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TheMediaBriefing: You may not like it, but Mail Online is a digital innovator

April 6th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Awards, Online Journalism, Traffic

Daily Mail website Mail Online took home the digital innovation award at last night’s Press Awards, much to the dismay of some. Is it innovative? Or just successful? Does it matter?

Media Briefing editor Patrick Smith stands firmly behind the award, and explains some of the reasons in an interesting post on the Media Briefing blog.

Soap stars on the beach isn’t Pulitzer prize-winning stuff, but the content from the paper is in the middle of the front page and you can click on that if you want too. There is genuine news here: the bank worker fired a Facebook post comparing here £7-an-hour wage to a boss’s £4,000-an-hour, for example, plus lots of middle market news mainstays you would expect such as tax and immigration. Mail execs reportedly claim only a quarter of traffic is driven by “showbiz” stories.

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Apps and widgets? The secret to blog traffic is more simple than all that

November 24th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Social media and blogging

Struggling to get traffic to your blog? Want to know what widgets and apps will magically increase your hits and get you noticed? The secret is actually rather simple: Hard-work, regular updates, extensive reading, and good relationships with wider communities will have new visitors flocking to your site.

Speaking at a ‘Pimp My Blog’ talk at City University last night Patrick Smith, Karl Schneider, Tim Glanfield and Martin Stabe dismissed the idea that fancy apps are the secret to huge monthly visitor figures.

“There is no secret to it, there is no widget that can give you traffic,” said Smith, the editor of www.themediabriefing.com. “If it is crap then no one will read it and there is no way out of that.”
Similarly Schneider, editorial director at Reed Business Information (RBI), said: “Your wrong if you get too tied up in technology and the tools, because at the end of the day it is all about a relationship with the audience and telling a story.

While you may not be able to ‘pimp your blog’ out with one single widget, there are still some fundamental things you can do to increase traffic and, as Stabe, interactive producer at the Financial Times, said, “punch above your weight”.

Have a niche and be an expert in that field

The panel were unanimous in stressing the importance of focusing your efforts on one particular area. Schneider cited few examples of niche B2B publications that RBI runs that get a huge amount of traffic because they focus on very specific areas. The best way to get noticed, according to Stabe, is to digest everything you can about one specific topic. By doing this you can make yourself an expert and people will want to know your views.

Build Communities

To get hits you have to serve the needs of a particular community or group. Smith stressed the importance of always asking yourself, ‘what does my site do and who is it for?’ Remember the most successful blogs and bloggers are those with clearly defined communities and readerships. Glanfield highlighted that actually one of the easiest ways to start to form relationships with wider communities is to identify forums that are relevant to your subject matter and engage in conversation with members.

Be interactive

“The biggest change in journalism is that it is becoming interactive. It is not something you do to your audience, it is something you do with your audience,” said Schneider. In other words, use your blog to engage with your audience through quizzes, polls and effective linking to other sites, and make the best of Twitter. Remember it is a two-way street so you have to re-tweet others, engage in dialogue and not just constantly rant and rave.

Remember the web is a multi-media platform

Utilizing pictures and videos can really make a difference to your blog. Think about the how you can supplement your words with visuals and audio.

Essential Tools

Do not despair there are some tools which, if used correctly, can help you boost your online profile.

  • Delicious: will help you bookmark and store anything interesting that you read online. It can also be used as a social networking tool to find other individuals reading in the same areas as yourself.
  • Google Reader: Use this to get a constant stream of updates from sites you have subscribed to. Essential if you want to become an expert in a field and also very time efficient as saves you having to visit lots of sites a day.
  • Dipity: Will help you embed timelines into your posts to give it that visual edge.
  • Re-tweet/Facebook like widgets: Will allow readers to re-twetter, like, bookmark and share your blog posts.
  • LinkWithin: A widget that will allow you link related articles at the bottom of a post.
  • Google Spreadsheets: Are a great way of crowd sourcing data journalism and presenting it in a inventive way.

See presentations from Pimp My Blog on YouTube:

Tim Glanfield

Karl Schneider

Martin Stabe

Patrick Smith

Coverage elsewhere:

Thoroughly Good Blog: We’re online publishers now

BBC College of Journalism blog: video

Rajvir Rai is a postgraduate journalism student at City University London. He can found on Twitter @R_Rai.

