Norwegian government and travel industry launch Travelhome.no (Reishjem.no)

About a week after the ash cloud from Eyjafallajökull started wrecking havoc to airtravel all over Europe, The Federation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises (HSH) has launched Reishjem.no (Travel.no) in collaboration with the Norwegan foreign department.

Unveiled yesterday evening, the new website is almost identical to Schibsted-owned VG.no's Haikesentralen (Hitchhiker's Central) - dubbed a "mini craigs list" by Jeff Jarvis - but enables professional tour operators, mostly coach companies, to advertise their routes in Norway and Europe for free. The site will only be up during times of emergency such as the one we're experiencing now.

It's a useful site. It would have been much easier if I could have found a coach company with a direct route to England and seats still available when Journalism.co.uk trainer Colin Meek got stranded in Oslo last weekend than organising a private car via Haikesentralen. But isn't this too little, no routes I could have used are currently advertised there, and much too late?

I once worked as a PR for a government-owned destination marketeer so I understand why such collaborative measures take time to organise and get up and running. But this kind of institutional inertia is exactly what makes governments and big companies appear slow, incompetent and often irrelevant in today's media landscape, and that goes for many media companies too.

As Jarvis says: "What’s failing us, all in all, is our power structures, which aren’t built to think big and fast at the same time." 

Thing is, more and more of us have become accustomed to turning to our online networks when we need help or get stuck. Most of the time someone in those networks will respond instantly, or at least within the day. It will certainly not take a week before our calls for help are answered. The beauty of this is that the online tools we use to build such networks are there for governments and companies to exploit as well, and yet, almost eleven years after the blog went mainstream, too few governements and travel companies have fully done so.

As mentioned in my column this week (in Norwegian) several airline companies, such as KLM (in English), Norwegian, SAS, did make an effort to keep their passengers informed via Facebook and Twitter, and many passengers shared information that could benefit their fellow travellers here too. But it's a half-way house at best.

These tools and sites are so easy to use that there really is no excuse: one of my favourite places for travel updates during the ash cloud crisis was this Coveritlive bloog by Tnooz, which is nothing but an aggregation of travel related Twitter and newsfeeds and requires no techical know-how to set up.

However, whether we call it the internet age, age of social media, web 2.0 or what have you, the age we live in today requires a different way of thinking than when monopolithic media controlled most publishing platforms. When writing my column this week I was reminded of something Adam Tinworth once told me about how we need to move from seeing journalism as a product to seeing it as a service (in Norwegian). It would seem a bit strange, though not entirely out of sync with my own experiences, but perhaps that goes for the travel industry too?


Why innovation is so hard for the news industry

It's the deadlines, stupid.

"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 that you don’t have much time to think about tomorrow," said professor Robert Picard in a recent, in-depth interview I did with him. The interview, for this magazine, is not online, but this was one of the quotes that really stuck with me.

The question of why the media industry is so slow to adapt to change has been on my mind for many years - I mean, being flexible and thriving in the face of change were things we were taught were prerequisites for a journalism careeer as early as high school - and I have several more or less finished blog posts on this sitting on my desktop. Sadly, what was true in 2006 or 2008 is still pretty much true, and I might still return to some of my earlier unpublished musings on this later, but this quote really brings home one of the obvious issues at work.

I won't try to pretend that I'm immune to that sort of behaviour myself, though I would like to think that I've learnt from early mistakes. Take blogging for instance, in December 2002 a friend told me about "how blogs would turn the world upside down" (this was at the time of the infamous Trent Lott affair), and started reading blogs at the time, I even read books on blogging such as Cluetrain, but kept blaming my deadlines for why I couldn't possibly blog myself until a friend set up a blog for me (this blog, incidentally) in September 2005 and told me to get going. Since I soon saw my mistake in not taking up blogging sooner I've been extra careful since to pay more attention to, and get to grips with, emerging technology and trends.

But back to that Picard interview. While writing my contribution to "Playing Footsie with the FTSE? The great crash of 2008 and the crisis in journalism", I was reminded of how the media always has been much better at covering events than process and trends, and the often short term focus of the newsroom due to institutional constraints and bad planning. Could it be that even though we complain about how politicians seem unable to think further ahead than the next election, they're still masters of long term vision compared journalists who're unable to think beyond next deadline? And media executives?

"The only people who are worse than journalists when it comes to short term vision is media executives who never seem to be able to think further than the next quarter," said Picard, who didn't have much faith in journalism school on this point either: "I don’t hold my breath for journalism education because journalism professors are not the most creative types and rarely make innovation and entrepeneurialism a priority."

