Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Storybird: A collaborative storytelling tool for... journalists (and why not?)

I don't know if I'm late to the party with this but I've just discovered Storybird
and, let me tell you, it's an amazing website. So brilliantly simple, effective (and free - essential for me to try something for the first time) and engaging - I think it has great opportunities for journalists who want to tell, collaborate with others and share stories online.

In a nutshell, Storybird is a sharing site that allows you to make, illustrate and publish online your own stories. I signed up, skipped the 'this is how it works' video and plunged in to create my own story.
As I typed in text, images suggested themselves (I love that for Typical British Weather it offered me a little cartoon cricketer) and there are lots of artist illustrations to choose from. Most, but not all, are cutesy but since I'd only suggest Storybird be used to illustrate ligher-hearted articles (or as stand-alones) I don't think it matters.
Here's my first attempt (I only noticed the spelling error once I'd published it. Sigh)  UPDATE: Storybird suffered a 'server outrage' on Christmas Eve and emailed me to say my story was one of a dozen that had been lost. Irritatingly, instead of displaying a message that says this story is now irretrievable, it says it has been set to private. It hasn't - it simply doesn't exist any more. I would prefer if Storybird had made this clear, rather than pretending I'd made the story private, especially since I've been offline for several days, and therefore unable to do anything about that incorrect message.

Most, but not all, of the illustrations offered up are cutesy but since I'd only suggest Storybird be used to illustrate ligher-hearted articles (or as stand-alones) I don't think it matters. You can have collaborative Storybird tales, with multiple authors, and they can also be open-ended.
The stories carry embed codes and badges, which is a huge plus as far as I'm concerned. I'm definitely going to be using this on the Liverpool Daily Post site soon, as Arts Editor Laura Davis and I are plotting an Online Literary Festival (more of which anon). And I could see this fitting into the scheme of things brilliantly as one way for our readers to get involved.

Anyway, in case I haven't been quite clear on my feelings, Storybird is GREAT. It's in public beta so do sign up and have a go. I haven't been so thrilled with an online discovery since I made my first toon using Xtranormal.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

reBlog from Liverpool Echo - Tech Blog

I have a new blog - it's an official work one, ostensibly about technology but actually about all kinds of digital stuff that interests me. Not likely to bother TechCrunch, for example.
Anyway, I wrote about a local Flickr group issue on it as my first post -

There was a right royal kick-off in the online world the other day, thanks to a number of national newspapers running photos of people pretending to be the Queen without seeking permission to use, Liverpool Echo - Tech Blog, Dec 2009
As one of the Post group's members claimed his photo used by an agency without his permission. And the row started there...
You can see more here;but I thought it was worth highlighting again.
Everyone makes mistakes, but this is something that could have been resolved with an apology, some money, and a willingness to learn about dealing with not just online communities, but dealing with anybody in a correct manner.
That doesn't seem to have happened.

(Incidentally, I'm reblogging this using Zemanta - never tried it before; hopefully it will work).

UPDATE: Reblogging with Zemanta puts in lots of paragraphs, and maybe I forgot to title it but I don't recall it gave me an option. Anyway, it's still quite useful - I think. And I absolutely love that it suggests Outdoors and Caving as potential tags for this blog post...

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Are you happy?

Just a quick post to share an image I found via a social work blog (the original source is here) because it has, I think, real resonance for newspaper journalists right now.
I'd say that currently there are more opportunities than ever before to change something that's making you unhappy - whether it's learning new skills to specialise, sharing information and telling stories in different ways, helping build and grow niche communities, or just striking out on your own in the spirit of entrepreneurial journalism. Anyway, it's my new desktop wallpaper; I like the sentiment and it's got me thinking - what do I need to change?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Why a local newspaper's court and council coverage won't persuade readers to pay for news online

I read a brief from the Society of Editors conference the other day where an editor- a mate of mine, actually - told his assembled audience:"What we produce is niche. Nobody else sits in our courts every day. Nobody else scrutinises our public bodies". It's stirring stuff and I'm sure his audience swelled with pride but it's just not true.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Worst work experience email ever?

Today brought what can only be described as the worst appeal for work experience with a newspaper I've seen in two decades of working in a newsroom. It is a genuine application - in case you were wondering - and I wanted to share it, verbatim, missing caps and all, because I still can't quite believe someone thought this would be sufficient.
Names have been removed to spare blushes (honestly, I am too nice sometimes):

hi my name is *** i will love to no if i can do my work X there at the [newspaper title] will u ask your boss for me if i can cal u get back to me plzz asap thank u m8t 
 The email address was equally great - an abbreviation of the applicant's favourite football team, with the phrase 'badboy' tacked on the end.
When I was a junior reporter, a long-suffering and kindly sub gave me my own spelling book so I could note down and correct my many errors. I suspect even he would be a bit thoughtful at the prospect of tackling this applicant's shortcomings.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Anti-social media

I've blogged over at the Media 140 blog on online rudeness, bullying, Brumplum-gate and the problems of moderating communities if you're interested in that sort of thing.
It was a timely post as I'd sent the words over on Friday, and then after the whole Fry affair kicked off on Saturday it needed a fair amount of tweaking to reflect those events. Anyway, you can read it here.
Incidentally, I recommend the Media 140 blog if you don't already follow it - the latest post on there is by Henry Ellis and he's shredding the Twitter rulebook with some panache. 

Friday, 30 October 2009

No news to report? Are you sure about that?

A tweet by Jay Rosen led me to this online news story by the Jackson Sun, which says that there have been no newsworthy incidents in the area overnight. So far, so boring right?
I wonder. Because I have also played the 'there is no news' card - and there was a very calculated reason for it, although it is a bit of a long story...

In the mid-ninties I was working for the Gloucester Citizen as a senior reporter, somtimes helping out on the newsdesk, mostly just bemoaning the fact that I had missed out on covering the Rose West trial because the only hotel room left in the whole of Winchester was a twin bed one, the other reporter assigned to cover it for the Citizen was a bloke (who had covered the West horrorfest since the start, to be fair), and the company didn't feel able to have a co-ed bedroom.
So as I kicked around the newsroom, complaining, an unexpected thing happened; the editor's door opened, a shaft of sunlight appeared and a voice issued forth saying: "I need you to go and relaunch the Forest of Dean edition". Truly, I was blessed.

For anyone not in the know, the Forest of Dean is a breathtakingly beautiful area of countryside on the Gloucester/Wales border, where sheep roam the roads freely (and get smeared along them by speeding motorists just as often) and tiny lanes lead to dizzying hilltops from which you can gaze across some of the most amazing views in Britain. In the mid-nineties. it also had one of the most bloody miserable, unhelpful, intransigent police forces that it's ever been my misfortune to have to ring on an early shift.

