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When technology journalist Rafat Ali suddenly found himself out of work he had to find a way of making a living. Based in NYC in the late 90s Mr Ali covered the dot com boom with internet media company inside.com. But when his employer went under in 2001 as the internet bubble burst he packed his backs, headed for London and became one man blogging machine. This is where the story of paidContent:UK, a website covering issues facing the media industry and the business of mobile content, all began.
From blog-to-riches Ali sold his site to the Guardian Media group for £4m in 2008: a great success for the blogger-entrepreneur. How did he do it? It was a time when blogging was beginning to grow as newspaper sales were declining sharply and the media business was left in the lurch. Mr Ali took a leap and landed on his feet.
One of the most important issues for any blog is the question of how to sustain its activities. Many news sites adopt a combination of ads and charging for access. Advertising has changed as much as the news industry, rushing to new media platforms such as social media sites, online TV and blogs. It would certainly help bloggers to understand how advertising companies operate or at least how they target audiences in a way that traditional ads in the paper can’t.
Former JOMEC student, Robert Andrews, at paidContent:UK said online advertising had less of a premium due to the volume of the web. How true. On a newspaper there are a limited number of pages where the audience will engage with the ad. Online, however, page space is unlimited.
Space may be limited but can the same be said for quality? If bloggers can create enough valuable and quality content then surely this will help to raise the capital of their online space, that is, capital measured by number of viewers.
But the real challenge to the blogging world is converting viewer attention into revenue. This is where the debate about paid content begins. Display banners are one of the traditional methods of online advertising but are they the future? Contextual adverts offer the ability to advertise on sites by buying near particular keywords. But tablets such as the ipad are changing this model.
The web, in fact, may only be a transitory stage before technology races ahead, where people will consume media on tablets, apps and mobile media. For news this may not be so bad a transition. Mr Andrews revealed people are willing to pay for apps, while this new platform looks more like the print product on new technology than it does on the web just like the New York Times Google Web app.
Is this the beginning of the end for the web?
Perhaps bloggers should be developing apps to stay ahead of the game.
Why would anyone do it?
There seems to be no money in it. It takes hard work, passion, blood sweat and tears while it involves hours of research.
Yet hyperlocal is growing.
Hyperlocal bloggers need to have certain qualities to succeed, says Glyn Mottershead at Cardiff University. Bloggers need to be obsessive, independent, link lovers, passionate and willing to consider ways of monetising the hyperlocal blog. No-one has quite cracked it yet.
I must admit, going hyperlocal seems a bold call. With no proven revenue model it is difficult to think of many reasons to put so much investment into something that may not give any returns.
There are, however, some promising examples of hyperlocal models in action, providing an invaluable service to their communities.
Take the hyperlocal site Scottish TV
Or the Wales Online website
And Hannah Waldram’s Guardian hyperlocal blog
These blogs and news sites involve the community and readers like never before where guest comments and posts are welcomed.
But for a hyperlocal blog to truly succeed, as in the case of the Cardiff Guardian online blog it takes interaction not only virtual level but being physically present in the communities. Connecting people, informing and giving a voice to the community is the name of the game.
While this is true for news sites, it can be the same for entrepreneurial bloggers and businesses.
To build any business you need customers and to make a business out of writing you need an audience.
In the past businesses sought to attract customers from a local catchment area. The way businesses and newspapers go about interacting with a community is now changing.
Hyperlocal is more of an attitude than a place.
I read an inspiring example in Wales Online this Sunday of a Welsh young man who left the country and set up a bodybuilding site. He is now editor-in chief of the world’s largest health and fitness website.
Anyone with a bright idea and a real passion for sport, music, business, politics or people can base a website around the idea of hyperlocal.
Hyperlocal is, in this sense, a community. It could be sports fans, running enthusiasts or a business community. The real task is to create a useful product, engage and inform a community of people. With the rise of the internet, it has been easier than ever to set up an online business.
This can go a step further. One business has been built around a product, the next level of internet development is approaching frightening lengths to which a business can obtain personal information.
Programmes such as Facebook places, Groupon, foursquare and Gowalla encourage users to check in their preferences and geographical location. Just yesterday GAP announced it was giving away 10,000 pairs of jeans for free for the first people who checked into their store using Facebook Places. If I walk past the store and ‘check in’ with my iphone I can get a free pair of jeans.
There must be a catch?