Still, compared to when he lectured on "The Future of News" in Oslo last year (these quotes are not from the lecture, but from my interview with him after the talk), Picard was more moderate, not quite as controversial, this year, a fact he explained by saying that media "companies are not so much in denial as last year, so I don't need to hit quite so hard to make them wake up."


Newspaper group wants to make money selling e-readers and mobile platforms

Danish regional newspaper company Fynske Medier unveiled plans to invest another two million pounds (20m DK) in developing technology such as e-readers and mobile platforms this week.

The media group has already had some success selling online systems, and I'm assuming we're talking about content management systems here, to other smaller online publications, and wants to develope this side of its business further, according to Mediawatch.dk (quoting financial daily Börsen). The newspaper group even has international ambitions, though the story had me wondering if this market isn't already rather saturated? And how well is a smallish newspaper group like this positioned to compete in it?

Update 22.03.2010 09:14 CET: Not that I think it's a bad thing that media companies look for ways to diversify their business and create new sources of revenue, but this story came hot on the heels on a Guardian blog post on New York Times (NYT) and CNN trying to keep up with tech companies - with the executive editor of the former saying that NYT is as much of a tech company as a journalism company now.

Obviously, mobile techonology, smart phones, as well as the need to find new ways of making money online, has made it an imperative for media companies to either invest more in developing new products and solutions, or partner with someone who can do it for them. My point is only that a) media groups dabbling in tech development like this is not new, and the Guardian story had me wondering how much of this is just re-branding or spin; b) most of the bigger media players are rushing to grab a part of the mobile market these days and investing in in-house development; c) how well are most media companies, hampered by institutional inertia and constraints really suited to take on more agile tech start-ups?   

There's a lot of buzz around e-readers, mobile platforms, apps and architecture these days, and some of it is really, really exciting. Of course media companies have to be where their readers are, ideally also foresee where media habits are moving, but this new bonanza in the mobile market reminds me a bit about the heady start of the Danish freesheet war, of the days when all media companies had to have their own freesheet. That, of course, was great fun to cover as a journalist, it was a very colourful drama from beginning to end, but it didn't end very well for the media companies involved.


Circulation figures confirm the future is still online, local and in the long tail

Yesterday, the 2009 circulation figures for Norwegian newspapers were published, and it was pretty much the same story as the year before, and the year before that come to think of it.

So, putting on my obsessive compulsive blogger hat, I figured I might as well stick with pretty much the same blog title as in previous years so that all media friends in ADD mode reading this post will be reminded that we’re speaking of a trend (pardon my somewhat private joke, but my sarcasm is aimed as much at myself as anybody else).

Some niche papers saw pretty decent circulation increases in 2009, though the overall picture for niche papers is more mixed than in the previous three years. Small local newspapers could also record increases, while the big regional newspapers saw circulation decrease. The worst circulation decline was reserved for national tabloids VG (7,7 per cent) and Dagbladet (14,7 per cent) – but if my memory serves me right these papers’ have seen circulation decline steadily for close to two decades now, it has certainly been the case for the last three years, and both papers now have more readers online than in print. Online is still a growth area in terms of readership, but it will be interesting to see how online ad revenues have fared in 2009 when the big media companies publish their annual results. For full details on the 2009 circulation figures, check out Kampanje or Journalisten (in Norwegian).

As for the decline experienced by the big regionals, I wonder if this is not a result of the effects of consolidation, perhaps combined with recession. The merger between the big regionals and Schibsted-owned Aftenposten has led to many of the same articles being used by all the papers, and I wonder if this has not contributed to some homes opting to keep only a national paper - and not a national and a regional as many homes used to do - especially with more households feeling the economic chill.


Notes from the changing media landscape

On Metro, Foursquare, the future of freesheets, Facebook-journalism and creative disruption.

Okay, so the headline of this post is pretty much the subtitle of this blog, but I often come across posts on interesting developments that I have limited time to blog about and know I easily will forget if I just tweet about them or save them to Delicious (I'm on Publish2 too, but Delicious is where most of my peers are, and old habits die hard). Also, I don't want to turn this blog into just a collection of links, but it's much easier to refind and return to stuff I mention here than on Delicious. In fact, one aspect I find very useful about blogging is, as I've previously described, that it works almost as a backup of my brain. So here's a few of the many interesting blog posts I've been thinking about recently.

Metro + Foursquare: following Monday's announcement of the new partnership between Metro Canada and the location-based social network Foursquare, the two most interesting posts that flashed past me was ReadWriteWeb's The Era of Location-as-Platform Has Arrived and Mark Briggs' A Foursquare First: teaming with a news org. In the latter post, both the suggestion on how open APIs eventually will take over and the one on how mobile news services will become location specific make sense to me. See also: Foursquare for local business marketing (latter link added 12:18 CET)

Free dailies 2010: the age of the happy monopolist: "Free newspapers were one of the big stories of the noughties, and came to symbolise the primacy of ‘free’ and the imminent demise of paid-for papers." Interesting analysis from Piet Bakker, who charts the rise and fall of freesheets and outlines what conditions they thrive in.

