FUTURE CODE: Are web developers today’s news photographer?

359759173_9c5939d67f_bA major US newspaper announced plans to fire its entire picture desk a week or two back. All 28 of them. To go.

As someone who has worked on newspapers and now deals with them as part of their job that’s a significant step.

It also underlines in it’s own small way this whole ‘the landscape is changing and pr people need to develop new skills’ thing that I’ve been writing about for the past four years.

Of course, it’s really tempting to dismiss this as the death twitch of an industry that is on it’s knees and move on. What really stopped me in my tracks was a blog by Andy Ihnatko an occasional contributor to the newspaper in question the Chicago Sun-Times.

In it he recognised the pain this step was causing but rejected the idea that newspapers just deserve to die.

He makes an excellent observation that newspapers need to get new skills and as the web and mobile web get more important. What struck me was the observation that perhaps the web developer is now doing what the photographer used to do. Their ability to produce eye-catching content that brings pages alive are now playing the role the snapper and picture editor used to.

Newspapers are a machine, he writes, adding:

“The machine was fantastic at manufacturing what readers wanted from 1850 to 1999. But it now needs to be retooled to manufacture what readers want in 2013.

“What if it fired photographers, but hired more web developers, and gave that department extra resources? Photographs aren’t than just pretty pictures; they serve many practical functions for an edition of a newspaper. They allow for a more attractive page design, they make the newspaper easier to visually navigate, and they offer the reader an alternative method of engaging with the stories.

“ A well-designed, responsive web page does the same things…with the added modern benefit that it allows a story to look great on any device. “Your photos aren’t anything special” is an aesthetic complaint. “Your site goes all screwy when I access it from my iPhone” is a report about a bug that prevents the user from reading the content.

“The point is that if a newspaper really wants to double-down on the value of their content, having a great team of web developers on staff is critical. I’d be less concerned about the sub-par photography of a site than I would about a site that’s hard to read on the device of my choice.”

So in summary, web developers are critical.

When you consider how mobile-first my own life is that has a ring of truth. My holiday frustration at the webpage that doesn’t show on my mobile to tell me the swimming pool opening times, for example.

What are the lessons for local government comms people?

It’s the importance of knowing that to present your story on the web you’ll need to present it well and in a way that people can read it. It’s getting more important that you’ll need a good web developers in your team to help you tell your story.

It also means that submitted pictures to newspapers in times of cut picture desks have real value. For now.

So, it’s back to that changing landscape stuff again really, isn’t it?


ROUGH JUSTICE: Jo Smith is clearing her name

20130421_083127So, it all started with a whimper and ended with a bit of a bang. 

Jo Smith has taken a massive step towards clearing her name and accepted an out-of-court compensation payment from Argyll & Bute Council rather than press ahead with her claim for unfair dismissal. You can read all about it in the Dunoon Observer.

Okay, isn’t this just a backwater story? Actually, no. If you work in local government, are a  comms person or speak or have ever learned something at a conference this all is pretty significant. Had Jo lost there may have been a chilling effect on all three.

It’s an attractive story on the face of it. Council spin doctor accused by an anonymous source in the Glasgow Herald of saying at a conference she’s been spying using social media. Uproar at conference. Politicians get angry. She gets sacked.

Only thing was it was not true. There was no uproar at the conference. The story emerged four months after it took place. The comments some people attributed to her at the event were not made. People at the conference confirmed this. There were no spy accounts despite a thorough and expensive internal investigation. Jo even topped the feedback as being the most popular speaker with attendees. Some uproar.

Disclaimer: I was at the uproar-less conference and confirmed this less exciting version of events to the Glasgow Herald journalist who first wrote the non-story and failed to quote me. Or organiser Nick Hill. As a former journalist that’s, how shall we say, somewhat disappointing. I also contributed to the internal inquiry along with others who were at or spoke at the event.

