Ada Lovelace Day

About The Authors

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.

Email Suw

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

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

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Dark Blogs Case Study

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Friday, February 15th, 2013

Print and digital: Managing the crocodile and the mammal separately

Posted by Kevin Anderson

I used to be a big booster of print-digital editorial integration, but I’ve had a change of heart for a lot of reasons, reasons which I’ll outline more broadly at some point. When I first got into online journalism in the mid-90s, to be honest, I probably was suffering from a little of resource envy. The legacy business just had a lot more money, but it also made a lot more money. However, I’ve changed my mind. Simply put, I think that print and digital are two entirely sets of products, and they often have different audiences. 

I was just summarising a Pew report on successful revenue models for local newspapers for Knowledge Bridge, the site that I edit for the Media Development Loan Fund, and I found this eloquent and excellent metaphor for managing media disruption from former Harvard business professor Clark Gilbert who is now head of Deseret Management Corporation, owner of The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He said:

In Gilbert’s theory of media evolution, the Deseret News print product is the crocodile, a prehistoric creature that survives today, albeit as a smaller animal. He believes the News, which has already shrunk significantly, is not doomed to extinction if properly managed. Deseret Digital Media is the mammal, the new life form designed to dominate the future. Armed with graphics, charts and a whiteboard that looks like it belongs in an advanced physics class, Gilbert speaks with the zeal of the cultural transition evangelist he has become. He argues that the path ahead does not involve merging the crocodile and mammal cultures, but maintaining them separately.

That makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t’ guarantee success, but it’s a sensible starting point. The next step, he admits, is the challenging part, which is to execute that strategy, which involves a lot of wrenching cultural change. However, he’s already got some success to show for his strategy. Digital revenue has grown on average 44 percent annually since 2010, and it now makes up 25 percent of the groups revenue. For those on the crocodile side of the equation, while print revenue dropped 5 percent in 2012, at least circulation numbers are headed in the right direction. Circulation is up 33 percent for the daily newspaper, and it’s up a stunning 90 percent for Sundays, due in large part to a new national edition. 

It sounds like his excellent metaphor and smart strategy also is backed with some very good execution. 

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

2012 US Election: Irritating, expensive and precious

Posted by Kevin Anderson

This is the first US presidential election that I haven’t covered in the US since 1992, and while it hasn’t been my primarily focus this autumn, I’ve still followed the race very intently. Occasionally, I’ve even done a bit of analysis for The Guardian and also for a project for Mick Fealty of Slugger O’ Toole fame. However, after covering 2000 and 2004 for the BBC and then 2008 for The Guardian, this has definitely been watching the race from afar. 

Some things haven’t changed, or really have got much worse. The permanent campaign that began back in the Clinton era has gone form being a bit of a rhetorical flourish to something approaching an accurate description of reality. As election day 2012 has approached, I’ve already heard talk about Paul Ryan and Chris Christie positioning themselves for 2016. 

It’s all been fuelled by a flood of cash. Yes, it is expected that this will be a $6 bn election, breaking the previous record by $600 m. A big chunk of this money came from Super PACs (political action committees), organisations outside of the campaigns. They have received a majority of their money from less than 200 super-donors, and ProPublica shows just how few people and groups are involved in the bulk of the donations. The amount of money with absolutely no disclosure of the source has surged since 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It was estimated that of the independent political expenditure, almost half would be “dark money”

My friends in battleground states have pleaded just to make the whole thing stop. The politicos should be ashamed of themselves. They have made little girls cry, I say with tongue firmly planted in cheek. 

Flawed but precious

While I’m watching this election from abroad for the first time in my life, there is another lens that I’m watching this election through. On election day, when national and some battleground polls seem to indicate an achingly close race in the US, I know that this is something to celebrate. Rather than the mark of a flawed democracy, as an American, I look at this pitched battle with as much pride as concern about some of the flaws in the process. Why?

Last year, I worked with Tunisian journalists as they prepared to cover their elections. I was touched by their honesty when they said at the beginning of the training that they had never covered an election in which they didn’t know the outcome. Think about that for a moment. For decades, journalists there knew who would win. There was no horse race, as flawed as that type of coverage can be. The result was known even before a single vote was cast.

For my new job, I was in Russia in September. My colleague there says that there is a joke going around in Russia. “Those poor Americans. They don’t even know who their president will be,” Russians will say sarcastically. They knew Vladimir Putin would win. When I was there, I heard a story about an election monitor at one of the polls. An ambulance came up, and a medic said, “Come with us. You are having a medical emergency.” 

American democracy has its flaws. The US system is not perfect, but it is still small ‘d’ democratic. In the past year, I’ve worked with a lot of journalists having their first taste of freedom, and it reminded me of powerful and precious the right to vote is. Go out today and vote! 

