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Sunday, August 31, 2008

AP to lose another customer

I'm interested to see how news agencies evolve now that there's nothing to stop news companies from joining forces by setting up websites to share copy amongst themselves.

is keeping an eye on AP (Associated Press) in the US, whose recent fee-structure shake-up has created considerable unease among its users. It cites an Editor & Publisher report about the most recent user to give notice.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis has become the latest, and so far the largest, daily newspaper to inform the Associated Press that it plans to drop the service in two years. reports that the paper informed AP that it will no longer use the service as of the fall of 2010. AP requires that member newspapers give two years' notice before dropping the service.

The Star Tribune joins a string of other daily papers who have either given notice or revealed plans to cut the service in recent months. Those include The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash.; The Post Register of Idaho Falls; The Bakersfield Californian; and The Yakima Herald-Republic and Wenatchee World, both in Washington.

The recent decisions to drop AP service follow a planned AP rate structure change, which was announced in 2007 and takes effect in 2009. The rate change has already prompted complaints from numerous newspapers, including two groups of editors who wrote angry letters to AP to complain in late 2007 and early 2008.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Newspapers are losing their social currency

I like Jack Shafer and this piece of his has some real resonance for me. He talks about how newspapers traditionally offered readers a form of social currency (explained more below) that's increasingly being lost to social networks such as Facebook.

Not that long ago, the daily newspaper was an indispensable coiner of social currency, and it gave its readers piles of the stuff in each edition. The phrase, which comes from sociology, is often used to describe the information we acquire and then trade—or give away—to start, maintain, and nurture relationships with our fellow humans.

Take, for instance, the voluminous results of newspaper sports pages. Terrific for sports fans, of course, but the sports pages have been used to grease sales calls, break ice on first dates, and fuel water-cooler bonding for a century. Even folks who don't care for sports skimmed the sports pages for a little something about the games and athletes so they could engage in essential small-talk.

For as long as anybody can remember, the newspaper has been the primary info-hub through which people interacted. Oh, people might have talked to the shoe-shine man or their broker about what they heard on the radio or saw on television, but nothing could beat the newspaper as a source for socially lubricating conversation. How many times have you heard a conversation start, "Didja see that article ..."?

... Other institutions do far better jobs at issuing social currency these days. What is Facebook but the Federal Reserve Bank of social currency? And it's all social currency you can use! Like cocktail chatter, a Facebook posting—be it a link, a list, a photo, or travel plans—conveys the message, I am here. Listen to me.

A well-executed Facebook presence, like a superb pontification at the bar or a great phone-in to sports talk radio, demonstrates one's status within one's existing social network. If skillfully wielded, a Facebook page can increase a person's status by attracting "cooler" or more influential friends. These days, you can't raise your status more than a bump by carrying the Wall Street Journal under your arm.

Shafer also points to a great post from UK blogger Adrian Monck who lays the blame for the decline of newspapers squarely at the door of lifestyle changes (as opposed to anything inherently wrong with the way journalism is being carried out):

The crops did not fail because we offended the gods.

    The problems journalists are confronting are to do with the changing social habits of people who once purchased newspapers and were thus appealing to advertisers.

    I agree with Adrian and think his post is well worth a read.

    The magazine subscription that lets you mix and match

    Mark Potts blogs on Recovering Journalist about a new model being adopted by magazines that's worth taking a look at.
    The first one is Portfolio's takeout on Maghound, Time Warner's plan to turn magazine subscriptions into an a la carte business: basically, you'll be able to decide which issues of which magazines you take on a subscription, switching back and forth between Time, People, Sports Illustrated and 100-plus other magazines. The idea is that you'll pay a set fee of a few bucks a month and then choose what mags you want delivered to you.

    I'm not sure magazine subscribers are truly that eclectic and fickle. Do you really want to have to manage your magazine choices every month? The whole point of a subscription, after all, is a sort of set-it-and-forget-it model. Still, it's an interesting approach that might find a nice niche market.
    I'm not sure I agree with Mark. I love the idea. I am exactly that fickle and ecclectic.

    Whenever I subscribe to a magazine it ends up piling up in the corner unread and reproachful - either because I'm too busy to read it or bored with it.

    To be able to mix up my subscriptions - say, let me take every second issue of the Economist, every third Harper's Bazaar and every second New Yorker - would be perfect.

