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Behind the spin of Mecom’s half-year results

Even former Mirror boss David Montgomery, who has a reputation as a ferocious cost-cutter, admits his new pan-European newspaper group Mecom cannot cost-cut its way out of a recession.

Shares in the company tumbled on the London Stock Exchange last week after the newspaper group failed to impress the market with its interim half-year results...

...As widely reported, this does of course mean employees at the company, already disgruntled about redundancies on the table, will have to prepare for an even tighter ship in times ahead. But there is more to this story, much more (we've been writing about that 'sharp and ready axe' for more than two years now, it would be rather sad if there was nothing more to report).... Full story over at journalism.co.uk


A beat blogger's prerogative: crowd-sourced 'exclusives'

Adam Tinworth, the blogging supremo of Reed Business Information (RBI) England, reports how Flightblogger, one of RBIs bloggers, broke the Obama running mate story.

This ties in nicely with that quote I let hang in the air Monday on how beat bloggers pose a serious threat to the newspaper industry (well, threat and threat, smart newspapers set up their own beat blogs of course - which I believe is the story behind Paul Conley's example, Pharmalot).

Adam explains how Flightblogger, aka Jon Ostrower, got his 'scoop' because he knew his beat well and enlisted his readers to help give him the 'where' and 'when' of a story he knew was happening (seems both CNN and Fox predictably failed to credit Flightblogger for the story.)  

On a previous occassion, Adam told me RBI had acquired Flightblogger because he had factory floor level contacts for Boeing aircrafts; he was was not a trained journalist but was doing original reporting; was good at participatory journalism and had all the right instincts.


Ostrower still does what he wants to do, but gets money for it, while RBI scooped up a great beat reporter. It's a win-win, and smart move if you ask me. This is what I alluded to when I said the quote from Conley's post represented the future. Its also a good illustration on the quote from Betteridge I said represented the present in Monday's post.


Past, present, future

Yes, it's that kind of day: just recovering from what felt like a flu on Saturday, which today is more like a really nasty cold, and trying to catch up with work as well as all the writing I planned to do over the weekend I mostly spent in bed.

And while there are so many things I'd like to blog, there's simply no time, so I thought I just do a massive plug for this site of Adam's I've been paying too little attention to:

Whispers of the Hackopalypse

First of all, it reminded me of this great quote by Brian on what is surely the past?

"It’s as if, when the telephone first arrived, only a few hobbyists had seen the point of it, and had at first enthusiastically chatted to one another on it, while grander people in “mainstream institutions” had sneered.  Have you actually listened to the drivel that these phoners say to each other?, said the mainstream institutions.  No, said the mainstream institutions, it’ll never catch on. We, said the mainstream institutions, give it five years, then it’ll be gone, and good riddance. And then five years later, they all had their own telephones. Which for all I know is what really happened."

Then there's this quote from Ian Betteridge, which must be about the present, right?

"Saying that journalism means “picking up the phone” means that journalism is a social thing. Most of the job isn’t writing - it’s finding and cultivating sources, getting to know people, and getting to that point when you can pick up the phone and talk to someone about what you need to know. As Danny points out, this means that lots of things which bloggers do are really journalism, and, contrariwise, lots of professional journalists don’t really do journalism."

Which brings us to the future, at least to what's my bet on the future. Well actually it's Paul Conley's, which, in all fairness, I first heared discussed at the Big BIog Company HQ quite some time ago, but it needs repeating for a wider audience, and certainly for journalists like myself, who are prone to forget it at times, when getting too caught up in the endless deadline rush:

"More importantly, it won’t be long before other newspapers realize there’s potential (and some easy money) in duplicating the Pharmalot model. There are thousands of business reporters covering hundreds of beats at newspapers across the country. And odds are there’s at least one who would pose a competitive threat to any B2B publication you could name."

Which brings me back to Whispers of the Hackopalypse, just added that to my newsreader, so I won't forget to check in for updates...


