Previous month:
June 2006
Next month:
August 2006

Photographer fired for altering colours

Wordblog wrote a few says ago about how manipulated newspics led to diminishing trust in photographs. However, some editors take any form of picture manipulation very seriously. The Charlotte Observer promptly fired a photographer who repeatedly altered the colours in his photos to make them more aesthetic. "Accuracy is among our most sacred journalistic values. That goes for the photographs, as well as the words, that we publish," writes editor Rick Tames.


The Times they are A-Changin' II

I wrote a while back about how much I enjoyed The Guardian's blog coverage of this years' NUJ conference and how reading it almost made me feel as if I was there. The Washington Post's Frank Ahren has an interesting article about covering the Enron trial from a multi-media platform (link via Julian Matthews). I especially find the conclusions he draws from his experiences blogging from the spectacle intriguing – I'm not sure if I agree, but it's certainly food for thought and worth exploring further as more and more media incorporate blogging in their daily news coverage:

"It seems to me this middle ground between straight news and straight opinion is a natural way to write the news of the future. Far too many news stories still cling to the strict, formal English that almost no one uses anymore and that often leaves readers scratching their heads at the end of the story, assuming they get that far.

It should be clear by now that personality is key to building a news audience, be it via print, Web, radio or video. I compare a news blogger to the character of the stage manager in "Our Town": not a player in the drama, but indispensable to its telling. The casting of the role is critical; a boring stage manager will ruin the play.

Only a few topics (the White House, celebrity, sports) can build audiences on their own, regardless of who's writing about them. For the rest of the news we cover, we need stage managers who won't put our audiences to sleep."


CNN to boost citizen journalism

Reuters reports that CNN will "announce tomorrow that it has created a new program to let users send in digital audio and video from breaking news events in their region. Users can e-mail or upload these so-called 'I-Reports' directly from CNN's site."

This move should make more video material available from areas that are difficult to access for MSM, and from areas that are difficult to get the full overview of for journalists parachuted into them in the middle of a crisis such as a war or natural catastrophe. CNN says that contributions will still be vetted by seasoned reporters, which means the debate about bias and censorship is likely to rage on...


Mecom Europe: the challenges ahead

The papers have been signed, and little can prevent Montgomery from finalising the acquisition of Scandinavia's fifth largest media company. Still, it won't be an easy ride, and the latest addition to Mecom Europe might prove a troublesome child indeed.

Expensive credit
Mecom agreed to buy Orkla Media for £647m, of which £93m will be a vendor loan note provided by Orkla. The loan is to be repaid in two years, and is subject to an interest rate 5 per cent above the market (LIBOR) rate. Orkla Media’s employees would much rather have preferred a Norwegian owner to a foreigner, and the fact that Orkla was willing to extend a loan to Mecom, rather than seek other solutions, has infuriated many.

Ready to go down fighting
Yesterday’s reactions showed that Orkla Media’s employees are far from ready to abandon their loud PR campaign against Mecom, despite admitting the battle of who would be their future owner has been lost. Though Montgomery went from being invoked as a tyrant to being described as a “nice piano-playing man from Northern Ireland” after he held his first press conference in Oslo, fears about Mecom’s financial strength are stronger than ever. Kjetil Haanes, Orkla Media’s main employee representative, summed up many of these fears when he told Norwegian media: “This has been a terribly sad day. A key Norwegian media company, which has existed for 23 years, is being sold to a tiny British company with money troubles. Mecom doesn’t even have enough money to buy Orkla Media – in which case they will not have the money to develop the company further.” Immediately after the deal was announced Haanes said he would seek independent advice on how to best negotiate redundancy packages.

Add to this great political dismay to see a huge chunk of Norway’s regional and local newspapers sold to a foreigner; a looming Danish newspaper war; the urgent need to boost digital operations and the inherent vulnerabilities in a business model as highly geared as Mecom’s… the challenges are plentiful...


