The 7hr+ documentary smash hit

About 1.4 million people watched Bergensbanen, a 7hr+ documentary about the 126-year-old rail line, when it was first aired late November. With the re-runs this Christmas, and the option to download it free of charge under a Creative Commons license, I imagine that number will be much higher by now (see Wired's recent story about the documentary here).

For my part, I thought it was a spectacular show, even if it "clocks is at almost 7.5hrs", as Wired put it. There was a lot of buzz on Twitter about it when it first ran, but I only had a chance to see it this Christmas. It is a long trainraide, but it must be one of my favourite trainroutes ever, and it's fascinating to see how much the landscape change from the jagged mountains surrounding Bergen on the Westcoast, travelling over the mountain moorlands of Hardangervidda, so often covered in snow, to the soft rolling hills as you go further east and eventually end up in the citiscape of Oslo. And it's all filmed in HD, which these few shots from my most recent trip on Bergensbanen definently are not. On second thoughts: better go to Wired and download the whole documentary there, my Netbook is so slow now I won't attempt any more uploads than this, which is not really what I planned to upload.


TV4 buys political blog of journalist ousted in hacking scandal

Sweden's biggest commercial TV-channel is acquiring for 1m SEK (about £75,000) (via Dagens Media).

The blog was set up by Niklas Svensson after he was ousted from Swedish tabloid Expressen in the aftermath last year's 'hacking-scandal'. Svensson lost his job when it was revealed he had failed to inform his superiors of how a source had given him log-in details for the governing party's intranet, log-in details Svensson insisted he'd never used for a story. He was later fined for data trespass by a Swedish court.

But, the former political reporter immediately set up, and went on to blog his way back on the national agenda with many a great political scoop. Back when the blog launched, it reminded me a bit about the UK's Guido Fawkes, but it has now grown into what looks like a fully-fledged news, or rather niche news, site. The site even attracts good advertisement money according to Hans Kullin, who has more details on Politikerbloggen's scoops, ad revenue and visitors.

Get those bloggers on board: public broadcaster hires expert bloggers

Denmarks' public broadcaster is enrolling some 40 'expert bloggers' to give instant indepth analysis on the broadcaster's main news, if I understand this article correctly. The new feature will become a part of DR blogs this summer and goes under the name 'Project A-blogger: blogs from from people who know something to people who want to know something'. The expert bloggers enlisted will be experts in their fields who write something more akin to what's been dubbed 'crogs' (via Martin Stabe), rather than any old blog. It sounds like and interesting way of extending the debate in the wake of breaking news and current affairs programmes, and I do hope it will be a considerable improvement from DR blogs' current content, which is very light and featury and includes this post on whether ice bears are cuter than mosquitoes.

A few favourite links this week

I know using a social bookmarking site would make it a lot easier to keep up with things, but since my laptop is instrumental to how I earn my living, I am, perhaps irrationally, paranoid about setting my security settings to accept all cookies (which these sites demand). I am on, but not too frequent as I only use it when I'm in my office and not on the road or working from home. Anyway, here's a few of those posts I thoroughly enjoyed this week, but found no time to blog about:

Google acquires Internet (via Adriana's furl feed):
MAY 12, 2017 - BUSINESSWIRE. Mountain View-based search giant Google Inc today announced they’ve acquired the internet for the astounding sum of $2,455.5 billion in cash... In a conference call earlier today, Larry Page explained the strategy behind the acquisition. “We realized it’s not very cost-effective to buy the internet in smaller portions.”

Hope for local TV (Doc Searls on IT Garage):
The TV news system isn't broken. It's just one system struggling to thrive in the midst of many new systems that will only get more and more useful — both to TV news operations and to viewers.

Online communities: media companies focus too much on technology (Kevin Anderson for The Press Gazette):
After years of resistance, newspapers are opening up to what New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen calls the "people formerly known as the audience". But too often, they focus on the technology and fail both in terms of content and culture, dooming their community efforts from the start... Ask yourself: What ties your community together? If you don't know, that's your first problem. Get out from behind the desk. Talk to people about what they are talking about.

