QIT#9 Reader empowerment beyond content

This one really brings the incoherency of the QIT series to a new level. So please, bear with me:

I’ve been hearing a lot of debate about how news organisations need to re-engage with their readers and, for the most part, this seems to focus on content creation.

There is talk about promoting “citizen journalism”, using “UGC”, releasing APIs for developers, etc. etc.

It’s all good stuff. But there is no denying that those who volunteer time and effort to create news-worthy content or applications are a tiny minority.

Most people just want to be told what the news is by people who are employed to know.

Does that mean those who create want to engage more than those who do not? I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Perhaps it’s just that others have time and skill barriers that stop them. Or they don’t really see how such engagement would benefit them.

I’m always stunned by how popular polls on news websites are. They almost always do well, perhaps because of their low barrier to entry: just one or two clicks and you’ve contributed.

The frustrating thing is that most of these polls are – beyond capturing a mood – utterly futile.

Readers may overwhelmingly vote that the Prime Minister should resign, but that poll is unlikely to have much influence on Gordon’s decision to bow out.

To look at it in the more negative light, you could argue such polls do little more than reinforce the idea that news organisations pay lip service to engagement, but don’t really want to empower their readers in any meaningful way.

So, what if polls were devised to empower? What if, at the end of the vote, the majority will of the readers was enacted? What message would that send out? What should the questions be?

QIT #6 News and music are incomparable

I’ve was listening on the radio (You & Yours, I think) to a debate about the PPL and PRS licences businesses need in order to play music in the workplace.

As a quick explanation, this is from law firm Hammonds (warning – it’s a pdf):

Any copyright music which is played within a business and can be heard by more than one person (whether staff members or the general public) is likely to require a licence. This includes music played almost anywhere outside a private dwelling, for example in offices and factories; shops and stores; leisure facilities; kitchens; staff rooms; post rooms; and even music played on the telephone whilst customers are put on hold; as well as the usual public areas such as waiting rooms, restaurants and bars.

That lead me to think of all the newspapers sitting in cafes, bars and waiting rooms across the UK. Each newspaper is only bought once but many may read and benefit from it.

In some respects it doesn’t really matter how this has come to pass – whether it is because of competition from other platforms, the public perception of news being a right or just the newspaper industry historically undervaluing itself – the point it illustrates is that the news industry doesn’t really believe its content has any value other than to provide structure around which to place advertising.

This seriously effects how the industry can now move forward and, with such different attitudes to the value of their content, how can we suggest that the answers to the news industry’s woes can be found in the experiences of the music industry?

“Everyone just Googles”

This is a quote taken from a conversation I had with a lawyer about her consumption of news:

“The problem is you people in the media are stuck in your own little world and forget that we’re also quite busy in our own little world and we don’t have time to keep up with what you’re doing.
“We don’t want to have to understand your RSS feeds, we just want to get the information that we need as quickly and easily as possible.
“Handing over 50p and getting that information printed on paper is an easy transaction. It makes sense.
“Fiddling around trying to understand and set up an RSS reader doesn’t.
“When it comes to information online the quickest way is to Google for it. Everyone just Googles.
“Then, if you find a useful easy-to-use site in the Google search results, that’s the site you’ll go back to.”

Quick, incoherent thought #3: “ambient” distribution

Just been reading a post by Jonathan Kay that suggests the two biggest factors in the decline of print are the death of spare time and the death of community (thanks to Markmedia for the link).

The former struck a chord with me. I am a Radio 4 addict because I can listen to it while I’m doing other things (cleaning the house, commuting to work). I pick up the headlines whilst doing other things.

If time is becoming increasingly squeezed then I suspect the reasons behind someone dedicating half-an-hour of their time to reading a newspaper have to been even more compelling. Being on public transport and having a paper available for free is one of those reasons.

Even if the newspaper is a great product, with fantastic stories, it may not be something that fits into a person’s life easily.

So, when we look at how we can use technology to appeal to new audiences, perhaps we should be thinking media in terms of how much of a person’s time they consume.

Would the ideal be to make distribution ambient? This would mean stories would come to a person because they were part of their surroundings, rather than because they expressly decided to sit down and consume news.

Brand identifiers – or what’s important about how you get your news?

On my last post a mini-debate has broken out about whether our exisiting news organisations really need journalists to investigate stories.

A debate also broke out on Twitter between myself and Bobbie “I probably have one of the coolest jobs in the world and get to live in San Fransciso” Johnson of The Guardian.

He was arguing that having investigative journalism was, in a way, a form of marketing for a news brand – a way to identify the product as being better than its competition.

An interesting point that got me thinking.

Russell Brand & Jonanathan Ross, the US elections, the Congo, Gordon Brown shaking hands with Al Qaida suspects – all of these are news stories and all of them have been covered by the UK’s media outlets in one form or another over the last week.