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

News start-ups can’t survive on ads alone

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Reuters Institute fellow Rasmus Kleis Nielsen has a great post on the blogs at Reuters warning European journalism start-ups to avoid surviving on advertising alone. He backs up his warning with some stark examples of start-ups who have failed due to meagre revenue they were able to earn on ads:

Advertising-supported online news production did not work for Netzeitung in Germany (which in 2009 shut down its newsroom after nine years of consecutive losses), did not work for Rue89 in France (impressive and innovative as it was, the site never broke even and was bought by the weekly newsmagazine Le Nouvel Observateur in 2011), and is not working for Il Post (widely considered one of the most promising startups in Italy, the site generated revenues of just 35,000 euros in its first year of operation, resulting in an operating loss of more than 150,000 euros out of a total budget of little more than 200,000 euros). Why should we expect it to work for other startups when all these widely praised ventures, and many more besides, failed to pull it off?

Ouch. Nielsen makes the broader point that the journalism start-ups are simply mimicking US models, when the US market is massive both in terms of population and ad spend compared to European markets, but he also makes some excellent points about how a glut of digital content has pushed down ad rates and kept them low. Those low rates aren’t just hitting start-ups but even established players. 

A lot of journalists are trying their hand at start-ups as they leave or are pushed out of the stable of big media. When I left The Guardian two years ago, Suw and I thought about pursuing a journalism start-up. We decided not to do it for several reasons, with the major one being, our start-up dreams were over-taken by media consultancy work. However, we thought long and hard about the revenue streams that would fund our start-up. We knew that ads alone wouldn’t cut it. 

Nielsen suggest that journalism start-ups look to how other non-content start-ups are diversifying their money mix by adding “digital subscriptions, donations, consultancy services, live events, event planning and e-commerce”. Honestly, I think for certain types of content, you could even mix consulting and content, although I know from personal experience that gets sticky. Journalism quickly meets the requirements of client confidentiality.

Regardless, if you’re launching a journalism start-up, make sure your content dreams are leavened with some thoughts of business reality. If you don’t have business planning experience, get some. Freelancers have always had to learn about marketing and the business side of journalism. It might feel a little weird at first. Just remember, you’re not working for the Man. You’re fighting for your own survival. 

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

The Daily: Digital publishing at the speed of a slow-motion car crash

Posted by Kevin Anderson

The Observer has an entertainingly scathing report about The Daily, News Corp’s iPad “newspaper”. Murdoch-haters will probably enjoy the reference to the family patriarch as a “cuddly Emperor Palpatine”. For long-time Murdoch watchers, the key thing to watch for in reports of any digital project at News Corp is the attention and focus given it by Rupert Murdoch. Once he bores of a bauble, you can put the project on watch for the dead pool. (*See MySpace)

I read The Daily for a few days, when I could be bothered to wait for it to download. Initially it was slower than a download of photographs of an issue of Wired, known to some as an iPad magazine. More than its early clunkiness, even as an American, I found the content uninteresting, which surprised me. The Observer said that it’s aiming to be middle of the road populist. You can accuse Murdoch of a number of things (queue begins to the left these days), but one thing you can’t accuse him of is boring content. The Daily is boring.

The Daily also lives up to its name. It’s a daily newspaper with some tablet navigation, and The Observer explains why it seems so slow and clunky.

But the sleekness of The Daily’s presentation belies a “devilish” production routine for those inside, according to one source. Attempts to perfect the content management system were abandoned in order to launch closer to the announced date. After copy is filed, coders work a night shift to build the pages, each of which must be laid out both vertically and horizontally. Those familiar with the operations report long, frustrating nights.

Ouch. On one level, I’m willing to cut them some slack. The iPad is a new platform, and the tools are still emerging. However, when you’re creating a new product, it hardly seems wise to make life so difficult. I wonder what requirements were made editorially in an attempt to justify such a painful production process. This is often the source of a lot of bad production, editorial requirements that actually ‘cost’ more than they are worth.

Digital can and should work at the speed of news. Just look at the rise of live blogging. Tablets and e-readers can take digital backwards. If they slow down the production of news, it’s an unnecessary speed bump that can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be justified with their small use compared to the web (at least until the revenue picture improves). Fortunately, we’re getting through the teething process with tablets. HTML5 is maturing much faster than anyone expected, and soon, we’ll get past these very first generation efforts. It will be interesting to see if The Daily survives to see that day.

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

The press, the internet and the 2010 British election

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Last night, I went to a panel discussion at the Frontline Club here in London looking at the role that the internet and social media might play in the upcoming general election. I wrote a summary of the discussion on the Guardian politics blog. As I said there, the discussion was Twitter heavy, but as Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes of said, Twitter is sexy right now.

The panel was good. Staines made some excellent points including how the Conservatives were focused on Facebook rather than Twitter for campaigning. Facebook has more reach and was “less inside the politics and media bubble“, Staines said.