Nothing happened in the Forest according the FoD police. Nothing. Even when a serving police officer - who went on the run from the North East following a string of dubious incidents, including how he attained the status of widower - turned up dead in a bathtub in a Cinderford semi, after assuming a false identity and joining the local am dram group. The Rapture could have happened in the Forest, and the local police would have denied any such activity.
So one day, several weeks into the relaunch, I snapped. It was a Monday, 7.30am, and there was snow on the ground when I phoned Coleford police station to find out what had happened overnight. "Nothing" came the reply. And at 11.30am the Forest edition started landing at newsagents with a nib in the p6 Briefs column that read: "Not crimes have been committed in the Forest of Dean overnight". Same story in the Incident Book at Cinderford's small police office - the Forest was at peace, and had been for several days, if that was to be believed.
Tuesday came, and I spoke to the desk sergeant at Coleford again. "Nothing". "No crimes have been committed in the Forest of Dean since Saturday" ran the p6 nib. People were starting to ring say this was inaccurate because they were the victims of crimes; we explained the situation, and asked them to contact Coleford Police, also suggesting that perhaps they wouldn't mind telling their friends of this conversation?
Wednesday and Thursday came and went, and so did the p6 nibs. And on Friday I was summoned to see the superintendent at Coleford Police Station for an exchange of views that led with me climbing off my high horser, and them agreeing a series of protocols for working with the press, and asking me to go on their next drugs raid.

I can't say we became the best of friends but the 'there is no news' did at least kickstart the conversation and lead to some much-needed venting. I think both sides were arrogant and held each other in low estime, and with hindsight I feel a little ashamed that I used the Citizen's readers as a stick to beat the police with; it wasn't fair on those victims of crime, but... it did make a difference to how we were able to report crime, and -maybe? - how the police viewed those taxpayers.
So, I can't look at the Jackson Sun's little nib without wondering if there is some gameplay going on. I sort of hope there is.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Speaking Freely "This is a test from SpinVox..." (<<<< that's their headline btw)

"This is a test from SpinVox to my blog to see how long I can talk before, before it runs out of characters and how many if any mistakes it mate cos in that time. I am speaking very slowly and clearly there's no background noise. So everything should work perfectly well past experience."
spoken through SpinVox

The above comment was posted to my blog, from my phone, using Spinvox, a service I used back early in 2008 but quickly became disenchanted with because it couldn't post anything I said without mangling it.
I can live with the 'length of x3 SMS' posts because mobile journalism is about This Is Happening Now rather than Look What We've Put On Our Website For You but I can't live with the errors.

The sentence 'mistakes it mate cos in that time' should read 'mistakes it makes in that time' and the last sentence has been mangled; it should read 'perfectly well although that hasn't been my past experience'. But I did push my luck on the character limit so it's probably my fault it contracted the less-than-favourable bit of the sentence. Although it is suspicious.

Anyway, Spinvox verdict: Not improved enough for me to use again regularly. 

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Google Wave, transparency* and engagement

I've been using Google Wave for about a week now and every time I log on I discover something new. I've read a few gripes about things being broken, or it being too confusing, or too quiet, but for me the biggest problem is having time to play around with it enough to learn everything it can do.

Lifehacker has been invaluable, as has this post and this one although when I swept off in a, well, in a wave of enthusiasm to embed a wave on here I swiftly discovered my limitations. I was pretty downcast as well until I realised that it should be quite easy as it's all done by automation but the facility isn't switched on yet. And since my coding skills are pretty lowly I am really not up to tackling this without bot assistance. So instead of getting hung up on what it can and can't do, I think I'm better off trying to work out the rules of engagement.

For example, I've just crashed a Wave. It's about Flickr, I didn't mean too, but I have just added myself to the discussion simply by clicking 'reply' to see if I could. No one cared but it was weird that a debate was going on between a group of people who obviously know one another and suddenly I'm in the middle of it. All a bit too "Ta-daaaaaaa!" for me right now. I guess it's because I am still treating it like it's a private conversation; it is a public Wave on the public timeline but, like Twitter, it's not easy to keep that in mind when you're using it. It becomes a little world and when someone new arrives it's a surprise.

Here's something else to, raised by Nick Miller in the 'Wave, journalism and the mainstream media' wave I joined today:
Watching people type in real time is fantastic, in a voyeuristic way. You can see their minds working.

But do we want people to see our minds working? How many times have we written an email, tweet or forum comment, only for our censor to kick in and say 'don't send that!'.
How many times? For me, a lot. Right now I'm getting mocked for my poor typing skills by fellow wavers who can see me correcting as I'm going - but there's a lot more onus on me now to think through what I'm going to say. You know in Google Chat when it says X has entered text and it generally means they're sense-checking what they've written? In a wave, your thoughts are revealed letter by letter. And I get very self-conscious if I start a sentence, then backtrack/delete and rephrase it while other people observe me making those changes.

What Google has done is create an application that allows those watching a wave to see thought-proceses at work; a wave is an aid to Transparency. A journalist using a wave is asking people to collaborate wiki-style in information-gathering - in fact, s/he should be writing the article in the wave, so contributors can participate in living, breathing news-making - a space where they can throw questions, facts and comments in themselves - not be served up a flat, one-dimensional statement of facts that ends when the story is thought to be the required amount of words.

I remember last July when a crane collapsed on an apartment block in Liverpool, and how Twitter was integral to the Post and Echo's coverage - imagine if we'd been able to start a public wave on the topic and embed it on our websites. By bringing a contributing audience into our site and asking them to help us - using maps and images being added alongside observations and comments - the 'journalist as gatekeeper' would have been truly defunct. Rumours posted could be quickly checked and a breaking story updated constantly. And it would remain open for users to revisit, and add to. The playback option shows exactly who made what changes when, which is also pretty handy.

It's not Twitter, or Facebook, or a wiki, or even email but it is, I think, a great learning opportunity for journalists who are prepared for the sense of exposure and vulnerability it brings. Letting someone see the messy spaghetti of a story-in-progress is something we've been conditioned against for decades - it's many years since I sat my NCE but I'll bet the NCTJ is still interested in the end product, not the journey - and Google Wave is all about in-progress. It would be unsettling (and possibly, initially, irritating) as a journalist to type a statement and then see another wave participant dive in and start editing the text you've just written to change a fact, or add information but I'd imagine it would also be exciting to see a news story being woven out of random strands of questions and facts.

Google Wave is going to be what a journalist wants make it - crowdsourcing, debating, real-time news-gathering, breaking news, image sharing, archived events, live-blogging, polling, asking for feedback - but, I think, the most exciting thing it offers is the opportunity to change the way we think about interaction and engagement. As a learning tool for transparency, it really could be amazing.

* Shortly after I published this post it was pointed out to me that the headline read 'tansprency'; I told you my typing was hopeless...

