Controversy over covering Anders Behring Breivk trial divides Norway

The Breivik-trial has taken live-coverage to a new level, but Norwegians are divided on whether it is a scandal or a blessing the testimony and examination of the mass mass murderer cannot be broadcasted.

In the internet age, don’t we have a right to go to directly to the source, to see for ourselves, to make up our own minds ?

Especially when the evidence in question is that of the man responsible for the worst peace time massacre in modern Norwegian history? If society is deprived of this opportunity, are we not running the risk of interpretations and claims of biased reporting taking the place of facts?

Or is it the other way around: are we running a greater risk of creating copy cats if this bit of the trial is broadcasted, and are we not just providing him with a stage to spread his gospel of hate?

These and similar questions are at the centre of a big controversy surrounding the coverage of the trial against Anders Behring Breivik, the man responsible for slaying 77 people in the twin terror attacks on Norwegian government headquarters in Oslo and a Labour Party youth camp on Utöya 22 July 2011.

Even now, as the trial is about to enter its fourth week, the heated debate has not abated.

In its first week, Journalism.co.uk had a good round-up of many of the ethical issues for journalists covering the trial, in which I’m interviewed. The story outlines some of the biggest legal issues involved. But this story poses so many interesting and troubling questions that I thought it interesting to delve more into some of the arguments.

One of those who is frustrated by not being able to see the examination of Breivik for himself, with his own eyes, is Norwegian author Ingvar Ambjörnsen.

In his VG column after the first week of the trial he describes how he travelled to Norway from his home in Berlin especially to see the court room examination. But, he writes (my unofficial translation):

"I’m not allowed to hear him. I’m not allowed to see him explain his actions. What I’m served is reports and impressions from the inner circle of Breivik-initiateds, from guests especially invited to see this grotesque drama. People who tell us how terrible he is, and how happy we can be that we can still live in a kind of world of innocence."

Ambjörnsen feels it is important to see for himself how the mass murderer comes across so he "can forget him".

Another Norwegian author, Karl Over Knausgaard, echoes this sentiment in a piece for New York Times: "…to get an impression of the nature of a person, one has to see him in motion. So much is contained in the posture of the body, the position of the hands, the movement of the eyes."

"The image of journalists and different experts commenting a running (and censored) text on the left the image, is a shame we cannot live with. It’s a historical error," Ambjörnsen concludes.

Here Ambjörnsen is referring to a major innovation in how Norwegian online newspapers are covering the trial. Several have developed their own "live windows" with a mix of features.

VG’s live window (screengrabs below) - whose coverage I’ve followed most closely and found myself totally captivated by - features a word by word transcript of what’s being said, a moderated Twitter-feed and live video - frequently of interviews with experts commenting on what’s happening inside the court room as little of the proceedings can be broadcasted.

From the first day:

VGLiveVindu

Now:

Vglivevindu2

It is this latter aspect, the massive use of experts by all media – both on live-tv and in other formats such as in op-eds, on radio and tv and in print – which has left many people feeling uncomfortable.

The Norwegian Editor’s Association has campaigned to be able to broadcast the trial, and at the start of the trial VG.no’s editor-in-chief, Espen Egil Hansen, said:

"I think everyone should get a chance to hear and see what is happening in court. We who are present in the court room get at a very different impression of how Breivik is exposed in court. To me, he appears pathetic, you don’t get the same impression when you are only reading a text."

The editor of the trade journal for Norwegian journalists, Helge Ögrim, has taken the contrarian view, arguing that those arguing against the broadcasting ban, fail to pay heed to the counterarguments. Among those:

  • Psychologists have argued that those under the age of 16 run a great risk of getting psychological reactions and traumas from watching the trial, something broadcasting the trial would increase the risk of.
  • Broadcasting would place the next of kin and those directly effected by the terror attacks under a heavier load.
  • It would be ethically dubious to broadcast the testimony of someone who two of the main court psychiatrists on the case thinks is a paranoid schizophrenic.
  • Broadcasting his testimony would give Breivik a dubious platform to spread his gospel of hate.  

However, are we really served with only getting this trial against a man who created a national trauma with the atrocities he committed last summer through the eyes of a league of experts?

In an op-ed published in Aftenposten a communication advisor, Stefan Brunvatne, who was present at the start of the trial, wrote:

"While the commentators are crawling over each other in their efforts to paint a picture of an incoherent man who is sitting there, giving us insight into evil incarnated, and 'experts' make critical comments on everything from his body language to his historical facts, Anders Behring Breivik is sitting there in the eye of the storm appearing surprisingly calm and collected.

"For someone who has been present at two of the key days during Breivik’s testimony, Friday 20 April and Monday 23 April, the shocking thing is not Breivik’s behaviour but the discrepancy between it and the monster image painted by the media."

Part of the challenge here is how difficult the trial is to cover. Norwegian war correspondent Aasne Seierstad has said it is much more difficult to cover a case she herself feels so affected by, like the Breivik-trial, than being a war correspondent. "Unfortunately it seems easier to work with stories you have a journalistic distance to," Seierstad, who is writing a book about the trial, told VG.

As Breivik told the court how he regretted not having killed more people, and described his plan to decapitate a former Norwegian prime minister, in the first week of the trial, even foreign correspondents present at the trial expressed their horror on Twitter at what they had just heard .

Daniel Bennett has written an interesting post on the dilemmas of allowing live-coverage via Twitter while banning broadcasting.

Could it be that Norwegian commentators and journalists are too affected by the trial to be objective? Or is the very idea of trying to be objective in case like this ludicruos in itself? So many questions, so few ready answers.

Max Fisher has argued in The Atlantic that Norway does what the US didn’t dare to do with Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed, the assumed mastermind behind 9/11. The Breivik-trial can teach Americans that transparancy hurts terrorism (via @svelle, no direct link available).

Many Norwegians will argue that the trial is still not transparent enough.

However, according to NRK, those desperate to see the trial with their own eyes, may get to see parts of Breivik’s testimony by taking a trip to The National Archieves a year after the trial finishes to see the parts of the video records that are not deemed too sensitive (people may e.g. get to see the parts where Breivik talks about his political and ideological motives).


How to transition from legacy media culture to the digital world

The short answer? Be agile and well-managed. Here’s how.

Of course, I don’t have all the answers. Not by far. But this month’s report by Pew Research Centre’s Project for Excellence in Journalism on the efforts and failings of newspapers to grow their digital businesses had me thinking about some insights I’ve had while working for Schibsted-owned VG.no.

"It’s not a revenue problem, it’s a culture problem," Matthew Ingram and others concluded from reading the Pew report. Incidentally, cultural inertia – and the explanations for its presence or absence – has always fascinated me (see e.g. previous posts here, here, here and here).

So it was with great fascination I went from writing about Verdens Gang (VG), a media company much acclaimed for its innovative approach and profitable digital operations, as a media journalist,  to writing for it about a year and a half ago.

It is, as Frédéric Filloux argued last week, easy to lecture on how to solve the cultural challenges of legacy media from afar (though it could just as well be argued that you easily can become so entrenched in this legacy culture you struggle to see it from the outside).

And while it is true that I’ve co-founded and been the driving force behind building up Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) and a few other start-ups and projects,  I’m not going to claim any major management experience –especially not when it comes to legacy media (where I have zero).

