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My favourite reporting trips of the year

I had a zillion posts I wanted to blog this Christmas, but soon found I was in more of a contemplative mood once I got through all of the family business.

So, inspired by Lloyd I thought I'd sum up the year, if not month-by-month in pictures, at least with pictures from my favourite reporting trips this year.

Now, those who know me well might notice that I've included almost all my major trips out of town this year - save Skup in Tönsberg (we were travelling with a professional photograper) and London in February (had great talks with Adam, Richard, Per Mikael Jensen, got to work in what is now Alistair Heath's office, saw the insides of Google HQ London, attended a VRM meeting, met Doc Searls - but a spell of flu clouded my judgement and I only uploaded a few pics to the walled garden that is Facebook)- but they will also recognise this is the change addict/adventurer in me speaking (I'd say the only thing that makes living in Norway tolerable is going abroad every so often, and, as it so happens, I've seen precious little of Norway, so this year's opportunities to see more of the country has also been adventures of sorts).

Nordic Media Festival - Bergen

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Save from the pictures from the price cermony, which are copyrighted, I came home from this festival with an awful lot of pictures of men in suits.


World Association of Newspapers' (WAN) Congress/ World Editors Forum (WEF) - Gothenburg

Interesting conference, foremostly for the great conversations I had after hours. A few pictures from Timothy Balding's talk on the glorious state of the newspaper industry here, and from the party here (I wrote a blog post from this memorable evening as well). But my favourite photo from the event - not for its technical brilliance, but for its expressiveness - is Reuter's Ilicco Elia explaining how mobile phones may be used for "pocket journalism" (this photo is copyrighted to Journalisten.no):

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Kvinesdal Emigration Festival 2008

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I took some 200 photos during my exotic weekend in Kvinesdal in July - where I covered the annual emigration festival for Viking Magazine (published by Sons of Norway, US) - and have uploaded some of them to Flickr, including pics of Hanne Krogh, Secret Garden, Bjøro Haaland and Ted Fosberg (more to follow in January).


The Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC) 2008 - Lillehammer

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Turned out investigative journalists make pretty decent musicians, or as Jude said: there might even be a correlation between investigative skills and musical talent. You can see the slideshow of my more informal pictures from the event here ( click on the photos for subtitles ).


Reykjavik (December)

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A very sombre end to the year in Reykjavik, where I was parachuted off to do a story on how the financial crisis has affected Icelandic media (the Norwegian stories from that trip are here and here). I worked with a very competent photographer for the trip, Haldur Jonasson, formerly of both Nyhedsavisen and Frettabladid + haphazardly snapped a few photos myself (the one here and a few more at Flickr) - though I wish I'd had more time to explore the place with my camera. Everyone I met there were extremly accomodating and helpful, but in terms of the state of the media it was surreal: nobody seemed to know who actually owned the newspapers they worked for, everything was in a state of flux. 


Seasonal greetings and my favourite blog post of the year


Happy Holidays
Originally uploaded by Kristine_Lowe

It's getting to be a Christmas tradition of sorts: working like mad to finish all the stuff that needs to be completed before the holiday all of a sudden is upon me, only to realise too late that I failed, yet again, to send all the Christmas cards I planned to.

This year I only managed to send four, so inspired by my friend Brian, I will take this opportunity to wish you all:

Happy Holidays, Great Celebrations and a Prosperous New Year

As it happens, I read all sorts of great, funny, insightful and thought-provoking blog posts this year, mostly about media, but Brian wrote the post that touched me the most: it made me very grateful to be alive and to get to know all of you, Brian included.

I've been planning for ages to follow it up with a post on "The dog who saved my life and my first encounter with tabloid journalism", I may still manage to get around to that before the year is over, but since the events Brian describes took place on the second day of Christmas 1993, when I'd forgotten to post my Christmas cards,it does play on my mind today: filed as bitter-sweet, sure, but most of all something to be very grateful for - good luck, good friends and excellent writing.


Why change in the newsroom is so hard

While we're on the issue of change, and how difficult it is for media organisations, I also wanted to highlight some brilliant insights buried in a link towards the end of my last post.