So, what are the things that make you choose to get your news from one organisation rather than another? I tried to make a list: Continue reading

“The Collaborator”? Naming Newspapers 2.0

This evening I had that very rare and precious of things: time on my hands. But, unfortunately, it appears that when given space to think I don’t always use it that wisely.

As I was pounding on the cross-trainer in the gym my mind definitely wandered.

Ignoring some of the more fundemental historical reasons for their being, it occurred to me that many newspaper names in this country might be accused of reinforcing the “we shout, you listen” mentality.

The Post, although I hope developing a reputation to the contrary, is a case in point.

Then there’s The Mail, The Mercury (the winged messenger of the Gods no less!), The Standard, The Telegraph… even The Guardian seems a little paternalistic.

So, I mused, in this brave new world of crowd-sourcing, participation and reader inclusion what should a news publicaton be called?

The Consult? The Listener?

The we-try-and-take-your-opinions-into-account-but sometimes-we-run-out-of-time-er?

I plumped for “The Collaborator”.

It did, however, occur to me that this didn’t sound very Web 2.0 in comparison to the many new social media applications springing up across the interwebs.

Perhaps it would be better to design a cute little mascot-cum-logo and give the publication a title such as “Storeez” or “Gnewz” (oddly gnewz.com goes to the campaign website of Douglas Geiss, Democratic candidate for State Representative Committee in Michigan).


So I was woken up an hour ago by shaking walls and the crashing of books falling off their shelves. It looks now as if the UK has been hit by an earthquake. Reports so far vary suggesting its magnitude was between 4.7 and 5.3 [edit: modified to 4.9 at 0245].

It’s the second time the earth has moved for me in Brum – the first being the Dudley earthquake in 2002.

The difference this time (as well as it being bigger – rumours are that this one was the largest earthquake in the UK for 20 years) was that I could confirm instantly that there had been a quake by logging on to Twitter, whereas I spent hours in 2002 convinced the rumbling must have been an explosion. As my Twitter account demonstrates, there were a fair few of us wondering what had shaken us out of our slumber.

It was interesting too that the first report I saw about the earthquake from a news organisation was via a tweet from Bounder. Through Twittersearch he had found a report from Twitter-based Dutch news service BreakingNewsOn. I then found other links to sites including a Seesmic (apt name for this) video blog from Midlands-based Documentally. [this was blogged seconds after the quake, I am told] I even tried to put my not-so-great skills into a Google map of the epicentre. [which, according to Podnosh, scooped Sky News!]

More on how the story unfolded from ReadWriteWeb. I’m off back to bed!

Enviromental journalism: question for BCU students

This afternoon I’m popping down to Birmingham City University to meet Paul Bradshaw‘s group of online journalism students.

They’ve been doing some fascinating work on developing an environmental news service, with each of them specialising in a different subject area.

Environmental news is close to my heart. I would love The Post to be giving more coverage to stories on sustainability.

But it’s also one of those subject areas that many readers regard with great suspicion. Look at The Times guide to the most popular environmental stories of 2007 and you’ll see what I mean.

So, I guess the big question is, can you write environmental stories in a way that builds trust between you and the reader? Is the current suspicion surrounding climate change – for example – caused by media sensationalism or poor scientific reporting? Perhaps it’s neither, maybe it’s just human nature to respond to environmental stories with suspicion.

I certainly don’t know the answer. But in a world where the hegemony of large news corporations is increasingly challenged, the issue of maintaining trust as a way to maintain audience is critical.

And, I suspect, if you find a way to crack the hardest nut of trust and environmental reporting, then you have probably struck gold.

What I’m going to do with the Flickr feedback

As the flow of comments has started to slow on the Flickr post, I thought I’d let you all know what I plan to do next!

Over the next few weeks (after I’ve finished my first assignment), I’ll start collating the comments. I think what has come out from the discussion is going to be applicable to a lot of the other things I wanted to looking at for the website project.

I had just assumed (naively, perhaps) that because people were happy for bloggers to link to their work (as long as they were credited), they would also be happy for a site like The Birmingham Post to link to it too.

This, however, doesn’t seem to be completely the case. Most of the concern seems to come from the belief that – as we are a commercial publishing operation – any and all the material we link to on the web must be paid for.

I can understand that point, but I think the distinction between commercial and non-commercial spaces on the Internet needs to be looked at in more detail. Not that I’m going to do that right here and now – the comments have given me way too much to mull over!

In my head, I saw The Birmingham Post website as a place to go for news and opinion, but also as a (sorry to use this word) gateway to Brum’s professional and creative communities on the web. I still see it that way, but I now realise I need to look at how I’m going to do that in more depth.

But please keep the comments coming in, I really want to get to grips with this.