Archive for the ‘newspapers’ tag

US local news experiments leagues ahead of UK

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This article was first posted at PBS MediaShift Ideas Lab on Tuesday 1st February

It is easy to overestimate the similarities between the US and the UK. As Oscar Wilde wrote back in 1887, ”We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

But one of the unfortunate recent similarities has been the parallel crisis in local news, especially at newspapers. In both countries existing local news providers have been the hardest hit by the structural changes in news provision and consumption, each having relied so heavily on classified and recruitment advertising.

Yet the reactions of the two countries have been very different, particularly in the last couple of years. Comparing these different reactions helps illuminate why the US is starting to see a future for local news in the digital era while the UK is still mired in the soup of its analog past.

US: Experimentation

Over the last five years the U.S. has seen – and continues to see – lots of experimentation in the provision of local news and information. This has been due to:

Severity and speed of the American crisis Between 2007 and 2009, U.S. newspaper advertising revenues fell 43 percent, according to the State of the News Media 2010. Some news groups went under. In the majority of cases, however, this did not lead papers to close. Instead, the papers themselves became much less substantial (i.e. costs were carved out of editorial resources). At the same time, those within and outside the news industry searched frantically for new ways of gathering, publishing and delivering news.

Provision of foundation grants for new ideas and start-ups Since 2006, J-Lab estimates that “more than $141 million in non-profit funding flowed into new media.” U.S. foundations – most notably the Knight Foundation – invested millions of dollars in experimentation. The Knight News Challenge, which funds this website, has given people a chance to compete for a share of a $5 million pot each year since 2006. The same foundation funded New Voices, an initiative that awarded “small grants to seed the launch of innovative community news venture.” Other foundations, such as the Sandler Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and Omidyar Network, also provided grants and start-up funds for projects as diverse as ProPublica, the Voice of San Diego, and Ushahidi.

Role of universities in hothousing and nourishing start-ups Many US universities have, for many years, published highly professional local newspapers and news outlets. This has broadened and deepened since the crisis in local news kicked in. Some college news outlets, like the University of Miami’s Grand Avenue News, have formed partnerships with commercial newspapers (in this case the Miami Herald). Some have developed news outlets and then sold them off to outside news companies (as with Montana University’s Dutton County Courier to the Choteau Acantha newspaper). Others have won awards for their investigative journalism (like from Chicago’s Columbia College). All these examples are taken from J-Lab’s excellent research on What Works. There are many more.

Investment in regional or national networks of digital sites As the traditional news players collapsed, some new media players have jumped in to fill the gap. AOL launched Patch, a national network of local sites like Montclair Patch, and Chicago Heights Patch. In 2010, the Vocus State of the Media report found there were 724 online news launches, all but 36 of them on Patch. Other companies like Main Street Connect are trying to provide a similar local news template and service, if on a smaller scale than Patch (e.g. see the Daily Greenwich).

Through this experimentation, the U.S. has learned lots about what works and what doesn’t. That is not to say it has “solved” the crisis in local news. That assumes there is a single solution, which there isn’t. But there are different ways to address the underlying problem – how people get the information they need to participate fully in democratic society – and the US has progressed along the road towards this.

UK: Conservatism

By comparison, there has been far less experimentation in the UK. There are important exceptions to this rule but, compared to the US, the conservatism of the UK is striking. The reasons for this include:

The continuing dominance of four big news groups Four news groups control between 60 to 70 percent of the local news market: Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Northcliffe (owned by DMGT) and Newsquest (owned by Gannett). They have not distinguished themselves by their experimentation. Of the four, Trinity Mirror has, after a slow start, shown the most interest in trying to adapt to the digital era. It is launching hyper-local sites and collaborating with existing bloggers and community news sites. Northcliffe has a network of hyper-local sites but they are very cookie-cutter (see Market Harborough People vs. Melton Mowbray People), and appear to have minimal investment. Johnston and Newsquest are crippled by debt and many wonder how long they can continue. Yet while they do they help to squelch the development of nascent local media ventures.

The lack of foundation funding The UK does not have a similar legacy of supporting public media. Perhaps because of the dominance of the publicly funded BBC, foundations have not, in the past, tended to give grants to local media provision. This is now changing gradually, but we have yet to see a foundation investing heavily in local media in the way the Knight Foundation has in the US.

Introverted universities Similarly, though most universities have a university newspaper (and sometimes more than one), most of these are for and about the university, rather than for the wider community. Nor have many journalism departments sought to incubate, or launch, actual news startups. There are exceptions, of course. Goldsmiths College in London launched, an independent news website serving Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon. But there is nothing on the scale or ambition of media ventures at US universities.

