Are we dying – no, of course not!

February 20, 2009

ANDREW Neill, well known in media circles as a long-time Murdoch editor and now publisher of the Spectator in Britain, has been in the region talking about the future of media, writes Mark Hollands

He had a chat with Leigh Sales, of the ABC’s Lateline program, the other night. She asked the world’s most obvious but ill-informed media question, “are newspapers dying?” Her job to do so. No problem with that. And Neill gave an excellent answer, and also spent sometime explaining that our newspapers are not likes those basket cases in the United States. He also illustrates the importance of your newspaper website if you have the gumption, imagination and execution to get it right.

You can stream the video and listen to the entire interview, although it finishes with a spruik of Neill’s Spectator magazine – ‘champagne for the brain’ or some such tosh. (I thought you weren’t allowed to sell on the ABC but clearly you are). However, it’s still worth a watch and courtesy of the ABC transcript, below is his answer to Leigh’s $64 million question:

Neill:
No, they are not. Some are, some deserve to die. The trend is most pronounced in the United States because the United States is dominated by inefficient high cost big city monopoly newspapers who are not used to competing.

So, they’re really taking a hit because they’ve been fat cats they can’t handle the revolution that is the Internet and multichannel TV. I don’t think that’ true of British or Australian newspapers.

We’re much more competitive. Yes, some of the weaker brethren will go; they deserve do. Will there be a move to the web, yes.

But I think the strong newspaper brands in Britain and Australia, not so much in continental Europe where they’re weak too, but in Britain and Australia they will survive and they will have very strong websites as well.

Our strongest brands also have strong web plays, and we’ve stopped thinking it’s an either or proposition. Indeed we know you can’t have one without the other, and the opportunities are great.

You think of famous British brands that went global before the Internet age. ‘The Financial Times’, ‘The Economist’.

Well, there’s a third called the ‘Guardian’, because the Guardian web site is one of the… it’s now the third biggest website in American newspapers. It’s bigger than the ‘LA Times’ or the ‘Washington Post’.

So, there are huge opportunities out there as well as problems. There’s change in media. Every major model, whether it’s in broadcasting or newspapers or magazines, is now under threat. But that doesn’t mean to say we can’t adapt.”

New Jakarta daily finds its wings

February 17, 2009

WHEN the Jakarta Globe, a new daily newspaper, was being put together in 2008, the company selected WoodWing Enterprise 6 as the publishing solution for its newsroom.

The English language Indonesian newspaper was built from scratch in eleven months, and the first issue appeared on November 12, 2008.

Serious Technology, an experienced WoodWing Authorised Solution Partner, implemented the solution.

The paper quickly assembled a team of seasoned international and local journalists, built a newsroom from the ground up and hammered together an editorial and business strategy.

A. Lin Neumann, Chief Editorial Adviser of the Jakarta Globe, describes the challenges of the project. “We had to make many important decisions in a very short time. And of course a state-of-the-art newsroom system was at the top of the list. We needed something cost effective but flexible that could handle all our current and future needs.”

 John Fong, Chief Executive of Serious Technology said: “We implemented the WoodWing editorial and asset management system on site. It was challenging, but well worth it.”

Serious Technology and Woodwing were also involved in the 2006 launch of Kontan, a business daily in Jakarta.

Today, the full-color 48-page daily newspaper offers readers a distinctive three-section publication from Monday to Saturday.

The tag line ‘”Great Stories, Global News,” stresses the reading experience. “Readers should feel little difference between reading an AFP or New York Times wire story and our locally written stories. We aim to provide quality to our readers”, Neumann explains.

Current circulation is at about 40,000 per day, higher than the Jakarta Post, the Globe’s nearest competitor and a mainstay in the market for 25 years.

Remco Koster, Managing Director of WoodWing Asia Pacific, said: “Flexibility and a low TCO are crucial in these challenging economic times. The implementation speed and short learning curve for newsroom staff add to our competitive edge.”

