Joanna Geary, Web Development Editor for The Times, came to talk about her career in the media last week. She started out at a local newspaper, built up her profile in the blogging world and is now charged with the daunting task of introducing a paid content system for The Times.
The paid content debate has been raging on for what feels like an eternity. On the one hand, you have those in the Rupert Murdoch camp. He argues that internet news should never have been a free service. People pay for newspapers, so why not online content? He is now planning to introduce a pay wall on all his news sites and to remove them from the Google search index.
On the other hand, there are those who believe paid content will never work. Why pay when free news sites and blogs are so readily available on the web? Introducing pay walls and removing your site from Google could only induce a downturn in traffic and advertising revenue.
However, few seem to have come up with a viable solution.
Joanna is now trying to implement a strategy which takes both schools of thinking into account. Yes, Rupert Murdoch is right that newspapers cannot carry on the way they are. We cannot simply dismiss the idea of paid content. But introducing strict pay walls may well drive traffic away from the site.
You would pay for a newspaper, but would you pay for online news? (Photo courtesy of Matt Callow)
Despite this debate, I think Joanna has a point when she says the internet is not our only problem. Like it or not, most people don’t make time in their day to read the news. They barely have enough time to spend with family and friends and tend to consume news while doing something else. They listen to the radio while driving the car, they watch bulletins while eating their dinner, or they check news sites while at work. People are busier than ever before and the news needs to fit into their hectic schedules, not vice-versa. Instead of simply focusing on paid content, perhaps we need to also address the issue of making news a more convenient commodity.
Last week Daniel Meadows, photographer and creator of Capture Wales, came to talk about his photographic career. I met local photographer Dan Green yesterday, whose work centres on capturing the city of Cardiff. Dan has staged two exhibitions, BigLittleCity and Cardiff Characters, which focus on the local characters who make up the city. Here’s what he had to say:
Dan Green, 33, photographer, Cardiff
Dan's first exhibition at Cardiff Library
I came up with the idea for Cardiff Characters with a friend. We thought it would be great to document and photograph these people who make up everyday life in Cardiff. They are basically the landscape of the city.
My very first photograph was of ‘Toy Mic Trev’. He used to be on Queen Street singing into a toy microphone. It was done with a lot of admiration. Continue reading
Adam Tinworth, creator of One Man and His Blog, explained how to attract viewers in the highly competitive world of blogging. In many ways, a good blog post is similar to good article: they need to be interesting, varied and well-researched. However, there is one main difference. Bloggers need to be specialists.
As journalists, we often have to write about a new subject at a moment’s notice. Whether it’s a political article, a theatre review or a TV listing, we have to be prepared for all possiblities. But this approach doesn’t necessarily work as well on a blog.
In a seemingly endless world of blogs, the writer must have the knowledge to draw the reader in. They must do all they can to stand out in such a crowded market. So does this mean the journalist ‘jack-of-all-trades’ era is over? Will all journalists have to find their own niche to specialise in?
It appears that journalists are now becoming defined more by their niche knowledge than the publication they work for. A magazine now could publish videos, create blogs, write news articles and features. Although the definition of a magazine has become broader, specialist knowledge is required to make it work. We are branching out in terms of media, but perhaps our subject focus is becoming narrower. A blog by someone who doesn’t know much about their subject is common. A blog by someone who is respected in their field, however, differentiates itself from the others and attracts followers.
The Trafigura case has been a hot topic this week. Ironically, the heavy-handed injunction has generated far more bad press for the company than anyone could ever have imagined. It’s been hailed by many as a triumph for freedom of speech and the power of websites such as Twitter. And yes, I suppose it has partially convinced me that Twitter is more than a means of broadcasting the contents of your breakfast to the world. But somehow I’m worried this may make Twitter users even more irritating than they were before.
Even the most loyal of Tweeters will admit there are many users who are just plain annoying. You know who I’m talking about. The people who feel the need to publish the most inane details of their life, which has now become just a way of passing time in between Tweets. And when there’s nothing to fill that gap, they’ll Tweet about Tweeting. Take Lily Allen for example. She’s publicly admitted her boyfriend is angry over how much time she spends updating her Twitter account. Now the Trafigura case has exploded, Twitter addicts like Lily have been given justification for needing their fix every ten minutes. If you criticise them, they can just smugly reply that without people like them, Trafigura might never have become breaking news. And annoyingly, we’ll have to admit they’ve got a point.
Seriously, though, I do wonder how Trafigura thought they could keep this under wraps in a world where information spreads so quickly. I was amazed when I read the history of the case on The Guardian website.
In February 2007 Trafigura paid the government £100 million to clear up the waste on the Ivory Coast following widespread reports of sickness. However, they denied responsibility. In May 2008, they threatened Newsnight with legal action for broadcasting a revealing report on the fiasco. They still denied responsiblity. In September, The Guardian found evidence suggesting Trafigura knew the dangers of their waste disposal methods. The company granted compensation to claimants within the same week, but guess what? They still didn’t accept responsibility.
After all this, they decided that it would be a good idea to impose a super-injunction on the issue and to deny press the right to report on a question raised in parliament. For a company which professes on its website to “constantly strive to reduce the nature and level of all the risks we face“, it seems a little short-sighted not to see the risk in this plan. It was clear that information was leaking from all corners. The strategy of denying all knowledge, while granting compensation and threatening any press with legal action, was obviously not working.
If I ever own a multinational oil corporation with dubious waste disposal methods, I’d like to think I’d do a better job.
The internet has shaken up the world of journalism and left us gasping for breath. In what feels like a unbelievably short space of time, the long-established rules of journalism have been both challenged and broken. It’s now no longer acceptable to be “technologically challenged” and journalists must constantly think about how to engage the internet audience, as well as make their efforts profitable. It all seems a bit overwhelming.
The Internet Manifesto offers a positive take on what is to many of us scary, unknown territory. The writer argues that the online world will make journalism freer, more flexible and more creative. Instead of being restricted to daily press, publishers are able to update their stories within a matter of minutes. We are no longer restricted to solely writing text, but can include videos and links to illustrate our story. I agree that all this is positive and can be used to our advantage. However, it still remains unclear exactly how this will be financed. The Manifesto says that other ways of generating revenue aside from advertising must be “forged and tested”. So isn’t innovation in finance something we should be focusing on, as well as innovation in content?
Alison Gow says not. In Five phrases to outlaw in newsrooms, she argues that profit shouldn’t concern journalists since Advertising departments have traditionally been the “newsroom’s mad wife in the attic”. This may have been the case before, but whether it should stay this way is another issue. At a time when boundaries between departments are being blurred, it seems to me that journalists must also consider how to make their work profitable. After all, the harsh reality is that if the publication doesn’t generate money, it will be hard-pressed to generate jobs.
Making internet journalism work from a business point of view is an issue challenging all publications, and I’m not sure the responsibility should lie solely with Advertising Departments. Perhaps if departments work together to find solutions which are appropriate to both the content and the audience, they can come up with creative solutions to the problem.