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/


LAST POST: My Reggie Kray story and the future of local news

Okay, so should we start to think of a world without local newspapers?

Or at any rate a place where local newspapers are no longer the only show in town?

Go to Cannock in Staffordshire and you’re closer than you think.

Gone or retreated in the past four years are the Rugeley Post, Cannock Mercury and the Rugeley Mercury.

Another of them, The Chase Post, closed this week as 45 jobs were cut from Midlands titles.

As a young man I spent some time on work experience on the Post learning the ropes.

Mike Lockley, its editor on closure,  was in charge when I was there and recently celebrated 25-years at the helm.

A dynamo of a man powered by his love of a news story he was capable of a generosity of spirit to those looking to find a start in the industry. A generation of staff and work experience people have him to thank. Me included.

So do the school children who saw pink custard back on the menu after some Mike Lockley-fired Chase Post campaigning.

I have him to thank for my first front page by-line. A piece on a Cannock musician whose speculative letter to Reggie Kray resulted in an offer of money from the gangland kingpin and an offer of unspecified ‘help.’

“I was a bit worried when Reggie Kray wrote to me and offered me money,” the musician told me.

“What if he wanted a favour doing? And have you seen his writing?”

He was right. The note handed me  looked like it had been written by a left handed 10-year-old and was signed chillingly ‘Your friend, Reggie Kray.’

Of course, Reggie only became ‘gangland kingpin’ in the stumbling copy that Mike re-wrote. My version was far more boring. But the cutting helped get me a job.

Mike was also an award winning columnist. His piece announcing closure is typical. Wry, amusing and self depracating.

In a piece written a few days before closure was announced Mike celebrated 25 years in charge by writing that ‘a town without a newspaper is a town without a heart.’

So what of the future of news?

The excellent Dave Briggs, who does things with the web in local government, once rolled his eyes at me on this subject.

“The thing is Dan,” he said. “There really is nothing in life as boring as the future of news debate.”

In a sense he’s right.

Because out in the real world it’s not really an issue.

Why?

Because people are finding their own ways of getting news whether its from across the web, Facebook, Twitter or a hyperlocal blog.

Think of the now dead Football Final. As a kid the paper shop was full of blokes at 5.30pm waiting for the Pink to be delivered because they’d missed James Alexander Gordon read the final scores on Grandstand on BBC1.

If football scores have been sorted then what of news?

I’m not sure there is a golden bullet answer. As Alastair Campbell told the Express & Star which still circulates in Cannock, the news agenda today is far more fractured.

Hyperlocal blogs like Connect Cannock are part of the future, there’s no doubt about that.

So are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn streams targeted at micro audiences around a library, a piece of open space or a service area.

So, what does this mean for local government comms teams?

Once again, the need to think about what you are doing and how much resource you point at the web.

Ex-journalists have often been hired in local government press offices because they know how to write and package information for newspapers.

Many of them are changing with the changing landscape.

But as the social web grows how long is it before a blogger gets hired by a local government comms team for their ability to communicate using WordPress, Facebook and Cover It Live?

Picture credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Krays.jpg


CHANNEL SHIFT: Picking the right voice to tell the council news story

You know the good thing about listening to different voices? Sometimes you get a different perspective.

That’s certainly true of Adrian Short, a web developer, who has written two excellent posts that comms people really do need to read. The first How to Fix Council News you can read here. It deals with a frustration that very few councils do council news on the web terribly well.

At best it’s a cut and pasted press release.

The second piece from Adrian is a 12 commandments for council news. It’s good thought provoking stuff and like the first post I don’t agree with all of it there’s enough there to think and reflect about.

Here are a few extracts:

Too long, too dull and far too pleased with itself. Little more than an exercise in vanity publishing. Irrelevant to the vast majority of people.

What’s this? 400 words on a benefit fraud case that didn’t even result in a prison sentence, complete with lengthy quotations from the magistrate and the lead councillor.

Now here’s 700 words on an upgrade to the council’s IT system that won’t be noticed by a single resident.

Sadly this useful information is presented, like the rest, in a turgid press release style. Residents are asked to plough through a huge slab of words that’s hard to scan for the essential details. The text is laden with contrived quotations from people no-one knows that rarely do anything more than state the obvious. It finishes without a call to action. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers at all.

There’s more points in the second blog post of commandments:

News is for residents. Press releases are for journalists. Thou shalt mark the distinction and honour it in all thy labours.

Thy reader is not an Editor and does not require his Notes. Likewise, his news shalt end when it ends, not when he espies “ENDS”.

Every comms person should read this stuff. Even if you don’t agree with all of it, it’ll make you think.

What is true is that council news is often steeped in the traditions of print. Many press officers a drawn from newspapers which makes sense as for decades newspapers and the council newsletter have been a prime source of information. The press release is tailored for the newspaper. It has a snappy intro, a quote from the relevant elected member and notes for editors. For newspapers it works. For the web, less so.

What’s needed is one approach for print, a different approach for the web and a different approach for each social media platform.

News is print + web + social media. Each of these needs a different voice.

Trying to bolt one format onto each of those doesn’t work.

So, how long before someone gets hired for their Twitter skills alone rather than their ability to write a press release?

Creative Commons credits

Reading newspaper http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4659576761/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Newspaper iphone http://www.flickr.com/photos/yjv/4123045194/


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


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