Archive for the ‘Cardiff’ tag

Waving and drowning – the news from Wales

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There has been rather a lot of heat, and some light, about Welsh media this week. Good. It needs it.

Dr Andy Williams lit the touch paper with an article on Open Democracy about the decline of Trinity Mirror in Wales. Williams cited the drop in circulation of Wales’ Western Mail from 94,000 in 1979 to below 30,000 in 2010. Wales’ other ‘national’ daily, the Daily Post has also fallen, from 41,000 in 2004 to below 34,000 now. Though structural problems such as the internet are partly to blame, Williams said, the declines are also the result of ‘sustained mismanagement’ by Trinity Mirror.

Alan Edmunds, editor of the Western Mail, attacked Williams in response, saying the Cardiff academic’s research was ‘full of ill-informed statements, old chestnuts, tired cliches and 1970s rhetoric’. It should be noted that Edmunds did not cite any errors in Williams’ research, despite the uncompromising language. Williams has since strongly defended his article and research.

But the spat between a Cardiff academic and a Welsh newspaper editor needs to be seen in the wider context of Welsh news media. This wider context is bleak. Very bleak. Yet it normally excites almost no debate within our London –centric media.

Very few people in Wales now read a newspaper with news about Wales. The Institute for Welsh Affairs found that 1,760,000 people in Wales (nearly 90 per cent of the population) are reading papers with virtually no Welsh content. ‘No London newspaper publishes a Welsh edition’ (IWA). The combined daily circulations of the Western Mail and Daily Post are less than 65,000 copies, equivalent to one copy sold to every 27 people in Wales.

The situation in commercial broadcasting is no better. ITV, which used to produce 624 hours of programmes per year for Wales now produces 286, 208 hours of which are news (from IWA). ITV has said it intends to withdraw altogether from regional news production. Since the proposed Independently Funded News Consortia have been scrapped by the coalition government it is far from clear what, if anything, will replace ITV Wales.

Therefore Wales is precariously reliant on the BBC for much of its news. Precariously because it is not even clear that Wales is a priority for the BBC. The current BBC Strategy Review hardly mentions Wales (a little embarrassing after Anthony King’s 2008 criticisms). Moreover, even the mighty BBC cannot be relied upon to gather and publish all the news in Wales.

There are parts of Wales that could now be considered news black holes. Take Neath Port Talbot in South Wales. It has a population of 137,400 people and a decent sized council, and yet there are now no professional news organizations based out of Neath Port Talbot or focused on the area. The Port Talbot Guardian and the Neath Guardian, both Trinity Mirror newspapers, closed down in 2009. The South Wales Evening Post, based in Swansea (owned by Northcliffe), adjusts its daily edition slightly for the Neath Port Talbot area (though most of the paper remains non-local news). There is also a weekly insert, the Neath Port Talbot Courier. The South Wales Evening Post had a total circulation, in early 2009, of 46,000. There is a free monthly paper, the Neath & Port Talbot Tribune (Tindle). The Western Mail, regarded as the national newspaper of Wales, is printed out of Cardiff (owned by Trinity Mirror). It carries occasional news from Neath Port Talbot.

The BBC dominates in television and radio news. There are some commercial radio stations in the area, including Swansea Sound and the Wave (out of Swansea) and AfanFM. These are a mixture of music and talk, though there is very limited original local news gathering (Swansea Sound and the Wave take Sky News content).

There is some evidence of nascent grassroots journalism initiatives. Local News South Wales (LNSW) has been trying to set up a workers’ co-operative for journalists, photographers and other media operatives, although this is – according to newmodeljournalism.com – ‘struggling to get off the ground’.

There is also evidence that what most people would consider public interest news is not being reported. For example, a biomass plant is currently being built in Port Talbot. The plant is of particular interest for three reasons: it will be the biggest such plant in the world; it is an environmental experiment that could have significant impact on future energy policy; and it has evoked considerable local anger and protest.

Yet there has been almost no coverage of the plant in the news. Search for ‘Biomass Plant Port Talbot’ on Google and you find fewer than 10 stories since the plant was given the go ahead in 2007 – including just two on BBC news online and 3 short pieces on Reuters, This is South Wales, and Wales Online.

Of course if it is not reported it is not news, and if it’s not news then attracts no attention, and so news provision contracts further. So a bit of heat, as well as some light, is more than a little needed in Wales right now.

Written by Martin Moore

July 22nd, 2010 at 2:45 pm

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Transparency in journalism – a new meme?

