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September 2007

Journalists can't be bothered reading blogs

Four out of five Danish journalists feel reading blogs is irrelevant to their work, according to a survey by media intelligence company Cision (via

Hardly any news journalists felt blogs were worth the hassle, but half of the survey's respondents did believe blogs would come to play an important role in the Danish media landscape in the future.

Well, their loss. In fact, had they bothered reading blogs, they could have had this little piece of inside information all for free: "The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed" (hat tip: William Gibson)

I know how fast the world of a news journalist swirls, and, yes, blogs are more useful to specialist reporters, but I can't even begin to tell you in how many ways blogging and reading blogs has been useful to me as a journalist. Perhaps even made me a better journalist.

Friends urged me to start blogging as early as 2001, but back then I felt there was no way I could find time: I was too busy chasing work, chasing deadlines. I regret that now, but am glad I finally got going when I did. The only hitch: it's addictive. I mean, journalism is fun, but blogging is even more fun. And when you first get hooked on the speed with which online conversations expand and move on, writing op-eds for print can be, well, exasperating...

A good, honest reporter

"I want some facts. Any kind of facts. There must be something going on in Europe besides a nervous breakdown. I don't want anymore economists, sages or oracles bombinating over our cables.

I want a reporter. Somebody who doesn't know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo. A good, honest crime reporter: that's what the Globe needs. That's what Europe needs. There's a crime hatching on that bedevilled continent..."

I was ill this weekend, or last week for that matter, and it was raining cats and dogs. Or at least I seem to remember it was. So camping on the sofa with a good movie or three seemed like the perfect idea. The quote above, made by Mr. Powers, is from one I particularly enjoyed: "Foreign Correspondent" by Hitchcock (here's a review). It was made some 36 years before I was born, just at the start of the Second World War, but still has a lot of mileage. Here's a few more:

Mr. Powers: How would you like to cover the biggest story in the world today?
Johnny Jones: Give me and expense account and I'll cover anything.
Mr. Powers: I'll give you an expense account.
Johnny Jones: Okay, What's the story?
Mr. Powers: Europe.
Johnny Jones: Well, I'm afraid I'm not exactly equipped, sir, but I can do some reading up.
Mr. Powers: No no, no reading up. I like you just as you are, Mr. Jones. What Europe needs is a fresh, unused mind.
Johnny Jones: Foreign correspondent, huh?
Mr. Powers: No, reporter. I don't want correspondence, I want news.
Johnny Jones: [Powers is giving Jones instructions on whom he should interview in Europe] Anyone else?
Mr. Powers: No.
Johnny Jones: Well how about Hitler? Don't you think it would be a good idea to pump him? He must have something on his mind.

Amateur Hour
Carol Fisher: You never hear of circumstances out of our control rushing us into peace, do you?
Carol Fisher: I think the world has been run long enough by well-meaning professionals. We might give the amateurs a chance now.

Mecom + Wegener: it's formal

Mecom, the investment vehicle of former Mirror boss David Montgomery, has finally submitted a formal bid for Dutch regional newspaper group Wegener.

The British media group announced its takeover plans early May, but the deadline for submitting a formal bid in accordance with Dutch law had to be extended thrice to allow time for the UK Listings Authority to approve the prospect.

Mecom offers €17,10 per share in cash, a price that values the Dutch group at €794m. Alternatively, Wegener shareholders can exchange one share for 14.287 shares in the share capital of Mecom Group plc. The tender period commences on 29 August 2007 at 09:00 hours, Amsterdam time, and ends on 4 October 2007 at 15:00 hours, Amsterdam time.

The combined group will create a leading pan-European regional newspaper publisher with combined pro-forma 2006 sales of €2.0bn and pro-forma 2006 EBITDA of €197.9m (via

Blogs beat banners for advertising

People largely ignore display advertisement on websites. A more successful, albeit unethical, approach to grab attention is to make the ad look like content, reports Jakob Nielsen's Alert Box.

