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Are newspapers content farms?

With all the hullabaloo over content farms, Google, and whether Huffington Post really is a content farm, as of late, two contrary perspectives struck me last week.

First, I attended Robert Picard's talk on media business models, as mentioned here. What I didn't mention was some points he also raised the last time I heard him on this issue:

"Media is also in trouble today because they produce very little original content, most of what they publish is just edited content from the wire services. Most newspapers only produce about 20 per cent of their content themseleves. The rest stems from photo- or wire agencies or is copied from other newspapers," he said.

He argued that to survive newspapers need better news and information than our competitors, different news and information than our comptetitors and news people value, saying: "You don't win this competition by just copying everyone else".

That much should be obvious, but then fast-forward to this whole debate about content farms such as Demand Media, or to the discussion of whether Huffington Post, recently acquired by AOL, really should be classified as a content farm:

"In other words, I think we are nearing the high water mark of the Content Farm AdSpam business model, and in a few months it will be drastically curtailed as search engines start to select for the original authors and content spam blockers start to just cut out certain sites - which is why Demand Media, HuffPo et al's backers have to rake in the cash now.

"It is exit or bust (or at least a shorter and more brutish existence) so I expect to see a plethora of content farms and near-content farms trying to sell themselves now," wrote Alan Patrick over at Broadstuff.

That spurred this post:

"I disagreed with a recent blog post by Alan Patrick which described the Huffington Post as a content farm. I do not think that the alleged lack of original content at the Huffpo is any worse than at many newspapers: so I concluded that it is not a content farm. It could be interpreted the other way: newspapers are content farms too.

"How much original content is there in newspapers?" asks the blogger, and then goes on to analyse at the ten most recent stories from The Guardian's RSS feed.

He concludes:

"There are only three pieces of really original content out of the ten I looked at, and two of those are related to the arts and are not really what I would call news (nothing wrong with that, of course).

"Journalists are more skilled reporters and better writers than those who churn out stuff for the likes of Demand Media. They add some original content by chasing up quote, but that is really all they add. If the Guardian is not a content farm, most of it is not very different from one."

Do check out the full post here. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts...

What the geek hierarchy may reveal about Julian Assange

I've been following the Wikileaks story intensly for a good long time, and writing a bit of commenteray on it here (in Norwegian), so I couldn't help but laugh reading this story on it over at Brian's blog just now.

In his usual understated way, Brian, commenting on a headline from Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s recent book, writes:

"Until today I didn’t know what to make of the WikiLeaks affair. Frankly I’ve pretty much been ignoring it. I mean, what has he been trying to do? Destroy Western Civilisation seems to be the basic complaint, although maybe I have that wrong..."

"... But tormenting a cat is a serious accusation. Maybe I will have to start taking this story seriously."

Whereupon Michael chips in in the comment section:

"Weird hacker nerds are usually nice to cats, in my experience. If these accusations are true, it puts everything in an entirely different light."

Which all reminded me of this marvellous graphic (above) I found via Adam's microblog.

Make of it what you wish, for me it feels very apt until we reach the light blue band. From that point on I think I've organised so many local conferences I've moved beyond wishing for more, and deep down I'm sure I nurture the hope to change the world, but the rest is on not really on my agenda. Or, self-actualisation is cool of course, I do hope the answer to that lies somewhere in my deadlines...



The Media industry: stuck in a rut of daily chaos

What if it's that endless routine of trying to create some sort of order out chaos, minute by minute, day by day, that's to blame for the media's challenges in coping with change?

I've been listening to Robert Picard, currently director of research at the Reuters Institute, again. He was in Oslo today giving a talk on Business Models and why the media is having a hard time grappling with change.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you may remember that when I interviewed him last year he talked about of how deadline pressure was negatively affecting the media's ability to innovate.

Today he talked a lot about path dependencies, and how your structures make you vulnerable.

On the one hand he referred to many historical examples on how path dependencies make it difficult to see the opportunities along the way:

From an early stage railway companies saw themselves as railway, not transportation, companies. So when trucking and airlines came along they didn't see either as a threat. And by the time they realised they'd been in the transportation industry all along, they had a big problem on their hands.