As businesses are developing their use of RFID chips found in many mobile phones, which can track where people are at a given time.
These can allow users to interact with objects, building and companies in their area even suggesting news stories to people as they interact with an environment. Imagine you are on a bus passing a shopping centre. An iphone application could send you interactive information about what deals are on offer, helping you decide whether to get off the bus and grab a bargain.
This is the future of Hyperlocal.
Openly Local lists many of the hyperlocal sites in the UK on a google map.
The word ‘data’ may not conjure the image of a Madonna and Child, but with a bit of manipulation, numbers and facts can be made into something beautiful.
Although numbers, formula, tables and graphs may sound uninspiring, we don’t live in a world of colourless information.
We all use data, and people are not colourless.
Politicians, monitoring bodies, health organisations, charities, businesses, the media and individuals alike, we all use data in some shape or form, often to inform us of trends and to make decisions.
Data can be used creatively to explain, enlighten, educate and improve. It is as vital to journalism as it is to business.
Data is powerful. It can be used to encrypt secretive information, it can open up access to people and reveal the practices and decisions of those in power. CD’s with data can fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds and can bring down politicians, just as in the expenses scandal in 2009.
This is a typical example of how the Guardian visualises data in its newspaper – in this case showing the MP expenses dataset.
But with the expansion of the internet, the uncontrolled influx of data can often be overwhelming. It can present a great challenge to journalists, as their primary task is being shifted from obtaining data to dressing it up for the consumer. The task of the journalist becomes as much about aesthetics as it is about raw data, as more people have access to information, we should bear in mind that the audience wants to be entertained as well as informed.
Online tools like Wordle can help in this process. This tool can dress up the Wikipedia entry for ‘data’ making it more aesthetically appealing, while it informs the audience of the nature of data.
But let’s take a more recent example: the wikileaks revelation of various US diplomatic cables known as ‘cablegate.’
The guardian website has an interactive guide to the leaks. The information presented up in an accessible and interactive way, allowing the user to search through the data in an interactive map, allowing us to navigate to the information we want.
As data becomes more widely available, surely there will be a greater need for data specific journalism. Data presentation skills will become more important than ever and with it the apt use of online tools such as Wordle, Many Eyes, Facutal, Swivel, Socrata, Verifiable.com, Google Fusion Tables, Widgenie, iCharts, Chart Tool, Open Heat Maps, Fusion Charts, Excel, Google Docs and Yahoo pipes.
Of course data can be manipulated and it is the job of the journalist to identify where PR wallpaper is covering the cracks in any political system.
Data is the journalist’s companion, together they can inform, educate, warn and criticise.
It may just take a while for a new relationship to flourish in the new online environment.
Times may be changing in the media business, but is The Times changing the business of media?
Will Lewis, the man who brought down scores of politicians by uncovering the expenses scandal with the Telegraph in 2009 and famously broke the Exxon merger with Mobil at the Financial Times in 1999 addressed the Cardiff Business Club. at St. David’s Hotel and Spa in Cardiff Bay last night.
The former Editor-in-Chief at Telegraph Media and current Group General Manager at News International, which owns The Times newspaper, outlined some of the fast-moving changes taking place in the newspaper industry, sharing some of his experiences with the Cardiff business community. He said:
The last five years has seen the digital ecosystem evolve. It offers a real opportunity.
News International, the publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, has been in the spotlight recently as being one of the few news organisations to introduce a paywall for its Times newspaper. According to News Corp the paper has sold 105,000 digital products since they were launched five months ago, although around half of these are monthly subscriptions.
But in his speech last night, Mr Lewis defended the paywall saying there were many changes facing his industry.
He said the rise of search facilities, broadband, iphones, ipads, quality websites and applications have changed the way we consume news encouraging a shift towards digital platforms, a trend accelerated by the rising cost of paper.
There is a change imperative for newspapers.
Mr Lewis said there needs to be more customer contact while branding will play an important role in determining where people choose to consume their news, even on an international basis. “Let’s not restrict content to our shores,” he said.
He hinted many newspapers were not adapting to change quick enough, saying the news industry needs to move away from a strategy of damage limitation.
More of the same is not a recipe for growth.
At a tough time for newspapers Mr Lewis challenged the news industry: “We need to back ourselves to bet on ourselves.”
The paywall issue has been raging over the past few months, with many of the major newspaper outlets holding different opinions about online business models. The Guardian, for example, secures its online revenue base from advertising.