Don’t let niche sites nick your readers

February 12, 2009

LESS journalists are reporting from Washington DC, and a higher percentage of those who remain are from specialist publications or websites, according to an AP story on the US National Public Radio site.

By Brett Taylor, PANPA

If you’re a trend junkie like us here at PANPA, this is an intriguing snapshot of consumer behaviour and the media’s response.

The article says the amount of political content being produce for ‘general interest’ media, such as mainstream newspapers, is on the decrease while niche brands such as Politico.com are rising to take their place for readers who have a specific interest in politics.

Theoretically, people who once bought a newspaper mainly for the political stories, with some news on the side, might now instead go straight to the dedicated political news sites, and catch the day’s other events online, on the radio or on TV later, wherever.

The same scenario is being mirrored in any number of topic areas. If a reader has a particular passion for golf, there are an increasing number of specialist websites he or she can visit that will supercede the coverage given to golf by your daily newspaper’s sports pages.

This is presents a challenge for mainstream newspapers, which (in terms of topic mix) are jacks of all trades and masters of none.

The solution isn’t to throw resources at every topic area, in an attempt to be the most comprehensive resource. That is too expensive, and someone focussing wholly on, say, entertainment news, is always going to do a better job at covering it than a newspaper that has the rest of the world to worry about.

The answer is to provide an experience for the reader that their favourite niche sites can’t match.

You must inform your reader of the day’s events, but package them in a way that can be consumed faster and understood easier, with a focus on the elements of a story that affect people’s lives.

You must set the news agenda to differentiate yourself from the myriad of other sources available. You must break news – exclusives are the ultimate differentiator.

You must build community within your readership. A reader should feel like they are participating in their society by picking up your paper, and contributing to the community by leaving you a comment online, or sending in a picture from their mobile phone.

Reading a blog written on the other side of the world might satisfy someone’s special interest area, but it can bring a certain sense of detachment from the real world. Picking up the local paper should be the opposite – it should connect a reader with the people around them.

You must make up for the lack of quantity of content on individual topics with quality. If you can’t have an army of science reporters to compete with www.newscientist.com, pay for a must-read columnist that will have the science nerds coming back every time. For a regional paper, this might hiring in the best mind on the local sports team.

And in the online space, you must branch out and connect with the very sites that might be taking your readers away. Network with popular blogs, don’t compete with them. A die-hard music fan will respect you more if you’re hooked in with the online community of music news. Link to other sites and aggregate the best music blogs and resources on the web. Be part of the movement.

Just as job ads and classifieds have shifted online, where they exist in an environment more convenient for the user, it gets easier by the day for people to bypass the newspaper package and go to dedicated sources for everything from weather, to cinema listings, to news about the environment. The newspaper product must be improved, and that product promoted loudly and clearly, if it is to remain a tool worth using.

Pakistan editor receives press freedom award

December 15, 2008

Najaam Sethi, Editor-in-Chief of Friday Times and Daily Times in Pakistan, has been awarded the 2009 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers.

Mr Sethi, whose newspapers advocate liberal and secular ideas in a country often torn by religious extremism, was honoured for his outstanding defence and promotion of press freedom under difficult circumstances and constant personal danger.

Due to the editorial policies of the newspapers, which condemn autocracy and religious fundamentalism, Mr Sethi has been at odds with both Pakistani authorities and religious groups for many years. He has been threatened with death by the Taliban and other radical Muslim groups, and has been jailed and beaten for offending the government.

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Sex sells, but readers aren’t buying it

November 27, 2008

‘SEXY Jennifer Hawkins Boobs Again’

That was the headline sitting atop the PerthNow website’s list of most popular stories of the day.

By Brett Taylor, editorial coordinator, PANPA

As a newspaper association employee, and a career journalist in the making, I felt it was my duty to click the link and see what the story was about to research this blog post.

Or was it because I’m a 22-year-old male?

Or was it because I knew I wasn’t about to land on a page with a celebrity’s bare breasts staring back at me on a newspaper site, and I was curious to see what WAS on this page, and why so many others had clicked it.