You may have heard of Argyll & Bute Council before. They gave the world a world case study in how not to do social media. You may recall they picked a fight with an eight-year-old who was blogging on the Never Seconds blog about her school meals. Jamie Oliver and others came in on the child’s side and they were forced to climb-down. You just know you are on a loser when even a sock puppet makes up a song about you…

You can read BBC technology correspondant Rory Celland-Jones’s take on the Argyll & Bute Never Seconds debacle here.

By the looks of things there are enough people in Argyll & Bute asking questions that now need asking and I think that’s best left to people there.

Jo hasn’t commented on the matter but as organiser Nick Hill this week told Scottish media:

““I organised the conference where the allegations stemmed from and I told both the newspaper involved and the council’s investigation at the outset that Jo didn’t say any of the things she was accused of.

“This has been an extremely trying time for Jo, and I know she wants to thank everyone who has supported her: family, friends, the National Union of Journalists, colleagues and fellow communications professionals. This episode would have been much more difficult to weather without their efforts.

“I know Jo wishes Argyll and Bute Council all the success it deserves.”

Here are seven thoughts…

1. Would the Never Seconds blog debacle have happened with Jo Smith in her post? It was clear that there was no handle on how to respond to bloggers. Or how to respond when things started to go wrong. A Twitter account that was silent but being bombarded with angry tweets is a case study in how not to. It shows the value in having a digital communications-savvy comms person on the bridge.

2.  This shows why it’s a good idea to be in a union. The National Union of Journalism stepped in to offer advice and legal representation. Not everyone knows it covers PR people too. I’m in it because you just never know when you’ll be in a situation that Jo found herself in.

3. Jo Smith is made out of stronger stuff than you or me. Weaker people could have gone under. Heaven knows there must have been some dark times but she battled through and can now hold her head up again.

4. It begs the question of what Jo now does about a sometimes digital foot print. In which some pretty vile stuff remains. She’d be entirely forgiven for taking a long hard think about that with her legal team.

5. There could have been a chilling effect on the sharing of knowledge across local government comms had Jo have lost. Many would have re-thought the benefits of speaking at conferences or even attending when the penalty for mis-quoting is the sack and potential career ruin.

6. Jo is an excellent and engaging writer. We were fortunate enough to take a guest post from her on comms2point0 last year based on her experience as a London 2012 games maker. You can read it here.

7. She now deserves to make a success of her life as she puts her experience behind her. With the determination she’s shown she will. Vindicat PR is her new venture and I hope she’ll continue as a contributor to comms2point0.


PRINT TRUTH: ‘Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.’

3377807208_20a6bc04b9_b

Fail to understand the changing landscape and very soon you won’t have a job.

It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now and It’s true whether you are a journalist, comms person or a fifth generation pit prop maker in 1983.

A bright person a few weeks ago told me that there would always be newspapers because they’d always be there.

I disagree.

People thought that about coal mines once too.

There’ll always be news but there’ll always be print newspapers? Really?

As the rise of Twitter as a breaking news medium and sites like BBC that’s just not the case.

Here’s an interesting few quotes from John Paton, CEO of Digital First Ventures who own, as their website says, more than 800 print and digital products that reach 57 million customers a month.

If you aren’t taking it from me take it from a news organisation that has a $1.3 billion turnover.

They are quotes that comms people need to know about because they represent more evidence of the seismic change in the media landscape.

But why switch to Digital First as a company name?

“Digital First is my name. I’ve been saying it long before I got here. The name originally was to say very loudly — in a headline kind of way — that what we thought we did in newspapers, we had to change 308550289_b8a4be2d44_odramatically. And that, of course, meant digital first.

“And actually “digital first, print last.” I wanted to hammer home that this idea about the Web as something else we do was ridiculous.”

“The Web was and it should be what we do. Print is something else that we do, which happens — at this moment in time — to have almost all the revenue. But that’s not going to be our future. It was something that I named to try to hammer home that message. It’s kind of funny — I don’t think they have a “digital first” strategy at Google. They have a strategy. The name, hopefully, if we’re successful, becomes very dated.”

On paywalls and digital dimes…

“I don’t think paywalls are the answer to anything. If we’re swapping out print dollars for digital dimes, I think paywalls are a stack of pennies. We might use the pennies in transition to get where we’re going.”

