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Who's robbing us now, Mr Montgomery?

So, Mecom boss David Montgomery has pulled it off again: another covenant extension, his fourth this year, and prospects of raising new equity to the tune of £140 million, despite presenting grim preliminary financial results for 2008 this morning.

Yet it seems the company is still treading water, and yesterday The Norwegian Journalist Union (NJ) was up in arms (in Norwegian) over news Montgomery would transfer roughly £80 m from the saving funds of his Norwegian papers to help appease the company's creditors. As NJ was holding its annual conference yesterday, it reminded me of Montgomery's visit to the same conference in 2007 (which I covered for Propaganda) and this exchange of words:

Moderator: "Many feel you are robbing Edda Media papers: you are emptying the coffers, aren't you?

Montgomery: "That is simply not the case. I don't own the company, the shareholders do, and the shareholders are the pension funds of Europe... Mecom is a conventionally listed company. Money goes back to pension funds, which means ultimately it goes back to you and me."

Moderator: "We are being robbed by pension funds then."

That's only one of many colourful anecdotes from following this company closely for years. Of course, the journalist union has campaigned against Mecom owning Norwegian papers since it first emerged as a potential buyer for Orkla Media in early 2006 - partly because of its high gearing. Some will see proof of "the folly of believing that newspapers can be successful on a sea of debt" in Mecom's recent woes, others will be cheered the company's steered clear of isolvency yet again - but I can see no cheers from the smalltime shareholders so far today...

Update 09:55 CET: news that Independent News & Media (INM) has failed to reach a deal with its bondholders and says there's a "strong likelihood" it will breach its covenants without a deal, brings me another flashback from that 2007 NJ conference.

I asked Montgomery if it really was his opinion, as The Telegraph had suggested the previous day, that there was no rationale for The Guardian or The Independent to exist: "I didn't say that. The Telegraph did. But in general I think companies should make money. I think it's demeaning for people to work for companies that don't," he said.

Update 11:14: CET: Actually, looking over my transcript just now (I always try to find time to type up my notes), that was the conference, and we're talking April 2007, when Montgomery also told the audience that Mecom was a very well-funded company and didn't have enough debt at the moment....


Montgomery reading one of his Norwegian newspapers, Drammens Tidende (original photo by Martin H. Jensen, edits by me).

Using social media to change the world

Here's something which, despite all the current doom and gloom, makes me both hopeful for the future of the world at large and despondent about my own industry (and if you'd rather focus on the former, feel free to jump past my chronology of frustration:-) )

A chronology of frustration:
Mainstream media discovers Twitter and moves en masse there. Incidentally, politicians discover Twitter about the same time and follow suite. "All of a sudden" everyone that is someone is talking about Twitter, hence media commentators are ordered to write about it and conclude - surprise, surprise - it's the social network of the elites.

Now, this secenario is taken from Norway, where journalists and politicians have really only discovered Twitter's potential over the last few months. Since I do my share of talking about why journalists should be on Twitter, and how they can use it in their work, I'm hardly going to complain that a much larger contingent of Norway's hacks have finally started using the microblogging site, but the scenario in the above paragraph is a potent reminder that our understanding of social media is defined by how we use it.

It's not the technology... As a result, our arguments about what social media is often become circular, and categorisations such as "it's the network of the elites" or "it's just people sharing trivia" will often reveal more about how people making those statements use or don't use Twitter than about the site itself. I am, of course, fully aware that sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have different demographics, but, at the end of the day, it's neither the technology, nor the individual social media brand as such I find interesting: it's what it enables us to do.

And since commentators, in Norway and elsewhere, have been so busy analysing what they and/or their colleagues talk about on Twitter lately, let's instead look at a compelling way to use the site to raise awareness of a social issue. I've been followingMark Horvath for a few weeks now, after a shout out from Tim O'Reilly alerted me to his Twitter profile:

Giving a voice to the voiceless
"Mark Horvath was a top TV executive in Hollywood and then lost it all. Out of work and with a home going into foreclosure, Horvath quickly became homeless. With no income or a roof over his head, Horvath still had to do something. So he started, a personal first account video blog designed to give homelessness a face and voice," Mashable wrote in March.

Or to use his own words from 1 April this year: "Fifteen years ago I was a TV executive. Fourteen years ago I ended up homeless on Hollywood Blvd. I now am 14 years sober and am rebuilding my life but homelessness is once again a very real possibility. I lost my job in St Louis over a year ago. I took a job here in Los Angeles, moved here, and was laid off. I lost my house to foreclosure last week. With $45, a small camera and a laptop I started, a homeless awareness vlog. I had to do something.