These findings (via David Black) reminded me of a recent survey by Director A/S which showed that the click-through rate (CTR) for professional blog posts was 5-6 more times effective than for advertisement banners. The survey even found that those who read commercial blogs buy more than those who arrive at a company's website via advertisment banners (via

I'm in two minds about this survey: of course blogs can be a much more effective way to communicate with people you want to reach, but there's blogs and there's blogs, if you know what I mean – the genuine ones, and those that read like press releases. I'd hate to see this survey cause an inflation in the latter.

This, however, is a no-brainer:

"Even when we did record a fixation within a banner, users typically didn't engage with the advertisement. Often, users didn't even see the advertiser's logo or name, even when they glanced at one or two design elements elsewhere inside an ad."

Vodaphone Nightmare

I don't know what to say, or do. I've had three weeks now with 'no access' on my UK mobile due to some sort of network problem. I've spent an hour or two on a very expensive foreign line trying to fix it, with no result until today.

Now they tell me it'll be back working within 24 hours, just have to keep trying to switch it on and off (like I've got nothing better to do). I was told it was a general problem for lots of Vodaphone users trying to use their phones abroad, as if that's supposed to cheer me up.

But then, now that they've reset my phone, all my text messages are gone, including a very recent one with the pin to my answering phone they just forced me to reset. For a moment there I thought I hadn't stored the pin anywhere else and was told it couldn't be fixed until I'm back in the UK (funny that, seeing how they just forced me to reset my pin code while I was in Norway). It turned out I did have the pin code written down, but now I'm told I've dialed an incorrect number when I try to dial my UK phone. Christ.

A similar thing happened in May/April, when they reset my phone and just forgot to tell me that resetting it would mean I wouldn't be able to access my answering machine, pin or no pin, until I was back on UK ground. Oh, and they tell me all UK mobile phone companies work this way, I can't tell you how happy THAT makes me feel.

See, I kind of need this phone for work. Not as much in Norway as in the UK, but still: I don't suppose they'll refund my phone bills for all those weeks with no connection, or those loong expensive phone calls trying to fix it...

Update 29/8: come to think of it, I'm only a customer - why would they care?

It was some 10 hours past those promised 24hrs this morning, and still no access. I've had enough of making long useless phone calls from abroad, so emailed Vodaphone before 10am. Approaching 7pm - still no reply (yes, I'm impatient: it's an urgent matter to me, but obviously not to the company) However, I did come across this handy piece of advice over at Tom Watson's blog, perhaps worth considering...

Update 4/9 11am: Still No Connection. Four weeks with no connection tomorrow. I've emailed back and forth with Vodaphone customer service and they've resorted to offering me a blatant lie. Besides, every time I contact Vodpahone it's a different customer service representative answering, offering different versions of the same non-solutions.... Do I laugh or do I cry? I can think of a solution or two, but hate to spend even more time on something like this...

An hour+ later: Okay. Finally go thru to a helpful customer service guy (wow). Spent an hour on an the phone and established it is a Network Problem after all, despite whatever all those other helpdesk folks have wasted my time suggesting about handsets and SIM cards and non-existent bars and what have you. Still No Connection though, which may not be solved until I arrive London later this month...

How addicted to blogging are you?

Hmm... it could have been worse (via Adriana):

78%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

It's quite ironic to publish this when I've just had huge difficulties accessing Typepad, which this blog is hosted on - again, I might add.

Maybe it's the Monday afternoon blues that sets in, and all the world's Typepad bloggers feel the urge to blog simultaneously, but I had exactly the same problems at the start of last week. Back then I got so annoyed I gave up. Typepad, of course, told me there was no problem.

I know my internet connection can be bad at times, the price of being mobile, or using mobile broadband in this country, but when the connection is weak, I'll have problems accessing sites like Yahoo and Financial Times: when I can access those without problems, chances are it's Typepad that's the problem.

Anyway, my point? Well, it nearly ruined my day that, not being able to access my blog: it made me seriously consider taking up twittering, even though I'm scared it'll take up too much time in my already way too busy schedule. But I'm only 78 per cent addicted to blogging, honest...

