Monday, 20 June 2011

The Gordian Knot of newspapers, journalism and making money

I have a lot of questions; I don't have many answers.
Four years ago, I thought the questions I should ask were: Why aren't we tweeting? Do we have a Facebook page? Shall we start a Flickr group? How do we go about running a 3-day liveblog? etc etc
About two years ago I started asking new questions. These were: Are we engaging enough? Why do we have so much online shovelware? Why are we holding that story for print? and - increasingly - Why aren't newspapers doing more to help themselves? 
Twelve months down the line and there was another shift in questions. They became: Why are we still having this discussion? Does anyone really believe people will part with hard cash for what we currently offer online? Does anyone have any answers? 

Years of questions that went from being all about the shiny, dynamic world of digital journalism and engagement, to articulating concerns about the inability of the legacy end of the business to catch up, to frustration.
And you know what? There are a lot of people asking 'does anyone have any answers?' - you can almost hear the sound of cyber coughing, and the shuffling of digital feet, as we wait for someone to fill in the silence.

Last week, Alan Rusbridger had a go at filling the silence, and suddenly we all wanted to talk about it too. Kevin Anderson wrote this:
The Guardian needs an intervention. Digital first will not be enough to save it. It needs to remember that although they are supported by a trust, that is not a licence to completely ignore business realities. 
and sparked a pretty wide-ranging and long-lasting debate; even yesterday I saw on Twitter he was being challenged for this stance by Journalism Luminaries Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rose. However, as someone on the inside of the mainstream media (non-Trust), looking out, his thoughts on the need to be more commercially aware resonated with me.
I have sat through a lot of conferences where the future of journalism has been talked into submission but the survival of the mainstream media barely registered, which is fine if you don't work in mainstream media but I do, and it's a subject close to my heart.

When I read the Guardian announcement, my first thought was it seemed a slightly more elegant approach to the Gordian Knot that is the Future of Journalism/Newspapers than Alexander might have taken, but it was still from the same school of "FUCK THIS for a game of soldiers". Maybe Rusbridger's also had enough of asking Why are we still having this discussion? 

At the first News:rewired conference Marc Reeves spoke about the need for journalists to be more commercially savvy and aware of opportunities for their advertising departments. His message was misunderstood by some as saying journalists should sell advertising and he drew some criticism. Those people missed the point of his message.

I read this on Afrodissident today
I read with dismay a few days ago that Business Day was developing an app for iPad. I’m no Luddite, but I think it’s a crying shame knowing that money’s being wasted on a gimmick when it should be rather spent on improving the paper’s core product.
Personally, I doubt making an app will detract from the core product - resourcing an app is the tiniest drop in the ocean compared to keeping the legacy product afloat but it's an eloquent blog post that poses some interesting questions.
Several years ago, when I first got to experiment with all sorts of digital tools for engagement, community building, conversation and interaction, for the first time I understood there was an audience waiting to talk to us about what we do, and had their own views about what we should and shouldn't do. It was an exceptionally liberating and illuminating time. The Shiny doesn't distract me from my job, it helps me do it better.
It isn't the whole solution; perhaps it's more important to work out much of the answer it could be. I don't think The Guardian is going to act as a canary for the rest of the media in this - it is, after all, a unique beast - but the News International model hasn't worked at regional level so far.
I guess it's going to throw out a whole new set of questions.

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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Citizen journalism? Pro-am journalism? Enough with the name calling

So, this whole 'what can we call citizen journalism' thing is starting to annoy me in the same way the whole 'journalist or blogger' debate makes friends of mine start breathing into brown paper bags.

I spotted a tweet from Heather Brooke, attending a conference somewhere, about something (yes, I checked and no, I couldn't find out what it was but my last post was griping about What Is This Hashtag For so I'll move on):

So 'pro-am' journalism seems to be the rebranded jargon for citizen journalism which is, at root, what used to be 'journalism'. #pdf11.less than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply

Anyway, I didn't really know what that meant so I had a quick Twitter search. And it turns out there's a whole tranche of people pro-am-ing away... here are a few:

For participation in pro-am journo people need to see & *feel* how they can jump in! Via @jayrosen_nyu #pdf11 #tummelless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply


I feel a response brewing to @jayrosen_nyu excellent #pdf11 talk on pro-am journalism and it may have a #Mets angleless than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

Turned out pro-am - at least in the context of this conference - was a Jay Rosen term and given that he is an influential voice in the world of journalism (someone I read and follow on Twitter, for a start) I guess I'll be hearing the phrase a lot more. But, frankly, I'm sick of determinations.

People do journalism all the time; some of them are paid to do it and they are called Journalists; others aren't and they are called... well, all sorts of things.
If they are reporting on something and consider they are doing journalism, why can't they be called journalists? What distinguishes them from someone else? If you're paid to do it you may call yourself a professional journalist but - to stretch the analogy - a musician is a musician is a musician. Telling the world you're a professional looks a little desperate.
Also, I've worked with a couple of people who had actual qualifications and a salary, whom - in my view - shouldn't have considered themselves as journalists.

If one person is telling about something that happened, and that person is spreading it to a wider world, then one is the eye-witness, the other the reporter. If one person is asking questions about any variety of topics, and sharing the answers with a wider world, they can call themselves a journalist as far as I'm concerned. The Nomenclature Police are hardly likely to care either.

If I want someone to design me a new wing for Chateau Gow I may go to an architect or I might just get a clever friend, someone au fait with design software, to rustle me up something. Is that citizen planning? Have we entered the realm of pro-am architect-design?

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Thursday, 2 June 2011

"Will you be my contact in the world of home-baking?"* and other online influence conundrums

Social media happenings I will never understand:

1. Farmville: Agri-vation of the worst kind
2. Twitter rage: Just unfollow Piers Morgan if he annoys you that much
3. Measurements of online influence

Take Klout ('the standard measure of online influence', according to its biog); a tweet from Mo Krochmal asking if anyone understood +k sent me to the site this evening to see what he was talking about.
I still don't know what +k is, but I found myself in a section that told me what I was influential in and how long for.
Just have a look:

Oh yes, I am influential about Cupcake.
I've never baked them, I certainly don't tweet about them - hell, I don't even eat them - but I am influential about them.
It's possible Cupcake is a geographical place where tweets are enshrined in tablets of stone and Cupcakeians (Cupcakealonians?) live their lives according to 140char observations, but... possibly it's because I have two Twitter contacts - @Cupcake_Rev and @Cupcakesincity? I genuinely don't know how else to explain it.
Drilling down further into this ego-bruising data, my influence in Cupcake lasts 33 hours - the same as it does for Journalism.

The other topics are broadly there (not sure about 'business' but maybe my UCLan course links have played a part) and there may be a deeper moral here but, for me, the lesson is simply this: When it comes to social media influence measurements, take it all with a large pinch of chocolate frosting.
* If the admittedly-obscure title of this post doesn't ring any vague bell, I urge you to go and buy Pratt of the Argus by David Nobbs. Forget McNaes - this is the definitive book a regional news journalist needs to know by heart.