An inspired video team brings a camera to the streets of Sutton, dubbed 'the most average town in England', to investigate to what extent most people understand RSS. The result is enlightening, though perhaps not that surprising. I know for a fact that I'd get similar results if I were to ask the same question to a number of editors (via Adam Tinworth).
No, this was not an attempt to be funny or practice a more personalised form of journalism: when Dagens Media reported on journalist Niclas Rislund's trial for pretending to be policeman in his former job at Expressen, the Swedish tabloid, the media rag had none other than Rislund write the article, in which Rislund refers to himself as 'Expressen's former star reporter'. Of course, this caused an outcry, both in mainstream media and among bloggers, with Hans Kullin dubbing it 'a fantastic example that journalism doesn't need blogs to destroy itself'.
Dagens Media's response? 'We were short of people, and we wanted to get this piece of news out fast. Niclas was available, he could do it quickly and he knew the issue', said editor-in-chief Rof van den Brink. I bet.
Update 01/03: As if that wasn't enough, Rislund has been accused of fabricating an interview with Schibsted'd CEO, Kjell Aamot, which appeared in yesterday's print version of Dagens Media. Funny how Dagens Media seems to have a predilection for employing disgraced ex-Expressen hacks like Rislund and Svensson.
For good and for worse, where has it brought us? Dan Farber runs into Dave Winer, who has been blogging for ten years come April, and reflects on the massive changes blogging has wrought to all fields of communication (at least in the US, in Europe, and especially Scandinavia, there is still some, if not a long, way to go). He dwells on the virtues of its democraticizing force as well as what some would call its vices: a forthcoming book by Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur, will argue that unfettered blogging and social media is a kind of curse on culture, threatening the quality of public discourse, stifling creativity and encouraging plagiarism and intellectual property theft. But, Farber concludes:
The genie is out of the bottle. It's not a battle to the death of mainstream media versus the blogosphere. Over time, better filters and search mechanisms; measures of authority and trust; and natural selection will improve the noise to signal ratio, potentially for every individual's preferences, and change perceptions about what constitutes mainstream media.
(via Dave Winer, who's not impressed (update 27/2) by Andrew Keen's new book, saying Keen blames bloggers for the the demise of professional media, without considering that blogging might be an attempt to solve some of the problems caused by a vacuum of responsible high-integrity journalism).
And from local British press: the story of the chair that deliberately was put on fire and destroyed. A low-point in the nation's media coverage you might think, but the editor of Westmoreland Gazette said it had been the paper's most viewed story for nearly a week – and in this age of interactivity the comments are priceless:
The chair knew the risks. Gang Warfare in Kendal is rife, and when you choose a side, you gotta be down with the risks...
I think it high time the Westmorland Gazette had something newsworthy to print: perhaps a drowned shopping trolley in the Kent or a discarded piece of mint cake found on the cobbled streets of Kendal.... read more here (via Adrian Monck).
Not a really eyebrow-raising headline, I know, but that's the rather unexciting conclusion I drew from looking at the latest circulation figures for Swedish media released this week. Last year's overall newspaper circulation in Sweden was down 1,8 per cent, which had Swedish media use many dramatic words, but the same number for Norway was – 2,6 per cent, just a wee bit more dramatic.
In Sweden, 75 per cent of all newspapers published three days a week or more lost circulation compared to the previous year, only 12 per cent saw an increase, according to Journalisten. Of the daily paid-for national newspapers, only Svenska Dagbladet, the Schibsted-owned broadsheet-turned-tabloid, and Dagens Industri, the financial daily, could record improved circulations. However, the overall decline among paid-for national titles might be partly explained by the ongoing Swedish freesheet war.
Incidentally, the second-biggest loser among the big city papers, Sydsvenskan, has an island in Second Life with a suggestion-box where you can submit your suggestions to the newspaper... (sorry, couldn't resist that one... )
VG, Norway's biggest tabloid, has found the 'magic' recipe for online success, wrote Editors Weblog this week, following two very favourable articles in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune on Schibsted, its publisher. Neither of those articles explained what exactly this recipe consists of, however, apart from the fact that Schibsted recognised the need to adapt to the digital revolution earlier than many other media companies.