On newspapers going away…

“Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.

3588867138_ec00e587e3_o“I don’t think that news organizations are dying but are newspapers going to stop running in print? Yeah. Absolutely.”

On making the shift…

“I think we still are too afraid to take the kinds of risks we need to take because there’s so much money tied up in print. We have $1.3 billion in revenue. And of $1.3 billion, $900 million is advertising and $165 million of the advertising is digital advertising. Four years ago, that was almost nothing. That $165 [million] is going to have to more than double in three years. To do that, we’re going to have to take some risks on the print side. That’s the one thing that scares the [expletive] out of everybody.

“I love newspapers. I’m a newspaperman. My father was a printer. I started off as a copyboy. I love newspapers. But they don’t love me anymore.”

You can read the whole interview here.

That’s something worth reflecting on.

Creative commons credit 

News stand http://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagogeek/3377807208/sizes/l/

Reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/maong/3588867138/sizes/o/


SLIDESHARE: Case studies on connecting people using social media


Once upon a time clip art was once cutting edge.

No, really. It was.

Back in 1997, the first Walsall Council website sported a dancing light bulb.

No, really. It did.

There’s also a notice telling people that the website was under construction (it’s slide number two on the presentation embedded in this post.) If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not be showing. If that’s the case the link is here.

We need to evolve, learn and innovate. Nothing demonstrates that better than the late 90s webpage frozen in time showing Billy the Bulb and one giant leap for a council website. Time has moved on and we need to too.

At the Socitm Learning from Better Connected event at Manchester there was plenty of examples of innovation.

Not least the forward-thinking webteam who ripped up the rule book and re-designed the liverpool.gov.uk website based on what people want rather than what officers think people want.

Here’s my preasentation that I’ve posted to Slideshare.

Included on it are:

Some stats on internet use.

Some stats on the mobile web.

A quick map of the Walsall media landscape 2011 and 2005.

A quick case study on engaging with the community through Flickr.

A quick case study on two hyperlocal sites: WV11.co.uk and Pelsall Common People.

How a countryside ranger can tweet from the sharp end.

Some stats on Walsall 24 which saw us live tweet for 24 hours in real time.

All good stuff for 2011, but you can bet your bottom dollar in 13 years time when we’ll All have robot butlers it’ll seem a bit tame and dancing lightbulbesque.

Quite right, too.


BE BASIC: A digital lesson from business to hyperlocals and local government

“We are the news supertanker,” an editor who shall remain nameless recently said. “And these bloggers will be swept aside.”

It’s not a view of hyperlocal sites shared by Marc Reeves who quit as Birmingham Post editor last November.

After more than 20 years in print journalism he moved firmly to digital launching the West Midlands version of thebusinessdesk.com – a site laser targeted at busy business people.

Sitting in Urban Coffee in the heart of Brum’s financial district he cuts a relaxed figure suited but tieless with a healthy tan.

Without the weight of a print works to keep warm and a 200 year old pension fund to service? No wonder he is relaxed.

To the National Union of Journalists Marc in the past has been a figure of suspicion. To the digital community an inspiration.

He’s here at a Jeecamp fringe event to talk to hyperlocal bloggers and students about his experience with his new start-up.

There are only a handful of news people who really understand the new digital landscape. Jeff Jarvis is one. So is the Bristol Editor. Marc Reeves is another.

This event Marc is talking at could just be an exercise of grousing at how journalism is going to the dogs. It doesn’t pan out that way.

Marc carefully explains the thinking behind the site. There’s a few surprises. And some lessons that can be learned by the local government, hyperlocals looking to monetise what they do.

The event was brilliantly summarised by organiser Philip John. No, I didn’t agree with all of it. But there were  a few lessons that can be learned by the public sector as well as hyperlocal bloggers.

How does the Business Desk work?

Business people are busy people. They’re at their desk early planning their day. A targeted email with 15 relevant news headlines is sent before 9am. The email links back to the website.

