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Notes from the changing media landscape

On Metro, Foursquare, the future of freesheets, Facebook-journalism and creative disruption.

Okay, so the headline of this post is pretty much the subtitle of this blog, but I often come across posts on interesting developments that I have limited time to blog about and know I easily will forget if I just tweet about them or save them to Delicious (I'm on Publish2 too, but Delicious is where most of my peers are, and old habits die hard). Also, I don't want to turn this blog into just a collection of links, but it's much easier to refind and return to stuff I mention here than on Delicious. In fact, one aspect I find very useful about blogging is, as I've previously described, that it works almost as a backup of my brain. So here's a few of the many interesting blog posts I've been thinking about recently.

Metro + Foursquare: following Monday's announcement of the new partnership between Metro Canada and the location-based social network Foursquare, the two most interesting posts that flashed past me was ReadWriteWeb's The Era of Location-as-Platform Has Arrived and Mark Briggs' A Foursquare First: teaming with a news org. In the latter post, both the suggestion on how open APIs eventually will take over and the one on how mobile news services will become location specific make sense to me. See also: Foursquare for local business marketing (latter link added 12:18 CET)

Free dailies 2010: the age of the happy monopolist: "Free newspapers were one of the big stories of the noughties, and came to symbolise the primacy of ‘free’ and the imminent demise of paid-for papers." Interesting analysis from Piet Bakker, who charts the rise and fall of freesheets and outlines what conditions they thrive in.

Creative Disruption: What could Kodak have done differently? (via Adam's blog): there are, as Adam mentions, many lessons for newspaper publishers here - even in 2010.

Dan Blank: How I used Facebook to unearth a town's history (via Adam on Twitter): For short, I referred to this as Facebook-journalism in the intro, but that is probably not quite accurate. Still, what kept playing in my mind when I read this amazing story was how we could use similar techniques to create better crowd-sourced hyperlocal journalism.

When I mention hyperlocal journalism though, I also think of how I recently saw hyperlocal journalism defined as "what we did when we actually had time to go out and talk to people in our communities (or something similar, I can't remember where I read it just now).

Just looking at my own family history, the local stories I've learned about through talking to random people I've met - especially when just after I graduated I spent a few months working in a pub - I know there are so many amazing stories that go unreported and that many people are very curious, passionate and interested in local history, which Dan Blank's experiences really show. In this own words:

"I want to share a story about how Facebook is allowing me to experience my past in new and incredible ways. Here is the premise:

  • I drove through my hometown (Howell, New Jersey) snapping pictures of every store, house, and landmark I could on the main road.
  • I uploaded 165 photos to Facebook, and shared it for anyone to see. 
  • So far, these photos have received more than 700 comments, adding stories, context, history and reactions. A variety of generations responded, some who remembered it in the 1950s and 1960s.

"What makes this remarkable is that I grew up in a faceless American suburb - full of cheap strip malls and tract housing. Almost everyone was a transplant from somewhere else, with waves of people settling there from New York, including my parents who moved from Queens... (do check out full post here)"

Time to support David Montgomery?

What should we make of the rumoured investor revolt against Mecom boss David Montgomery? My hunch is that it's nothing to cheer for.

This weekend Sunday Times ran a story on how Montgomery is facing shareholder rebellion, about a year after the failed board room coup against him. As someone who's followed the now pan-European media company since its early days I was asked if I knew what the inside story was.

In this particular case I don't, but if we look at the objections against his leadership brought forth after last year's revolt, and Mecom's continuing poor stock market performance this year, it seems to me that the man who gained a reputation as such a brutal cost-cutter durring his Mirror-days is simply not a brutal enough cost-cutter for the investors in question. 

When six Mecom directors stepped down after the failed bid to oust Montgomery last January, Mecom's continued investment in online strategy, at a time when the current economic downturn "warranted a total focus on cash generation", was cited by the disgruntled directors as a cause for concern - along with the accountability of the chairman and the chief executive to the board.

And let's face it: some people, like ex-Mecom director and ex-Wegener Chairman Jan Houwert, must have lost a lot of money on Mecom, while few of the once so optimistic prospects for profit margins have been met. But in today's market, investing in the online future seems like the only sensible thing to do, and not doing so could easily turn out to be suicidal.