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There’s momentum gathering around the importance of transparency to the future of journalism.
I’m no expert on how ideas move from the margins to the mainstream. Or indeed how or when an idea becomes a ‘meme’ and starts to take on a life of its own. But I get a strong sense that transparency is gaining traction in journalism; that it is changing from a theoretical construct to a practical requirement.
Three academics, one from New Cross, one from Dortmund, and one from Karlstad, each gave fascinating and compelling presentations about the growing importance of transparency in news at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff last week.
‘[E]stablishing new standards of transparency could help protect professional reporting in the new, networked era’ Angela Phillips, from Goldsmiths (New Cross), argued in ‘Transparency and the new ethics of journalism’. Klaus Meier (University of Dortmund) put it even more strongly, suggesting that ‘at the centre of the reasons for the demand for transparent journalism is the concern for the survival of journalism, because journalism is under threat from a crisis of credibility and a changed role in the digital age’. And Michael Karlsson from Karlstad, Sweden cited specific examples of news organizations that had experimented with aspects of transparency.
I’m biased of course, since we (the Media Standards Trust) have been leading a non-profit ‘Transparency Initiative’ in news for about 18 months, joint funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation, which took a big step forward in July when we launched ‘Value Added News’ and the Associated Press announced they would be integrating hNews – the Value Added News data format – into their articles from November.
But there is a compelling intellectual case for transparency, as these academics emphasised:
It enables differentiation – in the digital world, where information is infinitely and infinitely replicable, being transparent about provenance and sourcing helps distinguish journalism from other content on the web
It puts a premium on original reporting – if you know when a piece was first published and by who, then it’s a lot easier to see who got their first – even if the story is replicated ad infinitum. ‘If every time an original story is produced it is properly credited and points traffic back to the source, then it will also, albeit at the margins, help to stimulate greater differentiation of content’ (Phillips)
It incentivizes journalists to behave differently – ‘‘If the news pool is to be retained (even in its current much reduced form) then news organisations need to have some incentive to interrogate and investigate at every level of society (not just when there is a big story to cover) and journalists need to feel some kind of investment in standards which set them apart from casual users of the internet’ (Phillips).
It demystifies journalistic practice and clarifies journalistic values (from Meier) – by making clear, as much as possible, where a journalist got their story from and how they put it together
It enables evaluation – ‘Transparency permits quality evaluations by the audience and thus can strengthen credibility (Neuberger, 2005, p. 327)’
It reinforces trust – most news organizations are still relying too much on their news ‘brand’ to ensure trust. Yet in a digital environment the brand is necessarily diluted – partly because there is so much more content on news sites (and much of it UGC), partly because people tend to come via search engines not, as in the print version, from the front page. Therefore, as Meier writes, ‘evidence of trustworthiness must be given repeatedly: Every newsroom, and basically also every single story must show why they deserve more trust than dozens or even hundreds of others on the same topic’ (Meier)
It encourages diversity (from Phillips) – by creating a premium around independent, original reporting
It helps enable networked journalism – ‘If the ‘public’ is to act as a corrective it needs to be aware of where the information originated’ (Phillips).
There are lots of different ways to make news more transparent. You can make clear the process by which news is gathered and published. You can show people editorial decision making in practice (e.g. filming editorial conferences). You can open up the whole method by which news is produced to involve the public. Karlsson called this last one ‘participatory transparency’, in which people are given an opportunity to participate in the news process (as additional sources, as critics, as monitors, as promoters); as opposed to ‘disclosure transparency’, in which a news organization / journalist discloses how they put a news piece together.
There are also obstacles to making news transparent. Meier cited three: that it may be considered ‘a waste of time, energy and other precious resources’, that ‘too much information about a complex body of source material could divert attention “from what is really important”’, and that it might even represent “a potential threat to autonomy” of a newsroom. He could have added a fourth, that news organisations are often extremely anxious not to give anything away that might help their competition.
These obstacles have prevented transparency having much impact so far. As this research showed, transparency is still a minority pursuit. This is also because there is little tradition of transparency, particularly in European newsrooms. Historically it has been considered a sign of vulnerability for news organizations not to give an impression that they know everything.
But transparency is the logical way to go, and listening to these academics this is starting to become accepted. According to Meier:
‘It is not just newsrooms in different parts of the world with different journalistic traditions that are talking increasingly about transparency and experimenting with it in their daily work (Deggans, 2006; Smolkin, 2006; Elia, 2008). Journalism scholars are also focusing more and more on this topic: It has been incorporated into textbooks on media ethics (Craft & Heim, 2009; Meier, 2009a), is the subject of conferences (Ziomek, 2005) or of theoretical approaches (Plaisance, 2007). Especially in articles dealing with the changes in journalistic roles and values brought about by the Internet’ (Meier)
Transparency is not the Holy Grail of news. Making clear where your article came from doesn’t matter much if the article is no good. Nor can transparency solve the economic crisis in funding original journalism. But it must be a pre-requisite to finding a sustainable solution.
The three presentations / articles have not yet been published. They are ‘Transparency and the new Ethics of Journalism, by Angela Phillips (Goldsmiths); ‘Transparency in Journalism: Credibility and trustworthiness in the digital future’ by Klaus Meier (University of Dortmund) and ‘Rituals of Transparency: Evaluating online ne
ws outlets use of transparency rituals in the US, UK and Sweden’ by Michael Karlsson (Karlstad University).
You can read more about the Media Standards Trust’s Transparency Initiative, and see how to make your news more transparent, at http://valueaddednews.org.