Confused of Calcutta: Learning from comments people leave on my blog:
I often get asked why I blog, and you’ve seen enough of my answers before. And it’s strange, how someone’s eyes glaze over when I come to the bit where I say “and I learn from my blog, from the comments people leave”. It’s the sort of look reserved for people who say “I read Playboy for its literary content”…

Editors Weblog looks at newspapers' comment dilemmas:
The News&Observer notes newspapers' ‘hypocrisy’ in requiring print letters to be signed and letting online comments be anonymous. Should free comments on all online stories be allowed at all?

Filtered, focused attention

Food for thought from JP Rangaswami. Commenting on this sentiment:

Don’t worry if you’re too busy in the morning to catch the segment. Someone will upload the Sierra/Locke summit segment to YouTube within an hour of its initial broadcast, and the analyses should appear online shortly afterwards

Rangaswami writes:

For a while now we have had news events being made available on YouTube, in effect time-shifting news on to the Web. In itself this is nothing new. What feels new to me is the expectation that something will be made available on YouTube or its equivalent... like in:

I won’t buy a book until I can Look Inside it. I won’t record something that I expect will appear on YouTube or its equivalent, but I will plan to watch it on YouTube. I won’t buy an album until I have listened to sample tracks via the web, be it iTunes or an equivalent. I won’t meet someone for the first time unless I have Googled them, maybe even Linked them In.

Read the full post here.

Editing laid bare?

Imagine your're putting together a documentary, or just a news story for the screen, and all the people you feature in your story blog the entire transcript, or their key quotes, for fear your editing should misrepresent their positions. That's exactly what happened when CNN put together their story, Dark side of the Net, on the recent firestorm in the wake of death threats against A-list blogger Kathy Sierra (Creating Passionate Users).

After he let himself be interviewed for the programme, Cluetrain co-author David Weinberger, blogged about CNN as the knot in his stomach, carefully putting his quotes in context and talking about his fear of loosing control of his words. Kathy Sierra and Chris Locke, another Cluetrain co-author, who had been on opposite ends of the firestorm, put out a joint statement in advance of the programme, detailing their positions and warning against those who may cease upon the incident as an excuse to regulate or limit free speech and open debate.

Adding to the wariness before the show aired, Adriana Lukas, blogger and social media consultant, wrote: "Let's see what CNN does with the Dark Side of the Net piece. I have a feeling many will be watching and immediately providing their side of the story. The light may end up shining on the dark side of journalism..."

Now the story has aired and it seems CNN did a fairly decent job of putting the programme together, though Weinberger has yet to comment in full, (I haven't had an opportunity to watch it, see the clip here), but this story is a perfect illustration of 1) the staggering lack of trust in mainstream media 2) how the publishing revolution, internet revolution, whatever you choose to call it, empowers individuals to tell their side of the story and creates radical transparency.

In this way, media coverage can be put on trial every bit of the way, though of course, as long as there is no taped record, this 'opportunity' is also open for abuse and you can get word-against-word scenarios. That, I think, only serves to strengthen the need for good method reports and continually justifying, and being transparent about, editorial decisions.

Update 05/04: even BBC's Richard Sambrook recently took the opportunity to expand on this positions and answer criticism on his blog after his appeareance on Iain Dale's show on 18Doughty Street web TV, thereby creating yet another window for continuing the debate. A future trend?

Media companies: hip to the new at the expense of their core products

It's easy to become infatuated by all that the brave new media world has to offer, and the speed by which new products are launched, but the reality doesn't always match the rethoric, and somtimes consumers are decidedly underwhelmed by what media companies think they want.

In Denmark the surge in new door-to-door distributed freesheets has meant those who subscribe to have paid papers delivered on their doorstep are left waiting, and in the US, Variety complains that TV companies love to talk about the brave new, on-demand future, but fail to deliver on present and former promises.

Mads Øvlisen, writing in Berlingske (Montgomery-owned Berlingske Officin is one of two national newspaper groups publishing both a free doo-to-door distributed newspaper and a paid national one) :

"The morning call from the doorstep "The newspapers are here!" has become a much awaited message of joy. For even at our place, it has become an exception that we get the morning paper in time. But the freesheets - owned and subsidised by the big newpaper groups, who find it so difficult to deliver what I consider their primary service, a service I pay for – they are there! I find it difficult to understand the strategy behind this. I don't know many businesses that survive by focusing on their peripheral products at the expense of their core products."

