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Another newspaper bites the dust

Edda Media-owned Sarpsborgsavisa will cease publication 28 May, it was decided yesterday.

The freesheet is the third newspaper in the county of Östfold to see its owners pull the plug within less than seven days. Only last Tuesday, Norwegian newspaper group A-pressen announced it would close local newspaper Moss Dagblad and local freesheet Halden Dagblad with almost immediate effect.

Meanwhile, it is expected Mecom, Edda Media's mother company, will get yet another covenant test extension today - this one to the end of April. The media group headed by former Mirror boss David Montgomery has been struggling to to get its debt back within agreed limits for some time now (last time I checked the lending agreements dictated a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.25 and 3.75). The sale of Mecom Germany was completed yesterday, but this tidbit from Platforma Mediowa Point Group, one of the two companies who bid for the the Polish state's 49 pc stake in Presspublica, does not bode too well for the price Mecom can obtain from its majority stake in the company.


Schibsted's top man, Kjell Aamot, to resign

Kjell Aamot, Schibsted's CEO, will step down by 1 March 2010 it was announced when Oslo Stock Exchange opened today.

An online enthusiast, Aamot has come under fire recently for predicting the demise of print newspapers, but has since insisted he was only talking about the business model for paid-for print papers. Like most media companies, Schibsted, which owns market leading paid and free papers all over Europe, has seen its share price, and more recently its revenues, fall drastically in the wake of the financial meltdown.

However, during a press conference this morning Aamot said only the economic crisis prevented him from announcing his resignignation already in the autumn of 2008. He explained that 20 years as a CEO had taken its toll. "I have to admit one does get pretty exhausted," he said, and added that he had found himself struggling to recharge his batteries and find the motivation to go on last summer.

"Kjell Aamot has held the position as CEO of Schibsted ASA since the Group was formed in 1989. He is one of the CEOs with the longest tenure among listed Norwegian companies. He will continue in his position until the Board of Directors has appointed his successor and the successor has assumed this position, but no longer than 1 March 2010. With a new CEO in place, Aamot will be at the Group's disposal until his 60th birthday, 7 September 2010," the company said in a press release. 

Analysts my colleague Martin H. Jensen spoke to said it had been expected that Aamot wanted to scale back when he turned 60, and, as it's obvious that Schibsted has a major job to do in view of recent events, it made sense that the resignation came now.

'I would say that Aamot more than anything is a visionary. This has benefited Schibsted immensly, exactly because the company has not been just sitting on the fence as other media companies have. He has also been criticised for perhaps pursuing expansion and innovation too aggressively at times, but all together I think he has made the right moves for Schibsted,' said Atle Vereide in Enskilda.

See also:
  • Insignificances: Schibsted head saves face : "You really can’t blame the man for his reluctance to go down in history as the boss who brought about the inevitable Schibsted newspaper onslaught – as well as, undoubtedly, massive cuts in other media operations."

       AamotPresentation

This rather blurry pic of Aamot is from a results presentation I just happened to step by on the spur of the moment, it's Q1 2007 I believe, and the camera I had in my pocket is not great for taking pictures indoors - especially not under spotlights like here.

Ada Lovelace Day: The technopagan who helped shape my life

Where do I start? I signed up to the Ada Lovelace Day pledge as I thought it would force me to put together a post on a woman who became a completely unexpected yet important inspiration in my life. Since then, I found it was also a good excuse to write about a journalist hero for the digital age, and that perhaps I should have blogged about the woman who kicked me into the blogosphere in the first place but luckily Jackie did - and that so much better than what I could have. So, as we're now approaching midnight, let's get back to my original intent:

Alison Harlow died much too young at 69, but remains a lasting inspiration in the lives of those who knew her.

Alison was one of the first female computer consultants in Silicon Valley. She was also a witch, Faery Priestess and an influential figure in the neopagan movement.

According to Wired and Controversial, 'Alison discovered computers in the late 1950s, when she was starved for English-language books after eloping to Latin America with her professor from Bard College. She stumbled across that classic of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener's "The Human Use of Human Beings". She went on to receive a master's in mathematics from Columbia University, then launched her career with IBM (1962) as a programmer and systems analyst in Hawaii and California. Later in life she put her professional skills to good use in the health care area of computer programming.'

