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.)

Dinosaur 1: Dorothy Grace Elder still doesn’t get digital media for newspapers

Couple of interesting pieces been kicking about the last few days – both of which continue to show old media’s complete and utter failure to grasp digital media for newspapers. First up, there’s a piece on All Media Scotland about a report on how Finnish financial newspaper Taloussanomat went web-only and what happened to the revenues/staffing. The original report as linked to by Compute Scotland is worth a read and I’ll come back to that in another post.

But what was of interest – for the purposes of this post – was the comment by Dorothy Grace Elder:

The City University research on a Finnish local paper which lost at least 75% revenue from readers and advertisers when it stopped printing and went online should be a wake up call to the industry. Also, it shows the folly of Governments and political bodies aiming to switch public notices and job adverts to the web, destroying more local papers. We need much more research like this in Scotland to give the results to the web-obsessed. The Finnish results are no surprise – few want to be saddled with a computer at all times to gain a scrap of news. How few can always find a plug in beyond a minority onboard top of the range trains? To gain instant access to the media, on buses, suburban trains, or at home in the toilet, garden, bedroom or kitchen, something easy and instant needs to be invented – oops! It’s known already and called A NEWSPAPER. Wake up and smell the newsprint.

Now, I like Dorothy. She’s opinionated, great for a quote (or was regarded as such when I was a reporter) and her heart is normally in the right place. But on this one she’s well out of touch.

Firstly, she criticises the Government and others for switching job adverts to online instead of staying with press. That’s fair enough, but for years that hasn’t been where people looked for jobs anyway – job centres and larger papers were looked at, not the locals. Also, as a taxpayer, should she not be wanting the council to make best use of their cash – I’d rather have a streetlight than a bunch of job ads in the Hamilton Advertiser anyday.

Her other comment also shows how she’s missing the point. For a start, laptops can run for up to five hours now without a topup, but more to the (missed) point, more and more people are using their phones for news – Blackberries, N95s, iPhones, what have you – and the screensize on them is growing and we’re going to see news apps grow. Mobile is where it is at now – and it’s frustrating to see so many people still failing to grasp web, never mind mobile.

Dorothy also talks about “To gain instant access to the media” and says newspapers are a way of doing that. Yes, but it’s old news – in some cases more than 24 hours old. Digital news is far more up to date. And what’s more important is the fact that news is still being provided – that’s why they’re called NEWSpapers and not papernews – it’s the content not the delivery medium that’s important.

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)

Newspapers don’t realise how good they have it

I’ve been following AllMediaScotland’s comparion of editorial v advertising this week (here and here).

One thing struck me quite quickly: for all people moan about the number of ads, newspapers are nowhere near the 60:40 rule of magazines (it’s often claimed that the most readers will tolerate in a publication is 40% of the page count as adverts with the other 60% being editorial. Hourlong US TV shows come in at around 70:30 just now).

I wonder then if it may well be that one thing which helps prolong the press is more ads (though I would drop paper quality first – it is a disposable product after all) – once the prices come down to reflect the recession.

I wonder how the readers will take it though…

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…

Another reason Google beats Newspapers…

When talking about why Social Media and web1.0, never mind 2.0, are not a fad and here to stay (this is Scotland: you’d be surprised at how many companies here are grudging towards email, never mind websites) one of the things I try to impress to people is that when people want information, they don’t look for it via the Daily Record or The Sun sites (or the specific paper that they read) more often than not they go through the main Google page.

But it wasn’t until today that – apart from the convenience of the Google homepage – a reason struck me for this: a lot of papers have crap search engines for finding information.

I was looking for a couple of articles that I knew had appeared in certain publications, so off I went to the newspaper sites and typed in key phrases that I knew appeared in the articles.

Didn’t get what I wanted back. Wasn’t even a case of it wasn’t on the first page of search results, it wasn’t there at all.

So goes off to Google, types in the same keywords along with publication title and guess what? Articles that I wanted appeared right away.

And it struck me that this is another reason people are losing faith with papers – and speaking to a few people since it seems to be the case – that people get frustrated with things like this and it puts them off the paper. Even online.

(The other thing that seems to be put people off online papers is the fact that there’s more content in print. Where’s all the NIBs for example?)

Anyway, just a thought that perhaps web editors should look at their archives and search engines (ie, the past) as well as their current and future content in the battle to retain readers.

(this all popped into mind as well after reading the story about Google doing more archives of papers. I hope they get round to the old New York Sun and Francis P Church editorials at some point.)

And the Scottish Press Shows Why It’s Probably Fecked

Brian McNair, a professor of Journalism and Communication at the University of Strathclyde, has crafted a decent piece over at AllMediaScotland where he points out a few of the problems facing the future of Scottish press.

But this Sunday Herald article showed another one – some journalists aren’t taking it seriously.

(As a two-par aside, I’ve often wondered if for the next few years we are in for a split in how people access their news. Many people, especially those in unskilled positions or jobs that have them out and about, still pick up a paper, especially with their rolls or lunch.

However desk jockies – especially those who drive door to door from home to office – access their news media online (and traditionally hit Yahoo News, BBC or some other trusted form) or listen to the radio while driving.)