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Using animation to tell a news story

No, I'm honestly not suggesting a return to those horrible stilted avatars reading the news headlines, but I do like the idea of using some animation to bring a reader into a story - particularly if the story is the latest in a long running saga and a handy recap of the tale-to-date would be useful.

I made my first cartoon using Xtranormal today; I know it's a site usually used for making training and presentation tools, but I was interested in whether it might work for journalists.
It took me about an hour and I had a lot of fun doing it. As the clip embedded here explains, I chose an avatar (there's everything from corporate to robot avatars available but I fancied having blue hair) and gave it a voice (she's really plummy unfortunately) then started adding animations.

The script is translated to audio, and it does sound stilted, although when I played around with some of the words and punctuation it improved. I think if I'd spent more time on it I could have got it to flow better.
So I know it's not Toy Story but it does the job, and I was more interested in seeing how efficiently it worked, and how long it took to put together, than the style and content.

Anyway, it made me think: why shouldn't we incorporate more animation in our websites? I don't mean some 'toon cat informing us of a moider in a local suburb, I'm thinking more about the options to introduce some fun back into what we do, and what we provide for our audience.
I'd love to see reporters being given time to make multimedia content - soundslides, cartoon, blogging, timelines, wordclouds - to compliment the words they have to churn out every day.

So, this is my first cartoon, made for free on a free site which offers paying customers more characters, audio, sets and other options.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The problems with second-guessing our online audience

Trying to second-guess what a newspaper's online audience wants from its website is a tricky business. Apart from those who come to our sites for information there are huge numbers there purely for commercial services, and who find our sites through searches, not unflagging loyalty.

The second most viewed news article on the Echo site so far this month is a beauty contest semi-final; at the time of writing, it's more than 5,000 hits ahead of (and two rankings higher than) an exclusive interview by the sports editor with the CEO of Liverpool FC, a club that can truly claim to be a global brand with fanatical followers around the world. In short, that was an article you'd have put money on securing the number one spot in the rankings, but it's being beaten by a local beauty pagaent which is generating thousands of page views (possibly from proud relatives...)

The phrase 'We Know What They Want' is a kissing cousin to 'If It Bleeds, It Leads'; murders sell papers and a news editor is always going to put the big crime story at the top of the newslist, but... a violent death isn't always the best story of the day, and not all readers appreciate being served up a diet of crime.
They tell us so, in surveys, on forums, in phone calls, comments under articles, and on blogs. We can't risk doing the same thing online - a YouTube video of some TV singer might do wonders for hits but considered retrospectively I'd say it's a false positive and gives a skewed view of what our core audience values.

A slideshow presentation into the US news industry brought home to me the risks that accompany assuming you know your readership well. It details the results of a survey of 2,400 U.S. newspaper executive and was presented to last week's American Press Institute’s Newsmedia Economic Action Plan Conference by Greg Harmon, of Belden Interactive, and Greg Swanson, of ITZ Publishing.

I discovered it via Steve Outing's blog and I think the slides illustrate how out-of-touch some of the newspaper executives who took partwere. The survey shows the majority incorrectly assumed readers found their content very valuable; they also stated a belief that readers would struggle to find adequate replacements - the reader response was that they wouldn't find it difficult.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Guest-blogging on Media140

I wrote a blog post last week which you won't see on this site. It was about how and why I use the Favourite option on Twitter, what its uses are, and different was of checking out other users' Favourites, and when I finished it I pinged it off to the Media140 blog to use however they wished.
If you want to read it - and please, please do! I don't want to be responsible for a dip in their traffic - the post is here.

It was the first time in just over 18 months of blogging that I've written a post for another person's blog site, and it was a very different experience. I enjoyed it and it was a subject that I found interesting (hopefully so did others), but... I was a bit nervous about doing it because someone else (Dominique Jackson) had invested some trust in me - they'd asked me to provide a post on Twitter on their blog, and I wanted to do it justice.
I get angsty about some of the posts I write here, but at the end of the day this blog is my comfort zone, my own space where I can nip into the backroom and edit post-published spelling horrors, for example; guest-posting was a whole new responsibility.

As it turned out Dominique gave it a lovely standfirst, edited the intro so I looked witty and bright and uploaded it. And then she tirelessly promoted it. So thanks for asking me to guest blog Dee - it was another new learning experience in my blogging life. And, um, I have another idea for a post...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Five phrases to outlaw in newsrooms

I was reading a translated version of the Internet Manifesto (you can find it here) when I was suddenly and unexpectedly struck by an attack of cynicism. Because I agree with the statements it makes but the huge, clanging problem with the 17 stated fundamental points, basic as they are, is that they are on... the internet. And, for too many people in too many newsrooms, things on the internet really don't seem to be considered that important.

Exactly why this is depends on who you're talking to. Higher up the editorial food chain the internet might not be on their radar because the focus is on the money-making print product. At reporter level, it can be a whole different set of issues, although workload is probably at the forefront.
So writing down journalism manifestos and putting it online isn't the answer, because too many of the people who need convincing aren't looking there that often.

It's a serious problem and, I think, it's the new elephant in the newsroom. Do we really know how far a rival's newsroom has embraced multimedia? Every regional paper in the UK talks Good Digital but the reality is somewhat detached from that, I'd be willing to bet.
Now, there are moves to create a new Internet Manifesto here so I'm not going attempt to reinvent the wheel here. But, for me, there are five comments that are - at one time or another - heard in a newsroom, which all the manifesto pledges in the world aren't going to solve; these are the issues that newspaper execs need to start addressing right now.

1. "I'm too busy to.."
Someone who says "I'm too busy to..." (shoot a video/record some audio/set up a survey...) is limiting themselves to one avenue of story-telling - text. By committing to a traditional interview - a reporter writes information down, then writes it up - the newspaper closes off new ways of exploring the issues and finding out what is relevant to its readers.
Time is obviously a consideration - you still have to edit video packages, or create that survey - and a journalist who is juggling three other page leads they need to write for the next day's paper is going to look for savings somewhere. But it shouldn't be the multimedia aspect of a story. I would say: take responsibility for your workload; if you're filming a video package to run with the online version of your news story, the  newsdesk needs to budget for you being out of the office to do the interview, write the copy, and then edit said package. Whether the issue is reporters speaking up, or news editors listening to them, or editors being clear on what the agenda is, it's not an insurmountable problem.

2. 'I don't know how to use/make that'
Saying 'I don't know how to use/make that' is pefectly ok - so long as you follow it up with 'so will you show me?' No one is born knowing how to run an rss feed into a widget, but plenty of people in your newsroom have learned how it works and will help you out if you ask. Blogging isn't a mystery, but why some people in a newsroom view it as a chore to be avoided it at every opportunity is. The internet isn't going away and advertisers are not going to start hurling money at newspapers like they used to; this means that anyone planning on staying in journalism should want to be learning new skills - not only do these open up whole new ways of story-telling, but they make sense from a point of self-interest. After all, in a multimedia world, who is more likely to find themselves valued by an employer?