On the mind shattering importance of the worldwide web

I know I write a lot about the wonders of the web, but it does of course have its pitfalls as well, and here's one of the best parodies of web evangelism I've come across in a while.

Now, even though I read the Cluetrain earlyish (2002 I think, thanks to Adriana), I didn't come across Gluetrain 'til yesterday, here's a few excerpts, but better afford yourself the whole treat if you, as me, miraculously hadn't heard of it until now:

A powerful inter-galactic conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to waste time at work, download naughty pictures, and build pipe bombs. As a direct result, things are getting really weird -- and getting weird faster than the parking lot at a Grateful Dead concert...

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. How many discussion groups on nude pictures of Pamela Anderson Lee could you find twenty years ago?

12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. So just let 'em build the damn stuff themselves, and retire on your stock options, OK?

I found this gem via Doc Searls, who, both through his contribution to Cluetrain and his blog, has provided me with, and inspired me to elaborate on, many of the best metaphors I know for describing things great and small, both in the virtual and the real world. I was fortunate enough to be able to thank him for this in person in London in February. Here's a shot I snapped when the company I was with had just escaped Google HQ (a visit we all had to swear on a legally binding paper we'd repeat nought of).

LondonFeb2008 010


The newspaper freed from news

This week's news that Bonnier's free daily City would go non-daily from next month on, and reduce its publishing days to Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursday, had many industry experts scratching their heads - not to mention competitors Metro International and Schibsted, now on the same team of course, cheering.

The "new" City will have different themes for each publishing day: Mondays will be devoted to "living", and focus on career, family, relations and private economy; Wednesdays will be "trend-day" and focus on health, fashion etc; Thursdays will be dedicated to the upcoming weekend and have content on entertainment, culture and sport, according to Dagens Media.

One media agancy proclaimed it a great move that should have been made earlier, a move that would make it easier to target advertisement, plenty of others, mostly media commentators, said it was the beginning of the end for the freesheet, Svenska Dagbladet's Martin Jönsson called it a lesson in "the art of almost closing down a newspaper."

For my own part, I can't imagine why I'd want to read a magazine in newspaper format on my way to or from work, when I hardly find time to fit in all the news I'd like to skim through in a normal workday. But then that might just be me, some might find it a welcome distraction from all the bad news the media does tend to have an affinity for.


Let's hear it for the IKEA community

In this day and age it sometimes feel like every website, product, gadget is being communitised, that community is the marketing bandwagon of our time.

Still, some attempts at making "community" part of ones marketing strategy are arguably braver than others.

One of the very bravest I've heard of in recent times must be the new Ikea community Nils Larsson, the company's Swedish marketing boss, is promising will be a new feature at www.ikea.se: apparently it will be a place where users can upload their own home decoration videos and share their decoration tips.

Interior design and home makeover are of course quite hot topics these days, certainly on TV, but Ikea does have a certain ... reputation.


In my experience, shopping there can be a bit of a nightmare, as I believe many people who've gone shopping at Ikea Brent Cross in a car can testify to (admittedly it's four years since my last ordeal there, but most other Ikea stores I've been to have been a logistical challenge to shop at). Besides, Ikea furniture can be a bit of a nuisance to put together.

 

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Ikea is a brilliant idea, and it has saved me on many occasions, but my natural urge would be to do videos of how insanely difficult simple things can be when shopping at Ikea (like the bed it took us four Ikea-trips, with hours of queuing each time, to get all the right parts to). It could make for great comedy I guess, but not sure about how good marketing it would be.  

 

In this video Larsson talks to Dagens Media about the community, and Ikea Sweden's new marketing campaign on plurality (in Swedish), and shares his ideas on how such a community enables users (his word) to show who they are and what interests they have.

 

(Hmm... that almost sounds like it has the potential to turn into a dating site - as in 'hi, I'm Jasper and have thing for black leather', or 'I'm Ethel and I really like the solid look', could be fun watching even for those who just think Swedish is a fun language - but perhaps I'm being too cynical).