It has always been a puzzle to me why journalists of all people seem to be so opposed to change, so conservative when it comes to embracing new technology and tools, as most career advisers will tell you that if you want to make a career in journalism, you need to be flexible and enjoy working in dynamic, fast-changing environments. It was certainly my impression from what I was told that you needed to be a bit of a change addict - which suited me just fine. But the reality is not that simple, and Carrie Lisa Brown really puts her finger on some of the dynamics at work (do check out the full post):

...The journalism blogosphere is full of frustrated rants about various ways in which individual resistance is one of the biggest impediments to change (and believe me, I too have been one of the frustrated). Even in individual newsrooms, some people are tagged as those who will embrace change readily and will as thus be relied on heavily to step up (and keep stepping until they are nearly burnt out) to contribute in a variety of ways to adapting to the digital world; others just are dim-witted and must be worked around. Not incidentially, from a psychological perspective, this allows many in leadership roles to bump up their own status as ones who are savvy enough to “get it” while simultaneously giving them a scapegoat for lack of progress — those “other folks” who just don’t and never will...

...The truth is, the more time you spend with individual journalists listening — really listening — to their ideas about their role in the future — lo and behold, you find people who are smart enough to have read the writing on the wall and have actually thought quite creatively about how their particular skills apply well in an online world...

...What’s holding these folks back is not so much individual failings, but systems. Newspapers are still putting out a print product every day, and the routines that make it possible for them to manage chaos and produce the daily miracle on dead trees each morning are notoriously hard to change partly just because they do WORK to make that possible....


Media and disruptive technology (or why change is so hard for entrenched companies)

What if we were to look at mainstream media's response to social media, such as blogging, thorugh the prism of disruptive technology?

This is an issue I've been mulling over since I heard Espen Andersen's talk on disruptive technologies, open source and mobile at Open Nordic conference in May: how does this apply to media?

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It occurs to me that looking at media and social media through this prism must have been done before - but I haven't come across any such analysis, and, regardless of whether or not such analysis already exist, I think looking a the changing media landcape this way is a very useful thought experiment for trying to understand how big media companies tend to approach disruptive innovations, such as social media. Now, feel free to join me in this thought experiment, I'm just playing around with ideas here, but I think it's a very useful exercise.

What is a disruptive technology?
Espen quoted Clayton M.Christensen's book The Innovator's dillemma (which I haven't read) when describing disruptive technology:

1) your best customers don't want it,
2) it gives poorer performance,
3) if you did it you would loose money.

Core attribute: the incumbent market leader is the least suited to adopt it.

Two examples on disruptive technology listed in Wikipedia:
- Early desktop-publishing systems could not match high-end professional systems in either features or quality. Nevertheless, they lowered the cost of entry to the publishing business, and economies of scale eventually enabled them to match, and then surpass, the functionality of the older dedicated publishing systems.

- The music and movie industries see file-sharing as a very real threat to their livelihood. With technologies like Bittorrent becoming part of pop culture the current business model for these industries, selling physical units, has been completely shattered.

Seeing MSM/social media through this prism
I think sharing news via social media such as blogs, social networks, and microblogging sites also fit the bill here, because

1) your premium subscribers are unlikely to be the first to jump the ship

2) social media, like say blogging platforms and twitter, are often, especially in the first stage(s), less reliable than the big expensive content management systems mainstream news sites tend to run on/ it's cruder and gives less functionality

3) big MSM players are often hampered by their own size, prestige and institutional slowness (for lack of a better word) and utilising these tools effectively from an early stage is easier for a small nimble start-up with nothing to loose.

Also, according to Wikipedia:
"Disruptive technologies are not always disruptive to customers, and often take a long time before they are significantly disruptive to established companies. They are often difficult to recognize. Indeed, as Christensen points out and studies have shown, it is often entirely rational for incumbent companies to ignore disruptive innovations, since they compare so badly with existing technologies or products, and the deceptively small market available for a disruptive innovation is often very small compared to the market for the established technology. Even if a disruptive innovation is recognized, existing businesses are often reluctant to take advantage of it, since it would involve competing with their existing (and more profitable) technological approach."

The Entrenched Player's Dilemma
The latter point leads to The Entrenched Player's Dilemma, which is featured in Wikinomics, as the authors attempted to find out why corporations resisted crowd sourcing and mass collaboration.

"The problem with mature companies is that the very commercial success of their products increases their dependency on them. Making radical changes in the product's capabilities, underlying architecture or associated business models could cannibalize sales or lead to costly realignments of strategy and business infrastructure. It's as though popular and widely adopted products become ossified, hardened by the inherent incentives to build on their own success. The result is that entrenched industry players are generally not motivated to develop or deploy disruptive technologies."