3. "No one asked me..."
If you're asked why you didn't (grab some cameraphone footage/record audio/write a blog post) the reply "No one asked me for any" is possibly the worst one you can give (other than "I didn't have time" - see point 1). Don't wait to be asked - think! Plan ahead in the same way you marshal your questions in advance for a planned interview, and if it's a breaking news story then the scope for instant digital journalism is even greater - tweet, post photos of what's happening to your own or your newspaper's Twitter stream, livestream action using Qik or Bambuser, and be proactive. Text is the least creative part of any news story; ultimately, no matter how well-written your colleagues tell you it is, it's simply 350-plus words to fill a space in a news page. If you supplement your text with still and moving images, a podcast, an interactive Q&A, or a liveblog, how much more dynamic and memorable will your complete package be? How much more valuable will it be to the audience? The answer is simple: A lot.
Stop thinking in terms of words and pictures for a printed page because this happens anyway if you're doing multimedia journalism the right way.

4. "It's only the website
If you believe "It's only the website" it tends to show. I suspect any digital editor can reel off the names of those in their newsroom who 'get' the web, and those who Can't, Don't or Won't. Those that do are the ones who update their blogs without thinking, are comfortable joining and conversing in online communities, whose toolkit extends further than notebook and pencil. They may turn to Twitter when there's a breaking news story to ask for people's help in covering it, and they are likely to commit spontaneous acts of multimedia journalism. The Can'ts need time, training and encouragement; at its most simple, digital journalism is just publishing instantly, instead of waiting for a press to start rolling.
The Don'ts and the Won'ts usually revert to Stress, Morose or Baffled mode when asked to do something vaguely digital, and then don't do it, citing various problems, from technical to time. The main problem, of course, is that their chosen industry has evolved, and they haven't, yet.

5. "Digital doesn't make money" (variation: "Print is profitable")
Any journalists who use the phrase "Digital doesn't make money", or its evil twin "Print is where the money is"  when questioning (aloud or as part of an inner debate) the value of a newspaper's website need to stop and consider this question: Why does suddenly this matter to you?
Someone raised an interesting point with me recently by asking why newspaper journalists - who have always viewed themselves as above the sordid business of making money - have suddenly started wielding digital  income statistics like a shield.
Ten years ago, the Advertising department was a newsroom's mad wife in the attic - we all knew it was there, but didn't really like to think about what it was up to. Frankly, most journalists neither know nor care what the industry's print advertising revenue is. What you, as a journalist, probably do care about is that things are changing, you're unsure about the future, and you have no idea whether you chose the right career or not.

I agree that updating your work blog is unlikely to turn around the financial black hole our industry is attempting to extract itself from at the moment.
But that work blog might help your future prospects, it definitely allows your audience to start conversations with you and it's certainly one of the more rewarding ways of sharing facts, opinions, photos, videos, links, slideshows, audio, word clouds, tweet clouds, timelines, interactive widgets - and those are just the things I can list off the top of my head. And more ways of telling the story are being invented all the time.
Online journalism shouldn't be a chore, it should be exciting, different, interesting, and fun. If you're working as a multimedia journalist you have the opportunity to be a real pioneer in the art of online storytelling, audience engagement, and new ways of sourcing, sharing and developing information. That has to be worth being a part of.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Paywall drives sales for Newport Daily News

Back in June I blogged some thoughts about newspapers, paywalls and and online subscriptions, with the conclusion that regional newspapers, in my view, were some way off being able to charge for content.

The post was the result of some research I'd been doing around linked questions, and as part of my wander through the online industry experts and observers I discovered that the Newport Daily News had decided to start charging a lot for the privilege of accessing its news online.

The paper's argument was that it was undermining its own product with a free online offering. So it set out to make the online option much less attractive, and something you wouldn't pay for unless you had no other option. A year-long annual online subscription to the Daily News was set at £345, while a print subscription was £200.

This was a concept I found interesting, and I figured it was worth keeping an eye on. It definitely was; the latest figures show the Daily News is, according to Newsweek, now selling an extra 200 copies a day.
William F. Lucey III, assistant publisher and general manager, said the Daily News, which has a circulation of 13,000 has seen a significant gain in its print sales, despite poor weather (every editor knows rain is one of the biggest triggers of a sharp sales drop off).

Of course, the famously monied Newport yachting set isn't typical, and the Daily News has all jumpers-tied-around-shoulders types over a barrel when it comes to online subscriptions; if they want to read what's going on in their spiritual home they have to be prepared to pay for it. Not something too many other papers could rely on. But it does go to show, when people have no other option they will pay for information they want badly enough.
It appears that, in the historic home of yachting, the Daily News has discovered the truth of Bertha Calloway's observation: "We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails".

Pic: Stp243

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Why the RSS river of news drowns Facebook and Google Reader

My Facebook page has had a serious clear out. I junked my Twitter feed, Friendfeed and Mento links (along with a host of other stuff that I never liked or really wanted but which I acquired every time a friend sent me something).
The reason was simple: whenever I logged on I was faced with an overdose of my tweets, Friendfeed rss, bookmarks, notes and more.

As an individual user, I don't much like Facebook. I don't want to be sent kittens, issued with challenges or quizzed, and I prefer sites where I don't have to decide whether to fend off Zombie attacks. I like FB status updates, but that's about it. I use, as opposed to visit, Twitter, Plurk, Flickr and Delicious, all the time. Wired Journalists, Dipity,, Spotify and Blip, and Good Reads are coming up on the rails.

So, on a personal level, Facebook as an aggregator is a turn-off for me but it's not alone; my Google Reader has also undergone a wholesale clearout. I realised the best way I found new blogs and websites was through Twitter - I sometimes subscribe to hashtag themes in my Reader so I can follow a debate, but Friendfeed works just as well. And it's a lot less time-consuming to dip in and out of a hashtag search than see there are 1200 unread items in my reader. Mashable, for example, has been binned and replaced with an rss of @Mashable's tweets - faster to skim through, no adverts - and it saves me clogging my Twitter feed.

I talked at TEDx Liverpool about journalists now having a river of information available to them through social media; I later learned the River of News analogy was well-established in regards to RSS . Google has also been thinking about this RSS news river and the need for more social opportunities in our Reader, I guess, because it's now added 'comments' and 'power reader' recommends to its options (click to enlarge the image):

I'm not really interested in the comments (they tend to be of the 'great post, Jon!' variety) and although I click on the '1 person liked this' links sometimes - I found this interesting post on the subject through six degrees of separation from the 'like' option - I don't want to know what's in a power user's Reader.
If I'm not following them on Twitter or Friendfeed someone who does will no doubt be retweeting them or linking to a post. And if they don't, does it really matter? It's not like I need to know everything that's new or news. And what I think is important might be trivia to someone else.

