Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Yet another edition of Writing for the Media in the works [and other cliches]

First this: My first writing tutor at university, Rosalie de Rosset, tried to instill in me a phobia of clichés, which she would ridicule without mercy. So it's with trepidation that I ask that you - and she - indulge me in this post

No one can be more surprised than I am (cliché 1) that the text I pull together in those months before South African's first democratic election is still considered useful enough to would-be journalists and trainers that the publishers want yet another edition.

A recent letter from folks at Oxford University Press noted that Writing for the Media 3e is being used at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Central University of Technology, University of the Free State, Johannesburg University, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Pretoria, University of South Africa, Vaal University of Technology, Durban Institute of Technology, University of KwaZulu Natal, University of Zululand, University of Venda, North West University, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the University of Cape Town.

I'm aware that much, perhaps the most, of the book's value is due to the input from colleagues across the industry in South Africa and further afield. I'll again be knocking on doors for input and, if all goes well, the 4th edition will be published in the months before this country's third general election. A gap of about 14 years.

Of course, a great deal has changed, in the country and in our industry. I’ll certainly be looking more closely at how technology has changed our media landscape and specifically how once-clear divisions between “professional” and “popular” communication merge and blend online as traditional differences between message senders and receivers, producers and consumers are replaced by a vast, fluid, ongoing, multi-voiced discourse (Burnett and Marshall, 2003).

The networked digital environment has meant an end to media forms that are discrete or concrete. With it has come the blurring of the boundaries between journalists and their audiences as millions of individuals and organizations have discovered and begun to exercise the ability to interact and express themselves online. Journalists and audiences are is becoming intertwined in complex and little-understood ways. Tricky stuff.

On the other hand [need to get my clichés quotient up], I’m also mindful of Solomon’s wisdom- "there’s nothing new under the sun" - and will aim to highlight those elements which are constant, such as the human need for news and information that can assist with decision-making and social cohesion.

Clearly, putting together the next edition of this text will be no small challenge. And so these final clichés – which are no less true for that - all comments, suggestions or contributions will be most welcome. My copy deadline is February 2008. So, I, er, we had better get to it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

After the 14th World Editors Forum

Well, it's over. The 14th World Editors Forum and 60th World Association of Newspapers Congress wrapped up in Cape Town with the words, 'See you in Goteborg!'; Sweden's second city and host to the next event.

And perhaps we'll have to wait till then to see the real impact of the four days of presentations (including mine), discussions and deal-making, which organisers say drew 'some 1600' delegates to the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Some of the key points for me were:

- While most editors now acknowledge the need to take advantage of opportunities that new media channels offer, many are still hoping that they can do that without re-engineering their operations.

- Everyone's grappling with how to make money. Actually, most are trying to figure out how to make as much (or more) money doing what we've always done, just more of it. Of course, bottom line is this: we can't. We either have to change or expand what we do, or change our expectations of the rewards.

- Mainstream media companies used to the push model are grappling with the search-find-share paradigm on the Web, and the particular power of search engines (read: Google).

- Mobile media is mostly seen as channel to push more content, while mobile devices are being used as reporting tools. There's still very little discussion about how mobile technologies can be used to engage in conversation with communities. By that I mean how to connect individuals - not simply how to push content from corporates to audiences or even how corporates can get content from individuals.

- The Declaration of Table Mountain is a reminder for that multimedia doesn't necessary mean a a free press.