MORAL: They’d looked into their audience. Who it was and how they could best be communicated with. Then they tailored it. They DIDN’T build it Field of Dreams style and hope they’d come.

How do they know what stories are popular?

Google analytics help tell the journalist what stories are popular and which are not. Extra time and effort is then spent on ones which are popular.

MORAL: Don’t work blind. Listen to see what is popular.

Where does content come from?

Refreshingly, it’s fresh copy. Stories emerge from networking, talking to contacts as well as through standard press releases and announcements.  They started as a two man team and have increased to six in the West Midlands. With similar sites in Yorkshire and the North West as well as the West Midlands they have a turn-over of around £1 milion. That’s a serious figure.

MORAL: Well written content updated daily can work. Traditional journalism CAN work.

What about paywalls?

What are paywalls? They are barriers to content you need a subscription to get past. They won’t work, Marc says. But they’ll work beautifully to push traffic towards sites like The Business Desk. They won’t work for hyperlocals.

MORAL: Information is free on the web. Think of other ways to be self-sustaining.

So how does the thing pay for itself?

Site advertising pays but increasingly events do too. Niche events that 40 people will pay money for insights on work, for example. They also become ways to built the online community offline too.

MORAL: Don’t look at one way to generate funds.

What about the site traffic?

Unlike newspapers, Marc was hugely free with insights into his site traffic. There’s about 1,200 visitors every day with 2.5 to three page impressions per visit.

This is from a base of 4,282 and 2,400 email subscribers. Small numbers? Maybe. But this is a start-up. And remember, the Birmingham Post used to sell around 10,000 a week.

MORAL: Build a community around a niche.

Email? Isn’t that boring?

It generates 90 per cent of site traffic. That’s big figures. I’ll say that again. It generates 90 per cent of site traffic. That’s not boring. It’s brilliant. It’s not something unique to thebusinessdesk.com. The IDeA Communities of Practice site does something with a daily email update.

MORAL: E-mail is the overlooked communication tool of web 2.0. As late 90s as it is you can reach big numbers through it. It also acts as a tap on the shoulder to remind you that site you signed up to is there.

So, what’s to learn?

I’m convinced there are lessons here, not just for news websites but for web users in general and yes, that does mean the public sector.

1. Think basic. Email may not be sexy. But people use it. In large numbers. Get an email subscription going. Don’t be afraid to be web1.0.

2. Think sustainable (content). Think about how the site will last. Make sure there’s a team not one overworked individual.

3. Think sustainable (finance). Think through how it can last and if not be a not-for-profit at least be a not-for-loss.

4. Research. Put some thought into your audience. Think who you are writing for. Think how and when they’d like content delivered. Be niche.

5. Wear different hats. Be a journalist. Be a marketeer. Be an advertising sales person.

6. Write your own content and develop a voice.


STOP PRESS: Are seven income streams the future of hyperlocal news?

 Unless there are six or seven income streams a hyperlocal site won’t pay for itself.

That’s the verdict from the excellent Future of News West Midlands event in Birmingham.

Depressing? Not really. Realistic? Absolutely. And there’s a surprising amount in common between hyperlocals and local government web experimentors like me.

This rather excellent event at Birmingham City University drew web entrepreneurs, hyperlocals and newspaper people.

Forward looking rather than finger pointing it looked for solutions and answers rather than blame.

The seven income streams idea for hyperlocals prompted debate about what those streams could be. Straight forward banner ads emerge from the print model. But then what?

Actually, a whole myriad of ideas that the show web as a vibrant place for entrepreneurs.

Picture framing, listings, ad features, hyperlocal t-shirts bigging up an estate or area and PR services all emerged as potential solutions. There was even a natty idea to maximise dead air time on pub TVs.

However, the danger is the cash cow you chance upon replaces the hyperlocal reason for doing it in the first place. Besides, what works in one town may not work in a different estate.

But surely this lack of sure funding means hyperlocals are doomed? If you were an accountant, yes. You could be right. And if you were looking at these sites to make piles of cash.

But then balance sheets don’t count the enthusiasm, community spirit and zeal many people are powered by.