(By the way, click on the picture to take the test yourself)

Our Man in Hell

He won a Pultizier Price for his stories from Ukraine under Stalin, stories which supported the official Stalinist line that the Ukraine famine never took place. Now Walter Duranty, or his alter ego rather, is reporting more 'good news' from beyond the grave (via Steve Boriss):

"I got a Pulitzer for my "scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity. " Bad news: I died. Good news: I'm still working!"


The ghost of the former NY Times Moscow correspondent blogs: "Now that I'm dead, I'm pleased to be the Times's man in hell. It's my final reward: Great weather. No humidity. Think Gaza, without the Israelis! In fact, don't believe what the right-wing religious bigots say about this place. It's wonderful here. In fact, hell was made for journalists just like me."

Devilishly dark humour
"Whether broadband is now available in Hell or someone on Earth just has a devilishly dark sense of humor, the ghost of Duranty now haunts the NY Times over the Internet, " writes Borris.

For some reason this blog reminds me of a line by my great grandfather's favourite role character: "Culture which smooth the whole world licks, Also unto the devil sticks. [Auch die Kultur, die alle Welt beleckt, Hat auf den Teufel sich erstreckt.]" Of course, Gonoud sacrificed all the complexities of Faust for the much simpler love story, but that's another story, here's a few highlights from the ghost of Walter Duranty:

No lack of trust in The Daily Smoke and Mirror
For one, contrary to here on earth, Hellians trust their media, but, writes Duranty: "That doesn’t mean we always blindly trust topside media, no matter how well they usually treat us. Many were upset this morning, for example, over a CNN item called 'Riding the Highway to Hell.' Most people thought it was going to be a profile of AC/DC with a positive spin–but it ended up being a story about a chump on a bicycle following the road to Riva del Garda, a bland little burg in Italy. 'Just makes hell look bad,' as Bernie Bellotto told me this morning over refried espresso."

A sentence that would send all journos to jail
“It’s a terrible precedent, Walt. ‘Infringing on the reputation of a commodity’! Do you know what that means? Do you?” “Tell me, Bill.” “I’ll tell you what it means. It means no more Paris Hilton stories! No more evil-genius-Rove stories! We create commodities then we infringe on their reputations. It’s called journalism, Walt! That’s what it means. If they start throwing us in prisons just because we’re doing our job, why…”

The future may be free, but is it on paper?

I found this picture from Piet Bakker's Newspaper Innovation blog (via Nigel Barlow) quite compelling. Free newspapers are currently published in 50 countries, totalling 40 million copies daily, read by at least 70 million people. Piet looks at worldwide trends for 2007 here, and for Europe here.


However, the price of a 'free future' can be staggering. The latest estimated figures from the Danish freesheet war make for grim reading, and even 'mature' products, such as the US papers of freesheet pioneer Metro International, are still in the red. Besides, these innocent-looking freebies have been blamed for causing everything from forest depletion to subway track flooding, and identified as potent carriers of epidemics such as avian flu.

But then, Norwegian media group Schibsted, who is moving towards break-even with its French and Spanish freesheets 20 Minutes, has stated on several occasions that the company is using its freehsheets primarily to lure people to its websites...

Internet thieves beware

This really beggars belief: guess we have to add wi-fi broadband theft to the list of new world crimes unheard of before the age of Internet. I thought Scandinavia was bad for legislating all things great and small - I could go on for hours about the dog poo squad and other bizarre rules and regulations politicians come up with here - but in London a man has actually been arrested for 'stealing the waves' as Adriana so aptly puts it.

From a news report:

Police officers has arrested a man on suspicion of stealing a wireless broadband connection after spotting him using his laptop in the street... Dishonestly obtaining free internet access is an offence under the Communications Act 2003 and a potential breach of the Computer Misuse Act.

I had no idea. Now I know why some hotels can get away with such ludicrously expensive and impractical internet set-ups.

