30 June 2009

Reporter Launches Bristol Site

A journalist is going it alone by launching his own website dedicated to news and events in Bristol.

Bristol 24-7 is the creation of Chris Brown, who took voluntary redundancy from the Western Daily Press earlier this year.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, Brown asserts that the site is a full-time commitment as he attempts to create the go-to news website for Bristolians with a mix of original and aggregated news.

The former Independent journalist also plans for the website to become the first online port of call for visitors to the city.

At the moment, Bristol 24-7 is a one-man show so Brown is editor, reporter, photographer and videographer – among other things.

However, he hopes that interaction with readers will provide him with fresh perspectives.

“What goes on the site will be determined by my skills as an editor,” he said.

“I'll either make the right or wrong calls, but hopefully readers will let me know soon enough what they think of my decisions and will suggest better stories on the day.”

And Brown believes that his one-man band operation has the requisite flexibility to become attuned to the needs of an online audience.

“I have believed since I came up with the idea that I can produce a better online newspaper than the traditional media groups; do it at a far lower cost; and develop it faster and more intuitively to the demands of the readers.”

As for revenue, Brown is seeking site sponsorship and will provide digital marketing services to interested parties.

“It’s not just the better value for money that digital marketing offers businesses now, it is the proactive approach which looks at exactly what a business wants to achieve and uses the new technology to make it happen that will rule the day.”

Find out more about Brown’s long-term ambitions for the site in his interviews with Journalism.co.uk and HoldtheFrontPage.co.uk.

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ITV Ends Web News Contract

ITN’s web division will stop supplying news to ITV.com next month following the cancellation of the contract.

The Guardian cites sources suggesting the agreement was worth an estimated £500,000 to ITN On, which has provided text and video reports to the website.

Video bulletins covering global and national stories will be supplied in the future by the television news division of ITN.

Text articles published on ITV.com will come from ITV’s regional journalists.

A memo from ITN On managing director Nicholas Wheeler published on the Guardian website reveals that job losses are now inevitable.

He concludes: “The loss of this contract represents significant revenue hit for ITN On, and means that we have to review the online operation to see how we can best deliver text stories to our remaining online clients.”

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29 June 2009

Kent Paper Launching War Archive

Life in Kent during the Second World War is the focus of a new digital archive poised to go online this autumn.

From September, visitors to Kent Online will be able to view thousands of articles and photographs published by the Kent Messenger during the war.

According to HoldtheFrontPage.co.uk, the archive will also have advertisements from the time and a search function enabling users to search by dates, places and names.

“The KM’s war pages provide a first-hand account of every day life as well as the remarkable courage and tenacity of the people in Medway and Kent who endured so much for so long,” said Ron Green, managing editor of the KM Group.

Meanwhile, web users who fancy a read of something a little older should take a look at a new online newspaper archive from the British Library.

The British Newspapers 1800-1900 digital archive houses over two million pages from local and national newspapers published during the course of the century.

Find out more from the British Library website and on HoldtheFrontPage.co.uk.

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26 June 2009

Competing with Craigslist at a Local Level

MinnPost, a non-profit news startup in Minneapolis, has rolled out a new form of advertising that looks a little bit like print classifieds, a lot like Twitter and nothing like traditional online marketing, reports the Nieman Journalism Lab's Zachary M. Seward.

The service, called Real-Time Ads, aggregates tweets, blog posts and other feeds from local businesses with timely messages — an ice cream shop announcing the flavour of the day, a clothing store offering a one-day coupon.

MinnPost hopes the feature will become a destination site the way the classifieds section once was for newspaper readers. But Seward goes further, suggesting the concept may be a way for local news sites to finally compete with Craigslist.

MinnPost CEO and Editor Joel Kramer described the project as "an effort to move beyond banner ads" and to produce ad revenue less closely tied to traffic. MinnPost is offering the space for free at the start but plans to charge "under $100 a week," making it an option for local advertisers with small budgets.