But as the pawyall concept is relatively new it is still unclear whether The Times’ “charge ahead” will pay off or not.
The Cardiff Business Club is a business membership group, which invites with guests of international standing in business, law, politics and other areas to speak on a monthly basis.
Journalists may enjoy the thrill of racing the clock to break a story, rising to the challenge to be creative in the space of a few inches of newspaper, breathing life into the mundane or even attracting people’s attention with pictures.
But is that what journalism is really all about?
Is it not about serving people?
Joanna Geary a social media guru at the Times challenged trainee journalists at Cardiff University to write down their reasons for chosing journalism as a career, providing an uneasy moment for those whose job is to ask questions rather than answer them.
“It’s not about us getting the story,” says Geary, it’s about the audience.
In fact, its not about getting your name in print, or attracting any sort of reader, but meeting their needs of people. Newspapers who look down on their readers can have no hope of ever succeeding as a business.
As the internet is changing the news-scape, users now have more control than ever before. Audiences can challenge journalists and pitch their own ideas. A community forms and people that care about an issue are forged together, forming a niche area where people can collaborate.
So as and where communities form, journalists must interact with them. These audiences have news ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. And now, thanks to the internet, they can communicate directly with the content provider to express their appetite for news. Anyone reading this, for example, can leave a comment or write to me on twitter.
But if editorial staff play to the ‘wants’ of people to attract more views could, however, lead to myopic news values. Will news shrink entirely to the tune of its readership?
Have a look and see what the most popular stories are now on the BBC’s counter. The most popular videos on youtube contain Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga – an indicator of what people want. Let’s hope newspapers don’t give in to online peer pressure as revenues crumble.
Obviously there is a necessity to attract an audience, as audiences bring revenue. But as there is so much choice on the internet, does it mean news sites becomes more about a brand than news per se?
Let’s take a hypothetical situation:
I am a businessman and so I am interested in business news, changes in government policy and anything that might affect my business. I could go to any number of outlets or news sites. But I will decide to go to one that I am familiar with. I will go to a source that I can trust and with whom I share news and/or political values. I choose the Times online.
I used to enjoy this source for free. But unfortunately now I have to pay for it because of a paywall.
The leads me to a crucial question:
Is the Times business news so unique and useful that I will not go anywhere else to find out what is happening in the business world? Do I trust the journalists and enjoy their writing style, find their analysis helpful and understand the way they present data? This is what you might call added-value journalism.
News in the future could well be based on brand, reliability, but also about online relationships. I am much more likely to read a news site that listens, interacts and cares about my business needs.
A news outlet will need to have a pre-defined model, niche strategy and brand. For if it does not, I will simply take my business elsewhere.
It poses a great challenge to journalists: be informed, inform, be reliable and accurate, be trustworthy, listen, serve your audience and interact.
Is it possible to be and do all these things?
With a smart use of technology, a solid grasp of social networking, such as the use of Twitter for tip offs but still hold onto the fundamental skills of journalism of robust tradecraft, strategy, good contacts and accuracy it is still humanly possible do all of these.
It’s about building a personal brand and serving people.
News may be changing – but the basic skills of journalism are not.
Rory Cellan-Jones, a Business Journalist who started out at Wales Online in 1983, told JOMEC students about the fast changes taking place in the news industry last week.
Despite unprecedented changes to the news industry, he said the core skill set in journalism will remain the same. The ability to to turn pieces around in a hurry and solid logistic skills with a thirst for accuracy are essential to the trade.
Added to this are the new pressures of being able to write for new platforms such as twitter, interacting with more readers online and understanding copyright law for the likes of flikr and facebook.
And just as we thought things were challenging enough, he said there must be an allowance to experiment with technology such as online video editing, audioboo, blogging and SEO.
Because a new relationship with technology means that we will now have a new relationship with the audience.
New technology and the democratisation of information may also have an effect on business and financial matters.
There is the possibility, for example, that sensitive financial information could be leaked onto the internet, which could in turn, affect share prices if the blogs prove to be trustworthy.
Mr Cellan-Jones also highlighted the fact that the status of Google as a non-involved media engine is continually being questioned.
The number for the charity group ‘Samaritans’ is shown when a search is made for the term ‘suicide’.
Google TV is a major new development that will change the way we consume visual media. People may no longer look to watch TV on channels, but snippets of their favourite show.