Weird marketing from Amazon

I've been beset by so many technical woes over the last few days that I've almost felt this must be some sort of big cosmic conspiracy, part of what's kept me from blogging, but here's a marketing ploy that really, really puzzles me:

Twice now I've received an email from Amazon telling me how I might be interested books that will be 'released 23 August 2007' and are part of a series of which I have bought other volumes from Amazon.

The funny thing is, these are OLD books. I have the entire series, and the books Amazon are trying to tell me will be released this week are actually almost a decade, or at least half a decade old. So is this a new marketing ploy, or what? I'm amazed to get something like this from a company that's usually quite smart about its marketing – and no, I normally don't mind too much this kind of targeted marketing, based on previous purchases, that would have been illegal in Norway, had the company been based here, due to privacy laws.

But this ploy, trying to make a fan believe that an OLD book by one of his or her favourite authors is being released for the first time this week, seems like the ultimate folly. Is Amazon letting its Interns run the marketing department for the summer? There might of course, be some small print that I've overlooked here, but in any case I can't RVSP to the emails, and my Internet connection this week is much to sloow, thank you very much Netcom, for me to bother to go over to the Amazon site and find somewhere I can leave meaningful feedback. And yes, I've given myself a standing order never to blog when I'm really cranky mood, and there's nothing like Internet problems to induce that in me, but there you go...

No French luck for Mecom

The highest bid was not enough to persuade the Lagardère and Le Monde groups to sell their regional newspapers to Mecom.

Lagardère Group announced on Monday that it had sold its regional dailies in Southern France to Groupe Hersant Média for €160m. Le Monde Group is suspected to follow suit and sell les Journaux du Midi for €100m, reports Observatoiredesmedias.

Mecom had offered €300m for Le Monde and Lagardère's regional newspapers, but said at an early stage they expected the bid to be rejected.

"Rather than to use a part of the 40 additional millions to convince the employees to accept Mecom's offer, Lagardère chose the easiest way by yielding her titles to Groupe Hersant Média, the least alarming candidate, but also least prepared... This transaction confirms the original financial strategy of French media, which often prefer to be seen like extensions of family empires rather than centres of profit," writes Nicolas Kayser-Bril over at Observatoiredesmedias.

In his opinion, these newspapers need a serious revival plan to turn around meager financial results.

According to a press release, The Lagardère Group’s regional daily press arm in southern France generated revenues of €222m and recurring operating income of €3m in the year ended December 31, 2006.

'With the sale of La Provence, Nice Matin, Var Matin, Corse Matin and free daily Marseille Plus, Lagardère pulls out of newspapers alltogether. Threats of strikes at Nice Matin were meant to prevent the sale to Mecom,' reports Piet Bakker.

The blog buzz, like here, here and here, around the sales negotiations suggests there was massive oppostion to Mecom's bid, in part based on fear that David Montgomery's British Investment vechicle was only looking for short-term profit.

Celebrity scandals and the trouble with Bloglines

Now, I was planning to write the post on media's celebrity obsession last week, and gleefully report towards the end that getting minimal exposure to celebrity news is easier than ever in world where you can slice and dice content as you see fit with RSS and newsreaders.

Why bother with the news that annoy you, when you can choose to subscribe only to your favourite feeds or keywords within feeds?

However, life and work intervened, and this week I'm not quite so gleeful. I've been using Bloglines for a long time, but its performance keeps getting worse and worse.

One of the charms of using a newsreader is how it's supposed to show updates the minute a site has been updated. This function has been painfully slow in Bloglines recently, so slow that one Bloglines user wrote:

"I've gotten so desperate for updates that I've been surfing over to the INDIVIDUAL WEB SITES. Help!"

The problem has been exacerbated by several of my feeds, including my standing Technorati searches, only showing up "Internal Server Error" during the last few days, which has made me realise how much I've come to rely on my newsreader.

To loose the massive archive of posts I've built up over time in Bloglines feels almost like the nightmare scenario of suffering a laptop crash only to realise you've forgotten to back up your files.