However, I’m a keen observer, have a special interest in organisational culture and have worked for a wide range of different media companies over the last decade+

What’s especially struck me about VG.no is how the company combines a well-run, professional organisation with a structure that allows it to mimic some of the key features of small, nimbler start-ups.

A few key characteristics:

  • Short way from idea to execution
  • Programmers in the newsroom
    This is one reason why that way from idea to execution can be short. Also, the company has few walls between IT and the newsroom. In particular, VG.no has a designer and a journalist-programmer who are 100% dedicated to news related innovation, they’re not just on loan when IT doesn’t need them, and they each have that 20 per cent innovation time Google is famous for baked into their job descriptions.
  • Helping readers help each other
    One of the best examples of the value of having programmers in the newsroom was during the ash cloud crisis, when someone had the genius idea for the Hitchhiker’s Central  - and it only took 6-7 hours to program and get up and running. The site certainly saved my day, and that of Journalism.co.uk contributing editor Colin Meek, as I explained in a blog post at the time. I’m particularly fond of this notion of VG using its position as Norway’s most read news site to design solutions to help readers help each other (there are numerous other examples) as a form of service journalism (as described in this column).
  • Speed
    Some of the most successful of the company’s editorial innovations are made on the basis of the idea that you have to move fast, it doesn’t have to be perfect – just get it out there, then improve as you go along.
  • A Goolesque-attitude to trying out new things
  • Kill things before they die a slow and painful death
    It goes with the territory: Trying sometimes means failing, and even a massive success can have a limited time span and may need to be abandoned before it becomes a liability. Social network Nettby is a good example. At one stage it was by far the biggest social network in Norway, and it was profitable (as I described in this post for Journalism.co.uk), but it was eventually eclipsed by Facebook – and killed off towards the end of 2010.
  • A willingness to cannibalise your own products.
    Okay, I read this, in a very interesting American report on Schibsted which is quite old by now, but it rings true and is still worth reading. How will this be affected when VG now is merging its print and online operations? I don’t know, but there’s lots of food for thought in that report.  
  • Good management,  good routines (on everything from press ethics to payment) and  clear leadership.

The last bullet point is especially important.

If you’re a two-three person start-up it’s easy to play by ear, be flexible etc – too much structure might even get in the way. But on the road to success most start-ups reach a stage where they need to get those routines in place in order to operate efficiently. In some respects, it’s the price of success.

And in a big organisation good routines make all the difference – in a creative one, it frees you up to be creative.

I’m not quite sure how to phrase this, but I’ve seen it in so many (media) companies:

A well-run organisation facilitates a good, consistently creative and innovative work environment in ways a badly run one, or one where management is absent or erratic, simply cannot match. The contribution of good PAs, accountants, administrators are highly undervalued, and clear leadership makes a huge difference,

I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is relevant here as well: just as it’s easier for an individual who’s very existence is not constantly under threat, who’s got all his or her basic needs covered, to be creative and innovative, it’s easier to be so if you don’t constantly worry about getting paid on time, what to expect of the management next or whether or not you have a job tomorrow.

At a news:rewired-event in January 2009 professor and head of journalism at City University, George Brock, said that his title shouldn’t be professor of journalism, but professor of chaos history.

Most journalists have become very adapt at living with daily (news and production) chaos, but dealing with it creatively becomes easier when you don’t have to deal with it at management level too. I’ve previously put together some musings on how this affects innovation here.

Now, in the above, I’ve mostly described my impressions of how VG.no deals with editorial innovation. I have no direct experiences of how this works on the commercial side of the business, but my impression is that the culture is much the same in that department too.

The big question is how this culture will fare when the company’s print and digital operations now are merged.  I don’t know enough  of that process to answer, but given all of the above I think it has decent chances of surviving intact.

I may of course be a bit biased here, and none of those things I describe take away the very real management challenges that Filloux describe in his post on newspaper culture.

But I do think that what I describe show that there are ways, even for a very old newspaper such as VG, to break away from the legacy culture - although I have no illusions about it being easy.  Also, there are bound to be other newspaper organisations combining some or most of the above, VG just happens to be a company I’ve been privileged to gain more insight into.

Update 30.03.2012: VG.no's Lucas Weldeghebriel explained more in detail how the news site has created an organisational structure to facilitate editorial innovation at a recent NONA-meeting. Read the headlines from his talk here (in Norwegian).


The Icelandic soap opera continues

 In December 2008, angry protesters branded both Geir Haarde, Iceland’s then prime minister, and David  Oddsson, then head of the country’s central bank, as «Iceland’s bin Laden» - blaming them in equal parts for the country’s complete financial meltdown (see my photos below).

Now, the former could face criminal charges for the global financial meltdown, while the latter is one of two joint editors of Iceland’s newspaper of record, Morgunbladid.

How surreal is that?

According to The Daily Mail earlier this week:

Pall Hreinsson, the supreme court judge appointed to head the Special Investigation Commission that issued a government-commissioned report detailing the litany of mistakes made in the lead-up to the bank meltdown, singled out seven former officials including Mr Haarde and central bank chief David Oddsson for particular criticism.

No other officials besides Mr Haarde were referred for prosecution to the court.

Now, I was just going to dip into this story briefly.

I was fascinated by how things had turned out when I read the news about Haarde this week since I covered the Icelandic freesheet market extensively from 2006 – 2009/10 (media cross ownership being a particularly colourful story in the country, closely linked to the financial meltdown), and reported extensively from the dire situation in Icelandic media following the financial meltdown.  

But the twists and turns of this story are just too incredible.

 

DavidBinLaden

 

DavidBinLaden

I noticed that Olafur Stephensen, who was editor of Morgunbladid, considered to be the newspaper closest the conservative Independence party which Haarde and Oddsson both represent, had now become editor of Frettabladid. That is, Frettabladid the legendary freesheet so closely linked to Baugur. Just how close those links once were becomes obvious for all when reading this story on why Frettabladid’s former editor, Jon Kaldal, was fired.

For the record, I should say that I conducted long interviews with both Kaldal, then editor of Frettabladid, and Stephensen, then editor of Morgunbladid, when I was in Reykjavik working on my story on the crisis in Icelandic media in December 2008.

Both cast an interesting light on the many events leading up to the crisis.

At the time, Stephensen had not received his monthly salary and could only pray someone would rescue Morgunbladid so his salary would be paid before Christmas. 

But it is perhaps no wonder that the country’s newspaper economy, with its close links to major companies and banks, was struggling at the time seeing that the entire country was on the verge of financial collapse. 

(Media cross interests and cross ownership on Iceland was so extensive at the time that it still makes my head spin, but an Icelandic tabloid editor I spoke to explained it in clear terms thus: ” You know, the sugar daddy behind DV and Fréttablaðið was Baugur, but the sugar daddy behind Morgunbladid was Björgólfur Guðmundsson? … Now everyone is on his or her own because our sugar daddies are dead” )

According to Gylfi Magnússon, a University of Iceland economist who gave witness to the Landsdómur trial of former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde on Friday, the Central Bank of Iceland effectively went bankrupt in October 2008 when its board decided to loan Kaupþing Bank EUR 500 million in an effort to save the latter.

He explained that although the Central Bank said at the time that the loan represented only a fifth of its foreign capital reserves, in reality most of that money was not readily accessible.