"It’s an experiment," Kramer says in a video on the Nieman Labs site, which also provides a transcript of his comments. "We’ve tried many experiments. Some of them work, some of them don’t. We don’t get too worried about the ones that don’t. And I’m a big believer in that you have to try a lot of things and get a few victories."

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25 June 2009

Next Step Journalism

The death of Neda Soltani, the young Iranian woman who has become the tragic human face of the nation's post-election turmoil, demonstrates the process involved in what Bill Mitchell of the Poynter Institute calls "next step journalism."

A distraught bystander captured video of the killing on his phone and e-mailed it to a friend in the Netherlands. Within five minutes, the video was on YouTube and Facebook -- and became international news.

Mitchell says our news increasingly will be shaped by a similar process, one that begins with an event and is characterized by the collective sharing and enhancing of information. The process "provides lots of opportunities for journalists and non-journalists alike to assess what a story needs next, figure out what he or she is best equipped to contribute, and move the story along."

In Soltani's story, he identifies seven elements of this kind of storytelling, some more in need of professional journalism skills and values than others. Their common thread is the importance of collaboration.

* Documentation: Two cell phone videos captured the crucial moments after Soltani was shot Saturday evening, including the frantic efforts to save her. The low resolution of the videos and chaotic movement of the cell phone cameras did not get in the way of telling this critical part of the story, Mitchell points out.

* Context: The videos left many questions unanswered. But Soltani's fiance provided some context in an interview broadcast by Aljazeera, describing her views on recent events in Iran and explaining why she happened to be on that street corner.

* Transmission and Distribution: It was initially unclear how the videos made their way from the street corner to Facebook and YouTube. The Guardian filled in the details above. Other information came from The New York Times and the CBS Evening News, among others.

* Verification: Some of the initial postings about the shooting included a message from someone identifying himself as a physician who said he witnessed the shooting and tried to save her. A series of tweets and re-tweets from around the world confirmed this information and identified the doctor.

* Correction: Some of the details distributed on the day of the shooting, such as the identity of a man standing near Soltani, turned out to be wrong. Within two days, a Los Angeles Times correspondent had tracked down the man and identified him as her music teacher.

* Analysis: Mitchell says the best analysis he has seen of the significance of Soltani's death has come from journalists, particularly highlighting an essay on Time.com by Robin Wright.

* Sense-making: "It's still too early in the Neda story for anyone to be able to provide the perspective and wisdom required by this stage the process," Mitchell writes. "Who will do it best? Journalists? That physician who tried to save Neda? Historians?"

More important than the who is the what, he concludes. This tragic story "has taught us plenty about what this kind of storytelling will require -- and what it can produce."

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24 June 2009

Newsroom Innovation

A multimedia report from the Nieman Journalism Labs offers an inside look at five innovative newsrooms, all experimenting with novel approaches to getting the news out.

* Two are associated with traditional newspapers, one national and one regional: the Daily Telegraph and the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington.

* Two are new media enterprises: Talking Points Memo, a souped-up blog that recently won a prestigious award for investigative reporting, and the edgy, gossipy New York City-based Gawker. Both these newsrooms feature an open layout with reporters working at long tables.

* The last is the brand new Valley Independent Sentinel, a hyperlocal, online-only news startup in Connecticut launched just this month with funds from the Knight Foundation.

Other ideas can be found at the Next Newsroom Project's website, a place for sharing information and ideas about "building the ideal newsroom for the next 50 years."

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23 June 2009

Student Preferences

Just what do young people do online, anyway?

Newly released UK data from Hitwise indicates the three most popular categories of websites amongst university students are -- no big surprise -- social networks, search engines and webmail services.

However, students do visit news sites. In all there were 20 news and sports sites among the top 100. BBC News made the top 10, and BBC Sports was not far behind; Sky Sports also came in at No. 18. The Guardian was the most popular newspaper site, but students also are more likely than the overall UK online population to visit other popular newspaper sites as well, including the Daily Mail and the Times.

