Archive for the ‘future’ tag

Oxford study points the way ahead for foreign correspondence

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This post was first published at mediastandardstrust.org on 10th December 2010

Richard Sambrook’s report – ‘Are foreign correspondents redundant?’, published this week by the Reuters Institute in Oxford, is a road map for news organisations and journalists who want to navigate the future of foreign news

The news popped into my twitter feed between 8 and 9pm on Wednesday evening. ‘#wikileaks hackers have brought down visa.com’. Wow! was my first reaction, that sounds important. Is it true? – was my second thought. A quick attempt to log into visa.com suggested it might be. If it is, what does it mean? – was my third response. Visa’s corporate website was down but did that mean I couldn’t make visa transactions? If I tried to make a visa transaction – say to pay for that basket of Amazon Christmas presents I’d just filled – was there a danger my card details would be lost, or stolen?

I relate this experience not to give a glimpse of how I spend Wednesday evenings and my various neuroses, but because it captures – in microcosm – the challenges facing journalism today, especially international journalism.

News travels fast. Very fast. Normally now in headlines of fewer than 140 characters. The race to be first – which used to be won by journalists and news organisations – is now won by whoever is closest to the action and has the fastest opposable thumbs. That may be a journalist but chances are, especially with international news, it might not be.

News can come from anyone, anywhere. The first tweet I saw about visa.com was not from someone I knew (it had been re-tweeted). Hence why I wasn’t sure about its veracity. Here the journalist can help (though they first have to overcome the urge to re-tweet without verifying).

And news initially tends to come unencumbered by context or explanation. It comes as a bald statement of fact. Visa.com has shut down. North Korea has just fired rockets at South Korea. The first Chilean miner is out. The journalist then has to work out what this means and explain its importance to his/her audience.

Speed. Verification. Context.

But if news organisations are losing the race to be first, in international news they also risk losing their lead doing the second and third.

This struck me reading Richard Sambrook’s excellent study, published this week, on the future of foreign correspondence.

To be able to verify something quickly you have to have some background knowledge. If possible you should have been on the ground (wherever the ground is) for a decent length of time so you can not only verify something but establish its importance and set it in context. This is hard to do from a standing start.

As Sambrook writes: ‘There are no substitutes for a prolonged process of first hand engagement to understand and report what is being witnessed. This may be the most valuable element of foreign reporting at risk from the changes underway.’

It is at risk because there are fewer staff foreign correspondents on the ground. Many news organisations have scaled back or removed their foreign desks. And most have closed or reduced their foreign bureaux.

This is not to say this is the only way to do foreign news coverage. There are alternatives to having your own staff on the ground, as Sambrook indicates. Technology now provides enormous potential for new methods of news gathering, and provides access to a much greater number of news sources.

The report cites a number of people and organisations who have taken up this potential, for example Global Voices, which ‘surfaces opinion and reporting in blogs around the world’; Demotix, a sort of 21st century international picture agency; and Ushahidi, a distributed mapping platform started from Kenya. Even the Foreign Office, not necessarily known for online innovation, has experimented with news aggregation and discussion. For the G20 meeting in London the FCO ‘built a website offering information in 40 languages but also decided to make it a digital hub to aggregate content and discussion about the summit’s themes’.

Yet ‘[i]t is notable’, Sambrook writes, ‘that most of this innovation comes from new start-ups rather than from within established media organisations’. Philip Balboni, CEO of Global Post, puts it more brutally: ‘The innovation in journalism is pathetic’.

Indeed, despite the opportunity to provide more international news, more cheaply than ever, before many mainstream UK and US news organisations are reducing their international coverage. The Media Standards Trust report published last month – Shrinking World – showed how coverage of international news in the UK print press (4 newspapers) has dropped by 40% since 1979. This is in the context of newspaper pagination exploding over the same period.

This is a shame because these organisations have the experience, the people, and the motivation to innovate, as we suggest in our report.

Still, Sambrook’s report not only provides a perspective on where international news has come from, it also points the way to where it could go. The question is, will news organisations read it and take action?

Written by Martin Moore

December 17th, 2010 at 12:58 pm

The journalist of the future – 7 (or 8) archetypes

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This post was first published on mediastandardstrust.org on 22nd November 2010, and is based on a talk I gave at City University journalism department

Conversations about journalists tend to be very media-based. Are you a print or a broadcast journalist? Do you write for newspapers or magazines? Do you blog? But given that journalists now write, take pictures, record audio and video, and most jump between platforms on a regular basis then it doesn’t seem very useful to define people by media. So how should journalists be defined?

Here are 7 journalist archetypes (and an eighth that I can’t quite square) to better capture the journalist of tomorrow. This isn’t a scientific exercise. The archetypes are based on personal observation and on looking at some of the thousands of journalist profiles on journalisted.com (which we run).