Gylfi was drafted in to the minority government from February 2009, after Geir Haarde resigned, as an un-elected expert commerce and trade minister (Icenews has more on this latter story)

Okay, I’ll stop there. I could easily see myself moving temporarily to Reykjavik to write a book on all this, but I expect those books already have or are being written.


Schibsted looks to Apple for new payment solution

If paying would be as easy as across various devices as with iTunes, would readers feel more inclined to pay for editorial content and classifieds?

Apple has introduced a new standard for paying for content, which makes most other payment solutions look unnecessarily complicated in comparison.

The media’s dream of making a fortune on the back of that, on devices such as iPhone and iPad, has not turned out to quite as quick and easy to implement as many hoped, but what if media could emulate Apple’s pay-with-a-click revolution with their own similar solutions?

These days Schibsted, according to Kampanje.com, is rolling out an Apple-inspired payment solution, named SPiD, for all its many digital platforms. SPiD will be set up to remember you if, say you first log in on Schibsted’s Norwegian tabloid VG to read something and then go to Schibsted’s classifieds site Finn.no to advertise something for sale.

In January, Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet became the first Schibsted-paper to start using the service, VG is to start using it this month and the company’s other media houses and classified sites are due to follow.

- The idea is that it will work as simply as iTunes with a «click here» to pay, Sverre  Munck, Schibsted’s executive vice president of strategy and international editorial, told Kampanje.

That sounds good to me.

Apple’s «pay-with-a-click» has certainly made me buy quite a bit of stuff, mostly eBooks via Kindle, I might not have otherwise bought. It’s now much easier to buy a book than a chocolate on a whim, not entirely a good thing for a booklover such as myself (or at least not for my budget).

But the price and content for sale must be right. Schibsted has had success with the paid-for section of Aftonbladet.no, Aftonbladet Pluss though, and I think its pricing strategy for e.g. the tablet edition of VG has been pretty spot on too. They’ve kept the price low (about £5 a month) and not been tempted to bundle it with print as several other Norwegian media companies have.

Maybe it’s a different picture for families, but I can’t see the point of subscribing to both the iPad and print editions, as I only read the latter properly during weekends. But then again, I might also be biased (for the record: Schibsted-owned VG has been my main client for the last year and a half).


Rude tweet hits six o’clock news

Now, what did you have to do again in the good old days to get yourself on the evening news? These days all it takes is a tweet.

Arguably it might take what most people would call a tweet too far, but still… This week I was invited to discuss what is probably the most shocking tweet I’ve come across on a six o’clock news show  – with the guy who wrote it and a few others.

The set-up was somewhat surreal:

Last Sunday a far-left-wing journalist-author wrote the mentioned tweet in reply to the debate editor of Norway’s newspaper of record, Aftenposten.

The latter had  recently written a short and scalding, if still civilised, review of the former’s recent book.

To which the former replies to the openly gay editor with a tweet that somehow manages to include such phrases as ”suck negro cock” and ”jewish cunt”  in the same tweet.

The political editor of Aftenposten replies with a harsh leader on the implied racism in that tweet and he, the tweet-writer, the head of Norway’s Union of Journalists and me are invited to discuss the affair on the before mentioned evening news show.

It should be mentioned that the guy who wrote the offending tweet was quick to apologise on Twitter, but on the evening news we also learned that the tweet was meant as a joke and was paraphrasing a scene from a Norwegian movie (”facts” which had entirely escaped me before that session on the evening news).

Aftenposten’s political editor made the very fair point that had this tweet been sent by someone from the populist far right it would have created a media upheaval, and the news presenter tried to get a discussion going on whether journalists should be allowed to tweet privately...

Now, imagine: Journalist says something stupid, rude and racist on TV? Should we therefore ban all journalists from TV? Of course not, and no one was seriously suggesting during that TV slot to ban journalists from using social media privately either – but it was one of the topics being discussed, as well as all the awful kind of things people can bring themselves to say online…

I must admit I’m not quite sure what to conclude from all this, it was a somewhat surreal event, but it’s definitely part of that brave new media landscape of ours…


Can we have the silly season back, please?

Shocked out of holiday mode, and a general cutural innocence, by the worst terror attack in the country's modern history, it is perhaps not surprising that some Norwegians find themselves missing the summer's traditional silly season.

"I miss headlines about dangerous tics, murder snails and vegetable prices," said one influential commentator I ran into on my way into work the other morning.

"I want the headline news on the six o'clock news to be about a farmer's ruined cabbage field... I want the talk of town on warm summerdays in Oslo to be the  price of prawns...I want the men I'm struggling to get a grip on to be ordinary men, not psychotic killers," one blogger wrote on Monday.

Other bloggers have voiced similar sentiments.

It's not only the terror attacks on 22/7, though they have dominated the news ever since that day.

Norway's seen two fatal boating accidents in July too, and it's such a small country that even those affected lots and lots of people.

Not to speak of how such accidents always feel so meaningless and unnecessary.

But I'd never thought I'd see the day when people actually are begging for a return to the much derided silly season, though a part of me can undertand the sentiment.

Having said that, even thought headlines about fruit and vegetable prices was a sign of cultural decay when I grew up, I've since come to understand that these price fluctuations tell us a lot both about hyperlocal and international affarirs. 

"As above, so below," the mystics used to say.

I myself am no mystic but this summer has reminded me that even the focus and absence of a country's silly season can tell us a lot about a country and the state it's in: the small things in life - or the absence of them - often mirror the bigger ones.


At the frontline of the tablet revolution

An issue of a media magazine I wrote the lead story for just won a prize for front page of the year during the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen.

I had absolutely nothing to do with that front page but I love how it alludes to some of the paradoxes of the "tablet revolution", or at least the media's approach to it.

Because in some respects it's been a very old fashioned revolution to this point, for some media organisations almost a(n attempted) return to the olden days:

KampanjeLesebrett

And from the actual story:

KampanjeLesebrettSpread

This issue was published in early autumn last year, at which time we were still speculating as to what this "revolution" would entail. The 10 page story features interviews with many of the usual suspects (well, at least to the readers of this blog), including Eirik Solheim (@eirikso ), Adam Tinworth ( @adders ), Alan Patrick ( @freecloud ), Jon Einar Sandvand ( @johnei ) , Eirik Newth ( @astronewth ) – and some reflections from INMAs tablet summit in Oxford last spring.

And now, 10 months on, a new issue of that same magazine is just out with another lead story of mine on how the market for (media) apps is evolving (I'll return to one of the key themes in a different post).

10 months on we're not really all that much wiser though.

We know a lot more about how people use tablets, but it's fair to say that the media industry is still some way off from cracking the tablet code – even though there's also some good stuff happening.

So, perhaps Adam in right, when concluding from my most recent blog post:

My gut reaction: tablets are in the same place that the web was in the mid- to late 90s: companies think that they can recreate the environment of the past, even as the tidal wave of change surfs towards them. While people were building brochure sites, the blogging revolution was getting underway. Look for the niche, techie, cool stuff happening on tablets, and you'll see the real face of the future.

Having said that, my media consumption has shifted heavily to my iPad.

Checking news there, mainly using Flipboard +VG and Aftenposten's iPad editions, is the first thing I do in the morning – before I get out of bed even, and my Google reader section of Flipboard has almost entirely replaced my newsreader (I still check Newsrac k, also for iPad, on occasion, but it's rare). During weekends, my iPad reading is more varied.

