Guardian to launch web 'edition' for North America

Newspapers have long produced different editions for various parts of their circulation areas. Now the Guardian is extending the idea with the imminent launch of (currently it switches back to with a different front page and enhanced news.

Michael Tomasky has been appointed editor of the new site which will also have an expanded Comment is Free for the North American audience. He starts his new job next week.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, told the Press Gazette: “We already have a substantial and growing US audience and Michael’s skills and experience will enable us to build on this success.”

Times online already has global and UK editions.

Democracies warned of threats to freedom

It comes as something of a shock when an international organisation issues a statement on freedom, if you read it and realise that what it says is applicable to your own country.

But that is how a World Press Freedom Day letter from Timothy Balding, chief executive of the World Association of Newspapers, reads. Balding who hs been with WAN for more than 20 years, is British and started his career as a journalist, working both at the Oxford Mail and the Press Association.

Here is his letter in full:

Dear Reader,

Major terrorist attacks and threats against countries world-wide, particularly democracies, in recent years have led to the widespread tightening of security and surveillance measures.

The objective of these measures is laudable and compelling – the protection of citizens against threats to life and property. There is, however, a legitimate and growing concern that in too many instances such measures, whether old or newly introduced, are being used to stifle debate and the free flow of information about political decisions, or that they are being implemented with too little concern for the overriding necessity to protect individual liberties and, notably, freedom of the press.

Anti-terrorism and official secrets laws, criminalisation of speech judged to justify terrorism, criminal prosecution of journalists for disclosing classified information, surveillance of communications without judicial authorisation, restrictions on access to government data and stricter security classifications, all these measures can severely erode the capacity of journalists to investigate and report accurately and critically, and thus the ability of the press to inform.

Balancing the sometimes conflicting interests of security and freedom might indeed be difficult, but democracies have an absolute responsibility to use a rigorous set of standards to judge whether curbs on freedom can be justified by security concerns and should set them against the rights protected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees freedom ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.

This is the clear message we need to impress on governments and their agencies on World Press Freedom Day.

Timothy Balding
Chief Executive Officer
World Association of Newspapers

I trust Gordon Brown will take notice of these words.

Third Webby in a row for Guardian Unlimited

Winning the Webby award for the best newspaper website for the third consecutive year is a great achievement for Guardian Unlimited. The others on the shortlist were the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

The New York Times won the Webby for the best business blog with its Deal Book, a large-scale group blog. Both the Guardian (Comment is Free) and the NYTimes (The Caucus) were nominated for best political blog but the award went to Truthdig.

Later: I missed out the fact that the Guardian was also nominated in the podcast category which went to National Public Radio.

Murdoch aims to crown career with the WSJ

At the age of 76 Rupert Murdoch is showing no sign of slowing down. The question today is can he crown his career with a spectacular purchase of the Wall Street Journal, the second largest paper in the US?

With the controlling Bancroft family divided he stands a good chance of succeeding. The family said yesterday that it intended to cast “slighly more than 50%” of the voting stock against the $60 a share offer for Dow Jones, publisher of the financial paper. According to the WSJ that suggests about 80% of the family voting power is against a deal.

The family control depends on super-voting “B” shares with carry 10 times the voting power of “A” shares in Dow Jones. Yesterday two-thirds of the “A” shares changed hands as the price shot up by more than a half to $56.20, many of them going into the hands of investors who are likely to press for the sale.

Other businesses may decide to make bids but some of the suggested contenders have ruled themselves out of any contest.

Murdoch is moving to counter suggestions that he would influence editorial policy by offering safeguards including a separate board for the WSJ.

Web ABCs: Guardian crows but Sun get more page hits

Not surprisingly the Guardian is crowing about the the first ABCe newspaper website figures which show they have nearly as many users as their rivals the Times (what has happened to the relaunch effect?) and the Telegraph (steady progress) have between them.

There is big blurb on the front page of the printed paper headed: “An end to web propaganda: now the first, official audited figures.” Willy waving?

Of course, it isn’t. Jemima Kiss denies the charge in the Organ Grinder blog writing: “… it’s about transparency, credibility and building trust with advertisers.”

While no print reader can be unaware of the figures, there is, oddly, no reference to them on the home page of Guardian Unlimited. But they are the second item on the Media home page.

