Posts tagged ‘newspapers’


Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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A quick read from Prof Stephen Hawking in Wired UK

14.03.2018

The late Prof Stephen Hawking’s interview with Condé Nast’s Wired UK is excellent, and a quick read. For those following me on the duopoly of Facebook and Google, here’s what the professor had to say:

I worry about the control that big corporations have over information. The danger is we get into the situation that existed in the Soviet Union with their papers, Pravda, which means “truth” and Izvestia, which means “news”. The joke was, there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia. Corporations will always promote stories that reflect well on them and suppress those that don’t.

   That last bit definitely applies to a lot of the media today, especially those owned outside our country.
   The rest makes for a great read as Prof Hawking talks about AI, the anti-science movement, Donald Trump, and what humanity needs to do urgently in science. Here’s that link again.

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Vladimir Putin’s end-of-year conference: not as ‘crazy’ as The Independent makes out

26.12.2014

I’m one of the few living in the occident who watched President Putin’s end-of-year press conference (all right, I listened to a good part of it while working). While the live translations coming through were distracting, it was better than not knowing what he was saying. It was a rare thing, to see a president front up to a roomful of journalists, some from western countries who weren’t going to make life easy for him—especially over the Crimea—and give his point of view. The three-hour event, which you can watch on YouTube, showed a world leader prepared to give answers face to face, and it wasn’t even for an election campaign. I don’t agree with everything he said—I have friends there who tell me of the pressures they face over free speech and the right to express a dissenting political viewpoint. While a lot of what he gave were stock politicians’ answers, I’d still give the guy some credit.
   Which makes it all the more amazing that at least one medium turned the thing into a joke. Here’s The Independent’s take on it, entitled, ‘What you missed at Vladimir Putin’s quite crazy press conference’. I’m not saying the report is false, but cherry-picking a few anomalies does not make it a fair summary. I know the ‘I100’ section is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but these days when people might come across reports via Google News, that mightn’t be obvious. You’d have better luck going to a website like this. The Washington Post, meanwhile, did a reasonably good job and its report gels with what I recall.
   It’s a bit of shame about the lack of prominence this item got, not just from the point of view of learning more about world affairs, but reminding us that many political leaders wouldn’t, or couldn’t, front up for a prolonged Question Time in front of international media. I don’t know if President Putin gives regular press conferences, but assuming he does, this lengthy end-of-year appearance is a decent bonus and not unlike a shareholders’ AGM in business. Of course, he is a politician, and you have to treat a lot of what he says as spin, but better to appear to give a perspective than allowing the dialogue to build against you.

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The Murdoch apology does not let us off the hook

16.07.2011

News International full-page apology

Above is Rupert Murdoch’s apology for the actions of the News of the World, to run in the UK in the wake of the resignations of Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton.
   They’re great words, and they’re straight out of the PR 101 playbook.
   Some might say they’re a trifle too late, as was Mr Murdoch’s meeting with the parents and sister of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
   Some might question whether this apology would even have been issued if the Murdoch Press could have kept a lid on the scandal, if the Metropolitan Police had not rediscovered its bottle, and if The Guardian had not been persistent.
   More telling about this apology’s sincerity is whether real steps will be taken to change the culture within the Murdoch Press.
   We still have an organization with nearly half a century’s worth of bullying tactics, skirting the boundaries of the law and allegedly breaking them, and a culture of the ends justify the means.
   Shifting that culture is going to be a tough call, not while so much of the behaviour has been institutionalized.
   It is going to take some effort on Rupert Murdoch’s own behalf, because, like all organizations where the boss’s personality is so strong, it’s going to rest on him to lead a cultural change. Allowing an insider who has always tolerated such behaviour to take the helm is not going to do an awful lot: you don’t get change by reinventing the past.
   I remain sceptical when I think back to all the scandals that the Murdoch Press not only uncovered, but had a hand in generating.
   I remain sceptical when I think back to the victories Murdoch has had over earlier controversies, and whether he believes he can weather this one simply with the passage of time.
   The world is a different place, and he may just be compelled to see this out.
   He may be 80, but he still has young kids by his third wife. Let’s hope he understands that he needs to do right by the 21st century, when people in the occident are more alert to corporate moves and their unsavoury hand in our daily lives. Given that his youngest children won’t have him around for as long as his oldest ones, what he has is his legacy—and unlike Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James, Grace and Chloe will spend more of their lives hearing about their Dad second-hand than first-hand.
   I think back to when we wrote Beyond Branding, and how we forecast that consumers would drive integrity and transparency through their demand. It looks like this is being played out now.
   The question I have is this: is this merely the first salvo in everyday people taking back their power, and will we sink back into disinterest in a month or two?
   Rupert Murdoch would not be in this position if we didn’t have a love of the gossip in The Sun and News of the World. We, the people, made this man rich.
   If the Murdoch that critics write about is the real man, he’s betting the farm on disinterest being the order of the day come the autumn.
   In my own world, I recall that last September, when the Fairfax Press reported on the possibility of the resurrection of the Wellywood sign, the silence on even the anti-sign Facebook group was deafening. One person even said he would vote for my rival and eventual winner, Celia Wade-Brown, because I did not do enough to fight the sign.
   All it took was five months for one man to forget that I was the only mayoral candidate who actively fought it. I am not picking on him alone, because I don’t believe he was the only one to suffer from a short memory. We all do it.
   Instead, this one issue alone, trivial by the standards of the Murdoch story, took 14 months before anger subsided enough for it to resurface in force with a new news report.
   This is the defence of the bully boss and the pompous politician: the hope people forget, thanks to our lives being harder during a recession. The tougher the economy gets, the more they think they can get away with, since they hope our attention will be swayed. Without a comfortable life, will we have the luxury of monitoring those in power?
   It’s up to us to get wiser and realize there’s more important news than what the tabloid press tells us is interesting.
   It’s up to us to realize that celebrity news really does not affect us, unless it’s truly inspirational. And 99 per cent of it isn’t.
   It’s up to us to understand that ‘sources close to’ do not constitute the truth, nor are those sources capable of the mind-reading of their subjects.
   And it’s up to us to remember the past, rather than look fondly on it with rose-coloured glasses.
   Corporate misbehaviour alone can fill a newspaper, as can the incompetence of our leaders. Yet we see little of either since advertising is affected by blowing the lid on the first, and a power base is affected by blowing the lid on the second.
   The first is what killed the News of the World, not a sudden crisis of confidence by James Murdoch, who put his name to the announcement of its closure.
   The second contributed to the delay in a Murdoch apology, in the hope that the Murdoch Press’s close ties to the Conservative government would be sufficient to weather it through the scandal.
   Look around, especially in this election year in New Zealand, and you see very similar forces at work.
   Regardless of what Murdoch does, real change starts with us.