Some other findings:

* 26 of the top 100 sites among students are entertainment-focused, with online video and TV particularly well-represented.

* There are eight information sites among the students' top 100, including Wikipedia, a variety of Google properties and Word Reference.

* Twitter is the most over-represented social network amongst students, ranking 22nd overall.

* There are only six retailers in the top 100. eBay UK ranks the highest, but is less popular with students than with the UK online population overall. Students are more likely than older users to visit fashion retailers Topshop and ASOS.


22 June 2009

Some People Want to Pay. Let Them.

A sizable number of readers actually want to pay for online news -- and newspaper websites should let them, writes veteran observer Steve Outing.

Outing has long criticised the idea of newspaper publishers demanding payment for general news content on their websites. But he says some people are more than willing to voluntarily pay "because they recognize the value they're getting from the output of professional journalists and want to financially support it so that it will continue to be produced."

In his latest Stop the Presses column for Editor & Publisher, Outing highlights a new wave of services and payment technologies. All follow the same basic tenet: The user determines whether to pay for online content or to support a specific Web site, as well as how much he/she will spend.

The content publisher is essentially out of the decision. Outing says this is a necessary concession in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits to be gained by allowing online content "to be linked to or even travel freely around the Web, e-mail, social networks, blogs, news aggregators, news-specific search engines, and (of course) Google." He suggests that monetisation of a growing online audience for news, made possible by many other players sending people to it, "outweighs the loss in advertising revenue and institutional influence that's likely to occur if news gets locked down or barriers put in front of news consumers."

However, he advocates keeping most (not all, but most) online content free rather than erecting barriers "that could hurt your online advertising revenue stream and institutional reach and clout." He sees the voluntary payments as contributing to a supplemental pay-for-content revenue stream, drawing on the power of the network and facilitating "the widest possible distribution of your content and brand."

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19 June 2009

More Tips for Social Media Success

JD Lasica, a veteran online journalist and the man behind the SocialMedia.biz website, suggests three critical ingredients of a successful social media project for traditional news organizations:

* Leverage the community. "You don’t have to reinvent the wheel," he says. "There are a lot of resources out there, a lot of community organizations and projects that are built to enhance the conversation." He encourages news organizations to look at Creative Commons licensing for sharing content, at sharing services including Flickr and at widely available open-source technology.

* Tap into conversations. “We are in the conversation economy now. Don’t think you have to own all the conversations or drive the conversations," he says. "It’s not really about control any more. It’s about engagement."

He adds that news organizations need to broaden their mission and their range: "Go on other platforms, other forums as a participant. See what they’re talking about. See if there’s something you are doing with your organization that can tap into those conversations and add value to them."

* Launch pilots. Rather than spending months developing a project, put together mock ups and bring people in to look at them. “This is all about the idea of using your community as a sounding board," Lasica says.

His ideas, along with those of other online innovators, are posted on the New Leadership 3.0 blog of the Knight Digital Media Center.


18 June 2009

Twittering from Tehran

What the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was to blogs, Iran's election crisis may be to Twitter: the moment when the value of a new publishing platform as a vital source of on-the-scene updates becomes clear.

The social networking site "has shown itself perfectly suited to a fast-moving situation where there is a thirst for snatches of information in real time," writes the Guardian's Esther Addley.

Foreign journalists have been expelled from Iran, confined to their hotel rooms or forbidden from covering the protests. But web users around the world have turned to their counterparts in Iran, who have become "the eyes of the world."

Twitter has been at the heart of Iran's resistance since last Friday's contested election -- so much so that earlier this week, the site's owners postponed routine maintenance until a time when Iranians, rather than Americans, would be in bed. The U.S. State Department had asked for the change, though Twitter officials say they made the decision independently as awareness grew that "events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network."