"She had a remarkable mind -- tremendous logical abilities and a phenomenal memory, a marvelous ability to collaborate, a joyous spirit, and a divine tolerance for differences," says my friend Charles Olson who started programming with her at Healthtrack in the early eighties and became a close friend.

I first met her while covering an international conference in Athens in 1995, back when I was 19-going-on-90. She must have been 61, yet so young at mind and in love with life. I was, and to some extent remain, very much a rationalist, but Alison challenged my preconceptions of so many things, spoke to the adventurer in me and tickled my curiosity so much I could never stop asking why and how.

And she would always answer truthfully, even such awkward questions as whether the open relationships in her life were really as wonderful they were made out to be (Didn't you ever feel insecure, slighted, jealous? Well, yes, actually... but....) That was one of the wonderful things about her: she always lived her beliefs and values, fought for the causes she believed in throughout life, but the idea of forcing her ideas and choices on others, or overselling them, could not have been more foreign to her - which is perhaps partly why she made such a huge impact on people.

She was intellectually curious, open-minded and honest in the way only a truly integrated person can be, and discarded what she saw as the false dichotomies between body and mind, theory and practice. Or as someone said so aptly during the memorial service held to celebrate her life on 16 July 2004, citing a demonstration she flew to DC to take part in despite illness: "She talked the talk and walked the walk."

Okay, this was harder to write than I feared as it's  often hard to sum up someone's influence in your life - especially someone so different from me whom I came to think so highly of. You have to bear with me a bit: there's so much to say so it will take a while to condense. In the meantime this post will be work in progess and as such I'll adding more when I can.

For the record, I'm neither a pagan nor very religious, but feel truly blessed for getting to know Alison and for the adventures we shared. As for Ada Lovelace Day, it is intriguing that all the posts I've read so far speak of women in tech who have had a very personal impact on the respective blogger's life...


A blogging-journalist hero for Ada Lovelace Day

Danish IT-journalist Dorte Toft used her blog to help reveal one of the country’s biggest business scandals in modern time. It won her both acclaim and criticism.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and, answering UK software consultant Suw Charman-Anderson’s call, over 1,500 blogger worldwide have pledged to write about a woman in tech they admire. As I believe we sorely need new journalistic heroes and new myths that better illustrate the opportunities offered by our rapidly changing media landscape, I thought I would take this opportunity to put forward one such hero: programmer turned blogger-journalist Dorte Toft. Full story over at Journalism.co.uk

I find it unbelievable that editors felt the need to emphasis that blogging doesn't replace journalism and warn of using blogs as a journalistic tool (in Danish) after Toft helped flush out the skeletons in the closet at IT Factory. Toft's work is a great example of both beat blogging and using a blog to do investigative research. It also reveals some of the major flaws in journalism today, and I have a feeling I shall return with some more thoughts on this story, an ALD09 post for Ada Lovelace Day, later. However, I really wanted to use my own blog to force myself to write an ALD09 post about a late mentor of mine.


Newspaper Death in Norway

Two of Norway's local newspapers will close next week, it was announced today.

A few hours ago Norwegian media group A-pressen, who among other media assets owns 50 of the countries regional- and local newspapers, announced Moss Dagblad, a local newspaper, and Halden Dagblad, a local freesheet, will publish their last editions this month (remarkably, the Norwegian edition of Wikipedia was updated immediately for both the former and latter paper).

Moss Dagblad is the number two newspaper in Moss and has roughly 28,000 readers. The closures come in a Norwegian county, Östfold, where it was feared A-pressen's once expected acquisition of Mecom-owned Edda Media would result in closures and job losses due to media ownership regulations (For one, Edda owns the most read newspaper in Moss: Moss Avis). Now it turns out we get some the same results even without A-pressen succeeding with its efforts to scoop up Edda Media, which must be a huge disappointment.

It is also ironic that A-pressen, a media company often portrayed as more bevolent owner than Mecom, has the Labour Union (LO) and partly privatised Telenor (the Norwegian equivalent of BT) as its two majority owners. However, the executive in charge of local media in A-pressen, told Journalisten closing the 97 year old Moss Dagblad was not a result of the financial crisis but of years of losses which, despite cost cutting measures such as having its publishing days reduced to only three a week, had made the paper dependent on financial support from its owners to survive.