Montgomery has succeeded with his Norwegian conquest

After months of negotiation, speculation and passionate debate, the deal between Orkla and Mecom has finally been signed, and one of Norway’s largest media companies is set to become British. The deal is expected to be finalised in September/October.

In this morning’s press release Montgomery said: “I welcome the employees of Orkla Media and look forward to working with them to develop Orkla Media’s strong titles.” After the deal was announced though, Orkla Media’s employee representatives said their next move would be to seek independent advice on how to negotiate the redundancy packages they expect to follow in the wake of Mecom’s takeover.

However, the market seemed to welcome a resolution to a prolonged and very public sales process, and Orkla shares rose by 0.91 per cent in today's trading.


This week's Norwegian media highlight

First, the police planned HOW to stop leaks, then they celebrated their efforts in Oslo's press club – Norway's number one stock exhange for rumours. Of course, the rumours of their celebrations were leaked to the entire national press, and the police thereby aptly demonstrated how little they understand about how rumours come about...


Blue chips and PRs joining the blogosphere

Even in Europe, big corporations and marketing departments are starting to understand the imperative of getting on board the blog bandwagon, and some have even picked up a few things about how it works. Only seven years after The Cluetrain Manifesto, this article from The Financial Times awards us with a quote which could have been taken straight out of the book:

...John Petter, BT’s chief operating officer, will start blogging in the next few weeks. He believes keeping an online journal offers a way to reach customers who are increasingly disillusioned with traditional public relations methods. “They are suspicious of ‘corporate speak’ and they want it straight from the horse’s mouth,” he says. “Especially in a big company they want to know that someone is taking responsibility.”...

The article explains that BT's decision to make its debut in the blogosphere is partly inspired by its smaller competitor Carphone Warehouse. I sincerely hope that Mr Petter will be a better blogger than Mr Dunstone from Carphone Warehouse: I must admit I found Dunstone’s blog rather dull, still too influenced by corporate speak and too much of a sales pitch. But perhaps we need to allow corporate bloggers some time to find their personal voice if that is not a contradiction in terms (though I fear it might be). I've been a customer with both BT and Carphone Warehouse, and have not been impressed with the customer service at either, so it will be interesting to see how their corporate blogs develop.

However, a blog mentioned by the FT article that I really liked was that of Richard Charkin, CEO of MacMillan, the publisher: I will definitely check it out more often, but then it's got a 'personal blog' disclaimer on it, which points to the difficulties that any corporate blog will face: how personal and open can you be when you speak for a big corporation riddled with politics and fears?

As for how blogs can be adopted in the PR-world, there’s a hilarious story over at Buzzmachine of
how someone invented a pretty PR girl named Amanda and set up a blog for her, a blog that has five people writing in her name, apparently just to check out the new ‘bloghype’ and how it might be used as a PR tool…


Orkla-Mecom: Delays spark hope

In Norway, Orkla Media’s journalists have expressed hope the delays in the contractual negotiations between Orkla and Mecom might signify that the deal will fall through. Their worries about Mecom's prospective takeover seem to have been confirmed by Norwegian news magazine Memo, which, for its in depth feature on Montgomery, failed to find any sources who had positive things to say about him, apart from his obvious skills as a cost-cutter. In Denmark, Berlingske reported that Montgomery had been unable to raise more than half of the necessary funds to buy Orkla Media, despite earlier reports to the contrary. The newspaper said Mecom's potential investors were reluctant to commit themselves so far ahead (the formalities on Mecom's side will not be finalised until October), especially seeing the current instability in the world economy. This led the newspaper to speculate that Orkla might have to raise its stake in Mecom Europe from the agreed 15 to 25 per cent in order to complete the sale now. That would make Orkla the majority shareholder in the new company, which would no doubt be welcome news to Orkla Media's employees whose representatives on many occasions have commended Orkla's responsible management of its newspaper arm. However, it would clearly contradict the company's professed desire to get out of the media industry and would probably not sit quite as well with Orkla's shareholders.