Variety (via Mediabistro):
The CEOs of the giant media companies are out there every week at investor conferences hammering home the same message: "We are hip to the emerging new platforms, we understand the nirvana of anywhere/anytime media, we know the old media's doomed

That's the message, but here's the reality: This summer these very same digital prophets will spend vastly more money on "old media" than ever before as their mega-budget tentpole sequels roll out. So the CEOs are paying lip service to the new, but betting big time on the old.... Ironically, Time Warner's "big sell" comes along at the moment when the company is facing a firestorm of class-action lawsuits and consumer complaints that its existing services are dysfunctional. In short, the "big reality" is that the company doesn't come close to delivering on its present or former promises.

One has to wonder, at what point will consumers say, "I want my old TV set and my old email and my old cell phone, and stop telling me I'm missing out on the future."

Sign O' the (TV) times

"Maybe an attention-deficit host is exactly what an attention-deficit public wants," writes David Segal in his thought-provoking review of Glenn Beck's talk show on CNN Headline News (in Washington Post, requires registration). "While most sermonizing conservatives wait for a public debacle to expose their failings -- think of William Bennett and his slot-machine addiction, or Rush Limbaugh and his pill problem -- Beck and his many inner demons are on a first-name basis, and he's constantly introducing them to viewers." In fact, Beck seems to build his whole talk show host image on his many failings and doubts – a victory for transparency and openness, or just a new all-time low in pop culture's worship of anti-heroes?

Inside the trial of Saddam Hussein

A small Danish production company gained exclusive access to the entire Saddam trial and some of its key players. Tonight's world premier on Danish TV2, The Battle for Saddam, follows the trial, and the various preparations of both the prosecution and the defence team, from beginning to end. The documentary makers say the will provide a rare insight into what really happened, a chance to witness world history unfolding. I must admit I'm fascinated. Will I remain so if I find time to actually watch the documentary? That remains to be seen...

Update: of course I found no room in my schedule to see this, so better see if the TV channel has a decent online archive where I can watch it at a time of my convenience.

Investigative documentary: when methods and effects distract from the content

Following on my previous post:

Trial by Television
Yesterday, The Guardian reported how IVF parents were planning a protest against the"trial by television"" they felt this week's Panorama subjected IVF doctor Mohammed Taranissi to.

Going undercover a journalistic addiction we need to kick
Peter Cole, writing in The Independent on Sunday today, was underwhelmed by the programme's methods:

"Going undercover is no substitute for true investigative journalism," he wrote: "That is 'default' investigation these days: if in doubt, send in the undercover reporter. Between the News of the World's "fake sheikh" and Panorama's not-so-infertile women is the parade of knives, guns and false passports passing through airports in the pockets of investigative journalists 'revealing' security lapses. It is all a bit easy and often seems more stunt than investigation." Going undercover is a journalistic addiction we need to kick, commented Roy Greenslade in The Guardian.

The effects outdo the substance
"Traditional investigative documentary has become stuck in dramaturgy: the effects are out of proportion with the substance - too much of the former, too little of the latter. It gets so obsessed with revealing stuff that it often fails and falls flat on its face," said Morten Möller Warmedal, who currently is in charge of a new documentary project for NRK that will look at how lobbyists and advisers influence major public purchases, controversial policy decisions etc.:

"It will be about process, rather than revelations. It will pair the best from docu soap and reality with traditional documentary," Möller Warmedal said enthusiastically. The programme is not undercover, but has gained access to follow five concrete cases closely, including oil- and gas extraction in Northern Norway, the state's purchase of fighter planes and the Conservative Party leader's efforts to rebuild public support for the Party.

So is this the future of investigative documentary? Opening up closed doors to lay bare decision-making processes, rather than by stealth seeking to reveal the biggest possible scandal? Time will show, a lot of time since this particular documentary series is not scheduled to go on air until late next year.

Sometimes undercover methods are the only way to get at a story, as Greenslade noted, but a lot of the time the method backfires, and the debate about the legitimacy of the method completely overshadows the debate one sought to raise about the topic - which also happens with effects like music, overly dramatic screenshots etc.

N.B. It must be said that hidden cameras rarely are used in Norway. The latest 'big controversy' from Scandinavia in this respect, is this troubling case from Denmark.