Alberto Nardelli of British political Twitter tracker, Tweetminster, said that the election would be decided by candidates and campaigns not things like Twitter. No one on the panel thought the internet or the parties’ social networking strategies would decide the British election. Alberto said that Twitter’s impact would be more indirect. People are sharing news stories using Twitter, which is causing stories to “trickle up” the news agenda.

Chris Condron, head of digital strategy at the Press Association, made an excellent point that so many discussions of social media focus on its impact on journalism and not its impact on people. Facebook and Twitter allow people to organise around issues, which is another form of civic participation. As I said on my blog post at the Guardian, I would have liked for the panel to explore where this organisation around issues might have an impact in marginal constituencies.

Like so many of these discussions, I thought the questions were binary and missed opportunities to explore the nuance of several issues. The moderator, Sky News political correspondent Niall Paterson implied in his questions that if social media didn’t decide the election that it had no relevance. It was an all or nothing argument that I’ve heard before. Change is rarely that absolute. In the US, the role of the internet has been developing in politics for the past decade. Few people remember that John McCain was the first candidate to raise $1m online, not in 2008 but in 2000.

Paterson portrays himself as a social media sceptic, and I can appreciate that. I can appreciate taking a contrarian position for the sake of debate. However, some of his points last night came off as being ill-informed. The panel was good in correcting him, but he often strayed from moderating the discussion to filibustering.

His portrayal of the Obama campaign was simplistic. Alberto said at the Frontline Club that Obama had a campaign of top down and bottom up, grass-roots campaigning, and as British political analyst Anthony Painter pointed out, Obama’s campaign was a highly integrated mix of traditional campaigning, internet campaigning and mobile. (Little coverage focused on Obama’s innovative mobile phone efforts. Most people don’t see the US as a particularly innovative place in terms of mobile, but it was one of the more sophisticated uses of mobile phones in political campaigning I’m aware of.) I love how Anthony puts it, Obama’s operation was “an insurgent campaign that was utterly professional”.

Paterson also implied that Twitter would tie journalists to desks. The only thing tying journalists to desks are outdated working methods. I’ve been using mobile data for more than a decade to stay in the field close to stories. During the 2008 election in the US, my Nokia multimedia phone was my main newsgathering tool. It allowed me to aggregate the best stories via Twitter and use Twitpic to upload pictures from my 4000 mile roadtrip and from the celebrations outside the White House on election night. As I said on Twitter during the discussion:

moderator makes assumption that social media chains journalists to desk. Ever use a mobile phone? It’s mobile!

Sigh. Sometimes I feel like a broken record. Technology should be liberating for journalists, and more journalists should be exploring the opportunities provided by mobile phones and services like Twitpic, Qik, Bambuser and AudioBoo.

You can watch the entire discussion from the Frontline Club here, and here is Anthony Painter’s excellent presentation on the state of internet campaigning in the US and the UK:

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Killing straw men

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Paul Carr has written a post for TechCrunch about citizen journalism and social media entitled After Fort Hood, another example of how ‘citizen journalists’ can’t handle the truth. Normally I ignore TechCrunch alone, but so many people I know were impressed with the post that I had to read it. Sadly, it’s riven with poor logic, straw men and factual inaccuracies.

Paul starts with a straw man:

…after two weeks of me suggesting that social media might not be an unequivocally Good Thing in terms of privacy and human decency, the news has delivered the perfect example to support my view.

The discussion about the impact of social media on people’s privacy, behaviour and ethics has been going on for years, and there have been many, many examples of people using social tools in ways that can only be described as foolish.

This is not, however, a reflection on social tools so much as it is a reflection of human nature: Some of what gets done with social media is good and some is bad. This is not news, nor new.

We do need some proper studies to see just what sort of effect these new social technologies are having, but going off on a moral panic about social tools is neither smart nor helpful.

Carr goes on to say:

And yet, the first news and analysis out of the base didn’t come from the experts. Nor did it come from the 24-hour news media, or even from dedicated military blogs – but rather from the Twitter account of one Tearah Moore, a soldier from Linden, Michigan who is based at Fort Hood, having recently returned from Iraq.

[...] In reality Ms Moore’s was tweeting minute-by-minute reports from inside the hospital where the wounded were being taken for treatment.

It’s no real surprise that people who use Twitter might use it during such an event. And most people who use Tweet have a relatively small community. Moore now has her Twitter stream set to private, but even now she has only 29 followers, so she most likely thought that she was speaking to a small number of people and it turns out that’s pretty much true: If you search for her Twitter ID, you can see that she was retweeted a little bit, but not massively. I know Twitter search isn’t the most reliable, but there are only 8 pages of search results for her ID, starting 8 days ago. That hardly speaks to a huge retweeting.

Furthermore, whilst Twitter lists were used by the media to collect Tweets related to Fort Hood, Moore is on six such lists, which between them have a grand total of 67 followers.

