Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When it finally dawned on the Sun

Not that it's any of my business, but I was just a tad depressed that Rebekah Wade wrote to her staff to ask them to get behind plans to embrace the web and publish on a “truly global scale”.

It's 2007, 13 years since newspapers began to embrace a medium their kids already had and, more significantly for her, more than two years since Rupert Murdoch told editors exactly that.

The Sun has had a very successful site for a long time. Its use of images has, ahem, made it very clickable but, more importantly, they've had a clever editor in Pete Picton who knew all about recreating and enhancing a successful brand online.

A few years ago, Wade blamed the success of Sun Online for the drop in her paper's circulation. Picton was quizzed on this during a panel discussion at an AOP event shortly afterwards and diplomatically sidestepped. But we all knew it was nonsense. Web hits were growing, print sales were falling and the relationship between the two in terms of cause and effect were limited.

Even so, the Sun apart, this does paint a time capsule picture of journalism as a whole and one which rings true.

For too long, too many senior journalists dismissed the Web as they would an advertising supplement, embraced it when the penny dropped that their futures depended on it and are chasing the game in understanding the logistics of how it works.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blogger blags his way into the NUJ

The NUJ's acceptance of Endgadget blogger Conrad Quilty Harper as a member marks a significant milestone in its history. They've always had strict rules about who qualifies, traditionally judging applications on the percentage of their earnings from actual journalism to root out the village correspondents and pamphleteers.

It shows how far the union and the media have come but begs the question, notwithstanding the NUJ's resistance to many things new media - and taking into account its membership has seen better days - why on earth would he want to join a union in the first place?

Friday, November 16, 2007

So, what does the future hold?

All this talk of the Web 2.0 journalist is causing much disquiet among those who hold the key to its future.

During two lively QandA sessions at Cardiff University yesterday, I was faced four times with questions that, however phrased, boiled down to: "What on earth will employers want from us when we qualify?"

It was no good me reassuring them that their core investigative skills and writing ability would be enough, and that colleges of this quality equip them technically well in the first place, although I do stand by it.

And it didn't help that I predicted yet more redundancies as papers talking up convergence actually converge and work to a business model that gets close to the management ideal of a few multi-skillers doing the job of many - and getting a return on the fortunes they's spent on their infrastructure.

But that's still a way off as it involves a technical interface that publishers are still struggling to get to grips with and a broadcast-style editorial management that is often equally misunderstood.

Anyway, before we get carried away, It's probably worth reiterating that I don't envisage any great sea change in the way these guys will be operating, save for the fact that some of them will be using a bit more kit from time to time than they would have done when the Sun was broadsheet.

(pause here and spare a thought for all those agency hacks of the 70s filing fudges, flongs and snaps, banging off a pic on the court steps, an off-the-cuff page top for the evenings, an overnighter for the mornings, a backgrounder for the Sundays, then dashing to the game and filing updates for local radio live from a phone in the press box)

The real challenge for educators remains in producing reporters who can think on their feet, file quickly, with clarity and authority, ask questions that get answers quickly and develop and maintain contacts that will produce copy to justify a place on an ever emerging plethora of platforms.

As for the technical challenges they're worried about, be they using a microphone or tagging story files for searchability, they'll absorb them before lunch on their induction day. And I speak from years of experience watching interns get to grips with applications it took weeks for the newsroom to grasp.

At the moment many publishers, no matter how they have rearranged their desks, are still operating a two-tier system which distinguishes those who write from those who upload. Because, often, the best uploaders are post-grads who've never seen the inside of a council chamber, let alone doorstepped a minister, and the best writers can't, or won't, lower themselves to filing web-only chunks on a running story, let alone learn how a new CMS works.

So, until the new wave comes through with the attitude and skills to produce well-sourced, old-fashioned exclusives at any time on platforms they see as no more complex than an ipod, we're stuck with newsrooms struggling to make sense of the brave new world.

And it doesn't help that many of the driving forces are so adrift from reality, they are still referring to the crown jewells of their endeavours as "content".

Those who think that's what it is - and defer to it as being "king" - should abdicate.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The rights and wrongs of David Montgomery

David Montgomery is right to criticise pay on regional newspapers. I told my first editor I wanted to learn the trade and was bollocked for using a blue collar word. He left me in no doubt, it was a profession.

That's as maybe but, 30 years on, it's hard to justify paying a daily paper reporter who exposes a paedophile ring in Newcastle or a columnist in Manchester who changes the way a Bill on disability is drafted thousands of pounds less than a graduate who uploads video to a national website.

But he's delusional if he thinks you can dispense with subs and maintain any sort of professional credibilty at the same time.

He's come in for some criticism from subs who, rightly, shudder at the thought of some of the text-speak masquerading as copy going straight into print. But, to be fair, I think he was talking about new, digital platforms.

If so, and he really thinks all subs do is "check things that don't need to be checked", he's completely misunderstood the way stories are presented - and absorbed - online.

Never mind the words, good Web subbing - chunking, linking, classifying, teasing, updating, editing for SEO - will give "content" the "context" it needs to justify publishing in a free-to-air medium struggling to pay for itself.

And no matter hard you try - and all of the big boys are really trying - I've yet to find software to do that.

What surprises me most though is that the Monty I knew spent as brief a time he as could actually writing anything. His ambition was to get into the editors chair as fast as possible - and he chose the fastest route. Subbing.