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Month: September 2010

Dead Man’s Shoes won’t save journalism

Sometimes in the hectic rush towards a digital future for journalism, it’s worth stepping back and looking at the major structural issues that need to be addressed as part of that change. There’s a post on the Media Briefing that makes a good starting point for thinking about the staffing, management and training issues we have to get right – at least, if we want traditional media businesses to survive this transition.

Greg Hadfield makes some valid points about where the digital strategy is being driven in major publishers:

In some cases, digital strategy is led by those with technological expertise; in others, it is in the hands of commercial colleagues. Occasionally, excessive influence is exerted by people with no record of achievement in journalism, technology, or business. In a period of speedy transition, this may be inevitable. Even the youngest of today’s national newspaper editors had arrived in Fleet Street before the web became mainstream – while those who arrived after, say, 1999 have not yet reached the peak of their profession.

This is a transitional problem, of course, one that might appear that it will be solved over time. But there are other dangers, because if our education system isn’t right, these problems will propagate over time. There’s a great piece on Media Shift looking at journalism academics and the training they provide:

I am writing this article on an iPad which is tapped wirelessly into a coffee shop’s WiFi. The device knows where it is in space and, if I allow it, will broadcast that information to any application I choose. Nearby, a young man browses the web on his iPhone. A woman is using a Blackberry. We are all online, all wireless and all capable of sending video, audio or text anywhere in the world.

<p>In an instant, I could convert my iPad into a magazine-style newsreader using one of a dozen applications such as Flipboard, River of News, Early Edition or FLUD. Beautifully formatted pages, filled with images and videos which my social media friends have flagged, will flow and slide across the screen.</p>    <p>[....]</p>    <p>But, despite that, much of the fundamental (and sometimes final) training we offer journalism students is dished out as if none of it were happening. As if the boulder-sized granularity of the news cycle had not melted in a quicksilver stream. As if the line between author and audience has not been smudged to grey and as if, really, nothing much had changed about the fundamentals of journalistic narrative, despite a wholesale remaking of the information landscape.</p> 

Too many of our educators are trapped in the same headspace as those editors, aware of the digital revolution, but not really engaged with it. There are exceptions – I’ve had the pleasure of guest lecturing at Cardiff at the invitation of Glynn Mottershead for the last two years, and City University has just taken the admirable step of recruiting Paul Bradshaw, one of the leading thinkers (and bloggers) about the new era. They aren’t the only prominent educators who “get” digital, but they are, I feel, exceptions rather than the rule.

And so, I don’t think we can afford to wait for time to solve the problem. I think Greg Hadfield was spot on when suggested that editors need to assert themselves more over the commercial and technological sides of the business – but there’s a caveat with that. They do need to surround themselves with people who do understand the digital environment, and trust their advice. In essence, they need to trust in their own judgement on news values, but be prepared to see those expressed in wholly new ways by those who report to them. As I mentioned earlier in the week, sometimes we cling too fiercely to the trappings of the print era, rather than the fundamentals of journalism.

This, though, is psychologically tricky. We’re asking people who have spent decades climbing to the top of their profession to accept that some of the skills that got them there aren’t as important as they once were. People near the top might have to accept that they may never reach that pinnacle, because a younger generation has a new set of skills that might usurp them. And there’s nothing quite as tricky to manage as people who, with good reason, feel threatened.

Law and the lone blogger

Judith Townend:

As a lone blogger how much legal protection do you have? No more than anyone else, when it comes to libel, contempt of court law and so on, except that people are more likely to pay attention to large media organisations.
But there are many instances where bloggers have lost a lot of time and money over legal disputes. Last week, for example, journalist and blogger Dave Osler finally saw an end to a legal battle that consumed three years of his life, after he was sued for libel by the political activist Johanna Kaschke.

She calls for a group to put some time and effort into understanding the relationship between individual bloggers and the law. There’s a LinkedIn group for it.

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What AOL and SAY: Media have in common: a platform

When the two acquisitions of the week meet: AOL’s new purchase TechCrunch talking to the new CEO of SAY:Media:

Let’s be honest, that’s a great example of how talking heads video can be dull, but there is some interesting content in there if you can stand to work through it. And I think SAY: Media’s stated mission of platform-and-monetisation ties in interestingly with Mike Arrington’s stated reasons for joining AOL:

The truth is I was tired. But I wasn’t tired of writing, or speaking at events. I was tired of our endless tech problems, our inability to find enough talented engineers who wanted to work, ultimately, on blog and CrunchBase software. And when we did find those engineers, as we so often did, how to keep them happy. Unlike most startups in Silicon Valley, the center of attention at TechCrunch is squarely on the writers. It’s certainly not an engineering driven company.