Creative Disruption: What could Kodak have done differently? (via Adam's blog): there are, as Adam mentions, many lessons for newspaper publishers here - even in 2010.

Dan Blank: How I used Facebook to unearth a town's history (via Adam on Twitter): For short, I referred to this as Facebook-journalism in the intro, but that is probably not quite accurate. Still, what kept playing in my mind when I read this amazing story was how we could use similar techniques to create better crowd-sourced hyperlocal journalism.

When I mention hyperlocal journalism though, I also think of how I recently saw hyperlocal journalism defined as "what we did when we actually had time to go out and talk to people in our communities (or something similar, I can't remember where I read it just now).

Just looking at my own family history, the local stories I've learned about through talking to random people I've met - especially when just after I graduated I spent a few months working in a pub - I know there are so many amazing stories that go unreported and that many people are very curious, passionate and interested in local history, which Dan Blank's experiences really show. In this own words:

"I want to share a story about how Facebook is allowing me to experience my past in new and incredible ways. Here is the premise:

  • I drove through my hometown (Howell, New Jersey) snapping pictures of every store, house, and landmark I could on the main road.
  • I uploaded 165 photos to Facebook, and shared it for anyone to see. 
  • So far, these photos have received more than 700 comments, adding stories, context, history and reactions. A variety of generations responded, some who remembered it in the 1950s and 1960s.

"What makes this remarkable is that I grew up in a faceless American suburb - full of cheap strip malls and tract housing. Almost everyone was a transplant from somewhere else, with waves of people settling there from New York, including my parents who moved from Queens... (do check out full post here)"


Time to support David Montgomery?

What should we make of the rumoured investor revolt against Mecom boss David Montgomery? My hunch is that it's nothing to cheer for.

This weekend Sunday Times ran a story on how Montgomery is facing shareholder rebellion, about a year after the failed board room coup against him. As someone who's followed the now pan-European media company since its early days I was asked if I knew what the inside story was.

In this particular case I don't, but if we look at the objections against his leadership brought forth after last year's revolt, and Mecom's continuing poor stock market performance this year, it seems to me that the man who gained a reputation as such a brutal cost-cutter durring his Mirror-days is simply not a brutal enough cost-cutter for the investors in question. 

When six Mecom directors stepped down after the failed bid to oust Montgomery last January, Mecom's continued investment in online strategy, at a time when the current economic downturn "warranted a total focus on cash generation", was cited by the disgruntled directors as a cause for concern - along with the accountability of the chairman and the chief executive to the board.

And let's face it: some people, like ex-Mecom director and ex-Wegener Chairman Jan Houwert, must have lost a lot of money on Mecom, while few of the once so optimistic prospects for profit margins have been met. But in today's market, investing in the online future seems like the only sensible thing to do, and not doing so could easily turn out to be suicidal.

It must also be said that we've seen some really good mashups, online ventures and agenda-setting computer assisted reporting (e.g as I've described here) from former Orkla Media - the Norwegian, Danish and Polish media group bought by Mecom in 2006 - under Mecom. Some of these look promising from a commercial point of view as well, but if the company overall has been and is making the right online investments remains to be seen.

I'm in two minds about the decision to invest in another costly proprietorial content management system (CMS) in Norway for instance, especially with Mecom's Danish arm on the face of it doing well with free open-source CMS Drupal, but that's partly because I personally perfer Drupal to most proprietorial CMS's I've worked in. It's many years since I've worked in the chosen CMS, Polopoply, though, and it might e.g have advantages to Drupal when it comes charging people securely online.

It's also interesting to contemplate what kind of CEO the rebellious shareholders would like to replace Montgomery with, and what kind of spin they could put on it. I can think of a few, but even though Montgomery is hated by many who remember him wielding the axe in his Mirror days, in this instant even Mecom's employee representatives, at least in Norway, are on his side.

"The media industry is going through a turbulent time, so stability is key... You can say what you want about Montgomery but at least he represents a line we eventually are following, which means we know what to expect," Jan-Erik Schau, an employee representative in Edda Media, Mecom's Norwegian arm, told a colleague.

If nothing else, this rumoured rebellion will probably mean we'll see a lot more positive news coming out of Mecom, after what's almost amounted to radio silence in the latter half of 2009 (following a lot of negative press last spring when it was struggling to renegotiate its banking covenants and seemed to be tethering on the brink of bankruptcy). What do you think?

