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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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Thursday, June 28th, 2007

What does your news organisation do that no one else does?

Posted by Kevin Anderson

I originally thought of this question as: What does your news organisation do better than everyone else? But then, most news organisations would interpret that question as about quality and quickly answer that their writers are better or they have higher production standards. That’s not what I meant, so I changed the question. What is it that you do that is unique or what could you do that none of your competitors are doing?



People are drowning in information, drowning in media choices. Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures called it ‘the looming attention crisis’. Umair Haque puts it this way:

Across consumer markets, attention is becoming the scarcest - and so most strategically vital - resource in the value chain. Attention scarcity is fundamentally reshaping the economics of most industries it touches; beginning with the media industry.

Umair says that the media companies that succeed will be the ones that allocate attention most efficiently, not necessarily the ones that produce most efficiently.

I’m thinking about the economics of the business after reading an article in the Press Gazette comparing the economics of the newspaper business and comparing it to the online business. The web revenue threat is no myth, or to put the terms in dollars and cents:

In the US, digital media consultant Vin Crosbie has calculated that
each printed newspaper reader is worth between $500 and $1,200 a year
in terms of reader revenues and advertising cash.

By contrast, Crosbie suggests that the average online newspaper reader is worth perhaps $8 a year.

That is why newspapers are trying to grow their online revenue as quickly as possible. This isn’t simply about declining readership. Dan Gillmor put it very succinctly at the NMK Forum:

Advertising is being systematically separated from journalism because
there are companies that do advertising better than journalism
companies.

Peter Kirwan wrote in that article in the Press Gazette, “According to McKinsey, for example, US newspapers lost $1.9bn in classified ad revenues to the web between 1996 and 2004.” He also quotes Jeff Jarvis:

I think that you have to boil down to your assets. Put your resources behind what makes you special and more valuable.

I couldn’t agree with Jeff more, although Peter assumes that he is politely advocating mass redundancies. I don’t actually think that Jeff is simply advocating huge job cuts. (Disclosure: I used to work at Advance Internet when Jeff was president and creative director.) I think Jeff is right that the days of ‘big revenues and big costs’ are ending.

I think back to the US. Thousands of journalists attend the nominating conventions for the political parties, actually more journalists than delegates. At some point, newspapers and television stations will have to ask themselves what value is added to have their reporter or camera crew there. In the UK, the redundant coverage is justified because newspapers have more of an individual voice or point of view. But with morning and evening freesheets in London, is an individual voice and a point of view enough of a unique selling point? As budgets are squeezed, there will have to be rethink of what is essential for bespoke coverage and what is better done through aggregation and contextualising.

This is all about attention and one thing that gets my attention is relevance. I think this subtle statement from Steve Yelvington says it all:

Readership declines are very real, and they’re way ahead of circulation declines.

Personally, I’m so time-starved that I need boring information and
really don’t read newspapers for their scintillating writing. I just
need to digest a lot of facts quickly. I can skim RSS feeds and come
away quite quickly with the papers’ positions if I really want to. But
normally on my way to work, I just listen to the NPR hourly summary and
New York Times Front page podcasts (about 8 minutes for the both of
them) while skimming headlines on Avant Go from the Washington Post,
the BBC, the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian and CNet.Brand loyalty? You gotta be kidding. I search and sift and don’t look to one ‘brand’ for my news.

I go back and forth about having Sky News or News 24 on in the
mornings. The channels are OK for background noise to catch the odd thing I’m interested in, but if I could find a good
morning on demand audio or video news service, I’d switch the TV off in
a minute. It takes too long for me to find out anything that I’m
actually interested in.

However, I’m not going to extrapolate my information consumption to everyone because I’m a journalist, and part of my job is sifting through a lot of information. However, I’m not alone in being very busy and not having as much time as I once did for news and current affairs.

I think we as journalists have to be honest with ourselves. We need to stop demanding that we’re relevant and prove our relevance to our readers and viewers. We need to do more explaining to help give readers a sense of why world events are relevant to them and not just assume that they see the connections. It’s a bit cliche, but context is becoming king. Dan Gillmor also said at the NMK Forum that he thinks the media can play a role in helping people navigate all of this, in helping them become more media literate in this hyper-saturated media landscape.

Personally, I also see an opportunity in Dan’s news as conversation model.

  1. By allowing the people formerly known as the audience to ask questions of us and our sources, we become an indispensable source of news and information.
  2. We don’t have to assume that we’re staying relevant to our readers and viewers, if we share control with them, we know we are remaining relevant.
  3. We can tap the wisdom in the crowds to make our journalism better.

This is one possible future for journalism. It is the journalism of social media, and it is part of the future that I’m embracing.

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One Response to “What does your news organisation do that no one else does?”

  1. Peter Kirwan Says:

    Kevin

    Thanks for the mention… I only just caught up with it.

    On job losses among journalists . . . this is the elephant in the room that no-one wants to discuss.

    I understand why. Servers = power looms, and Luddite machine breaking really wouldn’t be good for anyone’s image.

    The revolution we’re living through is a wonderful, awesome, unstoppable thing — but there’s also a significant chance that job losses among the content classes are going to become a serious issue going forward.

    In sectors that have already made the transition from print to web, I’ve seen all of the arguments about duplicated coverage and aggregation play out.

    Experience tells me that this won’t be enough.

    Once you start to visualise national newsrooms staffed by 25%-50% fewer journalists a decade hence. . . maybe a few closures, too. . . perhaps then we’re getting closer to the future reality.

    I’m basing those numbers on the experience of media that have been through the digital mill during the past decade.

    (My other assumption is that online advertising won’t suddenly become very much more expensive in the long term.)

    I think there’s a real case for the industry to start making some informed forecasts about the economics of newsgathering in the future.

    The question is not so much what we’ll be doing as journalists and UGC people. (There’s plenty of prognostication about that.)

    But how will we be doing it — in financial terms? How much revenue shrinkage is inevitable, probable or possible?

    And what does the resulting cost base of a broadsheet or ITN look like as a result?

    Newsrooms of the future are springing up all over the place. (Wapping, Victoria. . .) I’m more interested in the P&L of the future, the business model of the future.

    Perhaps McKinsey — after all of those Big Media engagements — possesses an industry-wide forecast and scenarios, or has the data to generate same.

    But I doubt McKinsey would ever go public with that data.

    Maybe, therefore, this is a job for John Lloyd at the Reuters Institute in Oxford, possibly in conjunction with Said Business School. . .

    Peter