Some of the categories overlap. There are probably some categories missing. In other words you shouldn’t take this as gospel. It’s more of a conversation opener. So jump in and suggest your own, there’s plenty of room at the bottom of this post.

7 journalist archetypes

The Uber-Brand

This is the journalist whose name outshines, eclipses even, the journal(s) s/he writes for. That means people like Jeremy Clarkson who, according to a report in 2009, accounted for 25% of the Times website online traffic (pre-paywall). Other ‘uber brands’ might include Stephen Fry, Caitlin Moran, Charlie Brooker, and Robert Peston.

(Ivor Gaber has pointed out that there is probably a mezzanine level of ‘uber brands’ – i.e. columnists who earn a good income but aren’t quite well known enough to go it alone.)

The hamster

This is the ever shrinking number of professional generalist journalists working for mainstream media. ‘Hamster’ because more and more is now expected of these journalists such that they are becoming like hamsters on a wheel, desperately running just to say in the same place. Producing multiple reports for multiple platforms on a constant basis

The campaigner

This is the person who uses journalism as a means to an end: to raise awareness about human rights abuses, to free government data, to campaign for a greener world, to end child detention, etc. Clare Sambrook has been so successful at the last (campaigning to end child detention) that she has – to date – won two awards for investigative journalism. Yet she has written mostly for non-mainstream outlets (presumably for little or no pay).

This type of journalism – particularly at NGOs – is on the rise. If you read a job ad for many campaigning non-profits you could be forgiven for thinking it was an ad for a journalist. A recent ad on the Human Rights Watch website wanted someone who would be ‘collecting and analyzing information from a wide variety of sources … writing reports, briefing memos, statements, advocacy documents, op-eds, articles, and press releases’. Sounds pretty similar to what many journalists do.

The portfolio-ista

For this person journalism is one of a portfolio of jobs that together provide a living wage. It may be that journalism is a sort of ‘shop-window’ for some of the other stuff they do – in professional communications, training, or academe. John Foster writes for the Evening Standard, The Times, the Yorkshire Post, the BBC, CSP Today, Cash & Trade, Upward Curve, Ideas, Funds Europe and others. He is also managing director of Ad Hoc Media and Financial Consultancy. Alf Alderson freelances for The Guardian, Independent, Times, Daily Telegraph, Ski & Board magazine, Fall Line, Surfer’s Path, and others. He is also writes guidebooks and offers guided surf tours.

The communitarian

The communitarian cares about their local community. A lot. They care enough that they are willing to devote considerable amounts of time – for very little or no money – to running a local forum where people can discuss issues, providing information on local events and, in many cases, reporting on what is happening in the local area. Mike Rawlins and Tony Walley do this with their vibrant site Pits n Pots in Stoke on Trent. Nicky Getgood does the same in Digbeth. See Talk About Local for many more.

The specialist

The specialist knows oodles about a specfic subject. People like Larry Elliott, Alex Brummer, and Martin Wolf know lots about economics, for example. Paul Tomkins, who runs the The Tomkins Times, knows lots about Liverpool Football Club. Knowing a lot more than most people means that many specialists have knowledge and skills that people will pay for. The TomkinsTimes charges £3.50 a month subscription and, I understand, has a growing subscriber base in the thousands.

The geek

The geek is becoming increasingly important to the future of journalism. Yet there is a good chance that s/he (though more often a he than a she) does not even think of himself as a journalist. More likely the public spirited geek simply wants to do things that make information more accessible (e.g. theyworkforyou.com), enable people to tell the council about a pothole in their street (e.g. fixmystreet.com), tell people about planning applications in their area (e.g. planningalerts.com), or allow people to audio record and publish from a mobile phone in 3 clicks (e.g. audioboo).

A few things stand out from this list of seven:

  • Only two out of seven are fully employed by a professional news organisations (the hamster and the specialist)
  • Two more get a proportion of their income from news organisations (the uber brand and the portfolio-ista), though wouldn’t starve if the organisations disappeared / went under.
  • Two more are not doing journalism for the money (the campaigner and the communitarian), and the final one could be employed by any number of people, including the State (the geek)

All of the journalists on this list, even if they earn little or no money from journalism, have a baseline of journalism skills. The communitarian will know how to use open source software to build and help fill a website. The campaigner will probably be adept at tweeting, blogging, and crowdsourcing support for a cause, and so on.

The list also raises ethical questions. How open should the portfolio-ista be about the jobs they do outside journalism? What happens if they have to write about one of their current or former employers?

There is an eighth archetype that I didn’t include but could have done. That is ‘the editor’. Some people consider the journalist and the editor to be synonymous, and it is certainly true that today’s increasingly autonomous journalist has to have many of the skills of an editor. Most journalists now ‘curate’ – i.e. make recommendations via twitter and elsewhere. Many edit and publish their own work. Yet, at the same time there is a strong argument to say that the importance, and distinctiveness, of the editor ought to make it a separate category. What do you think?

