Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Here's a scary thought ...

...what if  local newspaper groups were a bit like the banks? What if their plans to develop into huge, multimedia conglomerates were like the banks' ambitions to create a financial house of cards based on very little real money at all?

I only ask.

After all, when leviathans such as the Guardian Media Group trumpet their multimedia Manchester hub while withdrawing from local newspaper markets, aren't we entitled to wonder whether the big newspaper bosses haven't got things arse about face?
I know hyperlocal is another nauseating buzz-phrase, but couldn't there be something in a back-to-basics appoach to local papers? Just as a back-to-basics approach to banking starts to appeal. The local newspapers of old were like the friendly societies of old. They served a community.

Big banks only see shareholders, as do big newspaper groups.

And while the big newspaper boys, stripped of their expolitative 30 per cent returns - three times what Tesco is happy with - begin to go belly up, determinedly local, and locally-owned and managed newspapers, keep their heads above water.

Just as the big banks merged to try to stave off the ultimate catastrophy, there is talk of relaxing the restrictions on newspaper and cross-media ownership so that the big bloated boys can get even bigger. But who's to say that won't bring an even bigger fall. Who's the HBOS and who's the Lloyds in the British regional media scene? You supply the names.

My money is on the survival of the little people, the hyperlocals - both online and off - who still serve their local communities.

That's the future, lubricated however it might be with the support of local citizen journalists and  access to local BBC and ITV content.

 A concensus is beginning to build up that a new form of local, collaborative journalism is developing. Once we have Everyblock in the UK, we'll be able to build what is being created in the States.
Consider what Jef Jarvis is doing with CUNY, bloggers and the New York Times. Here's his key point - and one worth considering for anyone who still has faith in the megamedia model that has destroyed Britain's local press, condemning keen young trainees to servitude at £15,000 per year for two years, followed by a career ladder with very few rungs:
"We have to move past the old newspaper notion that one organization will - and can afford to - “own” a town. Those days are over. Instead, we’ll have ecosystems of local news linked together, and to support them we need complementary content and coverage and networks to sell ads into and for all the players. In a network that links to its own members all ships will ride with the tide of links." 
The question your ship a nippy little trawler, or a stonking great supertanker that will take a year to turn around? By which time it will have sunk.

Answers on a P45 please.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Great current Google Maps

Some current Google Maps that give an idea of how useful this tool can be in so many contexts.

The Eurovision song contest
Showing every entry plus a video of each.

The F1 season
With links to a Silverstone Grand Prix simulator among others.

Amnesty International map
Executions around the world in 2008

Google Map of poverty crises
"The concept behind WikiMapAid is to map poverty crisis hotspots by using collaborative wiki software to enable humanitarian workers and others to add health, welfare and education information to a Google Map.

"Users of the map can add markers to show the location of places such as schools, hospitals or refugee centres, or markers can be added that report on the current situation in an area. Videos and photos can be attached to markers to help explain the current situation."

Subscribe to the Google Maps Mania  blog here

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Will citizen journalists destroy the world?

If the Cuban Missile Crisis were to erupt today, would the world survive?

It’s a question that goes to the heart of No Time to Think: The menace of media speed and the 24-hour news cycle, by Howard Rosenberg and Charles S Feldman (Continuum $24.95) and particularly to what its authors describe in their subtitle as the “menace” of modern media.

In 1962, when surveillance showed nuclear missiles trained on American cities from its near neighbour’s territory, there were no 24-hour rolling-news channels and web sites with voracious appetites for instant news, comment and analysis; no millions of bloggers ready to pass snap judgements on the actions of government; no rapid-reaction political spin teams designed to exploit this media landscape for their own gain.

For a week, President John F Kennedy was able to keep the missiles’ presence secret while a private dialogue with Krushchev defused the crisis. He was not pressured to follow his first, instinctive reaction – an air strike to destroy the missiles.