Mecom Europe: potential scene for Scandinavian power struggles?

DN reports that Orkla’s controversial sale of its newspaper arm to Mecom is expected to be signed in London very soon. To finalise the negotiations in London was probably a choice made for practical reasons, but it is also a wise one: a source I talked to recently said the Danes felt rather chuffed that Montgomery chose to give his first press conference in Oslo and had not bothered to visit the Danish newspapers which make up a considerable part of Orkla Media.

It has been widely reported that Mecom has promised to move its headquarters to Oslo, and it is also rumoured that Björn Wiggen, Orkla Media’s Norwegian managing director, will take on the same position in Mecom Europe. That would be an awful lot of power on Norwegian hands and I wonder how well this will sit with Berlingske Officin, Orkla Media’s key Danish asset. Keep in mind that the Scandinavian countries have long traditions for infighting, and each nurture deeply held convictions of its own superiority and the others inferiority.


Bloggers driving the news agenda: bar room tittle-tattle or a correction to MSM?

I've breezed through quite a few commentary pieces on UK deputy prime minister John Prescott's demise in Norwegian press recently, but those I've read all miss one of the big points of what brought it about: the relentless onslaught of bloggers such as Guido Fawkes alias Paul Staines and Iain Dale.

Or did it? Some hail Prescott's recent troubles as 'the first big political victory' of UK bloggers, others predictably question the value and legitimacy of the bloggers' campaign. The Independent's deputy political editor Colin Brown told The Press Gazette: "[The bloggers] have just put on the web something about a name that everybody knew about, but had no evidence on. That's neither brave nor great journalism — that's just bar room tittle-tattle dressed up as journalism." The Press Gazette is well worth reading on this, as well as The Guardian's excellent article last Monday, where Guido himself mounts a passionate defence for the influence of blogs.

Guido Fawkes currently boasts 200,000 hits a month, much of it made up of mainstream media. My friend Brian Micklethwait told me a while back how it's always been a tradition for this type of incendiary, irreverent writer in the UK, and Brian, Wordblog and others point to the similarities with the role previously played by Private Eye. In an excellent piece on Guido's narrative, Brian writes:

"My understanding is that the 'conspiracy' of which Guido is a part includes mainstream journalists. As Antoine explained in our last mp3, they tell Guido some juicy titbit. Guido reports it. Iain Dale reports that Guido reported it. The journalists can then report that 'internet sites' reported it - the plural being quite important because it makes omitting the actual names of the 'internet sites' a lot less ridiculous."

This obviously raises quite a few questions to journalistic practice as well.

What of Norwegian Bloggers?
Now of course, we've seen this sort of scenario, where bloggers get the story long before it's picked up by mainstream media, unfold several times across the Atlantic, starting with Trent Lott's much publicised fall from grace. But as I'm currently blogging from the northern outpost of Oslo, it begs the question: what about Norwegian bloggers?

Norwegian bloggers first hit the headlines in a big way during the cartoon war, where quite a few published the infamous cartoon depicting Mohammed as a suicide bomber. This created a bit of an uproar in a consensus oriented country such as Norway, where most mainstream media were scurrying to make apologies for this 'abuse' of press freedom. So far, this is the only major political controversy that I am aware of where Norwegian bloggers have played a very public role, but I don't claim to be an expert on the history of the Norwegian blogging scene so feel free to leave a comment if you think there are other agenda setting blogging stories that should be mentioned.

Of course, another big development is 'the vast right wing conspiracy' - Norway's first political video blog, which aims to run weekly broadcasts starting this fall. I find this development quite encouraging, though for the record I have to state I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out I knew all or most of the team behind VRC, I certainly know the presenter, but I would be equally excited to see mainstream media complemented with a whole range of diverse political video blogs...