* River photo by talaakso

Saturday, 22 August 2009

A (very unscientific) test between the N97 and iPhone, With added dinosaurs...

Two titans went up against each other in a desperate battle for supremacy this week, at the Walking With Dinosaurs show in the Echo Arena.
Yes, amid earth-shaking, smoke machines and screaming children, I pitted an iPhone 3Gs and a Nokia N97 against each other to see which came out top.

Actually, it wasn't quite as organised as that. The truth is, my N95 8GB has died and I was torn between replacing it with a sleek, sexy iPhone and a practical and workmanlike N86. And while I procrastinated, unable to decide, work stepped in, took away my N96 and replaced it with an N97. And I happened to be sitting next to the owner of a swish new iPhone at the WWD spectacular. Well, he was my husband...

The new iPhone has a much-vaunted camera and video facility, but no flash. The N97 has a 5 megapixel camera, Carl Zeiss lens and touchscreen facilities. It also has a flash, but because WWD asked people not to use flash photography, I switched it off for the photos and the video, which made it a more fair contest. (Also, you can see on the videos how distracting it is when people took photos using flash.)
We also forgot to charge our phones before we went in - the Nokia had 3 bars left, the iPhone a quarter charge showing.

So, photos:

N97 (camera settings on automatic, minimal zoom)

iPhone (autofocus)

I think the iPhone won that - it's much crisper and has handled the low light better - and I think the zoom function compromised the N97 focus.

N97 (florescent white balance; no zoom)

iPhone (autofocus)

The N97 image is sharper but the iPhone definitely makes better use of the available light. The Allosaurus is barely visible in the Nokia image.
Finally for the photos:


and iPhone

I think the N97 took the better shot although perhaps I was lucky that Mama Rex and tot stopped moving for a nanosecond as I shot this one. Both the Nokia and iPhone images look much sharper when viewed smaller, it's only when they are used larger that they start to degrade.
(Those dinosaur models move rather quickly by the way; it was difficult getting a steady shot without any blur on either phone.)




In terms of video I was really impressed with the iPhone; the sound and image quality is good. The N97 was capturing action on the far side of the stage, and picked up in terms of clarity when it shifted nearer my seat, but I still thought it would beat the iPhone, and I don't think it did, on comparable settings. If I'd adjusted the set-up it probably would have performed better but - using it as a news-gathering tool, you're not always going to have the luxury of time to do that. Of course, a Flip would have blown both iPhone and Nokia away in this test, but you couldn't exactly use it to then mobile upload your videos. Or ring the story through to your newsdesk.

On sundries, the N97 battery lasted about 20 minutes longer than the iPhone. Sound quality on all the videos we took came out better on the N97, but I suspect that was because it's so easy to accidentally muffle the Apple microphone with your hand when you're recording. So which phone won, in my view?
Reader, I went out the very next day and bought... an N86.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Talking social journalism at TEDx Liverpool

I was asked if I'd be one of the speakers at TEDx Liverpool - the first of several TEDx North events taking place over the next few months - and it turned out be be a memorable day.
Based around the mind-stretching theme of Creativity, I got hear presentations by from Microsoft's Steve Clayton and's Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino among others, I met some Twitter friends in real life, and got covered in bubbles by Bubblino.

The theme of my 15-minute talk was Social Journalism - I wanted to explain my thoughts on how journalists who engage communities and interact on social networks can tell stories and gather news more completely, and with better results - and it featured as an example the July crane collapse in Liverpool, as I'd blogged around the subject then and thought about it a lot since.

There was some powerpointage which I've now put on (without the original punctuation errors - it's amazing what you miss until it's up on a damn great screen in front of an audience!) and hopefully it was of interest to TEDx-ers, although I guess the tech crowd must have wished for 15 minutes more of the Microsoft Surface.

The questions at the end were challenging - I think a lot of people outside newspapers must find the crisis facing the industry fascinating. There were a few Post&Echo people in the audience and it must have been a bit weird for them to listen to me discussing the future of journalism in fairly frank terms. As I said at TEDx, my views are my own, not those of my employers. I don't keep them to myself particulalry, but neither do I accost co-workers in corridors and urge them to join Twitter. Perhaps I should.

I wonder, for instance, what my colleagues made of me saying journalists needed to take themselves out of the story, and stop trying to shape and influence it? That journalism wasn't the sole preserve of those paid to do it? That in the future there would be journalists - just maybe not so many, and perhaps they would be working for several employers across different types of media.

The thing is, journalism is changing, the way news reporters operate has to change, and the way we interact and seek out our audiences has certainly got to change. Answering questions on public social networks like Twitter doesn't lessen the importance of a piece of information - it strengthens it, makes it easier to share, and for more people to apply their knowledge. The facts of a crane collapse - the Hows, Wheres and Whys - become really compelling when you add in the Whos: Who was involved; who saw what; who got hurt/had a miracle escape/rescued a neighbour. And you find out Who by reaching out - talking to witnesses, listening to their stories - both in the real world (by going to the scene) and online (by engaging on social media).

Anyway, that's how I see it. For more on TEDx Liverpool have a look at this blog post by The Guardian's Sarah Hartley - and if you're thinking of going to any of the others I'd act now; tickets for Manchester have already gone.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Reporting breaking news using an N95 and social media

I went back to reporting today; there was a fire in Stanley St, Liverpool, and I found myself (quite by accident) on the scene before the road was cordoned off.
Fire engines were parked the length of Victoria Street - there must have been at least 15 there, not to mention police cars and ambulances - and around the junction with Stanley Street were sprawls of rescue teams.

I had a chat with a couple of firefighters while they grabbed a quick glug of tea - both had soot-smudged features and looked very tired - but they were unfailingly cheerful and in full teasing mode. I think it's a requirement of the job that you have to be able to gently mock reporters; in any case, my experience has tended to be that fire crews are the most genial of the blue light services and usually up for a bit of banter.

I had no kit other than my N95 - not even a pen - but I actually didn't need anything else. I shot a bit of video to post to YouTube...


... and then wangled a quick interview with one of the fire service managers, who was not at all fazed when I explained I had no notebook and could he please read out his statement so I could film it. Not cutting edge journalism (my poor, dying N95 collapsed at one point and needed open-back surgery in the back of the fire van) but it worked fine.

There was some drama in how to share the video; I couldn't get them to upload to YouTube via Shozu for ages due to O2 flakiness. (Another consequence of this was that livestreaming via Bambuser was pointless).
Finally the Post & Echo's head of web, Kevin Matthews (not having the gentle return from holidays he was hoping for, I suspect) was able to access them and get them into the online news article, along with photos from fellow digital team member (and nearby resident, Jo Kelly).

