The founder of the Frontline Club, Vaughan Smith, is asking freelance journalists around the world to take part in a survey about the physical risks of their work.
The survey is aimed at freelance camera operators, video journalists, photographers, stringers and other independents anywhere in the world.
I believe that there is an opportunity, post embed-free Libya, for a practitioner-led initiative to move the industry forward on news safety.
In April this year the Frontline Club will host workshops, bringing management, practitioners and freelances together to discuss the issues.
It is my view that freelance interests have suffered in the past for lack of representation. Opinions on these matters outside the mainstream are broad and no freelance can confidently speak for another.
I intend to take a first step to address this by using the data from this survey to inform the debate on safety. The results will be published but not the names of any contributors.
As Jeremy Vine, in the foreword to a new book about journalism titled Face the Future, describes returning to the Coventry Evening Telegraph to find the editorial staff cut from 85 to less than 20, ‘facing the future’ feels more like ‘facing the music’.
I think we all felt sad, standing across the road in the chill wind and looking at the bedraggled giant we had abandoned two decades before. But a sense of the inevitable takes the edge off any sadness: it had to happen, didn’t it?
Yes, it did. Journalism is shifting inevitably away from the printed word toward the digital future, and regional newspapers were always unlikely to be ahead of the game. But despite the nostalgic, forlorn reflections of the opening few paragraphs, the editors of Face the Future: Tools for the modern age have assembled a collection of essays that look unequivocally forward. From one BBC veteran to another, Peter Barron sets a different tone in an early chapter, titled “Staring into the crystal ball, and seeing a bright future for journalism”.
Barron, who nailed his colours to the new media mast when he left the BBC for Google in 2008, doesn’t see anything very new about the disruption caused by digital media.
In this chapter I will argue that, rather than seeing the looming extinction of journalism, we are seeing its reinvention. It will no doubt be a painful reinvention, but you need only look back to the advent of radio, television and cable news to see that disruption caused by technological innovation is nothing new. So, what might this future for journalism look like?
Twitter, hyperlocal, SEO, coding, crowdsourcing, WikiLeaks, real-time data, personal branding, all terms that many industry folk are well accustomed to but all ideas and technologies still in their comparative infancy. They form the focus of some of the chapters in the book, which features contributions from the likes of Paul Bradshaw, Alan Rusbridger, Malcolm Coles, Oliver Snoddy, Josh Halliday, and former Journalism.co.uk senior reporter Judith Townend.
Along with our former editor Laura Oliver, Townend will be appearing alongside Raymond Snoddy and Kevin Marsh on a panel at the Frontline Club tonight to launch the book, which was edited by Coventry University senior lecturer in broadcasting John Mair and University of Lincoln journalism professor Richard Lance Keeble.
At the meeting, which chair John Owen described as “unprecendented”, it’s reported that there was widespread support for Vaughan’s stance, although some concern was raised about his perceived role in the case.
The main areas of concern were that Vaughan was seen as a spokesman for WikiLeaks and that the distinction between his personal support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and the Club could get lost in the reporting of the story.
It was suggested that the Trust should take on the responsibility of the PR and appoint a spokesperson to relieve Vaughan of what had become an “impossible task” of dealing with the press.
While there was a great deal of support expressed for the WikiLeaks operation, some journalists were concerned that the Club should be impartial and not take on a campaigning or advocacy position.
Fascinating piece from Frontline Club founder Vaughan Smith on why he has given WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange a place to stay as part of the conditions of his release on bail. Assange was granted bail yesterday at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, but is still in jail following an appeal of the decision by Swedish prosecutors (background to his arrest on Journalism.co.uk at this link).
I ponder the disservice to Julian done by the media. With their stockings stuffed by WikiLeaks they dehumanise him with images printed and screened of a cold, calculating Machiavelli pulling strings from secret hideouts. The main hideout, of course, being the Frontline Club, where many of them have interviewed him.
They made him out to be the internet’s Bin Laden. The likeness might be poor, but that was OK because the colours were familiar and bright. Now the focus is on Julian’s court fight, instead of on the opaque political system that his leaks have exposed.