However, the crisis also has highlighted some of the problems with Twitter. Iranian authorities have been closing servers through which the site is accessed. And the risk of impersonation is high. People outside the country are pretending to be inside, while rumours suggest Iranian authorities are posing as ordinary citizens sympathetic to the government. It is nearly impossible to verify the provenance of Twitter feeds, Addley writes, "and traditional media have used unsourced material from the site with extreme caution."

In addition to Twitter, YouTube has been a critical tool to disseminate videos from Iran, New York Times reporters Mark Landler and Brian Stelter write. The BBC’s Persian-language television channel said that on Tuesday, it was receiving as many as five videos a minute from amateurs, even though the channel is largely blocked within Iran.

"We’ve been struck by the amount of video and eyewitness testimony," said BBC World News Editor Jon Williams. "The days when regimes can control the flow of information are over."

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17 June 2009

"Digital Britain" and the Regional Press

The government's multi-faceted Digital Britain report, released Wednesday, contains a number of components with a direct effect on the regional press, HoldtheFrontPage.co.uk reports.

In addition to declining industry requests to relax merger rules, as described in a companion report from the Office of Fair Trading and highlighted here yesterday, the government has:

* Ordered an inquiry into council-funded newspapers and their effect on the local press. The Digital Britain report says it would be counter to the public interest should a loss of paid-for advertising to local authority publications make community papers unviable.

Ministers have asked the Audit Commission, the local spending watchdog, to conduct the inquiry. It will consider whether curbs should be placed on local authorities competing for advertising revenue with the local press.

* Promised consultation on use of a portion of the BBC licence fee to support alternative local and regional media outlets. The report said the money, approximately 3.5pc of the fee or around £130m, will be "channelled through other organisations, primarily for news."

If given the green light, the scheme would begin in 2013, when the switchover from the analogue to digital signal is complete. Newspaper groups are among the organisations expected to benefit.

"The result could be a greater investment in journalism, newsgathering and multimedia distribution and syndication than today, enhancing the quality of news," the report says.

However, the BBC Trust opposes "top-slicing," which its chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, said would "damage BBC output, reduce accountability and compromise independence.

"The licence fee must not become a slush fund to be dipped into at will, leading to spiralling demands on licence fee payers to help fund the political or commercial concerns of the day," he said.

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16 June 2009

Digital Britain Report Released

The eagerly awaited Digital Britain report, outlined to Parliament this afternoon, lays out the government's three-year plan to boost digital participation, provide universal broadband access by 2012 and counter digital piracy.

Chapter 5, titled "Public Service Content in Digital Britain," includes a consideration of challenges facing the local and regional press. It cites a companion report from the Office of Fair Trading, also released today, which recommended that "no legislative change is required" to merger regulations in the Enterprise Act 2002.

The office had been asked to alter existing media public interest provisions, for instance to include the need for independent investigative journalism.

The Digital Britain report outlined the potential for three pilot "Independently Financed News Consortia" (IFNC) projects, in Wales, Scotland and a region of England to be determined. Consortia would include but not be limited to existing television news providers, newspaper groups or other news gathering agencies. The report said criteria for selection would likely include "the ability to achieve reach and impact; high production and editorial standards to sustain accuracy and impartiality; and the financial stamina to sustain the service at quality throughout the period of the award."

Analyses of the 245-page report will be emerging in the coming days. Among the additional points summarised by the BBC in its initial overview are:

* A levy of 50p a month on all fixed telephone lines to establish a national fund for next-generation broadband. This was one of the biggest surprises in the report, and some observers have expressed doubt whether the amount generated will be sufficient.

* Legislation to curb unlawful peer-to-peer file sharing, with regulator Ofcom given new powers.

* Upgrade of all national radio stations from analogue to digital by 2015.

* Liberalisation of the 3G spectrum.

* A changed role for Channel 4.