But, even though the prospect of switching newsreaders seem daunting, got to find a way of saving my Bloglines archive, the service has been so unreliable recently - unread feeds disappearing, slow to update etc - that I realise it would make life much easier if I did.

I've been looking at ZapTXT as it's supposed to guarantee instant updates - I've come to rely more and more on my newsreader also for work and for tracking stories - but would be grateful for any advice...

A few thoughts on mass vs niche media

Following on my previous post: there is, of course, nothing wrong with trying to captivate the greatest possible number viewers/listeners/readers. That is by definition what mass media is supposed to do. But what if the days of mass media are numbered...

In Steve Borris' words: "The power of Old Media was its ability to reach large numbers of relatively undefined prospects through very few channels – terrific if you are a McDonalds’s with everyone as a potential customer. But for all other advertisers, there’s New Media, which has the power to deliver specialized audiences of only the best prospects. 'Segmentation' is the new 'traffic'."

Or, according to Ross Dawson: "Mass media affords no true relationship with the audience. The rapidly eroding value of sending undifferentiated message to millions means that mass media will rapidly fragment, and the majority of content will be distributed through direct, immediate, targeted, interactive channels."

Both these quotes take advertisement needs as their starting point, but I think a more fundamental reason for the 'fragmentation' we are seeing today, the dawning of the Day of the Longtail if you like, can be found in an intrinsic human need, or to quote Borris again:

"... the biggest reason that blogs like DailyKos will win out is that they fulfill a human need today’s “objective” papers do not. This need was captured best by 19th century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America, in which he marveled at the ability of individual newspapers to attract and organize like-minded citizens into 'Associations,' each representing a different voice. He wrote, 'Newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.' Today, DailyKos makes an association. Tomorrow, associations break newspapers."

I think this is especially true in countries where the press see themselves as paragons of objectivity, so more true in countries like Norway, and perhaps the US, than in the UK where the papers have more distinct political and socio-cultural profiles. But then again, if those 'distinct profiles' no longer are seen to reflect the current map of the world, perhaps not ...

Media's celebrity obsession, eh... who's obsession?

Americans blame the media for giving too much space to celebrity scandals. That is, if we are to believe a survey by Pew research centre where 87 per cent of the respondents felt media didn't get the balance between celebrity and serious news right (via Roy Greenslade).

I have one, major issue with this survey. Everyone who's ever worked in TV, radio, newspapers or on news sites, will know that what they produce is constantly being rated by number of viewers, listeners, copies sold, clicks. Nowhere is this clearer than online, where the number of clicks your story generate is instantly available, in other words: clickability rules.

It's no secret that sex, celebrity and scandal generate some of the biggest hits online. So either a fair share of those 87 per cent must nurture a very guilty secret, or the 8 per cent who thought media got the balance just about right must be clicking in the millions.

Or the sample was too small, skewed, the questions leading, or what have you. If mergers and acquisitions, or poverty and environmental issues, had a similar effect on clickrates, I don't know any editor who wouldn't start churning out stories on that in the millions, and drop the keywords alluding to those issues in every possible headline.

Something to think about next time you feel tempted to click on that story about Brangelina....

Website adds news to nudity to make readers linger

Media websites often go to great lengths to make those eyeballs linger, but here's a novel one: forget all the accusations of how media is sacrificing serious news for celebrity scandal, ever heard of the celebrity rag who plan to seduce readers into spending more time on its website by introducing NEWS on it?

Last week, Danish celebrity magazine Se og Hör announced a deal with 'quality' freesheet Nyhedsavisen that would see the freesheet provide news to Se og Hör's website, (via Here's Henrik Qvortrup, Se og Hör's editor-in-chief, commenting on the deal:

"We aren't idiots. We know very well that a lot of people come to our website to look at naked women. But perhaps the fact that we now also provide news there can make the readers linger a bit longer."


