Bad journalism didn’t kill newspapers – and it wasn’t the internet either…

Newspaper advertising revenue chart

Newspaper advertising revenue isn’t what it was – but who is to blame? Not journalism in my opinion


Even today, when we see tales of woe around traditional journalism, and in particular newspapers, you see the journalists being blamed for writing crap stories or not bringing in enough scoops or editors being too timid and to be honest, it’s gotten a little tedious.

You want to look to where newspapers started to die (not that many of them aren’t still profitable, just less profitable than before), go blame the advertising departments. Continue reading

Newspapers still failing to grasp web, doom UK reporters – SEO to blame

Papers still don’t get the web and just like every other time, it’s the management’s fault, which begs the question of should the webguys be getting even higher positions in papers. Here’s the latest press screw-up and it involves SEO.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been hearing more and more tales from reporters – from the highest titles in the land to the lowest – getting really fed up with the digital newspaper concept (Iain Hepburn has a vivid case study about it).

Why? because all it’s meaning for them is that they go in, spend two hours rewriting copy from other sites (without including linkback credits of course) for the website. And then they go off and do the other journalistic jobs they are allowed to, like rewriting agency copy, perhaps even getting to pick up the phone to speak to a contact (who probably can’t talk back as they are in their office).

But why are they having to spend hours carrying out what is fairly known as churnalism? Because the top brass want to go with the phrases that will boost them in search engines.

Now there’s two problems with this:
• By rewriting copy from elsewhere, you’re just getting the same hit as them
• You’re also hosing it by not providing a linkback, which might actually just do you more good

The main problem though is that by doing this, you are going for the lowest common denominator nine times out of ten – you’ve got a journalist wasting time writing about Britney Spears instead of chasing up their own stories – stories which may matter more locally to readers than what Miley Cyrus bra size is.

As I said the other week on Newsnight Scotland – and this applies to PR as much as any media – fresh, exclusive content is the driver these days. Keep it fresh and others will link to you, talk about you, refer back to you. And that’s the SEO gold. And to get that fresh content you need content providers. In the media industry, they call the reporters. You know, the ones that management keep sacking and letting go.

Oh. There’s a potential problem.

Who is to blame then? Ultimately, the blame for this one has to go to management – but also the web teams and reporters for not standing up and pointing out that using reporters for churnalism is a waste of resource. I can see why it’s done, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s right.

If churnalism is that important to a publication, here’s what they should do: find the nearest media college and get a bunch of interns/work placements in. They’ll be happy to be getting in the door – they may even bring in some stories – but that frees up the reporters to go and find the real SEO booster – original content. Exclusives. Scoops. They may even do it multimedia.

The press has always been, in part, a numbers game, but this is taking it too far.

(And yes, I know churnalism has always been a part of the job too – rewriting agency copy, PA and AP, but at no point did you have to spend two hours doing it every day.)

Polly Toynbee on saving the media: turn back the clock, ask for government help

Polly Toynbee has written a piece over at The Guardian on how the death of local papers is a national emergency. It’s a decent piece going over some familiar ground but there’s a few flaws which I’ll address with Polly’s points in bold.

This jackal financial crisis picks off the weakest, so it’s no surprise newspapers are early fallers.

Newspapers aren’t the profit disasters that many assume them to be. The problem is that the owners are far too used to profits of 20-30% instead of leaner figures that make others happy. The second problem is that so many – especially Trinity Mirror – are beholden to large groups who are only chasing maximum profit and don’t actually have any belief or care in the product. (I was going to add that the likes of The Economist and New Scientist seem to be doing OK but you could argue that they are specialist magazines.)

Comment is free, but serious news journalism is phenomenally expensive – and the web has yet to find a way to generate funds to pay the true price.

To an extent that’s true for daily press – but for years many magazines survived by having quality journalism at their core – Rolling Stone for example. The problem with daily news is that it is seen as a disposable product and also news quality varies on a day by day basis. Perhaps the problem here was as much to do with news judgements and price competition?