The article (you can read it here, I would have given you the link earlier but I wanted to get you interested before you clicked away!) was a four paragraph piece about how the former Miss Universe had ‘boobed’ by revealing the results of the reality show she hosts – Make Me A Supermodel – before the final episode had aired.

What I found amazing was that the article didn’t even give the reader this would-be-secret information!

There’s no hiding what the article was – a very clever headline to attract hits and another excuse to link to endless pic galleries of stunning celebrities. You see these every day, on many news sites.

Here is an example of a ‘curious’ headline on a Fairfax site today. It is arguably less innocent than the Hawkins example because its headline implies a more serious topic, for those who follow US politics.

But what was interesting about the Hawkins piece was the reader comments. You can view them yourself, but to summarise, a number of readers accused PerthNow of misleading them. The people demanded to see the boobs they were promised!

“Is this headline designed purely to increase the hits given the way internet searches are done?”, asked someone who named themself ‘curious’.

We keep hearing the likes of David Kirk and Rupert Murdoch talking about the trust and credibility value of newspapers as the keys to their survival in an age of information overload. I agree. It’s what I like to call the ‘big differentiator’.

When there’s infinite sources of information, opinion and entertainment; a high-quality, trustworthy, balanced aggregation tool for the most relevant and important information delivered in a timely and digestible format becomes extremely valuable.

We’re all aware of the commercial realities of making that model viable. Advertisers want numbers. But is it worth eroding that newspaper-reader trust for the sake of a few hits in the case of these sexed-up/curiosity-driven headlines on trivial stories?

“It’s a fine line,” says PerthNow’s editor Allen Newton. “You do want to deliver a satisfying result for your reader if they click on a link.”

Mr Newton admits there is a pressure in the online newsroom to produce content that attracts hits.

Today, PerthNow has two mini video games in its top ten list: ‘Cubefield’ and ‘The world’s hardest game’.

Mr Newton says a curiosity piece called ‘left brain, right brain’ “absolutely took off” on the site last year. LBRB, which has over 2,100 user comments, determines what sort of thinker you are by how you see an image. Since its success, staff have been on the lookout for interesting little time-wasters they come across on the web, in emails from friends, or wherever.

“We’re expanding our offering,” says Newton. “It doesn’t have to be news, news and more news.”

I grew up playing these sorts of mini-games. In fact I wasted more of my teen years on them than I care to remember. I accessed them through websites like www.addictinggames.com and www.miniclip.com.

I’m also reminded of a quote from video-journalist David Leeson in his workshop at the PANPA 08 conference. Mr Leeson had an editor at the Dallas Morning News complaining that his video wasn’t getting enough hits.

He snapped back: “Hits? Hits! If it’s only about hits, forget the news, I’ll go and shoot porn tomorrow!”

I think he made a fair point that day.

In my Gen Y household, when I want games, I would visit a site like AddictingGames or Yahoo games. When my girlfriend wants celebrity gossip, she goes to PerezHilton.com – a site that nails that genre better than any newspaper anywhere. We’re not exactly on the lookout for scantily-clad women…but if we were, it’s no secret the internet has plenty of, shall we say, ‘comprehensive’ sites dedicated to that topic!

I’m a Sydneysider. When I want news, I’m not afraid to say I prefer smh.com.au over the dailytelegraph.com.au. I find it easier at the Fairfax site to find what I want – news – without getting lost in a web of bikini pics and gossip.

Obviously the proof is in the pudding in terms of the hits the sexy stories attract. It seems silly to abandon them for more hard news. And as for games – there’s a place for those on newspaper websites, just like there’s a place for the crossword in the newspaper.

But the core focus shouldn’t be lost. I’m part of a generation of young readers coming through who grew up on the internet. We know what’s out there and where to find it. As people become more web-savvy, they’ll find other, and better, sources for the other bits and pieces. The novelty of news with a side-serving of sex will wear off. And the newspaper’s role of aggregator will be lost if their websites make it harder to find the news you need amongst a sea of ambiguous headlines.