I think we can even take this phenomenon down to the indivual level, rather than look at abstract entities such as companies: "People who have built up power and status in a particular specialty are scared of change that calls the knowledge and experience that got them there irrelevant," says Carrie Lisa Brown in this brilliant post (I'm not so interested in the Jarvis/Rosenbaum dustup described in the intro, but the last five paragraphs give a great description of some of the reasons change in the newsroom is difficult and often met with resistance)

There: I think this is a pretty useful prism for decribing why change is so difficult for many media companies. It's also interesting because describing the obstacles is often the first step towards finding solutions. Most notably, I can think of one media company that has been successful perhaps exactly because, at least to some extent, it has managed to break away from The Entrenched Player's Dillemma - I'll return to that in a separate post later.


Trend of the Year (2008): Epic Organisational Failure

"It’s rare to look back over a year of corrections and errors and see so many examples of organisational failure. Years past have seen plenty of malfeasance by individuals, but 2008 is remarkable for news organisations that pursued completely outrageous behavior," reports Regret the Error (more details over there) (via Joanna Geary on Twitter).


Mecom: no quick fix for Edda Media divestment

Mecom's management is aiming for a resolution for Edda Media before Christmas or New Year, according to employee representatives who spoke with Mecom-boss David Montgomery in Amsterdam today.

"We have received an update: it did not contribute to clarify the situation. Various alternatives are being explored further with the aim of reaching a conclusion before Christmas or New Year," an employee representative told Journalisten.no, expressing doubts that we'd see a resolution before 2009. Apart from selling Edda Media, other options that have been/are being explored: selling Mecom's stake in Rzeczpospolita to Alex Springer; selling a newspaper and a few printing operations in The Netherlands and inviting Mecom investors to invest more money.


Mecom: no news is bad news

All quiet from the Mecom camp, should there not be an RNS due today to clarify the situation??

The sentiment is taken from this share discussion for Mecom Grp (MEC.L) where commenters, presumbaly shareholders, are getting desperate for an update from Mecom on what's happening. So 'desperate' they turned to Google-translating Norwegian news articles, such as Journalisten's, yesterday, to find out what happened at yesterday's board meeting.

As I mentioned in the last update on my post from yesterday: it seems not much happened in regard to Edda Media, and Truls Velgaard, the current day-to-day boss of the Norwegian newspaper group, who attended the boardmeeting, later told employee reps that no decision was made about Edda's ownership structure. If you haven't followed the bidding process for Edda and that wording sounds less than straightforward, it's not: Mecom has actively explored ways of entering into a bigger parnertship or coalition in Norway, thereby increasing its assets, either in cash or holdings, while still retaining a stake in its Norwegian operation.

Update 15:54 CET: Employee representatives in Edda Media hope to get some answers from the management in a scheduled meeting in Amsterdam tomorrow, though Edda's future is not on the agenda. There's frustration among employee and union reps, some of whom desperately wanted a new owner for Christmas.

One commenter on the aforementioned chat board asked why Norwegian employees were so eager to leave Mecom. The short answer is that they were never eager to join. In some respects, this whole situation is a re-run of the drawn out process leading up to Orkla selling to Mecom in 2006: ironically, apart from Orkla, even the players are the same - A-pressen and Dagbladet's owners (Berner Gruppen) are the strongest prospective buyers now and were Mecom's strongest competitors back then.


Mecom expected to decide on sale of Norwegian division today

It is believed Mecom, the pan-European newspaper company led by former Mirror-boss David Montgomery, will conclude the drawn out bidding process for its Norwegian arm, Edda Media, in a board meeting today.

Rumours that moves were afoot to try to bring Edda Media, the Norwegian arm of Orkla Media, acquired by Mecom in 2006, back on Norwegian hands, have circulated in the country's media all year. In the last few weeks, it has become evident that the courting phase is drawing to an end, and Mecom's board may decide to enter into more formal sales negotiations with one of the interested parties. As reported a colleague of mine at Journalisten.no, A-pressen, the local newspaper group owned by Norway's Labour Union and Telenor, will conclude its due diligence process today, and Mecom's board is also expected to meet in London today.

Of the parties still vying for Edda, A-pressen is said to have offered roughly 2,3 - 2,5bn NOK for the entire group, Berner Gruppen, owners of Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet, a bit less, and Polaris Media about 600m NOK for Edda's North-western division. All parties are reported to have had access to a data room at Mecom's Norwegian lawyer, Thommessen, to scrutinize the financial health of the group mainly comprised of local and regional papers.