Update 27.01.10 11:55 CET: Börsen, the Danish financial daily, reports today that according to anonymous sources familiar with the situation, Mecom shareholders are disappointed by how the share price have not improved more despite the capital injection this spring and the general upswing enjoyed by UK media shares in the latter half of 2009. A continuing concern over the debt level - which last year's "rebels" explicitly denied was a concern - and how Montgomery is said to have signalled an interest in further acquisitons, was also cited as worrisome.


Peace prize winner Obama meets the press

Much of the media speculation ahead of Obama's flying visit to Norway today has centered on what the one question he has said he will take from Norwegian press will be. And the question is:

Annette Groth, The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK): "Giving the peace prize to you has been described as premature, how can you use the prize to fulfill its intentions and counter that criticism?"

Obama reminds us that, as he said when he received it, the prize came as a complete surprise to him and others might have deserved it better, but says he will use the prize to address climate change, terrorism and a whole host of initiatives. The goal is not to win a popularity contest, but to help further America's goals, he asserts. He concludes that if he's successful the criticism will die down, if he's not successful in those tasks no awards can hide it.

The one question US press was allowed to ask, of course, turned out to really be three in one...

Much has been made of how Obama has cut his visit to Norway very short, snubbed a lunch invitation from the Norwegian king and declined to attend some of the functions the peace prize winner traditionally attends, but I'm not too surprised given how contentious, and in some respects awkward, this year's prize is - not at least in the US. In a talk after meeting the Norwegian prime minister Obama blamed all the work he had to do back in DC before the year comes to an end for having to cut his Oslo-visit so short.

Still, it's been rather amusing to follow the speculation among Norwegian journalists and Twitterati on Twitter as to what the one question would and should be...

Update 10/12-09 15:30 CET: See also John Einar Sandvand: How Norwegian news sites covered the Nobel peace prize cermony


Daily newsmagazines and the future of print journalism

Reporting is now a commdity, but journalism isn't - what implications does that have for print?

In the excellent post I mention in the intro, George F. Snell concludes: "If newspapers and magazines want to survive they should focus on journalism and leave the reporting to the web." He draws a sharp distinction between journalism and reporting and argues that the web has made reporting into a commodity (do check out the full post).

I think this is a very useful prism to see the strenghts and weaknesses of print and web through. I don't agree that bloggers can't do journalism though. If we are to use Snell's definitions of journalism and reporting, I think some bloggers at times do better journalism than paid journalists because mainstream media, and especially news sites, focus too much of their resources on reporting (update 10/12: for more on bloggers and journalism, see e.g  my contribution to "Playing Footsie with the FTS?").

But today's overcrowded marketplace and tough financial conditions challenges media organisations to look very closely at how they can add unique value, and Snell offers an excellent prism to see recent print innovations through. 

A few days ago Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet relaunched its Sunday edition in what can best be described as magazine format:

DagbladetSøndagsMagasin

I wasn't too impressed because it read like a smaller and thinner version of the same old Dagbladet. I'll probably still buy it from time to time, weekends being just about the only time of the week I still buy newspapers (that and when I'm travelling and short on laptop battery-time), but I would have been much more impressed if it came out looking something like this:

IJuanAntonioGiner

I must admit I shamelessly nicked this photo of Portugees daily newsmagazine I from Mark Hamilton post about it. This is a post I've been wanting to blog about for some time as Mark offers a really interesting review of "I". It's not so much the format that captures my imagination, though it seems to fit the content well, as the fact that it promises serious journalism that would satisfy Snell's definition - and it is def. something I would consider an attractive buy.

Not every day though. There's no way I could fit a daily newsmagazine into my daily routine, I've got more than enough with keeping up with my hundreds of RSS-feeds during the week, but it would be perfect for the slower pace of the weekend.

Incidentally, the newsmagazine might also be the direction Mecom is considering to take its newspapers in. The company is launching a pilot project in two of its Norwegian regional newspapers where these are to focus on stories rather than channels, and resources are to be divided 50/50 between print and online. The pilot-project is inspired by Danish media company Nordjydske Medier's "fully integrated" multimedia model, and we could see Mecom's pilot newspapers focus more on storytelling and analysis in print and more on news reporting online. It will be interesting to see how it works out...


Six pages of editorial content per week or you're out

Mecom-owned regional Sandefjord's Blad is not the only media organisation currently searching for ways to grade its journalists. Media site Kampanje reports today that Norwegian magazine group Hjemmet Mortensen is about to embark upon a new project for measuring staff productivity.

Under the new scheme, journalists and subs will be expected to produce at least six pages of editorial content per week each. Now, I don't know it only producing five pages or less will be a firing offense, that just sounds to me like a logical conclusion.