Google has again recruited from BBC staff as part of attempts to encourage online publishers to make more of the media giant’s news platform, this time hiring the broadcaster’s head of development and rights Madhav Chinnappa.
According to a report by paidContent:UK, the position is likely to centre on improving relations between Google News and newspaper publishers as many continue to question the value of the site to them – as demonstrated in a debate at the Frontline Club last week, attended by another former BBC recruit Peter Barron, who previously edited Newsnight but now heads up Google’s communications and PR department.
It’s a new post, and a sign Google is increasingly keen to dampen increasing scepticism, from some newspaper publishers, regarding its attitude to content, and instead come to amicable arrangements.
Debate raged at the Frontline Club last night as Google and news publishers came head-to-head for a panel discussion on the search engine and its impact on the industry.
The very title of the event “Google: Friend or foe of newspaper publishers”, part of the club’s monthly On the Media discussion series in association with the BBC College of Journalism, set the topic of early debate, as Peter Barron, former Newsnight editor and now head of PR for Google UK, sought to banish the idea of the company as an ‘enemy’. “Google is unequivocally a friend of the newspaper publishers. Our aim is to work with them,” he said.
Challenged about the ethics of “taking stories for nothing” through the Google News platform, he added that the service followed the free structure of online news.
We absolutely we do not steal content. News organisations put their content on the web for free everyday by their own free will and Google helps people find that content. We send clicks to the pages of news websites. We send a billion clicks a month to news websites globally. Once there, those clicks are a business opportunity for the businesses involved.
A business which he claims generates revenues of £5 billion worldwide. But the value of a browser who clicks through from Google is minimal, Matt Kelly, digital content director for Mirror Group Newspapers argued. In fact, he said, he’d rather not have them at all.
We need to worry a bit less about search engines and worry a bit more about our readers. We weren’t that impressed with the value of audience we got via search engines. They came across it via Google and buzzed off again, that’s Google’s audience. It’s not our audience. We can’t successfully leverage a disconnected audience.
He added that many news organisations moving online were “blinded” by the reach the internet and sites like Google enabled them to have.
I think they confused reach with audience, they confused numbers with engagement. It was a very alluring thing (…) So we pumped the market full of inventory and there was too much inventory for advertisers to supply. There’s not enough advertising in the world to fill all of the content that newspapers put out online. So what happens is the rate collapses. So suddenly this reach came back and bit the newspaper industry on the arse. So in all this great reach, the rate of revenue coming back from it is in terminal decline. What we would sell 4 or 5 years ago for £8 cpm now we’ll sell it for 80p cpm. This is not a sustainable business model. This is a product of the erosion of engagement that Google brought to news content.
Kelly later added that he would rather get one click-through from Twitter than 100 from Google, where someone has said “check this out” and recommended it. “I’m not interested in people who stumble and go, would rather not have them at all,” he said.
Earlier in his introduction, fellow panel member Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at the London Business School, had agreed that Google was “a good thing for consumers (…) Good thing for advertisers. Bad thing for media companies.”
He said the revenue model for Google focused on making money from advertising and not re-investing much of it into content. Without Google, he added, the world would be a better place for news organisations.
Who’s going to pay for the content? Google isn’t going to and why should they? Google helps people find content, however if you imagine a world in which Google didn’t exist and nothing else like it, that world would be better for news organisations (…) The amount of revenue per reader generated online is much less than what can be generated by a print reader.
Peter Barron responded to say that the problems for news organisations have been caused by the internet as a whole and that too often people “transpose” the internet and Google.
The internet changed the news pattern forever. Thats what has caused huge problems for the news industry. People often transpose the internet and Google. The newspaper industry has faced a huge disruption because of the internet and woke up to it a little bit late.
Wired and Press Gazette MediaMoney columnist Peter Kirwan, who was also on the panel, added that many online news publishers simply have their priorities “skewed”. If organisations could cut out the “astronomical” costs of printing, they could begin to think about becoming digital only, he added.