* Consultation on how to fund local, national and regional news.

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15 June 2009

Creating an Audience-Centred Enterprise

After surveying the many options being discussed for paid content and "fair use" fees from aggregators, the American Press Institute has pretty much endorsed them all, the Poynter Institute's Rick Edmonds reports.

"Newspapers can make the leap from an advertising-centered to an audience-centered enterprise" and should get on with it immediately, API concludes in a 31-page white paper for industry executives.

The report, titled Newspaper Economic Action Plan, recommends five new "doctrines":

* True Value. Establish that news content online has value by charging for it. Begin "massive experimentation with several of the most promising options."

* Fair Use. Maintain the value of professionally produced and edited content by "aggressively enforcing copyright, fair use and the right to profit from original work."

* Fair Share. Negotiate a higher price for content produced by the news industry that is aggregated and redistributed by others.

* Digital Deliverance. "Invest in technologies, platforms and systems that provide content-based e-commerce, data-sharing and other revenue generating solutions."

* Consumer Centric. Refocus on consumers and users. Shift revenue strategies from those focused on advertisers.

The API report endorses micropayments, subscriptions and hybrids of the two. In general, it emphasises the advantages of charging for what is expensive to report and edit professionally. It also suggests that a paid content wall would help retain print subscribers, citing a recent Annenberg survey finding that 22 percent of online news readers said they had dropped print subscriptions because they could get most of the same content free online.

The report argues that the readers who would be lost are mostly "fly-by users" who come to a Web site for a specific purpose and rarely return." Citing research by Belden Interactive, the report says these make up one-third of unique visits per month but only 1 percent of page views.

The same Belden study identifies a second group of online readers as "core loyalists," repeat visitors who contribute 85 percent of the page views and user sessions. That group, API reasons, values the content and could be induced to pay for it.


12 June 2009

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Headlines

What if poets wrote the news?

In a bold experiment with user-generated content, Israel's influential Haaretz newspaper sent most of its reporters home on Wednesday and turned 31 of the nation's authors and poets loose to fill the pages.

The idea behind the paper’s June 10 special edition was to honour Israel’s annual Hebrew Book Week by inviting Israeli authors to bear witness to the events of the day, according to an article in the Jewish Daily Forward.

While a few journalists stayed in the newsroom in case of breaking news (nothing major happened), the paper was filled with articles by the poets and novelists, from the lead headline to the weather report.

"We really tried to give a real newspaper," Haaretz editor-in-chief Dov Alfon said. "Thirty-one writers decided, what are the real events of the day? What is really important in their eyes? They wrote about it, and our priorities as journalists were suddenly shaken by this."

Haaretz, founded in 1918, is the nation's oldest Hebrew-language daily. Its brand has been distinguished by "highlighting Israeli cultural, literary and artistic life with a vigor unmatched by its competitors," the Forward's Daniel Estrin writes. It has a relatively small but elite national audience of around 50,000, bolstered by an international audience for its English-language online edition.

A sampling of the contributions from the nation's literary lights to the special Wednesday edition:

* Renowed novelist David Grossman spent a night at a children's drug rehab centre in Jerusalem and wrote a front-page story about tender exchanges among the patients. His article ends: "I lay in bed and thought wondrously how, amid the alienation and indifference of the harsh Israeli reality, such islands — stubborn little bubbles of care, tenderness and humanity — still exist."

* 79-year-old novelist Yoram Kaniuk, a cancer patient, wrote about couples in a hospital cancer ward. "A woman walking with a cane brings her partner a cup of coffee with a trembling hand. The looks they exchange are sexier than any performance by Madonna and cost a good deal less," he wrote. "I think about what would happen if I were to get better ... how I would live without the human delicacy to which I am witness?"

* There were lighter contributions, too. For instance, it's always hot during the summer in Israel, so what's new to say? A weather report in the form of a poem by Roni Somek drew on a metaphor: "Summer is the pencil/that is least sharp/in the seasons’ pencil case."

