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?


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/


EPIC CHANGE: 12 predictions in digital in local government for 2012

“Inventions reached their limit long ago,” one important person once said, “And I see no hope for further development.”

Roman Emporer Julius Frontius made this bold comment in the 1st century. And he didn’t even have Google Plus to contend with. Bet he feels a bit silly now.

Tempting as it is to apply it to today you’d be similarly way off the money. Robot butlers and jet packs may top my own wish list but in practical terms what is likely to change?

If 2011 was a year of rapid change in local government then 2012 may see more of the same. Most of it is just a continuation of themes that started in the previous 12 months.

Here are 12 predictions for the year ahead from my perspective as a local government comms person. (Disclaimer: much of this probably won’t ever happen).

1. Comms will have a fight for control of social media. They’ll lose in the long term if they want to keep it all for themselves. They’ll win if the create an environment for others to innovate.

2. Data visualisation will boom. With the web prompting comms people to search for new platforms to tell a story data visualisation will expand. With free tools being available there will be innovation.

3. JFDI dies. As the mainstreaming of digital continues JFDI – or Just Flipping Do It – as a way of getting things done in an organisation will end. You can’t fly under the radar on Facebook if 29 million people in the UK are on it.

4. Digital customer services will expand. Just as calls centres emerged as the telephone matured as a way you can talk to people so too will a social presence for customer services people.

5. Someone will do summat reely stoopid and it won’t matter. In 2008, a rogue tweet could have closed down a council’s social media output. As it gets more embedded it’ll be more bullet proof.

6. Emergency planners will use Twitter as second nature. There’ll be more big incidents played out on social media. But best practice will be shared.

7. The local government social media star of 2012 will be someone doing a routine task in a place you’ve never visited. Step forward the local government worker who talks about his day job. There will be more like  @orkneylibrary and @ehodavid.

8. Linked social will grow. Linked social is different voices on different platforms growing across an organisation or across the public sector. It will be especially interesting to see how this develops in Scotland and the West Midlands.

9. Good conferences will have an unconference element. Or they’ll actually be unconferences. Some people don’t get unconferences. But they generally want to leave on the stroke of five o’clock and don’t do anything outside their JD. Bright ones do but will be happier if they’re wrapped up and presented like a ‘proper’ conference. But unconferences will be more diverse and targeted.

10. Newspapers will carry on dying. Bright comms people will carry on developing web 2.0 skills and use them in tandem with old media. Good Journalism will carry on adapting to the web. But this may take time to filter through to local newspapers who have been the bread and butter of local government press offices.    

11. Data journalism will grow. But not in local newspapers. Bloggers will uncover big stories that a print journalist doing the work of three doesn’t have time to look for.

12. Amazing things will happen in Scotland. Some of the brightest people in the public sector who are innocavating aren’t in London. They’re north of the border serving as police officers as well as in local government. It’ll be fascinating to see how this develops.

Creative commons credits

Geeks http://www.flickr.com/photos/duvalguillaume/2494520518/

Computer for the space shuttle programme http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/6521818485/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Twitter stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5897611358/sizes/l/in/photostream/


SOCIAL FIGURES: A cunning way to find cool Facebook stats

An amazing statistic like a battering ram breaks down doors.

Here’s a good one.

For every one person who buys a copy of the Express & Star in the West Midlands borough of Walsall there are 10 on Facebook.

That’s print outnumbered by digital by a rate of 10 to one.

It’s the single most powerful argument to use social media in local government you can ever have. Why? Because it shows it’s mainstream. In fact, so mainstream it dwarfs what used to be the colossus of the printed Press.

It’s a cunning wheeze I first came across at the landmark LocalGovCamp in Birmingham in summer 2009.

Paul Cole, a talented man from Derby, spoke about how he did it. People never fail to be impressed by the idea.

You create a Facebook advert — but before you hand over cash you are given the chance to narrow down who you want to advertise to.

It’s at this point that you can get the juicy stats.

Here’s how to come up with one than your community:

1. Log on to Facebook.

2. Click the link that says ‘create an advert.’

3. Fill in the advert. Just type ‘hghghg’ if you like.

4.Upload an image. Any will do. This gets you to the place where you can access figures.