"It's the same with media, we used to think we were in the newspaper industry," said Picard. "Our business consisted of creating and printing newspapers. So when radio came along we thought that's not the business we're in, so we dropped it. You could say the same for the Internet or mobiles."

As a side note, I think this has changed a bit over the last few years with what we sometimes call "the mobile revolution", but what perhaps should be more accurately called a revolution in mobile payment.

On the other hand, Picard talked about how routines and processes combine with company culture to stifle change and innovation – whereas start-ups have no organisational inertia of this kind to hold them back.

Among media's inertia problems he listed:

- Most involve highly structured and complex entities

- Most have really strong process orientation to accommodate ongoing production

- Most have personnel with strong professional values which limits the field for innovation and create institutionalised roles which undercut innovation.

- Media's tendency to reuse things that worked once

I think, as I mentioned, that media's attitude to the evolving mobile market of the last few years is a slightly different story. You could argue that the innovation in formats have been insufficient, but most media organisations have embraced mobile platforms wholeheartedly.

As for what was perhaps last year's most hyped gadget however, Picard said he was a bit of a cynic.

"If you look at the electronics markets most devices top out at 20 or 30 per cent of the market. A tablet is a consumption device, most people don't use it to create stuff on so you need at least two devices. The many different tablet sizes will also be a problem in terms of penetration"

That fragmentation, both in the mobile- and tablet market, might spell more chaos to come, in other words. That is, if media companies try to develop native apps for all the new mobile platforms and don't look more to developing web apps that can run on all platforms. But that is a different debate.

Back to the issue chaos and how our daily chaos affects the industry's ability to innovate, I'm reminded of an excellent quote I first picked up via Paal Leveraas:

"We stand in the stream of events, while busy chasing deadlines the world changes and we are too busy to notice the change."

Actually, while searching for various takes on "stuck in a rut", Google suggested I'd take a look at U2's classic "Stuck in a moment". I think Google might be on to something, keeping in mind this Picard quote from last year ( the slight changes in brackets are mine):

"Because of the pressures of news – you can’t have dead air or blank pages – so much of your focus and time spend is on today [the here and now, on moments in time] that you don’t have much time to think about tomorrow."


Why did you stop blogging?

Erm... well, actually I never did.

So when someone asked me this question at a conference, where I was giving a talk about the state of digital media, recently, I thought it was about time I'd deliver on my promise to myself to start blogging more here again (the person who asked me was referring specifically to this blog).

In short, my blogging so seldom here as of late is only because I took on a few new assignments, which involves blogging, columnisting and writing elsewhere - and moved. House hunting and moving took up a lot of my time in the months before Christmas.

Also, for the last half year, my beat has changed somewhat. It's weird how covering media go through phases: one year it's all about M&As (06-07), then social media (08-09), then tech (2010). Seriously, even the media journalism I've done in 2010 (mostly magazine features and working as a media columnist) was predominantly about tech.

2010 was the year where all the focus of the media industry seemed to shift to digital platforms – in particular smart phones and tablets - while internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter continued to influence a changing media landscape. So it's only natural that as of August the main gist of my work changed from covering the media industry to focusing more on how the tech industry is influencing our day to day lives.

That does not mean I've stopped following the media industry or will change the focus of this blog dramatically, I'm also still in charge of the Norwegian Online News Association.

But I do think a blog is something that kind of grows with the blogger, and my focus has shifted somewhat over the last year or so. Certain media stories tire me, certainly the more newsy ones where you feel this is just history repeating for the umpteenth time. But media change still fascinates me.

To be honest, it's perhaps more precise to say that change fascinates me, and at the moment it's like we're standing in a flood of change, one where the undercurrents are so strong it's hard not to be swept away with the flood. That makes for interesting times, my only challenge is finding time to write about it all...

Actually, while talking about how media coverage go through phases, here's a recent, and I think very to the point, summary when you look at covering all things digital (taking into account that Norway was much slower to adopt social media than e.g the US or UK):

"A short summary of web communication trends from #sw2011: Social media is soo 2009, apps soo 2010. 2011--> is mobile internet (+ html5)" (Hans Petter Fosseng summing up a web conference today)