"Every week I take a few minutes to get to know a different person without a home. I learn how they survive, how they came to find themselves homeless, and who they call friends. I ask them about their biggest wishes, their greatest hardships and their plans for the future.

"Then, I introduce them to the world via social media. My video blog is a testament of the character and strength of people living on America’s streets. It gives them a voice and a chance to tell their story and become more than a coat sleeping on a park bench. To get the word out about my vblog, I began using twitter ..." (full post here, follow Horvath at @hardlynormal ).

Now, you may fault me, of course, for citing a former TV exec as an example, but his forceful example of being 'the change he wants to see in the world' somehow gives me more faith that we will find our way through the current crisis - and doing what he does while facing homelessness and personal ruin is truly something...

Here's video clip from The Berkman Centre, about The New Change Makers which is also well-worth checking out (via Paul Bradshaw on Twitter)

Warner Music exec creates firestorm by suggesting tweep steal music and download it to his "brat blog"

Beat this: blogger complains he can't buy his favourite music, music company employee tells him to steal it and calls the blogger a brat while he's at it.

Blogger does what bloggers do: he blogs about it, tweets about the blog post, Norway's Twittersphere retweets, another blogger does a post in English and Diggs it, post hits Digg's frontpage, offended blogger brought in to give a talk about his experience at The Norwegian Editor's Association (NORED's) Spring Conference (video clip is here, in Norwegian) mainstream media writes about it ... and this is just what happened in less than 24 hours.

Three hours after the tweet, Warner Music Norway employee appologises profusely, by which time it is too late, the snowball rolls on, or shall we say the fire blazes on? More on snowballs and fires here.

Here's a more thorough description of the story from the blog post that was Digged:

Norwegian student Even (18) shared his frustration with his Twitter followers about iTunes not letting him download the newest album from Dave Matthews Band saying something like: “I’m pissed! iTunes is only allowing downloads of the new Dave Matthews Band album if you live in the US! And they complain about pirating”.

Not many minutes after Even’s tweet, Terje Pedersen from Warner Music Norway replied with something like: “Then I suggest you steal it and write about the process in your stupid brat blog. We don’t want you to get upset.” Full post here.

For the record, I've worked for NORED Live blog from this year's spring conference here (in Norwegian)

Fantastic qustion via the live blog to the editors: At least the Warner Music guy bothered to answer the blogger on his blog, how often do media folks bother to do the same?

Hurray, seems I get to continue reading those Press Gazette blogs after all

At least I hope today's news about Press Gazette being saved after a buyout by New Statesman owner Progressive Media (via, implies that  I will be able to continue following those blogs. I'm also, of course, happy for the staff who get to stay on. I will however not take out a subscription for the print magazine because I'm a rather poor journalist myself; it's ancient news before it reaches these foreign shores and Roy Greenslade's explanation of the abrrevation Pdf as equalling Pretty Damn Futile brilliantly sums up my view on Pdf. Actually, I don't think I can remember when I last read a print magazine - books and newspapers, yes, mostly over the weekend - but magazines? It must have been some issue of Economist, perhaps the New Year one, I picked up for a flight...

Update 11:45 CET: and, of course, I was just reminded that Jon Slattery predicted PG might be rescued from its deathbed.

Brown aide Damian McBride's resignation: one more down for the bloggers

One down, two to go, says Iain Dale after Gordon Brown's chief political adviser Damian McBride resigned over what The Guardian dubbed "Labour sex smear scandal" .

I must admit I've stopped counting as I only keep half an eye on political blogs these days, but on this side of the pond there was of course the former Swedish Trade Minister 'blogged' down by Magnus Ljungkvist and now Mcbride is the latest of several UK government officials (John Prescott and Peter Hain springs to mind, more? ) who've had bruising encounters with Gudio Fawkes. I'm discounting that now rather ancient story about Trent Lott from the other side of the pond, I think the US is a different story alltogether as political bloggers there were so much ahead of the curve compared to Europe.

The role Guido's blog has come to play in the UK political landscape has been compared both by those who know him and those who don't to that played by Private Eye. 