It had to be Mecom

Though Norwegian media have been awash with speculations about who would be Orkla Media's next owner for months, Orkla's chairman Stein Erik Hagen yesterday revealed there was never much choice. In an exclusive interview with Aftenposten, Hagen said:

"It had to be a private equity company or Mecom. I would rather have kept the Norwegian papers and sold the foreign ones, but the employee representatives wanted to keep the newspapers together, so the proposition fell." Hagen admitted to nurturing a rather dismal view of Montgomery before he met the man, but changed his opinion since: "He was the only one who showed any interest in the newspapers. He would sit skipping through the papers up for sale, while the others were just concerned about the money. Montgomery is a real newspaper man." Hagen said the deal would be signed some time around 20 July.


Orkla-Mecom: Dashed Hopes - and a political catch22

DN reported yesterday that Montgomery had raised the necessary funds to buy Orkla Media. The newspapers said the deal is expected to be completed and signed on Monday 17 July. "To the very last, we have clung to the hope that the new owner would not be Mecom," Carine Johansen, the leader of the Norwegian Journalists Union's Orkla chapel, told DN, but added that the union members were ready to face reality and make the most of it. (More coverage in Norwegian: Journalisten, Kampanje)

In an Op-Ed in Dagbladet, senior journalism lecturer Johann Roppen, who wrote his PhD on Orkla Media, outlined how dramatically Mecom’s increased demands to profitability could weaken journalistic output and what political tools the Norwegian Government has at its disposal to curb such a development. One such tool would be to increase press subsidies to Mecom’s competitors (Orkla newspapers currently receive limited subsidies and Orkla has campaigned to remove public support to newspapers all together). However, Roppen cautioned that such political meddling easily could backfire and indicated that to intervene or not posed a bit of a catch22 to the politicians in charge.


Dell - rebuilding corporate reputation with grassroots effort

Puh! Long title, but that's what GCI group, a division of Grey Worldwide, says it's doing for Dell. Read Jeff Jarvis hilarious account of exactly how. Dell, or their marketing consultants, are obviously starting to wake up to how markets are not only conversations, but, facilitated by the internet and the blogosphere, they are increasingly global conversations. However, Dell hasn't quite figured out how to converse with their markets yet, as this snippet from the comment Jarvis received shows:

"I’ve been working with Dell the past three weeks researching trashy blogs that worms like you leave all over that frigen blogosphere... But honestly I don't think you have a problem Dell can fix. Your problem is you have no life. "

More on the conversation between Jarvis and Dell, and the implications for PR and customer service, here. Now my only personal experience with Dell is hearing my then boyfriend scream and swear at his Dell laptop with regular intervals while we lived together.

However, the story of how Dell is struggling to reconnect with its customers bears a lot of resemblance to how AOL is struggling to do the same – and I have too many experiences with them. So much so that even when the company now has announced it will deliver its email service for free along the lines of services provided by e.g. Yahoo, I wouldn't take them up on it. In fact, I'm even less tempted to go back to a free version of AOL – at least when I pay for a service I have a snippet of reasonable expectation that I will get what I pay for and can complain if I don't: if it's free, well who am I to complain?


Remember to be yourself today

This neon-blinking, talking escalator greets me every day when I arrive and leave the underground station closest to my current assignment. When I stumbled off the train yesterday morning it told me something in the vein of "I used to have nothing, now I have a garden full of garbage," and on my way back from work yesterday it told me to "remember to be yourself today". The things politicians spend money on... I guess it's supposed to be an art installation of sorts, but it's a rather eerie way to start your day ... More on this later, in the meantime, here's a few pics:

Arrival
Neonstairs

Departure
Neonstairs2

Neon Hell
Neonnightmare


The Silly Season is upon us

The silly season, or 'cucumber' season in local slang, is quite a concept in Norway, where the country almost shuts down for a month or two during summertime. This year, it was Dagbladet's turn to kick of the silly 'cucumber' season - which they did with an insightful article on why growing up in the countryside is better than growing up in Oslo (link via Vampus). The only minor problem with the article was that the sample was somewhat less than representative given that all the respondents were what Norwegian city dwellers often classify as peasants (i.e. had grown up in the countryside). Okay, we do have an overabundance of peasants in this country, but the sample does make the articles' conclusion so predictable that it's hardly worth mentioning (Countryside 10 – Oslo 0).

