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Newspaper struggles to grade its journalists

How do you measure your journalists' productivity? That is a conondrum the management at Sandefjord's Blad, a Norwegian regional newspaper, currently is working hard to solve.

So far the management at the Mecom-owned newspaper is measuring the size of the journalists' articles. For that purpose the managers have come with a points system akin to that of the Eurovison Song Contest, or Weight Watchers for that matter: 6 points for page leads, 3 points for smaller stories and 1 point for briefs. Ideally, a journalist should score at least 12 points a day. Now in all fairness it should be said that this system is not only used to measure individual journalists, but also to measure production flow and how the organisation can work more effectively as a whole. However, one problem the newspaper's management has yet to solve is: how do you measure quality? Editor Vibeke Jörgensen told a colleague at this was both a demanding and exciting challenge.

Personally I'm more partial to a suggestion from one of Journalisten's readers last year that all journalists should come with a product declaration - declaring all affiliations in politics, business etc - but that is perhaps a subject for a different blog post...

Friday Caption Contest

Actually, it's more of an excuse to publish a photo I snapped a while back and rather like. It's of a statue of the legendary naval officer Tordenskjold (also spelled Tordenskiold, in english "Thundershield"), and there's an interesting idiom related to this guy (see below the photo):


I quite like the phrase Tordenskiolds soldater (the soldiers of Tordenskiold), meaning that it is the same people you see everywhere: in the media and as boardmembers of companies, associations etc.

The phrase comes from Tordenskiold's siege of Karlsten-Marstrand, when Tordenskiold invited the commander of the fortress to inspect his troops which were lined up in the city streets below the fortress. The commander went through all the streets in town and everywhere he saw soldiers lined up. He realised that he did not have a chance against Tordenskiold, so he decided to surrender under the condition that all his troops were allowed to leave the fortress unharmed. In reality, as soon as the Swedish commander had inspected them, Tordenskiold's soldiers ran around the corner and lined up in another street where the commander then inspected the same troop for the second or third time (I've heared several different versions of this story, but all relate how Tordenskiold tricked the Swedes by making them believe his troop was much bigger than what was the case).

Do we need rules for journalists’ use of social media?

Are you a journalist 24/7? Does the company you work for own you? Does it harm your credibility as a journalist if you share personal opinions online? Are some opinions more appropriate to share than others?

These are just some of many questions raised by the recent debates on journalists and social media. Some companies, such as Bloomberg, have very strict policies on how journalists may or may not use social media, but in Norway such rules have been absent until now.

However, it was recently brought to my attention that several of the country’s biggest media organisations are working on social media rules for their journalists, which caused The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA), an organisation I’m heading, to host a debate on this last week.

The reason? We thought it was much better to get such a debate out in the open than have it confined by the walls of each individual media company. If Norwegian is not Greek to you, you’ll find video and notes from the debate over at NONA’s blog, but as these are questions many media organisations are discussing these days, I’ve also translated some key quotes and questions here:

"The home alone party is over"
'The home alone party is over, now the adults are back and they want rules,' said Jan Omdahl, internet and technology commentator for Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet. He said Dagbladet’s journalists had been playing around with social media from an early stage, but now the media executives had entered the arena, demanding rules.

'It’s very typical that those who don’t use social media, or have started using it very recently, want rules, whereas those who have used social media a lot take the contrary view,' said Nina Nordbö, a social media advisor at Norway’s public broadcaster (NRK) and NONA board member.

'It is perhaps our smallest problem that we lack rules for social media. At the same time one of our biggest problems is that we are part of a tradition for one-way communication that makes us ill-equipped for exploiting the social web,' said Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of and NONA board member.

Grey areas
He felt it as important that we learned how to utilise this arena, and make our mistakes now rather than later. He also emphasised that had strict rules on ethics and he couldn’t see that they needed any more rules than these.

However, Omdahl also pointed out that journalists encounter a whole new set of challenges online. ’Even if I as a social media user think we can just continue as we always have done, I do see that we can benefit from raising awareness about these challenges. For instance: should I reply when I get questions on Twitter about why Dagbladet has used five different angles on that sex podcast on Should I confer with my bosses before I reply? Is it appropriate that I share my opinions on one of our most heavily criticised front pages?'

Guidelines or rules
Hanne Kirkenes from pointed out that in their organisation it was not the editors but the journalists who had asked for rules.

'In my experience, our journalists are divided: those who take to social media very naturally and those who think journalists should not be using social media at all,' she said, explaining that as a result of this they had a few simple guidelines on social media. They also had held internal discussions on this and would continue to do so.

