Rupert Murdoch quotes

Over the years I’ve read an awful lot of things about the future of newspapers in a digital age… and I mean an AWFUL lot.

Every so often though, someone utters a nugget that chimes so clearly with me that it lodges in my brain and becomes part of the structure of my own arguments and thoughts on the topic.

I realised today that two examples of these are from Rupert Murdoch.

They are:

“I can’t tell you how many papers I have visited where they have a wall of journalism prizes – and a rapidly declining circulation. This tells me the editors are producing news for themselves – instead of news that is relevant to their customers. A news organization’s most important asset is the trust it has with its readers – a bond that reflects the readers’ confidence that editors are looking out for their needs and interests.”

— Rupert Murdoch Before the Federal Trade Commission’s Workshop: ”From Town Crier to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” [PDF]
December 1, 2009

and

“What I worry about much more is our ability to make the necessary cultural changes to meet the new demands. As I said earlier, what is required is a complete transformation of the way we think about our product. Unfortunately, however, I believe too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers. Too often, the question we ask is “Do we have the story? rather than “Does anyone want the story?”

— Speech by Rupert Murdoch to the American Society of Newspaper Editors
April 13, 2005

Microsharing – a future we’re ignoring?*

Today, in an attempt to get people talking about something I’ve been mulling over for a while, I had thought I accidentally invented an awful new word: Microsharing

Luckily,  I hadn’t.

Some chap called Tony Obregon (I’m guessing this  Tony Obregon) did the hard work slapping it up on Wikipedia back in 2006.

However, I’m slightly miffed we haven’t got around to talking about it from the perspective of making money from content until 2011. Hopefully, this post gets the ball rolling.

So to microshare is:

…to offer access to a select piece or set of digital content by a specific group of invited or otherwise privileged guests in a controlled and secure manner.

So, why does it interest me?

Well, in what was a glorious example of perfect linkbait keyword combos, a VC chap named Bradford Cross recently put across his view on how the iPad would destroy print journalism.

Most of what he was saying has been said a million times before, but when Bradford starts thinking about how payment models might integrate with the social web it suddenly gets interesting:

What should I be able to do with that Economist article?  Should I be able to share it à la carte so I can discuss it with the people I want?  Should I be able to share it within my network, or within the intersection of my network and the network of paying Economist subscribers?

Should I be able to share it publicly?  Maybe I could share it with a special shortened link that encapsulates a special key – that key could charge me if I share it with my friends and I want them to read it, or it could charge the clicker of the link if the Economist decides to allow à la carte payment on some new kind of media platform.

This is the first time I’ve seen anyone think beyond the “if it’s not free it can not be shared on the social web” line… and I’ve been looking out for someone to do it for quite a while!

In real life humans are perfectly capable, and generous enough, to purchase something of value to them and then to loan or give it to someone they care about, trust, or share an interest with. It’s a nice thing to do. We feel good about it, especially when we loan something to someone who finds it really valuable too.

However, with the social web this doesn’t happen. Shared stuff is either free and shared with everyone or it’s paid for and can be shared with no one (unless they too feel compelled to pay for it).

Why the difference, if paying for stuff doesn’t stop us sharing it in real life? Perhaps the social web hasn’t yet evolved to a point where we can share like this as easily as we do in real life?

I think it might be rather nice to have something in the middle: a “licensed sharing of paid-for content“. I think it might even create another strata of the online gift economy.

The trick, however, is to find a way to do it that moves beyond voucher codes and limited previews and puts the power to share in the hands of the person who has paid.

I like the idea of integrating with an existing network then defining the people you want to send the content too (much like you would send an link out to a group in an email). I’m told, however, this is may be too laborious.

So I’m wondering what you think? Do we need it? If so, what form do you think it could take?

*Or, following the Bradford Cross school of post titling: “Why microsharing will destroy the future… OF EVERYTHING”

**And Kindle have on this very day announced book lending – microsharing in action! :)

The Times 2085? (from 1985)

Thanks to my wonderful ex-colleague at The Birmingham Post, John Cranage, I have some fantastic Christmas reading to do in the form of The Times’ 200th Anniversary publication:


I’ve already had a flick through the 166-page annual from 1985 and the whole thing looks marvellous. However, there was one advertisement that stopped me in my tracks. It was from Ben Johnson Ltd. Back in 1985 it appears they were the colour printers for The Times. They used their advert to imagine just what the newspaper might look like by 2085:

This is the (non-advertising part of the) text:

What will your great great grandchildren be looking at in a hundred years from now to mark three centuries of The Times?

Will there even be a Times then? The need will still be there for the same objective reporting of contemporary events coupled with interpretation and comment. But will it appear daily in the form of black text and pictures printed on paper? Probably not. It may, for instance, appear on a hand-held screen with direct access to a news databank transmitting constantly up-dated text and pictures of selected subjects of interest to the individual reader.