The father of the journalist union's Hjemmet Mortensen chapel is quoted in the article (in Norwegian) saying that it's obviously much easier to measure productivity in a food factory, and that it would be a shame if this new regime will lead to journalists opting for "easier" stories to satisfy the new productivity demands. In contrast to Sandefjord's Blad though, I am told the magazine group already has a regime in place to measure quality.


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 Journalisten.no 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):

Tordenskiold


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).


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 Agderposten.no (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...


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.


My first meeting with tabloid media and the dog who saved my life

Incidentally, this is the title of an old post I never got around to finishing, but, since I used this story last week for a column I write, I thought I’d finally make an attempt of blogging about it.

Now what got me thinking about this old, and rather personal story, was when Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet ran with a very controversial front page depicting the erratic behaviour of a Norwegian on trial for murder in Congo.A montage of photos of him appearing to be psychotic was accompanied by the title "See How Sick He Is".

Db.no

Following massive protests about the front page, many of the most vocal ones on micro blogging site Twitter, Dagbladet did apologise for what it dubbed its ”unmusical” coverage, though also ran a story with the Congo-prisoner’s mother saying the media should not stop showing how ill her son was as the most important thing for her was him getting proper help.

Media violations

What readers and commentators seemed to find most disturbing about this front page was how it depicted a man who was clearly mentally ill and should be spared media’s spotlight, accompanied by a title most found to be in very bad taste. However, what I felt was lacking in the debate that followed was how this kind of media ”violation” is not unusual. We saw it after the Tsunami in 2004, after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and have seen and see it in countless other instances.

Media’s handling of vulnerable people - either in a state of shock, or mentally ill people who provoke, or are caught up in, big news events - is a minefield, and one I am all too familiar with. When I was 17 I was run down by a car while out walking, and left to die next to a deserted forest road. Unconscious, bleeding heavily, face down in the snow and not visible from the road, I would not have been here today if it had not been for my dog getting help, but that’s another story (I’ve touched on it here, a friend has written more here).

Harsh meeting with the tabloid press

When the case came to court, a seemingly stressed reporter showed up and only wanted a quick photo, as it seemed he’d already written the story, at least in his mind. The photo he wanted was of me shaking hands with the guy who ran me down and left me to die, and the headline would be ”I forgive you”.

He never got that photo. Not because I have a burning hatred against the perpetrator, I had no memory of the car accident, still don’t, and everything that happened just seemed surreal to me when the case came to court. But something in me made me refuse, albeit hesitantly. I had to say no several times for the reporter to get the message, but the whole thing was so surreal to me that, looking back, I know, had I been approached differently, I might have accepted the proposition and lived to regret it.

Shock and fear

Today, I can see that I was still in a state of shock. This was quite some time after the accident, I don’t remember the year, but I lost my sense of fear for several years after the accident. When you wake up in a hospital just to be told you almost died in an accident you have no memory of it seems pointless to go around worrying about all the bad things that can happen. It had already happened.

Now, loosing my sense of fear was not entirely a bad thing, against all odds I accomplished a lot career wise in those years, but today I can acknowledge that I either I had a prolonged shock-like reaction to a near-death experience, or I had a slight change of personality.

Not black and white

The reason I’m sharing this story is not to crucify the reporter in question, rather I wanted to illustrate how difficult it can be to judge when a person is in shock or not. There are ethical boundaries it never is acceptable to break - and I would argue that in my case the reporter was trying to manufacture news rather than report it, which I don’t have much sympathy for.

Still, a lot of the time these cases are not black and white, though it is also worth reflecting on how the kind of opportunism the reporter in my case showed, is something often encouraged in reporters - admired even.

The "strong, human angle"

As a reporter you do want to talk with eyewitnesses after events like the Tsunami, or with the victim in court cases ranging from traffic accidents to rape, but they will for obvious reasons be affected by what they’ve experienced, and news values may crash with human concerns. The hunt for a ”strong human angle” may lead reporters to pay too little heed to the state of mind their interview-objects are in, which in this day and age often will cause not only strong reactions from those caught up in the event, but often also a backlash against the media organisation the reporters represents.

I find this last bit both comforting and encouraging: in a world where social media radically lowers the barrier for making your opinion heard, media organisations are frequently held to court for the decisions they make, and sometimes forced to apologise, even when media practitioners all to well understand the rationale for those ”unmusical decisions”.

TajoOgMegII

At the scene of the accident in 1994, almost a year after it happened

Talking of ethics: I shall be attending the Institute of Communication Ethics’ annual conference in Coventry today, followed by a seminar on journalism in crisis at Coventry University. (BTW, this post was written hurriedly on the train with a crap web connection, so not had the time to read thru it properly).