Turbulent times for investigative documentary

The recent revamps of Norway's and the UK's top investigative documentary programmes show how the genre is struggling to find the right format in a changing media landscape characterised by stiff competition, converging platforms and cost-cutting.

"Complicated...will we be seeing much of that on the new Panorama?", asked Adrian Monck before the first edition of the new revamped Panorama this week: with its airtime halved to 30 minutes, many fear that BBC's current affairs flagship will be skewed to lighter, less substantial issues, and reviews were mixed (see Chris Shaw's review for The Guardian and Peter Cole in The Independent on Sunday).

As Norway's longest running investigative documentary programme, Brennpunkt, had a slot just short of 30 minutes for years, I asked Morten Möller Warmedal, a former Brennpunkt editor, how much difference this makes: "Some stories are suited to 30 minutes, but not 60, there can be some advantages, but it's no denying that it's a challenge to tell a complicated story in 30 minutes," he said.

Norway's public broadcaster, NRK, has gone the opposite way of Panorama and is currently developing a new, 60-minute format to replace Brennpunkt, which was "shelved in its current format" in November, but the remake hasn't come without turbulence and protests. Kampanje reported that all the program's staff had been asked to reapply for their jobs, creating uncertainty and fear that some of the journalists will be 'reassigned' to other programmes. "Moral is low", said a former work associate I ran into just after the news broke in November, which prompted me to pay the program a visit:

It was Monday, an hour after lunch, and I found the usually busy corridor all vacant but for the finance director and the corporations' lawyer. How fitting, I thought - the more pessimistically inclined would say that's all investigative documentary has been reduced to these days: law and accountancy.

How much time is left to do groundbreaking investigative reporting and explore new formats for telling complex stories when you spend all of your time either in court or preparing the documentation? That said, some of the methods and effects commonly used in investigative documentary these days are controversial, and worthy of a debate on their own...

So what will emerge in Brennpunkt's place? "Many people are giving this a lot of consideration because NRK, as a public broadcaster, has to be everything to everyone. The corporation works hard to be on all platforms, with increased focus on the online world. Brennpunkt was primarily a documentary platform, not a reporting platform like for instance 60minutes, to my mind is – I don't know what the new Brennpunkt will be," said Möller Warmedal.

General notes
Some of you may fault me for comparing BBC's and NRK's investigative documentary programs here, but a seminar I produced two years ago revealed the challenges they face are much the same (I worked for Brennpunkt for a short period in 2004-05). Two years ago, to the day, we were exploring the future of documentary, debating the ethics of using various effects and methods and exchanging experiences with Panorama and other key industry experts in London. Two years of course, is an aeon in media terms. Of the seminar's key speakers, both Alan Hayling and Mike Robinson have left BBC – not without a degree of frustration over the obstacles facing investigative documentary in particular, and public broadcasters in general. These challenges reflect both overall changes to the media industry, but also "the permanent revolution" any public broadcaster experiences these days.

Of course, had I the time I could have cast my net wider here, but as this is a blog I don't pretend in any way to offer the whole and unvarnished truth, nor the complete picture. This is just a quick summary of some interesting developments, the comment section is wide open though...

Want to strengthen your media brand? Get blogging

At least that seems to be the conclusion from Danish TV: When TV2's household names started blogging, it increased traffic to Just how much the article doesn't say, but Anne-Mette Bro, TV 2's head of press, told MediaWatch (in Danish, requires subscription): "We see the blog-universe as a way to achieve a more direct dialogue with our audience." The TV channel is using its blogs both to open up editorial processes and to promote upcoming programs. Not any revolutionary insights in this, but Scandinavian media has been lagging behind on the blog front, and Danish TV2 has sensibly started using blogs to support the main medium (TV) and involve the audience more in what they are doing... That said, there are of course so many ways to do this the right or wrong way, as the debate on newspaper and TV blogs clearly shows...

2006: Mergers, acquisitions and plain war

The Scandinavian media landscape changed irrevocably in 2006: Orkla sold its media arm to a British company built on borrowed money, the region's media giants were busy consolidating and expanding internationally, and Swedes and Danes were bombarded with freesheets from left, right and centre

In what has been dubbed 'The darkest day in Norwegian media history', former Mirror boss David Montgomery bought Orkla Media, but had to borrow money from Orkla to finalise the deal - aggravating Orkla journalists already aggravated that Orkla had decided to sell to a foreigner. To add insult to injury, it was later revealed that Orkla Media executives had received generous bonuses to stay onboard throughout the sales process.