But even though I absolutely adore, and find myself thinking I couldn't live without, apps like Flipboard and Zine, some of the debates we're having about such apps reminds me a lot about those we had about RSS and newsreaders.

The two latter were going to change everything and outcompete mainstream media imminently, but lacking a decent business model they never did. Or at least haven't done so far. Apps such as Flipboard have many of the same challenges.

In fact, a recent study by City University's Neil Thurman shows that basically, readers are too lazy to take advantage of many such innovations:

New research from City University London reveals that the use of personalisation features has been growing at major news website in the UK and US. However, passive news personalisation ― which allows news websites to filter and recommend articles based on user browsing behaviour ― is outstripping active user customisation by a factor of three.

Do read it in full here.


Apple and publishers: A Faustian bargain

"Publishers are finally saying yes to Apple's terms because ...it turns out their fear that Apple’s policies would deny them the consumer data they need to do business was unfounded".

So writes Jeff Bercovici on his Forbes-blog.

His post reminds me of two things, well three come to think of it.

First of all, to slightly rephrase Neil Postman:

"All new technology is a kind of Faustian bargain – you get a lot but you also lose something. It was true for the alphabet, for the printing press, for radio, for TV" – and it is true for Apple's iPad (from this video-interview)

In the case of Apple, publishers lose control, which perhaps isn't such a brave new thing because they already lost that with the web, with online publishing and social media – just in a different way.

Still, looking at this particular exercise in letting go of control, Adam looks at Apple's pop-up window that asks customers to share their personal data with publishers and concludes:

It's a pretty bland, factual pop-up, so it's not really giving people much incentive to click "Allow", really, is it? In fact, it very easily reads like you're accepting a dump of junk mail.

Now, I'm not sure how customisable that pop-up is (my guess is that it isn't), but surely if developers could find ways of incentivising people to accept earlier in the process, by highlighting the benefits of that data transfer on the subscription information page. Because there are benefits to the user from this, right…?

Which brings me to my third point, as this quote from Hearst Magazines announcing its new deal with Apple really made me pause:

"Our deal is fundamentally different from any other deal Apple has done with a publisher; we came to fair and equitable agreement that allows both parties to own customers together"

I do wonder how customers feel about the prospect of being co-owned by Hearst and Apple.

I understand the  business sense behind that statement, but it made me wonder if anyone remembers stuff like Day of the Longtail and the empowerment of the people formerly known as the audience?

I guess that must all have been forgotten in the iPad-age... and the people who prior to 2006 were the media's very own "cuddly coach-potatoes" preparing a revolt causing total disintermediation ... well, they must've gone back to being cuddly coach potatoes again (If my metaphors in this paragraph is lost on you, do watch Day of the Longtail here).  

I know of course, that some of the people who previously were at the front guard of the  Cluetrain-revolution, now are deeply involved in working for Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), working for solutions that would enable users to regain control over all the personal data they now have to leave with numerous different vendors.

So maybe the next question should be if there ever will come a time that VRM will gain the traction Cluetrain did, or if we have become sated, made complacent, by the new range of marvellously easy-to-use, well-designed devices that make our lives so much easier in so many ways...

... If we're on the road to surfing ourselves to death. I know, that's a really bad wordplay on Postman's classic title... but I do wonder ... Apple's iPad does seem to have caused a mentality-shift...

But perhaps that's just an inevitable step in the perennial "cycle", the succession of optimistic and open media, each of which in time, becomes a closed and controlled industry, Tim Wu talks about in "The Master Switch".

Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here, and covering more than a decade of social media history while at it so forgive me if I don't explain all of my references sufficiently (perhaps in the morning I shall add more links).

For the record I should say that I have a rather pragmatic approach to Apple/Android/Linux/Microsoft etc. As it happens the only Apple-device in my household at the moment is an iPad, but it's one I've found very good use for: it has become integral  both to my media habits and to plain everyday habits (such as cooking).


A painful lesson in why innovation is so hard for (media) companies

Do you remember how "stickiness" used to be considered a virtue online?

I can recall it being praised as such in a newsroom I worked as late as 2007.

However, a story from 1997 about this very same "virtue" really leapt at me when reading Steven Levy's new book on Life in the GooglePlex.

Back then what was to become Google search was called BackRub and there's a lesson for many a company in this anecdote. Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were looking for investors and/or a potential partnership, and met up with Excite CEO George Bell, a former Times Mirror magazine executive, with this object in mind.

The two teams fired up BackRub in one window and Excite in another:

«The first query they tested was "Internet"... Excite's first results were Chinese web pages where the English word "Internet" stood out among a jumble of Chinese characters. Then the team typed "Internet" into BackRub. The first two results delivered pages that showed you how to use browsers. It was exactly the kind of helpful result that would most likely satisfy someone who made the query.

«Bell was visibly upset. The Stanford product was too good. If Excite was to host a search engine that instantly gave people the information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site – "stickiness" was the most desired metric in websites at the time – using BackRub's technology would be counterproductive....»

Sounds familiar?

Needless to say, the deal never happened.

I reviewed this book over Easter for work( the review's here, in Norwegian), and might return to it again on this blog as it was a very interesting read – and another good book from Levy.

I spent some 30 hours reading this, in Kindle for iPad, which is an amazingly long time for me as I'm normally a very quick reader – but it was absolutely worth it even though I kept checking the percentage left with repeated amazement as I was moving through the last third (just natural impatience on my part).


Are newspapers content farms?

With all the hullabaloo over content farms, Google, and whether Huffington Post really is a content farm, as of late, two contrary perspectives struck me last week.

First, I attended Robert Picard's talk on media business models, as mentioned here. What I didn't mention was some points he also raised the last time I heard him on this issue:

"Media is also in trouble today because they produce very little original content, most of what they publish is just edited content from the wire services. Most newspapers only produce about 20 per cent of their content themseleves. The rest stems from photo- or wire agencies or is copied from other newspapers," he said.

He argued that to survive newspapers need better news and information than our competitors, different news and information than our comptetitors and news people value, saying: "You don't win this competition by just copying everyone else".

That much should be obvious, but then fast-forward to this whole debate about content farms such as Demand Media, or to the discussion of whether Huffington Post, recently acquired by AOL, really should be classified as a content farm:

"In other words, I think we are nearing the high water mark of the Content Farm AdSpam business model, and in a few months it will be drastically curtailed as search engines start to select for the original authors and content spam blockers start to just cut out certain sites - which is why Demand Media, HuffPo et al's backers have to rake in the cash now.

"It is exit or bust (or at least a shorter and more brutish existence) so I expect to see a plethora of content farms and near-content farms trying to sell themselves now," wrote Alan Patrick over at Broadstuff.

That spurred this post:

"I disagreed with a recent blog post by Alan Patrick which described the Huffington Post as a content farm. I do not think that the alleged lack of original content at the Huffpo is any worse than at many newspapers: so I concluded that it is not a content farm. It could be interpreted the other way: newspapers are content farms too.

"How much original content is there in newspapers?" asks the blogger, and then goes on to analyse at the ten most recent stories from The Guardian's RSS feed.

He concludes:

"There are only three pieces of really original content out of the ten I looked at, and two of those are related to the arts and are not really what I would call news (nothing wrong with that, of course).