In fact, Norway is in a unique position in that both its top tabloids, VG and Dagbladet, make very handsome profits online, and Dagbladet online has more readers than its paper version has buyers. How come?
First of all, blogging. No, VG and Dagbladet haven't invented the magic formula for blogging journalists or editors. When I looked at the blogs written by VG's own staff for an Op-Ed recently, I found that even though VG has found a good blogging tone, they had measly 2 – 31 inbound links for the last 180 days, so could hardly be said to be part of any bigger conversation. Neither were the blogs registered to be recognised as blogs by Technorati.
But maybe that is beside the point, because where both VG and Dagbladet have succeeded on the blogging front, in true Norwegian egilitarian fashion, is to empower their readers to blog. Both have blogging platforms as integral parts of their newspapers sites where readers are encouraged to set up blogs. These blogging 'communities' are further encouraged by competitions to write 'blog post(s)' of the week with prizes such as mobile phones etc.
The readers' blogs, together with social networks, dating services, diet clubs etc, all contribute to the online papers' impressive number of unique visitors. So when we talk about these numbers, we should talk about users or visitors rather than readers. I'm not aware of any figures that tell us how many of Dagbladet and VG's 1,8 - 2 million unique weekly users go to the respective sites to write on their own blogs, read someone elses, publish a picture of their boobs, chat up a suitable young chick, check how they're doing with their diet – and how many actually read the news (update: see figures at the bottom of the post).
I don't mean to detract from the online successes of these two tabloids, just to say that they do things differently, and this is key to their success. As the article in International Herald Tribune pointed out:
"Schibsted has managed to avoid one of the biggest problems plaguing print publications elsewhere: Because many visitors to newspaper Web sites arrive there simply by following links from search engines, they depart as quickly as they arrive. So advertisers choose instead to spend their money with Google, where consumer eyeballs linger."
Both these Norwegian tabloids have found a way to make those 'eyeballs linger', and they have done so by making a number of different reader-driven communities part and parcel of their news sites. The thinking behind this was neatly summarized in a talk by Espen Hansen, VG Multimedia's managing editor, last year (do check out the full transcript from Julian Matthews, but note that it is close to a year old so numbers may not be up-to-date):
In VG we don’t think about it as “Internet vs paper.” This is not the big difference. We think about it as going from “telling the readers” to “creating arenas where people can come with their content, communities”. We think from “deciding what they should read” to “making content available when it is convenient for them.” From “delivering our content”, to “creating content with the readers.” Everyone seems to understand this except us (newspapers). Search engines, aggregators and communities are the biggest websites. Where are the newspapers? No English newspapers are on the Top 10 worldwide. In Norway, No 1 and No 2 are newspapers. VG is the largest Norwegian newspaper, the largest website and largest mobile site.
Update 27/2 (NB: all links in this section are in Norwegian): According to a survey from TNS Gallup for 2006, 1,1 million Norwegians (28,4%) read their news on VG online daily, 809,000 (20,6%) get their daily news from Dagbladet online (the sample was 29,917, above 12 years-old). Looking at unique users, VG online (the whole site) could track 900,000 on 12/2/2007, Dagbladet online 635,000. Another poll by Questback, from September 2006, found that 76% of Dagbladet's online users read the news there daily.
If we try to look at daily unique visitors (UV) to the news sections, the numbers are not directly comparable because VG online divides this into home affairs and foreign news, while Dagbladet doesn't, but Dagbladet news online claims to have on average 200,000 UV daily, while VG online had 323,571 (weekdays+Saturdays+Sundays/7) to its home affairs news section in the last four weeks. Traffic figures to the blog sections of these sites were not available, but for social network sites Blink (Dagbladet) and Nettby (VG), the numbers are roughly 46,000 UV daily to Blink, 10,000 UV daily to Nettby. And we could go on and on, but the conclusion seems to be that readership figures for both these tabloids are very good, while perhaps the different (user-driven) sub sites contribute to people spending more time on the sites, and may even create a stronger sense of community.
Kareem Amer, the Egyptian blogger who has been detained since November for opinions he expressed on his blog, has just been sentenced to FOUR years in prison: three years for contempt of religion, and one year for defaming the Egyptian president (via Johan Norberg, who only yesterday spoke at a rally in solidarity with Kareem in front of the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm).