So, wearing my local government what what does all this mean?

First, there’s still demand for local news, for one. And a passion for an area.

But if something really did become crystal clear it’s this: there are barriers to hyperlocals as we’ll as local government. They just have different labels.

For hyperlocals it’s lack of time and the prized extra time seven income streams can bring.

For local government, who can have a degree of funding, it’s lack of time and the barriers a chain of command – and IT departments – can bring. We may want to deploy leftfield ideas. It’s just not always possible.

Both sides can be forgiven for looking enviously at the other.

Yet, for all these obstacles there are some brilliant ideas taking shape in all corners of the web in the public and private sectors.

There’s no golden bullet for the future of news but I’m convinced the answers will be found through pioneering spirit plus a passion for an area.

That’s not unlike how good web ideas will succeed in local government.

 

Creative commons credits.

Abstract image www.imageabstraction.com.

Corrected journal Judge Mental


BROADCASTING CHANGE – Seven skills the BBC can teach social media

Pic credit:
Official_BBC_Logo
Originally uploaded by nguyenht_hk
 
 
 
 “Citizen journalists,” the sneer goes, “Whatever next? Citizen surgeons?”
 

It’s a glib, throwaway, catch-all comment designed to dismiss social media sites which spread news without the aid of shorthand, a spiralbound notepad and an NUJ card.

The argument goes that like a surgeon’s scalpel only someone trained can handle news properly.

But with the quiet opening up of the BBC College of Journalism website another brick in the ever shaky argument comes toppling down.

The website http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/ has been run internally for the corporation for three years. It is a treasure trove of skills refined from more than 60 years of award winning peerless journalism.

BBC economics correspondant Robert Peston recently warned that: “the traditional distinctions between television journalists, radio journalists and print journalists are quite close to being obsolete.”

To survive a 21st century journalist must blog, podcast, film, edit and interview and write.

In the era of multi-skilling the press officer will also do well to take a look at the array of skills the site offers coaching in. There is plenty there for them.

But where the BBC training site’s hidden strength really lies is in the trasure trove of skills it offers to the hyperlocal blogger.

Recently, there has been a fierce debate in the UK digital community about defamation and media law. The Talk About Local project to encourage hyperlocals has started to debate it. Bloggers such as The Lichfield Blog’s Philip John have come up with some hyperlocal friendly resources.

But what the BBC site offers is a more extensive, professional insight into what will and won’t get you into trouble.

I’m tempted to call the opening up of the BBC training site as their greatest contribution to digital since the BBC Acorn computer pushed home computing out of the science fiction pages into the spare room in 1981.

This website starts to put quality journalism within the grasp of anyone  who can operate both a WordPress site and the BBC’s training pages.

For a qualified journalist looking to embrace change this is a welcome resource.

To the press officer it is a reference point. But also another signal that the 21st century landscape is changing.

To a blogger it should be bookmarked and memorised.

SEVEN TOP TIPS FROM THE BBC THAT COULD PROVE USEFUL IN SOCIAL MEDIA….

1. A guide to defamation These tips will be especially useful to bloggers. But also with the ever changing media landscape handy for press officers and journalists a long time out of NCTJ college.

2. Contempt of court You don’t have to be in the dock to get on the wrong side of a court of law. The rights and restrictions that govern news – and yes, blogs – are complex and can be devastating if you get it wrong.

3. Using submitted content A great insight into how the BBC uses it. For hyperlocals where photography may rely heavily on submitted pics this could be of use.

4. Original journalism There are news rooms across the country drained of experience and talent that could benefit from this. High standards are never a bad thing.

5. Bloggers and the law A contribution from Birmingham City University leacturer Paul Bradshaw – @paulbradshaw on Twitter. Nice to know the BBC are listening to someone like Paul who has a foot in the blogosphere as well as journalism.

6. Making short news films With YouTube in the driving seat high production values are not needed. But a few tips that could transfer into making something watchable can’t be a bad idea.

7. Filming interviews A few minutes with a Flip video and you’ll know it’s a tricky business balancing the questioning with the filming.


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