I'm also reminded of the CEO of Verdens Gang (VG), Torry Pedersen's, assertion that the good financial times Norway enjoyed until disaster hit the world economy has masked the structural challenges newspapers face. Norway prides itself of being one of the most newspaper reading countries in the world, but the financial crisis will be a test of how sustainable its record number of newspapers really is...


Calling out the next stops towards recession central

These are desperate media times. Late Friday night, news broke Mecom was planning a rights issue within the next month. The story surfaced just as the ailing pan-European company was preparing for a crucial week, with its EGM taking place today and its covenant test extenstion expiring early next week. 

Earlier this month, Norwegian media speculated another pan-European media player, Schibsted, may be forced to consider to ask shareholders for a capital injection, a move which would be less than straighforward due to its coroporate bylaws. However, Schibsted's CEO Kjell Aamot denied such a move was on the agenda, and said the company was instead looking to sell assets - such as taking a partner into its lucrative classified media online advertising business.

In today's market such moves look rather desperate, but so far Mecom's share price is certainly on the rise - perhaps aided by this bit of news.    

Train Station


On approaching recession central
"Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts. We're making our final approach to recession central," wrote Peter Kirwan in early February as we were coming closer to the financial reporting season with all its expected doom and gloom.

I was quite taken by that metaphore, and thought it would be a great way to visualise the history of events later: a ghost train moving relentlessly forward, making unwelcome stops at most media companies along the way. Except it's still a bit of a mystery train, and we don't quite know when we'll reach recession central or what it'll look like.

Interestingly, as we're currently debating why financial journalism failed to spot the storm brewing, if the nature of the meltdown was not forewarned, at least 247wallstreet.com's Jon Ogg blogged about how tired he was of predictions about recession central in December 2007 - not long after we had started to see the footprints of the subprime induced ghost in the share prices and results of European media companies. Framed that way, it's not been such a speedy train at all, and, as I've said before, I thought we would have seen the downturn much earlier, but because I was focusing narrowly on key cyclical indicators such as (ads for) property and jobs and the media industry I was not prepared for the scale.

GhostTrain  
Photo by Ben McLeod from Flickr, published under a Creative Commons license


My Secret Twitter Network

With Twitter's recent surge in popularity, I've been half expecting to see a corresponding surge in Twitter journalism akin to what happened when Facebook first grew popular.

However, I've yet to spot any juicy Twitter conspiracy theories spread all over the fronpages of mainstream papers like with Facebook (the kind that goes "Read all about journalists'/celebrities'/....'  Secret Network", such as this spread). So I was delighted to read this post by Twittermaven (via Frode Stenström on Twitter) describing a tool which creates a brilliant network visualisation, very similar to in this story, for the people I talk to on Twitter... tadaa!:

TwitterNetwork  

If you follow this link to the result page you will find the surprising revelation that two of my employers are among my 20 best twitter friends (BFF) (or was when I first tried it, it keeps changing). Well, it's hard to find much news here, though I personally was suprised by some of the omissions on that list - I thought I was talking much more with Louise Bolotin for instance. Of course, the reason this whole conspiracy stuff falls flat when it comes to Twitter is that, in contrast to Facebook, Twitter's not a walled garden, which is why I find the latter a so much more useful tool than the former....

But back to this visualisation tool, which determines your top relationships based on reciprocal tweets. It has some really neat features, to quote Twittermaven:

In addition to providing your top 20 friends, Mailana will display the number of reciprocal conversations and it also provides a tag cloud of what you’ve spoken about with that person. Pretty cool and insightful. But the application goes even further, offering:

  • Suggested new follower recommendations
  • Your town’s social network
  •  People who talk about a specific subject

A tool like Mailana, as Twittermaven also points out, really brings home to what extent all our Twitter conversations are public and accessible to anyone. At times it does make me feel like retreating to somewhere like Facebook to say things I'd rather not share with the entire world, usually when I want to bitch about stupid ideas and more personal stuff. Except, since I have my ex, family, former colleagues etc as Facebook friends, that's often not such a good idea...

Update 21:23 CET: And of course, had I instantly clicked through to where Twittermaven found this tool, I would have discovered a story on ReadWriteWeb which has a rather simliar ring to the Facebok story I mentioned earlier in this post, "The Inner Circles of 10 Geek Heroes on Twitter" - what can I say?