On to Gotenborg?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Contenders for the first Dolly's© for the Worst Newspaper Video

Perhaps I should revive my tongue-in-cheek suggestion for the Dolly Awards . Paul Bradshaw has identified some serious contenders for the Worst Newspaper Video category from amongst the offerings of the UK regional press. In the process, his posting reiterates some points I've been making in discussions with traditional newsrooms who including online video amongst their offerings:

  • Online video is NOT television. Online is to television what television is to film, what film is to theatre, what theatre is to books... In all cases direct imitation is typically NOT flattering. Online news video is a new genre and it will take some time to establish best practice.
  • Training (sufficient and on-going) isn't a nice-to-have, it's essential. Sending out poorly trained staff into the online world is not only potentially embarrassing and demoralising for the ridiculed journalist, it is probably bad for business. It's like trying to sell a bad newspaper through novel promotions: all you're doing is getting more people aware of the poor quality of your offering. After the promotion, they're unlikely to be back.
  • Novelty isn't a substitute for quality. Once the novelty of simply having video online wears off, those who are want to compete will need to distinguish themselves in the (highly competitive) online space by exhibiting exceptional creativity and craft. And that, as in any field of endeavour, takes investment.
In the meantime, Paul offers some nifty suggestions:

Rule #1: if you’re aiming to imitate broadcast television, make sure you’ve watched it since the ’80s.

Rule #2: if you use a cloth for a background, make sure you iron it.

Rule #3: tempted to use those fancy transition effects on your video editing software? Don’t.

Rule #4: if you’re going to do ‘green screen’ make sure the green covers the whole background.

Rule #5: don’t start talking to your mate while the camera is still filming.

Rule #6: speak clearly, slow down.

Rule #7: film at a time or place when people are not coming in and out of a door and mumbling to each other out-of-shot

Rule #8: do more than one take.

Hill Hunt added two more:

9. Try being interesting or at least (unintentionally) funny.

10. If you can’t, at least tell us something new - not a list of the bleeding obvious.

Further suggestions - and nominees for the Dolly's© - now being accepted.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Facing the New(ish) Digital Frontier - Mobile Media

The buzz that Google is poised to leap into mobile is growing stronger. It's not surprising, really. Google guru Vinton Cerf has been talking up the importance of mobile phones quite a bit recently saying that the future growth of the Internet lies in the hands of mobile phone users, not computers.

Cerf has pointed out that while the Internet population has exploded from 50 million to 1.1 billion since 1997, it still only reaches a sixth of the world's population. “You will get those other 5.5 billion people only when affordability increases and the cost of communication goes down," said Cerf, 63, who joined Google in 2005 as Vice President. By contrast, analysts say mobile phone connections recently topped 2.5 billion and are expected to reach 3 billion by the end of 2007 . A recent study showed that more than half of mobile phones in circulation were enabled to access data services and that 56% of users accessed at least one data services each a month, up dramatically from a year ago. “The mobile phone has become an important factor in the Internet revolution, " said Cerff.

Mainstream media companies aren't entirely asleep at the wheel.

A study of 38 US news sites published last week as part of The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2007 State of the American News Media Report showed that about a third (12 sites) of the sites in the sample allowed content delivery customization, such as RSS feeds, podcasts or mobile phone alerts. According to Visiongain, by 2008, 89% of brands in Europe will use SMS & MMS to reach their audience and 1/3 will spend more than 10% of their marketing budgets on the mobile channel.

Since I'm in the business of helping mainstream media companies develop the capacity to meet the challenges that our industry faces, I've been looking around at some innovations in mobile media and have invited Eamonn Carey from upstart Random Thoughts Media to the 6th Journalism Leaders Forum panel on May 15th . Eomann's work for O2 mobile, sponsors of the Irish national rugby team, should ring some alarm bells with mainstream media groups who are still dithering on their commitment to digital innovation - it demonstrates that there are a host of nimble, new media-christened production and distribution companies who are willing and able to help advertisers engage directly with audiences.

- If you've know of good, bad or brilliant examples of the use of mobile phones by mainstream media, I'd really appreciate the links.
- I'm looking forward to seeing what comes from the link up between media monoliths Media24/Naspers and minos . Any ideas?
- For a primer on the subject see 'Mobile and Newspapers - A Quick Lessons' . Be sure to read the comments at the end, too.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Digg this: appetite for online news & information grows, social media site is the rising star

Mainstream media publishers diving into digital should be encouraged by the lastest report from Hitwise : News andMedia websites experienced 28% year-on-year growth in market share of UK Internet visits in January. But there's also a warning: the biggest winner wasn't a traditional news provider, but social news site . was the fastest growing News andMedia website year-on-year in January among the top 100 sites based on visits.’s market share of UK internet visits grew more than 5-old comparing January 2006 and January2007. was the #1 IT Media website in January 2007 and the #32 ranked News and Mediawebsite. The website’s ranking climbed from #85 in August and from #182 in January 2006.

