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November 2006
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January 2007

A bleak future in store for 2007

Over at Media Culpa, Hans Kullin has gazed into the crystal ball and come up with a few irreverent predictions for the media year ahead, both for Scandinavia and the world at large, including this thought-provoking vision: Mainstream media are pushing the citizen journalism trend so far that reporters are quitting their jobs in order to be just 'ordinary people'. "This is the only way that I will be able to get anything printed nowadays", says one columnist at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, who prefers to be anonymous.

A place of wonder

Wouldn't it be nice of Christmas was a time of wonder, peace and contemplation; a time to think through the events of the year gone by and prepare for the new adventures of the year ahead? Not realistic? Still rushing around doing all the last minute preparations for a season filled with stress, parties and noise? Well, this picture certainly took my mind off the more mundane worries of the festive season:


The door to fairyland
One of these rare pictures that fill you with a sense of wonder and - curiously enough - a strong desire that there should be fairies. The strange light somehow promises to be even stranger when you walk through that portal; will it be like Sebastian's journey in The Never-ending story (great book but crap movie), or are Greg Bear's Sidhe waiting for the unsuspecting traveller at the other side? Or is it Mythago wood where what I meet are conjured up from my wishes and fears...

I nicked this from my friend Solan, the maths professor, as I thought it was absolutely brilliant, and I keep wishing he would write more often.... In his post, it ends with the magical 'enter and see'. Stop by Solan's blog and check it out if you are curious about the picture's origin.

No trump for Trump (or VIP blogging chapter xx)

Donald Trump may be a talented man, but he has yet to find his 'inner blogger'. In the recent spat between the property tycoon and chatshow host Rosie O'Donnell, Trump has spent a lot of time slagging off O'Donnell in TV interviews, whereas she, smart girl, is armed with a blog. A pretty good blog, according to Mark Cuban, who, appalled by the standard of Trump's blog, has taken it upon himself to educate him in the ABC of blogging (via Jackie Danicki):

Donald, your blog sucks. Its actually pretty embarrasing. First of all, rule number one of blogging Donald is that you are the one that is supposed to write the posts on the blog. Less than half the posts on the front page of the blog have your name as the author let alone are written by you . Blogs are supposed to be personal, not corporate Donald.... Here is my advice T the C. Move your blog to a unique URL. Write something personal. Explain to us why you don't like to shake hands. Explain to us why you think Rosie is fat, but you aren't. Explain to us the virtues of Trump Ice water. Why we should subscribe to the new Trump Magazine. Why we should buy Trump suits. Why we should buy Trump The Fragrance. Or better yet, you could explain why in the world you would put your name on some of these things.

Donald, let me just tell you that its a whole lot easier to say what's on your mind on YOUR blog than have to freak out and call every talk show in America ranting about Rosie. That is if your time is valuable.

The Global Village

Wired News reports from The international Global Voices summit, under the headline "Bloggers shrink the planet":

"Once seen as primarily English, usually American, and often personal or geeky, the blogosphere today mostly resembles this room -- a noisy, transnational pastiche of culture and language. According to Technorati, English posts make up less than a third of all blogs today, while Chinese and Japanese blogging, for example, makes up 43 percent. This year, Global Voices began an ambitious, all-volunteer effort to translate selected Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Russian blog posts into English -- dramatically expanding the reach of those blogs... At a time when most news agencies are closing foreign desks and tightening budgets for global coverage, blogging provides a glimpse into the lives of others available nowhere else."

On trolls and moderation

Great advice and input on the recurring issue of how to handle trolls, flamers and 'uncivilised' comments in online media communities, some of which perhaps also could be applied to dealing with the less welcome side effects of blog popularity, from Kevin Anderson and Mark Potts (via Martin Stabe). In the Norwegian blogosphere, both Mihoe and Vampus have posted on this challenge recently.

Kevin Anderson: "When I first joined the Guardian, someone on Comment is Free said that by trolls I only meant someone who I didn't agree with. No, that's not a troll. Trolls are folks who delight in breaking things. The BBC calls them WUM - wind-up merchants. But they can wreak havoc in online spaces, and the answers aren't simple and they aren't wholly technical....

When people ask me how blogs are different from forums, I say, 'The blogger sets the tone'. I sort of joke when doing blog training for journalists that if you write a post like a pompous ass, people will respond accordingly. I'm only half joking. Yes, the technology will help you manage the comments and help foster the community, but unless you look at your content as well, you're going to be fighting a losing battle against the trolls."