There's also an interesting dynamic at work here between bloggers and journalists, or to quote from a post of mine from a few years back:

"My understanding is that the 'conspiracy' of which Guido is a part includes mainstream journalists. As Antoine explained in our last mp3, they tell Guido some juicy titbit. Guido reports it. Iain Dale reports that Guido reported it. The journalists can then report that 'internet sites' reported it - the plural being quite important because it makes omitting the actual names of the 'internet sites' a lot less ridiculous."

Last time I checked, Guido had some 250,000 readers, but I have to admit that was two years ago. It's interesting to note that McBride's resignation may be followed by that of Derek Draper, who has been set up as, or certainly come across as, the guy Labour put forward to try to emulate the success of the likes of Dale and Guido.

My only 'real-virtual-life' encounter with Draper has been his weird follow-unfollowing-follow behaviour on Twitter, but the other key bloggers in "Smeargate", Guido, Dale and Tom Watson, belong to those UK political bloggers I follow on something bordering on a regular basis (the latter is he of "Government Minister Resigns to Spend More Time With His Blog"-fame, one of my favorite headlines ever, and a man I find it very interesting to follow on Twitter, partly because he also tweets quite a bit about Web 2.0-stuff). Now I must admit at this point I'm rambling a bit beacuse I have my head down in another story I have to get back to, but follow the links for full story and context. I also meant to blog about the spat between Guido Fawkes and Derek Draper on The Daily Politics Show, one of those things I never got around to, but you can check it out here:


I you're unfamiliar with Guido's blog, check this post. Iain Dale and Jackie Danicki have more links to "Smeargate" coverage. Here's a Guardian piece with more background. Update 20:15 CET: I loved Mick Fealty quoting blog sceptic Geert Lovint, a man I don't think I'd normally agree with, on how 'blogging is a bleed-to-death strategy', only to say: "Mr Draper is a PR professional floundering in a world he barely understands, allowed himself to be entranced by the (what Lovint terms) 'banal nihilism' of one particular type of blogging, and now finds himself being bled to death through his own actions," in 'Yes, Derek Draper did get it wrong'

Doc Searls on The Intention Economy

I'm late to this, but I thought Doc Searls' thoughts on the Intention Economy were so interesting I wanted to record them here for posterity rather than just bookmark (from a Berkman lunch livblogged by Doc's fellow Cluetrain author Weinberger,found via Adriana)

"The problem is that most big businesses think that the best customer is a captive one." "That's why the free market is still your choice of captor." But "we're now about three minutes into the Big Bang" when it comes to the Net. The challenge is to "prove that a free customer is more valuable than a captive one."

So, Doc has started Project VRM (vendor relationship management) to provide ways for customers to drive relationships with vendors. More on that here. I was privileged enough to be able to attend an early VRM meeting with Doc and Adriana (pictured below by me) in London last February. I think it's very interesting to see the project develope, and with the intellectual giants involved I'm hopeful that it may be the next big thing.

So, what happens when customers get real power?

- “Customers get their own pricing guns” [i.e., the "guns" that print out price labels].

- “The intention economy” will get real because it’s based on what customers really want, as opposed to the attention economy that’s based on guesses.

- “The advertising bubble will burst.” There will still be ads, but they won’t be the “communications method of first resort.”

- “Cluetrain will finally be right.”

For some reason, the RSS feed I subscribed to from Doc's blog seem to have stopped working, must fix (and by putting a note about that here I might even remember when I come back in from the rain:-) ). Update 19-04/09: and when I get the RSS-feed from Doc's blog up an running again, and find time to read it, I find this post on After the advertising bubble bursts, which explains more)

LondonFeb2008 013

"The depressing but inevitable demise of Press Gazette"

Today, Wilmington Media announced that Press Gazette, the UK’s journalism trade mag, will be closing.

In a statement this lunchtime, proprietors Wilmington Group announced that next month's edition of the magazine would be the last hard copy edition, reports Holdthefrontpage. Dave Lee, from whom I, stuck for time as I'm in the middle of a few other stories, have stolen the title and intro, has more. I will only add that hiring Martin Stabe back in 2006 or so was a brilliant move and what got me reading Press Gazette's online in the first place (keeping in mind that I only know Martin via his blog, which I stumbled across via a former tutor, Andrew Grant-Adamson's, blog).

On a less positive note, a key industry player recently told me he felt former PG-man Jon Slattery's blog was at times doing a better job of covering the media industry than PG these days as Slattery was calling people up to get tidbits rather than just reproducing press releases - a fact I mention only because it's a trap too many news sites seem to fall in these days.