Heather Hopkins, VP of Research for Hitwise UK, said:
"Traditional print media brands are learning the ways of the web and growth in visits to the categoryreflects a new lease of life for the sector. Yesterday’s positive earnings announcement from the Financial Times, citing online advertising sales up30%, supports the resurgence that offline media brands are enjoying online. Print media websites enjoyeda strong year, with visits up 28% year-on-year in January, making it one of the fastest growingcategories. However, challenging times lie ahead as more and more consumers turn to nimble socialmedia websites for news and analysis.”

NOTE: Earlier this month, Heather discussed a draft of this white paper at a special Editor's Briefing we hosted in Preston. She also participated in the 5th Journalism Leaders Forum entitled "Media Mashups! How Traditional Media Brands Survive and Thrive in a Wired World." You can watch a recording of that session HERE

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How many 'portions' of television contributes to a healthy diet?

Only caught a snippet of last night's BBC - Radio 4 - PM report on children and television that included an interview with Dr Arik Sigmund who synthesized the findings of 35 major studies on the affects of television on children. [Note to BBC: please post a podcast of it on the PM site]. In brief, Dr Sigmund's point, as I understood it, was this: too much TV is very, very bad for kids' brains and (expanding) butts. Speaking for the 'other side' was a bloke from BBC children's TV who argued that 'correlation doesn't mean causation', i.e. just because TV addicts can't concentrate and tend to be obese, doesn't mean that it's TV's fault. And even if there is a problem, he added continuing his Big Mac Defense, don't blame us, we just make the stuff; it's up to the consumers - kids and their parents - to take responsibility for their own media consumption habits.

Reminds me of the ongoing discussions around the use and abuse of alcohol, which are also in the news this week ( "12-year-old Scotch may be the greatest alcohol, but 12-year-old Brits are the greatest alcoholics" ). The contribution by public health professionals - and the some industry players - to the debate has been to promote 'responsible use' - AND to articulate what that means, i.e. guides on how many units a day are acceptable, etc.
  • Suggestion: Perhaps the BBC - which aims to not simply be a public broadcaster, but a public good - could work with researchers (such as Dr Sigmund?) to develop guidelines for parents (and others) on how many minutes/ hours a day of 'screen time' would be acceptable as part of a balanced media diet.

Friday, February 16, 2007

And The Winner Is... ABC For Best Sell-Out Of An Oscar Telecast

MediaPost reports:

ABC Thursday wrapped up sales for its coverage of this year's Oscar® telecast, fetching more than (US)$1.6 million per 30-second spot for what traditionally is the second most expensive reoccurring network TV ad property of the year.

I'll soon be auctioning ad space for the officialDolly's© Webcast. Anyone want to open the bidding?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Move over Oscar®, it's time for the ... Dolly's©?

We've had the the Golden Globe Awards®, the Baftas®, and coming soon are the Oscar's®. Next, I propose, we should have the Dolly’s©. But first some background.

The (UK) Press Gazette this week ran a piece on the use of online video by newspapers in which they quote Guardian Unlimited's head of editor development Neil McIntosh saying something which has been a bit of a mantra for us here at the Journalism Leaders Programme:

The first question newspapers should be asking is 'why would you do this?'

...Asking users to "sit forward" and watch video online is a "big commitment", he says, but the rise of YouTube has shown that there is a huge market for "good, gripping video in short bursts".

McIntosh argues that this has been almost completely ignored by other newspapers. "They are often producing very long things or content that is not very gripping at all, or full of stock images of men in suits walking through revolving doors. That works perfectly well on broadcast television but when you're demanding that the user pay attention for short bursts, you've got to do better than that," he says.