"Journalists are more skilled reporters and better writers than those who churn out stuff for the likes of Demand Media. They add some original content by chasing up quote, but that is really all they add. If the Guardian is not a content farm, most of it is not very different from one."

Do check out the full post here. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts...


The Media industry: stuck in a rut of daily chaos

What if it's that endless routine of trying to create some sort of order out chaos, minute by minute, day by day, that's to blame for the media's challenges in coping with change?

I've been listening to Robert Picard, currently director of research at the Reuters Institute, again. He was in Oslo today giving a talk on Business Models and why the media is having a hard time grappling with change.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you may remember that when I interviewed him last year he talked about of how deadline pressure was negatively affecting the media's ability to innovate.

Today he talked a lot about path dependencies, and how your structures make you vulnerable.

On the one hand he referred to many historical examples on how path dependencies make it difficult to see the opportunities along the way:

From an early stage railway companies saw themselves as railway, not transportation, companies. So when trucking and airlines came along they didn't see either as a threat. And by the time they realised they'd been in the transportation industry all along, they had a big problem on their hands.

"It's the same with media, we used to think we were in the newspaper industry," said Picard. "Our business consisted of creating and printing newspapers. So when radio came along we thought that's not the business we're in, so we dropped it. You could say the same for the Internet or mobiles."

As a side note, I think this has changed a bit over the last few years with what we sometimes call "the mobile revolution", but what perhaps should be more accurately called a revolution in mobile payment.

On the other hand, Picard talked about how routines and processes combine with company culture to stifle change and innovation – whereas start-ups have no organisational inertia of this kind to hold them back.

Among media's inertia problems he listed:

- Most involve highly structured and complex entities

- Most have really strong process orientation to accommodate ongoing production

- Most have personnel with strong professional values which limits the field for innovation and create institutionalised roles which undercut innovation.

- Media's tendency to reuse things that worked once

I think, as I mentioned, that media's attitude to the evolving mobile market of the last few years is a slightly different story. You could argue that the innovation in formats have been insufficient, but most media organisations have embraced mobile platforms wholeheartedly.

As for what was perhaps last year's most hyped gadget however, Picard said he was a bit of a cynic.

"If you look at the electronics markets most devices top out at 20 or 30 per cent of the market. A tablet is a consumption device, most people don't use it to create stuff on so you need at least two devices. The many different tablet sizes will also be a problem in terms of penetration"

That fragmentation, both in the mobile- and tablet market, might spell more chaos to come, in other words. That is, if media companies try to develop native apps for all the new mobile platforms and don't look more to developing web apps that can run on all platforms. But that is a different debate.

Back to the issue chaos and how our daily chaos affects the industry's ability to innovate, I'm reminded of an excellent quote I first picked up via Paal Leveraas:

"We stand in the stream of events, while busy chasing deadlines the world changes and we are too busy to notice the change."

Actually, while searching for various takes on "stuck in a rut", Google suggested I'd take a look at U2's classic "Stuck in a moment". I think Google might be on to something, keeping in mind this Picard quote from last year ( the slight changes in brackets are mine):

"Because of the pressures of news – you can’t have dead air or blank pages – so much of your focus and time spend is on today [the here and now, on moments in time] that you don’t have much time to think about tomorrow."

 


Why did you stop blogging?

Erm... well, actually I never did.

So when someone asked me this question at a conference, where I was giving a talk about the state of digital media, recently, I thought it was about time I'd deliver on my promise to myself to start blogging more here again (the person who asked me was referring specifically to this blog).

In short, my blogging so seldom here as of late is only because I took on a few new assignments, which involves blogging, columnisting and writing elsewhere - and moved. House hunting and moving took up a lot of my time in the months before Christmas.

Also, for the last half year, my beat has changed somewhat. It's weird how covering media go through phases: one year it's all about M&As (06-07), then social media (08-09), then tech (2010). Seriously, even the media journalism I've done in 2010 (mostly magazine features and working as a media columnist) was predominantly about tech.

2010 was the year where all the focus of the media industry seemed to shift to digital platforms – in particular smart phones and tablets - while internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter continued to influence a changing media landscape. So it's only natural that as of August the main gist of my work changed from covering the media industry to focusing more on how the tech industry is influencing our day to day lives.

That does not mean I've stopped following the media industry or will change the focus of this blog dramatically, I'm also still in charge of the Norwegian Online News Association.

But I do think a blog is something that kind of grows with the blogger, and my focus has shifted somewhat over the last year or so. Certain media stories tire me, certainly the more newsy ones where you feel this is just history repeating for the umpteenth time. But media change still fascinates me.

To be honest, it's perhaps more precise to say that change fascinates me, and at the moment it's like we're standing in a flood of change, one where the undercurrents are so strong it's hard not to be swept away with the flood. That makes for interesting times, my only challenge is finding time to write about it all...

Actually, while talking about how media coverage go through phases, here's a recent, and I think very to the point, summary when you look at covering all things digital (taking into account that Norway was much slower to adopt social media than e.g the US or UK):

"A short summary of web communication trends from #sw2011: Social media is soo 2009, apps soo 2010. 2011--> is mobile internet (+ html5)" (Hans Petter Fosseng summing up a web conference today)


"Internt verbiage is now entirely sufficient for me"

Food for thought: my own media habits have changed in a somewhat different direction than Brian's as find myself consuming more and more of my news on the iPad, but there's still universal insights here worth contemplating:

"What seems to be happening is that many are now willing to pay pennies to read professional media stuff, on their iPads and iPhones and Google-Android equivalents. How much of a real business this will turn into remains to be seen. Very big but very different from the recent past would be my current guess...

"...Meanwhile, all those who, like me, want also to write about it (whatever it might be) and to link to other writings about it will continue to want free stuff. It's absolutely not - or not only - that we amateurs are cheap. The key is linkage. If we can't say to everyone reading our own free stuff: hey, have a read of this (no link there because that is my exact point), there is, for us amateur writers, no point in us reading it either.

"Another way of putting all this is to say that whereas it used to be that the Mainstream Media were … the mainstream media, while us internetters all lived in our dusty little caves of off-message opinion, gibbering and cursing with only our closest friends, now it is the pay-as-you-read ex-mainstream media who will be the ones living, if not in caves, then at least indoors, so to speak, and hence ever more cut off from "public" opinion. Think: Palace of Versailles. That this switch is already happening explains a lot about the current state of politics, worldwide..."

Oh, and few but Brian could have me voluntarily read about cricket, the topic of blog post these quotes are taken from.


Wanted: multimedia journalist with a knack for selling ads and sponsorships

Internet start-ups are challenging the traditional separation between advertising and editorial, between fundraising and content production, in ways big media companies could never have gotten away with.

Still, in the face of the media industry's financial conundrum, is this wall about to come down? Should it?

'If journalists had to fundraise in the same way as NGOs, wouldn't that also make them more accountable to their readers?,' asked Astrid Schmeltzer Dybkjaer recently in an op-ed on Information.dk (via Journalisten.dk).

The old way broke, what now?

As inspiration, she cited how the folks behind the podcast This American Life, who are actively soliciting listeners for donations, goes about financing their work. Among internet start-ups this, and other "new" ways of raising money, are not so unusual, but will we eventually see mainstream media in desperation adopt such fundraising methods as well? Could they possibly do so without losing their credibility? Or could it be that they actually don't have any credibility to loose in this respect?