Carr goes on:

That last twitpic link was particularly amazing: it showed a cameraphone image – of a wounded soldier arriving at the hospital on a gurney – taken by Moore from inside the hospital. Unsurprisingly, Moore’s – [sic] coverage was quickly picked up by bloggers and mainstream media outlets alike, something that she actively encouraged by tweeting to friends that they should pass her phone number to the press so she could tell them the truth, rather than the speculative bullshit that was hitting the wires.

Carr claims that the bloggers and mainstream media outlets picked up on her tweets, but I just can’t substantiate that. I have searched Google News and the only mentions of “Tearah Moore” are people reposting or quoting Paul Carr’s article. Searching for “MissTearah” brings up two articles, neither from a mainstream news outlet. One is from a German blog, the other from The Business Insider, which runs her photo.

Further digging does reveal that the Houston Chronicle in Texas ran her photo (no. 52) with the caption “MissTearah submitted this photo to Twitter purporting to be from the emergency room in Killee.” Australia’s Herald Sun does the same but uses the caption “This Twitter image from user misstearah, claims to be from inside a hospital near the shooting.”

Technorati and Icerocket show the same pattern amongst bloggers: A few people are talking about Carr’s post, not Moore’s original Tweets.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, Carr responded:

@Suw I linked the Independent in the post Here’s NYT and AP trying to ctct:

The Independent post that Carr links to is actually a post by Jack Riley, a tech writer, that he’s written on his own Independent Minds Livejournal. Independent Minds is the Indie’s user generated content platform, it’s not a part of the Indie’s journalistic output. The other two are links to Tweets by the New York Times and the Associated Press trying to get in touch with Moore, which is what you would expect from journalists who think they may have an eye witness to talk to.

Let’s just look at Tweets from the MSM to Moore (oldest to newest):

@robertwood: @MissTearah give me a call if you can. I’m a reporter and wanted to do an interview. 512.474.5264

@DavidSchechter: @MissTearah Please call WFAA TV in Dallas 214-907-5964

@vietqle: @MissTearah I’m with National Public Radio in DC. We’d like 2 talk w/ people at Ft. Hd. Can you contact me? or 202.513.3999. Tx.

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please call me at 2022157069 or email

@waldon_m: @MissTearah i am a reporter with The Associated Press. Please contact ASAP

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please contact the AP 202 641 9807

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please contact The Associated Press if you can 202 641 9807- thank you.

@BBC_HaveYourSay: @MissTearah Hello, it’s James at BBC News in London. I saw your picture from Fort Hood. It would be great to talk to you today. Are u free?

@BBC_HaveYourSay: @MissTearah Thanks for letting us know. We thought the email was suspicious. I’m glad we did not publish your pic. I’m sorry to trouble you.

@xocasgv: @misstearah - Hi, this is Xaquin G.V., Graphics Editor at The New York Times, read you witnessed the event. Any cha [sic]

So, six journalists get in touch, with Michael Waldon not appearing to have much luck in getting hold of Moore at all. The brief exchange with @BBC_HaveYourSay is also interesting - make of it what you will. As Moore’s account is private now, there’s no way to see what her response was and thus tricky to interpret that tweet.

But other than the three posts mentioned above that use Moore’s photo, I couldn’t find any other mainstream media news outlet that quotes from or mentions Moore by name, nor do any bloggers that Technorati or Icerocket can find. Equally, the number of retweets are negligible.

Carr’s assertion that her tweets were “quickly picked up by bloggers and mainstream media outlets alike” just isn’t supported by the facts.

Now there is a discussion that could be had about the content of Moore’s Tweets. She did not have access to completely accurate information but from reading through some of the reTweets and the few Tweets that Riley archived, Moore seemed to feel that the information she was getting was coming from relatively reliable sources. She was also Tweeting what she was witnessing, which is information there’s no reason to doubt.

In the middle of a shooting, in a lock-down situation, is it really any wonder that your average eye witness actually isn’t all that well informed about the bigger picture? People caught up in events can tell us what they see and what they hear, but they can’t necessarily fact check right there and then and I feel it’s rather unfair to expect them to.

Carr also talks about a picture Moore took - a blurry image of someone on a gurney further down the corridor:

Rather than offering to help the wounded, or getting the hell out of the way of those trying to do their jobs, Moore actually pointed a cell-phone at a wounded soldier, uploaded it to twitpic and added a caption saying that the victim “got shot in the balls”.

In the caption to her Twitpic, Moore says that she was at the hospital for an appointment. She doesn’t appear to be a member of medical staff, so would have no role to play in that situation. Whether it is reportage or poor taste to take and upload such a picture — given that there is no way to identify anyone in the picture and you can barely see the wounded soldier — is a matter for debate.

(Carr mentions HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects patient confidentiality in the US. I’m not clear how HIPAA privacy provisions would apply in this case and would need an expert to advise.)

But to insinuate that it’s pure selfishness and that Moore should have been ‘doing something’ is misrepresenting Moore’s situation.

