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December 2006
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Upbeat message for Norwegian editors touring The Telegraph’s new hub

The UK newspaper industry has a "new confidence" which will ensure the printed media is around for a long time to come, according to Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell. The former editor, who was at the helm of the Cambridge Evening News from 1984 to 1998, told a group of Norwegian newspaper editors that the future looked so good that he wished he was "starting all over again".
He was speaking as the group toured The Daily Telegraph's new multimedia integrated newsroom. Read more here from Holdthefrontpage (via Roy Greenslade)

Media companies: hip to the new at the expense of their core products

It's easy to become infatuated by all that the brave new media world has to offer, and the speed by which new products are launched, but the reality doesn't always match the rethoric, and somtimes consumers are decidedly underwhelmed by what media companies think they want.

In Denmark the surge in new door-to-door distributed freesheets has meant those who subscribe to have paid papers delivered on their doorstep are left waiting, and in the US, Variety complains that TV companies love to talk about the brave new, on-demand future, but fail to deliver on present and former promises.

Mads Øvlisen, writing in Berlingske (Montgomery-owned Berlingske Officin is one of two national newspaper groups publishing both a free doo-to-door distributed newspaper and a paid national one) :

"The morning call from the doorstep "The newspapers are here!" has become a much awaited message of joy. For even at our place, it has become an exception that we get the morning paper in time. But the freesheets - owned and subsidised by the big newpaper groups, who find it so difficult to deliver what I consider their primary service, a service I pay for – they are there! I find it difficult to understand the strategy behind this. I don't know many businesses that survive by focusing on their peripheral products at the expense of their core products."

Variety (via Mediabistro):
The CEOs of the giant media companies are out there every week at investor conferences hammering home the same message: "We are hip to the emerging new platforms, we understand the nirvana of anywhere/anytime media, we know the old media's doomed

That's the message, but here's the reality: This summer these very same digital prophets will spend vastly more money on "old media" than ever before as their mega-budget tentpole sequels roll out. So the CEOs are paying lip service to the new, but betting big time on the old.... Ironically, Time Warner's "big sell" comes along at the moment when the company is facing a firestorm of class-action lawsuits and consumer complaints that its existing services are dysfunctional. In short, the "big reality" is that the company doesn't come close to delivering on its present or former promises.

One has to wonder, at what point will consumers say, "I want my old TV set and my old email and my old cell phone, and stop telling me I'm missing out on the future."

More people positive to Denmark after the Mohammed crisis

At the end of October last year the Danish government set aside 110m DK to improve the country's image in the wake of the Mohammed crisis, but it seems by then people's perception of the place was already recovering, if not improving. A survey from the third quarter of 2006, shows people in Muslim countries like Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt and Malaysia actually are more positive to working and living in Denmark now than before the Mohammed crisis. "It's to be expected that things return to normal after a crisis, but that people are more positive than before is surprising," Simon Anholt of Anholt Nation Brands Index, a survey of 36 countries' image, told Berlingske (in Danish).

Sign O' the (TV) times

"Maybe an attention-deficit host is exactly what an attention-deficit public wants," writes David Segal in his thought-provoking review of Glenn Beck's talk show on CNN Headline News (in Washington Post, requires registration). "While most sermonizing conservatives wait for a public debacle to expose their failings -- think of William Bennett and his slot-machine addiction, or Rush Limbaugh and his pill problem -- Beck and his many inner demons are on a first-name basis, and he's constantly introducing them to viewers." In fact, Beck seems to build his whole talk show host image on his many failings and doubts – a victory for transparency and openness, or just a new all-time low in pop culture's worship of anti-heroes?

Bonnier's been raiding across the pond again

In line with the company's professed desire for new international, especially American, acquisitions, the Swedish media giant scooped up another chunk of American magazines this week, this time from Time Inc, just in front of bidders such as U2 lead singer Bono, Active Interest Media and Intermedia Partners. But the deal has left some of the other bidders feeling unhappy about the proceedings, and an article in Portfolio Magazine suggests Time's sale to Bonnier might have been a done deal weeks ago:

“You could see six to eight weeks ago that Bonnier was the lead horse and we kept asking, ‘should we be in it?’” said one source Thursday. “And they kept saying it wasn’t and we should stay in it. But to have six people go through the expense and the time that its takes to complete the due diligence when you know that you’ve already picked someone is wrong”... “It was the most screwed up process I’ve ever seen,” said one bidder. “It was the worst offering memorandum I’ve ever seen. The information was incomplete. We basically had to go through and build the business model from the ground up to figure out Time Inc.’s costs, which I’m sure is what Bonnier did too. We had to go through the expense of getting lawyers and accounts and the banks to go through the multiples and it turned out to be unnecessary because they had already made up their minds.”