John Einar Sandvand, a digital strategist with Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, explained that his company was in the process of implementing rules for how their journalists use social media, but suggested three very simple ones:

'For social media I would start with three very basic principles, and then one can elaborate on each of these according to specific issues:

1) The media company should be genuinely positive to its staff being active in social media

2) Social media activities must be done in a way which maintains the professional integrity of journalists

3) Stay loyal to your employer

You can read more about his thoughts on this on his excellent blog Beta Tales (in English).

Impartiality, sources and PR
We touched on several other issues which tend to come up in one form or another whenever journalists' use of social media is up for discussion, hence I'll just mention three of these briefly here: 

Impartiality: Can a blogger with a strong political agenda or view on a particular issue work as a journalist? Or would it be more useful to ask if a journalist or commentator can do more credible journalism when we know his our her agenda? Espen Egil Hansen suggested that bloggers were blurring the lines between reporting and commenting, that commentators like Omdahl could still do credible journalism and that we in the future would see more journalists becoming individual brands .

Consensus: Is it a problem that journalists and commentators mostly just talk to their peers online, and does this not exacerbate media's herdlike behaviour? A Norwegian editor recently argued this was the case, that discussing their ideas on Twitter created a consensus among the country's commentators, and therefore we need rules to regulate media's use of social media. To this it was pointed out that hacks and columnists have always associated mostly with other media folks, but that at least on Twitter they do so openly and not behind closed doors in the press club - and on Twitter they also have (an opportunity) to engage with their readers and can make an effort to expand the network of people they talk and listen to.        

PR: Oh, and somebody asked if it wasn't problematic that marketeers and academics could get to know a journalist's interests so well on Twitter that they would know exactly which journalist to pitch a certain issue to. My answer? No, no, no: I would LOVE more targeted pitches, if all PRs and marketeers would make the effort to figure out what my beat is and what issues I'm likely to write about I would be absolutely delighted....

Update 23/11-09, 21:59 CET: see also Think Before You Re-Tweet: L.A. Times' Updates Social Media Rules for Journos.

Twitter mishaps and netiquette for journalists

Evidence suggests navigating the social web can be a bit of challenge for journalists, but does that mean we need a new set of ethical guidelines to safeguard their conduct?

Last week, while organising a debate on whether we need rules for journalists’ use of social media, I asked friends, colleagues and Twitter-followers for examples of journalists’ missteps and transgressions on the popular micro blogging site. My question threw up some interesting examples, and I’ll highlight some of those here.

Digital Doorstepping
But first I feel I should point out that, even though Twittiquette is the hot topic these days, it would be wrong to single out Twitter: these examples are very similar to journalists’ "missteps and transgressions" on other social media sites such as blogs and social networks.

For instance, only two years ago we had a similar discussion after bloggers and others reacted sharply to how some journalists solicited comments from bloggers who themselves experienced, or had friends who were caught up in, the Virginia Tech Massacre – leaving blog comments like "I would love to chat with you about this horrific event."

"Journalism has a long and dishonourable tradition of doorstepping the victims of tragedies. But in the digital age, the communities around the victims have voices to express their outrage at the media's behaviour - and that's what we're seeing here," said Adam Tinworth in a blog post.

Bullying your sources
Now, I’m not so sure it would not be entirely far-fetched to say that journalist have a long dishonourable tradition for bullying their sources either. However, it does look rather embarrassing when the bullying is conducted in a public place like Twitter, such as in this exchange between former National Post technology reporter David George-Cosh and marketing consultant April Dunsford earlier this year.

After Dunsford tweeted an observation from being interviewed by George-Cosh, leaving his name out of it, he identified himself when he answered back with some very aggressive tweets. You can read the whole exchange here. Ouch. There are of course situations where journalists feel bullying, e.g. politicians, is entirely legitimate, even create TV-shows devoted to it, but here?

Twitter reveals journalists have opinions
An entirely different kind of example is that of Odd Myklebust, society editor for Norwegian regional newspaper Drammens Tidenede, who, two weeks before this year’s Norwegian parliamentary election, tweeted that this year’s regional political candidates were the worst ever. This created an outcry and spurred a debate on journalists and social media, and Myklebust later apologised saying the statement was too tabloid.

This incident reminds me of the Washington Post’s new, much ridiculed social media policy which came about after one of its managing editors, Raju Narisetti posted a few tweets that revealed he had opinions on issues such as health care, deficits and term limits. Impartiality is crucial to the WaPo policy, and Techchrunch has a ball with it in Twitter Unearths A Secret: Journalists Have Opinions:

"When word leaked out that he had his own opinions and was sharing them on Twitter, apparently the WaPo top brass scrambled quickly to get this under control. That included Narisetti deleting his Twitter account. Pathetic."