"To all those saying 'sorry I'm just a journalist, I don't sell advertising' I say: tough: that's the way it is now. We tried it the other way and it broke," said former Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves in his keynote to Journalism.co.uk's excellent Newsrewired-event late June. Reeves, who is currently the editor of internet start-up BusinessDesk.com West Midlands, went on to say:

"That artificial divide we created when we put the noisy people in a room marked 'advertising' and the studious types in another labelled 'editorial' was the biggest mistake newspapers and other media ever made. It allowed journalists to insulate themselves from the business they were in to the point of revelling in their detachment. I've worked with generations of hacks to whom the very idea of passing on a sales lead was regarded as a murderous betrayal of the memory of CP Scott. No wonder so many didn't see the meltdown coming.

"And to those who say: "I can't sell advertising", I ask how many death knocks have you done? Exactly, so don't tell me you can't sell a little ad space."

His keynote received standing ovations. It was indeed a very interesting talk, well delivered - do read it in full here if you haven't already - but I was reminded of Mecom-boss David Montgomery telling the Norwegian Journalist union (NJ) that all journalists are salesmen back in 2007, and I can promise you it was far from well received. Here's an excerpt of my transcript from the latter event:

Newspapers to sell lingerie and wine

Montgomery: "I'm here because I think journalists will have to change. The old fashioned model of print cannot sustain itself... If we don't change radically, and I do mean radically, it will be bad for print, bad for democracy, bad across the board."

The guy moderating the debate (I think this might have been IJ's Gunnar Bodahl Johansen) quotes Mecom's preliminary results which states that Mecom will use proven UK techniques to improve its business. He asks Montgomery which techniques this refers to, to which Montgomery answers "partly marketing techniques" and talks of the importance of convergence. The moderator then says that another technique might be mixing journalism with commercial endeavours. He says there is much concern in Norway that Mecom will force its newspapers to do so, and highlights how Montgomery has proposed that newspapers will sell commercial products like books, wine, lingerie and DVDs.

Montgomery: "We have to have deeper and wider relationship with our readers. One person, one paper is not a good business model for us. In Drammen we have introduced a ticket service, which enriches the service for the community."

Montgomery: "journalists are salesmen"

Ann Margit Austenå (NJ-leader at the time): "Montgomery likes to present himself as a journalist and a publisher, but I see him mainly as a salesman. Mixing commercial and editorial operations will diminish the credibility of the product. A journalist wouldn't do that, but a salesman would.

Montgomery: "Thanks for the compliment. I'm not at all shy about being called a salesman, Every journalist is a salesperson: to convey information, to sell information to the public – it is a special skill. If you're not a salesman in journalism, then what are you?

Ann Margit Austenå vehemently denied that journalists saw themselves that way and the debate went on along similar lines. So Norwegian union representatives definitely do not see themselves as salespeople, and I doubt that will have changed much since this debate took place. In fact, if you get more than 50 per cent of your income from other things than journalism, such as PR and marketing, you are not eligible to be a member of the Norwegian Journalist Union and there have been cases where people who wanted a union membership have been rejected because their job had commercial and/or PR tasks assigned to it.

Also, the code of conduct Norwegian media has agreed to uphold asks that members of the press reject any attempt to tear down the wall between advertising and editorial.

Start-ups vs. media conglomerates

Ethical codes aside, I can't really see journalists of any stripes embrace fundraising or advertisement sales as part of their jobs, or am I overlooking something?

As someone who's co-founded three fully or partly advertisement-funded publications in my student days I've done my share of selling ads, negotiating deals with printers and most other tasks connected to publishing, but being start-ups we didn't have much choice in the matter. We simply didn't have enough hands to afford to be picky about which tasks we would like to do or not.

That said, we didn't write about our advertisers either, but, at least at two of those publications, I don't think we gave much thought to any potential ethical dilemmas of selling ads and writing articles for the same magazines. It is perhaps unjust of me to compare student publications with "proper" start-ups, but I think being a start-up puts you in a unique position - and multi-tasking in this way is just a matter of necessity.

Start-ups can get away with this, and even be praised for it, but would be an entirely different matter if say News Corp or Mecom would start requiring its journalists to sell ads or sponsorship. Can't you just picture the outrage?

Serving the niche

Of course, so far I've not addressed Reeves' thoughts on serving a niche, which are key to his argument. In his words:

"If serving a niche, you have to abandon the old editorial - advertising divisions of traditional media. You've got to understand and relate to your audience in totality because it's more likely that your reader and your advertiser is one and the same person. That's the nature of a niche - it's a concentration down on to a specific interest, whether it's a hobby, a business interest or a tiny geographical area."

In his keynote, Reeves argued that building relationships with the community you serve is absolutely crucial when serving a niche as BusinessDesk.com does. That, of course, is an argument you could easily extend to a company like Mecom, at least in Norway where it owns a large group of regional and local newspapers in addition to a number of specialist websites.

Mecom's approach has been to centralise advertisement sales, an approach I've often heard Mecom journalists at smaller local titles express concern about as they fear it will estrange local advertisers such as the local plumber or mechanic.

Hyper local journalist-photographer cum ad salesman

I remember Rick Waghorn, the former journalist turned journalism entrepreneur, argued that when media pundit Roy Greenslade took up his role as a hyper local blogger for The Brighton Argus he should also have secured an ad from the newsagent he wrote his first post about.

"...if Roy had been empowered to walk out of that door with not only his first hyper-local news story in the bag and a picture on his Mrs’ mobile, but also his first hyper-local advertiser sorted for a fiver a week, then I think we all might be slightly richer for the experience...And, yes, it might only have been a tiny step in the right direction... But it would still be one, tiny step towards our ultimate goal of delivering a sustainable hyper-local news platform for the people of this country," he wrote.

Now, transfer that to Argus-owner Newsquest, or to Mecom or News Corp for that matter: it's just not going to happen, is it? The journalist union wouldn't allow it for one, and in many countries it would be able to block any such attempts.

So in mainstream news organizations we're seeing the traditional separation between advertisement and editorial being challenged in different, more subtle, ways instead.

A Porous Wall

In an article entitled "A Porous Wall" in American Journalism Review last year Natalie Pompilio asked if credibility takes a hit when news organizations, in their struggle to survive, blur the line between editorial and advertising.

Among other sources, she quoted Skip Foster, "a former editor and now publisher of the Star in Shelby, North Carolina" who said "a different game is afoot when marketing and advertising decisions directly affect the number of newsroom bodies left to cover the news.

"If somebody comes to us willing to pay the premium rate to do something that doesn't fit into my initial set of standards, I'll listen," he said. "We're not going to do anything that's masquerading as news, but the rest is gray."

The article is worth reading in full and describes a number of "missteps" by big newspapers which did indeed blur, if not distort, the lines between advertising and editorial. It concludes with a quote on 'ethics or not, it's all about survival'.

Desperate people make desperate choices

Personally I think that is looking at the media industry's financial conundrum from a self-defeating perspective. Desperate people, and companies – which we often forget are made up by people – make desperate choices. With all the choice out there today, of course people will be turned off by news sites so cluttered with advertisement that it's almost impossible to read the actual content; with media organisations trying to deceive their readers or asking them to pay to read something which doesn't serve their needs or interests.