I will also add to Dave's thoughts on Media Guardian playing such a dominant role in the UK's media journalism market that there are aspects of that I find a bit odd: I would for instance have expected FT to cover especially the European media market better, and yet they're beaten again and again by Media Guardian - even on M&As and company results, issues where FT long has been heralded for having the market leading coverage. That said, The Independent also has good media stories from time to time, though they tend to "hide" them in the business section, and The Telegraph has been doing a better job of covering the media industry since they hired Amanda Andrews (or since they set up a seperate RSS-feed for media and technology, not sure which). I also get many of my favourite UK media tidbits from, Paid Content and media bloggers.

On that note, if not even an online shred of Press Gazette will be kept alive, I shall thoroughly miss Peter Kirwan's blog - even though I was not entirely happy about a piece he interviewed me about Mecom for, I've come to really enjoy his writings on Media Money as it covers one of my favorite aspects of the media industry so well. 

For the record: of the sites mentioned here, I've been paid for article commissions from Press Gazett, The Independent business section and I'm a regular contributor to (and, if I shall be really strict on disclosures, I've also been paid for articles I wrote for The Guardian/Observer)

Update 07.04-09, 13:00 CET: On this topic I also enjoyed reading Press Gazette Insider’s View: Why Journalism’s Trade Bible Failed by Patrick Smith 16:55 CET: and Jon Slattery's Old Bell tolls for Press Gazette via Thoughts of Nigel

17:07 CET: isn't it interesting how many people, like here, say they will miss the blogs? I singled out Media Money above, but I shall miss the other blogs too.


I'd like to say I got loads of writing done, but, truth be told, it was more a case of attending to the eclectic reading the guy pictured here would tolerate inbetween long walks and play time (dog sitting all weekend, and doesn't Duke look every bit as noble as his name implies here?)


More photos here

Norwegian press saves money by abandoning all attempts at serious reporting on April Fool's Day

'The financial crisis is forcing media to implement unusual cost cutting measures,' the female leader for the country's journalist union has admitted to The Norwegian Office of Enlightenment after the blog's investigations revealed all yesterday's Norwegian newspaper stories to be April Fool's Day's spoofs (via Sonitus) (in Norwegian).

 "This year, all Norwegian newspapers have joined forces to support this model to save our jobs. These are turbulent times and many fear for their jobs, especially the former horse riding news boys who were retrained as ink stirrers, retrained again as printers, reschooled to be scanners, then retrained as culture editors and now preparing to reschool yet again to become Twitter surveillors," the union boss, quoted under a bogus name, says in what must be my favourite April Fool's Day story this year.

At this stage I should probably admit, that in all my single-mindedness, I was planning to use 1. April to speculate about Metro International's mystery bidder and report that the real reason for Peter Chernin's fallout with Rupert Murdoch was how the latter's insatiable appetite for print led him to court the world's largest freesheet publisher, or that the desperate times on Iceland led the archrivals Jon Asgeir Johannesson and Björgolfur Gudmundsson to join forces, team up with the latter's old Russian business associates, and submit a proposal to buy Metro from 1 krone (roughly 10 pence) under which conditions the new company would take over all liabilities and move the headquarters to St Petersburg where Jon Asgeir had sought exile and Putin had vowed to protect him from his debtors granted Metro would expose the anti-Russian bias of Western Press. The Icelandic deal would mean Frettabladid would become Metro Iceland, and Jon Asgeir was also rumoured to look into launching a new range of Russian supermarkets called Бонус.

Or, or, or...but lost between meetings, the lack of superimposed deadlines and an inability to make up my mind about which scenario to put forward, which might have been good seeing how all of the scenarios I had in my mind would only be bordering on funny if you were intimately familiar with this particular part of the media industry, it never happened.

So, big fail on my account there, which brings me back to the Norwegian Office of Enlightenment's spoof (somehow that name reminds me of the Enlightened Tobacco Company which once produced Death and Death Light, the slower death, cigarettes): great stuff (any awkwardness in the translation is down to me and lack of time as I'm preparing for ... another meeting:-) )

What did I say?

Pleased to come out of a meeting and find, as I predicted would happen yesterday, that Mecom has secured another covenant test date extension from its banks - this one until 30 April. Not that you had to be a wizard to see that coming, but following the company closely helps. Now for the bigger question: which asset(s) will Mecom sell next? Its minority stake in Dutch AD Niewsmedia, its majority stake in Polish PressPublica, or something else entirely? 

Update 02-04/09, 10am CET: The Telegrahp has an interesting take on yesterday's RNS.