On the Norwegian incident, Per Valebrokk, editor-in-chief of business news site E24, wrote: "If Myklebust really means what he said on Twitter, why doesn’t he write it in his newspaper? What is really the biggest problem? That those working in the media have opinions, or that they’re not clear enough in their newspapers?"

Now, I can’t get myself worked up over these incidents revealing journalists to have opinions, but I should also, for the record, mention, that I know Myklebust from my time as a columnist at Drammens Tidende (where I effectively started my media career).

Making offensive remarks, then deleting them
I think a worse case is that of The Daily Telegraph’s former technology blogger Milo Yiannopoulos. I remember reacting to the tone of several of his tweets when I followed him on Twitter, but one incident in particular was later brought to my attention by someone who followed the situation more closely.

"Back when he was @yiannopoulos rather than @nero, Milo Yiannopoulos tweeted that he hoped the police 'beat the shit out of those wankers', referring to the G20 protestors. Then he deleted the tweets when one was killed," this person said, and described how @yiannopoulos also made aggressive remarks to some tweeters and deleted the tweets once they had been seen - adding that unpleasantness seemed not to upset people so much as deleting your remarks once they had caused a stir.

What a lot of this comes down to, especially Yiannopoulos’ and George-Cosh’s cases, is bad editorial judgements. If editors see one of their reporters or commentators make such ill-informed judgements repeatedly online, I imagine they would question how well this person is suited to represent the media company and at the very least have serious talk with the person in question. Also, we can all make gaffes, say things that are not well thought through, but most people recognise this - and apologising for it makes all the difference.

Personally, I don’t think a whole new set of rules is called for, but I organised a debate on this issue last week for The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) as it had been brought to my attention that rules are under way in Norway’s biggest media organisations. It proved a very constructive and useful debate, and I’ll get back to some of the key points raised in a separate post.

Essential Advice
Still, this debate reminds me of something I copied from my friend Adriana’s blog several years ago, in 2006 I believe, and have often used when explaining netiquette to various audiences:

"On the internet you are not an institution. If you want to be and behave like one, you get isolated and bypassed... It's back to communication between human beings, communities and sometimes mobs. The rules of social interactions apply - if people challenge you on something you have done or said and you don't respond, expect a commensurate impact on your reputation or credibility.

"If people make fun of you or try to embarrass you, the choice is to remain silent in hope of appearing dignified or to shoot back, with indignation or with humour. It depends. Different responses will be appropriate at different times and different circumstances. That is why etiquette is so complicated. Media and communications strategies don't even come close. The main difference is that you don't need to be 'trained' for online communication; it's the one that you already know. And whether you are good at it or not has nothing to do with communication skills but with respect for others and some good manners."

This post has been edited following Milo Yiannopoulos' objections in the comments.

Opening hours for newspaper comments

How would you feel if I were to say the opening hours for commenting on this blog's posts are from 9am to 3pm?

Recently I came across a link to this screengrab from Norwegian news site (via @prinsessemarte ), stating that a given article was open for comments between 7am and 9pm. The wording here sounds a bit strange to me, but as far as I know "opening hours" for commenting on newspaper articles are not so uncommon - though this is not always stated so explicity, and is often phrased differently.

Because news sites have editorial responsibility for libellous comments, they have to be moderated pre or post publication, and many news sites will moderate comments continuously during daytime while all comments submitted at night, say between 9-10pm and 7-8am, will be held in a queue until the moderators pick up their job and start approving them in the morning. This for the simple reason that people are more likely to drink and sumbit comments that are libellous, hateful or incoherent during night time (and this is not just a theoretical possibility, from what I've seen at news sites I've worked I suspect the majority of comments submitted during night time are libellous, hateful or incoherent). Personally, I know I have a habit of talking about the social web as a virtual pub, in which context the term opening hours actually makes sense - though I'm not sure how far I should try to stretch that metaphore, certainly people tend to behave very differently in the comment sections of major news sites than what they do on the world wide web at large...

Outrage as vandals wreck gingerbread town

Several hundred gingerbread houses were smashed to pieces as vandals broke into a tent harbouring "the world's biggest gingerbread town" in downtown Bergen last night.

Outrage over the havoc wrought by "the gingerbread vandals" was the first thing that met me when I logged on to Twitter this morning, and the story is currently all over the frontpages of Norway's national news sites.