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TheMediaBriefing: What news publishers can learn from supermarkets

October 5th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Business, Editors' pick

Patrick Smith maps out “the [Tesco] Clubcard model for news”:

To stretch analogy out to news, what’s for sale on your shelves? The kind of thing you think consumers are after, or what you know they want to buy? In a print age there is only hope and focus grouping: the call is made by the editor and publisher each day what goes into the paper both editorially and commercially, largely based on flimsy research and an instinctive understanding of a title’s brand.

Full post on TheMediaBriefing at this link…

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Johnston Press Atex system is bad news, but the death of the sub-editor is inevitable

Last month Johnston Press journalists, enraged by a new publishing strategy and online/print content management system (CMS) called Atex, voted for group-wide industrial action. Atex will make reporters responsible for subbing and editing their own newspaper stories using pre-made templates. The vote was thwarted by a High Court challenge; a re-ballot is underway.

Now several other companies including Archant are either using or considering using the same system.

The NUJ has a point when they say that with fewer staff and less checks and balances, more errors will get through – this aberration of a front page in the JP-owned Bedfordshire Times & Citizen recently is a classic example.

Yesterday I questioned exactly why the union was opposing Atex; included in the union’s greviances were baffling and unexplained “health and safety” concerns. The union later told Journalism.co.uk that they meant that it adds to staff stress levels.

But, I went on in conversations both online and privately, isn’t this part of a wider problem? The NUJ has a fundamental belief that sub-editors should sub stories and reporters write them. Like the pre-Wapping ihousen-printers that jealously guarded their very specific, outdated roles, the ideal outcome for the union is to maintain the status quo and protect jobs.

The reality isn’t quite that simple. Atex, as more than one person said, is far from the innovative answer that newspapers need. One person with knowledge of how Atex works, who works for a company that is planing to implement it and asked not to be named, put it to me like this:

We’re still in transition in my newsroom at the moment – we haven’t switched to using it for the web yet. However, if the system goes ahead as planned we will not be able to insert in-line links into stories, nor will we be able to embed content from anywhere else online. It’s possible to build link boxes that sit next to web stories, but it’s time consuming compared to in-line links – and if our current CMS is anything to go by, in the press of a busy newsroom, it won’t get done.

That sounds like a retrograde step. Far from holding back innovation, it sounds like JP journalists are right to oppose the move. This is from a company whose former chairman of nine years, Roger Parry, last week criticised the very board that he chaired for not investing enough in digital media (via Press Gazette). Exactly who else is there to blame?

But it gets worse:

For those of us who possess data skills and want to make mashups, visualisations and so on, this is a massive inhibition – even if we find the time to innovate or create something really special for our papers, we’ll have no outlet for it. It also means we can’t source video or images for our stories in innovative ways – no YouTube embeds or Flickr slideshows – cutting us off from huge resources that could save time, energy and money while enhancing our web offering.

It’s astonishing that we’re even considering such a backwards step to a presumably costly proprietory system when so many cheaper, more flexible, open source solutions exist for the web.

Regional reporters, web editors and even overall editors will read that and find this frustration of digital ideas by technical, budgetary limitations very familiar. The last point rings loudest of all: cheap, dynamic blogging solutions like WordPress and Typepad provide all newsrooms need to create a respectable news site. Publishing executives seem to find it hard to believe that something free to use can be any good, but just look at what’s coming in the in-beta WordPress 3.0 (via @CasJam on Mashable).

So the union’s misgivings in this case appear to be well placed. The drop in quality from Johnston’s cost-cutting is there for all to see in horrendous subbing errors, thinner editions and entire towns going without proper coverage.

Unfortunately, journalists have to accept that no amount of striking is going to bring back the staff that have gone and that times have changed. Carolyn McCall’s parting shot as CEO of Guardian Media Group was to repeat her prediction (via FT.com) that advertising revenues will never return to pre-recession levels – and don’t forget Claire Enders’ laugh-a-minute performance at the House of Commons media select committee, in which she predicted the death of half the country’s 1,300 local and regional titles in the next five years.

Regional publishers may not all have a solution that combines online editorial innovation with a digital business model right now. But to get to that point, reporters will have to cooperate and accept that their roles have changed forever – “sub-editor” may be a term journalists joining the industry in five years will never hear.

Patrick Smith is a freelance journalist, event organiser and formerly a correspondent for paidContent:UK and Press Gazette. He blogs at psmithjournalist.com and is @psmith on twitter.