Carr himself, though, did appear to have a problem with Moore’s conduct, if his tweets are anything to go by:

@paulcarr: By the way, doesn’t @misstearah have a fucking job to do while all these people are dying? Just wondering.

@paulcarr: Looks like @misstearah’s twitter account has been taken down. Only took the army an hour to respond to that particular threat.

@paulcarr: Also, Twitpics from inside the hospital? From a cellphone? Really? Precisely how many moral and legal rules does that break?

Carr then goes on to talk about the Iranian elections:

For all of our talk about “the world watching”, what good did social media actually do for the people of Iran? Did the footage out of the country actually change the outcome of the elections? No. Despite a slew of YouTube videos and a couple of thousand foreign Twitter users turning their avatar green and pretending to be in Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still in power. It’s astonishing, really.

What is astonishing is Carr’s arrogance. Whilst the election wasn’t swayed, it is wrong to think that the social media action around the elections achieved nothing. I’d like to hear from Iranians on this, but I would imagine that just knowing the world was listening, that people out there cared, that normal Iranians could be heard outside of their own country would be an empowering experience. We might not know for some years what the full effect was, but to write it all off because the election wasn’t swayed is just shortsightedness.

Carr goes on:

And so it was at Fort Hood. For all the sound and fury, citizen journalism once again did nothing but spread misinformation at a time when thousands people with family at the base would have been freaking out already, and breach the privacy of those who had been killed or wounded. We learned not a single new fact, nor was a single life saved.

Another straw man. Eye witness reports have never been focused on saving lives, but on reporting what someone’s experiences. And as for misinformation and breaching privacy, the mainstream media is just as good at spreading that as anyone else, if not better.

A further straw man is Carr’s complaint that social media is making “our humanity [...] leak[...] away”. It’s a meaningless statement, on a par with the anti-electricity rhetoric from the late 19th Century. Ethics are not tool-specific, they don’t change from technology to technology. If that were so, all the positive, constrictive, humanity-affirming actions that are taken through social media would simply not be possible.

Finally, Carr mentions the video of Neda Agha Soltan’s final moments:

Even if you’ve seen the footage before, you should watch it again. But this time bear in mind the following: the cameraman was not a professional reporter, but rather an ordinary person, just like the victim. And what did he do when he saw a young girl bleeding to death? Did he run for help, or try to assist in stemming the bleeding? No he didn’t.

Instead he pointed his camera at her and recorded her suffering, moving in closer to her face for her agonising final seconds. For all of our talk of citizen journalism, and getting the truth out, the last thing that terrified girl saw before she closed her eyes for the final time was some guy pointing a cameraphone at her. “Look at me, looking at her, looking back at me.”

This is totally disingenuous. Neda was on her way to a protest in Tehran and was shot in the heart when she got out of the car to get some air (the car’s air conditioning wasn’t working well). Several people attended to Neda, including Dr Arash Hejazi, who said this about the incident:

A young woman who was standing aside with her father [sic, later identified as her music teacher] watching the protests was shot by a Basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest, and she died in less than two minutes.

Carr’s assertion that the people who videoed Neda’s death should have been doing something is absurd. Others were already doing what they could and it doesn’t sound like there was anything more that could be done.

However harrowing it is to watch a young woman die, there are times when such scenes have to be captured and relayed to the world, to illustrate the appalling conditions and repression that people are suffering. Had she died unrecorded, it’s likely that no one outside of Iran, possibly outside of her immediate community, would have heard of her murder. Instead, she became seen as a symbol of the Iranian protests, even as a martyr.

I was at a panel discussion about social media in repressive regimes a while back with Kevin, and an Egyptian blogger told of how even his friends and family did not want to believe that the police were abusing prisoners until a video of such abuse ended up on YouTube. We might not like it, but unfortunately it can be an important not just in rallying protestors but also as documentary evidence to persuade others.

There is even now a graduate scholarship at the University of Oxford named after Neda so there is hope that, both in Iran and outside, her death was not meaningless.

The key thing that Carr forgets is that what is unacceptable in our relatively safe societies may be necessary in oppressive regimes. Tools we use for play here can be used for survival elsewhere.

More fundamental questions, about whether or not it is right for journalists to stand back and record events instead of intervening to try to save people’s lives is a discussion that has been ongoing for decades. I don’t think that it’s one that’s going to be solved any time soon, either, as there are compelling arguments for and against.

What we should do as individuals, though, when we are confronted by such events is a question worth examining, by each of us and in the frame of our own capabilities. I think most people would try to help and wouldn’t even think about taking photos or video; others would try to help and then think about recording events when the helping is done; and yet others simply won’t be able to help and will only be able to record. Should we criticise and demonise those who record the events around them in a way we don’t approve? Or is it a question for individuals to decide for themselves?