The equivalentof this commemorative book may be a disk, a series of holograms harking back to the quaint old days of paper and ink or even, as an exercise in nostalgia, a genuine book.

iPhone Apps? Kindle? News aggregators? The semantic web? We’re only a quarter of the way to 2085 and – apart from perhaps the holograms – these are all perfectly practical suggestions for today. Giving away a book as a disc is actually a pretty outdated idea.

How fast we move.

And what are Ben Johnson doing today? Nearly 25-years on they are still in business as Ben Johnson Office Solutions providing “fully-supported office IT, print and document management solutions”.

BBC video embedding – proof of commodity news?

I’ve had little time to mull over the implications of the announcement that the BBC is to share its video content with Daily Mail & General Trust, Guardian News & Media, Telegraph Media Group and Independent News & Media. Yet, in the moments when I have, I have this nagging worry that it is not a good sign.

I can completely see the benefits: additional video content that can really enrich a story, but at no real cost to the newspaper groups involved. Plus, if you’re getting BBC content on your favourite newspaper website, perhaps you might switch your homepage allegiance.

The one thing that has personally been bugging me is that the owners of the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent all decided that BBC content would sit well alongside their stories.

This suggests that they thought it likely that they would be covering enough of the same stories as the BBC, and doing so with a tone and style that was unlikely to clash.

So a BBC video would sit as well next to a Daily Mail article as it would a Guardian article? When the unique selling points of a newspaper are supposedly its focus, editorial tone and world view, that seems surprising.

I guess you could argue that it is a testament to the BBC’s objectivity and that each newspaper group will have different priorities: selecting video for different stories.

But I can’t get yesterday’s quote from Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR in the US, that “news is a commodity” out of my head.

I’ve got this horrible feeling that the BBC deal proves that many articles produced by newspapers provide little or no uniqueness to help distinguish them in a flooded market.

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?

The Birmingham Mail’s Gareth Barry letter: why so late on the web?

Did anyone else notice that today’s fantastic exclusive from the Birmingham Mail – an open letter from Gareth Barry to Villa fans – did not appear on its website until after lunch?

It seems many other websites ended up covering the story publishing the letter online before the Mail did.

Some even ran the full letter on their websites before The Mail. The Express & Star had the letter up online at midday and Football 365 appears to have published it at 12.31pm. However, Head of Multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, David Higgerson (see comments below) said many of these were actually excerpts.

The Mail had originally had an article and  a teaser on their site saying that they would publish the full letter online at 4pm, although it appeared to go up onto the site a bit  earlier than that.

It’s a very different strategy to the way The Guardian broke its recent video exclusive on Ian Tomlinson, where it used its website to publicise the story first.  I’m also not sure how it could have benefited the Mail to publish on their website so late.

I guess it shows the way newspapers deal with exclusives and how best to split them between print and online is still an area very much open to debate.

Rupert Murdoch: editors are forgetting their readers

“It’s not newspapers that might become obsolete. It’s some of the editors, reporters and proprietors who are forgetting a newspaper’s most precious asset: the bond with its readers.”

I have been catching up with an ABC Boyer Lecture given by Rupert Murdoch in November last year (thanks to Dilyan for the recommendation and link).

In it Rupert about his career in newspapers, gives his take on the Wapping dispute, The Times compact, plans for the WSJ and the loss of newspaper power in the face of the internet:

[display_podcast]

Some other interesting quotes:

“Instead of finding stories that are relevant to their readers’ lives, papers run stories reflecting their own interests. Instead of writing for their audience, they are writing for their fellow journalists. And instead of commissioning stories that will gain them readers, some editors commission stories whose sole purpose is the quest for a prize.”

“I do not claim to have all the answers. Given the realities of modern technology, this very radio address can be sliced and digitally diced. It can be accessed in a day or a month or a decade. And I can rightly be held to account in perpetuity for the points on which I am proven wrong—as well as mocked for my inability to see just how much more different the world had become.”

There is also a full transcript.

Thoughts on running a live blog on a national news website

I have been lucky enough to be involved in many interesting projects since arriving at The Times, but I think the G20 Live Blog is the one that gave me the biggest adrenelin rush.

Running over the two days of the G20, it was like no other live blog I have been involved with. Four journalists were filing pictures and texts to the CoverItLive blog through Twitter and we had comments from tens of thousands of readers.

It was primarily run by web development editor Lucia Adams, my counterpart on news (I’m on business).

That meant that as well as being a contact point for reporters and responsible for answering readers’ questions, she was also moderating comments.