I think, at least judging from my own Mailana results and experiences using Twitter, this kind of story can easily be rather misleading. Some of the people I do talk to quite a bit on Twitter did not show up in my Mailana results, and a few of the people who did show up in the visualised network are people I've had somewhat random conversations with because they happened to ask about something I knew a lot about or vice versa and not necessarily related to my beat...


Freesheets may be in the frontline trenches of this war, but it's only the tip of the iceberg

Yes, freesheets are challenged, but that's down to the collapse in the print classifieds market, and Mecom is hardly the best example of a company brought down by its frees.

In an article yesterday, The Financial Times (FT) suggested the freesheet model could be the first victim of the current newspaper crisis. Now, I'm not sure if I should have a go at FT or Trinity Mirror CEO Sly Bailey here, but this article elegantly skirts around the newspaper industry's bigger, structural problem, and some of its facts are at best misleading.

Freesheets hardly at the heart of Mecom's problems
"...Companies with the most serious threats to their existence have a strong element of free newspapers in their portfolio," the FT article says - and cites Mecom as its first example. This smacks of lazy reporting. The key problem for the pan-European newspaper group headed by former Mirror boss David Montgomery is high gearing or leverage. In short: scooping up too much, too fast at the top end of the economic cycle, using borrowed money to facilitate its acquisition spree. That, combined with operating in a sector which is both cyclically and structurally challenged, makes it the perfect example of the kind of company whose shares are receiving the worst hammering in the current downturn.

Of course the downturn in the advertisement market is hitting Mecom like all other newspaper companies, but I'm not convinced Mecom is the best example of a company brought down by its frees. If you're not familiar how much of its business is made up of freesheets, here's a quick run down:

Mecom's freesheet portfolio
In Denmark, Mecom rushed out a new short-lived freesheet, Dato, at the start of the Danish freesheet war in 2006 - but as this closed in 2007, it shouldn't affect Mecom's 2008 financial results - and still has the loss making youth-oriented free Urban in its portfolio, which recently reduced its circulation to 203,000, but has merged all its content production. In Norway, the British based company has a small network of non-daily frees in Oslo; in Poland, it has Moje Miasto running on a similar model to the Norwegian frees - which leaves The Netherlands, where free newspapers comprises the biggest part of the British based company's operation. Every week its Dutch divison publishes about 8.6 million copies of free door-to-door distributed papers in addition to seven paid for titles.

However, in contrast to UK newspapers, Mecom also has remarkably high subscription rates for most of its paid for papers which must be of some comfort amid all the current advertisement gloom. From what the British company has indicated about its 2008 earnings so far, it seems Mecom is worst affected by the advertisement decline, not in The Netherlands but in Denmark and hardly at all in Poland (I'm omitting Mecom Germany here as it's not big on frees and practically sold - just need the shareholders to approve the sales agreement).

A more disturbing case
Now, it is true that companies with a strong element of free are struggling - it will certainly be interesting to see how Metro International, the world's biggest publisher of freesheets will fare in the times ahead - but rather than Mecom, I would have used Norwegian-based Schibsted as an example here.

Not only because, in contrast to Mecom, it's a market leading freesheet publisher in several big markets, such as Spain, France and Sweden (the latter in partnership with Metro) and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe, but because it illustrates the larger, structural problem at work so much better. In a way, Schibsted is also a much more disconcerting example.

It's freesheets, especially in places like Spain where the property market is in a dire state, are being hammered, but that's also happening to Aftenposten, Norway's newspaper of record, a daily paid for national newspaper which traditionally has relied heavily on print classifieds.

That I believe, is the bigger problem qua business models here, at least in my part of the world: we're seeing the market for print classifieds emigrate online and not necessarily to online newspapers. In contrast, Schibsted's other national Norwegian print newspaper, Verdens Gang (VG), which gets its ad revenues from brand advertisement rather than classifieds, has not, at least until new year, done as bad as Aftenposten (though if we're talking circulation decline, the relationship is reverse).

So yes, frees may be head of the queue, or "in the frontline trenches of the war," as Baily says to FT, but national and big regional dailies relying heavily on print classifieds make a good number two. And that's still only part of the story, I'll return to why I think Schibsted is such a disconcerting example in a separate post a bit later.