Paul Carr’s main point appears to be that citizen journalists can’t get stuff right, so they should shut up, and those that record events instead of helping to save lives should be ripped a new one. Yet his main assertions are unsupported by the facts, his interpretation riddled with holes and his straw men pathetically easy to demolish.

There are interesting debates to be had about technology, social media, citizen journalism and eye witness accounts, but sadly Carr’s post touches on none of them in any meaningful way. I am befuddled as to why people on Twitter are seizing on it as breaking new ground, as it simply doesn’t.

(To keep the discussion all in one place, please comment over here!)

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Researchers determine mainstream online journalism still mainstream

Posted by Kevin Anderson

In a shocking (possibly only to the researchers) conclusion, a study of major media online journalism newsrooms in the UK has discovered that they follow a relatively narrow mainstream agenda. I think that is a fair summary of an interview on Radio 4 with Dr Natalie Fenton from Goldsmith University Media Research Centre in London speaking about her book New Media, Old News: Journalism and Democracy in the Digital Age. From the synopsis on Radio 4, “Dr Natalie Fenton from Goldsmith’s University in London, … argues that instead of democratising information, the internet has narrowed our horizons.”

I haven’t read the book, seeing as the release date on Amazon is tomorrow. I am sure that book covers the themes in greater depth in what can be covered in a couple of minutes on radio, but I found the interview infuriating.

Dr Fenton and her researchers looked at three online newsrooms, two of which I’ve worked in: the BBC News Website, the Guardian and the Manchester Evening News. I might have to pick up a copy and see if her researchers’ interviews with me are reflected in the book.

First, I would say the book was out of date a year ago based on changes here at the Guardian. We were just beginning our print-online integration. We are still going through the process, as are many newsrooms, but one thing we have done is combined web and print production as much as possible to not only reduce duplication of effort and work around re-purposing print content. This frees up journalists to do journalism and not just ‘copy and pasting’ as Dr Fenton puts it in her interview.

Secondly, I think her conclusions, as expressed in the interview, are undermined by a selection bias. As Charlie Beckett at Polis at LSE says in a blog post from a year ago when they unveiled their draft conclusions, there are problems with the methodology of the study and some of the assumptions underpinning the research. Dr Fenton comes to conclusions about online journalism based on research from three newsrooms connected to traditional news organisations. Is it really all that surprising that she finds their agendas in line with mainstream media organisations? The news environment is much more complex outside of most newsrooms these days than inside, which is one of the problems with the news industry. By condemning online journalism at traditional organisations as focusing on a narrow agenda as Dr Fenton does in the interview, isn’t this more accurately an indictment of the narrow agenda of the mainstream media seeing as the websites track closely the agenda of the legacy media be it broadcast or print?

Thirdly, online news operations connected to traditional news organisations have never had a major stand-alone newsgathering facility. The BBC News website once did have some original newsgathering capacity. I was their reporter in Washington. However, most of the newsgathering capacity rested with television and radio journalists whose work was re-purposed for the website. The situation is more complex at the Guardian now. We produce more web-only content during the week than we do print-only content.

Fourthly, Dr Fenton says that online staff are desk bound, and online newsrooms rely on “less journalists with less time to do proper investigative journalism”. Can we have some perspective on investigative journalism please? Really. Fighting to perserve investigative journalism and investigative journalism only is like trying to save the auto industry by fighting in the name of Porsche. Investigative journalism has always been the pinnacle of our craft, not its totality. It’s important, but investigative journalism was a fraction of pre-digital journalistic output. Again, if Dr Fenton has an issue with lack of investigations, then it’s an issue to take up with the organisation as a whole, not the online newsroom. Having said that, I’ll stand by the Guardian’s investigative output online and off: MPs expenses crowdsouring, Datablog, Trafigura, just to name a few Guardian investigations and innovations here in 2009.

Lastly, I think the narrow frame completely ignores the work of digital pioneers who are constantly pushing the boundaries of journalism. I think of the Guardian’s Matthew Weaver and his live digital coverage of the G20 protests this spring and his recent project to track post during the strike using GPS transmitters. I think of the Guardian’s Simon Jeffery with his recent People’s History of the Internet and the Faces of the Dead and Detained in Iran project as other examples of excellent digital journalism, journalism only possible online. I think of the work that my good friend Chris Vallance has done with BBC 5Live’s Pods and Blogs and iPM on Radio 4. I think of the many projects that I’ve been proud to work on at the BBC and the Guardian. Chris and I brought the voices of those fleeing Hurricane Katrina to the radio and also US soldiers fighting the war in Iraq radio audiences through creative use of the internet. I consider myself primarily an online journalist, but I’ve been working across multiple media for more than 10 years now. I covered the Microsoft anti-trust trial for the BBC News website, BBC radio and television. I’ve done webcasts from the 29th story of a building overlooking Ground Zero three months after the 11 September 2001 attacks. I tweeted from the celebrations of Barack Obama’s victory outside the White House after a 4000 social media-driven month of coverage of the historic 2008 US presidential election. Online journalism isn’t perfect, and it reflects imperfections in traditional journalism. However, in the hands of a good journalist, digital journalism offers up radical new opportunities to tell stories and bring them to new audiences.

