online news

Archant to deliver evening paper with the morning papers

Newspaper publisher Archant is to deliver its Ipswich Evening Star to newsagents at the same time as copies of its morning, the East Anglian Daily Times.

East Anglian Daily Times front pageNewsagents have been told this will start on July 25. Evening paper delivery staff will loose their jobs, I am told.

The two papers already have a joint reporting team and most of the news content is identical. Other than to retain the very different designs of the papers it is difficult to see why they should not go all the way and merge them with substantial edition changes for Ipswich and the east and west of Suffolk. The west Suffolk edition also covers a chunk of Essex.

Evening Star front pageTraditionally the EADT has been the county paper while the Evening Star is the paper for the county town. The latest ABC circulation figures (second half of last year) show the EADT selling 29,691 a day, and the Evening Star 15,408.

As circulation declines this sort of cost cutting is inevitable, but still very sad. It is unlikely they will have a new title piece for the “Evening Before Star” but perhaps it will be renamed the “Ipswich Star”. Otherwise it will look ridiculous on the newsagents’ counters at 6am.

As someone who worked on regional morning and evening papers in what now seems like a golden age, I find what is happening to the regional press very sad. But it is more than nostalgia, it is a concern about the role of newspapers in places like Suffolk, digging deep, reporting successes and holding businesses and local government to account.

The Evening Star and the EADT have played crucial roles it overturning the unpopular county council New Strategic Direction (virtual council outsourcing plan) and the departure of Andrea Hill, the NSD’s leading advocate, from her job as chief executive.

But the editors, Nigel Pickover at the Star and Terry Hunt at the EADT, have done a good job despite their much reduced resources. Sharing a newsroom has also removed the plurality of views and the sheer journalistic competition which produces the stories.  With more scrutiny from journalists Andrea Hill might not have been appointed in the first place on her exceptionally high salary.

Is there a better way forward? Possibly. National newspapers are facing some of the same problems, among them the Guardian which faces reduced pagination as it struggles with its losses.

Its editor in chief Alan Rusbridger said recently, the newspaper needed to embrace an “open” digital philosophy in which it embraced contributions from beyond the ranks of its own journalists.

The Guardian plan which involves extending its international penetration (much smaller per reader income than it gets from print, from many more online readers) is not a directly applicable to Archant.

But the point about embracing contributions from beyond the ranks of its own journalist is very applicable.

The Guardian is building links with bloggers around the UK, including many of us in Suffolk. Its online coverage of Suffolk County Council has been increasingly using material from blogs in the county. The paper links to us and as a result increases our traffic.

None of that material is finding its way into Archant websites, or the papers. They seem to be ignoring bloggers although they are monitoring our tweets.

The growing importance of bloggers was underlined by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, at a conference this week when he said of a controversy at Barnet Council:

I’ve got news for Barnet. Liveblogging from council meetings. Microjournalism. Call it what you like.
It’s here to stay.

This is quoted in a Cuts Blog by Patrick Butler, one of the Guardian journalists who is working hard to engage with local bloggers.

If there is benefit for a paper like the Guardian engaging with bloggers, could not a similar approach help Archent’s daily newspapers. We are are providing some of that plurality of opinion which is important for healthy journalism.

Let’s talk. I am sure I could get together a few bloggers to talk to editorial stragegists at Archant. We might even be able to help each other.

How to use maps in news websites: lesson 1!

From a report, of an accident at a level crossing near Littleport in the fens, on the Evening Star, Ipswich, website. See the reader’s comment below.

virtually blank map

Screen grab from Evening Star website

Preston proposes broadband licence fee to pay for journalism

Peter Preston puts forward the idea of a broadband licence fee to pay for jouralism in his Observer column today. Whatever the initial reactions — mine is favourable — it is something which deserves extensive debate.

How to pay for journalism in the future in the UK has become mired in the similar but different debate in the US. As Preston says:

Put aside American notions of micro-payments for surfing the news or big dollops of cash from rich foundations to keep investigative reporters in business. We’re used to paying a flat annual fee for our entertainment. Plonk the money down up front and everything else comes without charge (unless we volunteer to help Rupert Murdoch’s pension plan). The difficulty isn’t that the system doesn’t work, just that what we pay for is morphing so fast and so bewilderingly,

Use a little logic to shape events, then. Split the licence in two. Lump conventional TV and radio into one package that, until a few years ago, would have been the only package around. Then create a second fee package for cyberspace.

It is very easy to find objections to the idea but it is one of the better ones around if society believes the journalism which exposes Downing Street’s sleazy blog ideas and unruly police behaviour is important.

Preston’s proposal deserves to be read in full — free on the internet for those who are not prepared to pay £2 for the paper.