Kareem Amer, the online pseudonym for former law student Abdul Kareem Suleiman Amer, who had argued for secularism, free speech and women's rights, is the first Egyptian to be put on trial for Internet-based journalism, and, as such, today's verdict may set a frightening precedent. For one, it's a sharp reminder that dictatorships are catching up with Web 2.0...
(photo via Fredrik Malm's blog)
'Blame us for Jon Benet Ramsey, Natalee Holloway or The Apprentice, but I'm really sorry about how we covered Anna Nicole Smith's death'. An American Network News Producer writes an open letter to the American Public on the coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death (Yeah, I've been catching up on my occasional blog reads today, guess I'll be adding Doc Searls to my RSS-feed):
Dear American Public,
I have no excuse. I have no defense.
I am a member of the American news media and have been for some time. This means that on more than one occasion I have -- willingly or unwillingly -- foisted upon you the trite, the inane and the monumentally ridiculous, and done so under the auspices of my supposed right to inform and educate you as to important events which effect your lives... In short, I have betrayed you. I have betrayed your trust....Yet I've never felt compelled to humbly ask for any sort of forgiveness for my offenses. I have never felt true shame, both for myself and my chosen profession -- until now.
I'm sorry for the coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
The only possible consolation is that many of us are well aware of our own ethical bankruptcy in the continued pursuit of this absurdity. I could explain at length my own feelings in the matter, but better I allow an anonymous colleague of mine to be the eloquent, impassioned voice for the thousands currently toiling away on this story at otherwise-reputable news operations across the country:
"I'm sorry, but I did not spend tens of thousands of dollars in school to cover this bullshit. She's a celebrity for fucking the unfuckable; that's not an accomplishment. I actually announced to the newsroom this morning that I didn't go to journalism school to cover a two-bit Texas whore and that, if this was the kind of news we were covering, I could use my diploma for toilet paper. It's unbelievable. BREAKING NEWS???....."
Doc Searls, one of the authors behind The Cluetrain Manifesto, a primer on how the Internet is transforming business as usual, weighs in to the recent discussion on 'What's wrong with social media' (Funny that, as the terms social media and Web 2.0 become more and more mainstream, the efforts to define, describe an explain the phenomena grows ever more inventive). Highlights from Doc Searl's post on the issue below, full text here:
On Social media
I don't think of my what I do here as production of "information" that others "consume". Nor do I think of it as "one-to-many" or "many-to-many". I think of it as writing that will hopefully inform readers. Informing is not the same as delivering information. Inform is derived from the verb to form. When you inform me, you form me. You enlarge that which makes me most human: what I know. I am, to some degree, authored by you. What we call "authority" is the right we give others to author us, to enlarge us. The human need to increase what we know, and to help each other do the same, is what the Net at its best is all about. Yeah, it's about other things. But it needs to be respected as an accessory to our humanity. And terms like "social media", forgive me, don't do that. (At least not for me.)
On Web 2.0
I don't use the term "Web 2.0" either. When asked a long time ago to define what it meant to me, I said it's the name we'll give to the next crash.
Last year's full year circulation figures for Norwegian newspapers were out this week. They confirmed the previous year's trend of local and online papers outperforming nationals. 2006 was also a great year for niche newspapers. The big losers were the paper versions of the country's two biggest tabloids, VG and Dagbladet, and most Sunday newspapers.
However, both VG and Dagbladet turn over big profits online, and Dagbladet's online readership surpasses its print readership, so, despite the dwindling print sales, the picture is not all gloomy.
The circulation figures seem to support David Montgomery's thinking about the potential value in local newspapers with a high subscription basis, and, even though Schibsted recorded a somewhat dramatic fall in print readership for VG, and a more modest reduction in how many picked up the print edition of Aftenposten, the company is benefiting hugely from its early and successful online investments.
Overall newspaper circulation was down 2,6 per cent, but Norway is still the world's second most newspaper reading country, after Japan (source: Norwegian Media Businesses' Association (MBL), statistics here, in Norwegian).