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Frontline Club debate: social media is important, but not a kingmaker yet

MPs, Westminster hacks and activists might be addicted to expressing themselves in 140 characters or less, but don’t expect this year’s general election to be decided on which party has the best social media strategy.

Then again, politicians and the media shouldn’t dismiss voters’ digital engagement, according to a panel at a Frontline Club debate on the importance on social media for the upcoming election.

You can watch a video of the whole thing here

Twitter certainly has the  potential to land politicians in mini-media storms; the panellists agreed: if David Wright MP had merely told a reporter verbally that Conservatives are “scum” it’s unlikely to have got much coverage, such is the continued novelty of Twitter to many news editors.

Paul Staines, better known as mischievous Westminster blogger Guido Fawkes, argued that no matter how well connected parties are, with Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems towing similar centerist policy lines there was little to differentiate them for the ordinary voter: “If they are all marching in the centre ground, there’s not much to market, is there?”

And as for reporters, they’re “not going to get a scoop from Tweetdeck”, he warned. “There are about 500 of us (in the Westminster village) listening to each other aren’t there?”

Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy said social media buzz doesn’t determine what C4 leads its 7pm bulletin with – but Twitter got the network’s reporters in touch with someone in the audience at Nick Griffin’s notorious Question Time performance.

But all this is missing the point, according to Chris Condron, Press Association’s head of digital strategy:

If you ask any journalist what they think about a phenomenon like Twitter (…) they tend to think about what it means for journalists, but where its potential really lies is for audiences.

The “disintermediation” of news – where readers can go straight to the source of news, such as an MP’s Twitter stream – was a challenge for the media, but Condron is confident that “the reporters’ gathering and filtering of raw news was still essential.”

More events coming up at the Frontline Club:

  • Reflections with Richard Sambrook – a one-to-one conversation with the BBC’s outgoing director of global news. He’s headed for a new role as vice-president of PR firm Edelman, but how does he look back on a rich career and what is his view of journalism today?
  • Iraq: The Media Inquiry – a special panel discussion to examine the media’s reporting of Iraq since the invasion in 2003. With Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News; Patrick Cockburn, The Independent’s Middle East correspondent and journalist David Rose. Moderated by Paddy O’Connell, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.
  • Insight with Timothy Garton Ash – the columnist and Oxford professor will be in conversation with Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow will be in conversation with Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow. Garton Ash will be talking about his career, the transformation of Europe over the last thirty years and what Barack Obama will mean for the United States and the world.
  • On the Media: Is the age of celebrity-obsessed media coming to an end? We discuss whether the ubiquitous presence of pseudo-famous faces on newspapers and news bulletins is here to stay. With comedian and journalist Jane Bussman; Popbitch founder Camilla Wright; Heat magazine editor and broadcaster Sam Delaney. Chaired by Robin Morgan, former editor of the Sunday Times magazine. This event is in association with the BBC College of Journalism.
  • This post also appears at the Frontline Club’s Forum blog.

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    What’s the average cost of a news article?

    February 11th, 2010 | 7 Comments | Posted by in Business, Journalism, Newspapers

    Media journalist Patrick Smith asks on this blog today How much is an article worth? His answer, as far as likely online readers are concerned, is very little.

    This got me thinking. How much does a news article cost to produce? Journalism.co.uk is an online-only operation – a bootstrap operation as Kevin Anderson once called it – and obviously has much lower overheads than London-based national newsaper businesses. But if we could work out the cost-per-article for our own business, then that would at least provide a baseline guide to the likely costs to Murdoch et al.

    Taking into account wages, expenses and a percentage of overall overheads (rent, bills etc), but discounting non-news-related administration, aggregation, tip of the days etc, we calculated the average cost of an article (feature, news story or blog post) to be around £37.00.

    We have no intention of erecting a paywall around our news content, but if we were to, just to recoup that expenditure we would need 370 people to pay 10p each to read each article, or 3,700 to pay 1p each. In 2009, the average number of page views per article on our blog and main site was 440 (this includes all our aggregation posts, which probably skew the figure downwards slightly) but that means at current traffic levels we would need a model of 10p per article to be paid for by 84 per cent of our current readers.

    Factoring in the much greater overheads of national newspaper publications, I would guess that the cost per article could be as much as 10 times the cost to us, perhaps around the £400 mark. I could be wildly off, and would be very interested to hear from anyone who has actually analysed this properly, but I think it is pretty obvious that there is a serious problem with the paywall model as a sole path to profitable news production.