In Sweden, Modern Times Group (MTG) scooped up close to a dozen TV-channels in eastern Europe, but paused its expansion eastwards to acquire Norway's biggest commercial radio company P4. The Swedes do of course have a historic preference for eastern dominions, and Hans Holger-Albrectht, MTG's CEO said: "Norway is also east for us, it depends on where you stand." Bonnier strengthened its positions in the east as well, but in two raiding trips across the Atlantic it also acquired Weldon Owen Publishing and half of World Publications. After a few years of consolidating its Nordic position, the Swedish media giant signalled it was hungry for more international acquisitions, especially in the US.

Merger mania
Norwegian media group Schibsted moved out of TV, but consolidated its leading position online. Kjell Aamot, Schibsted's CEO, was crowned the king of internet in Sweden, and, following favourable mention in The Economist, Schibsted's successful online transition – its biggest Norwegian online paper had a staggering 42 per cent profit margin in 2005 - was put on the curriculum at Harvard University. The company outmanouvered Montgomery by forging a gigantic merger, dubbed an acquisition by Mecom, between Schibsted's Aftenposten and southern Norway's three biggest regional papers. The merger, which has yet to be granted regulatory approval, prompted Mecom to sell its shares in the profitable big regionals, a move Dagbladet's editor-at-large, John Arne Markussen, predicted will weaken Mecom's ability to defend its local positions in the long run.

Meanwhile, Baugur-controlled Dagsbrun, who lost the battle for Orkla Media, challenged Montgomery and others to freesheet war in Denmark. The Icelandic company sent shivers down the spine of Danish media proprietors when it announced plans to launch its quality, door-to-door distributed free newspaper, highly successful on Iceland, internationally – with Denmark as the first stop. It provoked a freesheet war on an unprecedented scale, and prompted Danish trade journal Journalisten to send a representative to Iceland to investigate the actual finances of a conglomorate whose intricate company structure makes such things somewhat opaque.

Montgomery won the race to bring the first new freesheet to Danish doorsteps, and Icelandic Nyhedavisen got off to a late and bad start, hampered with technical problems and shambolic distribution, but at the end of 2006 it was not looking too good for Montgomery's Dato. Mecom-owned Berlingske Officin already has one well-established traffic distributed freesheet with a distinct profile, Urban, why then sink money into a door-to-door distributed one which had the worst readership figures of all the major freesheets in recent polls? One new freebie has already thrown in the towel, which leaves five, in addition to Nord Jyske's two regional ones. My bet is that Dato will be the next to go, at least that would make most sense if logic has anything to do with it.

Hmm, did I forget anything? Many smaller M&As I'm sure, and of course, Schibsted and Bonnier challenged MetroXpress' freesheet domination in Sweden...

Move to scrap TV-license after ministers fail to pay up

After three of the new Swedish government's ministers had been hauled of the coals, and one forced to resign, for dodging the TV-license, last month's indications that the government wants to ditch the licence system alltogether made sense. Apparently three out of four parties in the government coalition are keen to get rid of the licence: both The Centre Party and the Moderates are said to consider putting it on the tax slip, and the Liberals have come up with the altogether more novel suggestion of selling off state companies to create funds from which television companies can apply for money, according to The Local. A spokesman for The Centre Party said the TV license system was outdated in today's changing media landscape.

Now, I wonder: what will this mean for the labour laws the same government has found it so difficult to abide by?

Impartiality in the blogging age

Blogs start with identity, not with audience. They are conversational, personal, opinionated - everything that public broadcasters, restricted by their commitment to impartiality, are not. Right? Yet, public broadcasters, as newspapers and the rest of the media industry, are forced to adapt to a new media reality where people have come to expect conversation, plurality of opinion and interaction on a scale previously unheard of. So how should they go about it? Peter Horrocks, BBC's head of TV news, recently attempted to answer this in a speech to the Reuters Journalism Institute at Oxford University. Here's Jeff Jarvis' take on it: "Horrocks is not adopting transparency as his answer; he is holding onto impartiality and trying to update it. He is responding to the internet age by trying to open the megaphone wider to more voices — to mimic, indeed, the internet itself."

