Tagged: Technology

Print’s not dead

I’ve been subscribing to The Times iPhone app. I’m not a massive fan of reading  on my phone screen. Especially as I spend my working day looking at a screen. But I read The Times for years in print and I still like reading the sport, and the opinion – even though I disagree with most of it – and I just think there’s more in it and less to annoy me than in The Guardian, which I read for years before it became too smug to bear. But this isn’t a newspaper review. It’s a tale of digital failure. Continue reading

‘Content and engagement first’ say global editors

The row over what journalism is and how it should be conducted in modern times has led to a split in the World Editors Forum, with a number of board members breaking away to form the Global Editors Network. While this may all sound a bit Life of Brian, the new group’s manifesto makes refreshing reading, saying: “We are members of the same community, all driven by a journalistic imperative and a common goal: Content and Engagement First!” The full manifesto is linked below, but I’ve quoted some key points here too. Continue reading

#newsrw fragment: Subs not dead

The digital production desk session was very interesting, just because it happened. For a large part of the past few years, we’ve been arguing about whether subbing, or more accurately production, has been killed off by new technology. A large part of that argument raged around a post by Roy Greenslade in which he argued that very case. Continue reading

Dunking into Reed’s new media lab sessions

Tea & biscuits, my feature on Reed Business Information‘s innovative approach to new media tools and techniques, has just gone online in InPublishing’s Knowledge Bank, with the print edition due to hit desks later this week. It’s a while since my visit to the company’s Sutton offices, but what RBI is doing still holds up as a good, practical example of how to get to grips with the many changes the trade faces. The full feature can be found by clicking the link above or the image below, and there’s a podcast of me reading the feature if you want to check out my dulcets.

InPublishing Knowledge Bank website

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Signs of a tipping point in media development

In his review of the film Avatar in Time Out, critic Tom Huddleston quotes a line from Jurassic Park in which a character says; “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Huddleston goes onJames Cameron is one of those scientists: so in love with the technology, with the possibilities, that he never pauses to reflect upon the practicalities of cinema, of storytelling, of connecting with an audience.”

It was one of a number of things that prompted me to think we may be approaching what Malcolm Gladwell termed a tipping point as far as media technology goes, a point where the focus of debate moves from the medium to the message. I’ll refer to two other instances to back up that view. The first is Daily Mirror Associate Editor Matt King’s speech at the World  Editors Forum, in which he challenged the pre-eminence of search and re-asserted the primacy of content. Speaking of one strand of development within the industry, he said: “If little things like character, brand…the ingrained values that made the print product a success, got in the way, well … the ends justified the means. Content wasn’t king. Traffic was. Whoever, from wherever, reading whatever. It didn’t matter as long as the audience grew.”

Heart of the journalism debate

Those words go to the heart of the debate about journalism that has dominated the first decade of the 21st Century. It’s worth reading the speech in full, as it’s something of a rallying cry to an industry that has lost its confidence and allowed itself to be mesmerised by technology and delivery methods to such a degree it has forgotten the importance of substance. This may be because media companies, while not necessarily losing money, are not making the profits they have come to expect – and are therefore more susceptible to what they are told is ‘the next big thing’.

Which leads me to another piece I read which kept this train of thought rolling. Adam Tinworth’s blog post ‘A Prediction: 2010, Social Media and Snake Oil‘ came in response to a kicking he’d taken after retweeting a thought-provoking piece by Alan Patrick about self-styled ‘social media experts’. Adam makes a fair point about “self-proclaimed gurus who are happy to take people’s money for largely illusory return” and who undermine the contribution of others who have genuinely developed some expertise. But there’s another, trickier, issue that must be considered alongside this – and one for which I suspect I may receive a kicking myself.

What makes an expert?

While there is undoubtedly expertise in using various channels, tools and technologies that can be passed on by individuals and organisations which have worked hard to build that knowledge, there is also a tendency to create a closed professional consensus which can only be accessed through an emerging class of professional experts. And those, often self-defined, professional experts often react particularly badly to anyone who may take a different perspective. My award for Most Irritating Quote of 2009 goes to “You just don’t get it, do you?”, which seemed to be a favourite response of those who see any view other than their own as a threat. It betrays a contempt for different perspectives and, dare I say, a lack of confidence in the original perspective.

There are some rich ironies here. Much of the resistance to new ways of working and the new opportunities we now have at our disposal comes from people who feel they’ve done their time developing a level of expertise and don’t see why they should have to take on anything new. It’s a backwards kind of professionalism which values the accumulation of expertise above its development. And yet there’s a strand of debate which attempts to create a false science of ‘new media’ which seems to be at odds with the more open and collaborative times which have been created. Often when I hear so-called ‘old media’ berated by so-called ‘new media’ for attempting to preserve its ivory towers, the old Who lyric “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” comes to mind.