5. Look at the figure in the far right of the screen. That’s the figure of people registered on Facebook for the UK.

6. Add your town or city.

7. Select the radius you want to search from from the centre of your area with 16 km the shortest distance.

8. Click search and you have a figure for your own community.

9. Add an age demographic if you like.

10. Add an interest – like football, knitting or fishing – and search on that term too.

Enjoy!

Creative Commons

Measuring http://www.flickr.com/photos/darrenhester/3989949630/sizes/l/in/photostream/


TWO TRIBES: What should the blogger – press officer relationship look like?

Jerry Springer built a TV career by making people in dysfunctional relationships sit down and talk to each other.

With burly minders flanking the stage Billie-Jo and her ex-lover Seth from an Arkansas trailer park would set-to in front of a studio audience.

Gripping stuff it was too, but you had this feeling nothing would change.

Two parties in a sometimes strained relationship came together at Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

The session ‘What does a good blogger – press officer relationship look like?’ saw bloggers sit down with press officers.

For some, it was the first time they’d ever spoke to the other side.

Like a parish pump Relate, there were sometimes a few choice words. But unlike the warring couples on TV there was a growing appreciation of the points of view.

It’s a session that has been extensively covered.

Local government officer Simon Gray, who is not from communications, blogged brilliantly about the session here. When he said neither side appeared with full credit, he’s right.

He’s also dead right in calling on both sides to cut the other some slack.

Paul Bradshaw writing a guest post for Podnosh made some excellent points in how local government should make information easier to access.

Mike Rawlins, of Talk About Local, who also contributes to Pits N Pots in Stoke-on-Trent has written an excellent post from his perspective on this and dead badgers and does, as Simon suggests, cut some slack.

Paul Bradshaw wrote a good post from the session focussing on the call from bloggers to make information more easy to access.

Sasha Taylor has also blogged from the session from a police perspective.

Twelve months ago I wrote a blog post on how the blogger – press office relationship was a source of conflict.

The 10 points I wrote then I still stand by. The full post is here. The edited highlights are boiled down to this

FIVE THINGS A PRESS OFFICE CAN DO:

  1. Treat them as journalists.
  2. Put them on press release mailing lists.
  3. Use blog comment boxes as a press officer.
  4. Accept not everything bloggers write is going to be favourable. Complain politely – and constructively – if things are wrong.
  5. Respect what bloggers do.

FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR BLOGGERS:

  1. If you have courage of your conviction put your name to what you do you’ll find your voice getting heard far better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to check stories.
  3. Respect press officers. They have a job to do too.
  4. Be accurate. The same rules for newspapers apply to blogs.
  5. Buy a copy of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists to save your life and potentially your house.

But listening to the both sides talk at the session, there’s also a few things a bright press officer can do.

1.  Create blog friendly content – A conventional press release is tailored for the print media. That’s not necessarily blog-friendly. A short film posted to YouTube or Vimeo is. A two minute film to explain with an interview the points made in the release would work.

2. Add pics as a matter of course – Even if it’s a stock pic. Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local made the point that there is a demand for images. They’re going to source a pic from Google images anyway. Why not provide a good one?

3. Judge when to respond – the excellent Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation re-purposed the US military’s flowchart of engagement with bloggers. It’s good advice when to engage and when to ignore the internet troll.

4. Build relationships – In print media you know you’ll get a better story about countryside placing it with a reporter who is passionate about green issues. So why not do it online too?

5. Put talking to bloggers in black and white. Make it a policy decision. Here’s one from Wolverhampton Homes to show you how.

6. Learn about open data. It’s not a geek topic anymore. It’s come into the mainstream and bloggers are at the forefront. Local data advisor and hyperlocal blogger Will Perrin has pointed out that press officers will need excel skills. Why? Because you’ll need to interrogate data sets just as you’ll need to leaf through council minutes.