A penny for your thoughts

Kvinesdal 141

I'm imagining this guy wasn't all too happy to have photographers crawling in front of the stage. The shot is from a recent Secret Garden gig during a festival I covered. I'm going through all my photos this weekend, and this is one I won't be using. It hardly satisfies the magazine criteria in terms of quality and smiley, happy people, but it does speak volumes - caption ideas anyone?


Journalists need to tear down the walls of the "Fortress Newsroom"

I was reading a post by Ian Betteridge (via Joanna Geary) and thought to myself, "Well, of course: journalists need to become part of the conversation, part of the community they serve again, or history will just make them irrelevant."

Then I was reminded of the term "The Fortress Newsroom", which Spokesman-Review editor Steve Smith used when he gave a talk in Oslo last November. He explained the term thus:  

"In the US, newsrooms used to be walled enclaves. When I use the term 'Fortress Newsroom' in the US, I get a lot of recognising nods. The walls were there to shield us from the consequences of our stories. In the US, the concept of objectivity has come to mean separation. If you have ties with the community: are involved in community clubs etc - you are biased. So journalists only associate with journalists. Only the newspaper advertisement staff is allowed to communicate with the readers."

Betteridge asks if "the job of a 'journalist' is not just to write the story, but to tend and curate comments and discussions wherever they exist on the web?" I'd say, well of course. I'm a journalist myself, I know how crazy the deadline rush gets, but as soon as you publish something online you are part of a conversation.

Play to that, and you may end up becoming an invaluable conversation hub for experts on your beat and/or the readers you want to reach - which will both improve your journalism and satisfy the advertisment department by reaching more of your "target audience" (put simply: generating more clicks and creating more loyal readers).

For my own part, monitoring what people say online about the articles of my main client (by way of simple tools such as Technorati), is invaluable both for ideas, inspiration , and sometimes just for clearing up misunderstandings or correcting mistakes (we all make them), before it all snowballs into something unmanageable (the PRs among you may call that "reputation management", others simply common sense).

Now, I've got to be on my own to work, but here's an interesting line from an interview with Monica Guzman that does touch on some related issues: 

"'I'm convinced that newspapers need to rise up and take responsibility not just for the quality of the news, but for the quality of the conversation."


Montgomery: "No concrete bid" for Mecom's Norwegian arm

Mecom-boss David Montgomery has denied a concrete offer for Edda Media has been put forward, and said the British company's board has no intention of selling the Norwegian newspaper group.

The former Mirror-boss turned European media mogul was visiting his newspapers in north-west Norway at the start of the week and Tuesday told Sunnmörsposten, that Edda Media is currently not for sale.

 

Two weeks ago, reports by Reuters, Guardian and FT that Mecom had received an offer for its Norwegian business had Norwegian media hacks scratching their heads and speculating wildly. Rumours that moves were afoot to bring Edda back on Norwegian hands had been circulating for quite some time, both in the newspaper columns and on the grapevine, but news of a concrete offer took the country's media industry by surprise. 

 

Speaking to Sunnmörsposten, Montgomery said Mecom had been approached by parties interested in acquiring its Norwegian assets. 'However, no concrete bid has been made, and this would have had to be reported to the London Stock Exchange before it could be confirmed,' he told the newspaper. He said the rumours of a possible Edda-sale came about after Mecom and the Edda management were looking into a flotation earlier this year, an option that is no longer being considered.

 

While in Norway, the Mecom-boss paid visits to Sunnmörsposten, Aandalsnes Avis and Romsdals Budstikke, all of which made a lot of Montgomery's comments about how some of the scenery he saw reminded him of his native Northern-Ireland, but was even more spectacular (check the links to the newspapers for pictures from the visit). 


