Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Shock! Horror! Publishers co-operate with each other. In Ohio.

Many thanks to Merenda for drawing my attention to this story about the "OHNO" agreement between newspapers across the state of Ohio to share their stories with each other.

The unfortunately acronymed OHio News Organisation is explained thus by Plain Dealer columnist Ted Diadiun:

It took a bit of doing because the competitive instinct is in every good journalist's DNA, and most of us would swallow our notebooks before we'd share what's in them with another reporter. We've spent our professional lives trying to keep other newspapers from getting our good stories. Now, we're giving them away.


In today's world, breaking news is measured in minutes, not days. It's important that we provide our readers with the best news report we can, as soon as we can, on our Web site and in the best and most current newspaper possible each day.

With the OHNO plan, each afternoon we and the other members post the stories our reporters have written on a common Web site that's accessible only in the eight newsrooms. From there, editors at each paper select which stories they want to run. So the Cincinnati Enquirer was able to give its readers our coverage on the National City bank problems, and our editors were able to pick off the Enquirer's coverage of Fifth Third Bank, which is based in Cincinnati.

That doesn't mean we're not competing. For example, both The Plain Dealer and the Columbus Dispatch have reporters working hard to break news about the sexual-harassment charges besetting Attorney General Marc Dann's office. The difference now is that when we get to a good story first, not only our readers get to see it, but so do readers of the Dispatch and the other papers.

It's worth reading Ted's column in full.

It got me idly wondering whether this principle (which seems to me to be a very efficient and grown-up way of doing things) could be applied to the kind of weekly/monthly business magazines that we produce.

Could, for example, Estates Gazette (which we own) share news with Property Week (which we don't)? Almost certainly not - they compete head to head in a way that newspapers in different cities do not.

But how about Computer Weekly teaming up with an IT title from the US or one operating in a specialist market that CW doesn't compete directly with?

Could it happen?

The curse of the "most viewed" list

Message to all journalists: Write more about Harry Potter!

These "most viewed" lists must be utterly depressing to a journalist who has slaved night and day to break a sensational story vital to the public interest and/or the future of the planet or even something just plain important.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Editors are more neurotic than readers

"58 percent of editors said letting journalists join online conversations and give personal views would harm journalism, but only 36 percent of the public agreed."

Nice to have some research back up this counter-intuitive claim that we've always assumed here. Of course, it's not quite as satisfying as saying that 64% of the public thinking that it enhanced journalism, but you can't have everything.

This research is from an Online Journalism Credibility Study.

Other interesting findings:

Some 70 percent of editors surveyed said requiring commenters to disclose their identities would support good journalism, while only 45 percent of the public did.

Expressions of personal views seem to help boost readers' interest and trust in Web sites, said John `Bart" Bartosek, editor of The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., and chairman of the credibility committee for the AP managing editors group.

"That's contrary to most of the traditions we've all grown up with, to keep our opinions, viewpoints and personal lives out of our story," Bartosek said.
Somewhere in there is something about readers feeling more trust when they feel they know the person behind the journalist (c.f. blogging).

Thursday, 17 April 2008

I'm a Churner Prize nominator!

One of my blog addictions (along with icanhascheezburger, obviously) is the Churner Prize, a website in which journalists expose lazy journalism - particularly the over-reliance on press releases.

They justify themselves thus:

Journalists are becoming churnalists. Denied the time, money and resources to do the job properly, many hacks now churn out stories without checking facts or sources. But it’s not their fault, and the best worst best churnalism is worth celebrating.
but in my view being funny and lifting the skirts of the press is justification enough.

Anyway, I'm quietly proud because while doing some genuine research about The Archers (Ruth Archer is talking about starting a blog) I stumbled across some rather miffed Archers fans complaining about the bare-faced cheek of the Daily Telegraph in stealing their quotes.

I thought they had a very good point and knew the Churner Prize folk would hit each nail on the head. They have. Thanks guys.

Monday, 14 April 2008

What value Twitter?

What a peculiar business. My head hurts.

Rocketboom founder Andrew Baron is auctioning his Twitter account here on ebay.

The value theoretically lies in the number of people following him on Twitter. That number has gone up since he put it up for sale. At the time of writing, he has 1,595 followers and the bidding is at $1,235.

I'm not bidding for it. Microblogging does my head in. It just makes me want to scream "Make it stop! Make it stop!" Ironically, Rocketboom expresses it well for me:

Mind you, sometimes it has its uses.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

What can make print more compelling than online?