Too often media organisations think about business models from the premise that their current conundrum is down to their readers (or their advertisers) not their own products: It's all somebody or something else's fault.

I think it is more a matter of rebuilding trust. And here we come back to credibility of course, another issue I haven't addressed much so far in this post. To be honest I don't think the media has that much credibility to lose. Certainly, as someone who's had stints working both as a citizen journalism editor and a moderator, my experience, as I noted in this post, is that the people we are supposed to serve, our readers, rarely see us as objective or think we have no political or business ties:

It's all about trust

"They're just not quite sure what those biases which they feel must be dictating the news agenda are, so we often find ourselves accused of being racists and cultural relativists, or socialists and conservatives in the comment section of the same article."

I'm reminded of JP Rangaswami's old but excellent post on how it's all about trust (which I blogged about here):

"Trust used to be something that bound small groups together. Over time we tried to scale trust. It didn’t scale. And what happened instead was Big Everything. In an Assembly-Line meets Broadcast world. Big Everything broke trust. Big Media lied. Big Content Producer reduced our choices. Big Pipe and Big Device reduced it further. Big Firm wrongsized away. And Big Government did what it liked.

"Now, with the web and with communities and with social software and with the inheritance of Moore and Metcalfe, we’ve had a chance to rebuild trust. And we’re rebuilding trust. Slowly. Putting the shattered pieces together. Disaggregation, to be followed by reaggregation over time..." (do check out the full post)

I think the question is more one of how we can use all the new tools the web offers to rebuild that trust most effectively, which again comes down to actually serving our readers who, for the niche publication, may also be our advertisers. It gets complicated. Or does it? Haven't journalists always been forced to make difficult editorial and ethical choices every day? But let's at least start to be transparent about these choices, I think that's a good, and much overdue, start...


Kjell Aamot: Johnston Press' new, controversial non-executive director

Could we see Schibsted mount a take-over attempt of Johnston Press following yesterday's announcement of the latter company appointing the former media group's ex-CEO, Kjell Aamot, as a non-executive director?

Nah, I can't really see that happening, but it's an interesting appointment. I was approached by more than one UK journalist about Mr Aamot after the appointment was announced yesterday since a quick Google search led them to my post on his resignation last spring.

He had then held the position as CEO of Schibsted ASA since the group was formed in 1989, and has been given a lot of the credit for the group's famed online success – not at least due to early online investments and a willingness to stick with those investments even in turbulent financial times when other media companies scaled back or even abandoned risky new projects.

As CEO of Schibsted Mr Aamot was known to be a visionary, but he also courted controversy on more than one occasion, especially when he was reported to have predicted the imminent death print newspapers (link in Norwegian). He later said he was talking about paid for newspapers, not print newspapers as such as he still had a lot of faith in free newspapers (Schibsted owns several market leading freesheets). Still, employee representatives in several at Schibsted's Norwegian paid for newspapers were livid and accused him of prematurely issuing an obituary for print.

He also highlighted one of the biggest paradoxes in Schibsted's business model by saying that in the future journalism will be paid for by car sales (link in Norwegian). As the company's revenues increasingly are generated from its online classifieds business we could see a situation where the journalism business is fully subsidised by standalone online classifieds operations (flippantly, you could say the company owns Norway's version of eBay, except it's not free. It also owns similar classifieds businesses in other European countries).

All in all, a very interesting appointment indeed. Mr Aamot will certainly bring a lot valuable experiences and insights from his 20 years running a media company that earns good money online, a feat which seems to be the exception rather than the norm these days.

With his many years of international experience he should also be well versed in the many cultural challenges that is bound to appear between the very direct, no-nonsense Norwegians and the rather... eh.. circumloquacious Brits...


More profitable Metro prepares new online strategy

Well, let's not exaggerate the profit, freesheet giant Metro International is back in the black with a modest profit for Q2, but is still in the red for the first half of 2010 (key headlines here).

However, the world's biggest publisher of free dailies has seen a steady improvement of its financial results for three consecutive quarters and the end of freesheets seems further off than many predicted in 2009 and 2008.

No doubt, the consolidation in the freesheet market, Metro's own divestments and closures as well as an end to costly freesheet wars, most notably in key markets such as Denmark and Sweden, has benefited Metro's bottom line. "We're getting to be a bit more of a boring company, more predictable," said Anders Kronborg, the company's CFO, when I talked to him about Metro's Q1 results in April.

If you look at the company's share price curve for the first half of 2010 there's not much evidence of that so far, but now that it has moved its headquarters back from London to the city where it all started, back in 1995, perhaps some of that Swedish steadiness and predictability, which also may be described as boring in some contexts, will rub off.

At least Metro is using the relocation as a chance to build a new team and re-evaluate its online operations, Metro-boss Per Mikael Jensen told me yesterday. He said the organisation is planning to reveal a new online strategy come August/ September. PaidContent in particular has focused a lot on the company's lacklustre online results.

When confronted with this, Jensen pointed out that this was not in any way unique for Metro. "Point me to a media company that's been successful online apart from the likes of Schibsted, there are not many who have been successful making money online," he said and added that Metro does run profitable online operations in countries like Canada, Mexico, Denmark and Sweden. Now, in the latter country Schibsted took a 35 per cent stake in Metro's operation when it folded its own freesheet, Punkt SE, in 2008. Perhaps some of Schibsted's reputed online savviness will rub off too.

In the meantime, there's Q3 to grapple with. Jensen said Metro is on track to a full year operating profit for 2010, but admitted the third quarter is usually the company's weakest. "If we could remove Q3 from our results we would be happy to, but it is estimated into our full year forecasts. Actually, in Metro we have T-shirts with 'I hate Q3' written on the back," he said.


(Media) History Repeating Itself

Content really is king, if not on the web then at least on the mobile web.

Yes, we talk a lot about the wonders of the mobile web these days, at least I've found myself writing quite a bit about it this spring, but that link will take you to an article from 2006 which was none too optimistic about all the hype surrounding the mobile web at the time.

Admittedly, smartphones such as the iPhone has radically changed the outlook for the mobile web, but this mobile revolution has been some time in the making. When I talked to VG Multimedia's CEO Jo Christian Oterhals for a magazine feature earlier this year, he told me he attended his first conference on the mobile internet as early as 1999.

This may be partly because, as John Naughton argued in his excellent piece "Everything you need to know about the internet" this weekend, the internet's full potential to transform our lives is still unknown - it's an evolution, not an overnight revolution.

But it's also partly because our industry is full of slogans and hype, some of which never become more than pretty slogans - and yet they're still reused at regular intervals. I stumbled across the OhMyNews article I link to in the intro when I googled this quote Kevin Anderson left in comment on my post on Lorites and Longtails for more context:

"For the Internet to thrive, content providers must be paid for their work. The long-term prospects are good, but I expect a lot of disappointment in the short-term as content companies struggle to make money through advertising or subscriptions. It isn't working yet, and it may not for some time....In the long run, advertising is promising."

That's Bill Gates, writing in 1996. Of course, now, as Paul Bradshaw brilliantly deconstructs, it's curation that is king. Adam Tinworth provides a top-notch analysis of this "silver bullet" mentality here, followed up by Kevin here.