* And finally, there was the stock market summary from author Avri Herling. It read: "Everything’s okay. Everything’s like usual. Yesterday trading ended. Everything’s okay. The economists went to their homes, the laundry is drying on the lines, dinners are waiting in place ..."


11 June 2009

Economic Stimulus Plan Urged for Local Journalism

The National Union of Journalists has urged new Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw to adopt an eight-point economic stimulus plan to help local journalism, the Press Gazette reports.

The government is to publish its Digital Britain report later this month. It is expected to include proposals aimed at safeguarding the future of local journalism.

"Local media is being undermined by the sapping away of resources from local newsrooms and a failure by major companies to invest in quality journalism," NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear wrote in a letter to the minister. He urged a "strategic and coordinated response" focused on "improving investment in local journalism – ensuring communities get the quality of news they deserve."

More than 130 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion calling on the government to explore "innovative solutions," such as deregulatory measures or financial help, to preserve local journalism, with the proviso that "firm guarantees on investment in local journalism" must be secured.

Among the measures suggested by the NUJ as part of a stimulus package:

* Reform of cross-media ownership rules with "a strengthened public interest test" to protect news-gathering capabilities.

* A commitment to ring-fence licence fee funding for the BBC.

* Tax breaks for local media who meet clearly defined public purposes, including the creation of incentives for investment "in quality local journalism that is rooted in our communities."

* Tax credits for individuals who subscribe to "newspapers that meet specified criteria around original journalism."

* Support for training opportunities that open access to journalism, along with "direct support for training to give media workers the skills they need for modern newsrooms."

The union suggests that "quality criteria" should be the only way to decide who gets government support. The NUJ says that these criteria could incude requirements to invest a specified proportion of profits into editorial resources; requirements over staffing ratios; ratios for originally produced content; commitments to maintain titles, offices and pagination; and obligations to monitor employee workloads and stress.

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10 June 2009

Ingredients for Successful Social Media

Social media marketing expert Paul Gillin offers three ingredients of successful social media projects for traditional news organizations on the Knight Digital Media Center blog:

* Inclusion. "You’re not the oracle any more. You are part of a community ... of information providers that include people from all walks of life," Gillin says. The role of the news organization is, increasingly, to assimilate the information that others in the community are contributing. "You need to include a lot of different voices in what you’re doing, and reposition your role as being the one who makes sense of it all."

* Aggregation. Original content is no longer “the be all and end all," he says. The value a news organization provides includes pointing audiences to the best stuff out there. "We’ve gone from an information desert to an information deluge," he says. The critical role of media organizations is "to aggregate lots of options, lots of observations, first-hand accounts, analyses, the stories told by people who are players in the news, and to form a holistic picture of what happened."

* Engagement. The key to engagement, Gillin says, is “playing to people’s particular interests." Crucially, much of that involves local concerns, something that "touches them at a very personal level." Online groups and other digital tools facilitate gathering together people of like interests.

A podcast of Gillin’s remarks is available. The third and final installment of his webinar on social media and building audience will be held Tuesday, 16 June, at 19:00 UK time. He will discuss how publishers can diversify their revenue sources, including hyper-localized advertising, information services, demographic editions and alternative delivery mechanisms such as audio, video and mobile. You can register here.


09 June 2009

Digging Adverts

News-sharing site Digg.com has released a new advertising platform called Digg Ads to help monetise its enormous traffic, PoynterOnline reports.

The user-focused ad model rewards advertisers with products and adverts that users might actually enjoy.

"The more an ad is Dugg, the less the advertiser will have to pay. Conversely the more an ad is buried, the more the advertiser is charged, pricing it out of the system," explained Digg's Mike Maser on the company's blog.

He said the goal was "to give advertisers a way to present content related to their brands and get immediate input on whether it’s relevant to the Digg audience."