So as technology beings to blur the boundaries of journalism, the new generation of journalists must strive to focus on the basics, to save the trade from deterioration of hard news skills and to inform the world of what is going on in an accurate and balanced manner.
A guide to Llandaff – my ward area this year
Writing is a labour of love.
Many of us would love to write, think and create – and journalists are in a privileged position that allows them to get paid to do so.
But Journalism is also a business.
Adam Tinworth, a business journalist, reminded JOMEC students of this fact, and posed some challenging questions to the room, most of whom have paid to enter into an industry where passion is paramount to success.
But is the business really crumbling as a media panic suggests? And if so, what are we going to do about it?
First there are a couple of myths to bust.
“No one makes any money online.”
This is not true.
There is what Mr Tinworth described as “The triple”
1) Data – Selling information that helps people to do their day job better
2) Events – including interaction with readers online
3) Advertising – online revenue created through targeted advertising
Money is made at Reed Business Information, the company where Mr Tinworth is head of Blog development, by implementing a paywall for their data set as he says a paywall for journalistic pieces is unworkable.
His argument is that people will find free, trusted blogs about their subjects rather than pay for journalistic pieces, but data is sacred.
It prompts the question – is there an equivalent of “data” in the news industry?
Perhaps a trusted brand, or news sense is what people would be prepared to pay for – or a platform where they can engage and be recognised.
Surely anyone with a successful blog and a passion for their subject could start such a following. So that’s it, it’s about the passion, the love for a topic or a subject that will not only ensure that content is entertaining, but useful and beating everyone else in the race to publish. Such blogs, should be essential for anyone in the industry so much so that it becomes a “home page”.
There is a second myth.
“Blogging is all about opinion.”
Again, not true.
Blogging is about conversation. As everyone can publish the characteristics of publishing can change.
According to Mr Tinworth Blogging can be about sharing interesting stuff with other people. It is also about interaction people will want to talk about that interesting topic.
Then there is the aspect of accuracy. As people are now able to “talk back” the journalist, there is less room for error.
If this is achieved, the blog becomes an attracting force for forms of revenue. An audeince forms, and the basic technique of maintaining a beat holds for the blogosphere. But for the basics, a blogger has to be inquisitive, honest, communicative, enthusiastic and informed.
So what about journalists and newspapers? Do they have a future?
The future of journalism is tied to its business model.
Making as many useful products that are invaluable to other people and businesses is the key. As data is sacred, Newspapers could try and find their own version of a dataset. That could be in the form of reliable news, exclusive interviews and pictures, even paywall certain sections of online content. It seems, however, that online advertising holds the key. But is online advertising effective? Here are some stats.
If we work out a viable business model journalists can continue to labour in love.
‘Plan for the Machine, write for the human.’
Journalism is changing. News is being diverted from printed pages to screens and devices.
News consumers no longer sit on the bus or on the couch at home scouring pages for fresh stories. They now sit behind desks, are on the move and always connected.
This change towards online media has seen the evolution of the blog. And blogging, which can include other aspects of online communication such as tweeting or microblogging, has always been directed at an audience.
But nowadays it seems bloggers and journalists are not only writing for an audience, but also for the machine, that is, the internet.
Glyn Mottershead at Cardiff University stressed the importance of being able to be ‘found’ online by an audeince as news organisations battle it out.
But where do audiences come from?
According to infographic labs internet users turn to google as a first port of call:
Google = 84.73% market share
Yahoo! = 6.35% market share
Baidu = 3.31% market share
Bing = 3.30% market share
Ask = 0.71% market share
AOL = 0.40% market share
Other = 0.20% market share
Similarly, research shows 93% of consumers worldwide use search engines to find and access websites, including news. Meanwhile, 75% of users never scroll past the first page of results, it is essential to know the Google’s machine language to get on the first page of results.
So in order to reach an audience, bloggers and journalists will have to become Search Engine Optimisation or (SEO) savvy.
It will involve developing a method of writing headlines and intros for the internet, using accurate keywords, categories, meta descriptions and tags to optimise one’s chances in being found by search engines such as Google.
There may be one downside (or upside) depending on one’s sense of humour but SEO means there is little room for ‘puntastic’ headlines in news stories: The days of award winning headlines such as ‘Super Cally Go Ballstic, As Celtic Are Atrocious’ will be relegated to the pages of history.
What is clear from these changes is that the job of the journalist has become more complex: writing for the machine with the human in mind.
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