Three other papers have come into the scheme for monthly publication of figures by ABCe — the Telegraph, Times and Sun (no comment on their sites yet).

The figures for March are:

Page impressions: Guardian Unlimited 146,979,741, Telegraph 69,559,359, Times Online 57,681,199, The Sun 151,438,441.

Users: Guardian Unlimited 15,093,058, Telegraph 7,392,803, Times Online 8,048,029, The Sun 7,797,032.

A table including user figures for February this year and March last year is at the Guardian.

It is not surprising that the Times Online users figure fell back from February when the relaunch of the site created a lot of interest, but 2.8m is a very big fall. There must be concern that the March figure is the lowest since June last year, raising questions about the relaunch.

The Telegraph has shown steady growth over the last year and the new figure is nearly 1.5m monthly users more than a year ago. The Sun must be pleased to be the largest newspaper website in the UK in terms of page impressions — the Page 3 effect.

Ultra-local news and England's biggest selling regional

When it comes to understanding local news you have to listen to what the people at the Express and Star in Wolverhampton have to say. It has built itself into the best selling regional newspaper in England under its independent ownership.

So the thinking there about online and citizen journalism which is explored in an interview with the deputy editor, Keith Harrison, at is a must read.

Micro-local news, he says, is what is going to survive. To do that the paper will need 500 citizen journalists. The picture which Harrison paints suggests an online version of what a multitude of small weekly newspapers did until not all that long ago.

Harrison says ultra-local is definitely the way to go and continues:

If you promise ultra-local, you’ve got to be able to deliver it. The number of journalists we have [60] is huge compared with many other regional papers – but, even with that many, we can’t deliver ultra-local news all the time. To do it, we’re going to need another 500 reporters – we can’t take them on, they’re going to need to be citizen journalists. They want to get this information out there; we need to say “yes, we’ll be your electronic parish noticeboard, come give it to us and it will be in the Express & Star” – whereas, if you just set it up on your own, you’re only going to have a limited audience.

The only way we can do it is not by paying our full-time staff to do it but by giving our readers outside the opportunity to do it and for them to contribute and feel part of the newspaper.

I am increasingly convinced that he is right. It is not only about providing content it is about connecting with the community, maintaining a sense that it is their newspaper.

Harrison says that one man still sends the Express and Star the pigeon club report on postcards. That takes me back to my second job, on the Buxton Advertiser, and collecting various scraps of paper with reports of flower shows, the service at the Methodist Church, funeral reports and accounts of the most interesting object in a matchbox competition at the Women’s Institute meeting.

From there I went to the Western Daily Press which, under editor Eric Price, was the fasted growing regional newspaper at the time. He combined innovative design with a fairly brash approach to world and national news and intensely local, but lively, coverage. We wrote features on villages, found stories in dahlia shows and recorded golden weddings.

Some of the skills of that era of newspapers and a whole lot of new ones are needed to make a success of online ultra-local news. That raises a whole lot of questions about recruitment and training.

Fight between Google and MSM approaches

Roy Greenslade has picked up on Telegraph editor Will Lewis’s opening address at the 6th International Newsroom Summit and thinks it implies that the Telegraph group is going to follow other mainstream publishers into battle against Google.

According to ifra, Lewis called on newspapers to welcome transformation as a friend. The traditional business model would be replaced and he warned news organisations making the digital transition must both invest in training and be alert to attempts to cannibalise their material. He continued:

Our ability to protect that content is under consistent attack from those such as Google and Yahoo, who wish to access it for free. These companies are seeking to build a business model on the back of our own investment without recognition; all media companies need to be on guard for this. Success in the digital age, as we have seen in our own company, is going to require massive investment; [we need] effective legal protection for our content in such a way that allows us to invest for the future.

It would seem to be an obvious step for publishers to follow those who have reached agreements with the secretive Google company. It is difficult to build a picture of what is happening but Lewis’s speech follows one earlier this month by Samuel Zell, new owner of the huge Tribune group in the US .

In a speech (Washington Post) at Stanford Law School he said newspapers could not economically sustain the practice of allowing their articles, photos and other content to be used free by other Internet news aggregators.

He asked the question: “If all of the newspapers in America did not allow Google to steal their content, how profitable would Google be?” and provided his own answer: “Not very.”