Could I have my RSS as I take my coffee, please? (or why I missed that Telegraph story)

I take my coffee straight: it's one of those instant fixes I'm rather dependent on having available whenever I need it, which, seeing that I work for clients in very different time zones, can be at any hour of the day or night. I do wish those RSS-feeds I'm interested in was available the same way.

Actually, they might very well be: I could have created something a lot more tailor-made than just using a newsreader (still on Bloglines, though I know I should switch) to subscribe to news- and blog feeds on media/tech/business and keywords, but why won't media companies make it easier to find their stories?

Take The Times for instance: they have a good media editor, but no media feed the last time I checked (a while ago. NB: see update below). Or the fact that The Telegraph published a story on David Oddson last night, but didn't bother tagging it as "media", at least it wasn't in my Telegraph media feed this morning, so I only discovered their article by checking my RSS-feed from Roy Greenslade after I'd published my own post on this (I first found the story on Icelandreview after someone googled Morgunbladid and ended up on my blog , which made me do the same to see what was up - Icelandic media being something I've followed for several years).

Actually, I know how easy it is in some CMSs, like Escenic, to not put a story in all the categories it should be in, and I'm also aware that, with Twitter, many people have moved away from using RSS alltogether. I still use it though, in addition to Twitter, to find stories: I still think RSS is the best way to find stories proactively online and to get a good overview of what's being written - and either my newsreader has a major problem, or media companies mess up their feeds all the time. There was a week+ this summer my subscription threw up no stories from The Media Guardian - like, I actually had to visit the site, there's not many sites I'd do that for, to get updates;-) - and I've also had the same problem with The Telegraph's muddled media section (muddled because they mix media with telecoms, cable and wireless).

Also, I no longer get the Observer's media feed until Monday, or sometimes Tuesday, whereas I used to get it just after midnight on Sundays (back when "web first" was a pioneering idea?). And this whole idea of mixing the feed of Sunday business sections with the rest of the week, as at least the Indy and Observer do, seems very odd to me as Sunday newspapers used to be something entirely different than weekday newspapers: different weekday business sections always carried much of the same stories regardless of the newspaper, so subcribing to them all feels close to redundant, whereas Sundays used to aspire to create their very own mix of background/analysis and stories they had chased up/uncovered themselves.

If that was still the case - and I'm not contesting that it is, but my perspective is muddled by relying on RSS only and me no longer living in London - I'd pay for the Sundays rather than the weekday papers. Mind you, I'm speaking only of the UK here, in places like Norway business news sites, such as Dagens Naeringsliv, have even been known to send their whole car sections into their media section feed.

Now, I know I should probably move on to create my own tailor-made feed via Yahoo Pipes or similar, but in these days, where paid content and the question of how news sites may successfully charge their readers, this strikes me as one thing that I, as and expert reader, might actually be willing to pay for: to get the news in my RSS-reader instantly - my experience with Yahoo Pipes is also that there's often a delay - and "unpolluted": only the real stuff, please (or, as a friend often puts it: why ruin perfectly good coffee with milk and sugar). Many news sites muddle their media feeds with other feeds, I assume to bring up the volume, but I'd much rather have e.g. media and technology as seperate feeds so I can prioritise better.

However, I'm very aware I belong to a minority of readers who these days only matter in the link economy. Also, I appologise if this post has been mired with household slang: it's one of those rants I usually censor myself from writing, but any input on how I should best set up my newsfeed would also be welcome. I'm not as much of a techie as I'd like to be though: I accomplish most things I bend my mind to, but my mind is frequently overstretched on the workday treadmill of incesscant deadlines...   

Update 01.10 16:30 CET: Joanna Geary kindly made sure The Times got a separate RSS-feed for its media section yesterday, and I quite forgot to update this post until now in the rush of everything. It has of course duly been added to my newsreader and to this new Twingly channel on journalism and media (in beta) I've been playing around with (I've started adding some of my favourite  UK and Scandinavian media feeds to it, leave a comment, email me or DM me on Twitter, I'm @KristineLowe, if you want an invite).


Iceland's most hated man appointed newspaper editor

Davíd Oddsson, Iceland's longest serving Prime Minister and until recently head of the Central Bank, has been hired to edit Morgunbladid, the country's newspaper of record.

I wonder if ever there was a better trick for loosing readers quickly. In the name of accuracy, it must be said that I am of course aware that there are many contenders for the title "Icleand's most hated man", but The Times has certainly singled Oddson out as possible number one in this respect. During my reporting trip to Rekjavik in December, Oddson, and then Prime Minister Geir Haarde, seemed to be the protesters' main objects of hatred, as this photo I snapped illustrates:

ReykjavikProtest3

You'll find more of my photos from Iceland here, published under a CC non-commercial share-alike license, though I worked with an excellent photographer, Haldur Jonasson, while there, who took some top photos of Morgunbladid's offices and of former Morgunbladid editor Ólafur Th. Stephensen, who announced his resignation a week before Oddson was named one of two new editors of the daily paid-for newspaper.