    That said, it would only be perfect if it was super easy to manage... if I could manage it myself online and with no daft penalties for changing my mind from month to month.

    Newspaper executives: if you don't use the web you'll never understand it

    I enjoyed this rant from music blog The Lefsetz Letter which has a go at newspaper executives who are "online ignorant, even if they can speak the language, they’ve got no insight, because they don’t utilize the damn thing". (Thanks to Charlie Barthold for the link)

    He starts by noting how cross newspaper executives are with the likes of TradeMe and CraigsList for stealing their lucrative classified ads (Fairfax bought TradeMe to get them back again, although whether they're properly leveraging the deal is another story).

    Then he goes on to talk about reading more news than ever online:

    Yes, today’s supposedly ignorant younger generation? Its members are more up on what’s happening in the world than you ever were at that age. Because the news is at their fingertips. Online. Updated, in depth, constantly. Whereas the newspaper is firm, calcified as of yesterday.

    Actually, you can read the newspapers today. On the west coast, the "New York Times" and "Wall Street Journal" go live, in their entirety, at 9 PM. The "Los Angeles Times" at midnight. I get all three physical newspapers, but not for breaking news, only secondary stories. Breaking news lives on the Web. Just like twenty four hour cable news killed network news, the Net is killing newspapers.

    And newspapers cannot respond. Oh, they’ve got the right, just not the capability. Online custom states the newest story is first, and in descending order are all the old stories. None of the newspaper sites utilize this structure. They all look a bit like the physical newspaper. Give me the breaking news at the top. Give me clickable sections on the left. The newspaper giants are proving to me, just like their record company brethren, that they’re online ignorant, even if they can speak the language, they’ve got no insight, because they don’t utilize the damn thing.

    And now papers have bloggers on their sites. I’ve got to ask you… When I can go directly to most bloggers’ pages, do you really think I’m going to dig down deep on a newspaper’s site to find some blog written by some old school fart beholden to the old game?

    Boiling that down to a few points... do you agree that:
    1. Young people are more informed than previous generations because they have news at their fingertips?
    2. Newspaper websites are modelled too much on newspapers and not enough on web usability
    3. Newspaper executives don't spend much time online so they don't 'get it'
    4. Newspaper blogs are well and good but are effectively buried and difficult to find
    My answers would be:
    1. Not sure, but I'd like to think so
    2. Yes they are. They need to evolve and quickly.
    3. Absolutely true. If you only log on for email and Google there's no way you can understand the nature of the threat/opportunity the web is bringing to your doorstep
    4. Yeah, they're buried and that could be improved. Also true that some aren't worth bothering with. But some are and it's a step in the right direction - if nothing else the individuals who are blogging will become more web-savvy and understand the threat/opportunity facing the company they work for.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    CNN lets you embed its video

    Speaking of the need for news organisations to find and distribute stories out where people naturally congregate online, CNN is taking a leap along that pathway by allowing its video to be embedded.


    With this, CNN is following a growing trend among news organizations like MSNBC, FoxNews, and CBS. Judging from the wording of the announcement, CNN is clearly hoping to see some of its clips go viral, and with the political season in the U.S. heating up in the run-up to the November election, they might just have chosen the right time to enable this feature.

    The embeddable viewer is pretty standard and currently only allows playing one single clip at 384x216. We weren't able to determine if CNN is restricting this service by geography, but at least our Canadian friends have reported that they could play play the embedded videos without a problem.

    Well, let's see.

    Seems to work okay in this part of the world. The embed button is pretty small - tucked away at bottom right of the media player - and it might have been an idea to highlight it YouTube style until the idea took off.

    But it works and the idea to allow users to embed video on their blogs is a great one.

    Just wish they'd add crumb trails to their site. I clicked on a Business story and tried in vain to navigate back to the homepage by clicking on Home. Eventually realised I was now in CNN Money and had to use a button at the other end of the navigation bar to get back.