It was a pretty full-on task.  I tried to help out by offering up a few helpful links when and where I could and, if Lucia needed to step away from the computer, I would take over moderation.

Moderating a Times Online live blog is a task verging on insane. Comments are pouring in – at some points in their hundreds in a minute – and one person is responsible for allowing them on to the site.

You have to check that the comment is legally ok and that it is not offensive and inciting violence – that’s standard. But, in addition, we had a large number of comments that looked like protestors sending coded messages to each other. If anyone knows who the “Rofchester Crew” are, please let me know. Those had to be moderated too.

Yet, even after removing all these comments there were still too many coming through to get them all up on the blog. We did explain to those commenters convinced Rupert Murdoch was blocking their comments that there was a moderation process and that we weren’t able to publish everything because of the volume.

But what was the decision process behind the ones that did get on screen?

At the time, I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t until Lucia and I started planning a talk on the subject for last week’s Social Media Camp, London, did we realise we had been applying our own unique criteria for what would get published.

This was what we were both doing:

Me: if it’s longer than a sentence, it goes in.

My justification: If someone has posted a few words, it’s unlikely to be adding anything particularly well considered and, very often, it was more likely to be abusive. Therefore, with very little time to dedicate to reading and approving comments I chose to spend my time on the ones that came in sentences.

Lucia: if the comment is adding something new, it goes in.

Her justification: Lucia decided to put the reader before the contributor. Very often different commenters would repeat the same point (“why don’t these protesters help the economy by getting jobs”, “I bet the taxpayers are going to have to pay to repair the RBS bank’s windows now, why didn’t they board them up?”). If a reader came to a live blog that was just a stream of comments all repeating the same point, it was unlikely to encourage them that the live blog had any value.

In Lucia’s mind, the role of live blog as a public service – answering questions on traffic disruption, providing latest information from the police, reporting on G20 developments, etc – was paramount. Therefore, she chose to publish those comments that best fitted that.

Who was right? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. Certainly when we talked it though with others at SMC London, there was understanding for both points of view.

I guess part of it is about how you see the live blog. Is it primarily an editorial tool (live updates and information of the G20 as it happens), or is it a forum (where commenters are free to say whatever they like about a subject, within the law)?

One thing I found particularly fascinating was that, in the 48 hours of running the blog, we built up what we named a “flash community”.

People that enjoyed the live blog stayed and started to help us answer questions from other commenters. As this community solidified, the quality of comments improved and moderation became easier. At one point one commenter was helping Lucia to transcribe the G20 Summit speeches.

Perhaps community is too strong a word for what happened, but I like the idea that such blogs can encourage collaboration. It’s something I would like to build up with live blogs I do in the future.

An interview with an anonymous blog commenter

One of the problems with the online space is the perception of distance and anonymity that it creates. It means that people often say things in ways that are harsher than they would in real life.

But do they even realise they are coming across that way? I’ve always wondered what the people behind the spikey comments on our blogs are like.

Richard regularly comments on The Birmingham Post blogs under the pseudonym “Clifford” and, it is fair to say, has developed quite a bit of a reputation as a curmudgeon. But, despite his criticisms of The Post, he has stuck with us even when we didn’t quite get things right.

For that reason I wanted to meet him and, I have to admit with some considerable trepidation, I invited him for a tour of our offices.

The man I met in reception could not have been further from what I expected – polite, erudite, passionate and engaged in local news. For his part, he was oblivious to the image he had been portraying to others online.

Of course the wider point is that those who engage on the internet need to remember there are humans behind the handles (or bylines) and try and think about how their comments might be taken.

However, I don’t see internet arcadia arriving any time soon, so I think it’s worth journalists seeing that not all aggressive commenters are always aware how they are coming across. It is not always personal.

Whilst with us at The Post, Richard kindly agreed to go on video and talk frankly about why he commented on the blogs and how he’d want to see the newspaper develop in the future.

Richard has also told me he is considering retiring Clifford and in future wants to comment online as himself.

In total the two videos come in at around 15 minutes long. I haven’t edited them much, as so much of what Richard said interested me and I wanted to keep it for future reference!

However, if you want to jump to a particular point, here is a guide:

Video 1 (above):
00:36: On how his comments were percieved by journalists.
01:53: On pseudonyms and putting personal details online.
04:48: On political coverage in The Birmingham Post.
05:49: On the development of Birminghampost.net.
07:00: On the need for web-first publishing (and why it won’t affect newspaper sales).

Video 2 (below):
00:19: Why scale is important in making a blog feel like a community.
01:36: What makes someone comment on a blog.
02:40: What blogs would work best on a newspaper website.
03:20: Why journalists should try and engage on blogs and not worry about bad comments.
05:42: On revitalising the Birminghampost.net blogs