The road to hell is paved with amateur contributions

Fabulous title for a not so fabulous op-ed from And yes, we're talking about Andrew Keen's "Cult of the amateur – how Today's Internet is killing our culture and destroying our economy".

In short: the journalist thinks this is a very important book from an author who is too much in love with his own conclusions. He offers quite a bit of praise for Keen, but also comes up with some very valid objections against his arguments.

I have sometimes been accused, perhaps rightfully, of being a contrarian by nature, but the 'contrariness' of Keen's book doesn't appeal to me at all, so praise for him is lost on me. Mainly because Keen comes across as a guy who simply does not understand what he's talking about.

If the blogosphere has taught me one thing, it is to become a better listener: I love letting the links of blogs I trust or appreciate take me into unknown territory – introduce me to new and interesting takes, angles, voices... which is clearly a venture of serendipity Mr Keen has never dared, or found in interesting enough, to undertake.

But I'm much too tired now, so prone to ramble. To avoid that, I'll just leave you with a quote from Adriana's Furl feed that sums up some of my main feelings about Keen:

I think I am getting Keen, he does represent a particular mindset, which existed throughout the ages. He doesn't understand, which is not a crime, but he doesn't want to understand. He is like the rest of the media industry - has a story and he's sticking to it. Everything else washes off of him. His loss. The more interesting is the reason he's getting attention. Somehow people sense that he represents a wider view and so he gets debated... it is like trying to convince the reactionaries out there by proxy...

Legislators inept at dealing with the Internet age

Here's another example of how legislators are struggling to deal with a new reality where everyone can publish:

CNET reports (via Robin Hamman) that The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved an amended version of the Free Flow of Information Act. The revised bill attempts to exclude the "casual blogger" from the right to protect confidential sources by stipulating the protections apply only to those who derive "financial gain or livelihood" from the journalistic activity... That broad rule could, however, include part-time writers who receive even a trickle of revenue from Google Ads or

The bill defines the practice of journalism as "gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public."
"To extend the shield beyond (those who gain financial benefit) would create an avenue for virtually anyone to avoid compelled testimony by simply creating a blog that contains the information in question"...

This amended version of the act is problematic for a number of reasons, do read the text in full. Linking source protection to whether or not you use your blog as a vehicle to earn money misses the point completely. First and foremost because blogging often is a labour of love, and more often than not an indirect way of earning money.

This law proposal is applying old world thinking, equating the motives of mass media with those of bloggers, to a landscape that simply doesn't fit with that model of the world anymore. What if a blogger reveals something important in the ways of government or corporate misconduct, but has no ads on his or her blog, or no financial gain in sight? What of the Dr. Stockmans of this world?

Sometimes people will go to great lengths to expose issues just because they care, and in this brave new world of ours they can, via blogs, YouTube, or whichever preferred channel, unmediated. What if it was never the explicit aim of the blogger to cover this issue indepth, it just sort of happened, and perhaps led to various article or book commissions – which is very often what happens with successful niche bloggers, why it's an indirect rather than direct source of income...

The strain of blogging

Forbes reports (via Jackie Danicki) that a loosely formed coalition of left-leaning bloggers are trying to band together to form a labour union they hope will help them receive health insurance, conduct collective bargaining or even set professional standards.

Susie Madrak, the author of Suburban Guerilla blog, who is active in the union campaign, hopes that regardless the form, the labour movement ultimately will help bloggers pay for medical bills. It's important, she said, because some bloggers can spend hours a day tethered to computers as they update their Web sites.

"Blogging is very intense - physically, mentally," she said. "You're constantly scanning for news. You're constantly trying to come up with information that you think will mobilize your readers. In the meantime, you're sitting at a computer and your ass is getting wider and your arm and neck and shoulder are wearing out because you're constantly using a mouse."

Hmm... Here I was thinking blogging was a labour of love, certainly not something most bloggers are forced into. But, looking towards voluntary initiatives, Media Bloggers Association is already working to raise professional standards, and Mediabistro has achieved many of the benefits these bloggers desire for its network of freelance journalists....