Creative commons credits:

No papers today – Katmere http://www.flickr.com/photos/katmere/51065495/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Antique clippings – D Sharon Pruitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4799271086/



LINOTYPE: WordPress v Hot metal. A (sort of) case study

Pic credit:
Linotype machines
 Originally uploaded by edinburghcityofprint

 

As an evocative recollection of a lost world, the opening lines of Marcel Pagnol’s memoir is hard to beat.

“I was born in the Aubagne in the last days of the goat herders,” he wrote of rural France in the 1890s.

“I was old as my mother and two years older than my brother. That always remained the same.” It is a beautiful book. You can feel the sunshine and the sense of a landscape changing and disappearing from view.

As someone who started in newspapers I’m getting that sense of seeing the old world disappearing.

Newspaper circulation in Britain has fallen by 19.1 per cent since 2001, according to website paidcontent:UK.

Truth is, I feel as if I am seeing the world disappear quicker than most. Why? I started on a hot metal newspaper.

“Of course,” I sheepishly tell people. “I began my career carrying pages of type from a linotype machine to a flatbed press.”

Fopr the record, it is worth stressing that I’m 37. Not 97.

‘Enigma’

In computer terms that’s pre-Bletchley Park. In fact, that’s several generations pre-Enigma. It represents 1880s technology and I have war stories my grandfather would have had.

For 12 months in 1993, I worked on The Uttoxeter Advertiser, a small weekly in rural Staffordshire which claimed a circulation of 5,000 but was actually selling far fewer copies than that.

It was written and printed in a two storey brick workshop in a courtyard off the Market Square.

Yellowing paper covered the skylight. A century of grime and proofs had built up. Its nickname in the town was ‘The Stunner’.

Why? Because people from the Moorlands town have a very dry sense of humour. It stunned no-one.

As a paper it made no sense either. Deadline was Friday. It then sat about for two days. The front page was printed on Monday and it was folded by hand. Never mind the Internet. It was beaten hands down by word of mouth on the High Street.

‘Violence’

Uttoxeter was a strange place. Film maker Shane Meadows grew up there. His small town tales of revenge and violence are all drawn from his early life there.

There was a vicar who owned two pubs and would serve behind the bar wearing his dog collar.

He ran a rehearsal room for bands. Bartley Gorman, the self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies, was a resident.

He took part in bare knuckle prize fights and would stage pony and trap races down the A50 bringing traffic to a halt. Police would just shrug at visitors stuck in the jams. “That’s Bartley for you,” they would say.

My job on the Advertiser was to carry pages of lead type known as ‘formes’. They weighed eight stone (50kg) each.

They needed cleaning, once used, before being melted back down. That was my job too – using a brush with only seven bristles. I also took pictures. And I wrote stories.

It was a noisy job. And dirty. The clank of the linotype machines against a backdrop of whirring Press. You would have to shout to get yourself heard. Each picture needed developing. In black and white. By hand. Then burning to create a printable plate.

‘Broken’

Then it needed washing. Then mounting onto blocks of wood raised to the level of the surrounding type.

That took two hours 15 minutes tops. It can take Twitpic 10 seconds and a mobile phone less than a minute.

The reporters had one typewriter between them. Then one day, it broke so they had to write out stories in longhand and pass them to Len, the typesetter. Len was a veteran. You had to hope Len was in a good mood or he would refuse to convert your story into printable slugs of type, one for each line.

It was a fascinating place and I developed a love of newspapers, telling a story and journalism there.

Despite everything. Of course, this crazy backwards world couldn’t last. You knew it as you lived it.

The ‘Stunner’ was put up for sale and this hand to mouth, Dickensian existence came to a halt.

The Burton Mail bought the newspaper and made all but two of the staff redundant.

The machines were switched off and the ink stiffened overalls hung up for the last time.

I left knowing there was a better way of doing things.

So why am I telling you this on a social media blog?

Because the past has gone. It wasn’t romantic and I don’t miss it.

There will still be newspapers. Just in a very different landscape.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that WordPress can create and distribute more in 20 minutes than it took a team of 12 to do in a week.

Digital cleans up and puts a Press into our desktops and mobile phones.

So go out and use it.

And please – don’t complain next time you see a Fail Whale….


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