Twitter Friend Optimization (TFO)

This is just so sad, sad as in pathetic if you were in doubt about in which way (via Paul Bradshaw on Twitter).

It's "just the latest in a series of games played by people who see you and me as numbers, notches in the social media belt, and not as people worth engaging with, or who have something of value to say and who are looking to be informed by others. I call this Twitter Friend Optimization (TFO)."

Actually, it's just the last in a row of examples of Twitter behaviour aimed at gaming the system which baffles and annoys me. I get this kind of follow/unfollow bullshit as well, and it basically makes anyone who's playing that game look like a twat in my eyes.

Similarly, a lot of the tips here are plain stupid if you want to use Twitter for other things than a numbers game aimed at boosting your superficial coolness factor. For instance, I'd never use something like Huitter: there are many good reasons for following people who don't follow back, such as being very interested in their thinking, work etc.

For my own part, I use Twitter for work and keeping up with friends and contacts. I usually follow back if you look like you're an actual person and tell me who you are (preferably by linking to your blog to give me an impression of who you are, or at least have a photo and description of who you are/what you do), and we have key interests in common (like media, journalism, blogs, social media, communications etc.) If I don't know you, I'm not going to follow back if your updates are protected. Also, I'm amazed at how many people don't tell me who they are, even PRs, but I think I'll rant about that some other time....

And, just as a quick disclaimer right now: I'm not perfect. I can be late following back if I'm very busy, get too many emails or am too busy then forget my intentions - but I usually catch up at some point. I'm genuinely interested in following, and reading, the people I do follow, but make a point of cleaning up my follow list for all those playing the follow-unfollow game regularly... 

Update 20-03/09, 11:30 CET: Just found this nice app via Magne Uppman on Twitter, which gives you an idea of what my Twitter followers are about (the wordcloud changes a bit every time I retry it though)

Twittersheep


Axel Springer pulls out of race for Rzeczpospolita

No Polish partnership between Mecom and Axel Springer.

After months of speculations the German newspaper giant was vying for both Rzeczpospolita and Mecom Poland, it emerged yesterday that Axel Springer had not submitted a bid for the Polish state's 49 pc stake in Rzeczpospolita - where Mecom is the majority owner.

Czech publisher Respekt Media, who along with Springer was reported to be one of four bidders provided access to undertake due diligence tests, also abstained from submitting a bid, which means only two companies, United Business Entertainment (Zjednoczone Przedsiebiorstwa Rozrywkowe) and Platforma Mediowa Point Group, are still competing for the stake. The Polish Treasury is expected to announce its decision next week according to tvn24.pl (and Google Translate). A source at Axel Springer told Reuters the German group now had no interest in Rzeczpospolita.

Predictably, running a media company together with the Polish government has been a rather troublesome affair for Mecom, as it was for the previous owner Orkla Media. Among other things the former Communist state has accused the company, run by David Montgomery who was renowned for his brutal cost-cutting regime while at The Mirror, of not delivering good enough financial results. As Mecom's recent agreements to sell its German and Western Norwegian divisions are not enough in their own right to solve the  company's covenant issues, many have wagered that its Polish arm, made up of Media Regionale and the 51pc stake in Rzeczpospolita, will go next.

However, despite Montgomery pledging long term commitment to what's left of its Norwegian arm, Edda Media, when talking to employee representatives in Oslo early this month, industry sources keep telling us Mecom is actively pursuing further sales in Norway. Now, not long ago, when Norwegian media was abuzz with speculations about A-pressen or others acquiring Edda, a newswire reporter asserted all leaks media had received during this... eh... courtship had been from the prospective buyers, and, obviously, all parties have their agendas. In short, for those who emailed me asking about that Oslo meeting: I suggested upfront, based on previous such meetings, it would be interesting and confrontational - I was wrong about confrontational, both sides denied it had been, but it was certainly interesting....

Update 21-03/09, 11:50 CET: do check Krzysztof Urbanowicz' post which contains additional information and analysis, here with Google Translate if your Polish is as bad as mine.


How to give value even to the expert reader when rehashing an old story

I was intrigued to see some of my tidbits from my reporting trip to Iceland dance into the latter part of this story in The Independent last month.