Andrew Harrow’s article asked a few people connected to the Scottish press about online comments and their views make fascinating reading. Some feel that the comments should be ignored because they are more off the top of the head than a physical posted letter, while others feel the comments section can dumb down an article.

As a PR person and journalist, I’ve found comments to be fantastic. I’ve seen new angles to stories develop in comments, I’ve seen legally dodgy comments for clients that I’ve had to get withdrawn (and if the journalist had seen them quicker they would have got far better follow-up stories) and I’ve seen genuine dialogue emerge.

On the other hand, you do get absolute idiots sometimes – see the Bob Crampsey tribute by Tom Shields in the previous blog posting here – which would suggest that the answer is surely to have all comments either screened or moderated. After all, you wouldn’t throw any old letter into a newspaper, so why let any old comment appear on the site?

The frustration I have here is that, here we are in 2008, comments have been around for more than a decade and only now is the Scottish press getting around to discussing them. There are times it feels as if we couldn’t be slower at adopting new technology. I mean it’s not as if anyone still uses Quark 3.3 is it?

For what it’s worth, in an age when people are moaning about customer and reader retention/loyalty, I think comments are a fantastic way of doing it. You write something that engages them, they reply, you converse. And in return, they may pass on tip-offs to you in future as well as being eyeballs on your site.

Death of newspapers means the death of local shops?

And there’s everyone worrying about journalists. Turns out the death of newspapers (TM) may have a bigger impact than expected.

An article in the latest Scottish Local Retailer (go to page 24) and there it shows that news is the biggest seller for local retailers.

The article also lists the most common items people buy when they go for the paper: milk, lottery, sweets, cigarettes, bread and the most popular times for buying. It also goes as far as to tell retailers how they can maximise the news space where papers are placed, noting that papers dumped at the bottom don’t sell.

More interestingly, it also suggests – if I’m reading the graph on that page correctly – that there are times when people want to go in and get a newspaper/news product and it’s not there leading to people going without a paper – and also the other products that they may have bought.

It begs the question though: who stopped buying papers? I realise that the article doesn’t mention footfall in stories (if it’s up or down or constant) over any period, but this article leads me to think that in the demographics were there are local retailers, there is still a demand for news.

(The interesting breakdown would come from finding out why people are buying papers)

However, if papers do go away from a physical presence (something which probably won’t happen completely for decades. I think there will be a bottoming out, but I think there will be print for a while yet) what happens to all these shops? It’s another interesting part to the thought of news – specifically newspapers in this case – as something that brings people together and is part of a larger social fabric.

(anyone wondering where the thought process behind this one came from. It was spurred in part by Asda’s demands to magazines and a post on Seamus McCauley’s site about how some people think fast food is more vital than journalism.)

Herald loses Michael Tierney

Let’s role play: you’re a senior person at a well-regarded newspaper. Let’s call it The Herald. You have a reporter that’s won more awards than the rest of the paper put together. Let’s call him Michael Tierney.

The newspaper beancounters insist on more cuts – and the award-winner takes it.


This is a shame for the Herald (formerly known as the Glasgow Herald). I know there’s more talented staff there and they’ll rally round and keep on getting the best paper and website out that they can with their resources, but what is it with the Scottish media scene at the moment and its hell-bent determination to get the best people out of jobs?

As for Michael? I hear he’s wrapping up a book and I’m sure newspapers who like award-winning feature writers (at a Scottish and UK level) will be in touch. 

After all, how often do journalists who have had the likes of Washington Post Watergate-era editor Ben Bradlee backing them come up?


Michael at the recent Scottish Press Awards after winning

Herald to be gone in six years – but to live online

As has been well reported in the UK and Scottish media, 40 more jobs are to go at The Herald newspaper in Glasgow (technically, it claims to be a Scottish paper but the vast majority of staff are based in Glasgow and for many it’s still a West Coast paper).

Now morale is as you would expect, hellishly low (and it wasn’t exactly high to start with) but the staff at all the titles still keep pushing to get the best papers they can out and a number of people are wondering if now is the time to take the two-weeks-for-every-year option on offer. But there may be big changes ahead – and sadly more redundancies. But it will mean that The Herald can live on.

I’ve spoken to a number of people inside Newsquest who believe that there is a plan for within six years for one of the three main Scottish Newsquest titles to no longer be available in print but be a web-only publication. 

Could The Herald live on? It would be a brave move, but in an age where we already have unlimited data tariffs for phones and PDAs and mobile broadband is becoming even more ubiquitous.

One sad thing is for sure though – it won’t be produced with as many staff as it is today.

Unless there’s a massive upswing in Scottish companies embracing the internet and advertising styles, the money just simply won’t be there – unless we see a return to the Press Barons of old who weren’t always concerned with news being a profitable business. 

And why should this matter to those in PR? Quite obvious. If The Herald does go fully online – and it’s done properly (something I have my doubts about given the current state of Scottish news on the internet), any company that thinks just throwing out a press release and nothing else will get it the hits is going to be sadly mistaken.