At the moment, most Norwegians are off on holiday somewhere, most likely to a seaside 'hytte' or boat. Norway shuts down in July: the gyms close earlier, the tube runs less frequently and most of the people downtown Oslo are foreigners. Of course, as a journalist you're faced with the problem that most of the heads you would like to talk to, such as the rulers of the country, union representatives and business leaders, probably are off on a holiday somewhere as well - though I refuse to believe that all 'native Oslonians' are out of town...

Like everything in Norway there is such a massive consensus surrounding what time of the year to take your holiday that you do feel like a bit of a weirdo for working through the summer. Tempted by the great weather last week, I tried the rather creative solution of bringing a manuscript I'm copy editing to the beach for two days, but, perhaps predictably, it turned out to be a bit too creative: blistering sun, sea breeze, screaming kids and sand sticking to everything – I'm forced to admit it was not the most conducive environment to get the job done in, and only wishful thinking could have made me believe it would be.

Stavern_0052_1
But oh, how peaceful and inviting it looks


Networked journalism vs. Citizen journalism

Jeff Jarvis suggests we replace the term “citizen journalism” with “networked journalism”: “Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product." The way he strings together those words almost makes me agree just on the basis of the beauty of the statement. However, Andrew Grant-Adamson, a former lecturer of mine at City University disagrees strongly. In "I'm sticking with citizen journalism" he writes: "Journalism has always depended on networks, networks of sources and people prepared to publish. Journalism cannot exist without networks whether they be in cyberspace or the physical world. To appropriate the word in this way is entirely wrong." Hmm.. I can't seem to make up my mind, but find the discussion intriguing.


Norwegian journalist's house under fire

Four shots were fired at Norwegian journalist Nina Johnsrud's house last night. An experienced crime correspondent with Dagsavisen, Johnsrud is convinced the incident is connected to one of the stories she has covered, though she did not receive any threats upfront. Nobody was hurt in the attack, but journalists and editors alike are worried about future implications. Nils Öy of the Norwegian Editors Association said this may be the gravest attack in the history of Norwegian press. "When you shoot at a journalist or a journalist's home, you do something more than this: you challenge an important civic institution," Per Edgar Kokkvold of the Norwegian Press Association told TV2. Selected coverage in Norwegian: Dagsavisen, Kampanje, Propaganda, Journalisten


The sea beckons

Skerries_1
The Skerries - Stavern

It's summer time in Norway: bet this place will be choked when I get there later in the day. Almost a third of the Norwegian population own or have access to a boat according to this article in Norwegian Dagsavisen. If another third of the population is lounging on a beach somewhere, it certainly explains why the streets of Oslo seem so empty these days...

""It is said that Norwegians are born with skiis on their feet, but if that is the case, the birth took place on a boat," Jan H. Syvertsen of the Royal Boat Association told Dagsavisen.



Who needs taxes?

That's the big headline in Norway today. In the quarterly report they provide for the oil industry, Norwegian economic analysis company Econ asks 'what if the oil price stays as high as today'? They find that, given a $70 scenario, as much as 86,4 per cent of the state's expenses will be covered by the turnover from the oil fund in 2030, which by then will have reached a staggering 10,311 billion NOK (roughly £90 million). The political debate in Norway frequently centres on whether or not the Government should spend more of the oil money, and Norwegian Nobel price winner Finn Kydland has previously stated he thinks the Norwegian people would be better stewards of this wealth than the politicians.