The ultimate guide to newspaper curmudgeon talking points

I was alerted to this " handy-dandy [collaborative] guide to these curmudgeonly views and their counterpoints" by one of Mark Comerford's tweets. I can think of a few answers, but am mired in deadlines, think I've exceeded my screen rationing time for today (and tomorrow for that matter) and half my mind is on that perfect intro struggling to break free from the depths of my mind (or so I imagine). Useful summary though, it reminded me of this brilliant badge I found over at Matt Wardman's blog (though I don't remember precisely in which connection):

Class-enemy-1[1]


How journalists are coping with reader comments and why

Sunday Herald has a really interesting piece on how some of Scotland's leading journalists are coping with reader comments, which makes for interesting and revealing reading (via Martin Stabe).

 

Most can't abide or be bothered with them for more or less obvious reasons; it's also interesting to consider that those who do see value in them are both beat journalists addressing a niche audience (Spectator and a BBC blog).

 

The article reminds me of Gawker's recent piece arguing that newspapers shouldn’t allow comments at all, at least not on news articles - a position I have some sympathy with. Perhaps comments should be welcomed on a news site’s blogs and forums only, while for instance using services such as Twingly to visualise the conversation the site’s news articles spur elsewhere on the web.

 

Now that's the how, Adam Tinworth and his colleague Andrew Rogers have a few interesting thoughts on why journalists shy away from comments. Adam has these suggestions:

 

  1. The lack of defined community around national newspapers. This leads to a lack of consequences. You aren't discussing with your peers or neighbours, but with random strangers. Misbehaviour has no particular social consequence. The worse possible consequence here is being banned from that particular community - but usually it's pretty trivial to return under a different name.
  2. The relative novelty of freely-available commenting on news. It will take years for a set of standard behaviours for authors and commenters to emerge. As those behavioural norms emerge more things will be seen as unacceptable.
  3. Anonymity. It's been a long-treasured part of internet culture that you can craft new identities for yourself which have little or no relationship to your real-world identity. Could it be that, in some parts of the internet, that boon is, in fact, a bane? And that injecting consequence into the debate is the only way to improve its standards?

Another explanation that was put to me by a tabloid journalist, was that the fact that she couldn't be herself - as in a person who had such and such values and opinions - but had to represent the newspaper, made it a lot more difficult to engage in conversation with readers online. If I understand her correctly, we're back to how the mantra of objectivity inhibits journalists in this brave new world of ours.

 

I haven't encountered this particular obstacle myself, but then I predominantly write for journalists in my day-job - and if we get vitriolic comments it's most likely for missing a comma, or misspelling, or for not being good representatives for journalism at large - I can imagine it would feel much more inhibiting not being able to show your colours if the discussion is on politics, policy etc. To paraphrase Adriana, 'on the internet you can't behave like an institution. If you want to behave like one, you get isolated and bypassed.....


Nyhedsavisen's "masters of risk"

What do Baugur, Morten Lund and Draper Fisher Jurvetson's Tim Draper have in common? Well, they're hardly risk averse, which is why Nyhedsavisen's new investor seems to be the perfect fit for the freesheet a great number of Danish media insiders think is ambitious to the point of folly.

 

The very idea of starting an advertisement funded newspaper, a freesheet nonetheless, in a time when experts are overbidding each other to predict the death of newspapers and the demise of advertisement-funded business models - such as Dagsbrun did, backed by Baugur and with Lund as an early collaborator, in 2006 - reeks of hubris.

 

From the beginning and to this very day, when Nyhedsavisen is the most read newspaper in the country, Danish media has been waiting for the construction to fall apart like a house of cards. Enter American venture capitalist Tim Draper and his self-composed tune, The Riskmaster (via Berlingske Tidende), with this enticing refrain:

 

"He is the Riskmaster, Lives fast drives faster, Skates on the edge of disaster, He is the Riskmaster"


On the other hand, it is very refreshing to see what these visionaries, so far removed from the mindset of the traditional media industry, will do both with the paper that is their playground, and the Danish newspaper industry at large - provided they can keep the business afloat long enough to break even.