Tag Archives: journalism

Comment on Journalists: We know we care, but do our readers?

On occasion I post a comment somewhere I’d like to keep hold of. So here’s my comment on a post by David Higgerson talking about something I said at news:rewired.

Blimey, I really need to stop ranting at news rewired! If only because I end up wanting to explain myself. You’ve done that for me very well though.

On the HS2 example, Ross got some great personal stories that the other media simply didn’t. It’s one of many examples where our own volunteer-created coverage has dwarfed that of trad media. The reasons for that though are many and generalising like I managed to do with my comments isn’t right.

I partly wonder whether the cause is a culture/morale thing. Given the attitude from some regionals (management, I mean) towards the question of sustainability I wonder if their approach (seemingly sacrificing good journalism to keep making a profit) has filtered down somehow.

I’m not suggesting journalists are only interested in money (you’ve already pointed out why that’s pointless) but perhaps journalists are more conscious that they need to make money for the paper so they are subconsciously changing their attitude towards stories they perhaps don’t see as profitable.

You’ve given examples that show you’ve identified where your passion for reporting influences sales of the paper. So perhaps what I’m trying to get across is that regionals need to be looking at why the paper sells and helping its journalists to see that. The passion would tie directly into a successful paper as well as a well-served community.

You’ve written on this before David so it’ll be nothing new to you. If only all regionals involved their journalists like that, instead of sacking them and replacing journalism with glorified discussion forums.

The choice is clear for out-of-work journalists: pay £2,750 or… less than £100

As a freelance WordPress consultant by day I am horrified that a company can justify charging £2,750 for a WordPress site built using a pre-built theme costing £55 .

The example they give on their hideously long sales page is unremarkable at best. Let’s do a quick comparison;

Even employing me as a freelancer, £2,750 would get you not only a WordPress installation bolstered by a bunch of security features to tighten up the out-of-the-box setup, but a completely custom theme designed by a professional web designer and a good chunk of custom development work.

Having taken a look at euvue.co.uk it looks very simple and something I’d probably charge less than £500 for. Having said that, the exact same site could be placed on my Journal Local platform (also built on WordPress) for a small monthly fee which wouldn’t even approach £500 over 12 months.

So what are Super Local Sites charging for?

The sales page mentions training. That would sound good, if it weren’t for a system that, once you get clicking around, is very easy to get used to and even if you struggle there are a wealth of tutorials, including videos, on the web for free.

I still can’t figure out where that £2,750 is going…. maybe into revenue generation tools?

“Unlock your earning potential with the built-in advertising management system, including sliding banner, 4×4 blocks and classified ads with full AdSense compatibility (Google advertising). You could expect to pay thousands for this unique system however we have taken a sensible approach to pricing that won’t break the bank!” (my highlighting)

Let’s just discredit one thing for a start: no one in their right mind will consider Google AdSense to be a credible revenue generation tool for a sustainable web site. I’d love to know what’s unique about the ability to use WordPress’ built-in Text widget to paste Google AdSense code into your sidebar (here’s a free online tutorial showing you how in 9 steps), or even one of the many advertising plugins already available. I wonder which classifieds plugin they’ve installed (that takes less than a minute to do, by the way, thanks to WordPress’ built-in plugin search and installer).

No, I’m still stumped. Once you get past the features that are standard in WordPress anyway Super Local Sites appears to be charging for something that could easily be created in a day without hardly spending a penny.

I actually find it offensive that anyone can charge that amount for something so simple and that’s built mostly on freely available tools and resources. The fact they’re charging £2,750 to out-of-work journalists is even worse – my fear is that many journalists taking the risky plunge into entrepreneurship will get burned by the unnecessarily high overheads and fail in their first year.

Content creators are the ones moving journalism forward

A while ago I spoke at the news:rewired conference organised by Journalism.co.uk about The Lichfield Blog and hyperlocal in general. The panel I was on got around to the whole ‘citizen journalist’ debate and who is or isn’t a journalist. I made the point (one I feel strongly about) that many hyperlocal bloggers do not see themselves as journalists despite what some journalists deciding to label them as such. Rather, they are just active citizens who happen to be using some similar techniques to play an active role in their community.

Anyway, I digress. Martin Cloake referred to that point in his well thought out roundup of news:rewired and an NUJ event. In it, he comes to the conclusion that although big media isn’t going anywhere, content creators themselves (i.e. the journalist/blogger/active citizen) are the ones innovating in journalism. It’s a really good listen so I’ve embedded below for your listening pleasure.

[podcast]http://www.inpublishing.co.uk/podcasts/mp3s/martin_cloake_mj10.mp3[/podcast]

You can also listen on the InPublishing where it was first posted.

Hat tip to Josh Halliday for recognising the reference.

Why I don’t think journalists need business skills

There’s tons of talk around hyperlocal and local media at the moment and some of it is about the kind of skills journalists need*. Not being a journalist, I’m looking at it from a business perspective.