I'm thinking perhaps there is a gap in the market here for a blog keeping track of all those tired slogans and debates that keeps popping up again and again when you least expect it.... In the meantime, here's Shirley Bassey and Propellerheads with "History Repeating": 


Nine easy steps to get the newspaper in PDF

I must admit I find PDF a pretty cumbersome format, so when Paal Hivand tweeted a link to this special offer from a regional Norwegian newspaper I couldn't help but laugh: a nine (!) step guide to get the PDF version of the paper. It's a available for free for a three week trial, downloadable for roughly £2 a day or you can take out a paid subscription (it doesn't say for how much).

Now, as the newspaper serves Finnmark, Norway's sparsly populated northernmost county, there might be a business rationale to offering a PDF-paper like this, but, me, I'd happily settle for reading the newspaper online.

 NineStepPDF


Explained: iPad’s role in the media ecosystem

The iPad is a premium product for premium content. It’s a lean-back device most used in the evenings, and it provides a new chance for photo- and long-form journalism.

Since its launch earlier this year, the media industry has been abuzz with talk on how the iPad will change the industry. As a media journalist I’ve already attended quite a few talks, and read an extraordinary amount of articles, on the subject, but INMAs Tablet summit in Oxford this week gave me new insights into what kind of role the iPad might come to play in the media ecosystem.

Convenience or uniqueness?

That is not to say that there is a consensus about this role. For instance, The Guardian’s Jonathan Moore said his newspaper saw the iPad more as a convenience device, its iPad app offering pretty much the same content as you find on The Guardian’s news site, while the majority of the presenters saw it as the perfect device for offering unique content people were willing to pay for.

"This has to be a premium content. If you approach it as something free: let’s just turn off the light and go home. It has to be premium, paid for, from day one," said Juan Señor, Innovation in Newspapers' UK director. He asserted that we can’t talk about tablets without talking about the rest of our platforms, pointing out that you have to have different content for different platforms.

A new chance for photo- and long-form journalism

"Tablet and paper will be premium, provide background etc, while we have to see online and mobile as mass media. You will have to charge perhaps five times more for print paper and for tablets," he said, highlighting some of the newspapers Innovation in Newspapers has remade, especially the successful Portuguese daily news magazine I, as perfect journalism to be transformed to the iPad.

Media consultant and commentator Frédéric Filloux said the iPad offers a new chance for long-form journalism. In his view, it provides three major rehabilitations: 1) Re-bundling the news. Tablets and mobile can re-bundle content, 2) Visual 3) Length.

The lean-back device

"The iPad is the lean-back device: it’s a consumption device rather than a production device – it has nothing in common with a lean-forward device such as the PC," he said. Read more of his thoughts on this here. Interestingly, Jon Einar Sandvand, digital strategist at Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, said iPad readership figures suggested it was most used in the evening, between six and ten.

"Research suggests iPad will become the leading platform in terms of how much people spend consuming media on it. It is a media consumption device. If you are a mono-media operation producing second-hand stories you won’t win from iPad: garbage in, garbage out," said Juan Antonio Giner, president and founder of Innovation in Newspapers.

Now, let me confess that I often find big media conferences tend to focus too much on ideology than on how people actually are approaching a certain issue or innovation, but the Tablet Summit offered some excellent brain food in that it provided lots of insight into how different news organisations were approaching the iPad.

Among those, the most useful was the very hands-on presentation by Saulo Ribas, creative director at Brazilian Editora Globo’s "Epoca Magazine".

Useful iPad tips for publishers

His newspaper wanted to be the first in the country with an iPad app, so they built a light version first, and will launch the full version in July. He offered five useful tips for newspaper wanting to develop iPad apps:

    1.It’s an app, not a magazine or something like that. We have to make the best use of the interface Apple has provided.
    - Good apps are non-linear. You can access content from everywhere in the app.
    - Good apps don’t require users to learn how to use it, or at least not so much. If you need instructions on how to use the app it usually means it’s poorly designed.
    - Good apps have very simple information architecture. Simplify and eliminate the unnecessary.
    - Good apps allow the users to leave and then come back to where he left. Try to produce the best reading experience possible.
    2. Think about templates not pages. What is the role reserved for the editorial designer in the age of the tablets? If it looks awesome in the iPad it will look awesome in any other tablet.
    3. Personalise: the reader is really in control. Allow the reader to define the settings of the app, the more the better. It's a big change for us because we’re very attached to our typography in our mags and papers. We have a search view. Can’t be static, people are used to search. We’ve tried to put the basic controls at the bottom of the page.
    4. Technology is content. Have programmers be part of the newsroom
    5. Choose the right flow of information inside the iPad app

Who controls the data?

Many industry experts have looked to the iPad as a potential saviour for the media industry. In essence, the sound bite I took away from the Tablet Summit which best answers this proposition was that yes, "there is a future life for the news industry if we reinvent, not if we just repurpose". We also have to keep an eye on who controls the data.

"I do believe Apple wants to become the world’s kiosk. We could end up like the music industry; we do need to be aware of what’s happening. They control pricing and they control customer data – and if you loose those, you loose out," said Senõr. That Apple also controls the customer data was new to me, but it was also mentioned by one of the other presenters. If that is the case, it sounds very worrying indeed.

Now, these are the ideas that still stand out for me, looking back at the conference. While I made extensive notes during the Summit, Marek Miller was doing such an excellent job of live blogging it that I thought I’d afford myself the luxury of taking some time to reflect a bit on the event before I started writing about it. I will return to a few other thoughts I took away from the event a bit later, but, if you want to read more about the individual presentations, do check Mareks excellent live blog from the event here.


Ericsson employee set up his own "Hitchhiker's Central" on Facebook

This is pretty nifty: Paul Mathews, an Ericsson employee, was able to use a communication platform at the Swedish firm to enable those stranded without access to the internet to use their phones to post questions and messages to a Facebook page he'd set up to help passengers caught up in the recent flight chaos.

The text messages cost the usual rate but the user is kept up to date with replies for free thanks to the system. "The initiative is not connected to my employment but I am able to deploy the same technology that we export for external developers," he told The Local.

Mathews and his wife Helani manage the site, first set up when some US colleagues were left marooned in the Swedish capital amid the ongoing flight chaos, but he underlined that it is the users, now numbering more than 120, who keep it moving and make it it useful. Full story over at The Local.

I started writing about this issue due to my own experiences using VG.no's Hitchhiker's Central (Haikesentralen), but it's a fascinating topic. Not only because of my interest in editorial development and previous experiences from travel PR, but I really think this scenario reveals how powerful communication tools the internet offers and how out of touch too many institutions and companies are with this new communication landscape we live in.

It's not all that new of course, but the future has always been unevenly distributed and the volcano flight chaos, and subsequent transport crisis, just shows us to which extent this is the case.

In my last media report (link in Norwegian) I wrote that "If there is one arena custom-made to think big and fast at the same time, it's social media. The challenge here is that social media to a large extent is comprised of small niches and networks which could do with someone or something to connect it all together. A connection point is exactly what VG's Hitchiker Central has provided in the wake of the current transportation meltdown. But the tools to do this are so easy to use and readily available that it is far from given that this a role media will be able to occupy forever".

Mathews nifty "Stranded in Europe" Facebook page, and accompanying blog is one example of people taking matters into their own hands, and I'm sure there are plenty other, simliar examples to be found. In fact, here's another one, and I'm sure I could find other such initiatives if I did a bit of googling...