Why I am avoiding 'citizen journalists'

The plan is that fairly quickly Suffolk Post (I have not mentioned the name of the local news and info site before) will employ journalists. The first will probably be freelance but before any can be recruited there will have to be income and that means advertising salespeople.

But the site (you don’t even need to do a spreadsheet to see this) will depend heavily on contributed material which is uploaded by the writers for final checking before publishing.

The scale of of this was underlined in a post last year when I quoted, Keith Harrison, deputy editor of the Express & Star, Wolverhampton, telling  journalism.co.uk:

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.

I am using the term contributors because I think few of those who I hope will provide content would think of themselves as journalists. So the phrase “citizen journalists” is being avoided.

Most will be people who already send items about their club, association, parish council, business or anything else to newspapers, parish magazines, trade mags and a host of other outlets. They will have more in common with PR people than journalists.

I hope local bands will post video clips as well as stories and gigs listings. Earlier this year when I was still teaching I noticed the largest numbers of hits on a student news site were coming from a “band of the week” feature. Clearly, word-of-mouth was bringing an audience to the site.

The contributors will, I believe, not only provide content but also market the site telling friends and neighbours where to see their reports and get information.

A pub landlord who posts a story about a fund raising event will be acting out of an interest in telling the community as well as promoting the hostelry. If the pub has a music night it may be the the landlord or the band that posts details in the listings section.

Much of the content will come from people seeking publicity for one reason or another. More will come from people who feel strongly about something and some will come from those who want to be journalists and see Suffolk Post as a way of getting started.

Young people may see a chance to do something in the community which will be fun and look good on university and job applications.

I think we will need to do more for these contributors than provide them with a vehicle for publication. It is clear from advertisements that there are a lot of people around who want to improve their writing skills.

This is why an important part of Suffolk Post will be a writing guide for registered users. There will be sections on writing news, features, reviews, taking picture and shooting video. FAQs including the difference between “its” and “it’s” and few examples of dangling modifiers will be there to help. A forum will be used to discuss writing and establish a feeling of belonging.

Direct feedback to individual contributors with praise and suggestions will also be essential and the editor’s blog will include praise too. The contributors will need to feel they are receiving useful training.

This, of course, is in the interests of the site — intros like, “Members and guests gathered at…” are not going to work on the web. The site will have to establish a culture of good writing that quickly gets to the point.

I am sure that here is much more that can be done to support contributors and  create a community. Suggestions will be welcome.

In search of the next generation story

This week I find Jeff Jarvis, in his Guardian column,  is articulating one of the issues that has been bouncing around in my mind for the past couple of months. It is about journalism’s basic form, the story, and how it is proving inadequate.

I have been developing plans for a local news site so have been looking at the issue from a different angle. Mine is how to provide the reader with an overall view of a topic from a fragmented collection of posts by contributors (citizen journalists, if you must), media release, comments from participants, comments from the informed and uninformed, external inks and more.

Jeff uses the financial crisis at his example of a story/topic that requires a “next generation” approach. I have been thinking about much more local topics like a big development proposal. Very different in scale, but the basic needs are similar.

He describes what he wants:

I want a page, a site, a something that is created, curated, edited and discussed. It will include articles. But it’s also a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering. It’s a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides curated and annotated links to experts, coverage from elsewhere, a mix of opinion and source material. Finally, it’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but tries to add value. It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organised.

That sounds about right although providing that curating and editing is going to be more difficult on a largely volunteer site than it would be a well-funded mainstream media site.

That takes us back to the fundamental questions of generating sufficient funding for a local news and information site.

Jeff concludes:

It’s not an article, a story, a section, a bureau, a paper, a show, a search engine. It’s something new. What do we call it? The topic table? The beat bliki (ouch)? The news brain? I don’t know. We’ll know what to call it when we see it.

I hope we see it soon.

What future for The Beast?

There are a lot of suggestions around that that the business models of traditional print media hinder their launch into online products. So with the internet business IAC behind it, Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast should look a lot more promising than many.

IAC has a string of internet sites including Exite, Smiley Central, Vimeo and dictionary.com, so they should know what they are doing.

But Peter Preston in the Observer yesterday had his doubts. The launch costs are a reported $18 million. He asks: “Can online possibly sustain an investment like that? Ah! hello again, lone blogger… at least you are cheap.”

The Daily Beast is going to have to keep on spending, as well as financing the launch costs, if it is to challenge the Huffington Post.

Perhaps IAC has deep pockets. Revenue in the second quarter of this year was nearly $1.6bn on which it made an operating loss of nearly $400m.

Perhaps Tina should not get too dependent on “some of the best cupcake bakeries in town” in IAC’s “really cool building”.

The makings of a successful media beast? Up to a point, Lord Copper.

