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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged trinity mirror

Apparently the Mirror has had enough of experimentation:

Sources close to the online team told BuzzFeed News that they believe Picton’s vision for The Mirror’s websites is based around the MailOnline model, so the current crop of brands do not fit with his plan.

Oh, goody. The world needs a new MailOnline imitator.

The consequences?

BuzzFeed News understands that 14 jobs across UsVsTh3m, Ampp3d, and Row Zed are at risk of redundancy after a 30-day consultancy period. All three brands will continue to publish content, but on a reduced basis.

Well, the good news is that there will be some decent digital journalists with skill in producing viral content hitting the market pretty shortly. I would put money on many of them following Malcolm Coles – who built the Mirror new formats team – to the Telegraph, if it wasn’t for the political difference that might be too much for some to bridge.

Start up your poaching engines, people…

the source code for Ampp3d

If you’re interested in the technical detail of how sites come to be – and if you’re serious about publishing, you should be – William Turrell’s account of how he built Ampp3d makes for fascinating reading:

I find it helps to put something imperfect into the wild but make a private commitment to yourself to come back and deal with it properly later; my record on that is far from 100% but there’s a definite sense of achievement when resolving a long standing bug or paying off your technical debt.

And that honesty is on show throughout the piece.

However, buried down near the end are words that sent a chill through me:

Now that the site has proven itself editorially, The Mirror want to bring it within their own CMS, but my intention is to archive the present version (and it’s URLs) for posterity.

That’s a decision I have literally never seen end well.

Good luck Ampp3d team…

The ampp3d site

When I first heard about Trinity Mirror’s Us vs th3m, I rolled my eyes. Did the UK really need another Buzzfeed clone? Were our publishers incapable of innovating rather than jumping on yet another bandwagon?

It took a talk by one of the key personnel – Tom Phillips – to change my mind. He characterised the launch of the site as a skunkworks – an agile, but ultimately disposable, attempt to gather learning that the business could apply elsewhere, and an attempt to capture an audience that was drifting away from its traditional products.

The second iteration of this skunkworks experiment is now underway, under the guidance of Martin Belam. It’s an attempt to create a data journalism site that attracts viral sharing – and it rejoices in the name ammp3d – although it’s operating as a Mirror sub-brand, rather than an entirely independent entity. Some of the pre-launch workshops were exciting enough that I lost a chunk of my Interactive Journalilsm MA students from the second half of a lecture because they wanted to attend (and at least one of them is now writing for it).

An agile team

Neil Perkin thinks the way the team is structured is noteworthy:

I also particularly liked the blurring of lines between functions in the team. The publishing industry, says Martin, tends to silo people into editorial, pictures and graphics people, and technology people. Instead, they have a lean team of five where everybody to a greater or lesser extent can do words, pictures and code.

It is interesting – but it’s not quite as innovative as you might think – it’s certainly the way a lot of smaller pure online sites work already, and it has its roots in really small mags, where an element of that was necessary.

Victory conditions for innovation

I tend to think that the most interesting thing about the project is its three months of funding. Some people have characterised this as a lack of commitment to the projects, but Martin spins it – successfully I think – as a positive thing:

I think it shows exactly the opposite. I think it shows a real commitment to making something work. It self-selects the people who are willing to join the project as risk-takers who have a real stake in the success of the project, and it stops us just drifting aimlessly for months on end because we don’t have a target date to be considered viable. And why would I commit to doing anything for longer than we need to find out if it is a success or not?

To give some context here, one of my regrets from my corporate days is that I didn’t fight harder for victory/defeat conditions on more of the projects I was involved with. Too many of them were hand-waving “let’s give this a go and see if anything comes of it” type projects. I think too many publishers at the time were enamoured of Google-style innovation coming from 20% time, and weren’t taking the manifold threats to their business seriously enough.

No time for hobbyists

The very structure of traditional media companies demand that you have some sort of success or failure condition in place, otherwise there’s no existing corporate way to get the money and attention you need to continue to grow what’s evidently a success – or to stop a failure being a resource drain. And, as Martin suggests, putting those sorts of parameters around a project gets people to take it more seriously.

We have to stop treating innovation in publishing as a hobby, and give it a serious business focus. Kudos to Malcolm Coles at Trinity Mirror for doing exactly that.

Tom Phillips

Warning: liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling typos. Some of them will be mine, some of them auto-correct’s. But don’t say you weren’t warned…

USvsth3m is an experiment funded by Trinity Mirror to see if they could reach new audiences. They were aware that there was a type of traffic that they just weren’t getting – and they were locked into a certain way of producing content.

This is a product prototype, both in the product itself, but also in the way the team works. He hates the phrase “web native” – but that’s what we’re talking here. It was a very fast experiment. He was brought in for one day’s consulting. From the “yes” to launch was 5 week! It’s set up so that it’s OK fail. If it didn’t go well, they’d shut it down after two months. the launched on the first day the team were in the room together. There weren’t weeks of trial runs – but there was some content in place when they launched.

The name is a bit of a gimmick – they’re both producing original content and linking out to the funniest stuff elsewhere on the web. They’re trying to break the silo mentality of many publishing – you can only do this sort of thing if you acknowledge that you’re part of a wider web. Every day they send out a newsletter asking who did better – them, or the rest of the internet. The newsletter is a key part of it. Rob Mansfield who launched B3ta is involved and knew that newsletters are a great way of interacting with an audience. The 3 in the name is because one guy has the usvsthem Twitter account. He doesn’t use it.