Real news has to be the priority. A website can set the agenda in the same way the newspaper does, while retaining its interactivity. What about a list of the editor’s top 5 ‘must-read’ stories of the day next to the list of the most popular ones?

Perhaps its time to start pointing newspaper web presences towards the differentiated position Mr Kirk and Mr Murdoch speak of.

There’s a bigger picture past ‘limited visibility’

November 24, 2008

THE global white-knuckle ride for newspapers – like many other areas of the economy – is picking up speed for Western media, writes Mark Hollands.

In an industry that has used technology to drive efficiency and reduce headcount in print and production areas, companies are now looking at the journalists’ staff roster with red pen in hand.

Much has been made of the Fairfax redundancies across Australia and New Zealand. Similar actions are going on at newspapers across the region. The underlying strength of our regional media means that we are not seeing the degree of cuts at other companies, such as Ford (800), Telstra (800+) or a myriad of financial services companies, or building contractors.

In the UK, it has taken a French newsagency with impeccable English to count the cuts. Agence-France Presse says 2,300 retrenchments have been made across all British media in the past week with hundreds more expected. The revered UK Press Gazette, once every Brit journalist’s source for the next job opportunity, estimates some 140 people have been having their farewell drinks down the pub every week since July. Another 3,000 have gone at the Beeb (BBC). ITV and Channel 4 (channels not owned by government) have shed 1,000 and 150 respectively.

Without wanting to sound flippant, the Americans may well have stopped counting.  A survey by US media analyst Alan Mutter, who writes a decent column on the INMA site, says profits of US newspapers have fallen 40 percent. More than 4,000 journalists have lost their jobs and even iconic titles such as the New York Times (100), USA Today (50) and Wall St Journal (50) have not been immune.

Closer to home, it is fair to say prospective advertising revenues have fallen off a cliff. At their respective shareholder meetings, CEOs David Kirk (Fairfax Media) and Ken Steinke (West Australian Newspapers) said they had limited visibility to short-term revenues, especially from the Retail sector. Retailers have been prancing through news media companies telling no end of tales of woe; of how their competitors are going to go broke, how they are the ones who need the discount and only they will pay media companies back in the future through long-term relationships.

Harvey Norman has been one of those. Smartly, it is using the downturn for a bit of megotiation leverage. Reuters todday reported it expected a 31.5% fall in first-quarter profit as sales continue to fall and retail margins remain under pressure. Harvey Norman, which based its earnings guidance on preliminary figures, said like-for-like written sales for the 28 days ended Nov. 23 were down 3.1% on a year earlier.

As a consequence of such retail trends, actions on the media side have had to be deep and meaningful. When sensible companies take large redundancy actions, they will cut a little deeper than necessary. It pays to ensure there is some capacity to reinvest and re-architect business practices or create new and different products.

During my 12 years in the technology industry, we had two major downturns – the dotcom crash and 9/11. No economic sector got so crunched as technology in those times. What happened may have a parallel for news media companies. Here’s what I recall from those sweaty-palm days:

  • The good companies already had good business processes, they retained key staff and never moved off strategy – and won market share
  • Individuals who had redundancies decide to ‘consult’ (freelance to use a journalistic term) and were open to new opportunities
  • The market came back, as we always knew it would
  • When it did, there were not enough people on staff to get the work done – it was a consultant’s (freelancer’s) paradise
  • Jobs opened up quickly when the turnaround came, yet not everyone chose to return to a similar, previous existence. Some found new opportunities and interests

Why am I saying this… because there are many journalists who have left, or will leave, their job and wonder, ‘what next?’.

Journalists and photographers are among the most talented, creative people you’ll find in the job market. There will be many opportunities, either back in the industry we love, or not too far afield. The key is to work your contacts and be open to possibilities. I’ve been forced to do this twice, and was always amazed at what happened next.

Mark is CEO of PANPA. He began his career as a journalist in the UK and held various editorial roles at News Ltd.