It must also be said that we've seen some really good mashups, online ventures and agenda-setting computer assisted reporting (e.g as I've described here) from former Orkla Media - the Norwegian, Danish and Polish media group bought by Mecom in 2006 - under Mecom. Some of these look promising from a commercial point of view as well, but if the company overall has been and is making the right online investments remains to be seen.

I'm in two minds about the decision to invest in another costly proprietorial content management system (CMS) in Norway for instance, especially with Mecom's Danish arm on the face of it doing well with free open-source CMS Drupal, but that's partly because I personally perfer Drupal to most proprietorial CMS's I've worked in. It's many years since I've worked in the chosen CMS, Polopoply, though, and it might e.g have advantages to Drupal when it comes charging people securely online.

It's also interesting to contemplate what kind of CEO the rebellious shareholders would like to replace Montgomery with, and what kind of spin they could put on it. I can think of a few, but even though Montgomery is hated by many who remember him wielding the axe in his Mirror days, in this instant even Mecom's employee representatives, at least in Norway, are on his side.

"The media industry is going through a turbulent time, so stability is key... You can say what you want about Montgomery but at least he represents a line we eventually are following, which means we know what to expect," Jan-Erik Schau, an employee representative in Edda Media, Mecom's Norwegian arm, told a colleague.

If nothing else, this rumoured rebellion will probably mean we'll see a lot more positive news coming out of Mecom, after what's almost amounted to radio silence in the latter half of 2009 (following a lot of negative press last spring when it was struggling to renegotiate its banking covenants and seemed to be tethering on the brink of bankruptcy). What do you think?

Update 27.01.10 11:55 CET: Börsen, the Danish financial daily, reports today that according to anonymous sources familiar with the situation, Mecom shareholders are disappointed by how the share price have not improved more despite the capital injection this spring and the general upswing enjoyed by UK media shares in the latter half of 2009. A continuing concern over the debt level - which last year's "rebels" explicitly denied was a concern - and how Montgomery is said to have signalled an interest in further acquisitons, was also cited as worrisome.

On makers and managers and how to manage your time better

I just found a key insight into how to manage my time better. The funny thing is that I've been adapting my schedule to these recommendations for a few years already while only operating on an inkling, a sense of how compartmentalisation might be key to balancing the many different aspects of what I do for a living.

Thing is, both in my personality and in the jobs I do there is a kind of dichotomy: I'm both a thinker and someone who gets things done, both introvert and extrovert, both a columnist and a fixer - and switching between those two modus operandi can be difficult. I wish there was some magical button I could press, but I've yet to find it (though in its absence, I've found that deadlines tend to do the trick).

This is why something really clicked into place for me when I read this article by Paul Graham on Manager's Schedule and Maker's Schedule which Adriana recommended to me recently. Tiffani Jones, a webwriter, describes the difference between the two schedules well:

Manager types are accustomed to a certain way of working. They respond quickly to emails, crisply prioritize (and eviscerate) their inboxes, plan meetings, and generally just get stuff done. Heap a pile of tasks in front of them, and they will energetically destroy that heap, come hell or high water. This describes me in my natural working state.

Things change, though, when it’s time to get creative. When writing, I need to sit for long, uninterrupted periods and think things through. I need freedom for my mind to wander toward new & better ways of phrasing a particular sentence. And I need to actually relish in the creative process, or my work will come out all crappy.

The problem is, switching from “manager” to “creative worker” can make a person crazy. If you don’t play your cards right, you end up in a scary ADD shitstorm, marooned between your inbox, Twitter, and a blank page. Ugh.

She also offers some good tips on how to manage this, do check out her full post here. The funny thing is, when I was in PR I used to get up at 4-5am to get some uninterrupted blogging time before the phone started ringing at 9am. Even when I worked as an inhouse journalist I often got up that early to get some quiet time to sift through my RSS-feeds, reflect and blog before I got into work. But now that I'm full-time self-employed I've not been by far as efficient in dividing my schedule into "writing time" and "fixing time" - and when I don't do this it leads to procastrination, general inefficiency and frustration.