What this little reporting interlude made me appreciate was how reliant I have become on social networks and my mobile phone to share information. I didn't need a notebook, laptop or camera - just Twitter, Twitpic and Youtube, and the other users in my network to help me share it. If only I could have remembered my Ipadio password (I was very cross with myself) I would have posted a podcast report of what was happening too. It was fairly simple, and would have been an absolute breeze if it hadn't been for O2.

It was a real case of putting my money where my mouth was; the previous day I'd given a talk at TEDx Liverpool on Social Journalism, and the use of news networks to share stories. I want to blog on TEDx when I've got my thoughts together a bit more, but it was interesting and fun to have to practise what I'd been preaching so soon afterwards. And it was a lot more fun than writing strategy documents...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Can The Observer succeed where The Rocky Mountain News failed?

I'm not a regular reader of The Observer but I'm following the news and views around its potential future (or lack of) with interest.
There's a Facebook page (4,300-plus people have joined, a Twitter account , a Twitter hashtag (#savetheobserver), innumerable blog posts - even Newsnight has come out in support. There is a very real feeling of affection being stated for the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.

Butit strikes me that what people are saying about The Observer is strangely familiar.
Anyone who watched the compelling (and desperately sad) video of the last day of the Rocky Mountain News will probably remember that film featured a series of talking heads from reader.
The interviews start around 8.40 minutes in to the video, and the comments that your average Joe Reader comes back with follow a common theme:
"It's what keeps me in touch"
"You won't miss it til it's gone"
and even
"An uninformed society breeds a lot of social evils"
These are people talking about their local paper before it closed but after its closure became an inevitability.
They are good quotes, and they have impact, but do they tell the whole story? Is the other side of the coin the ones who would have said:
"I don't buy it"
"I won't miss it"
"It's not relevant to me"
Economic pressures and the newspaper industry crisis has been blamed for the demise of Colorado's oldest newspaper but the phrase "Denver can't support two newspapers" crops up in both the video and print accounts of its closure.

Interestingly, in recent weeks a new daily online news magazine has sprung up - the Rocky Mountain Independent - created by some of the writers and editors who previously worked for the RMN. It's a free site, and I'd like to think it can succeed.

In the same spirit, I wish The Observer, its staff and those who are trying to save it all the luck in the world. They are certainly doing their best - the latest report is that a radically-slimmed down Sunday paper is being proposed.
I hope there's a positive outcome to this story, and I'll be buying The Observer this Sunday to show my support. But, in all honesty, I think the best that can be expected in this instance is a stay of execution.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The journalist marketplace

I've been having an online amble around Journalism Shop and wondering how long before something similar opens in the UK.

This is what the founders have to say about themselves:

Over the past couple of years the Los Angeles Times and its corporate owner, Tribune, have undergone an epic financial crunch which has led to the jettisoning of hundreds of veteran journalists. We are some of them. Our ranks include veteran political journalists, fashion writers, award-winning investigative journalists and a wide raft of the invisible folks of newspapers - line editors, copy editors, page designers and researchers. We are mainly based in Southern California but have members scattered widely -- Washington, D.C., Illinois, Virginia, Arizona and even Taiwan.

The Los Angeles Times' loss can be your gain. Our interests range from freelance magazine journalism to book writing, deep project research to report design and writing. We encourage you to tap into our vast reservoir of experience and skill to bring to your own projects the caliber of journalism that helped make the Los Angeles Times one of the nation's top newspapers.

I'm interested to see how this develops; I wonder sometimes if the future of journalism will be made up of freelancers who support themselves by selling articles, but who are in turn hired in by media companies to work on specific stories.
After all, the on-costs would be minimal and companies would save huge amounts in recruitment and retention, and pensions, not to mention in the training of staff (of course, news companies could even could start running - and charging - training courses).
On the flip side, what price do you put on loyalty, commitment, quality of employees with know abilities?

I suppose there would be an element of practicality in purchasing the time of a specifically-skilled journalist for a specific story. A specialist health journalist, for example, could find themselves booked to work on upcoming hospital league table figures, with a brief to invesgitate and return two days worth of copy (and I'm guessing associated graphics, images, podcasts or video reporting too).
Such a team would have to suppliment a small core of retained writers - but what would those writers be working for? A publishing company in the broadest sense of the word I'd imagine - print and website, books, video...

Journalism Shop, Spot.Us, Help Me Investigate - they all come back to a common theme - reporters reporting issues that people really are interesteted in, not following other agendas.
There's a lesson here.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Testing some audio-blogging tools for journalists

Mobile podcasting can be a real boon for newspaper journalists on a breaking story - it's a quick, easy way to get a story out. For the listener, it feels fast, real, and engaging - and it's also a simple way of filing copy back to the office.
I guess we're all too attached to our lovely, weighty prose but there are always more apps coming along to to make podcasting easier on-the-go so it's worth giving it a try.

The latest one arrived yesterday courtesy of a tweet from The Pauls (Kinlan and Rawlings, creators of FriendDeck, among other things) who asked for testers for Friendboo - a new FriendFeed podcasting tool. In their own words:
FriendBoo is a super simple audio blogging application built for the users of Friendfeed. All you need is a Friendfeed account and a regular phone.
It's in very early beta so a few gremlins were unavoidable but it's looking promising. I reckon regional newspapers with FriendFeed sites could potentially use this as an easy 'audio-comment under stories' option for readers.
I like it because it's a unique, dynamic addition to a site that is, for many users, a simply a nexus point for information from other sites. Probably more importantly for the developers Robert Scoble is also a new fan.
So, after a couple of tests I thought I'd see how it compared with other sites I've used.

PROS: Simple dial-in; available for UK and USA users; established commenting facility; cross-posting; fast, embeddable; sharing options, decent sound quality.
CONS: Early beta means inevitable hiccups; not the prettiest embed.
Friendfeed account required.

Undoubtedly the most popular site (for now - it's amazing how faddy the web is) - is Audioboo which I tried out for the first time using an iPod touch with external mic (cost me £19.99 from Apple and works brilliantly with the Skype app). The embedded player looks lovely, and the sound quality is excellent but it's really restricting its audience to App-olytes right now. I've synched my Nokia to the Audioboo account but I've never managed to get it to work properly.
*UPDATE: Sarah Hartley's instructions on how to 'boo from a Nokia are here


PROS: Ecellent sound quality; very simple; cross-posting options; photo-adding; rating and comment facilities, fast, free, attractive embed.
CONS: Unavailable for non-iPhone users (does work with iPod Touch with external mic); doesn't feel as much of a social media option as the others.
Audioboo account required.

For non-Apple users, Ipadio is a good option. Discovered this back in May and although I've not had cause to use it since I have kept it at the back of my mind as an exciting new site. The sound quality is good and the embed is very nice, although I don't like the 'second phonecast' text. What's the point of it?