What are they talking about? After comments like this, it was of course only a question of time as to when UK Conservative leader David Cameron would seize the chance to pick up a secret or two from the new Conservative Swedish prime minister, who came to power on a 'light blue Labour' ticket last autumn. I'm not sure if the picture was snapped during this week's visit to the 'daddy group' or the truck factory, but the discussion seemed to have centred on how to achieve a more 'balanced position', or huddling up as close as possible to the median voter as some would describe it: Reinfeldt administering advice and Cameron admitting to the UK Conservative Party's many failures, while the Press were spooked by the similarities between the two.
Reinfeldt's advice that Cameron should 'focus on finding solutions to voter's day-to-day problems' certainly brings many interesting discussion topics to mind (captions, anyone?) The meeting was of course widely reported, complete with grand mission statements and the usual gobblydygook, but I rather liked The Local's down-to-earth take on it...
Guess this won't come as a big surprise to anyone, but reporting in or from a virtual world like Second Life brings new challenges and opportunities, both for 'real life' media organisations with bureaus there, like Reuters and CNET, and for the news outlets that only serve the virtual community. For one, whether or not to quote Second or Real life identities in the reporting is a bit of an issue, but only for 'real life' media organisations it seems:
For wholly virtual reporters like Pixeleen Mistral, the question of real-world identities isn't even addressed -- perhaps not surprising for a journalist who herself is only known by a handle. "My reporting is about the world inside Second Life, and I confirm with the sources in world," she explained in an e-mail. "It introduces more confusion to drag the real-life person into the scene. It might depend on the story, but if you want to cover transgendered furries [avatars that look like the plush animal costumes of theme parks], getting a real-life name and contact might be hard."
For more on the joys and ethical dilemmas of virtual journalism, and an introduction to some Second Life media hubs, check out this enlightening article from Editor&Publisher.
Update 18/02: A few days after the article in Editor&Publisher appeared, Journalism.co.uk interviewed Adam
Reuters, Reuter's dedicated Second Life correspondent, who provided even more insights into reporting from the virtual world. In some respects it's not that different from a regular beat he said, his experiences certainly higlighted the value for reporters of getting out and about and talking to sources rather than getting stuck in an office, real or virtual. However, 'though still a beat in the old sense - even if you do fly between appointments - virtual world reporting has brought a new set of challenges. "We had to make a few changes to our editorial practises because we're talking to people who are in essence anonymous - at least in terms of their real life identities." Read the full interview here.
Riding on the hype from a potential launch of a Swedish Embassy in Second Life, the first Swedish paper has bought a piece of property in the virtual world. Last Friday, the Swedish daily Sydsvenskan launched its own island in Second Life: a nice little place where Swedes from the Southern part of the country, which the newspaper covers, can meet and hang out (via Media Culpa).
Interesting. I can't say I'm too convinced by the soundness of this idea, not dissimilar to MTV's recent 'virtual' efforts to revive a rather tired media brand: create a place to hang out in Second Life, a place some would argue may be just a wee bit overhyped.
Can we have a law against cost-cutting in the newsrooms, please? And perhaps one against increased commercialisation?
As noted by Andrew Grant-Adamson, and in the comments, incorporating the rights and duties of the editor in the Norwegian legislation doesn't do much to 'tame' Montgomery, or any unscrupulous media proprietor. The Norwegian Journalists' Union (NJ) was quick to voice its concern about the proposed new law's shortcomings, its representatives stating that they were much more concerned about financial than political pressures. Ironically, this sentiment seemed to be shared by Norway's culture minister, Trond Giske, who stated much the same when he introduced the law proposal (DN, no direct link available).
Overall, it would be fair to say that Giske has failed to impress anyone in his handling of he whole Orkla-Mecom affair, though the editor's association seemed grateful for the prospect of having this long standing voluntary agreement made law. The journalist union, however, restated how it felt increased financial pressures and commercialisation were much more pressing concerns (4th paragraph), and Propaganda's commentator Dag Solberg (in Norwegian) was quick to criticise the law proposal in an article entitled "The Lawless Law": 'The proposed law will only create an incentive for proprietors to hire obedient editors, and who then will stand up for the journalists?' he asked.