Jeff Jarvis has some interesting thoughts on the issue here, but I have to say that I don't think that moderation is a new issue for newspapers. In the old days the editors would simply throw all the 'troll' letters in the dustbin, these days this side of the editing process has moved online: it's faster, more immediate, at times more transparent, but the trolls have always been there...

Your newspaper isn't MySpace, should it be?

What happens when media organisations and others are scrambling to get on the social media bandwagon without really understanding what they are getting themselves into? A lot of the time it all goes pear-shaped, so we need those debates about what is actually worth getting involved in, and how to go about it. On the heels of the discussions about newspaper blogs and BBC blogs, Invisible Inkling (via Martin Stabe) asks if a newspaper should attempt to be a social networking site, and provides a good summary of different answers. "Let’s figure out how to both give and get value out of online conversation," he says.

Update: a case in point? Conde Nast launches to compete with MySpace (via Bloggers Blog)

VIP Blogging

Blogging is getting so hip and trendy that between Mohammed Al Fayed's new blog and the blog Jeffrey Archer started writing this summer, Jackie Danicki wonders if she really wants to call herself a blogger anymore...

I guess it used to be sort of a radical thing to do, in the early days of the blogosphere it was certainly hell bent on tearing down the walls blocking genuine conversation, be they corporate, government or media imposed, but with politicians hijacking blogging conferences, and an inflation in VIP bloggers using blogs as an outlet for speechifying or assuring the world about their VIP status, it doesn't have quite the same radical twang to it.

(NB: radical as in revolutionary, not denoting a political colour)

Get blogging

Some say blogging is about conversation, but one of the curses of popularity is that sometimes those conversations attract a rather odd crowd of hangers-on who tend to pollute rather than add to the debate. A recent blogger's do (all links in this sentence in Norwegian) even revealed that women who write more personality driven blogs often attract a fair share of stalkers. So how do you deal with the unwelcome side effects of popularity? Here's Guido Fawkes, one of the UK's most popular political bloggers, attempting to address this (via Martin Stabe):

Now the daily readership is 10,000+ plus, and a good proportion of them seem to be total loons, it is getting tedious to have to delete dozens of comments a day. There also appears to be some kind of misunderstanding about the blog's purpose - it is not a public service.

So for guidance here is a reminder of the somewhat arbitrary comments deletion policy:

If you want to libel someone - get your own blog.
If you want to abuse Guido, get your own blog (unless you do it wittily).
If you want to complain about jews, blacks, lizards, little green men in your head etc. Get your own blog.

If you want to complain that it is biased, get your own unbiased blog.
If you want lengthy discussion about policy, bore on your own blog.
If you get offended easily, don't complain, don't come back.

For my own part I have to say that the 'commentatorship' on my blog is superb - the comments are far and few between, but when they do appear it's always high quality stuff, except the odd spammer. I, on the other hand, often feel guilty about being too slow to reply as I too often find myself tied up with too many pressing deadlines, the curse of being self-employed - no 9-5 here, but if I'm slow to reply it does not mean that I don't appreciate the comment.

No more Mr Nice Guy - bring out the knives

Announced cuts at Denmark's Berlingske Officin, Germany's Hamburg Post and Norway's Edda Media have caused uproar among Mecom Europe's employee representatives.

The hard-won but fragile truce between former Mirror boss David Montgomery and the journalist unions in his new media empire has clearly come to and end. Gone is Monty the "nice, piano playing Irishman", there was never much faith behind those words anyway – probably just haphazard words mumbled to the press by Orkla Media's employee representative Kjetil Haanes while he was trying to come to terms with the inevitable, an attempt to spot that famous silver lining.

We're back to Monty the evil cost-cutter, the foreign capitalist bent on sacrificing quality journalism and local democracy to achieve his profit margins. Based on a report commissioned by the union from an independent analyst, Haanes forewarns that the 120, mainly non-journalist jobs, scheduled to be axed in Norway next year will turn to 1000, and certain bloodbath, in 2008. In Denmark, the 350 scheduled job cuts at Berlingske Officin are equally contentious. In Germany, almost the entire news organisation at Hamburg Post has signed a petition entitled "Jetzt reicht's" (Now it's enough) in protest to next year's budget.

