiced opposition to US news agency AP's latest rates shake-up, says Editor & Publisher.

The content sharing arrangement comes several months after editors and publishers from six Ohio newspapers penned a December 21 letter to AP that claimed both new rates and news practices were unacceptable to them, declaring, "We pay nearly
$4 million annually to the AP. That's a hefty sum even during the best of times - and we all would certainly agree that these are not the best of times."
Editor & Publisher cites a staff memo, in which the newspaper chiefs say the idea of content sharing is "not about cutting back what we do".
"It is about sharing our content with the other large Ohio newspapers and getting their content in return," the memo adds. "The goal is to have stories that benefit the readers of all of our newspapers. A secondary benefit is that readers will know how much is produced by our newsrooms."
The sharing has apparently already begun, according to managing editor Alan D Miller of The Columbus Dispatch. He said his paper ran a story on B-3 today from The Plain Dealer of Cleveland about a Thursday speech by State Higher Education Chancellor Eric Fingerhut in Akron. The Dispatch website also linked to the Plain Dealer story.
He said it would have cost his paper time and resources to send a reporter to Akron, and noted that the AP version of coverage was not sent out until after midnight. "It is all about serving readers," Miller said of the sharing arrangement.
The papers have set up a private ftp site to share their content.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Small town papers remain in rude health - for now

I read this story, headlined Small Towns, Big Profits, on Editor & Publisher a while back. It finds that small papers in the US are ticking along very nicely compared to their big-city counterparts. Some are even enjoying record profits and most report their margins remain intact.

The article goes on to explore what big papers could learn from the things that small papers do well - diversfied ad revenue, the personal touch, deep roots in the community, and discipline - and I think it's worth a read.

It's always nice to hear something positive from newspaper-land given the amount of ink currently dedicated to talk of its slow-but-steady demise.

The question, though, is how long rural and small-town newspapers will remain unaffected by the market changes that are eating into big-city newspaper circulation and margins.

As Bob Scaife, a Newspaper Association of America vice president of marketing who is quoted in the article, says: competing media and broadband penetration will eventually reach markets that are now sitting comfortably. "They have to keep an eye over their shoulder with what is going on out there."

I agree. There's no question that ink on paper remains strong in rural and small-town New Zealand. But most of those newspaper readers either don't have internet connections or have dial-up or low-speed broadband. Eventually that will change, and people's reading habits will change along with it - with a clear impact on local papers. Unless, of course, those local papers start working towards developing useful websites. Not much sign of that yet.

Meanwhile, a Marketing Week report on UK regional newspapers makes for grimmer reading. It says regional papers there are struggling and undergoing long-term falls in both circulation and advertising. The article quotes people on the positive side of the spectrum as well as those who say the sector is going through an identity crisis as it transitions from print to online.

It notes a flurry of website start-ups among regional papers - particularly recruitment sites and others aimed at re-capturing lost classified ads - but questions how well they'll be able to compete in the long term. David Newton, a media buyer quoted in the piece, says regional publishers have been "behind the pace in terms of the growth of online and embracing its opportunities."

The article notes that a recent Newspaper Society Annual Regional Press survey found that online makes up only 2.5% of ad revenue for the UK regional press - a very long way to go, then.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The pros and cons of live-blogging news

This piece from The Poynter Institute in the US looks at the pros and cons of reporters live-blogging from events and story locations.

Under the headline Live Blogging: How It Makes Us Better Journalists, Mallary Jean Tanore talks to a number of journalists who have live-blogged at one time or another, either using their regular blogs or micro-blogging formats like Twitter, which allows you to post just 140 characters at a time.

AP reporter Ben Walker... is one of many journalists who have found that live blogging can actually help us grow as storytellers - by teaching us to look for quirky details and be better listeners, note takers and deadline writers.

"Your powers of observation are doubled and tripled when you live blog," Walker said. "You see things and look for things that you would not not look for in a story. You might look at a situation in a different way, and you might listen for a different type of quote."

Another of those quoted is graphic artist Charles Apple, with The Virginian-Pilot, who has been live blogging at conferences since the 2005 Society for News Design's annual workshop in Houston.
He's been told he makes live blogging look easy."That's definitely not the case. Blogging is a lot of hard work. You're typing narrative, uploading photos, doing some light coding," Apple said. "It's difficult to do all this and a.) remain engaged in whatever session is going on, and b.) without distracting anyone sitting near you."

For Apple, live blogging has taken instant gratification to a whole new level. He's intoxicated, he says, by the immediacy of it all. "I thought I was in love with the idea of drawing a graphic and then seeing it in print five hours later. And for 20 years plus, I was," Apple said.