Tumbring into life

They launched on Tumblr. Why? Wrong question. Why aren’t more people doing this? is the right question. It has a fully featured CMS, and a huge community already there. If you build your own – that’s fine, but it’s not a priority. They’re prototyping the content right now. Prior to this, he set-up a site called “Is Twitter wrong?” which does social media verification. It became a big thing around Hurricane Sandy and he launched that on Tumblr and Twitter. Can you fact-check in close to real time? Close enough to get the correction to go as viral as the error?

  1. It’s not SEO-based – it’s social-based. Publishers know how to do SEO – but you’re fighting for scraps at this point. This is about working out how to appeal directly to the audience – that’s the knowledge that reaps long-term rewards. With SEO a single Google update can leave you dead in the water.
  2. It’s visual – not articles. Articles are great but not the answer to everything.
  3. Every sentence should be a tweet. They haven’t quite stuck to that, as it’s too restrictive, but the principle remains.
  4. Kill the section. It’s a stream, not broken down into sections. Fussy navigation doesn’t work on phones and tablets.
  5. It’s a minimum viable product. No staff to do stuff at weekends? Fine. No content at weekends.

They were aware of the BBC Radio One middle manager problem. A bunch of people in their 30s or 40s going “Hey, internet, we have cool stuff for you.” So, they hire people a bit younger than you, and you don’t pretend that you’re talking the language of younger people. As you grow, you can hire people who do things more naturally.

 

There’s a sliver of ice in their soul – it’s not just silly stuff, there’s some political material in there, too.

 

The skill sets of the teams are designed to overlap. Everyone can do words, Photoshop and a bit of coding. They’re all part of the creative output of the site, and they’re all contributing constantly. They can have an idea in the morning can ship it that afternoon. A bug can be corrected within 3 minutes. The whole site was built fast in Tumblr, through hacking around in the code.

 

The design is deliberately basic – but they’re done five versions of it in three weeks. They measure every change, and aim to learn from it. Every action on the site records into their analytics.

 

Where do they get those wonderful toys?

 

Their toys – standalone Interactives – are designed to be shared, but also something a bit different from what other sites are doing. Their first was a parody of the New York Times’ Snowfall. It was a big media in-joke to target their friends. The next was a Doctor Who plot generator to reach to a bigger, established fan base. They recycled the code from that to do a newspaper comments generator, or anti-gay marriage argument generator. But every time they added a bit more to the code.

 

Games of Thronesbook was their first Facebook app – designed to build on the Game of Thrones fanbase. However, their new console headline generator failed. So, they turned to Ed Balls. Twitter’s appetite for Ed Balls-related content is insatiable. The game tested how fast you can you type Ed Balls.

 

Twitter gets them attention – but Facebook gets traffic. The most traffficed post was one about the 14 kind of people on Facebook you want to block – but kinda can’t. Facebook still drives huge amounts of traffic – but you can’t see the sharing. It happens between friends. It’s harder to insert yourself into then Twitter, but drives people to visit. And so does Google+ – sorta.

 

They’ve built internal tools, including “stormy” – a brainstorming tool, which allows voting on the funniest ideas from brainstorming sessions from comedians. That code’s being reused on the site, for a sick euphemism battle mode…

 

They pay attention to internet detail – everything has Easter eggs built in. There are references to in-jokes and memes – and stuff hidden in the source code. The home page is only 9% of traffic.

 

They have four potential commercial models, and display ads ain’t one. The models? SEEKRIT. They’re in audience acquisition right now – but this will come.

 

Regrets?

 

No regrets, yet. Almost certainly something is going to go wrong soon – but it hasn’t happened yet. They’ll be hiring staff soon, publishing earlier in the day and expanding to weekends.

 

Mobile traffic is the “agonising” 49%. Despite being mobile-first, that’s not quite there in the traffic yet.

 

How much hacking was needed? They’re not at the point of rewriting the platform. The platform is more fiddly from an editorial point of view than an design one. He suspects that when they hit the limits of Tumblr, they’ll roll their own CMS. Tumblr has “mad traffic” – it’s very unlikely they’ll every bring it down. The interactive toys are not on Tumblr.

 

Is the responsive design from Tumblr, or something they did? It’s less than it’s responsive, it’s that they designed the mobile site first, and then designed the desktop version to look just like it. The initial idea was that the desktop would be three column, and respond down to one column on mobile. In the end they abandoned that in favour of the single column.

 

The audience? They’re young people in the 18 to late 20s age group, who are very mobile-centric and into viral content. Very Buzzfeedy. What’s in it for Trinity Mirror? They knew this was an audience they weren’t hitting. They want the institutional knowledge of understanding how to do this. Traffic has been good, but not comparable with most of the Trinity Mirror titles yet – but they are ahead of some of them.

 

Isn’t there enough inanity on the web already? That’s where the stuff with an edge to it comes in. Sometimes it can seem like your drowning in endless lists of 28 cats that look like Ryan Gosling – but Buzzfeed have been hiring proper journalists to do proper journalism for a couple of years. It’s much easier to go from an internet culture to traditional journalism than the other away around. Get good at making stuff that’s shared, and then get good at doing serious stuff.

Trinity Mirror’s new local site is a blog.:

Trinity Mirror’s Buckinghamshire Advertiser has relaunched its web site.
It’s very cleanly designed. But there’s something significant that is unusual about it — it’s a blog. The front page is three recent stories presented in reverse-chronological order, with each one allowing comments. There’s a list of categories, RSS feeds, and even a tag cloud. Each new upload of a story pings Technorati.

In fact, it’s powered by Movable Type. Another piece of proof that the best blogging platforms are fundamentally lightweight, efficient content management solutions.

Image for the day: picture me stroking my (non-existent) goatee, going “veeeery interesting”.