AOL has Blogsmith – the platform it runs its successful network of blogs on. And that’s one of the dirty secrets of the new age of publishing: it’s cheap and easy to get going, but once you hit a certain volume of success, it gets real hard to scale things well. Techcrunch has already outsourced a bunch of its technology: it’s running on the WordPress.com platform and using Disqus for comments. And, if we take Arrington at his word, that wasn’t enough to take the pressure off. 

This all feels like part of a trend away from the “hobbyist” days of the web, where you hosted things on your own servers, and ran everything yourself, to an era of companies who will handle hosting and monetisation for you – leaving you free to produce (and therefore live-or-die by) the content. 
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How journalists limit themselves

Kevin Anderson:

The other issue is really about professional identity. Journalists are very tribal, meaning that they have always been very sensitive about who is and isn’t a journalist. Economic uncertainty has only heightened this sensitivity. Many journalists still define themselves not only by their jobs but by very specific ways in which they do their jobs.

This is a bit like a builder defining themselves by the fact that they mainly do extensions. Possibly factually true, but really unhelpful if demand for extensions suddenly dries up…

More on Movable Type’s Future

Jun Kaneko

Give the hoohah over the future of Movable Type post Six Apart’s assimilation into Say Media last week, I really couldn’t refuse the opportunity to meet Jun Kaneko, the product manager for MT, who was in the UK on holiday until Saturday. He hopped into London on Friday to meet what might be described as the rump of the UK Movable Type community, plus Maarten from Belgium.

Maarten has throughly blogged what we talked about over on Movable Tips, but here’s a couple of things I took away from the meeting:

  • The reason that Six Apart KK has succeeded with MT in Japan where the rest of the company struggled worldwide seems to be a simplicity of licensing terms, that favours resellers and solution partners, rather than direct relationships between the software writers and the users.
  • I never realised how anglophone-centric tech reporting is. Sure, I got some taste of it around mobile phone reporting, which often (usually?) neglected to analyse the very different markets in Europe or Asia, but the fact that MT is in fact, in the old joke, big – huge even –  in Japan, has gone almost almost unreported in the English-speaking world. But then, so did the closure of Six Apart Europe (based out of Paris) back in the early part of this year.

I walked back to the office with the very clear feeling that Movable Type has a future, and a strong one, but what Jun and his team do over the next nine months will determine if that’s principally in Japan, or in the rest of the world as well.

Where now for Movable Type and Typepad?

saymedia Here’s a thing to discover just before you go to bed: Six Apart, the company that produces the blog software that’s at the heart of much of my day job, is about to be sold. In its new incarnation as part of Say Media, it appears focused on advertising sales and engagement as much (if not more so) than on blogging.

Clearly, this matters to me: we publish hundreds of blogs on Movable Type, have an enterprise support arrangement with Six Apart, and will be watching what happens in coming days very closely. [Update: Typepad bloggers have been officially informed]

That said, I think there’s plenty of reasons to be hopeful, and I would suggest that the Mashable piece that questions the future of Movable Type overlooks one key advantage to Say Media keeping both Typepad and Movable Type going, and developing them aggressively. Without them, Say Media is just another ad network, and the world is not short of ad networks. With the blog platforms, they’re a full-service publishing support business.

In essence, they can say: “You worry about the content, we’ll worry about monetising it and hosting it”:

Obviously, we’ll know more when the formal announcements are made later today. And, as I said above, I’ll be watching developments very carefully. But I’m a way away from pulling the (long-prepared, admittedly) MT-escape lever…

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Apple iNewsstand incoming?


Apple Inc. is developing a digital newsstand for publishers that would let them sell magazines and newspapers to consumers for use on Apple devices, said two people familiar with the matter.

The newsstand, designed particularly for the iPad, would be similar to Apple’s iBook store for electronic books, said the people, who declined to be identified because the negotiations are private. The newsstand would be separate from Apple’s App Store, where people can buy some publications now, they said.

Now, remember – Apple will not save the news business. But this might be one element that helps.

Testing: Bristol in HD (again)

I’ve picked up a Canon Ixus 130 for work purposes. A recent visit by Documentally to our fine company suggested that it might be time for us to move on from Flip cameras (and their ilk) to digital compacts that can take good photos as well as good video. Here’s a very basic set of footage shot on it over the weekend, to test how it performs in difficult lighting. Expect some more robust testing in the week to come…