However, it's worth remembering that Denmark, where former Orkla Media, now Mecom Europe, achieved a dismal 3.5 profit margin last year, is Monty's Achilles heel. The pressing financial situation here is not helped by the ongoing freesheet war, where each new freebie effectively is loosing something in the region of £82,000 a day, and analysts say the cuts at Berlingske Officin are long overdue.

In fact, I think Orkla 'restructured' its media arm as much as the company could possibly get away with without causing a fall-out with the unions or attracting too much bad PR. But in the face of a new and harder media reality tougher measures are needed, and whom better than a former Murdoch man to see those through...

See update from Germany in the comments.

(NB. links in Norwegian, Danish and English)

Another tipping point for social media - politicians hijack Le Web

Surely, when politicians start flocking to international blogging conferences, begging for a spot in the speaker line-up, that's when blogging has become... eh... well, mainstream? Live blogging from LeWeb3, the third Les Blogs conference in Paris, Robin Hamman, is disappointed by how this year's speakers "mostly come from companies... who don't know what a blog is," and overwhelmed by all the politicos working the podium, including Shimon Peres and the whole line up of French presidential candidates: "Why am I writing so much about politicians? Because that, rather than the internet, blogging, web 2.0 and all the themes we came here for, is what this conference now seems to be all about."

Blogging nuns – the tipping point for social media

"The comfortable one-way model of publisher to editor to journalist to reader has changed forever. There is no turning back. It kind of happened before our eyes, but like those frogs slowly boiling in water as the heat is turned up, we may not have noticed – unless of course you run classified ads at the local paper. For anyone in any doubt of this fact I have two words for you – blogging nuns.

A week back a news report in the Sunday Times in London caught my eye. It reported that a group known as the “sister bloggers” had formed. The online diaries of the “sister bloggers” were giving a behind the scenes look at what life was like inside the convent... Blogs are so ubiquitous now that they are appearing in the most unlikely of places - convents. So, you heard it here first - the tipping point for social media – nuns."

Great anecdote from, Tom Glocer, Reuter's CEO, from his eloquent speech to the Globes Media Conference in Tel Aviv yesterday (via Mediabistro). The speech offers many good points on today's two-way media pipe, but it also throws up a few challenging notions on impartiality - slightly reminiscent of what Peter Horrocks, BBC's head of news, received so much flack for recently. It's not easy to get this impartiality thing right, as Wikipedia's entry on Reuters bears witness to.

How do 'beacons of objectivity', such as BBC and Reuters, respond to a new media reality where opinions are all over the place, and people have come to expect openness and dialogue? Glocer's answer seems to be transparency, which is commendable, but that still doesn't make the notion of balancing the marginal terrorist with the equally marginal pacifist less problematic, although perhaps I'm reading too much into this. The speech, well-worth reading in full, is also a great plug for Reuters, an elaborate attempt to justify Reuters' continued relevance in today's shifting media landscape, and as such it's quite a convincing one.

Birdsong in Space

Fabulous headline from Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish):
I'm not sure if the word pun is intended, but the surname of Swedish astronaut Christer Fulgesang does indeed mean birdsong.
Mr Birdsong is the first Swede in space, a fact heralded by The Local as "one giant step for Swedenkind." While he journeys to the International Space station, Mr Birdsong will treat his fellow space travellers to the 'space version' of traditional Swedish delicacies like dried elk meat, crispbread and gingerbread biscuits. "Funnily enough, our food list now includes a type of yoghurt developed in Sweden – a space yoghurt," the astronaut told The Local a month ago.

The world we live in...

You can keep your eyes down and all of that, but, unfortunately, the world has its fare share of scumbags, and sometimes trouble invites itself. Jackie took the matter in her own hands, and published the story of how she was assaulted on the underground, along with a picture of one of the offenders, on her blog: it provoked a wave of sympathy in the blogosphere, as well as questions of the legality of publishing that picture, but the offenders were nailed in the end. In the wake of this incidence, she was approached to do an interview for The Evening Standard, and this is certainly food for thought:

"I am okay about blogging this stuff, because I’m in control of how my story goes out there and I can keep more sensitive, hurtful details to myself. This is my media. When it comes to newspapers or TV stations, I’m giving up control and could be portrayed as someone I am not.

