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October 2006
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December 2006

Why I'm not editing that newsletter today

I know I should, it would make my life easier, but I've just had a crash course in how to procrastinate effectively, and have decided to just head for the gym. Here's an excerpt, but do check out the full post, which tells you how to go about it (via Sonitus):

For me, procrastination is just another tool I use. A way to recharge and get ideas. The important thing is to procrastinate effectively.

An example: Sometimes I have a great idea for a blogpost, but I can’t get it written. I try writing it one way, I try another but I just can’t get it finished. Invariably, I procrastinate. Suddenly while I’m procrastinating, the idea I was missing comes to me and the whole blog post is suddenly clear in my mind. When I next sit down to write it, it takes no time and writing it is a pure pleasure.

I could’ve forced myself to write the blogpost the first time around - if I’d had enough discipline! But it would have been a struggle all the way and the result wouldn’t have been half as good. I can just hear people crying “Well, your blogposts still aren’t half as good” :o) That’s another discussion!

Get your Pultzier Price in blogging

But before you sharpen your blogging skills and aim for the stars, beware that the price may be for newspaper blogs only.

New guidelines for the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes allow the submission of blogs. A press release from the Pulitzer Board discusses the widening of the range of online journalism to include blogs and other online content, and states: "The purpose of the new category is to encourage and honour exemplary local journalism, marked by strong reporting across a spectrum of potential subjects... The Pulitzer Prizes have long valued such reporting." However, most of the language on the site and in the PDF talks about newspapers so there may be a bias towards newspaper blogs, and there is no specific award offered for blogs. (via Bloggers Blog).

Pay-walls and print shut people out from the political conversation

America's political conversation has shifted away from traditional media to the web, argues Jacob Weisberg, Slate's editor-in-chief, in this intriguing interview with The Guardian:

"Anyone who really wants to participate in that conversation has to have a presence on the web now - not necessarily a blog, but they have to have a website or write for an online publication. Within half an hour of posting a piece on Slate, I get a direct, often hostile and personal, response from readers.

"That's part of what I think has been so frustrating for the columnists on the New York Times, like Thomas Friedman, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, who are online but are behind a 'pay-wall' - you have to be a subscriber to the paper or subscribe separately to the website before you can get them. That effectively cuts them out of the political conversation."

Journalist charged with 'unlawful data intrusion'

Reporter Niklas Svensson and five youth politicians will have to defend themselves in court in the wake of the latest Swedish Watergate, recently renamed 'Leijongate' (I'd love to know why as it kind of plays on my surname, albeit in Swedish). In Svensson's case, it's the first time a Swedish journalist has been brought to court for this kind of offense – it wasn't exactly hacking, as he was given the log-in details for the Social Democrat's intranet from a 'source', a youth politician from a competing party, and I guess the claim that he was protecting his source isn't entirely far-fetched. It will be an interesting case to watch, as it should bring up all sorts of more or less principled arguments, and Svensson is considering to plead not guilty (via Dagens Media).

Why newspapers should and shouldn't blog

Huge topic, and a very topical one as newspaper blogs are popping up all over the place – at least in the UK (I follow UK and Scandinavian media in-depth, as I've got strong ties to both regions, and so far newspaper blogs are more prolific in the the UK).

The main question here, which Andrew Grant-Adamson, a former lecturer of mine, posed a while back, is "What is the purpose of newspaper blogs?", and subsidiary "What are they trying to achieve?" and "Are they achieving it?".

In his first post on the topic, he concluded: "This afternoon of browsing newspaper blogs leaves me confused. Some of the offerings are very good but too many seem like ways of presenting traditional content in a 'look we understand the digital age' way, while others are dumping grounds for copy that would never get into the paper." The post caused a wide debate, and culminated with this piece in The Press Gazette, where Andrew concluded:

"There is neither the money to throw around nor the time among the often woefully small staff to play with the latest toys. Everything must have a clear purpose if the 'end of newspapers and magazines' predictions are not to become fact."