In doing so, Horrocks almost echoes The Cluetrain Manifesto, which likened the internet to an ancient bazaar, a place where people would meet to exchange information, experiences and stories. But just almost, the catch here is 'spontaneously, unmediated'; I can't imagine the Cluetrain guys ever imagined a bazaar where everyone would have to line up to get their equal x amount of megaphone time, orchestrated by the country's public broadcaster. Jarvis notes: "Done one way — with many new targeted products, which he also proposes — this potentially only makes more echo chambers; done another way — with equal time for all — it becomes an unbearable cacaphony. What stands in the way of either definition of chaos is still editorial judgment." The Daily Mail (via Adrian Monck) has a rather less flattering take on Horrocks proposals:

"The BBC triggered outrage yesterday by calling for the views of extremists and fundamentalists to be given the same weight as those of mainstream politicians. The corporation's head of television news, Peter Horrocks, said groups such as the Taliban and the far-Right BNP need more airtime - at the expense of moderate opinion. He said all views need to be treated with the same respect, describing his proposals as 'radical impartiality'. But his comments prompted furious reaction, critics labelling them 'political correctness gone insane'"

A more sober approach to adapting to the brave new media world, brought about by new technology and social media, comes from looking at BBC's actual network of blogs. As Robin Hamman, the senior broadcast journalist heading up BBC Blogs trial, notes:

"Bloggers outside the BBC often thrive upon, and many blog readers expect, the expression of strong opinions. The biggest challenge for the BBC has been to enter a world where, in some respects, our name and our values, as well as audience (and regulators) expectations of us actually make it difficult for us to fully engage. I think that our biggest successes, so far, have been:

• Making it more possible for audiences to scrutinise our editorial processes
• Engaging with our audiences in new ways
• Finding, in some instances, a more personal voice
• Inviting audiences to contribute to the blogs and to BBC programmes via the blogs
• To experiment more freely with editorial ideas and technical innovations

These successes, and our failures, don't show up in the technorati rankings, the number of inbound links, or in the number of users or posts or comments... We're in this space to open up, engage with our audiences, find the appropriate voice, encourage participation and experiment with ideas and tools. Even if there was no technorati we'd still be here, mucking about, trying to figure out why media companies and news organisations blog."

Robin Hamman again:
"I think the best way to experiment with opening up like this is for news and media organisations, whether their business is in print or broadcasting, to start blogging. Afterall, how can we possible understand this world without being a part of it?"

TV is dead, long live the Internet

It's a tempting conclusion to draw after a week that saw Norway's leading media group sell its stake in the country's biggest commercial TV-station, TV2, and one of Scandinavia's most successful internet entrepeneurs launch plans for a new online TV-channel.

Of course it's not that simple, and Schibsted's managing director has berated Norway's strict cross-ownership laws for making it impossible for the company, who is the country's biggest media group, to pursue a majority stake in TV2. Still, the deal signals a clear strategy shift, and even though company spokesmen have denied Schibsted is looking to sell its Swedish TV-assets as well, Kjell Aamodt, Schibsted's CEO, has indicated that the company is more focused on transmitting live pictures via platforms other than TV. "We don't talk about a TV-strategy anymore, we talk about a live pictures strategy. We are in the process of positioning ourselves both within web- and IP- TV," he told E24. Schibsted sold its 33,3 stake in TV2 to the Danish Egmont group and Norwegian newspaper group A-pressen, the latter incidentally owned by the Labour Union and Telenor (whose majority owner is the Norwegian state).

In a separate move, the Danish Skype-founder and millionaire Janus Friis this week unveiled his plans to launch his third major international project: an online TV-channel expected to go live by New Year (link in Danish via Berlingske, requires subscription). If the Skype-success is anything to go by, this will be an interesting one to watch...

Update 30/10: Anders Gerdin, editor-in-chief of Schibsted-owned Aftonbladet, indicates that Schibsted may sell its minority stake in Swedish TV4: 'It's pointless to have a minority post in a TV-channel,' he is quoted saying to DN (no direct link available).

Update 6/11: Schibsted sells its shares in TV4 to Nordic Broadcasting, of which Bonnier and Proventus each own half.