From the comments:
"I didn’t say I was in control of my story in the blogosphere - I said that I am in control of how my story goes out there. Believe me, I’ve been telling PR flacks for years that they can’t control the message and never could, so I’m not about to make the stupid mistake of thinking I can. What I can control is what is presented here, on my own press. With the Evening Standard, I have no such control."

To me, this is yet another snaphot of how the world is changing: the amazing power of new technology, in this case mobile phone cameras and blogs, and how media has some way to go when it comes to that recurring issue of rebuilding trust...

Impartiality in the blogging age

Blogs start with identity, not with audience. They are conversational, personal, opinionated - everything that public broadcasters, restricted by their commitment to impartiality, are not. Right? Yet, public broadcasters, as newspapers and the rest of the media industry, are forced to adapt to a new media reality where people have come to expect conversation, plurality of opinion and interaction on a scale previously unheard of. So how should they go about it? Peter Horrocks, BBC's head of TV news, recently attempted to answer this in a speech to the Reuters Journalism Institute at Oxford University. Here's Jeff Jarvis' take on it: "Horrocks is not adopting transparency as his answer; he is holding onto impartiality and trying to update it. He is responding to the internet age by trying to open the megaphone wider to more voices — to mimic, indeed, the internet itself."

In doing so, Horrocks almost echoes The Cluetrain Manifesto, which likened the internet to an ancient bazaar, a place where people would meet to exchange information, experiences and stories. But just almost, the catch here is 'spontaneously, unmediated'; I can't imagine the Cluetrain guys ever imagined a bazaar where everyone would have to line up to get their equal x amount of megaphone time, orchestrated by the country's public broadcaster. Jarvis notes: "Done one way — with many new targeted products, which he also proposes — this potentially only makes more echo chambers; done another way — with equal time for all — it becomes an unbearable cacaphony. What stands in the way of either definition of chaos is still editorial judgment." The Daily Mail (via Adrian Monck) has a rather less flattering take on Horrocks proposals:

"The BBC triggered outrage yesterday by calling for the views of extremists and fundamentalists to be given the same weight as those of mainstream politicians. The corporation's head of television news, Peter Horrocks, said groups such as the Taliban and the far-Right BNP need more airtime - at the expense of moderate opinion. He said all views need to be treated with the same respect, describing his proposals as 'radical impartiality'. But his comments prompted furious reaction, critics labelling them 'political correctness gone insane'"

A more sober approach to adapting to the brave new media world, brought about by new technology and social media, comes from looking at BBC's actual network of blogs. As Robin Hamman, the senior broadcast journalist heading up BBC Blogs trial, notes:

"Bloggers outside the BBC often thrive upon, and many blog readers expect, the expression of strong opinions. The biggest challenge for the BBC has been to enter a world where, in some respects, our name and our values, as well as audience (and regulators) expectations of us actually make it difficult for us to fully engage. I think that our biggest successes, so far, have been:

• Making it more possible for audiences to scrutinise our editorial processes
• Engaging with our audiences in new ways
• Finding, in some instances, a more personal voice
• Inviting audiences to contribute to the blogs and to BBC programmes via the blogs
• To experiment more freely with editorial ideas and technical innovations

These successes, and our failures, don't show up in the technorati rankings, the number of inbound links, or in the number of users or posts or comments... We're in this space to open up, engage with our audiences, find the appropriate voice, encourage participation and experiment with ideas and tools. Even if there was no technorati we'd still be here, mucking about, trying to figure out why media companies and news organisations blog."

Robin Hamman again:
"I think the best way to experiment with opening up like this is for news and media organisations, whether their business is in print or broadcasting, to start blogging. Afterall, how can we possible understand this world without being a part of it?"

Editorialists, columnists and conversations

Newspapers have always been part of the wider conversation, and the role of enabler and moderator is hardly a revolutionary new job to those writing or editing their editorial pages: it's just that in the age before Internet this conversation was narrower, slower and less immediate.

Jeff Jarvis is an insightful media commentator I find myself agreeing with more often than not, but I've been mulling over all this talk about how the blogosphere has made the editorialist redundant. "Fork the editorial page" and "join the conversation", Jarvis wrote a while back, making it sound like newspapers were ivory tower institutions existing outside the communities they serve. No doubt many newspapers are waking up to the reality that they have indeed become too far removed from their audiences and the issues that engage them, but to imply that newspapers up until now have not been part of society's conversations is an overstatement at best.