"But forget all that! I can type up a few talking points about a speaker behind the podium, snap a few photos and upload a nice post about her presentation so folks around the world can read about it -- all before she's even done speaking.

"Once you get that kick, you find yourself hungry to do it again. And again."

Sub-editors replaced by advertising designers

While some newspapers are downsizing their sub-editing teams, and some are outsourcing, it seems others are now doing away with them all together.

UK regional newspaper company Archant is replacing sub-editors with advertising designers, according to the Guardian. Archant's newspaper arm publishes four regional dailies and around 60 weeklies.

The company has confirmed to staff that it will employ 10 advertising designers to lay out pages at the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Evening Star, after cutting production staff at the two papers by a third, from 26 to 18.

They will design pages, while reporters and other writers will be drafted in to work on headlines - traditionally never part of their job.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I like this media player

I was taken with TED's media player this morning as I was listening to Richard Dawkins trying to drum up support for an "I'm an atheist and I'm proud" campaign in the US. (Thanks to @FND for the Twitter link.)

The clean horizontal container appeals to me (I can't wait for more web designers to embrace the horizontal form), with the clear information on the right-hand side about the video itself and about the speaker, and the nod to the sponsor kept proportionally small and bottom-right.

I like the way you can see (top left) when the video was recorded and when it was posted (saves me having to start playing something I've already seen elsewhere or that's too out of date for my purposes).

I like the way I can fast-forward using the well-proportioned scroll-bar, and that text markers pop up as I hover over the scroll-bar with prompts telling me what the speaker's talking about at that point.

All I need now is a way to add a marker to various points of the video that I want to return to or grab a sound bite from, and I'd be unspeakably impressed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Who are the journalists?

Peter Wilby writes a thought-provoking piece in the Guardian about the ranks of predominantly white, degree-toting entrants to the journalism profession (or trade, depending on your viewpoint).

He looks at who filled the journalists' shoes back in the heyday of Fleet Street, and who fills them now.

The 2002 survey showed, more than two-thirds of new entrants to journalism came from homes where the main wage-earner worked in a professional or senior managerial occupation. Fewer than 10% came from any kind of working-class background, and only 3% from semi-skilled or unskilled occupations.
Some 96% of the journalists surveyed were white - a figure that looks more damning when you realise that more than 40% of journalists work in multi-ethnic London. More recently, the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, found that of the country's 100 leading journalists - national newspaper and broadcast editors, columnists and news presenters - more than half had been to fee-charging schools and 45% to Oxford or Cambridge.
Journalism's narrow social and ethnic base - which, one media company executive told me, is not reflected in advertising and circulation departments - matters more than it does in other elite occupations. Faced with trying to understand, say, the grievances of the Muslim community or what drives inner-city youth to violence or what it's like to have children attending a "sink school", most journalists are lost. They have no contacts and no inside information.

He goes on to talk about reasons behind this development - economics - and some efforts at change. Notably, he talks about a "dangerous boast" from former Scotsman editor Tim Luckhurst who's leading a new BA in Journalism for 25 students at Kent University this year. Luckhurst says he will produce journalists who have all the basic skills of shorthand, news reporting and knowledge of media law as well as broad, analytical skills.

"They will have read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, they will have read John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World. And they will be able to do shorthand at 100 words a minute and know how to avoid libel," Luckhurst promises.

Students will spend half the week on vocational work, taught in the journalism department's "newsroom" which will start each day with a "news conference", and half on academic subjects, specially tailored for prospective journalists but taught by other departments at the university. "What's gone wrong with journalism education in Britain," says Luckhurst, "is that we've tried to turn it into a discrete academic discipline."
The course will get a wide social intake, he believes, because low-income families are attracted to something that has a clear vocational point, with the prospect of employment as soon as you've finished it."

I haven't had a good look yet for comparable research in NZ (but I'd be grateful for a steer in the right direction). But a quick look at the NZ Journalists Training Organisation website shows that lack of diversity in reporting stock is not unique to the UK. The site has a Diversity channel with notes from a 2007 forum which agreed that: "Yes, newsrooms need more diversity, yes, help and training are needed for working journalists and newsroom supervisors, and yes, more needs to be done to promote journalism as a career for ethnic minorities." And goes on to suggest ways of doing that.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Broadband bouquets and brickbats

I find it so difficult staying connected when I'm on the road that I feel compelled to compliment hotels, motels and airports when they do something to help. And complain when they do something to make it harder.

So here are this week's Broadband Brickbat and Bouquet.