Ted Sorensen, special counsel and intimate adviser to President John F Kennedy, says in No Time to Think that today’s media pressure would have made it impossible to keep the missiles secret, that there would have been public panic and congressional pressure, and that the first choice of military response would have been followed.

He concludes: “in all likelihood…the result would have been a nuclear war and the destruction of the world.”

So, No Time to Think argues that the internet and 24 hour news channels are a force with the power to destroy the world.

It’s a powerful argument – and one that deserves a considered response. So let’s consider it while we review the rest of No Time To Think’s attack on modern media.

Rosenberg and Feldman believe the standard of modern news reporting is poor, and identify two culprits: speed and citizen journalism.

The need for speed means that news is reported before it is clear what has happened, and before events are understood. Coverage is trivialised: “The public’s right to know has been supplanted by the public’s right to know everything, however fanciful and even erroneous, as fast as technology allows.”

And then there is the citizen journalist. Rosenberg and Feldman see “a modern reformation that preaches a new-media theology, one that elevates amateurs to exalted status with little halos glowing above their golden heads.”

What they leave out in all this is the public’s practised ability to choose what, and how much, news they consume.

In a succinct and illuminating historical analysis of the need for speed in reporting, they chart the golden hour of the fresh-minted CNN as its coverage of the first gulf war. As they point out, audiences fell off dramatically once there was no war to screen.

So it’s clear that, when we have no need for 24 hour news, we choose not to watch it.

Rosenberg and Feldman see the outpourings of citizen journalist bloggers as a “tsunami” of questionable information. But saying there are too many blogs is like saying there are too many books in a library. Readers – of books or blogs – use cataloguing devices to select what they need.

Most bloggers don’t see themselves as professional journalists. Just as, when there was a piano in every parlour, it didn’t follow that there was a concert pianist in every home.

The citizen journalist will get the audience he or she deserves. When, in January, an ordinary passenger on a ferry diverted to rescue passengers in the New York plane crash took a snap on his iPhone, uploaded it to the internet, and saw it reproduced in newspapers around the world it was because of its unique journalistic value.

But what of the one really serious assertion in No Time To Think: that the internet has the power to destroy the world?

Rosenberg and Feldman fail to make the case. They cite no examples of knee-jerk, media-fuelled military reactions that might provide a modern-day contrast to Kennedy’s measured response over Cuba.

If anything were to have proved a catalyst for such calamitous reaction, surely the attacks of 9-11 would have done so. But they did not. Rather, the response, in the shape of the War on Terror, was formulated over some months.

Making a web newspaper feel a bit more like print

Here's a smart idea from the New York Times. They've invented an article skimmer - which has yet to be given a name - that makes looking at the paper on the web just a little bit closer to browsing through a Sunday paper over brunch.

It offers a very easy way to scan a paper and pick out the bits that you want to read more about.

Monday, 2 March 2009

The reimagining of journalism

The Mastering Multimedia blog is a great place to find high-quality examples of multimedia journalism. This post is no exception, with links to excellent stills, text and audio packages. Here's one of the most impressive.

But this comment is also there: "Beyond being terrified of my short-term future, I am also cautiously optimistic. Hopefully, I will be allowed to be a part of the reimagining of journalism. It is still pretty fuzzy about what form it will take. Everyone left will need to be an innovator. If we can find a revenue model that works, then I hope a journalism renaissance will take place. Freed of the legacy chains of the past, new opportunities will surely germinate."

I like the sound of that.

How reporters might make a living

We're all stumbling towards an understanding - or even a faint glimmer of a clue - as to how journalists might make a living in the credit crunch / multimedia world.

Here's a well-founded idea from The Sacramento Bee that envisages reporters operating rather as local picture agencies have for years:

"A network of local community reporters - including some with non-traditional training - could provide coverage of all the region's cities and counties for any number of newspapers, radio stations and TV. The outlets would have to pay a fee for the journalists' service, but much less than it would cost to field their own newsrooms. A journalist who negotiates the right contracts with enough outlets could make a decent living."