I started my media career as a columnist on the editorial page of a regional newspaper in 1995. Back in those days there was a very vibrant conversation both between the newspaper and its readers and on the papers' editorial pages. This conversation was mostly conducted via snail mail; readers posting letters to the editor and Op-Eds for consideration, or just letters praising or condemning the newspaper's leaders or columnists. Often a reader would call both the editor and one of his columnists to voice his or her opinions – and at times the discussions started in the paper was picked up by local radio and TV. The paper had about 15 columnists who reflected different segments of its audience – young and old, representing different backgrounds and interests

This was way before I trained as a journalist: I was very young, very opinionated, and my articles stimulated a lot of public debate - something I found very rewarding. To think that something I wrote would make someone reconsider their views, feel impelled to rebut my argument, or thank me for raising an issue they felt was vital but unaddressed, was always the ultimate compliment. It was that reader feedback, both the private conversations and the public debate, that made it all worthwhile. I mean, who would want to be a columnist or editorial writer if they had no impact, if there was no interaction with the audience?

My editor back then was both an enabler and moderator of the democratic discussion – it was just narrower and less immediate than what it is today. It was more mediated, more elitist I guess, though the newspaper printed readers' letters promoting the whole spectre of political persuasions, written by young and old, worker and director. In the three years I wrote for the paper this debate was moderated by the political editor. Today, partly reflecting the way society is changing, he has been replaced by a community editor- both of them, then as now, important, and much debated, figures in their community, especially for local politicians and older readers.

Now, new technology has levelled the playing field and allowed for a much wider conversation than ever before, radically altering the rules of engagement. Whereas before newspapers, along with other mainstream media, were sole moderators and could set the pace and the tone of all public discourse, today there are millions of other moderators constantly shifting that conversation, and newspapers need to adapt to this new reality if they are to stay relevant to the constituents of their communities.

However, it's worth remembering that to many of those who do not possess or understand this new technology, the newspaper, and especially the local or regional newspaper, is still the most important forum for 'democratic discussion'. Measured against the wide open space of the blogosphere, where each man can be his own publisher, this discussion, or conversation, may be imperfect and seem frightfully limited, but it is still a conversation.

As most other newspapers, my former regional paper is currently working to improve its online presence: widening that conversation by allowing comments on online articles, launching blogs and online forums, while at the same time debating the limits of openness - the pros and cons of moderating comments; what if someone gets offended by nasty feedback; isn't more respectful to delete certain offensive remarks etc. More often than not the transition between old and new is difficult, to some it seems to be moving too fast, to others too slow, but in the midst of a rapidly changing media landscape it's easy to loose sight of the continuous development that led up to today's 'revolution', which perhaps is better phrased as an evolution .

Eight opinions to rule them all

Eight commentators set Sweden's national news agenda; where they lead on a political story, the rest of the country's media will follow. That is, if we are to believe Manuel Ferrer, the Social Democratic Party's Head of Press, currently on paternity leave. "The Eight" he suggests we call them, and I couldn't help but be reminded of Tolkien's one ring to rule them all, as he goes on to describe these pundits, and their influence, in quite dramatic terms:

"One is short of height and never smiles on pictures. One is talkative and always laughs. One always succeeds in making the incomprehensible comprehensible. One makes the comprehensible incomprehensible almost all of the time. At the end of the day, they have all complemented each other in the news arena, as if they were a brotherhood."

Of these eight, four are broadcast journalists, and four are newspaper scribes, a mix between commentators and reporters: two of them, Arenander and Bergström, always lead on the story, according to Ferrer, and if these two give the story a negative slant, only a small miracle will prevent the other six from doing so – again according to Ferrer, whose Op-Ed, "The eight who dictate Sweden's media world" (in Swedish), is the scariest Op-ed I've read this week - it literally sent chills down my back, but perhaps not for the reasons he intended. Buried between all the melodrama and hints of conspiracy, Ferrer makes a few valid, though hardly revolutionary, points about the dangers of editorialising and presenting views as news. But the proposition that, in this day and age, eight people determine a country's political coverage, indicates that one of the two, Ferrer or Swedish media, is completely ignorant of the world we're living in. Let's for the sake of Swedish media hope it is Ferrer...