PROS: Simple to use, low-cost, good sound quality, embed and subscribe options, fast-loading site, short PIN, fast upload, cross-posting; free service ('right now' according to the blurb).
CONS: Dont like the 'Another fine phonephlog' cross-post text;
Ipadio account required

And, for nostalgia sake, I returned to Utterli, a site I loved right up until the moment they stopped taking calls from the UK because of costs. Using it with my laptop I recorded and uploaded an Utter in seconds (I think the limit is a 10 minute podcast) but mobile-podcasting isn't an option so that makes it pretty limited.

Mobile post sent by Alison using Utterlireply-count Replies.  mp3

You upload with text, video or photos if you wish, and others respond via audio or text. It's a nice idea, and I wish the phone option still worked.

PROS: Free (from laptop); easily embedded, cross-posting, photo and video uploads supported, good social media opportunities, community-building.
CONS: Not available on mobile in UK; not always great sound quality.
Utterli account required

So, which would I use? Right now I'd say Ipadio is the most functional although - like Audioboo - it's more about broadcasting than conversation. But I think Friendboo could be very good once it's ready to launch and the threaded conversation opportunities are far greater. Look forward to seeing how it develops.

Back on Utterli

and it's been a while... I wish phoning in from the UK still worked :(

Mobile post sent by Alison using Utterlireply-count Replies.  mp3

Who'll teach the new tricks now the old dogs have left?

Last week I got tricked up in a gown and mortarboard to graduate from the Journalism Leaders Course, courtesy of a Trinity Mirror team-up with UCLan.
It was a good day but it struck me as I sat in Preston Guildhall that there was a very large number of newly-qualified journalists sat in rows around me. And that was just from UCLan - I guess all over the country hundreds of journalists are pouring, freshly-minted, into the World of Work.
I'd bet some are better equipped to cope with the changing industry they hope to enter than many of those already ensconsed, but still - there were a lot of people in that hall.
I wish them all the best for the future, and I'm happy that so many people still want to pursue a career in journalism; open minds coming in to the industry are just what we need - I hope whichever newsroms they wind up in appreciates the optimism, ambition and training that has walked through the door.

Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, was awarded an Honorary Fellowship, which meant he had to sing for his supper, ie. make a speech. He kicked off with the obligatory hilarious story about something involving interviewing a turkey for regional televizzzzzzzzzzzzz... but then he moved on to the future of journalism, and the BBC, and it got more interesting.

He spoke of the move to Salford Quays, and said it would create hundreds of quality journalism jobs (so kudos to UCLan for getting in ahead of the competition and making him a Fellow - nothing like having friends in high places).
And he also spoke at length about the need to mainstain standards, saying that technology was changing journalism and journalists but that the core values of a brand - by which I assume he meant accuracy, status, reputation etc - should always be a constant, no matter what other changes occurred.

But it all sounded so passionless. This was a room filled with talent, from newly-fledged hacks to broadcasters, but there was nothing I heard that would have inspired me at the start of my career. I might have been vaguely comforted by the idea of those 'hundreds of jobs' but no more than that.

Driving back from Preston I found myself thinking of when I was a cub reporter covering Pembroke magistrates court. It boasted a press bench that had gained some fame among Welsh journalists as reporters from local nespapers, tv, radio and even some exotics from the nationals, had sat and added their names to the oak banding around the green leather table top down the years.

My late and so-much-missed colleague Vernon Scott once told me he wanted to buy the press bench because of the journalistic history etched on its timbers. His name was there, of course, and - after a few weeks of recording the misdeeds of the recidivists of Pembroke borough, so was mine, next to the name of Hugh Turnbull, carved when he was a local reporter covering Pembroke court. He went on to become a national news editor and the brain behind Blackie the Donkey.

I remember a lot of the names on that bench still - Len Mullins, John Evans, Martin Cavaney - they were local legends, and adding my name alongside theirs made me feel a bit of a fraud, because I worried I would never be as good as them.
These were some of the people who helped me learn my trade; working alongside them I learned more than I ever did from swotting for the NCE.
I wonder how many of those newly-qualified journalists I sat by in Preston will have similar old dogs to help them learn new tricks - to discover the real stuff of being a local reporter, and a writer. I fear that there won't be that many... they've taken redundancy, early retirement or the PR option.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Using old and new media for breaking news

A crane fell down in Liverpool today, crashing onto an apartment block, and I knew about it within seconds, from two sources.
One was eyewitness who rang the Echo - it being the kind of local paper that people do still ring when things happen - and the other was Thom Shannon sat in an office near the scene of the accident, who twittered what had happened:

Within seconds Thom and Stuart Robarts at FACT had photos online via Twitpic and Flickr (Thom used a rather ingenious method of combining iPhone and binoculars to get a shot) before photographer extraordinaire, Pete Carr, heard about the news and headed off with his kit.
His photos are here.
The Echo and Post had great copy, a map, images and video on the websites but it was taking too long to cache, so we made sure the papers Twitter streams kept up constant breaking news with links back to our copy, while retweeting locals who had images on Flickr and other sites.

There was the inevitable 'who needs newspapers' tweet...

Need newspapers? maybe not, but a lot of those on my networks wanted journalists to ask the questions they wanted answers to. After all, everyone knew one fact - a crane had fallen onto flats - but it was journalists from the Post&Echo who were trying to fill in the details.
So you have...

followed by...

Scores of people were asking if anyone was hurt, were people trapped, just what had happened - and we were able to answer those queries only because we had reporters on the ground, in the office making phone calls to the emergency services, and talking to the HSE, among other. We managed to wrongly credit @FACT_Liverpool on the Echo's changed front page but since the story broke as the print run was in progress, it was inevitable a mistake would creep through.

Anyway, it was a good way to combine as many different strands of storytelling as possible. Traditional print, mixed with online social media, staff video and photos, and broke the news, then kept updating the story, very effectively.

I also put together a quick Dipity Flipbook of a feed grabbed from Twitter Search, which should update itself in the future.

I could have made the search term wider but you'd be amazed how many tweets contain the word 'crane' without it ever being in reference to "Any arm which swings about a vertical axis at one end, used for supporting a suspended weight", let alone collapsing ones.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Cutting the contributions budget could really cost us

In my reporting and newsdesking days I sometimes got asked by a caller ringing in with a tale if there was any hope of us paying for the information. In the regionals I've worked on, we never paid for information although if the story was likely to sell, and good enough, we'd help arrange syndication and the subject would get a cut.

We bought did pay freelance photographers and writers for their work but the freelance budget has shrunk down to the barest of bones in recent years; I suspect most freelance writers now view regional newspapers as a lost cause, and freelance photographers probably wonder if the fee will cover the cost of the fuel getting there.