For Bonnier, the Time Inc deal follows neatly on the heels of purchasing half of World Publications last year. New acquisitions Time4Media and The Parenting Group are to be combined with World Publication, creating a publishing group with sales of $350 million and approximately 1,000 employees. Bonnier will be the majority owner in the new company, while Terry Snow, the founder of World Publications, will hold a minority interest.

Poetic computer error messages

It's my worst nightmare: that I should turn on my laptop and get a blue screen or some cryptic error message. Now it seems the Japanese have turned these potential death sentences into poetry, more specifically Haiku poetry (I rely so heavily on my laptop for my livelihood that I live in constant fear something should happen to it. A very traumatic experience that's stuck in my memory is that of a previous laptop which suffered the blue death and the computer doctor just laughing at me for being stupid enough to buy a Packard Bell). Here's a few examples (via Adriana):

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

Your file was so big.
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

Three things are certain
Death, taxes and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

How can journalists work without newsreaders?

"A very good question asked by Lost Remote. Why don’t more journalists use news readers? I would never have come across this posting if my daily routine did not start with making a mug of tea, perching it on my desk and opening NewsGator," writes Andrew Grant-Adamson. I couldn't agree more. Do check out the full post (see my previous musings on the wonders of RSS-feeds here).

Inside the trial of Saddam Hussein

A small Danish production company gained exclusive access to the entire Saddam trial and some of its key players. Tonight's world premier on Danish TV2, The Battle for Saddam, follows the trial, and the various preparations of both the prosecution and the defence team, from beginning to end. The documentary makers say the will provide a rare insight into what really happened, a chance to witness world history unfolding. I must admit I'm fascinated. Will I remain so if I find time to actually watch the documentary? That remains to be seen...

Update: of course I found no room in my schedule to see this, so better see if the TV channel has a decent online archive where I can watch it at a time of my convenience.

A few links worth following

A few interesting stories I didn't find time to blog about. Should I be on Probably, but I can't seem to make the site agree with my security settings at the moment, so perhaps when I have a bit more time to play around with it...

Text is free, we make our money on volume(s)
Food for thought from James Boyle, a professor of law at Duke University: Why might free digital availability make sense for parts of the publishing industry?

Successful freedom of information campaign: Where did all the (EU) subsidies go...
Over the next two years a ground-breaking decision by the council of ministers and the European Parliament will result in the biggest release of information held by governments to the public and the media since the creation of the European Union.

Libby trial to display changed reporter-source relations (via Mediabistro)
As the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr unfolds over the next few weeks, the ways in which the case has vastly reshaped relations between reporters and high government officials will be on vivid display.

A safe haven for whistleblowers

"The internet could become even more difficult for governments to regulate with a new website, Wikileaks, promising to provide a safe haven for whistleblowers to upload confidential documents," writes The Sydney Morning Herald. According to the FAQ: "Wikileaks was founded by Chinese dissidents, mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Our advisory board, which is still forming, includes representatives from expatriate Russian and Tibetan refugee communities, reporters, a former US intelligence analyst and cryptographers" (via Bloggers Blog).

Investigative documentary: when methods and effects distract from the content

Following on my previous post:

Trial by Television
Yesterday, The Guardian reported how IVF parents were planning a protest against the"trial by television"" they felt this week's Panorama subjected IVF doctor Mohammed Taranissi to.

Going undercover a journalistic addiction we need to kick
Peter Cole, writing in The Independent on Sunday today, was underwhelmed by the programme's methods:

"Going undercover is no substitute for true investigative journalism," he wrote: "That is 'default' investigation these days: if in doubt, send in the undercover reporter. Between the News of the World's "fake sheikh" and Panorama's not-so-infertile women is the parade of knives, guns and false passports passing through airports in the pockets of investigative journalists 'revealing' security lapses. It is all a bit easy and often seems more stunt than investigation." Going undercover is a journalistic addiction we need to kick, commented Roy Greenslade in The Guardian.