The government talks piously of community engagement – and a newspaper with real journalism is the most vital local forum of all.

Totally agree, but there’s another aspect to this – how much do people actually care about what’s going in their area? I have friends and neighbours who literally use their homes as beds and shower places. They work long hours, get home and sleep. Get up in the morning and repeat. Others, just use their homes as places to change clothes before heading back out.

While I agree that local news is important, is it possible that newspapers have still to catch up with the concept of local not mattering as much as it used to for people – and the only local news that matters is what roads are open/closed and they get that from the radio?

Mention subsidy and the regulation that goes with it, and newspaper groups cry press freedom….Many never bother to cover council meetings, let alone key committees, when pensioner-scaring crime stories are cheap and PR handouts plentiful.

But crime is an important factor to many communities, especially inlight of what the Daily Record had today about the recession forcing crime up, causing a creditcrunch crime wave. And some PR handouts can be informative, I hasten to add.

Polly also has to be fair, most council meetings take place out of hours and when local journalism is as underpaid as it is, would you spend an evening in a council meeting – that even most readers probably won’t care about – or spend time with friends and family? The concept of ‘quality time’ has probably been as much of an impactor on journalism as anything else – after all, after being made redundant, “wanting to see my family” is the most common reason I hear for people leaving the the press. It’s certainly been a strong factor for me when I’ve been invited back to the cut-and-thrust. (that’s not to say I wouldn’t ever go back but the terms would have to be a lot more generous than they were a few years ago).

Polly then goes on to talk about how subsidies, BBC money and other income streams could be used to save the day but then dismisses local councils (who I think should actually lead the way in providing news to residents while Seth Goodin thinks it should be real estate firms) “Then oblige local councils to stop wasting money on their own Pravda sheets,” which seems to be missing the point – surely that’s the perfect place to provide a newspaper? And here’s the contradiction at the heart of Polly’s piece – she wants the Government to intervene but then stand back which basically means making the BBC model apply to press as well (which seems OK. I’ve been wondering if the licence fee should expand to include some printed press as well as everything else the BBC does).

But the question Polly isn’t asking is this: given how much a pain in the butt and pest the press can be in exposing certain activities, is it not more in the interests of some (not all, I stress) politicians at a UK/Westminster (and US/Washington) level to let the press die a death? The less there is reporting, the less they can be exposed for or criticised about (of course some politicans welcome the debate and Scotland over the last few years as been an incredibly open country, but not enough in my opinion).

Britain without the Mail or the Sun would be a happier place, less biliously nihilist, less miserable, angry and afraid. But democracy without the scrutiny of good journalism is unthinkable. In the end, it’s up to you. If you always read this on the web, go out and buy a copy, skinflint. Use it or lose it.

There’s an element of snobbery in this – and it also misses one rather important point: both The Sun and Mail have broken some incredible stories over the years. The profitabilty of The Sun has also probably helped shore up cash losses in other parts of News International’s UK press operations, notably The Times, allowing them to do their thing.

(her comments about what the country would be like also lead to the old argument of ‘do people get the press they want or does the press shape the people, but I’ll leave that for another day)

Her key argument of But democracy without the scrutiny of good journalism is unthinkable is fair enough but you can have that good journalism without print so she’s moved the goalposts a little.

I believe print should survive – to me, there’s still few things better than a well-designed newspaper page with exciting content (though the web is more convenient for me when on the move) – as there are still generations of people aged over 35 who aren’t fans of news by other methods. To that end, I believe the likes of Metro and Business7 at least have a decent chance of survival.

Anyway, go and read her piece – it’s sparked off a fair bit of debate with 155 comments there at the moment.

Twitter gets its own newspaper – the All Tweet Journal RT

So the mass-media newspaper indutry is dying is it? Tell that to James McIvor of Scooped. Not content with setting up a successful mock front page business – Scooped/Making the News (an idea that 99% of subs said ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ when they heard about it) and being a sports author, he’s gone and created a newspaper for Twitter, which launches this week.