"Audiences don't hate ads, they hate mindless ads," said Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners, a Chicago-based design agency that reports success with its own user-experience-based ad network. "We turn down more ads than we take. We've been sold out for two years."

Poynter's Will Sullivan points out that the strategy "seems to be the polar opposite of what some newspaper Web sites frequently do, accepting any and all ads, often using untargeted remnant advertising with silhouettes of women dancing around neon, flashing text advertising insurance. These often only pay pennies and cost publishers in the long run by offering a poor user experience."

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08 June 2009

Telegraph Adds User-Generated Newswire

The Daily Telegraph has subscribed to Demotix, a user-generated newswire that allows anyone to post stories and pictures from around the world, the Press Gazette reports.

The Demotix Widget appears on the World News page of Telegraph.co.uk, providing images and news stories from its 5,600 users in 120 countries around the world.

The deal is the first in the UK, but the Telegraph joins Le Monde in France, Lebanon’s Future News and the Himalayan Times of Nepal.

"For Demotix, this is really exciting," said CEO Turi Munthe. "The Telegraph was our very earliest supporter and immediately understood what we were trying to achieve. As for our contributors, the chance to get their stories out to so many people in the UK, US, Canada and elsewhere is fantastic. Demotix was founded to give a loudspeaker to the man and woman on the street. With this partnership, their voices just got louder."

Demotix is a 2009 winner of a MediaGuardian Innovation Award in the independent media category.

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05 June 2009

Print Your Own Newspaper

The publisher of the Denver Post this week began enabling readers to print personalised newsletters from their homes, PoynterNews reports.

MediaNews Group's "Individuated News," or I-Edition, project has been in a test phase since early April, when the company began offering the 12-page product for a dozen extended-stay guests at a Denver hotel. Now around two dozen homes in one city neighbourhood also are receiving the service; later this summer, additonal homes in Los Angeles, where the company owns the Daily News, are scheduled to be added.

The company hopes advertising revenue will make the initiative worthwhile. Unlike Internet projects that may be popular but lack a business model, MediaNews Group Vice President Peter Vandevanter said, "This is kind of the opposite. We know the business model is solid, and we'll find out how popular it will be."

According to the company plan, consumers will pay the printer's manufacturer a highly discounted price for the Internet-equipped device, plus a modest subscription price to the local newspaper. The paper reimburses the consumer for ink and paper, and advertisers pay the paper to get their messages delivered to customers located nearby.

The newsletters include news, tailored according to subscriber choices among 240 Associated Press news categories, and two pages of advertising coupons.

If the project is a success, MediaNews hopes to be able to curtail daily publication of the expensive print publication. But initial announcements about the project were greeted with skepticism. As long as the company is providing ink and paper to consumers, there are still significant "printing" costs involved. And alternative methods of news customisation are quick, easy and free online. These and other concerns have been summarised by, among others, Martin Langeveld at NiemanJournalismLabs.

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03 June 2009

Does Twitter Work for Journalists?

Is Twitter more than just the latest info-plaything? Does it "work" as a news-dissemination channel, a reporting and source-building tool, a promotional platform? Or is it merely a banal, narcississtic time suck?

American Journalism Review's Paul Farhi addresses those questions and more in a new article titled "The Twitter Explosion." His answer: It depends.

Among the benefits for journalists:

* Its speed and brevity make it ideal for pushing out scoops and breaking news to Twitter-savvy readers.

* It can be "a living, breathing tip sheet for facts, new sources and story ideas," and its optimal use requires "little care and feeding."

* It can provide instantaneous access to hard-to-reach newsmakers, given that there's no PR person blocking the way.

* It can be a blunt instrument for crowdsourcing.

* It can be a kind of community organizing tool for the newsroom itself.

* It is popular among adults, a more firmly established audience for news.