My experiences and my career aren’t representative of the industry. I have been doing original journalism online for more than a decade. That is rare, and I’ll be the first to admit it. I lost a lot of colleagues in the crash when newspapers and broadcasters slashed online budgets. After an interview with the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings in 2002 on the one year anniversary of 11 September attacks, he took us on a tour of their much slimmed online newsroom. He spoke with pride about the work of the online staff, but he said, “The Mouse (Disney, ABC’s parent company)” didn’t see it that way and continued to make deep cuts.

In 2009, the picture is much different. Print and broadcast journalists are doing more original work online. We have more online-focused journalists than even when Dr Fenton was doing her research. Journalists cast off by ailing journalism institutions are re-launching their careers on the web.

I chose the internet to be my primarily journalistic platform in 1996. I chose it because I saw unique opportunities for journalism. When I did, it was a lonely choice. I faced a lot of prejudice from print journalists who based their views on lack of knowledge and fear. A passion for the medium kept me going despite some of that prejudice. Everyday I get up and help push a unique medium just a further journalistically. (To their credit, my colleagues at the BBC in radio and television told me almost on a daily basis with respect and admiration how I was the future of journalism.)

These prejudices against online journalism are parroted by Dr Fenton in her interview, which I guess is one of the reasons that it made my blood boil. I hope the book paints the reality in a bit more complexity than was possible in a few minutes on air. I hope that she includes some broader examples of how online journalists do original journalism that can’t be done in any other media. However, if the interview on Radio 4 is representative of the book, it’s a reality I don’t recognise. Bad journalism begins with a thesis which never adapts to new information. It’s the same with bad research.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Readers must perceive ‘real value’ to pay

Posted by Kevin Anderson

PHD Media, a division of media and ad giant Omnicom Group, has released a new study that feeds into the paid content debate, reports CNBC. Julia Boorstin of CNBC highlights a few ’surprising factoids’.

  • The bottom line: consumers are reading more print content online, but the only way they’ll pay for it, is if they perceive a real value and when comparable free content isn’t readily available.
  • Another surprising factoid: consumers don’t care about the brand, they care about the content. (Except when it comes to sports)

Frankly, I don’t find the last one that surprising, especially when you factor in the study found that 44% of respondents in the study accessed a publication website through a search engine. Search is a fundamental shift in information consumption. People don’t browse for information but use search to seek it out and also rely on recommendations from friends.

As I’ve often said publicly, my reading habits are voracious and promiscuous. My reading habits tend to be subject led, not publication led. I seek out information. I am a little cautious of extrapolating my behaviour more broadly because I’m a journalist. I am paid to read, research, report and write. I’m also very digitally focused. I get most of my information via the internet or my mobile phone. However, recent studies such as this one show that I’m not unique in my habits.

This study reinforces my view that news organisations need to focus on developing services and products that deliver value to readers and not simply focus on building infrastructure to charge for existing content. Another take away from this study is that “just small a fraction of the 2,400 adults polled, read both the print and online versions of the same publication”. That leads me to believe that the products that we develop must serve the needs of digital audiences, and we should be careful about trying to focus digital development on services to appeal to print audiences.

The debate rolls on

The Great Paid Content Debate of 2009 rumbles on. On Tuesday at the Paley Centre, Stephen Brill on paid content services provider Journalism Online LLC said on Tuesday that people had been paying for print content for decades and that they just needed to get back into the habit online.

However, I tend to agree with Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of US public radio broadcaster NPR, when she commented at the event:

To think that we are so smart that we can retrain the audience, that’s an awfully elitist, condescending, and frankly old perspective.

Trying to bully consumers into behaving a certain way, especially in a way that is contrary to their current habits, doesn’t have a track record of success.

To be fair to Brill, he is not advocating putting all content behind paywalls and is working with news organisations to determine what content will become paid. However, I reject his basic premise, which he has stated over and over, that this is a matter of getting users accustomed to paying for content online. I do agree that to continue to support journalism, news organisations are going to have to develop new sources of revenue, digital and otherwise.

On that point, I’ll just re-iterate something that I’ve said before. In the Great Paid Content of 2009, some journalists and news executives have been playing fast and loose with facts (gasp, shock, that never happens), and one thing that I’m hearing with too much regularity is that newspapers can’t make money online, that digital is just some money pit that will never support quality journalism. I’ve heard this before in the late 1990s. To which I would say, just because your news organisation isn’t making money online, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make money on the internet.

Suw and I were in Norway recently, where media conglomerate Schibsted has an online classifieds joint venture with several local newspapers. In a prescient move, Schibsted launched the site,, in 2000. It has grown into Norway’s largest classified site, and it’s a money spinner for Schibsted. The newspapers that will survive will realise that they are in the news not the newspaper business.