A police officer investigating the affair has told the country's media that to wreck hundreds of gingerbread houses made by Bergen's children the perpetrators must be close to retarded (in Norwegian), and it has been suggested that the outrage will be even bigger if it turns out the mischief was wrought by a "foreigner" (here to be understood as someone not born in Bergen as there are those who feel Bergen is like a nation within a nation. People from other Norwegian cities, especially Oslo, are often made to feel like foreigners there).

The gingerbread town is a popular tradition in Bergen dating back to 1991 and has more than 5000 fans on Facebook, according to There's currently a flurry of proposals on Facebook, Twitter ( #pepperkakeby ) and in mainstream media about rebuilding the town - and, more flippantly, campaigning for homeless gingerbread men and women. 

Christmas traditions can certainly be serious business in Norway. For my last column for Viking Magazine, I talked to a woman who had something close to a Phd on Christmas dinners. She said Christmas is like a food memorial feast, and few traditions are as sacred to Norwegians as those associated with this time of the year.

Not because of the religious aspects, but because there's nothing like this season's food to realize family belonging - and, mind you, there's a lot of time and effort that goes into making this food. I remember how devasted I was when I lived in London, or Hertfordshire strictly speaking, and my perfect gingerbread house, carefully decorated, only lasted a few days before it melted before our eyes in the dampness of our flat (though or landlord insisted it was only "condensation", and when I called a solicitor friend for advice on how to get out of the fixed term contract he said something to the tune of how 'tenants in this country have all sorts of rights, but acting on them could ruin your life'. When we still tried, our landlord sent a former MI5 agent around to our flat to have chat, but that's a different story). 

My point? Christmas cookies, and especially ginger bread houses, is no laughing matter.

I know this story easily lends itself to ridicule, and a good sub would have a ball with it, but last time anything remotely similar happened to me I was 27 and I still found it depressing (to make matters worse, we tried twice: but the last house was constructed by my then partner, who is Dutch, and only stayed in one piece for a day).            

This gingerbread town was made by a kindergarden in a different part of Norway, and the photo is from Drammensbibliotekets Flickr stream, republished here under a Creative Commons licence

Getting rid of Montgomery worked few wonders for the soon-to-close Netzeitung

M. DuMont Schauberg (MDS) proved to be no saviour for Netzeitung, the German online only newspaper started in 2000 by the same company that launched Norwegian online newspaper Nettavisen in 1996.

Employees at was was once Mecom Germany were some of the most vocal opponents of Mecom and its boss, David Montgomery, and much was made of how the company would return to German ownership when the British company's German arm was acquired by MDS early this year. Alas, MDS proved to be no knight in shining armour for Netzeitung. Friday it was announced the pioneering online newspaper will close at the end of the year (article from yesterday, in German, via Piet Bakker on Twitter). Olav Anders Övrebö, who worked at Netzeitung in its early days, has more here and here.

Barcelona calling

This month Personal Democracy Forum will be held in Europe, for what I believe is the first time ever.

"For six years, Personal Democracy Forum has been THE place in America where politicos and technologists gather to learn from each other, network, and glimpse the future. Now that conversation is coming to Barcelona, November 20-21, at the spectacular Torre Agbar," according to Pdf Europe's organisers.

The line-up is pretty spectacular too, with speakers like Mick Fealty, Charles Leadbeater, Tom Watson, Amanda Rose etc - go check it out here. I don't suppose I'll make it there, though it would be a hell of a good excuse to go see Barcelona and catch up with som really interesting folks, but the organisers have provided me with a discount code which will save my readers 20% of the $250 registration fee (email me if you're interested).


Lord Rothermere rejected freesheet partnership with Schibsted

While new CEO of pan-European media group Schibsted, Rolv Erik Ryssdal, is hard at work trying to charm the analysts of the world’s financial centres, its now retired CEO, Kjell Aamot, is giving the odd talk closer to home and sharing some fascinating tidbits while he’s at it.

At a recent Norwegian media conference he talked of a partnership he offered Lord Rothermere, the proprietor of Daily Mail and General Trust Plc (DMGT), while sharing a cab with him a few years ago.

- I asked him if he wanted to team up with us to launch a freesheet in France. He declined and said he had no faith in freesheets. If he were to start a freesheet it would be to protect newspapers such as The Evening Standard. In the same cab was a representative for a French media company. He called me later and asked if Schibsted was interested in a partnership, Aamot, told Kampanje.

That was the start of what is now the rather successful freesheet 20 Minutes, which I believe is jockeying with Metro’s French edition for the position as France’s most read newspaper. Aamot said he remembered the conversation with Lord Rothermere vividly in light of how Evening Standard was sold to former KGB-agent Alexander Lebedev earlier this year and last month was turned into a freesheet…