    Since Facebook, friends aren't what they used to be

    Those of you who despair over how much the internet and texting are changing the language, look away. For the rest, here's a post from Jeremy Toeman redefining a few words from today's socially networked world:

    We are currently in the midst of a transformation, caused in a large part by the evolution of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, etc. These networks are clearly here to stay, and will evolve on their own to introduce new features and services as well as adapt to the changing needs of their users. In the mean-time, I’m noticing that a few very common words are losing their meaning, specifically due to their various implementations online (warning: much sarcasm and cynical writing follows, don’t take it too seriously if you are easily offended)…
    Then: Someone you knew, had a personal relationship with, occasionally spoke to, and frequently drank beers with.
    Now: Someone who found your email address and typed it into Facebook and/or LinkedIN. You may have met said person at a conference once, and possibly even conversed with for 5 or more minutes.

    Then: Quite a few meanings, but the most common one being a word to describe a person, place, or thing you have a positive feeling about.
    Now: Two meanings: one is a word used three times per sentence for no apparent reason, the other is an item you (might have) read on FriendFeed and want to let others know they should read it as well. A very cynical variant on the latter is when the item is being liked because you want the author to know you read their content.

    Then:Something overheard and/or speculated, but not substantiated.
    Now:Fact until absolutely proven incorrect.

    Then: To ingest all the contents of a document.
    Now: To scan a headline for interesting words.

    Then: To have many people who like you, albeit not necessarily to you having an outstanding personality. If in high school, gives you the power to make other peoples’ lives miserable for your entertainment.
    Now: To have many people read your writing, 140 characters at a time, albeit not necessarily to you having an outstanding personality. Transfers no other known benefits.

    The news is out there, you've just got to filter, aggregate and share it

    Steve Outing has written a good post about people wanting to upload and share 'news' but not necessarily with news or citizen journalist websites.

    I’ve started to realize that news organizations would be wise to focus less on creating their own citJ platforms and hoping someone will post something, and more on leveraging the social networks where people already are posting news. My previous post about Twitter touches on this; that micro-blogging service contains (amid all the personal fluff) real news that people are witnessing.
    I couldn't agree more. I increasingly see the need for news organisations to get out to where people naturally spend time online - ie talking to friends and colleagues on social networks. That's not only where news companies will find stories, but also where they need to distribute stories.

    Life's busy & the web's huge - it's unreasonable to expect that people will be motivated to come to your website every day to read and post news. Much easier for them to engage with you if they regularly come across you on the interwebs as they go about their daily business.

    As Steve says, there's no question that people are increasingly comfortable with spontaneously sharing their lives online - it's just a case of being able to filter out the 'what I had for breakfast' posts from the 'wow, I just videoed a tornado outside my kitchen window' posts and aggregating and sharing those that meet the needs of news audiences.

    Monday, August 18, 2008

    SlideShare is a treasure trove

    I've been mining a bit lately - mostly looking at journalism & news related slide shows but now and then dipping in elsewhere. Can't recommend it highly enough as a source of ideas and inspiration, especially if you've got a presentation to do anytime soon.

    Here's a couple worth a look at:

    New architecture of media
    View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: cuny jschool)

    The Evolution of Web 3.0
    View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: iptv mobile)

    Sunday, August 17, 2008

    Wellington journalism students get with the programme

    I've been meaning for a while to point to It's a Wellington-based news site showcasing the work of Whitireia Polytech journalism students under the watchful eye of Jim Tucker.

    All credit to Jim and his team for getting student work online and getting students working with images, polls, video etc as well as straight text stories. Great to see - this is exactly the sort of hands-on web experience that will help round out the traditional journalism teaching staples such as accuracy, fairness, balance and how to handle a court case.

    It's a relatively simple site using a Wordpress theme and there will be challenges keeping it going during school holidays when students are scarce. But it's a worthwhile exercise and one with growth potential given the number of students studying journalism around the country at any given time. There's room for other schools to follow suit or even join forces - an idea that Jim and I have kicked around. I know we've discussed this sort of idea at Wintec but have yet to make definite plans.

    I notice this week newswire have started sending out weekly email bulletins. Worth getting on the mailing list if you want to keep track of local Wellington stories or an eye on students' work.

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Journalism innovation finalists are worth watching

    These are worth following up: the finalists for the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism (via

    Kenyan website Ushahidi: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information, which was set up to help bloggers and citizen journalists share information about political violence in the country, has been nominated., a citizen media project documenting real estate development in a Washington DC neighbourhood, and presidential campaign database

    The fourth finalist is's use of WikiScanner, a tool for tracking edits to Wikipedia. The magazine used the scanner and its readers to expose companies, who were making edits to their own entries on the site.