If you can’t be the best online, make it local

November 6, 2008

The PANPA office caught a serious case of the ‘Obamarama’ virus this week as we researched this news piece about the world’s news sites using live online video to cover the US election, writes Brett Taylor.

We had a look at the newspaper websites of the Pacific, plus some from the US and Britain as well as the major TV networks from Australia and the US to see who was doing what.

If someone was to steal my computer and look at the recently visited websites, they would think I’m a serious news junkie!

While I was speed-dating the online media landscape, I noticed most newspaper websites had fairly generic coverage that was very similar to all the rest.

As a reader, if it was live video coverage of McCain and Obama’s speeches I was after, or the latest update on the vote count, I would be heading straight to a site like Washington Post or Fox News. Anecdotally, this is what many friends of mine did.

After all, why would an Australian or New Zealand website have content that is going to trump those who are living and breathing the election? The American sites were more up-to-date and comprehensive than local sites, and understandably so. Video also seemed to stream better from the US sources.

This isn’t to say local sites shouldn’t have covered the election – they would have been silly not to and I’ll bet traffic was up for all. But what about combining the best general news with local content specific to that market?

For example, smh.com.au carried this quick story by Leesha McKenny about election parties in Sydney. I don’t mean to pick on one paper, but wouldn’t it have been novel to have live feeds or image galleries from these events riding alongside the general coverage on the website, to tell the election story from the perspective of Sydneysiders and expatriate Yanks living in this city?

What about our own vote, with a coloured map of Sydney suburbs and a ‘McCain or Obama’ online poll to determine the city’s alignment? These examples are applicable to any newspaper that knows its market and how to connect with it.

The importance of building community and maintaining relevance to your readership was highlighted by more than one speaker at the PANPA 08 conference

Local content would have differentiated sites from the plethora of global options available and engaged with the market in a more personal way.

As an increasingly web-savvy audience seeks out the best source of content online, newspaper sites might miss the boat on these big-ticket events – unless they give their local readers a good reason to stay.

When it’s a big decision, voters stay mainstream

November 2, 2008

WITH American voters poised for their presidential election this week, a new survey has found newspapers and digital media have both grown in importance when it comes to influencing which box to tick, writes Mark Hollands.

Compared with the 2004 US election, 23 percent more voters have used the internet as a key source for their political information. That’s more than double the impact of four years ago. Newspapers, often falsely decried for their limited future, increased their influence as a trusted source by 1 percent.

Some 33 percent of Americans used the net as their principal source of information, while 29 percent picked up a newspaper. Nearly three times as many voters aged 18-29 said the net was their main source of information than they did in ’04, according to the American-based Pew Research Center.

The net-focused campaigning of presidential candidate Barack Obama, plus online strategies designed to integrate with TV coverage by stations such as CNN and NBC, gave the internet increased relevance. Newspapers’ strongest results were recorded in the 50-64 and 64+ age groups, with 33 percent and 45 percent respectively saying print was their influencing media.

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Forum 4 Editors could be useful 4 you

October 17, 2008

We came across the forum4editors website for the first time this week and it’s quite a neat little page. They’ve been blogging live from the WAN conference so there is plenty of current, interesting content for editors or marketers there. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth having a look.

Video from phone to blog in 5 secs!

October 1, 2008

My perception of online reporting got a bit of a shake-up the other day. Journalism lecturer Stephen Quinn, currently of Deakin but soon to be UTS Sydney, wandered into the office and started banging on about how journalists can take video with their phone and have it posted on the net within seconds. Always one to assume exaggeration, I challenged him. “Go on then, do it.” So he did.

Out came a chunky-looking Nokia: he hit the touch screen and opened a bit of software called Qik, and asked me what my first few months at PANPA had been like. If you click on the video, you’ll see I was not taking it very seriously. Big mistake. I had hardly finished my last sentence when he went to this link, uploaded it and literally within 20 seconds I was watching what I had just said. Scary. I should have taken it a bit more seriously; even sat up straight, for goodness sake.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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