Associated Press has an agreement with Google and a copyright case brought by Agence France-Presse was settled recently. In Belgium cases have either resulted in settlement or a finding against Google.

As Greenslade points out these are piecemeal agreements and, “Globally, publishers and news agencies need to get together to reach a sensible, comprehensive, macro agreement with Google and Yahoo.”

It will certainly be a big fight. As Business Week pointed out recently: “Google is ground zero in a battle among traditional media and tech industry leaders and startups alike for the hearts and minds of the world’s consumers—or at least their eyeballs and wallets. ”

Why don't printed papers get promoted on websites?

Journalism students at Bournemouth University are asking a very relevant question: Why do newspaper website in the UK so so little to promote the printed version on their websites?

The students examined newspapers and web sites for encouragement to use the other version. In a Times Saturday edition they found 101 directions to timesonline but on the website not a single exhortation to buy the paper.

The picture was similar at the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Sun and orther papers they compared. Peter Jackson, the students’ lecturer writes about their investigation in the Independent.

If you visit any US newspaper you are likely to find encouragement to take out a subscription for the paper at the top of it’s website’s home page. So why not something similar here? OK, the distribution systems are different but there should be a way round that problem.

Hybrid alternative to freesheet war

Could the Manchester Evening News’s paid/free model provide a way out of London’s increasingly futile-looking battle of the evening freesheets for Associated Newspapers? Peter Preston puts it forward in his Observer column today, writing:

Why go through the sweat and cost of producing a 64-page Standard (for 50p) and a 42-page Lite (for nothing) when you could give away real Standards in the West End and City, knocking off the cover price inside a fixed area and delivering hundreds of copies to selected office blocks? To an extent that happens already: the Standard adds 62,000 bulks on top. But a more coherent mixed offering of 500,000 Standards, free and paid, would surely have more clout (and advertising allure) than an ailing 50p paper and a separate freesheet running second to Rupert.

Warming to his theme, he applies lateral thinking to the Guardian, pointing out that technology allowed both the Times and Independent to produce tabloid and broadsheet editions at the same time. So the Guardian could follow American models and produce a half-price digest tabloid aimed at busy young readers on the train.

Monty's UK approach to European newspapers appeals to investors

Scandinavian journalists who feared the introduction of a British newspaper culture when David Montgomery’s Mecom business bought Orkla Media last year are being proved right.

The evidence is in a glance at Mecom’s preliminary announcement of results (link to pdf) for 2006 — a loss of £21m. The second slide shows the empire in creation in an arc from Norway, through Denmark, Germany and Poland to outposts in Lithuania and the Ukraine. The objectives are spelled out in four bullet points:

  • To optimise performance using techniques tested in the UK
  • To replicate the benefits of consolidation seen in the UK and elsewhere
  • To exploit our 1.4 million strong subscriber base to generate new revenues
  • To accelerate the growth of online revenues

The next slide includes an approach to business which will strike fear in the heart of every journalist: “Improving profitability through short-term cost reduction.”

To investors who have put another £580m into Mecom’s coffer (share placing and 7 for 10 open offer announcement on April 12) this is music. They are seeing the possibility of the high levels of profitability achieved by British regional paper groups becoming available in Europe.

Journalists in Britain remember Montgomery’s time running Mirror Group. When he faced opposition from journalists in Germany last year a Guardian report included this paragraph which sums up what many British hacks feel about him:

Montgomery is used to such antipathy. Andrew Marr, in his book My Trade, quotes a former editor of the Independent, which was owned by Montgomery’s Mirror group, as saying: “What he [Montgomery] did showed a breathtaking disregard for keeping his word and a merciless savagery unheard of even by Fleet Street’s blood-soaked and hypocritical standards.” Marr adds, with tongue only partially in cheek: “Some of us would put it a little more strongly than that.”

This week Montgomery suffered a slightly bruised nose when his freesheet in Denmark, Dato, merged with Urban: A sensible decision in an overcrowded market where the speculation now is over which will be next to go (via Kristine Lowe).

In both Denmark and Norway journalists are up in arms about redundancies with Danish staff striking. Tastes of the Montgomery approach or, as Kristine Lowe puts it, “Journalists feel something is rotten in Mecom’s Danish and Norwegian fiefdoms…”

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