We have a good system with The Lichfield Blog. Ross is the journalist, that’s what he does – he writes a large proportion of the articles and works with the contributors. I deal with the technical, behind the scenes stuff and the advertising that we’re trialling.

In my view it’s the best way for it to work; Ross is left to do what he does best without having to worry about anything other than serving his community and doing what he feels is his responsibility as a local journalist.

I worry that if journalists are taught or expected to be entrepreneurs as well we risk distracting them from that core purpose of reporting. Just think of the to-do list they’d have;

  • Reporting
  • Distribution (printing, web site development)
  • Sales & marketing
  • Business admin

Okay, so it doesn’t look like a big list but there’s a lot there. Creating and maintaining a web site can be hard enough, selling advertising to local businesses is going to be very hard without a unique proposition or sales skills, and business admin can be a whole minefield if you haven’t got business experience.

Expecting journalists to effectively run a business, I feel, would just soak up time and energy that they need to be journalists, threatening their ability to actually be journalists. Not to mention whether or not those journalists would even have the drive to commit to all that extra work.

I know plenty of people in the hyperlocal space won’t agree with me, so what’s the alternative?

As good as the role split with The Lichfield Blog is, it’s not sustainable in the long term. There will come a time when I can’t afford to spend so much time on it and I’m sure Ross’ wife will want him back on evenings and weekends eventually.

So imagine this; a network of journalists all working off the same platform. This platform would provide a range of tools and resources to help them deliver news in their community out of the box. It would save the need for the journalist to set up their own web site and all the costs and pitfalls that come with it.

Imagine this platform was part of a service that provided training. Traditional offline journalists could get training in online news gathering. All the journalists would get training on using the publishing platform and training on how they can use other platforms to interact and engage with the community. Training on audio and video production could be given for beat reporting. Journalists who sign up would receive legal guidance on issues like comment moderation.

Meanwhile, in the background the service would be providing revenue streams on the back of the journalist’s content by engaging with local businesses. The journalist would take the revenue, earning (hopefully eventually) a living from it. As the network grows, the combined content production could begin to serve existing regional media, opening up opportunities for more revenue streams.

Another benefit of such a network would be the economies of scale that it would give to independent hyperlocal journalists. It could be that the network eventually brokers relationships with content providers like the BBC, ITN and the Press Association.

I would really love thoughts on this, especially from those already engaged in the hyperlocal space and considering where it’s going. Agree, disagree, sit on the fence, have an alternative? Let me know in the comments.

*Although I’ve been thinking about this for a while, this post was inspired by the C&binet Forum and the following thoughts from attendees;

Citizen journalism: Friend or foe to traditional media?

Recently I’ve become involved in a relative new project, The Lichfield Blog. As you may gather from the name it’s a blog, about Lichfield.

I’m really proud to be part of something that has such a switched on and engaged little team behind it.

It was especially gratifying to watch as the story of a fire in one of Lichfield’s pubs quickly made it onto the blog just 3 hours after the initial call to the emergency services. Obviously we were lucky to have one of our team walk past at the right moment with a camera phone – a photo quickly made it’s way on to Twitter and a few tweets later the post was up.

The blog’s creator, Ross, made a call to the fire service about the incident and learned that no-one else had picked up on the story yet. It seemed we had beaten the local media. Having seen other, more high-profile, stories break on Twitter that doesn’t surprise me but it did make me think about all this “newspapers are dead” talk.

The blog has a few hundred visitors now, which is great, but it’s never going to kill the newspapers in Lichfield. I wouldn’t want it to either – there are plenty of people throughout the world, not just in Lichfield, who like to read a paper.

So the question isn’t, “are newspapers going to die?”, but rather “how can newspapers use citizen journalism?”

A good example is the Pancake Race in Lichfield. Nick Brickett has been providing photography for The Lichfield Blog, his first assignment being the traditional Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race. His photos of the event made their way onto the Express & Star web site (ironically, as I write this, said web site is down!)

This could be the way journalism is going. Another great example is Channel 4 News (who my Twitter followers will know full well I admire).

Their coverage of the Schiphol plane crash was very much driven by Twitter. I sat in front of Tweetdeck and watched it all unfold in front of my eyes, from them picking up the story, contacting an eye witness to putting a Twit on the lunch time news. It was a first for them and possibly for journalism in the UK.

Krishnan Guru-Murphy of Channel 4 News says that Twitter is “just another way of finding people and talking“.

I suspect some journalists will treat services like Twitter and citizen journalism in general as a threat rather than an asset. I’ve heard of publications shutting down because they just can’t sustain themselves for much longer (obviously the ‘crunch’ doesn’t help) but instead of shutting down, I believe they should adapt and grow with the times.

And let’s face it, it’s cheaper to do it online!

Do you think the internet is a threat to traditional media, or should traditional media adapt and embrace services like Twitter as sources for news?