Written by Martin Moore

December 17th, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Future of news

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Newspaper meltdown – and what it means for the public

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The last few weeks have been very sobering for anyone still optimistic about the future of the news industry (that’s ‘news industry’ like ‘music industry’, not news itself).

If this year has been painful for the whole economy, it’s been especially blood soaked for the news industry. The economic model for news production was in serious trouble before the international financial crisis of the last few months. Now, not a week goes by without more news of plummeting ad revenues, falling circulations, job cuts and newspaper closures.


And 2009 looks like it will be even worse. The FT reported this week that ‘The newspaper and magazine industry could be “decimated” in 2009 with one out of every 10 print publications forced to reduce publication frequency by more than half, move online or close entirely’ (based on a report by Deloitte). Then today Enders Analysis forecast that ‘more than a third of the UK’s regional newspaper titles will have closed in the UK between 2002 and 2013… [with local titles] already closing at a rate of 10-15 a week’ (from Laura Oliver).

Trying to get an idea of how bad things are is tricky when you’re relying on a bunch of isolated reports, which is why aggregations and timelines are so helpful. Journalism.co.uk is trying to track job losses across the industry,  and has a timeline of articles reporting losses. The Media Guardian has a media downturn section on its site. And Peter Kirwan has pulled together a bunch of reports on Google docs.

If big news organisations do have a strategy, then it seems to be:

1. Cut jobs but maintain print output
This can mean one person doing a job previously reserved for two or three. In Wales, for example, Trinity Mirror plans to have one editor running the Merthyr Express, Rhymney Valley Express and Gwent Gazette, while another edits the Rhondda Leader and Pontypridd Observer and a third the Glamorgan Gazette and Neath and Port Talbot Guardians (from Press Gazette)

2. Close offices and centralise production
Johnston Press have centralised all Northern Ireland production work to Craigavon.  Kent Messenger is centralising production in Larkfield and Wraik Hill. Newsquest is centralising its planning operations for the north-west at Blackburn (from Oliver Luft). The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Evening News are also said to be considering merging production

3. Centralise editorial operations in ‘multimedia hubs’
In the Midlands Trinity Mirror has two new integrated multimedia newsrooms in Birmingham and Coventry. In Cardiff they have a news hub to produce much of the editorial material for their Welsh newspapers. Kent Messenger has centralised its editorial in Medway.

4. Outsource or merge
This seems to be the current strategy of choice for nationals. The Independent will bunk up with the Daily Mail in January, and the Telegraph is, according to Oliver Luft and Ben Dowell, thinking about ‘outsourcing some of its production operations away from its headquarters in Victoria’.

So what does all this mean for the public? Centralising production will bring forward print deadlines and make news in local newspapers even older than it is already. ‘Local’ newspapers will – almost inevitably – feel less local if they are produced from a central editorial hub. Local newspapers with fewer reporters will rely more on material produced by other people (not necessarily PR – could be user-generated content etc.).

Based on this, the outlook for the local press, especially in the short to medium term, seems pretty bleak. Though this ignores, of course, all the information coming from sources other than traditional news organisations, and from the new news providers online.

Still, for those people who believe in the quasi-constitutional role of the press, especially the local press, it has been a grim year indeed.

Written by Martin Moore

December 12th, 2008 at 3:43 pm

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Media figures still in the dark about future

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The more I read about predictions for the future of media by senior media figures, the more apparent it becomes how few of them have any clue where things are going.
Two recent reports, one from the World Editors’ Forum & Reuters, the other by Accenture, illustrate this in spades. The first, based on interviews with ’435 of the world’s editors-in-chief, deputy editors and senior news executives’ (from Roy Greenslade), suggests many of them have given up worrying and are now adopting a Panglossian view. 85% appear to agree with Voltaire’s character that ‘All is for the best in this the best of all possible worlds’ (i.e. that they will enjoy a bright future). 50% believe that journalistic quality will improve over the next 10 years. And 75% see increased interactivity with readers as a positive development for quality journalism.
The second report is less sanguine. Amongst other findings it picks up, and contradicts, this last point. Accenture interviewed 110 media executives in the US and Europe. The biggest challenge, 57% of them said, was how to deal with user generated content. “To succeed in this environment,” Universal Studios’ Doug Neil said, “you need to innovate and anticipate the needs of the consumer, be willing to take risks and try new things.” Take a punt, in other words.
Accenture themselves appear to be equally clueless about the direction of media. Gavin Mann, one of the authors of the report, informs us that: “Traditional, established content providers will have to adapt and develop new business and monetization models in order to keep revenue streams flowing. The key to success will be identifying new forms of content that can complement their traditional strengths.” New business models? New forms of complementary content? They needn’t have done 110 interviews to learn that.

Written by Martin Moore

April 17th, 2007 at 12:33 pm

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