Wanted snapper, video and audio person who can write

The description of the person needed for an internship at the St Louis Post-Dispatch looks like “the job description for a 21st century journalist”, says Alfred Herminda who uncovered it.

Audio, video and stills are all part of the job as well as the “ability to write cleanly and create engaging, informative blog entries, captions, web teases and headlines”.

Nothing about finding and researching stories.

Blair, the media and instant reaction

Yesterday Tony Blair met Wallace and Cromit, welcomed the prime minister of Lithuania, welcomed the prime minister of the Slovak Republic and made a speech on the role of the media. His official spokesman held two press briefings giving Blair’s views on Iraq, Scotland, the EU constitution, intelligence, the 2012 Olympics, discrimination law, the BAe affair and Ford’s plans to sell off Jaguar.

We are entitled to ask whether he has given sufficient thought to any of them (or whether some should simply have been passed to other ministers). In his speech he talked about the pressures of 24-hour media and acknowledged his own "complicity" saying:

We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of Opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends in communications that I am about to question.

He spoke about the tecnological change in media and continued:

These changes are obvious. But less obvious is their effect. The news schedule is now 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It moves in real time. Papers don’t give you up to date news. That’s already out there. They have to break stories, try to lead the schedules. Or they give a commentary. And it all happens with outstanding speed. When I fought the 1997 election – just ten years ago – we took an issue a day. In 2005, we had to have one for the morning, another for the afternoon and by the evening the agenda had already moved on. You have to respond to stories also in real time. Frequently the problem is as much assembling the facts as giving them. Make a mistake and you quickly transfer from drama into crisis. In the 1960s the government would sometimes, on a serious issue, have a Cabinet lasting two days. It would be laughable to think you could do that now without the heavens falling in before lunch on the first day.Things harden within minutes. I mean you can’t let speculation stay out there for longer than an instant.

This is the politician’s perspective. From the jounalist’s perspective it provides lots of copy and, often, grounds for more speculation. In the words of Blair coping with the media at times "literally overwhelms".

That is good for neither the government nor the governed. What would be the result if politicians refused to make snap decisions to placate the media? It would be hard to argue with someone who said: "This is difficult. There are a lot of issues to be balanced and we need time to think about it."

The idea of instant decisions has been driven by the technologies of transport and communication. For half of the 20th Century politicians took long holidays and travelled slowly to important meetings. This is from Roy Jenkins biography of Churchill on the meeting between the prime minister and President Roosevelt in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in August 1941:

Churchill arrived in Newfoundland rested and relaxed. Prince of Wales had sailed from Scapa Flow on the evening of Monday, 4 August and arrived in Placentia Bay on the Morning of Saturday the 9th. Churchill had been more idle on the voyage than on any day since he became Prime Minister. He read C.S.Forester’s Captain Hornblower RN, he watched several films, including seeing Lady Hamilton (his favourite of all wartime films) for the fifth time and he lost £7 (£175 today) playing backgammon with Harry Hopkins.

Now the press castigates John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, for playing croquet after a meeting. We are putting politicains under too much pressure.

As Blair admitted yesterday, the Labour party decided that to win an election it had to go into rapid rebuttal of Tory arguments and increasing the rate at which fresh issues were raised in election campaigns. Then, in Government, Blair went in for a policy of spin.

The media is not now going to stop demanding instant answers. It has become conditioned to immediate response and failure to get it would inevitable lead to "fiddling while Rome burns" headlines. After a while they would wear thin.

I am not sure the heavens would fall in if the Cabinet spent two days deliberating on an issue. Few would find it "laughable".

The logic of ministers demanding thinking time and parliament (increasingly sidelined by Blair) debating issues would eventually restore some faith in the parliamentary process. Greater numbers of people might even start voting in elections again.

Sport reporter evicted from stadium for blogging

The ejection of a reporter for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, from a baseball match for blogging should should concern journalists in the UK, says Roy Greenslade.

He points out that attempts to restrict press freedom in the reporting of football have mostly affected photographers. Celtic tried to licence photographers and, in 2004, an attempt was made to put a two-hour delay on publication of digital pictures.

Web gives newspapers added credibility

The value of the web in providing evidence to back-up stories is being demonstrated by the Guardian this week. Yesterday and today lead stories by David Leigh and Rob Evans on secret payments to secure arms deals with Saudi Arabia, have been accompanied by  panels pointing readers to the web site for source documents and other material.

The Baefiles section of the web site has original government documents and much more of the evidence on which the stories are based. In the past such the reader would not have had access to the source documents. Now they have and that makes the investigative journalism all the more powerful.

Yesterday, on an entirely different kind of story, I commented that including an audio clip of an interview with England cricket captain Michael Vaughan enabled the paper refute his claim that he had been misquoted.

The ability to give almost unlimited space to a story and use other media on the web is giving journalism a route to greater credibility.

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