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It’s about content, especially when reality is more appealing than reality TV

10.04.2011

The Apprentice logo
It’s shows like The Apprentice that have kept me away from watching TV.

I was surprised to learn, in conversation last week, that TV viewership is up, while print is down.
   Shows you can’t base too much of what the general public does on your own experience.
   I estimate my magazine and book consumption is roughly where it was for the last half-decade, but I watch around seven hours of broadcast television (not online stuff) per month at the top end.
   The reason I have a television set is to show DVDs, and little more. If I had a more advanced unit, I might consider sticking USB sticks containing short films from friends into it, but it’s little more than a display unit for other media.
   It surprises me, because I would say I watched a lot of telly in the 1970s and 1980s.
   As to newspapers, the last time I bought or subscribed to one was 1993.
   My attention does seem to be on the computer, and that’s been growing since the 1990s.
   Part of it came from the business—getting news from Reuter Textline, for instance—but when a lot of this stuff became mainstream and everyone could get it, I joined in.
   I don’t think it’s down to the fact that a lot of it is free—though having said that I do not miss the Murdoch Press’s paywalled (sic) publications one iota—but the fact that everything can be tailored to my tastes. As much as I rip into Google, I have always said Google News was a fine product that allows me to do just that. (I use the UK one, ever since the US one turned into something unusable.)
   What it boils down to is the long shift from top–down media to participatory media, something that’s not new, by any means.
   At the core, it’s all driven by content.
   My dissatisfaction with, say, the newspapers, was due to the small amount of international coverage we were getting in the early 1990s. The Dominion had cut its coverage down to less than a page a day. The last time I saw a copy of The Dominion Post was at the airport on a flight—I collected it from the gate—and spent more time on the crosswords than I did on the world news. It’s not as bad as a single page, but it could be better. (Don’t get me started on the wasted opportunity of not reducing the page size with its last redesign, especially as I only seem to read it on the plane.)
   And telly is much the same. I simply found shows of yesteryear more appealing—but it’s not as though shows of a similar ilk aren’t being made. They just aren’t shown by the terrestrial channels.
   With my apologies to those friends who like these shows, I just cannot find competitive cookery shows, the various Idols or Simon Cowell’s X Factors terribly interesting. Even when I appeared on TV regularly here, I didn’t watch the show. I have not watched a single episode of Survivor, and if the Donald gets his way and The Apprentice is set from the Oval Office, I still wouldn’t find it terribly interesting.
   I was one of those idiots who stayed up to watch Hustle or Daybreak, and these days, about the only things I do watch are Top Gear and Doctor Who. (Lucky for Prime.)
   Shows cut from everyday experiences bore me, especially this genre called ‘reality TV’, especially when there’s something more interesting. It’s called ‘reality’.
   In a city like Wellington, there’s always something to do, and everything’s so close by, it wouldn’t surprise me if that particular genre of television was more dead here than in some other cities. And, if you really wanted to emulate television, you can even see roughly the same people each week.
   While there is some truth in saying that a lot of content has become a commodity—check out some of the sites that Google News has let in occasionally—the good stuff, content that is differentiated and smart, is still prized. (Strangely, that’s the Murdoch Press argument for its paywall—but I guess we all have different ideas over the definition of prized.)
   So upping my television watching or even newspaper-reading is dead easy. Customized printing is already here, or will it be down to tablet apps? Either way, that’s one way to deliver a decent newspaper experience that I might subscribe to.
   However, I can’t see television exactly catering for my whims in the near future, not while more people watched Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Masterchef for Sweatshop Kids—or whatever the heck that has diversified to—than Life on Mars (the original) down here. Bringing up the percentage of drama to where it once was would work for me and the tiny minority that I represent, and commercially, it looks like we aren’t worth it.
   Anyway, I am hooked on this ‘reality’ at the moment, and it’s in part thanks to reality TV breaking me out of my old habits. I didn’t think I’d be grateful for reality TV, but, there you go, I am: it got me away from the box.

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