    "The examples we are heralding show the power of a single person, the power of politics, the power of community," said Jody Brannon, a member of the awards' board and national director of the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, in a press release.

    Two awards for 'special distinctions' and a citizen media award, each of $2,000, will also be handed out at an event at the National Press Club on September 10.

    The Knight Batten awards were set up to:
    • Encourage new forms of information sharing.
    • Spur non-traditional interactions that have an impact on community.
    • Enable new and better two-way conversations between audiences and news providers.
    • Foster new ways of imparting useful information.
    • Create new definitions of news.
    They're funded by the Knight Foundation and run by J-Lab, a centre of the American University's School of Communication.

    Do we have any comparable awards in New Zealand?

    Obits: the good, the great and the hard to find

    Chris Bourke, always a pleasure to read, has a nice post on obituaries - the good, the great and the hard to find.

    He points to what he loves about obits - "the inclusiveness beyond the worthy citizens who sit on boards and get QSOs is a big part of the attraction"; where to find a good obit in NZ - "the master of the obituary is Peter Kitchin of the Dominion-Post, who goes to great trouble to research well-written obits of colourful, but often unknown, local characters"; and where you have to work harder - "you’ve got to really hunt for [the NZ Herald's] obits: who would think of looking for a feature on Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the inside-back-page of the sports section?"

    He's also done a nice job on Isaac Hayes.

    More UK sites sell advertising overseas

    Johnston Press, which publishes the Scotsman and a host of regional newspapers in the UK, is selling overseas advertising on its websites. Visitors outside the UK and Ireland will see ads relevant to their countries. Johnston Press is using the same ad agency as the Telegraph, AdGent 007, according to

    Thursday, August 7, 2008

    What Facebook does when you die

    Staying with the 'what happens when you die these days' theme, the Guardian has a story by Dave Lee looking at what Facebook does when a member dies. Interesting.

    How would you know if I died?

    In 1975, if someone died you would have read about it in the paper - having scanned the death notices (along with births, engagements and weddings) for familiar names.

    But what about in 2008? I know my Mum used to check the death notices before scanning the headlines and doing the crossword and I think my aunties do too.

    But I don't and nor do many of my friends (a lot don't buy newspapers anymore). Nor do any of the colleagues and students I canvassed yesterday.

    I'd say we're not alone. My Mum died a few weeks ago and we got a few kind phone calls after the fact from people who'd heard she was sick and wondered how she was doing.

    Close friends and immediate family get a phone call. But if my extended circle of friends and colleagues don't check death notices, how are they going to know I've died?

    All fired up over Wintec's Spark festival

    This has been a good week with much spirited conversation about journalism, daily news and how the web is changing how, where and when we get our news.

    It's Spark Week at Wintec in Hamilton - a festival of international and local speakers, workshops, films and exhibitions open to students, staff and the community at large.

    Well worth a look at the Spark website to check out the programme if you're in town. There's still a lot to come including Pecha Kucha 7.30pm tonight in the Hub - Wintec's new high-tech function centre, meeting space, library and cafe rolled into one.

    My contribution to proceedings started on Tuesday with a Media Bites lunch - a regular Wintec event open to students and the local media and business community. Media Bites, hosted by Wintec's Editor in Residence (that's me), brings in industry speakers to share ideas and experience and spark conversation about what's happening in the industry, and what should be happening.

    In previous years we've heard from Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst, TV3 news chief Mark Jennings, John Campbell, former Al-Jazeera bureau chief Trish Carter and Morning Report's Sean Plunket.

    Earlier this year Waikato Times editor Bryce Johns spoke about the way his paper handled coverage of the Tamahere coolstore fire, a major story for the region.

    This time Sam Farrow joined us to talk about his time at New Scotland Yard developing new media systems to improve communication with the UK media. Sam, whose background spans PR, news and IT, managed the development of an online news programme at the Yard. He's now back in NZ and until recently was New Media Manager at NZPA.

    Early on Sam told us that when he joined the Yard its only means of talking to reporters was by phone. That meant fielding 300 phone calls on an average day. It was closer to 1,000 on a day like September 11, 2001.

    That's a logistical headache by anyone's definition. So they started setting up email networks, sending out press releases with print-ready quotes and later broadcast-ready audio.