I paraphrase, but that is basically the question behind Mindy McAdams' blog post for which she asked three journalism professors who teach magazine courses to tell her the top three magazines they would choose to subscribe to in printed form, no matter how good the Web site for the magazine was.

As publishers of business magazines with both printed and online versions, it's an issue that becomes more urgent by the day here. If people can get the information they need (this is business publishing) easily online, we have to focus the print products on the things that print does best, that is compelling - things such as being able to read it in the bath, to use as a badge (Look at me! I'm reading The Economist!) and, well, something to line the budgie's cage with once you've finished reading it.

So Mindy's question is an excellent way of pursuing this thinking.

My three?

Well, I don't read magazines much any more. I'm even giving up my Time Out subscription because it no longer delivers much in the way of value to me. What do I read?

  • The Times newspaper every day (well not ALL of it) because I have 45 minutes on the train to work and I like to browse the paper. And do the crossword on the journey home.
  • I used to read Vanity Fair every month, but I just don't seem to have the time any more. Anyway, that's one that - if I read it at all - I would read regardless of how good its online offering were
  • Ummm. That's it.
In fact, I'm amazed to find that I don't read magazines any more. I hadn't realised.

I think it might make a rather interesting meme - Adam, Jim, Piers, Dan, Martin?

Friday, 4 April 2008

The role of the features editor in a digital world

When we talk about the digital journalist it is most often in the context of news reporting (because statistically most of our staff journalists are news people.

But in the back of my mind I often wonder where to begin in describing the role of the features editor in an online context.

Well, here is a good place to start. It's a Reuters online "feature" called "Bearing Witness" to mark five years of the war in Iraq.

It features a timeline, maps, photography and so on and while it's not unflawed (does the whole thing have to be in Flash? How irritating!) it's an excellent illustration of what a good online feature looks like (i.e. not 1,500 words with a few links thrown in).

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The tyranny of print

A lot of journalists in our organisations have responsibility for creating content both for magazines and websites.

Many of them have a tendency or an instinct or a mania to focus on print and fit in web stuff in between. As one web editor colleague disconsolately told me yesterday, his heart sinks when he hears (all too frequently) the words, "bung it up on the web".

In trying to understand this behaviour I often talk about the "tyranny of print". There are six main elements to this:

  1. DEADLINES. Print has very firm deadlines; web doesn't. If you don't get your pages to the printer on time, you're stuffed.
  2. ALLOCATED SPACE 1: If you don't fill your magazine it's going to be pretty obvious - empty pages or an overdose of filler ads.
  3. ALLOCATED SPACE 2: Unless you are covering a very slow moving area, you just can't put all the news in your magazine, so you have to make the best decision you can about what to put in or leave out. It takes time and care.
  4. FRONT PAGE: Most of our magazines have a news front page or at the very least a news lead. This means finding something worthy to put on it. Hopefully something exclusive (and the best way to assure that is to sit on stories)
  5. IT'S FOREVER: Once printed, you can't change a magazine: every error - factual and grammatical is recorded forever. The web is a more indulgent mistress.
  6. SOMETHING TO HOLD: The reward for all your hard work is a new "thing" that you can pick up and hold. Like a baby, it's a part of you and you can show it off to people proudly. Websites are more like monsters which devour your young articles as soon as you give birth to them - watch your lovely story work its way down the news page and into the oblivion of the "more" link at the bottom of the page.
But you know, now I'm thinking that the real failure is not the tyranny of print - it's our (by which I mean "my") failure to get people engaged with web to the same degree that they are engaged with print.

Ironic given the title of this blog.

How all I've got to do is figure out how...

Free library pictures

What's with the picture of the senior gentleman adjusting his bow tie?

Well, I plucked it at random from lets publishers and bloggers use images from libraries such as Getty Images free of charge. The quid pro quo is that there are ads embedded in the pics in return.

I think it's a great idea - with the cost of photographic images in freefall (i.e. nothing if you use appropriate Creative Commons images through flickr), it's great a great win-win solution.

I think it should be really useful for people looking to pep up their blog posts.

I've got one or two whinges - I can't for the life of me find the place to tell it my full list of blogs (although it says there is one) and I really miss being able to order my search results by Most Recent or Most Popular.

But it's a great start.

Update: It's a bit overblown, isn't it? Quite frightening to a casual visitor to the site I would imagine. And the little avatar poking his head up is rather cheesy. And I'd like to easily be able to run text alongside the images. But, as I say, it's a great start.