Yes times are hard, but a slashed contributions budget is a frustrating and humiliating thing for a newsroom. We want those dramatic rescue photos but can we pay for them? It's not that we won't, it's that often we can't.
Believe me, when you have to say "sorry but we don't have a budget for that" to someone who has captured something of real local significance you feel cheap, and you sound cheap.It's making local newspapers look bad at a time when they can ill afford it and invites 'price of everything, value of nothing' comments.
Newspapers have taken for years, and known the value of what they were taking. In the future, we'd better be a bit more accommodating.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Discovering the joys of FriendDeck

Anyone who follows me here or on Twitter may have picked up on my 'like it but keep forgetting to use it' attitude towards FriendFeed.
I mean, I see the purpose of it, but I'm always forgetting to log in to the website - it's not an essential part of my network yet.
So I was intrigued when I noticed a tweet from Liverpool software developer @PaulKinlan (of and the late, lamented fame) referencing something called 'FriendDeck'. I sent him a message back asking what it was and he responded with a very modest:

He added it was also available as an Adobe Air client too. It took me a few hours but I eventually found time to go an explore FriendDeck, and already I really like it.
I'm still playing around with it but on first impressions I'd have to say it works well - it's very fast, user-friendly, looks like Tweetdeck (which is a good thing) and has the ability to share, like or open the original link.
This is the one I set up to try it out (click to enlarge the image):

Good isn't it? It also has (but I've got the thing to large for them to show on the grab) my FF thread, groups I belong to, and my friends FF thread - all in one handy app. And that solves the problem I've had with the FF website - I have to flip backwards and forwards between my groups, my friends, me...
Plus I can post direct from it, and close off columns as I wish, and add new ones.
Anyway. If you want to try it you can find FriendDeck here.
I think I've finally found something that will make me use FriendFeed regularly.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Funding the future

Questions I've been asked my thoughts on recently:

1. Should papers charge for some content online?
2. Could more money be made from paid content than advertising?
3. What about premium models?
4. How will new technologies affect charging?
5. Is it better to be an early adopter or a follower?
6. What about competitors? How do we respond to what they do?

Tricky eh? And my lack of answers led me to spend an afternoon rifling Google Scholar, blogs and articles to try and see if I could at least understand the issues better. I've linked to those I found useful, and I have some ideas now - but I still don't have answers...

Should papers charge for all/some content? Rupert Murdoch thinks so. Consumers, obviously, disagree: Only 16 per cent of consumers said they would rather pay for content (and avoid online ads) one survey found. Leaving the nationals aside, on the subject of charging for content, specialist or otherwise, Mark Potts, says "any given local media ecosystem also comprises community papers, alternative papers, business papers, ethnic papers, TV stations, radio stations, blogs, community newsgroups and listservs, Web players (Yelp, Citysearch, craigslist, etc.) and many others….the marketplace is going to shrug and turn elsewhere to find out what’s going on around town, for free".
I'm interested to see where Journalism Online takes things but, right here and now I don't think regional newspapers are in a position to start charging for content, specialist or otherwise.

Could more money be made from paid content than advertising? I'd guess not with most newspapers' existing websites, editorial production models and commercial and editorial set-ups (and mindsets.
I'm intrigued by the Newport Daily News deciding to make its online readers pay a lot more to access content than it charges for its printed editions and maybe strong regional brands might see an opportunity with this idea (Sheila L. Mullowney, the newspaper’s executive editor, describes as "a print-newspaper-first strategy*”) but investing in commercial technologies and training, recruiting and retaining the right commercial teams, caring about the products on offer, creating relevant, user-friendly advertising platforms and being able to provide paying clients and consumers with real excellence is perhaps a more realistic goal.
*Caveat: The News is a family-owned business, and has "no debt" or shareholders expecting high profits either. It is not, I think, a yardstick for much of the industry.

The WSJ is, I guess, the most successful example of using a paywall. Alan Murray, executive editor, says Google News readers are now allowed behind the paywall because they have no relationship with the paper and arrive via a search. He also says you shouldn't put your most popular content behind a paywall because you restrict your reach, and believes content behind a pay wall should appeal to (sometimes very small) niches.
Quite a few industry brains think Alan Murray is wrong; I think the WSJ model is imperfect but there are lessons to learn from its operation.

The WSJ's paid content relies on brand strength, very high quality journalism, and niche targeting. To provide high quality journalism, you have to ensure all your journalists aren't all grinding out copy in a never-ending battle to fill overnight pages. In short, you have to ask which is more important: print or online?
And since I'm on thin ice, I'm going to edge out further and say that while premiership football might seem like an obvious niche, it's not.

Football clubs, like newspapers, are in the main now run as plcs not family businesses or hobbies (generally anyway - and for every Chelsea there's a Newcastle Utd), and break their own exclusives, make tv shows, interview players and managers, and generally aim to spin and influence reporters to their advantage. Maybe, though, there is a real opportunity to apply quality sports journalism to grassroots sports - football, rugby, gymnastics, whatever. A searchable online archive of all your newspapers going back to the Year Dot could be considered niche, as could photo archives, and personalisation.

At the very least, premium models have a better chance of success than a broad paywall approach. But newspapers that attempt premium models will need to offer good user experience, excellent interface, mobile integration and keep investing, improving and innovating, because the ground will keep shifting.

Technology (and cultural shifts) will inevitably affect charging; mobile remains an emerging area and Nokia to Apple proved scope exists to charge for packaged content easily browsed on-the-go although USA Today learned a hard lesson with its free iPhone app.
Geotargeting mobile customers is a proven, effective way of extending commercial reach, rss can easily carry advertising, podcasts and video should be topped and tailed with commercial opportunities, with the option of an ad break for longer shows.

Newspaper companies also eying e-readers as a potential way of introducing commercial models to users (younger, more affluent, probably familiar with buying content online - whether Amazon or their iPod) - after all, the Kindle 2 is used by the New York Times, WSJ, FT and USA Today.
I think the mobile web could be far more commercially viable but it's not the whole answer.
I pay for some apps on my iPod but I don't pay for news on that or on my pc - I go elsewhere. Hidden it behind a paywall? No matter, I or someone in my network will source the same article elsewhere on the web within minutes.
So, drawing on my own experience, I'd say e-readers should be a part of a business model - but not a big part. I was interested in Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, saying: “We believe we must begin to provide greater differentiation between the content of our free Web sites and the content of our paid product, be that paid product read in print, on a digital device like Amazon’s Kindle, or online,” but I note his all-staff email opens with the need to cut costs.

Early adopter or follower? without being glib, I'd go for early follower. Early adopters might go into something with a bigger budget but it doesn't mean the outcome will be more successful for being first.
Plus, if a business strategy is robust, flexible and truly forward-looking then the actions of a rival can help inform decisions but I doubt someone is going to come up with a gasoline pill. Whatever one company does, a rival will copy and do differently, while claiming their model is better, more innovative, cheaper or successful.
It's just the way of the world.
* Update: I forgot to link to this post by Kevin Matthews too.