Of course, Morgunbladid used to be controlled by none other than Bjørgolfur Gudmundsson, and its main rival, Frettabladid, by Baugur's Jon Asgeir Johannesson - cross-ownership and close ties between top politicians, businessmen and the media seems to have been the norm rather than the exception in Iceland - but one would have thought that financial meltdown and all that was reevealed in its wake had changed this.

Apparently not. One journalist I talked to likened the country's media to a bad soap opera; it seems we are are up for a whole new set of episodes.

The Icelandic Weather Report has more on the story.

 Source: googling "Morgunbladid" and finding Icelandreview's articles on the story, as linked up in this post, because someone else googled Morgunbladid and ended up on my blog.

Newspaper forced to put new subscribers on waiting list

On the face of it this sounds like a truly miraculous story amidst all the current  doom and gloom of the newspaper industry: Danish local Randers Amtsavis is unable to deal with the rush of new subscribers, reports Journalisten.dk.

Almost 2000 new subscribers since mid-July is forcing the paper to meet subscription requests with the following message: "We're sorry, we can't give you the newspaper straight away, but we can put you on a waiting list". However, the comments reveal that these are not really new subscribers, but rather old subscribers who left the paper in droves when it changed from being a morning to evening paper five months ago, and are now returning after the paper swapped back to being a morning newspaper (the move was announced early July and made effective as of 17 August). A remarkable story nonthesame.

In the comment section one reader asks why ever the Randers Amstavis thought it a good idea to become an evening paper, to which the paper's chief-editor replies they are not too boneheaded (my hasty translation of 'stivnakkede') to admit they made a mistake.


Where Murdoch leads, others follow: paid content here we go again

'One great gap separated the advocates or charging for online content from all others, and that was its lack of recognition, its lack of respectability in the eyes of the public, and even in the most advanced circles.'

Then, in April, Rupert Murdoch stepped forward and said readers dependence on free content had to change and, lo and behold, media executives from all over the place stepped forward to praise the virtues of paid content and unveil plans to start charging for online news. At least my newsreader was abuzz with news about media execs all of a sudden coming out as staunch defenders of paid content in all the markets I follow.

A bit like my newsreader has been abuzz this week, though now with reactions to Murdoch's announcement he plans to charge for all his news websites by next summer - most of them decidedly negative: he's mad, he's wrong, what on earth is he thinking, it can never work etc. I find I can't bring myself to get too excited about having that debate again (though I did love this comment by Adam and this post by Charlie Beckett ), so I'd rather just deal with the facts: it might not work, but it will happen. I think Murdoch-biographer Michael Wolff says it well in his comment:

...[Rupert] is going to do the thing he has always done: buck convention, offend sensibilities, and not pussyfoot around. "I believe that if we're successful, we'll be followed fast by other media,” Murdoch said yesterday—which has pretty much been his method of operation in the media business. By force of will and clarity of position, he defines the world.

Now, take Mecom for instance. In Denmark the pan-European media group headed by one of Murdoch's former henchmen, David Montgomery, is ready to roll out a system for micro-payments on its news sites as early as 1 September. The company's Danish CEO, Lisbeth Knudsen, promised they would only charge for unique content, not for general news, but said they were hoping to develope a system for charging for online content that could also be used in other Mecom  countries (in Danish). Of course, despite everything (correct me if I'm, wrong, but I seem to recall Montgomery and Murdoch had some kind of fall out) Montgomery lists Murdoch as the businessman he admires the most, but other media companies have voiced similar plans, so I think we'll see plenty of more paid content experiments in action soon ...

Will I pay? Slightly different debate. Basically, I'm all with what Chris Anderson said here. I'd pay for content I can't live without, but mainstream news site currently offer very little I can't. News Corp., for one, has very little, if any, content that is specialist enough for me, my primary focus being the European media market. Mecom's Danish flagship, Berlingske Tidende, has a pretty decent media section, so perhaps ... if cost cuts don't limit its output more than it already has...

( Oh, and I found the opening quote here, and only made some slight edits to it, after I - struck by how vogue paid content all of a sudden became with media execs - googled "coming out" )


Another Icelandic Media Baron Bites the Dust

Björgólfur Gudmundsson is not only a bank chief in hot water,as The Telegraph describes him today: with his bankruptcy an era in Icelandic media history comes to an end.

Now that both Jon Asgeir Johannessen's investment vehicle Baugur and Björgólfur, also the former owner of West Ham FC, have been declared bankrupt, Iceland's media moguls are officially dead. Between them they used to control most of the tiny island's media, including leading newspapers such as Fréttablaðið, Morgunbladid and DV.