Written by Martin Moore

September 14th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

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Contributions from readers quadruple! (from 1% to 4%)

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New research from Cardiff will show that 4% of news website readers contribute online – i.e. leave comments, keep blogs, send in photos etc. – according to an academic at Wednesday’s journalism and democracy conference at the British Academy (whose name I did not catch – if the person who said it reads this please let me know).
Though this was prefaced – by the Cardiff academic who made the comment - with an ‘only’, 4% is still four times higher than a couple of years ago.
Back in 2006 we were told that only 1% of the audience actually contributed to sites (e.g. see Paul Skidmore on the ’1% solution’ in Prospect in December 2006), while the other 99% simply read, viewed, listened.
In this context 4% sounds like a pretty significant increase. Especially when you look at what that 4% is able to produce. The number of comments on the BBC’s Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross Have Your Say, for example, reached 52,681 before they closed the forum. A healthy 10,699 have so far commented on whether John Sergeant was right to quit Strictly Come Dancing. And 2,200 people have made their views known on the MySun debate ‘Should smacking your children be banned?
Imagine if, in another 2 years, the number participating quadruples again. In the BBC’s case this would equate to hundreds of thousands of comments a day, thousands of photographs, and hundreds of citizen journalism videos. The equivalent of a few truck-loads full of post.
How are they going to cope with this? With considerable difficulty. Anne Spackman - comment editor at The Times – told the conference that it is already costing the paper hundreds of thousands of pounds to moderate comments, take in user generated content, and create systems to allow for engagement with readers.
So what should news organisations do? Well, they could start by thinking alot harder than they do about the sort of relationship they want with their audience and then work out the best way to develop that. Right now most news sites still work very much on the broadcast model. In other words, they’ll tell you what they think and when they feel like it they’ll let you comment.
This means their attitude to involving their audience often comes across as patronizing or parasitic – or both. Patronizing because just being asked to leave a comment is like being told you can ask questions after the speaker has already left the room. Or being given a space to shout without any indication whether there will be anyone around to listen. Parasitic because simply asking for content from the public (‘send us your photos and your videos’) makes you look like a wanton freeloader.
News organisations could learn a lot from social networking sites, particularly in terms of how people want to relate to one another, communicate and use information. Mind you, they’ll need to learn quickly if, by the end of 2009, 4% becomes 8%.

Written by Martin Moore

November 20th, 2008 at 2:16 pm

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Local News via Youtube

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Are overworked, ‘multi-tasking’ journalists on local papers the past or the future? The question occurred to me as I read Professor Bob Franklin and Dr Andrew Williams’ paper about Trinity Mirror’s online strategy (and much else besides, courtesy of Media Guardian). If you care about good journalism and believe in the value of the Fourth Estate it makes for depressing reading.
The overwhelming finding is that fewer journalists are having to produce more stories in less time. To do this they are repackaging more agency copy and PR releases. 92% of the respondents to Franklin & Williams’ survey said they use more PR material than they used to. 80% said they use more agency copy. Journalism, in the words of the authors, ‘has become an office job’. ‘Most journalists acknowledge’ they continue ‘that they are no longer engaged in the critical or investigative journalism which earned the local press the title of “local watchdog”‘.
No wonder, considering that in addition to writing more articles many journalists are being asked to edit content, provide links, and produce video. The result is either poor visual content or ‘journalists relying heavily on pre-packaged sources of video, such as police, PR firms, and even clip sites like YouTube’. And given the video material on the Daily Mirror’s new website, it is clear that this problem is not just restricted to local papers.
Surely heaping more and more roles onto a single journalist is not a workable model for the future? The 21st century journalist cannot be some sort of technological superhuman – researching articles, writing them, editing them, blogging, videoing, podcasting… At some point there has to be an acknowledgement that there is not one type of journalist but many – probably called different things (repackager? filterer? sourcer?). And by acknowledging this maybe we can also make space for the ‘original content reporter’ whose job it is… to collect original content.

Written by Martin Moore

March 13th, 2007 at 5:35 pm

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