Now, I'm fully aware what a confounding place the internet can be, indeed the world is full of people who will eagerly tell you that, just like Iceland, the World Wide Web is a nobody-knows-who-owns-what-kind-of-place. Nor am I foolish enough to believe I own the facts, it would be a sad testament to my reporting if nobody found use for it or found it interesting enough to repeat.

My bigger argument here is the lack of links, this silly pretence of exclusivity. As an increasing amount of people spend an ever increasing amount of their time online, where linking to your sources is common practice everywhere except in certain newspapers with online editions, this practice of omitting links to sources comes across as increasingly bizarre and dishonest - as Judith also pointed out a while back.

This particular article is a great example of an aggregated story: for those who've followed the story the only thing that's new here are the sound bites, though even they cover old territory. However, it's safe to assume it's new for a large portion of The Independent's audience.

But adding links would have meant that even the more than usually interested and informed readers could have found value in the article by being able to go to the sources. Yes, I have a vested interest here, but it's not only that parts of the story sounds like it comes from my hands: here's a story I'm genuinely in interested in, and by providing links to her sources the journalist could provide me, the expert reader, with value.

I don't think there's anything wrong with aggregating a story, it can be an excellent way of giving value to your readers, but by not linking in today's transparent world you just come across as disingenuous, certainly to readers who have a bit more than a rudimentary knowledge of the subject at hand. And frequently, because British newspapers are serving an international audience, readers do have more than rudimentary knowledge of such issues. Certainly, with the staggering loss of faith in Icelandic media, I wouldn't be surprised if many of the Icelandic turned to international media for news on Baugur, Landsbanki etc.

Now, for the record I should say that I really like The Independent's Business section, where this story appeared. I have enjoyed much of its Baugur coverage. Besides, in my book, the newspaper frequently hides its best media stories there. That might reveal my own preferences of course, I'd take media M&As and -financial results, over celebrity news any old day - but it's still one of my favourite business sections. Also, I'm fully aware that linking policies often are beyond the individual journalist's, and even editor's, control, this was just such a good example of how news sites can serve their readers so much better by linking to their sources.

Update 14:20 CET: Bonus link,"Why won't news sites link" from Tim Windsor/Nieman Journalism Lab via @nedregotten on Twitter.


Why we need the link manifesto more than ever

I was astonished to read  Newspapers: don't link to us yesterday, I really thought newspapers, several of those mentioned keen to come across as web-savy, had moved on from such selfdestructive policies.

It's a reminder that we still need the excellent Link Manifesto penned by The Danish Online News Association (DONA) to be spread far and wide. I wrote about it for Journalism.co.uk and blogged about it over at Wired Journalists - where Paul Balcerak said he thought it should be on the wall of every newsroom, and I agree of course - but I don't think I've blogged about it here, so here goes:

First law: We link to the sources for the data we use in our journalistic products. If we have read, seen or heard important new information on an external site - for instance about companies, people or surveys - we will link to it.

Second law:
We link directly and precisely to the information we use from external sites. In this way we provide proper service to our readers rather than just linking to the front page of the external site.

Third law:
We are precise in our information about where a link leads to; about who has produced the information we link to and when. The readers should know where it takes them when they follow a link.

Fourth law:
We recognise that an article consisting of precise links to information that represents different angles on an issue is a journalistic product.

Fifth law:
We are open to inbound links to our own news sites because we want to be an integrated part of the web’s ecosystem

Sixth law:
We aspire to making it easier to link directly to our articles.

For the record I should mention that I, with the help of other online enthusiasts, founded The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) in December. I would appreciate your help with spreading this manifesto far and wide. When it was first launched, its authors, Kim Elmose and Lars K. Jensen, encouraged news rooms everywhere to write their own link commandments and use their manifesto freely.

Update 14:36 CET: I must admit I initially failed to see the post on Newspapers: don't link to us over at OnlineJournalismBlog was not written by the blog's owner, Paul Bradshaw, but have amended it now. Also, I'm delighted to see that the post by Malcolm Coles has resulted in some immediate changes and a new post naming more sites banning inbound direct links.  

Update 18-03/09 16:00 CET: And if there's anyone out there still thinking linking's not good for you, that linking out doesn't make sense even in today's web economy, here, as I tweeted the other day, is a maths formula that proves them wrong.


