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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Corante Blog

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Monaco Media Forum: Quality and news

Posted by Kevin Anderson

I just finished listening to a panel discussion titled News 2.0 here at the Monaco Media Forum. It was depressing on a number of levels.

There is a pressing question in the news business right now: What is the business model that will support ‘quality’ journalism? That is usually how it’s phrased. Putting aside the issues of quality for the moment, let’s just talk about the business model of news. I have colleagues in the news business who envy the companies that I’ve worked for: The BBC and the Guardian. The BBC has a huge war chest based on the TV licence fee, and the Guardian has the Scott Trust so that it’s not completely based on profit motive. It’s nice not to worry so much about the money side of things.

Newsgathering is expensive. There is just no doubt about it. I was just thinking back to my former BBC colleague Jonathan Baker who said that the Beeb spends about $2.5 million a year to pay for coverage in Iraq, most of the money going to pay for security. Jonathan was really honest about what that $2.5 million buys in terms of journalism: A lot but not nearly as much as any journalist would like. But the bottom line is that it’s very, very expensive. Newspaper readership is declining, and newspaper readers pay a lot more into the coffers of newspapers than online ads do yet.

And let me be very clear about this, I believe that journalism is very important in a democratic society. Odd as this may seem for what I do and have done for 10 years, I was trained as a newspaper journalist. I still prefer newspaper-style journalism over most broadcast journalism. Mostly because it fits my news consumption patterns. I can scan a lot of text a lot faster than I can quickly scroll through video. I like video news for certain things, but I have to say, it’s not for 24 hour news. I want that kind of news on demand, not every 15 minutes. I just don’t have time to wait, and the presenters telling me to wait for the story that I really want to watch just pisses me off.

But notice, I said newspaper-style journalism. I want information. I want insight. I don’t have time for shouty commentary. It’s of little value to me. But it’s just the style of journalism, I’m not hung up on the delivery medium.

One of the panelists talked about a Latin American newsroom of 1400 journalists. Wow. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. It takes time and investment to do investigative journalism. But recently, the Dallas Morning News ‘right-sized’ their newsroom to deal with current economic realities. Newspapers are trying to reinvent themselves, but it’s painful work.

But what troubled me in this conversation is the issue of quality and what separates what professionals from amateurs in gathering news. Personally, I’m trying to get closer to my audience, not further separated from them. I had another journalist tell me: Well, certainly some of what we do must be telling people what they should hear. I agree with that. I’m not going to write stuff just to please my audience and keep them blissfully ignorant. What I have a problem with is that I’m really uncomfortable having the final say in what my audience thinks is important. When I was a cub reporter, I learned that listening was a pretty important part of my job.

I am just really uncomfortable with this obsession, this almost divine right that some journalists feel in setting the agenda and determining what is important. It’s the gatekeeper role of journalism driven by ego and arrogance. I’m probably going to get frogmarched out of the Fourth Estate for saying that. But it plays into this whole debate about quality, which is really just about control. And I think it’s simply a defensive position that is largely unhelpful in dealing with the real problem of adapting the news business model. Newspapers really need to hop onto the Cluetrain.

Involving your audiences isn’t pandering. Listening improves the quality of your product, and in this Attention Economy, there is no shortage of information, quality or otherwise.

And personally, while they were trying to figure out ways to defend the purity of the Fourth Estate, I was happy to get on with News 2.0, writing my blog post, uploading the video I took with a consumer digital camera that cost £140 and being very happy about my new job.

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3 Responses to “Monaco Media Forum: Quality and news”

  1. Steve Says:

    “I just don’t have time to wait, and the presenters telling me to wait for the story that I really want to watch just pisses me off.” Agreed! Stop teasing me, Mr. TV!

    “I’m not going to write stuff just to please my audience and keep them blissfully ignorant. What I have a problem is that I’m really uncomfortable having the final say in what my audience thinks is important.” You’re so right on this. No matter how skilled, experienced, or seasoned a journalist is, they still do not asks all the questions that I want answers to. Maybe professional journalists should learn to read minds in real time…

  2. Kevin Says:

    Steve, man, I’ve been up so long that my irony-sensing circuit is down. I can’t tell for the life of me if you’re being serious or taking the piss.

    At any rate, I don’t think we need to take a course in real-time mind reading. I do think that there are ways we can open up and involve our audience in the process. The online editor of Le Monde said that the audience is now in his newsroom. I like that. Getting close to the audience.

  3. Steve Says:

    I was just joshing. My point that journalists do not read my mind is not an insult or put down; this inevitable disconnect is simply due to fact that our own individual lives, experiences, backgrounds, and interests lead us to wonder differently. Since modern technology enables me and journalists to collaborate, why can’t I make sure that some of my questions get asked and answered?