Progressive, forward-thinking news organisations made the shift from print to a diversified, multi-platform business before the Great Recession, and there are examples of  information products and services that news organisations could sell to help support journalism. Sadly, most news organisations didn’t make this transition. From the Financial Times:

Alarmingly, the industry has also so far “failed to make the digital transition”, according to a report last month from Outsell, a publishing research firm, which found that news organisations’ digital revenues were just 11 per cent of their total revenues, compared with 69 per cent for the broader information industry, which includes legal and financial data providers such as Reed Elsevier and Bloomberg. 

When we were in Norway, one of the comments that really struck me was a comment from a member of the Norwegian Online News Association who said that there had been plenty of editorial innovation in the last decade but not enough commercial innovation. To support the social mission of journalism, journalists will need to overcome their professional distate for the business side of the operation and lend their creativity to developing products and services that readers value. It’s not only possible but essential that we do this.

Friday, October 9th, 2009

AP’s Curley v Curley and News Corp’s Rupert v Rupert

Posted by Kevin Anderson

The newspaper industry has woken from its slumber, and they have realised the enemy is not the internet. The enemy is actually you and me, those of us who use the internet. According to the CEO of the Associated Press Tom Curley, “third parties are exploiting AP content without input and permission”, and:

Crowd-sourcing Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook have become preferred customer destinations for breaking news, displacing Web sites of traditional news publishers.

I’m linking to this on one of these third parties sites, Google News, which has a commercial hosting agreement with the AP. Those bloody paying parasites!

Curley was speaking at the World Media Summit in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Does Curley know who added those links to Wikipedia, shared those stories on Facebook or uploaded those videos to YouTube? Internet users, you, me and millions of others around the world. For Mr Curley, the internet is a “den of thieves“, says Jeff Jarvis.

Jeff offers his argument against this view of the world. However, I’d like to stage another bit of a debate, one possible through the virtual time travel of the internet. Let’s get ready to rumble! In this corner, we have the Curley of 2009, who argues:

We content creators must quickly and decisively act to take back control of our content.

With that jab, a slightly younger, slightly more optimistic Curley of 2004 lands a right hook: “The future of news is online, and traditional media outlets must learn to tailor their products for consumers who demand instant, personalized information.” The Curley of 2004 instead sees this future from his own past:

the content comes to you; you don’t have to come to the content so, get ready for everything to be ‘Googled,’ ‘deep-linked’ or ‘Tivo-ized’.

Ouch Tom 2009, that looks like it hurts. Next up in our virtual cage match is a spry 78-year-old, Rupert Murdoch! Let’s start with the Rupert of 2009:

The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph.

Fighting back is the fighting fit Rupert “The Digital Immigrant” Murdoch of 2005:

Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint’s obituary. Yet, as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly, I didn’t do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the late 1990’s. I suspect many of you in this room did the same, quietly hoping that this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along.

It’s a shame to see this come to blows. These guys should really talk to each other. With Rupert 2009 on the ropes, Rupert 2005 delivers this shot:

What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.

Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them.

They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.

Ouch. Can’t you guys make up your mind? Has the Great Recession changed consumer internet behaviour and media consumption trends? Or did the industry’s complacency finally catch up with it?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Follow The Digital Immigrant’s lead at your peril

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Roy Greenslade (who also blogs at the Guardian, where I work) pierces Rupert Murdoch’s air of invincibility.

Now, amid the recession, Murdoch is facing up to an uncomfortable reality. His company lost £2.13 billion last year, doing much worse than analysts had predicted. Most of those losses were directly attributable to his company’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal and its clumsy move into digital media.

In my view, Murdoch is a 20th Century figure. He understands the mass media models of the 20th Century, but he never seems to have grasped the internet. In fact, Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair says that Murdoch has declared on the internet.

Murdoch can almost single-handedly take apart and re-assemble a complex printing press, but his digital-technology acumen and interest is practically zero. Murdoch’s abiding love of newspapers has turned into a personal antipathy to the Internet: for him it’s a place for porn, thievery, and hackers.

I’ve never seen him make a smart internet move. (Ok, I’ll cede that Hulu is smart and getting smarter.) He was late to the party in the 1990s, and by the time he took the dive it was on the eve of the crash and he dove headfirst into the dead pool. He pulled back with a vengeance, slashing and burning his digital divisions as he went. Rather than using his significant revenues to build for the future, he retreated into the past. After Google’s rise, The Digital Immigrant took another dive with the purchase of MySpace, but the social network was almost old news the moment he bought it. Now, he’s being portrayed as a paid content pioneer by terrified lemmings in the industry. They say: “Rupert has always been right in the past. He must be right now.”

Blindly follow Murdoch’s lead in digital at your peril. He’s a 20th Century visionary who has yet to display any vision in the 21st.