Many of the points raised in this debate comes down to getting the format of blogs right, and not just jumping one the bandwagon without thinking it through. As Emily Bell, The Guardian's digital editor eloquently put it in her article on politicians trying to blog:

"Embracing a medium does not mean just copying a format, it means understanding the rules of engagement.... No doubt between now and the next election the increase in politicians blogging will be like lemmings falling off a cliff, but a word of advice if I may. Unless you have an inner blogger - don't bother."


Who can we trust to give us the top stories of the day?

In an online world where we can all be our own editors, picking and choosing from our favourite blogs, news sites and information outlets, it's not a given that the old media giants consistently will give us the top headlines of the day, or put the stuff we'd really like to read on top.

Jeff Jarvis recently blogged about Chris Riley's comparison of what BBC would like us to read and what we really read. Riley's methodology was questioned in the comments section, but the notion that there might be a discrepancy here is interesting.

The Norwegian version of Google went online twelve days ago: leaving aside the controversy over intellectual property rights and threats of law suits, Undercurrent, noted that, in contrast to all of Norway's major online newspapers, Google News consistently had the day's major political news story on top – the other dominating news sites all pushed different stories.

Paal Fure, on the other hand, blogging for Dagens IT (in Norwegian), suggested Google might save local newspapers by highlighting the top news headlines regardless of source, putting the tiniest local on par with the biggest national paper (though it most be noted that he as well was criticised for his methodology – the local newspaper headline he heralded Google for picking up was actually supplied by a newswire, though I guess the principal holds true: it could very well have been The Western Boondocks Daily who had the top story of the day).

Now, people will always have different interests, we're all individuals, and RSS + the vast diversity of stuff available online leaves all the room in the world for this, but sticking to the top headlines - it's certainly food for thought...

Update 9/12: Google News Norway removes images (via Martin Stabe)

Mind you manners

Well, no need to tell Danish journalists. A recent survey indicates they are held in such high esteem by their sources that the latest issue of Danish trade mag Journalisten poses the question: are Danish hacks too polite? 95 per cent of the sources in the survey feel they have been correctly quoted. Two of three sources think they have been well informed about the purpose of the interview, and two out of three even say the journalists were well or very well dressed...

The findings were so positive that Journalisten headlines its article about the survey "Excuse me - may I ask one tiny critical question?" and quotes media analyst Sören Schultz Jörgensen, who contributed to putting the survey together, saying: 'Journalists should ask themselves how they can conduct a form of journalism which isn't about being friends with their sources. In other words, it's not necessarily a sign of quality that the sources always are content. Sources should be challenged.'

However, the survey also indicates that one reason why the sources trust the journalists, and have much more respect for them than the population at large, is that most of the sources have been used pretty frequently, seven out of ten say they have been quoted more than ten times within the last three years. This says something about the journalists' ability to build relationships with their sources, but also points to the problems associated with talking to the same heads all the time.

The survey included 751 sources, who gave detailed answers about their experiences being used as sources in seven national Danish newspapers, and can be found here (in Danish).

Blogs can engage people in politics

'Why do politicians blog?' asks Wordblog, quoting from Emily Bell's wry look at politicians jumping on the social media bandwagon in The Guardian's comment section today.
The answer should be obvious: what a wonderful way to converse with the electorate, engage disaffected or alienated voters in conversation, build a community... that is: if you take the time to read and answer comments; if you allow comments on the blog; if you don't go about it like it's just another outlet for speechifying; just another chore, something your spindoctors forced on you because 'everybody else is doing this blog thing'. That, however, seems to be the way most big wig politicians go about using social media, the format comes across as decidedly foreign to most, as Wired brings another hilarious example of today. I am reminded of a more positive example from Iain Dale's blog though, which struck me as quite inspiring, though the veracity of the comment was widely debated in the comments section:

" I'm quite a young person and my interest in British politics until I found your blog and Guido's was minimal. I find your blog shows politics in a slightly more realistic light than BBC/ITV etc... We don't want to read some dry, humourless byline or weekly column! It's a more realistic and engaging presentation of politics and how it works...