The Brickbat goes to Telecom for telling me I won't be able to get free wifi at their Wifi Hotspots anymore - previously a perk of being a Telecom home subscriber. Now I'm going to have to pay, like everyone else, to log in at airports and cafes which, more annoyingly, will no doubt involve filling out forms or queueing to buy vouchers and typing in cryptic usernames and passwords. Not good when I'm in a hurry to get something done before boarding a flight or heading into the next meeting. Grrr.

The Bouquet goes to the new Atrium motel in Hamilton for providing free broadband, supplying a cable when I checked in (yes, I had left mine at home), and making it possible to just plug in and run without having to faff about with forms and cryptic passwords. Hotels, take note: why would I stay with you when you charge more and offer less?

Tips on managing blog comments

UK blogger Martin Belam has been running a series on making the most of comments on blogs. It's quite wide-ranging and I'm finding it useful (especially in reinforcing my intention to move on from Blogger at some stage to a platform with more functionality).

In this post he talks about how to engage with people commenting on blogs:

"If people have taken the time to leave comments on your blog, then join in as
well... If people ask you a question, take the time answer it.

"Increasingly publishing platforms enable bloggers to set up a different look and feel for comments left by the author of a post. I'm a fan of this idea, as I think it helps to highlight when an author is engaged with the audience response to the content they are publishing.

"You've much more chance of getting an answer and continuing a conversation if
you also approach the person directly. If the person has left an email address
alongside their comment, I will also take the time to drop them a short polite

He also looks at moderation, using RSS for comments, using comments to manage complaints and more. Worth a read if, like me, you're a relative newcomer to blogging and want to develop a more conversational style.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Another subscriber says no to print - but yes to paying for news online

Jimmy Guterman, editorial director of O'Reilly's Radar group, has bid farewell to his New York Times subscription. I think he articulates well what so many are thinking:

"It was hard to say no to the Times. The quality was high, the thump of the paper on the sidewalk was a pleasant sound to hear first thing in the morning, I liked the serendipity of walking through a print section, and I felt obligated to pay for the paper at a time when print subscribers were becoming an endangered species.

"But, after years of wavering, I'm done... What finally made me give in to the inevitable was realising, one barely-dawn morning last week when I was reading the paper at our kitchen table, that I had already read much (most?) of it online. For all the pleasure of holding and print, the Times on paper is just too late."
He goes on to say that he'd pay to read it online. "I would gladly pay for the pleasure and convenience of reading the paper online, just as I do for The Wall Street Journal, but I don't have that option. In this era of advertising-is-the-only-business-model, management at the Times Company has decided that I've decided that the value of what it sends to me is zero. I disagree."

It's an interesting argument that rumbles on. Should papers charge for online news? The Wall Street Journal looked for a while like it was going to drop its paywall, but has kept it for the most part, opening up only commentary and opinion. But most others dropped paywalls a while ago.

I've been in the keep-it-free camp for a while. For daily news, anyway. I know I wouldn't pay for access to a news website right now - I don't need any one site badly enough and there are plenty to choose from. Then again, I empathise with Guterman over the New York Times. I love it too, and would hate to see it disappear.

You know what they say about value: the more you charge for your services the more people value what you're selling. And I suspect, if I'm honest, that if the New York Times disappeared behind a paywall I'd want to get in there. But -and it's a big but - that's only because I know the site's good, and the only reason I know it's good is because I've followed bloggers' links to great content like their slide shows, video obituaries and columns. Put up a paywall and bye-bye bloggers.

I see this period as one of brand-building for news companies and staking out territory online. It doesn't seem smart to shut potential users out before they've had a chance to get to know you, and especially before you've had a chance to develop a really useful site and - importantly - services. The New York Times has an impressive site, most news organisations don't, at least not yet.

I find myself thinking quite a bit about what comes next for someone like me - a motivated, regular news consumer. Nine times out of ten I come up with a different answer, but here's today's musing.

There's Google news, of course (fed by mainstream media companies). There are non-mainstream, niche, user-generated, aggregated sites and voting. There are sites that mix it all up - raw press releases cheek by jowl with agency news feeds and UGC (user generated content). Technology makes everyone and anyone a potential news gatherer and reporter - shoot it, write it, blog it. There's news on my homepage, Facebook page, Twitter. And that's all good, as far as it goes.

But I think a trusted brand counts for a lot. Even more so as the volume of information we encounter online grows to deluge proportions. Yes, I want to be able to check out raw press releases if there's something of particular interest to me. And, yes, I'm reassured to know I can read council documents online (although that doesn't mean I will). But, no, I don't want to trawl through a dozen sites a day or spend hours going about it.