On the down side:

* There's a lot of dross. Really, a LOT. "In practice, the idea that friends (and friends of friends) will pass on useful and valuable information is belied by the fact that Twitter can be an exceptionally inefficient channel, if not a downright maddening one," says Farhi, who also writes for the Washington Post.

* Because of the 140-character limit, you usually don't know what a link is until you click on it – perhaps to discover that "you're looking at something you saw two days earlier and didn't care about then." Facebook's news feeds, which aren't restricted to 140 characters and provide a look at the link, can be a much faster alternative, Farhi adds.

* You think you need a better business model? "Twitter isn't merely unprofitable like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube; it has no meaningful sources of revenue at all," Farhi writes. The company does not yet know how to convert its millions of users into paying customers. Its overhead is essentially covered by the $55 million that venture capitalists have contributed.

* Legal and ethical issues are unexplored. Musing about unsupported rumours obviously is not a good idea, as tweets can and do instantly go viral. And there is no guidance, let alone legal precedent, on handling disputes over libelous tweets.

All this suggests that some aspects of Twitter are still under development, at least for journalists, Farhi concludes. "Chalk it up to the growing pains of any new relationship. The question is how long this relationship will last. Sure, it's burning red-hot now. But will you still love Twitter tomorrow?"

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02 June 2009

Big Green Addition for Local Websites

Northcliffe's "thisis" websites have launched a new section dedicated to environmental issues and information, holdthefrontpage.co.uk reports.

The channels, which tie in to Northcliffe's two-year-old "Big Green Switch" environmental site, include tips, local surveys, energy-saving advice and targeted advertising, in additon to local stories and other information. Users are asked to send in their "green ideas," as well.

Additional features include a carbon footprint calculator, insulation grants checker and downloadable posters for the office.

"We hope to educate a wider audience about the small things they can do to make a massive difference to the environment, said Big Green Switch publisher Sian Armstrong. His site, which last year was a Campaign for Change winner in the New Statesman New Media Awards, also has undergone a makeover to tie in with the 'thisis' network design.

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01 June 2009

Twitter: A Gem or a Jason?

Its UK traffic is up nearly 1,000% year-on-year, and it was mentioned more than 3,000 times in news stories during a single five-day period last month. But the jury remains out on whether Twitter is a gem or a Jason (Just Another Social Network), Sarah Hughes writes in today's Guardian.

For instance, Nielsen reported recently that while U.S. user numbers are growing, 60% of people are Twitter Quitters who end up abandoning the service after a month.

"Twitter is definitely an important tool, but it's also important to note how fast this technology can change," says Charlie Beckett, director of the media thinktank Polis. "In five years' time, sites such as Twitter or Facebook may not exist at all - something else will have replaced them."

Facebook is still the social media king. But many articles now hail Twitter as pretender to that throne, though the two do different things and increasingly are used in tandem. Facebook was the site that newspapers and broadcasters spent most of 2007 and 2008 being excited about, Hughes points out.

Before that, attention focused on MySpace, sold to News Corp in 2005 for £365 billion; it now appears to be in freefall, with page views reportedly dropping by as much as 0.5% a week.

But the media's fixation with the latest digital trend is not just about hype, Beckett says. Rather, they are "one way in which the mainstream media is attempting to understand how this new technology works. There is no doubt that social networking is changing journalism."

Last week, even the staid New York Times finally appointed a social media editor to concentrate "full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms."

Still, Hughes writes, "something of a love/hate relationship continues to exist between the mainstream media and social media. On one hand, newspapers are increasingly desperate not to be left behind in these fast-changing times, yet at the same time that very desperation can see them grasping at what seems shiny and new, only to see its essence slip through their fingers."

"Certainly, mainstream journalists are often torn where new technology is concerned," says Mike Masnick, editor of the technology blog, Techdirt. "It's easy to jump in feet first and say that every new social media site is the next big thing, because if you get it wrong then it doesn't matter because the next big thing has replaced it, and you can talk that up."

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