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    Why the iPad isn’t the saviour of journalism as we know it

    The hype surrounding Apple’s new touch-screen mini-computer, predictably, is huge. Just like film studios, book and textbook publishers, news producers are hoping the iPad can boost the online, mobile content marketplace.

    Here’s a “source”, who purports to have worked with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, telling the Wall Street Journal exactly what it wants to hear:

    Mr. Jobs is “supportive of the old guard, and [he] looks to help them by giving them new forms of distribution”.

    One publishing CEO was even moved to write poetry about it (via Moconews.net) and Apple fanboys and news executives will no doubt be glued to their screens when Jobs takes the stage at around 6pm (GMT) tonight to announce the details.

    But when the hype dies down, will the journalism business really be in better shape? These people have taken a welcome dose of reality juice:

    • Craig McGill, a former journalist now plying his trade at digital PR firm Contentlymanaged, quite reasonably asks who is going to create all the content for new organisations’ multiplatform mobile packages given all the job cuts in news publishing in the past year.
    • Forrester analysts Charles Golvin and James McQuivey consider that maybe the iPad won’t be all it’s cracked up to be: “It is flawed in meaningful ways: It’s a computer without a keyboard, it’s a digital reader with poor battery life and a high price tag, and it’s a portable media player that can’t fit in a pocket.” (via paidContent.org)
    • I couldn’t put it better than David Campbell, a professor of cultural and political geography, did this morning: “Information and distribution are separate. Journalism is information, tablet distribution. Can help journalism circulate but can’t ‘save’ it.”

    Much is made of iTunes and its successful monetisation of mobile applications and music – the Financial Times is even planning to imitate (via PCUK) its “pay-per-view” micropayments model, although FT.com told Journalism.co.uk last week that paid-for day passes would come first.

    The model is attractive: there are more than 100 million iTunes accounts with users’ credit cards pre-loaded and ready to go. A new shiny, powerful device – somewhere between an e-reader and a netbook – could just persuade people to buy the news subscriptions the New York Times and Rupert Murdoch so desperately want to sell them.

    But Apple’s new device is just another distribution platform for words, pictures, videos and data, just like PCs, mobiles and print. Recreating a print experience on another device is not going to solve the economic crisis news finds itself in: Google will still be more efficient at selling advertising and will still point readers to free content.

    The future of news is about distributing content as widely as possible and monetising not just content but relationships. Devices will be a big part of that, but they’re not the answer.

    Photo credit: Mike McCaffery, from Flickr, via a Creative Commons licence.

    UPDATE: This post was amended to reflect the announcement of the name of the device, iPad.

    Patrick Smith is a freelance journalist and event organiser, and formerly a correspondent for paidContent:UK and Press Gazette. He blogs at psmithjournalist.com and is @psmith on twitter.

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    Goodbye Press Gazette: round-up of the links

    We bid farewell to our fellow media reporters at Press Gazette, unless, as Roy Greenslade hopes, a buyer comes forward (again).

    We haven’t produced our own coverage, as there has been more than plenty – with insider perspective – elsewhere. We would, however, like to wish the editorial team at Press Gazette the very best of luck in the future with whatever they go onto do. We’ve enjoyed meeting Press Gazette team – past and present – at events, and being kept on our toes when we’re covering the same stories.

    Here’s a round-up of the coverage in links:

    Please do add any others of note in the comments below.

    Newly added:

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    BBC’s Paul Mason: Newsrooms offer journalists peer review that ‘pyjama bloggers’ can’t replicate

    Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC’s Newsnight and National Union of Journalist (NUJ) rep for the programme, gives some fairly frank thoughts to the union on journalism, its future and its relation to new technologies and forms of publishing in the video interview below.

    “What you have to do is to try and define what the skilled class of professional journalist actually does in that world. What makes us worth employing? We are the ones who provide accurate information: we’re not going to disappear,” he says, before asking how many bloggers can be described as authoritative.


    Discussing recent journalism job losses, Mason argues that this is not the result of just the recession, but has been caused by ‘deskilling and the rise of new technology’.

    Accuracy, authority and the peer review mechanism of the newsroom will safeguard journalism’s future, he adds.

    “A newsroom is a real-time peer review system – that bloggers in their pyjamas can’t replicate.”

    Is this really the case? Mason’s views have sparked some reactions among journo-bloggers, including Kevin Anderson and Patrick Smith:

    Your thoughts please.

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