So while I agree with Adam Tinworth that there has to be a way to distinguish genuine expertise from “snake oil salesmen”, I worry when I see, as part of Alan Patrick’s otherwise well-considered post linked above, quotes such as “anyone who was not on Twitter by end of 2007 has no place in calling themselves a Social Media Guru/Expert/Whatever”. I ‘get’ the point he’s making, but “I did it first” can’t be the basis of a definition of expertise. It’s quite possible that someone who only started using Twitter last year has something valuable to offer. And I certainly hope it’s what I write on this blog that is considered worth engaging with more than the date on which I started blogging. We should be asking ‘what?’ rather than ‘when?’ or ‘how?’ – surely?

Putting the social in social media

The other irony is the anti-social nature of much of the debate conducted via social media. “You just don’t get it, do you?” is mild stuff compared to some of the vitriol I’ve seen, with even respected commentators resorting to terms such as “fuckwittery” when describing the views of others. It may be what Adam Tinworth was thinking of when he predicted that the debate would get “a whole lot more vicious”. Of course, debate is sometimes robust. I’ve certainly participated in a few humdingers in my time. But the atomised nature of much participation in social media seems to lead people to forget some of the normal social mores. Author Susan Hill made an interesting point on Radio 4 over the holidays when talking about the abusive emails she has received since one of her books was put on the National Curriculum. “Thanks a lot, you’ve ruined my life” is among the more polite, but Hill makes a point of mailing everyone back and asking: “Would you conduct yourself like that if you met me in the street?” Invariably, she said, she gets a reply of apology and some interesting debate follows.

Engage with the future

I hope readers don’t find the “it’s capitalism wot’s to blame, guv” argument too much of a cliché, but it’s a fact that the nature of the economy is forcing so many down the path of “independent expert consultant”, so it’s inevitable that hackles will be raised by anything that is perceived as a threat to the creation of a potentially lucrative aura of expertise. But real progress can only come through the open application and sharing of expertise. This doesn’t mean no one could or should make a living from their expertise, just that those prepared to genuinely engage and collaborate can potentially offer – and even gain – much more than those who aren’t.

So, if we are approaching that tipping point I mentioned at the start of this post, I hope that the new landscape will be one in which;

• Content is much more central to everything we do;

• We focus more on what we can possibly do rather than what we can no longer do;

• We improve the quality of debate about these two points.

Happy new year!

An engaged media union in action

An excellent initiative by the National Union of Journalists’ Training department saw the union’s annual delegate meeting covered live and in-depth by a group of journalism students, including some from the London College of Communication, where I teach part-time. The nujadm.org.uk site is staying up as a record of the event, and it shows the best of a union that is prepared to work in an open, engaged and inclusive way.

My old friend and NUJ colleague Chris Wheal co-ordinated the event, some feat alongside his role as a branch delegate, backed by the union’s dedicated and innovative training department. A team of student members, at the conference as guests of the union, produced the site and got to see their union at work, as well as the chance to mix with delegates and make contacts. The project was edited by two recently-graduated students who are now full members, with Chris acting as editor-in-chief. The site’s list of aims, objectives and policies is well worth a look at as a model of good practice.

A bad case of unreasonable optimism

Earlier this week, publisher Condé Nast announced the closure of Gourmet magazine. Also this week, it was announced that England’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine will be shown only on the internet.

Although the latter announcement has caused a storm, no one has suggested that the news means the end of television. But the former announcement has been seized upon with wearisome predictability by the ‘print is dead’ brigade. The closure of Gourmet, it seems, is conclusive proof that all magazines, indeed all print, is doomed. On his Buzz Machine blog, Jeff Jarvis says that while once he believed that it was not yet the time to announce the death of magazines, “that ‘yet’ has now arrived”.

It ain’t necessarily so

Jeff has emerged as one of the high priests of the ‘print is doomed’ movement, although after announcing the death of print magazines he then goes on to say that, actually, he believes only that “most” print magazines will die. Some will survive. Although they are “an instant anachronism”. (I hope you’re following this). But it’s the headline claim that gets the attention, and he comments have certainly been flowing in as other members of the PID brigade have piled in with their tuppence-worth (or should that be ‘token electronic transfer amount’? Actual currency is sooo last century).

Among my favourite comments are “how is a cooking magazine ever going to compete with a good cooking Web site?” (try using your laptop on the same work surface as you’re boning a side of beef on and you’ll find out); “There is no reason a website cannot create the same brand value for an advertiser as print does” (the reverse is equally true) and – my favourite, in response to comment I posted suggesting special interest magazines were just one area in which print could thrive “I suspect your (sic) being unreasonably rosy about these special interests mags”.

Reasons to be cheerful

Well, we wouldn’t anyone to be “unreasonably rosy” I guess, we do like a bit of doom and gloom. I replied on the comments thread again, and I’ve abridged what I said there below.

Some magazines will close. Others won’t. One poster asked “How can Runner’s World the magazine possibly compete with the website?”. The answer is that Runner’s World the magazine doesn’t have to compete with its website. They operate together, offering different things. I use the website a lot. I also like to read the magazine – it’s very handy for when I haven’t got anything to plug into or my iPhone battery is low. (I also prefer reading a print page to an iPhone screen.)