The effects outdo the substance
"Traditional investigative documentary has become stuck in dramaturgy: the effects are out of proportion with the substance - too much of the former, too little of the latter. It gets so obsessed with revealing stuff that it often fails and falls flat on its face," said Morten Möller Warmedal, who currently is in charge of a new documentary project for NRK that will look at how lobbyists and advisers influence major public purchases, controversial policy decisions etc.:

"It will be about process, rather than revelations. It will pair the best from docu soap and reality with traditional documentary," Möller Warmedal said enthusiastically. The programme is not undercover, but has gained access to follow five concrete cases closely, including oil- and gas extraction in Northern Norway, the state's purchase of fighter planes and the Conservative Party leader's efforts to rebuild public support for the Party.

So is this the future of investigative documentary? Opening up closed doors to lay bare decision-making processes, rather than by stealth seeking to reveal the biggest possible scandal? Time will show, a lot of time since this particular documentary series is not scheduled to go on air until late next year.

Sometimes undercover methods are the only way to get at a story, as Greenslade noted, but a lot of the time the method backfires, and the debate about the legitimacy of the method completely overshadows the debate one sought to raise about the topic - which also happens with effects like music, overly dramatic screenshots etc.

N.B. It must be said that hidden cameras rarely are used in Norway. The latest 'big controversy' from Scandinavia in this respect, is this troubling case from Denmark.

Turbulent times for investigative documentary

The recent revamps of Norway's and the UK's top investigative documentary programmes show how the genre is struggling to find the right format in a changing media landscape characterised by stiff competition, converging platforms and cost-cutting.

"Complicated...will we be seeing much of that on the new Panorama?", asked Adrian Monck before the first edition of the new revamped Panorama this week: with its airtime halved to 30 minutes, many fear that BBC's current affairs flagship will be skewed to lighter, less substantial issues, and reviews were mixed (see Chris Shaw's review for The Guardian and Peter Cole in The Independent on Sunday).

As Norway's longest running investigative documentary programme, Brennpunkt, had a slot just short of 30 minutes for years, I asked Morten Möller Warmedal, a former Brennpunkt editor, how much difference this makes: "Some stories are suited to 30 minutes, but not 60, there can be some advantages, but it's no denying that it's a challenge to tell a complicated story in 30 minutes," he said.

Norway's public broadcaster, NRK, has gone the opposite way of Panorama and is currently developing a new, 60-minute format to replace Brennpunkt, which was "shelved in its current format" in November, but the remake hasn't come without turbulence and protests. Kampanje reported that all the program's staff had been asked to reapply for their jobs, creating uncertainty and fear that some of the journalists will be 'reassigned' to other programmes. "Moral is low", said a former work associate I ran into just after the news broke in November, which prompted me to pay the program a visit:

It was Monday, an hour after lunch, and I found the usually busy corridor all vacant but for the finance director and the corporations' lawyer. How fitting, I thought - the more pessimistically inclined would say that's all investigative documentary has been reduced to these days: law and accountancy.

How much time is left to do groundbreaking investigative reporting and explore new formats for telling complex stories when you spend all of your time either in court or preparing the documentation? That said, some of the methods and effects commonly used in investigative documentary these days are controversial, and worthy of a debate on their own...

So what will emerge in Brennpunkt's place? "Many people are giving this a lot of consideration because NRK, as a public broadcaster, has to be everything to everyone. The corporation works hard to be on all platforms, with increased focus on the online world. Brennpunkt was primarily a documentary platform, not a reporting platform like for instance 60minutes, to my mind is – I don't know what the new Brennpunkt will be," said Möller Warmedal.

General notes
Some of you may fault me for comparing BBC's and NRK's investigative documentary programs here, but a seminar I produced two years ago revealed the challenges they face are much the same (I worked for Brennpunkt for a short period in 2004-05). Two years ago, to the day, we were exploring the future of documentary, debating the ethics of using various effects and methods and exchanging experiences with Panorama and other key industry experts in London. Two years of course, is an aeon in media terms. Of the seminar's key speakers, both Alan Hayling and Mike Robinson have left BBC – not without a degree of frustration over the obstacles facing investigative documentary in particular, and public broadcasters in general. These challenges reflect both overall changes to the media industry, but also "the permanent revolution" any public broadcaster experiences these days.