I don't buy this line that 'young people are not interested in politics' We are, although it has to be presented in a manner in which young people who have grown up with the internet feel is relevant to them. A young person is more likely to access something on Youtube than watch the TV, we don't sit about and accept the status quo. We decide for ourselves how we access information, it's very much on our terms. We don't watch the 6 News on BBC1, we have the RSS feeds of numerous websites/blogs in our RSS readers."

On a Norwegian note, seems you invited the wrong UK conservative to Oslo, Erna. Maybe you should take a word of advice from Iain Dale rather than David Cameron, the former could at least advice you to update your blog a bit more often...

Freesheets are their own worst enemies

So far, the invasion of new Danish freesheets has not led to more people reading newspapers, if we are to believe a recent survey from Institute for Business Cycle Analysis (Ifka). Most Danes choose to read several free papers, both new (like Dato, 24timer, Nyhedsavisen) and old (Urban, MetroXpress), and the number of unique readers is very limited. For one, that indicates that the freesheets are all fighting for the favour of the same advertisers, which makes for deadly competition, but the survey also indicates that, in the near future, the free papers might eat into the already dwindling circulation figures of the old, paid newspapers (via Berlingske, in Danish).

From Russia with rat poison

The disturbing story of the poisoning in London of KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko has been all over the news recently, and so much has been said about it that there's hardly much left to say - except pray that the outcome won't be lethal. Still, this is my favourite headline so far (via Sonitus) - I quite like its bitter irony, if such a thing can be said without being insensitive.

Update: in retrospect, "From Russia with Polonium Radiation" would have been a more accurate title. The story is a great illustration of the danger of jumping to conclusions too quickly with any breaking news story.

Journalist ousted in hacking-scandal blogs his way back

In the run-up to this year's parliamentary election, Niklas Svensson was fired from Swedish tabloid Expressen after he had obtained access to the intranet of the country's former governing party, but failed to inform his editors about his 'good luck'. Now the former tabloid hack has blogged his way back on the news agenda with a scoop on how MP Mona Sahlin forgot secret documents in a pub with the apt name 'Spy Bar'. Both Aftonbladet, and his former employer, Expressen, reported on his scoop yesterday, quoting from his blog Politikerbloggen. He also had a story in Metro on how much of Swedish tax payers' money government ministers spend on taxis - via his one-man news agency Nyhetsbolaget (story via Dagens Media, in Swedish), which promises 'straight, tough news', and encourages readers to send in tips. Yesterday I'm sure I read on his blog a promise to expose 'the truth about our politicians', I certainly scribbled it down, but this subtitle seems to have been removed. Still, the whole set up is somewhat reminiscent of the UK's Guido Fawkes – though I expect Niklas Svensson's blog will be constrained by the fact that he has to earn a living as a freelancer, so have to keep up a veneer of respectability.

Danish freesheet war claims its first victim

Three months into a newspaper war that has seen the Danes bombarded with freesheets from left, right and centre, MetroXpressen's afternoon edition in Copenhagen throws in the towel (via Börsen, in Danish). The company's afternoon title was launched in August amidst a small avalanche of new free morning papers, but it is not believed its closure will impact on the 'war' amongst the country's free morning titles: 'This newspaper did not have anything to do with the morning papers, so it is of no significance to us that it now closes. It only goes to show that the traffic in the afternoon is insufficient to support a free title like MetroXpressen,' Steen Breiner, editor-in-chief of Mecom-owned Dato, told Börsens Nyhetstjeneste (BNT).

Norway's tabloids make their profits online

The Brits seem increasingly reluctant to dish out their hard earned pennies on tabloids, a story that is much the same in Norway: only this weekend Dagbladet announced new cuts due to dwindling print sales. That's only half the story though, what is unique about Dagbladet is that more people are now reading it online than in print, and Norway's two biggest tabloids are making pretty decent money on their online businesses. Last year Dagbladet made a hefty 26,6 per cent profit margin online, and VG a staggering 42,3 per cent, in stark contrast to their printed papers, where Dagbladet was in the red (-1,5 per cent) and VG recorded a 14 per cent profit margin. If we compare that with two of Norway's most upmarket newspapers (in the old days one of the them at least was a broadsheet) the relationship is reverse: Aftenposten, the printed paper, had a profit margin of 7,4 per cent in 2005, while it's online version had 3,7 per cent. For Dagens Naeringsliv (DN) the numbers were 12,4 per cent in print and 7,0 per cent online (all numbers are taken from this Norwegian survey, in Pdf, compiled by Dagens Media).