The rhetoric that surrounds the idea of the news media exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, in other words (…) the available CPMs (cost per thousand) available on the internet are so much lower than in print – well yes they are – but the cost of putting out newspapers is also astronomically high (…) Strip that out and those digital diamonds don’t look so small (…) News organisations who are currently print dominated could start to think about becoming digital only and I think the rhetoric is now getting slightly tired of exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, we need to move on from that a little bit because I think the possibility of a digital only existence is starting to open up.
Looking forward, audience members asked about the future of paywalls and whether news publishers would ever consider building a shared wall. This prompted another panel member, paidContent’s Robert Andrews to ask Barron if Google could say anything on rumours the company was developing a ‘Newspass’ micro-payments system, met with a “no comment” from Barron.
Kelly added that it was up to newspapers to map their own future, but for the Mirror Group, it was about ensuring an engaged audience, rather than being obsessed with traffic from “transient visitors”, which he called this “a sickness that has pervaded the industry”.
Lots of people used our content but didn’t care about it. We’re trying to get to position B, its free and they care about it but then one day we might get to position C which is that they care about it so much they might be willing to pay for it. I wish [the Times] had gone to position B first and see if they could have engaged the audience and care a bit less about SEO.
Journalism.co.uk’s podcast from the event can be found here. See video coverage of the event below:
Journalists from across all media platforms came together at the Frontline Club last night to discuss the impact of mobile on the newsroom and the wider media world.
“Mobile is as different to online as television is to radio,” CNN’s vice-president of mobile Louis Gump told the Frontline audience.
In the beginning people took someone who was sitting in the radio studio and put a camera on it. Then realised they didn’t have to do it that way. I think that’s what happening now.
He told Journalism.co.uk that the near future of mobile content needs to look at original content, rather than just using it as a new platform for existing material.
The biggest change I think will happen at CNN over the next two years is we are going to start creating content just for mobile devices. Right now most of what you see on a mobile from CNN you can also find on other platforms, but we will have more original programming.
The panel debate covered most of the ongoing issues surrounding mobile journalism, from the role a device plays in the image of a journalist to the debate over how such content should be used by ‘professional’ video journalists. Andy Dickinson, course leader of BA Digital Journalism Production at University of Central Lancashire, said it was a “mistake” to expect large news organisations to adopt the same production processes as smaller outlets.
I think it is a mistake to always be talking about what’s happening outside mainstream media, it won’t work for us. We can’t do it because of our agenda and personal and professional things get in the way of that. Now and then our big spotlight will land on it. But citizen journalism is not there to replace, it’s there to amplify.
Gump agreed, saying that the rise of citizen journalism “increases the value” of professional journalists, by “filling in the gaps”, but would not be a replacement: “We are still telling the hard news, [citizen journalism] enriches the overall offering”. Alex Wood, freelance mobile journalist and co-founder of Not on the Wires, added that mobiles were simply another platform to leverage the story. But he said in his own work, such as when he organised mass coverage of the G20 summit by mobile phones, the journalistic talent still had to shine through.
I always try to keep the integrity of the story and still worked very hard to make it journalistic. People tend to obsess about technology being one thing after another. Why not use your mobile phone to do your vox pops. There’s nothing wrong with you then putting that into a more traditional package. It’s another tool in the ever expanding toolkit that journalists have now. We can still take things from broadcast, for example framing a good shot and having good audio. Let’s go back to the basics but use them in the new technology.
He added that as a journalist using user generated content, old rules of fact-checking must still apply.
People can manipulate technology very easily and its still a worry. Journalists still need to pick up the phone and speak to the person if they have submitted media. We should always keep to those standards.
Jonathan Hewett, director of the newspaper journalism course at City University, agreed: “We are not going to chuck out the old stuff and forget the valuable lessons”. Prompting Dickinson to respond: “There’s a killer app on your phone that will allow you to check if something is right. It’s called your phone.”
Hewett said mobile has created opportunities for newspapers who do not have the visual reputation of a broadcaster, but more needs to be done.
Newspapers have been slower to catch up with more innovative stuff, but they are getting to realise mobile reporting is one way where a newspaper website can be different. It isn’t too fussed about quality of footage (…) We are still at early stage with mobiles full stop. We need to keep throwing spaghetti at the wall.