Perhaps not your most pressing concern on a Friday afternoon, but here's a useful guide to how to awaken that 'giant within' and write the perfect audience-pleasing post (from Valleywag via Bloggers Blog).
Yesterday the figures from the World Association of Newspapers' survey on newspaper circulation and new daily titles were widely quoted as proof that the industry is booming. This is misleading. Andrew Grant-Adamson expertly debunks the spin put on the survey: 'this comes as no surprise to anyone who has noted the boom in Asia and Africa fueled by increasing prosperity and better education....Set aside the boom in Asia and Africa which is well-known, and look at what is happening in Europe. The 2005 figures were boosted by the distribution of more than 9 million free papers a day. Paid for sales in Europe declined by 6.3% in 2001-5 (Other figures are North America -4.47%, South America -7.29% and Australia and Oceania -3.04%).' In other words, not that much to cheer for.
This European downward trend in paid for sales is further supported by the latest poll on newspaper readership in Denmark, where seven freesheets are competing with the paid-for-titles for advertisement and readers. A year-on-year comparison for January shows readership for two of the country's top paid for morning papers were down with 16pc (Jyllands-posten) and 10pc (Berlingske) respectively (via Berlingske, in Danish)
I must admit I quite like the sound of this, but as a standalone reader it would just be yet another item to add weight to my backpack – and I'm doing quite alright as it is with a mobile phone/ -broadband and laptop. An integrated reader/mobile phone device with a better screen resolution than current blackberries/PDAs would make a lot of sense if I was still living in London and spending big chunks of the day commuting though. "Is this the future of newspapers?" asks The Telegraph's Shane Richmond:
Yesterday Norway's minister of culture, Trond Giske, proposed to establish the rights and duties of the editor (scroll down for full text) by law to protect editors, and their editorial freedom, from meddling proprietors. Giske cited a dramatic change in the nature of the country's media ownership as one of the triggers for introducing the proposed law, which could come into effect as early as 1 July.
He denied that Orkla selling its newspaper arm to British Mecom was the direct precedent for the new law, but Ann-Magrit Austenå, leader of Norway's journalist union (NJ), told Propaganda that the timing of the proposal was no coincidence: 'It has been on the political agenda since 1999. It is obvious that the sale of Orkla Media has contributed to speed up the process of getting a law in place.'
Back in July of course, Giske was voicing his concerns about Mecom all over the place . However, while issuing more or less subtle warnings of how he might be prompted to take action if David Montgomery's investment vehicle Mecom failed to live up to its 'civic responsibilities', Giske seemed unable to walk the talk.
"I’m not sure Giske has actually looked into his toolbox, but he does have useful tools at his disposal. Whether or not he decides to use them, and what effect they may have, is up to him," Johann Roppen, a senior lecturer in journalism who wrote his Phd thesis on Orkla Media, told me back then. Now it seems Giske has had some time to rummage through his tool box, and look what he's come up with...
'We are what we make. Our YouTubed videos, Technoratied blogs, Flickred photos etc – our creations express us,' wrote Jeff Jarvis while summing up his impressions blogging from Davos. He was struck by how identity seemed to be a recurring issue in all the media talk there, and I thought, just to step back a few thousand years in history, how Aristotelian: We are what we do, the sum of our choices and actions – and yes, why not also our creations.
To quote from this post: "Blogs, start with identity, not with the audience. They give a blogger the ability to define identity on his or her own terms – unmediated." I think that's an important point to remember when talking about social media, especially seeing how the more popular a phenomena gets, the more widespread the more or less informed efforts to analyse and explain its popularity.
The less convincing attempts at explaining social media I've come across recently range from narcissism to group pressure, and include this academic analysis (via Undercurrent) which draws heavily on a number of post-modern thinkers, carries a distinct echo of Freudian notions and argues that blogs lead to decay by eroding 'belief in the message'. Now I must admit I've only had time to skim through this quickly, but to think that Derrida, who seemed unable to understand 9/11 because people used the actual date to refer to it, would acknowledge the existence of, and attribute meaning to, the blogosphere, is intriguing. Add a bit of Foucault and a dose of penis envy: fascinating (I know, I should go back and read / analyse this in-depth, but it's loong and as always I've got another crazy workweek ahead of me - maybe over the weekend).