Mags like RW and World Soccer have strong subscriptions bases, which enables a certain amount of forward planning and knowledge of readers’ wants. It’s why I specifically mentioned special interest mags. I also mentioned London-based RBI, a business publisher. Titles such as Flight International, Farmers’ Weekly and Community Care operate successful websites and print editions which complement each other. Staff on Computer Weekly say that the print edition drives people to the web, and the web drives print subs. See, complementary use of multiplatform media.

Take a magazine like the UK’s Take a Break. It still sells over a million copies a week. Its readers identify with what they see in its pages, they like to sit down with the mag and a cuppa and read it and do the puzzles. They could read the stories and do puzzles online. But they prefer the print version – not everyone is as tied to their computers as us media types. Personally, I think there is room for developing an online community around TaB – but publisher Bauer was never interested in doing this. But selling a million a week does make you think you’re doing something right.

Satisfaction

Mags such as Grazia and Heat succeeded partly because people liked to be seen with them in their handbags – a status symbol, a badge of honour and style and attitude that sitting in front of a computer surfing on your own can never give. Or as Word editor Mark Ellen says in the latest issue of the magazine: “The internet is perfect for exploring tangents. But magazines can carry the most intricate thoughts and images, the ones you can only fully appreciate if you look at them more than once.”

Too many people are generalising about the future of print. One mag has closed. Others may. General news in print is in trouble – that’s where instant delivery and update and multiplatform approaches really put the classic model of journalism on paper under threat. There are many other kinds of journalism and many other kinds of publication that can thrive, will thrive, and which are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

(s)he bangs the drum

Why, you may ask, do I keep banging on about this so much? A few reasons, since you’re asking. Most importantly I believe we need to face down this tide of pessimism about what we do and what we can do. At a time when we have the technology to expand media brands as never before, to make connections and produce content that we spent years dreaming about, we are instead encouraged to rubbish the worth of much of what we do, and in so doing we are selling ourselves and our readers short.

A former colleague told me the other day of his profound frustration with “The obsession with the delivery mechanism. There is absolutely no respect for real skills that create this content: researching, writing, taking pictures and making things look nice via design.” He saw many media executives as “nothing more than haulage contractors, making promises to deliver whatever you want to wherever you want it. They don’t give a toss about what’s in the back of their trucks, planes and cargo ships. If good journalists didn’t exist, there would be nothing to fill these multi-platforms with, yet journalists are the least respected of all the professions in the supply chain.”

No doubt such strong views will be seen as the wailing of a dying breed, but I was encouraged by the passion for quality, for the worth of something creative. Far better than the passion all too often displayed for pressing the point of why so much of what we do is in fact worthless and obsolete.

Here’s to an outbreak of unreasonable optimism.

Journalism ain’t broke

I rather liked this piece on Fleet Street Blues. It needed to be said, although I don’t agree with every dot and comma. FSB qualifies a couple of points very well in a follow-up post though. I’m not as cynical about college journalism courses or NUJ training courses as FSB is when he says, “Here’s a secret – and one that journalism academics, media commentators and the NUJ with courses to flog will do everything they can do to avoid telling you. If you want to get good at journalism, you have to practice it.” Time to declare an interest – I teach journalism and I value and contribute to the NUJ’s training programme. What I, and many others, always emphasise is precisely what FSB refers to – that journalism is about finding stuff out, about telling stories, and that all the buzz about medium should be looked at in the context of the message.

I think FSB makes a valuable contribution, and I don’t see it as another attempt to spark a battle between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media. And I think more than a few of us are saying the same thing. I found this post on Freelance Unbound a good read, too.

Technology, technique and the end of technodazzle?

I’ll be spending much of the next few days getting stuck into a new book I’ve been commissioned to write by the excellent Vision Sports Publishing. I need to crack the manuscript before spending a few months working as series editor on the set of books that my volume will form part of. I’m hoping to have time to keep up with developments in the media world as these fascinating times we live in continue to surprise and engage.

A scan of the web this morning has already thrown up some interesting snippets. I was really encouraged by journalism student David Molloy’s piece on the balance required between “technology and technique”, as he puts it – a very welcome contribution to the debate. Coming alongside the details of the FT’s new production system, see previous post for links, it shows that there are some viable proposals for the media’s future that are not just being shaped by cost-cutting and technobabble.

Speaking of which, I checked Roy Greenslade’s blog to see what his take on the FT plans were, but there’s nothing there yet. There is another sweeping generalisation that all print is doomed and everyone will be producing on screen in future, and the assertion that “skilled veteran journalists should be training people to become citizen journalists”. I worry about the man’s students at City University, I really do. 

In a similar vein, Charlie Beckett’s well-thought-through piece on Twitter is also well worth a read. Dare I believe the era of technodazzle is over? People are actually talking about how to use stuff. Off to research the book now – doomed as the genre is.