Wood commented near the end of the panel debate that he wanted to see more innovation from iPad apps, which he claimed had so far been “disappointing”, telling Journalism.co.uk to expect to see some exciting stuff from him in the near future.
CNN also announced the launch of a new international iPhone app featuring their iReport platform at the event. See our report here, and catch up with tweets from the event with the #cnnfrontline hashtag.
The theme of the evening is original video journalism and the club will be showcasing four unusual, innovative films, including an exclusive preview of a Current TV documentary on South Africa. The event takes place at the club, near Paddington Station at 13 Norfolk Place from 7pm.
The first 10 Journalism.co.uk readers to email events [at] frontlineclub.com with “Journalism.co.uk Frontline networking offer” in the subject heading will receive up to two tickets at £10, a full 50 per cent off the normal price (payment will be accepted on the door but advance booking is essential).
Carter-Ruck, he said, had issued about 12 injunctions in the past year (shockingly, no central record of the number issued exists).
To let up on these would be an invitation to the tabloids, seemed to be the implication.
David Leigh, head of investigations at the Guardian, finally put his finger on it: there is a problem in his own trade, he said, exemplified by the tabloid treatment of the McCanns.
“Unless we put the newspaper houses in order, it’s very difficult to move the debate about libel reform further forward,” he said.
“We’ve got to reform the newspapers.”
As he’s indicated in the past, Leigh believes self regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission to be “a fraud”.
A television producer in the audience added that he’d like to see a press complaints commission “worthy of its name”.
But science writer Dr Simon Singh, still fighting a legal action pursued by the British Chiropractic Association, doesn’t think this conflict needs to be a huge problem.
In fact, making libel law costs cheaper, he said, will allow more people to sue – forcing tabloids to think twice about the things they write about non-celebrities.
I spoke to Simon Singh afterwards. He said:
“All of the changes we’re talking about do not affect an individual’s right to protect their reputation.”
“Nobody would want to encourage salacious gossip or tittle-tattle,” Singh said. Their reforms address statutory public interest, libel tourism and preventing big companies suing bloggers and individuals.
“If you drive down costs massively, what that means is that not only can celebrities sue to protect their reputation but that the ordinary man and woman in the street can sue to protect their reputations.
“We’re talking about extending justice and fairness to people, rather than making it an exclusive game for the rich and powerful.”
“At the moment a tabloid could defame an individual and perhaps take a risk that person wouldn’t be able to afford to fight back. If you drive down the costs massively, tabloids would actually have to think twice.”
Last night’s debate at the Frontline Club saw Carter-Ruck senior partner Nigel Tait (wearing a ‘Hated by the Guardian’ badge) go head to head with science writer Simon Singh and the Guardian’s David Leigh.
Also joining them on the panel was David Hooper, a media law specialist and partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and chair Clive Coleman, presenter of Radio 4’s Law in Action (and a former barrister).
Catch up with the debate here:
Highlights included Tait’s version of the Trafigura super-injunction versus Leigh’s; discussion around ‘libel tribunals’ to resolve cases more quickly and more cheaply; and a chance audience encounter between a film-maker who was sued and the very lawyer that sued her.
“The case could carry on for another two years; they could go to Supreme Court,” he said. “I’m more than happy to discuss it in a trial, the statements I made in the article.”
“I’m much happier with the position it stands now, as opposed to two weeks ago.”
But he added, he’s annoyed and angry that it’s taken a couple of years and hundreds of thousands of pounds to decide the meaning of a couple of words.
Would he encourage others to stand up as he has? “I think that everyone has to make their own judgement…. You have got to be a little bit unhinged and wealthy to fight these. Most people aren’t that unhinged and aren’t necessarily that wealthy to fight them.”
“Except,” he adds, hesitantly, “the ruling two weeks ago was quite clear, the judges said: ‘we do not want to see scientists being hauled through the libel courts’.”
“My interpretation of their ruling is that the default defence will be one of comment, which immediately gives scientists and researchers a bit more confidence if they go to trial.”