Of course, had I the time I could have cast my net wider here, but as this is a blog I don't pretend in any way to offer the whole and unvarnished truth, nor the complete picture. This is just a quick summary of some interesting developments, the comment section is wide open though...

Le Pen's new virtual HQ bombarded with exploding pigs

It was only a matter of time ...with the corporate world flocking to virtual worlds to evangelise about its products, and big media following close on the heels, the politicos were bound to arrive at some point. "Violent clashes have erupted" after Le Pen's National Front set up shop in Second Life, The Guardian reports today. Of course, this is not the first time Second Life citizens stage violent protests, as the story of virtual property magnate Anshe Chung illustrates.

So is Second Life the next big arena marketers and politicians need to conquer in order to stay on top of their game? The actual number of visitors and residents have been subject to some debate, and it's not an easy world to manoeuvre in, it takes a lot of time to adjust - time being a very limited commodity for some of us. It is, however, a great place for lectures, seminars and global education, just don't expect the virtual world to be a freehaven for all sorts of political persuasions - after all, Second Life citizens don't differ much from their real life counterparts.

Just in case..

You are feeling a bit rough today:
Folks, ladies and gentlemen of the cyber-booze world, children, pets and your respective owners, I have unequivocally discovered the cure for hangovers:

Egg Drop Soup ...That's right. Egg Drop Soup is a little miracle from the land of the Great Wall, political oppression and Chairman Mao paraphernalia. Take the long march down to your local Chinese food source and order it now, and never fear the perils of "over drinking" again... (Courtesy of DC Drinks).

Surge in newspaper blog readership

"Traffic to major US newspapers' blog sites grew 210% year-over-year in December, according to a report from Nielsen/NetRatings. Part of the reason for that tremendous rise is due to some papers adding new blogs during 2006... was the top site followed by and ," writes Roy Greenslade.

A Reuters blog post about the news throws in a couple spinach and Popeye graphics to indicate that blogs are to newspapers as spinach is to Popeye: " It may take time to digest, but new data from Nielsen//NetRatings suggests that blogs help keep newspapers healthy, or at least their Web sites." More discussion over at Techmeme (via Bloggers Blog).

Update: Andrew Grant-Adamson has looked for comparative figures for UK media blogs and suggests that perhaps The Guardian, and certainly BBC, have more blog readers than any US newspaper.

Exit Orkla

So ends the saga of Orkla and Mecom. After attempting to get rid of its media arm for at least ten months, and attracting a lot of bad PR in the process, Orkla has sold the 19,97pc stake the company was forced to take in Mecom to finalise the sale of Orkla Media - cashing in a neat £25m profit. The deal leaves the troublesome child that once was Orkla Media on foreign hands entirely and marks a very timely exit for the Norwegian company. "I think they realised they would have attracted a lot of criticism for some of the unpopular decisions Mecom makes," Kjetil Haanes, an employee representative in what is now Mecom Europe, told NA24 Propaganda (in Norwegian).

Though Orkla has offloaded all its Mecom shares, Montgomery still has to repay a vendor loan note to the company.

Want to strengthen your media brand? Get blogging

At least that seems to be the conclusion from Danish TV: When TV2's household names started blogging, it increased traffic to Just how much the article doesn't say, but Anne-Mette Bro, TV 2's head of press, told MediaWatch (in Danish, requires subscription): "We see the blog-universe as a way to achieve a more direct dialogue with our audience." The TV channel is using its blogs both to open up editorial processes and to promote upcoming programs. Not any revolutionary insights in this, but Scandinavian media has been lagging behind on the blog front, and Danish TV2 has sensibly started using blogs to support the main medium (TV) and involve the audience more in what they are doing... That said, there are of course so many ways to do this the right or wrong way, as the debate on newspaper and TV blogs clearly shows...

PR Newswire links up press releases to Technorati

PR Newswire will start linking individual press releases to Technorati so people can find out which blogs are linking to them (via Bloggers Blog). "Press releases have the power to initiate and inform important conversations in the blogosphere, while many bloggers are great accelerators and influencers of public conversation and opinion," Dave Armon, chief operating officer of PR Newswire, said in the press release announcing the deal.

Hmm... welcome to the brave new media world. It's great to see the blogosphere recognised as an important source of public perception and debate, but PR and marketing departments might want to consider retraining their staff to get rid of the corporate jargon and marketing speech that surely will only backfire in the realm of human conversation.