While we're on the issue of trust...

Reuters reports that an Ipsos MORI study has found that Europeans trust blogs (24 per cent) more than television ads (17 per cent) or email marketing (14 per cent). Newspapers were still more trusted than blogs (30 per cent). 52 per cent also said they were persuaded to make a purchase after reading a positive blog review (via Bloggers Blog).

Now that says a lot about how effective blogs can be as a marketing tool, though I have a suspicion that a commercial blog still will get much less credibility than a personal one. The findings certainly support that old thesis of The Cluetrain Manifesto that markets are conversations, and that the internet enables global conversations which lead to a more tranparent society. A society where spin will only get you so far as there's too many people out there posting their honest reviews of your product online, and scores more reading those reviews.

However, that blogs are more trusted than TV ads and what I would call spam does not leave blogs a lot of credit as information sources. Nor does the the finding that only 30 per cent of Europeans trust what they read in the newspapers leave the news industry much to cheer for. Mind you, while we ARE on the issue of trust, I must say that personally I don't trust the methodology of polling companies too much, though MORI tend to be one of the more serious players in the field.

Lies about Social Software

Are blogs trustworthy sources of information? It's a question raised again and again, as people are trying to figure out what sort of world this new information landscape will lead us to. In "Three lies about social software" JP Rangaswami debunks a few persistent myths:

Lie 2: Social software is full of inaccuracies and downright lies If anything, social software is more honest than MSM when it comes to factual errors. They get corrected. And the original error-prone version disappears.With MSM on the other hand, the lie is printed and continues to be an archived lie. And while you may get a retraction or correction, it tends to appear on page 32 sandwiched between dog shampoo ads and undertaker recruitment campaigns.

Lie 1: Social software causes groupthink and herd behaviour
"The wisdom of crowds comes not from the consensus decision of the group, but from the aggregation of the ideas/thoughts/decisions of each individual in the group," Rangaswami quotes from Kathy Sierra. He goes on to say that: "The 'team' represented by a given blog community is actually a collection of incredibly diverse people, with common interests rather than common views... Humanity is a collection of individuals. A very long tail"

Do check out the full post, excellent food for thought, as so often from Rangaswami...

Only in Sweden

Where else can you read these two headlines on the same day: "One in four Swedes think astrology is a science" and "Drunken elk terrorises schoolkids"... it has to be Sweden of course. That lovely, but slightly wacky place across the border from my current whereabouts.

That Swedes are stupid, are hardly news to Norwegians, who have suspected that for a good many years, but I guess it's worth mentioning that the survey, which found such a large percentage of Swedes subscribing to the 'science' of how planets rule their lives, is based on a rather limited sample (1,000).

Still... only the day before these headlines ticked out of what was once Scandinavia's only empire, we could read about a Swedish astronaut serving up elk in space, a story later picked up by Wired Blogs (an American based friend tells me that Scandinavian stories on elks, or moose as they call them, are quite vouge among her American friends). The Wired story did however fail to mention that the surname of the innovative astronaut who has decided to treat his fellow space travellers to dried elk meat, crispbread and gingerbread means 'Birdsong' (just to add to the stereotypes here). That said, I wonder what kind of image foreigners who read Aftenposten in English have of Norwegians... the site tends to feature an awful lot of stories on elks, polar bears and royals...

Second Life learning

Imagine a world where you could get your Harvard education via your computer in Timbuktu, or vote and propose new amendments in the virtual city hall, without ever having to leave your armchair. Those were the key sentiments I took away from this talk (picture below) on how virtual worlds may impact on real life. I was particularly taken by these lines: " involving the citizens in cyberdemocracy they learn more about the system, building both consent and legitimacy for decisions they have taken a more active role in. The gains made in efficiency from adopting information technology are secondary to this benefit."