It's all the more pertinent for me now that I divide my time between working as a media commentator (the creator role), journalist (can be both roles depending on the assignment) and being the head of The Norwegian Online News Association (def. a manager's role). Only last week I was working as a fixer for BBC, which resulted in this report from Norway, and I Iove that stuff.

But I also love trying to figure out, and put words to, what moves the world and what makes people tick: I live in the tension between those two states of mind and would get frustrated if I didn't find an outlet for both these sides - so I will take Paul Graham's thoughts and Tiffani Jones' advice on this to heart and start planning my weeks better. Now for some writing time...

News:rewired: some of my favourite quotes

Or why SEO+Journalism=Britney Spears, deskbound journalism=bad business strategy and the most successful media companies out there are just digging their graves slower than the rest.

I had a great time at’s news:rewired last Thursday, but since there was so much excellent live coverage of the event and I’ve been busy since catching up with friends, deadlines and travel, I thought I’d just mention some of my favourite quotes here for now.

First in the session on social media for journalists, excellently moderated by Kate Day, these gems on Journalists and SEO:

Maria Bettio, search content producer at The Times, talked about how to explain search engine optimalisation (SEO) and the importance of headlines to journalists. She told the audience that when she tried to explain SEO to journalists she often found all of them just trying to insert "Britney Spears" into their headlines (!).

That interesting, and very plausible explanation of what journalists associate with SEO was only topped by a question from someone in the audience on how he could make SEO work so that Google would only send him the niche audience he wanted for his site, in this case executives with fat pay checks, not "all the regular Joes" out there....

From the last session on‘New journalism, new business models: how can journalism support itself online?’:

Chaining your journalists to their desks is simply not good for business: Ben Heald, CEO of SiftMedia:  "All of our reporters are on Twitter and out and about in the community, I don’t like to see them in the office. I’m going to drive more money from my community if my reporters are known to my target audience, have been to their trade conferences, have interviewed them etc."

Change or die: Greg Hadfield, until recently head of digital media at The Telegraph, hit a nerve with some of his closing remarks, and his announcement he was leaving The Telegraph spurred many headlines. Reading the comments in the comment section on this post I’m open to how it could also have been a collection of well-picked sound bites. Still, even if that should be the case, there’s both truth and food for thought in much of this:

"There is not a dichotomy between being a journalist and being an entrepreneur, the future is small, not big media… You cannot be a good journalist now without being an entrepreneur. Journalists have to remember their connectedness to a society. That they are part of a wider network" (Adam has more on this bit).

Hadfield talked about writing a book on "digging your grave slowly":

"The really successful media companies out there are just digging their graves more slowly... The generation who have to change journalists is sitting in this room. If you don’t change, no matter how slowly you dig your grave it is still going to be your grave...

"I came into journalism to change the world – I mean, my hero is George Orwell – and ended up putting football scores into The Daily Mail. My best work was working at local newspapers,” Hadfield said, adding that he then regularly met the readers he was writing about and serving.

Oh, and I enjoyed Adam’s slideshow from the session on problem fixing I’m sorry I missed, George Brock’s opening remarks and, well, most of the day. I assume we’ll see the ultimate summary of the coverage of the day at eventually, so I think I’ll leave it at that for now…

New Year: full speed ahead

Okay, so I hit the year running. So far 2010 has been very busy, but in a good way. However, I had quite a few analytical posts I wanted to kick off my blog year with that I've simply kept running out of time to finish.

So this is just to break the radio silence here: welcome 2010, let's hope it'll be a good year. There's lots to say about the media year past, and the decade now behind us for that matter. I've said a bit about the key headlines here and here (in Norwegian) as a columnist, though might return with a few personal insights and highlights on my blog later.

I'm off to London in the morning as I'll be attending's Newsrewired at City University on Thursday (I'll be in town from noon tomorrow 'til Saturday morning). I hope to see some of you there, and I'm also hoping it might be a bit warmer there than here. This photo is from Oslo harbour yesterday, a day spent filming outdoors (I was working for a TV company, the pic is snapped with my Noka N79) ... fun work, good company, but don't let the sun fool you: it was freezing...brrr...