Negative government intervention In the US, the government has stayed away from direct intervention in local media, and US foundations have stepped in to partly fill the gap. In the UK not only have foundations not stepped in, but the government has, if anything, suppressed experimentation. It has done this partly by searching for ways to prop up the existing incumbents, and partly through its adherence to a top-down policy on local TV news.

Despite the conservatism of the incumbents, the lack of foundation funding, the lack of incubation at universities and the negative government intervention, there are British innovators, entrepreneurs and intrepid local startups (see here, here and here). But right now they are working against the grain in the UK, which is not as it should be.

Written by Martin Moore

February 4th, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Editors exposed – shedding a little light on UK national newspaper editors

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This post was first published on on 6th December 2010

It is a curious thing. British national newspaper editors have the power to choose what should be read by over 10 million people in Britain everyday (in print, many more eyeballs online), have the ability to influence public policy, and are regularly invited to meetings at Downing Street and Chequers.

Yet we know very little about them. If you Google the names of the editors of the Daily Telegraph (Tony Gallagher), the Daily Mirror (Richard Wallace), the Daily Star (Dawn Neesom) and the Sunday Times (John Witherow), you will find hardly any information online. Tony Gallagher is remarkably invisible on the net given that over 600,000 people rely on his editorial judgment every weekday morning.

This relative invisibility seems inconsistent with the power these editors wield. So thought it would have a go at making them a little less invisible.

From today (run by the Media Standards Trust) is publishing profiles of each of the national newspaper editors. These profiles contain basic biographical details like education and employment (where they are available), articles and books written by the editor, awards won, and professional contact details. The profiles also link to other sites that have biographical information, interviews or speeches given by the editor.

These are works-in-progress, and as you’ll see from some of the profiles, the information in the public domain is very sparse. So we’ll keep adding to them, and appealing to people to send us more information to fill in the many gaps (if you know of any please email us). Equally, if you are a national newspaper editor and you’re reading this, you’re welcome to claim your profile and add further information to it.

A few interesting things we’ve uncovered to date:

  • Dominic Mohan (The Sun), Gareth Morgan (Daily Star Sunday), Martin Townsend (Sunday Express), and Richard Wallace (Daily Mirror) were all showbiz/celeb gossip editors at one stage in their careers before becoming editors
  • Tina Weaver, Ian MacGregor, Dominic Mohan, and John Witherow have no publicly available email address where their readers can contact them, not even ‘’ or equivalent
  • Gareth Morgan (Daily Star Sunday) studied physics and used to be a rocket scientist for British Aerospace
  • Colin Myler (News of the World) changed career in 1996-8 by becoming Chief Executive of the Super League Europe
  • Lionel Barber is fluent in French, German and Russian
  • Alan Rusbridger is, in addition to being editor of The Guardian, chairman of the National Youth Orchestra, visiting Professor of history at Queen Mary (despite having studied English at university) and writes children’s books
  • James Harding (The Times) has lived in Japan as a speechwriter for politician Koichi Kato (Democratic Party of Japan), and also in China as a correspondent

There is still lots more to add. We plan to put up a list of the awards won by each newspaper under the editor, and the formal complaints made about each newspaper while under the current editor (i.e. via the PCC).

Written by Martin Moore

December 17th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

The report we didn’t set out to write

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We didn’t set out to write a report on international news. We (the Media Standards Trust) set out to get a handle on what had really changed in newspapers – in terms of content – over the last few decades. There is so much – understandable – focus on the immediate, ongoing, news revolution that we wanted to take a step back, take the long view.

To do this we headed out to the wonderful, wind swept Colindale, the British newspaper library stranded in the nether regions of the Northern line. Here we looked at national newspapers from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

Two changes were particularly striking (apart from the ballooning number of pages and supplements):

  • The fall in the extent and prominence of international reporting
  • The fall in the extent of regional news

We left the regional news for now (that’s for a separate report), and decided to concentrate on international reporting – to see if our eyeballing of the papers was born out by the figures.

Knowing we could not count every story in every paper since the mid 1970s (the library would have moved to Yorkshire before we were finished) we chose a sample of papers and years. We picked an average week in 1979, 1989, 1999 and 2009 – a week that wasn’t skewed by  a big news story that dominated the press, like MP’s expenses or the election – and four newspapers (Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Daily Mail and the Mirror), and we started counting.

And we counted. And we counted. We counted the number of international stories in the papers (being generous in our definition of international), and we counted the total number of stories in each paper – oh, and we made a note of the page number as well (e.g. 2 international stories on page 2 and 3 other news stories). In total we counted over 10,500 stories.