He’s put a link up to a page one dummy and it’s a fantastic concept. I always joked about people doing a newspaper for World of Warcraft and having reporters run about there, but this is great – another one of those concepts that has people going ‘wish I’d thought of that‘.

The best bit (and this is where James’ skills as a Chief Sub-editor at the Scottish Sun paid off) is the title: The All Tweet Journal (say it loud if you don’t get the pun…)

I think this is a great example of someone using their traditional media skills, appying them online with a bit of flair and imagination (he’s been on Twitter for a while) and finding new marketplaces – something all the doom and gloomers might want to think about…

(and yes, the RT in the title is me being geeky. Give me a break, been a long weekend)

Reasons I love newspapers #1

One of the things that I have always loved about newspapers is the variety of stories you can get on even a single page and the fact that experts know what makes a good story and give it an appropriate positioning.

None of this ‘we only print news that’s of interest to one group’ which is what most sites do now – and seems to be the trend (and preference of many readers) – but stories that are just plain great and of interest to wide sections of the community.

Like this tale about kiddy German elopers – if we lived in an age where all we had was concentrated news by concentrated sites, the odds of seeing these little tales that just make you love humanity would skip by.

(Going to be posting a lot over the next few weeks on the future of press and PR – would say days but under the weather and even a short post like this is doing my head in – as it’s a topic coming up a lot. I don’t share Shaun Milne’s optimism, but I do think there’s a future for the press – and even print.)

From Grant Morrison\'s/Frank Quitely/Jamie Grant\'s All Star Superman 11

BNP List – if only papers had staff, the power of traditional media and observations

Really hectic, but couldn’t help post some observations on the BNP list release:

  • A gift for newspapers who can now go and check out all these people – that’s a story for locals up to the nationals – if only they had the staff to actually do so. In days gone by, that’s the sort of list that would have seen a dozen reporters across the country tasked to it – for each paper. Now? Most papers are lucky to have a dozen reporters. Lots of people may avoid exposure purely due to cuts in the press. It used to be ‘all the news fit to print’ but now it’s ‘all the news we’ve got time to get quickly and cheaply.’
  • Ironically enough, look at the timing on online outlets – blogs, Twitter and so on – for a list that was leaked online on Monday, this story only exploded after the traditional media picked up on it and ran with it? Does that show traditional media is getting quicker at picking up online stories, that traditional media is still the best for mass exposure of a story or that traditional media legitmises online items (I know of at least one person who thought it was a hoax until the papers picked it up). GO TRADITIONAL PRINT! (What? Allow the reporter in me a moment’s happiness)
  • Will any paper bottle it under the grounds of ‘we can’t ID people as we got it illegally from a list?’ in which case I would remember newbie reporters that the best stories come from leaked documents – Pentagon Papers and so on – so don’t bottle it. But at the same time, responsible reporting is only fair.
  • Given that the list is going up and down all over the shop, how long before people start adding in other names to it as a prank, Black PR op, revenge or some other reason? Sadly that’s the sort of prank that could have nasty repercussions.
  • As others have pointed out, membership of the BNP isn’t actually illegal and we do live in a democracy, so is there anything here to report past a data protection leak?
  • I see the list has appeared on file sharing outlets? Will social crusaders claim this is a good use for P2P which is normally associated with piracy?
  • Man, I’ll bet the Sunday press are pissed – in the US sense – that this broke so early in the week…
  • And hell, there’s a lot of people needing crisis comms and media handling advice now. The question is – will some companies choose not to be associated?

And in a web2.0 world, how long before someone takes that list and uses it as a database with GoogleMaps to show the areas of concentration for membership – and then uses the comment boxes to add in extra details about each member, including links to their private sites? I saw a heatmap on Spod, but that’s just the beginning of what could be done…