    Interesting stuff, made more so by the fact that Sam cheerfully let us in on some of the mistakes made along the way. I think Sam's going to set his slides up online soon and when he does I'll post the link. If you're interested in coming along to Media Bites or presenting some time, drop me a line at

    Yesterday Sam followed up with a workshop based on a real-life scenario. Police received a taped phone message of a distressed young woman saying she'd been abducted and was in trouble. The message cut out before she could say where she was.

    What followed was a slow drip feed of information, and those of us in the workshop were asked each step along the way whether we should start talking to the media and how much we should say if we did, given that a young woman's life hung in the balance.

    I'll be honest, I found it really difficult to decide - I wanted to be open with the media but I didn't want a mob of reporters showing up outside the barn where the girl was thought to be held for fear the abductor would react badly to the added pressure. A very interesting exercise if you ever get the chance to do the workshop, or something like it.

    Before I go, a quick nod to the Sparkettes, two Wintec students working on Spark week who are blogging about their 12 days of Spark.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    The future's bright. It's just the medium term that looks a little ropey

    I remain relentlessly optimistic about the future of journalism, believing that it will outlive its current institutions and models - and I'm not alone in this judging by a few conversations I've stumbled across online recently (on Twitter and blog comments - too hard to link to just now).

    For a start, I still read a lot of quality journalism. It's just that much of it is in non-fiction paperbacks, specialist magazines and blogs. Nothing wrong with that.

    But in case you were in any doubt that our current, familiar news institutions - daily newspapers, for example - were in a spot of bother, here's the latest round up of gloom that landed in my inbox from the INMA (International Newsmedia Marketing Association).

    Monday, August 4, 2008

    Wikileaks - the home of leaked documents

    Back on the investigative journalism theme, this Editors Weblog post (based on a stronger Wired story) looks at Wikileaks, the document-leaking website set up to "help journalists change the world" according to its founder Julian Assange.

    Wikileaks has been responsible for the leaking of several major news stories: the U.S. military's operating manuals for its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; lists of U.S. munitions in Iraq; reports of the looting of Kenya by former president Daniel Arap Moi.

    For investigative journalists, this powerful new resource has the potential to provide an endless stream of stories. Assange is beginning to tweak Wikileaks to better accommodate journalists, pre-releasing selected documents to reporters. He is also considering making Wikileaks a subscription service for journalists.
    The site has so far survived legal assaults and temporary setbacks including having been taken offline. There's some interesting background on Wikipedia and the Wired story has a good wrap. You can easily lose a couple of hours wandering around the site itself and I recommend having a look at the Media Kit page for some useful links.

    Washington Post's top 10 investigative stories

    I've lost track of how many times I've heard people bemoan the lack of investigative journalism these days.

    I think there's still quite a bit about, albeit appearing more in specialist magazines and non-fiction paperbacks than in daily newspapers.

    But the genre is not entirely dead even there. This post from Editors Weblog lists the top 10 investigative stories chosen by the Washington Post for the last year.

    I haven't had a chance to read them but thought I'd share them and see if anyone has any thoughts on how well they measure up.

    1. Charlotte Observer, staff, Sold a Nightmare

    2. Chicago Tribune, staff, Hidden Hazards

    3. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, David Umhoefer, Abuse of county pension funds

    4. National Journal, Edward T. Pound, Investigation of HUD Secretary Alphono Jackson

    5. The New York Times, Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker, A Toxic Pipeline

    6. Palm Beach Post, Tom Dubocq, Palm Beach County's Culture of Corruption

    7. The Salt Lake City Tribune, Loretta Tofani, American Imports, Chinese Deaths

    8. The Seattle Times, staff, Victory and Ruins

    9. The Washington Post, Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Walter Reed and Beyond

    10. The Washington Post, Bart Gellman and Jo Becker, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

    A word on design

    This piece about Harold Evans is a nice read (thanks to Chris Bourke for the link).

    The former UK Sunday Times editor whose books on editing, typography and layout inspired a couple of generations of journalists/designers in the UK and beyond, talked to the Independent on Sunday about newspaper design, now and then.

    A couple of key quotes:

    "...don't dismiss the classic news photograph in black and white; don't exaggerate the use of colour; and do think, as well as the visual appearance, 'What the hell is it saying?'"

    "Design can't be considered without the context, the information. Design is absolutely no substitute for content."