It has also been speculated that Polaris Media may team up with Berner Gruppen to submit a joint bid. Now, I guess an apology is due: I know many Mecom journalists and other Mecom followers read my blog as it has been, to my best knowledge, the only English news source consistently covering the company since the spring of 2006. However, I've refrained from blogging about it for some time, as it seemed pointless to repeat all the rumours circulating in Norwegian press this year.

And while we are on the issue of rumours: it has been put forward that the Alex Springer group may want to buy Mecom as a whole, a rumour vehemently denied by a spokesperson for the German group; and, alternatively, that they are keen to buy Mecom's stake in Rzeczpospolita, a rumour not so vehemently denied, but Truls Velgaard, the British company's Polish CEO who's recently taken over the day-to-day running of Edda Media, told me this was just loose speculations:

"There are no corresponding process in Poland to that taking place in Norway; Poland is not specifically defined as a sales object. The bidding process is furthest advances and most concrete in Norway. Mecom will consider selling certain other parts of its business, but not entire country divisions," he said.

In either case, divesting its Norwegian division may provide a welcome influx of cash for the highly geared pan-European media group, which has seen its share price plummet on the back of the financial crisis.

However, should Mecom decide to sell Edda to A-pressen, we can look forward to several new chapters in this colourful newspaper saga, as Norwegian media cross-ownership laws will demand high-level political negotiations for the acquisition to be approved.

Update 15:44 CET: its seems Mecom's board meeting is dragging out (link in Norwegian), the board is said to be discussing both the budget for 2009 and possible divestments, and could last until after LSE stops trading for the day.

Update 21:30 CET: looks like Norwegian journalists, both those employed by Edda and writing about the company, were waiting in vain for big news from London today: Velgaard, who attended today's board meeting, told employee representatives no decision on Edda was reached.

Monty møter giske 6 Montgomery may have to prepare for more talks with Norway's culture minister, Trond Giske (pictured here pouring the coffee) if Mecom's board opts for A-pressen's Edda bid.

(Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted to, my colleague Martin H. Jensen, who has allowed me to use it here for a beer)


The best take on Reed Elsevier cancelling RBI sale

"You missed your chance to buy me. Maybe getting a whole B2B publishing company thrown in was offputting? :)," Reed Business Information (RBI) blogging supremo Adam Tinworth commenting the news on his blog.

Do also check Rafat Ali's piece on the Reed Business Auction process and the possible next steps and Paul Conley's gloomy predictions for the future of B2B publishing (which I suspect adds up to: there is none, not in the industry's current form, but only had time to skim the post very superficially so far).


Media & The Credit Crunch; Media Industry Outlook 2009

Catching up with some of the many unread posts in my newsreader yesterday (busy days), I found this interesting Bloomberg-interview with ContentNext founder and publisher Rafat Ali, well worth listening to.

Paidcontent sums it up neatly as as Ali "giving a frank forecast of the climate for media and the economy in the next few months. It boils down to: layoffs, consolidation and pay-back time for social media.":



Flying home

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Delays, delays and more delays: due to snow and "challenging" weather conditions I spent the whole day travelling. But the delays meant I got to snoop around a bit more in the tax free, and once we got above the fog the weather at least looked wonderful. Click on the images for full size.


Stranger in a strange land

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When I landed at Keflavik airport yesterday it felt a bit like Stranger in a strange land reversed: an earthling transposed to Mars, or perhaps the Moon. The barren volcanic landscape had a strange and captivating beauty, which I'm afraid this photo, snapped from behind the window of the airport bus, does a rather poor job of capturing, but perhaps I'll have better luck on my return trip (my flight over here was full and I ended up sitting in an aisle seat). I've never been to Iceland before and the weather here yesterday was stunning, too bad I had to spend most of my time inside. Today, when I will be out and about, it's raining, but still: a new world too me...


How media habits change

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Found this one via Henrik Torstensson . My morning routine isn't quite the same, I tend to get up and make myself a mug of coffee before I gradually wake up while catching up on the news on my beat and the lives of friends and acquaintances around the world (at my desk, before I head for work). Still, it's a huge change from when I lived in East Finchley and gradually woke up while listning to the Today programme, or Hadley Wood where I'd wake up while actually visiting individual news sites to get my news (with BBC Breakfast in the background). The amount of newspapers I read is fairly constant for the weekends, but have changed with my work and how I travel to get there during weekdays. TV? Don't watch it anymore, and can certainly relate to what Fr. Martinsen is saying here (in Norwegian) - in essence: I used watch TV, now I stroll around on the web. How about you?