Advice for the jobless hack

Amid the current deluge of news about media layoffs I was deligheted to find Steve Smith back blogging, and that with some good advice to journalists and editors recently made redundant.

Now, Steve - the former editor of Spokesman Review who resigned in protest against a new round of job cuts last fall after six years editing the American regional - has been blogging privately for some months now, and, since I've kept in touch with him via Facebook, it's a bad testament to how little time I spend there that I only discovered this recently.

But be that as it may, if any of you enjoyed News is a Conversation, the blog Steve wrote while at Spokesman, and like me didn't know of his personal blog, the conversation continues over at Still a Newspaper Man - so named after this moving ode he wrote last July.

For my own part, I met Steve when covering a lecture he gave in Oslo 2007 on the transparency projects he famously pioneered at Spokesman, such as webcasting editorial meetings (in Norwegian), and have enjoyed his blog posts, where he frequently combines his experiences from 36 years in journalism with a genuine understanding of how the news industry needs to change to survive, ever since.

Or as he told me in Oslo: "It's the journalism that counts, not the medium. Preserving the medium is a false desire. All you can preserve is the journalism and the value to the community you serve." But I digress, I was going to blog about his advice to jobless hacks.

His very first bit of advice is to stop reading the industry news wires and blogs as the news is too discouraging.

Might be a bit detrimental to my own blog if you were to follow up on that, but I promise I'll be posting some more optimistic stuff here soon (in the meantime, if you're fluent in Scandinavian languages, my efforts to create a forum for online journalists, -developers and -enthusiasts last year led to founding The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) and our blog is mostly focused on innovation, inspiration and online tools).

But back to Steve's advice for the jobless, do read the full post here, I especially liked his conclusion: 

A layoff is a great equalizer. An unemployed editor is as much out of work as the laid off receptionist. All of us have our issues, our reduced expectations, our fears. But we are not defined by our unemployment. We are defined by the work we have done and the work we will do again. We are defined by our values and our commitment to craft. Having been there, I know there is light somewhere ahead. In the end, our commitment and our optimism will see us through.

And, as always, the blog comments offer many gems, including this from David Elton: "Steve, I am begging you. You have some cash in the bank. Your wife is supertalented. Take 4 months and write a darn book about how too few editors have genitalia these days. It takes balls to do what you did and it benefitted our city here in Spokane..."

Also, check out "Laid off? 10 tips for recently unemployed journalists" by Mark Potts and "If you're laid off, here's how to socially network" by Scobleizer


Twipocalypse Now: Warnings of a Twitter Bubble

Here's a Twanalysis that was bound to appear sooner or later, but one that I nonethesame found both timely and amusing:

"What does it mean when hundreds of third party services (with questionable, if any, business models) are dependent upon a single service which itself has no business model?

"...Neal Wiser suggests that Twitter’s amazing growth and popularity are indicators that the company is at the center of an emerging Bubble and examines the risks and rewards that a bubble could present to the service." Full post here (via @Medieskugga). Come to think of it, I should rephrase my first line a bit:

worries over Twitter's businessmodel, or lack of one, are everywhere, but this the best spin on it I've seen so far 1[1]

Update 10/3-09, 13:51CET: a few days after I wrote this, Techchrunch's Michael Arrington suggested Twitter is going to build its business model on search (via Jackie Danicki), which was followed up by suggestions Twitter will start serving local news to users (via David Black) - all posts well worth reading.


Free our data (chapter xxx)

Bente Kalsnes has an interesting post on the problems with "free" public data in Norway, which is often very far from free.

She describes an environmental web project she was involved with for local newspaper group Edda Media: it stranded on a combination of lack of a coherent format for the data in question (ex. xml), the public institutions' lack of experience/willingness to cooperate with external partners and the worsened financial outlook.

It's a pity the project stranded, or was postponed until further notice rather, because it sounds like one that would have added great value to the local news sites and communities in question.

It's yet another example of how difficult it can be for newspapers to make structured use of public data in Norway, another aspect being how "it is a problem, especially for local newspapers, that public institutions often charge big fees for this information which has been gathered on behalf of the public, using the taxpayers money,” as Espen Andersen pointed out in this interview.