"You know, the sugar daddy behind DV and Fréttablaðið was Baugur, but the sugar daddy behind Morgunbladid was Björgólfur Guðmundsson? Every media here has its problem. We had Jon Asgeir, they have Björgólfur," said Reynir Traustason, Editor-in-chief of DV, when I interviewed him during my reporting trip to Iceland in December last year.

"Our sugar daddies are all dead", he asserted, describing Icelandic media as "alcoholics on detox" (my feature on Ragnarok for Icelandic media ran as the lead story in Journalisten's December issue, and my story on the role online media played in the "fleece revolution for Journalism.co.uk can be found here). I also chronicled the Icelandic newspaper saga for IFRA Magazine last year, as the story is quite amazing.

When I interviewed Metro International's CEO Per Mikael Jensen about the company's Q2 results recently, I solicited questions on Twitter, and when I asked him if there ia a future for free newspapers in the economic downturn, given advertising is in decline - a question submitted by fellow freelance journalist Gwladys Fouché - he said those freesheet closures people referred to "that's those Icelandic guys". A bit rich given how Metro shocked the market by closing its entire Spanish operation in January, but you got to love how he phrased it:

"Remember the crazy guys from Iceland? There was a time there where all of them wanted to buy a football team or a newspaper,
" he said and remarked how Metro at least closed down Spain in a mature way (more on that here).

IcelandicSculptures 

I'm reminded of these sculptures along the road to Keflavik Airport, some of which seemed to be close to falling down, but I have no idea what they actually represent (snapped from behind the bus window)


Metro International: fast becoming the McDonald's of newspaper companies?

Metro International divests Italian operation but enters into franchise agreement to maintain global advertisment reach.

I was going to call his post "Metro International shrinks further", but felt depressed about the prospect of writing yet another gloomy post on newspapers when it struck me that isn't  Metro International just taking one more step towards becoming the McDonald's of media companies? With new franchise agreements in place in the US, Portugal and Ecuador this year, other places last year, the world's largest publisher of free dailies seems to be moving steadily towards a franchise model akin to McDonald's: global brand, local franchises bearing the financial risks.

With the Italian deal, Metro has successfully divested another unprofitable market, as Piet Bakker's excellent blog rightly predicted would soon be announced earlier this week - which might help improve the company's somewhat gloomy financial results. I still think those numbers are far from fantastic, as indicated here, even though Metro's CEO, Per Mikael Jensen did his best to convince me they were during our talk after the company presented its 2nd quarter (Q2) and half year results 20 July.

"A 12 per cent decline in net revenues is a great result! It's a pretty good result compared to a lot of other media companies," he told me, adding that it was down from minus 16-17 per cent in Q1. Of course, Q2 is usually a better quarter than Q1 for media companies, but the main reason for his exuberance was how a substantial amount of the costs dragging down the result (read the key figures here) was restructuring costs:

"We lost 20 million Euros in 2008, but 11 of those were in the US and Spain. When you close down those operations you have to take the cost, but these are one-off costs: they will not come back. This is why we are reasonably optimistic about the future," he said, and pointed out that at least Metro paid people the money they were owed: "We closed down Spain in a mature way, paid all or dues." Yes, that thick sarcasme is all about Nyhedsavisen, and those "crazy Icelandic guys" as Jensen dubbed them, but that's perhaps a topic for another post (parts of the interview with the Metro boss is available in Norwegian here).

However, I was going to write about Metro International and McDonald's. Mind you, not about McJournalism or the McDonaldization of news, in this case I'm much more interested in the business model. Of course, McDonald's does operate some of its own restaurants, especially in the UK. I don't know if these are the most profitable restaurants or are in markets the company knows intimately, but Metro's strategy has certainly been to hold on to core markets where they've managed to turn over a profit and reduce financial losses and risk by entering into franchise agreements and/or joint ventures in so-called non-core markets.  

Now, McDonald's is so often used to describe everything that's wrong in this world that comparing Metro to it makes it sound like I'm slagging the freesheet publisher off, but one thing you can't take away from McDonald's is its global reach and popularity. The guarantee of getting the same diet, though often with local options on the menue, everywhere has proved to have worldwide appeal. Also, it's the kind of low-cost brand which should prosper in the current downturn as more healthy options becomes too expensive for some - which, if the comparison holds true, at least sounds like good news for Metro's shareholders...

Update 01.08: Michael Jennings pointed out on Twitter yesterday that this comparison is far from perfect, I obviously know the media business better than the fast food business. Apparently McDonald's owns the real estate on which most of its franchised restaurants sit, then the franchisee uses their business model to increase property value.