I'm busy. For the main news of the day, I want someone else to read council reports and newsfeeds and pick out the stories likely to be relevant or interesting to me. That role of filtering, sifting, selecting news is just as important as ever. And I want to know that whoever does it observes the standards I've come to value - fairness, accuracy and balance. In other words, a trusted news source.

Maybe it's not a matter of whether we should be charging for daily news online, but when. Or, more importantly, how.

Maybe the day will come when we're all so overwhelmed by information and opinion that we will be happy to shell out for timely packages of well-written news delivered how and when we want by trusted news organisations. The key, surely, will be those timely packages. I might not pay to come to your website. But I might pay for you to bring your website to me providing you can do it in an engaging, relevant, unobtrusive, timely, technologically-wow, one-click simple way.

I don't mean a daily email digest. Well, maybe a daily email digest with video bulletin, columns, blogs, lifestream feeds, quote of the day, cartoon, market data and images that show up in my inbox/inboxes (email/lifestream/feed reader/homepage/phone) and are laid out nicely and can be viewed inline (ie without having to visit your website or open a media player). A web page in my inbox, if you will (plus a tweet in my Twitter feed, a text on my phone etc). And maybe it would be an aggregated digest, let's say from the New York Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, NZ Herald and Viet Nam News.

Ach, I don't know. The only thing I ever paid for online was a one-year subscription to the New York Times crossword archive when I was addicted to that big, themed weekend crossword they run. But only once, and a long time ago. Also virus protection and some telephony services. That's it.

One thing I do know is that email is constant. I always check it. All day, every day. Facebook comes and goes, I rarely answer my phone, I get round to Google reader when I can. I love Twitter right now, but who knows how I'll feel about it in November? Email endures.

Any which way, today is not the day I volunteer to pay for 'online' news. But it doesn't seem as far-fetched as it once did.

BoingBoing makes moderation policies fun

Anyone writing a moderation policy for a news website - and there must be a few of you doing just that at the moment - might want to check out BoingBoing moderator Teresa Neilsen Hayden's Q&A on their moderation policy.

Moderation is the business of checking comments submitted by website users to make sure they're not defamatory, inciting hatred or racism, off topic or obscene. It's increasingly going to become part of everyday life in newsrooms as websites expand and community content - comments, user stories, images, blogs and so on - is beefed up.

The BoingBoing moderators' Q&A strikes me as a great example of writing clear guidelines in a way that works for your audience - light years ahead of those nasty legalese Terms and Conditions that some news sites are still using.

Not only did it make me laugh (always welcome on a Wednesday afternoon) but it taught me a lot without making it feel like I was learning anything.

Favourite new word: disemvowelling.

Q. All the vowels have disappeared from a paragraph I wrote! What's going on?

A. We did it. Someone (a moderator, one of the Boingers) was expressing displeasure at your remarks. The technique is called disemvowelling. It deprecates but does not delete the remark. With work, the disemvowelled text should still be readable.

Favourite quote of the day:
"Life is an unending series of auditions. Get used to it."
On why moderators are necessary:

Q. Why does Boing Boing have to have a moderator?

A. First answer: Because every general-interest online forum that's worth reading has some kind of moderation system in force.

Second answer: Because four years ago, Boing Boing's first, unmoderated comment system went so septic that it had to be shut down. The Boingers want to never go through that again.

On courtesy:

Q. I thought I was being reasonably polite when I got into an argument with Bonzo, but two of my comments got removed entirely, and he just had a couple of paragraphs disemvowelled. Why me? Why not him?

A. There are many possibilities. The biggest one is that you were insufficiently polite. In the heat of an argument, your own remarks are going to seem more justifiable, and Bonzo's arguments are going to seem shabbier and more malicious. This temporary distortion is best addressed by being more polite than you think should be necessary.

On people who comment only on how bored they are:

Q. It's obvious that you won't tolerate anything but supportive comments from brown-nosers and yes-men--right?

A. I'll venture a guess that you responded to a new entry on Boing Boing by announcing that it was hopelessly lame and boring, and then came back later to discover that your comment had disappeared.

Q. Yes! Why did you remove it?

A. This is another one of those questions that has multiple answers.

First: you didn't explain why it bored you. Without an explanation, announcing that you're bored is neither useful or entertaining. Also, it's a real bringdown for readers who lack confidence in their own opinions.

Second: because frequently the "I'm so bored" thing is just attitudinizing. There's a whole big internet out there, and it's full of people who, if they don't like what they're currently reading, move on and read something else. They don't post about how bored they are just to have something to say.

You may need different rules and tone than BoingBoing, of course, but it's not a bad starting point.