This way we could get an impression – and granted it is an impression – of how the extend and prominence of international news has changed.

The end result was pretty clear. International news in these four papers has declined in absolute and relative terms. In absolute terms, in other words in terms of the number of foreign news stories published, international coverage has dropped by almost 40%. In a working week in 1979 there were just over 500 international stories published in these four newspapers. By 2009 this had dropped to just over 300. The decline in international news as a proportion of each newspaper was even starker (because the papers have got bigger as international coverage has shrunk). So, in 1979 international news made up a fifth of each paper, on average. By 1989 this had fallen to 16%, by 1999 to 13% and by 2009 to 11%.

Having done all this counting we then wanted to see if these numbers correlated with the experience of foreign correspondents and editors. So we spent some time speaking to people from these and other news organisations. The numbers, they say, mapped quite closely to their own impressions. We then chatted to them about the reasons for the decline and discussed where they thought foreign reporting might be going.

We’ve captured some of their thoughts, and a few of our own, in the Media Standards Trust report published today: ‘Shrinking World: the decline of international reporting in the British press’ (November 2010).

You can download if from or, if you’d like a print copy, give us a call (020 7727 5252).

Written by Martin Moore

November 1st, 2010 at 6:21 am

The end of newspapers at Colindale

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Nostalgia makes conservatives of us all. Reading Katie Allen’s piece in the Media Guardian this week about the forthcoming closure of Colindale national newspaper library (‘British Library in Colindale: the final chapter‘) my immediate reaction was ‘No! They can’t do that, I spent many joyful months holed up in Colindale thumbing through newspapers and magazines of the 1940s.’

Sepia tinged images floated into my head of days poring over frayed copies of the News Chronicle, the Listener, and Time and Tide. Back in 2002-3 I spent months in the national newspaper library at Colindale reading the UK daily press from the 1930s through to the 1950s for my doctorate on the origins of modern spin.

Colindale will be closed, I read, and its holdings moved to Boston Spa in Yorkshire. There, public access to the print papers will be strictly limited. Instead people will have to use microfilm or view digital copies of the papers. “My vision for this [the national newspaper archive] is it will be a different kind of archive,” the head of the newspaper library, Ed King, told Katie Allen, “A binary archive”. Pragmatic, but decidedly unromantic.

How could you feel the same way as a contemporary felt without reading the paper as they did? Without turning the pages, seeing the news in the context? And how would digital navigation account for serendipity?

But if I take off my rose tinted spectacles and think back, Colindale wasn’t all sunshine and roses. For a start no-one has ever spent ‘long days’ at Colindale. The library doesn’t open until 10am and they started chivvying you out after 4.30pm. On top of which the process for calling up newspapers could take up to an hour, so by the time you’d been through a dozen or so papers it was often time to go.

Plus, many of the newspapers I needed to read had already been transferred to microfilm – a roll of celluloid that you stuck on a wheel beneath an illuminated screen and then unwound. Staring at the news pages spinning by was, though mesmerizing, almost predetermined to make me feel seasick. Feeling dizzy, every hour or so I’d bumble out of the darkened film room and down onto Colindale Avenue.

Colindale itself is perched in the nether regions of the Northern Line. The library sits squat between suburban semis and car showrooms. Window shopping at lunchtime was mostly limited to the newsagent at the tube station and the airfix model shop next door (a chance to revisit glue fingered school days).

Yet despite its downsides I still have reservations about the new digital library. The rationale makes sense – newspaper content continues to proliferate, print is terribly fragile and prone to disintegrate from over use, Colindale is no longer big enough nor does it have adequate facilities to keep the papers in good condition.

But still. My understanding of the post-war period would be stunted without my time at Colindale. Scanning the tiny type of The Times inside pages – articles pressed together because space was so tight (there was paper rationing in the 1940s). Being distracted by Beachcomber in the Express (when the Express was the highest selling daily paper and reported from ‘the sunny side of the street’ – how far away that seems). Following the daily progress of the 1945 general election campaign – where Clement Attlee achieved a remarkable upset unseating Winston Churchill. ‘It is the first election’ wrote a Times editorial, ‘in which the use of the wireless has been the outstanding feature of the campaign’ (wireless meaning rather a different thing back then).

All things must pass. Indeed there was a period when it looked as though the existing print papers at Colindale would be destroyed. The move to Boston Spa and digitization project has only been made possible by a £33m government grant. And at some point I’m sure I’ll find myself reading a newspaper from the early 19th century online and thinking, how remarkable that I can do this from the comfort of my own study. Still, nostalgia makes conservatives of us all.

Written by Martin Moore

January 12th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

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