There is no inherent advantage in being a newspaper trying to do video. The only reason why users will come to us, or anyone else, is that we're telling a story as well as, if not better than other places, or in a different way. It's something which we've seen with the success of our podcasts — they are strongest in areas in which we can
actually deliver something which is different from the BBC — and let's face it they're our biggest rival in all of this."

Back to the awards. It will probably be a while before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (and the like) include a ‘Best Use of IPTV by M(ain)S(tream)M(edia)’ category. So, in the spirit of the ‘citizen journalism/consumer power/we the media etc, I propose the Dolly's© (in memory of the cloning pioneer). With that, I’m taking suggestions for:

1. Award Categories ("Best Immitation of BBC news bulletin"?)
2. Nominees for each category (see above)

Heck, everything's still up for grab. If you don't like the Dolly's© and you've got an alternative suggestion, let me know too.

[In the meantime, I'm going to try to find out more about another quote in Zoe Smith's piece:

Research by Informa Telecoms and Media has found that the trend towards online TV and video reflects wider cultural changes. The company predicts that revenue generated from online TV and video services will rise from $42m in 2006 to $364m in 2009, rocketing to $708 in 2012.

Got many questions about this, including wanting to know the criteria used to generate these numbers. Answers?]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pause, replay and keep the 'Media Mashups' Forum debate going

After more than an hour and half, we hit ‘pause’ – not ‘stop’ - on the provocative 5th Journalism Leaders Forum discussion on the challenges facing traditional media in the Web 2.0 Age.

Amongst the many issues raised by the distinguished panel - Jane Singer, Alan Moore, Heather Hopkins and Mark Tungate – was this from Alan:

"Trust, engagement, connectivity, life-enhancement, life-simplification and navigation sums up magazines and their current success, not least through internet contact with their readers. Does this mean traditional [news] brands should look to [consumer] magazines as a template for the future?"

A look at the 2006/2007 World Magazine Trends report from the International Federation of the Periodical Press or FIPP (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Périodique) suggests he may have a point:

The [UK]consumer magazine industry was valued at £2,984 million in 2005, up by £135 million on the previous year. Consumer expenditure increased by 6.2% year-on-year to reach £2,157 million while advertising expenditure rose by 1% to £829 million. Total annual sales increased by 7% to 1,438 million copies per annum which means that since the year 2000, consumer magazines have enjoyed continuous year-on-year growth in both annual sales volume and purchasers’ expenditure. The number of consumer titles published rose by 42 to 3,366 between 2004 and 2005, the fourth consecutive year of growth.
So, why don’t you review an unedited recording of the Webinar here and post your comments on the Forum blog?

The 6th Forum is scheduled for 15 May 2007. We’ll post the details soonest.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Why the 'quite startling' use of the Internet by SA daily newspapers?

“Yes. Perhaps, but probably not.” Is the short answer to Chicago-based Robb Montgomery’s comment on my previous post:

These measurements are quite startling. I suspect these anemic figures directly correlate to the level of broadband penetration in S.A. What can you tell us about that metric.

Yes, these figures are startling and perhaps some of it can be attributed to Internet accessibility and affordability, in general, and of broadband, in particular. Reports show that just over 10%, internet penetration in South Africa is more than three times that of the average for the continent (a little more than 3%) and about on par with the average for Asia (10%). However, it is far behind the rates in Latin America (16%), Europe (38.6) Oceania / Australia (53.5%) and North America (69.4%). [Check out for a primer on the debate in SA].

However, I suspect the lacklustre use of the Internet by the daily newspapers is not simply an issue of access: millions of people in South Africa do have Internet access and around 7 million at home and abroad access news and information sites.

And it’s not primarily an issue of money: World Bank GDP rankings put South Africa at 27th, just below Denmark (26) and above Greece (28), Ireland (29) and Iran (30) . E-tailing was reported up 30% in 2006 to R668 million (about US $98 million) and this year online advertising is expected to be worth around R200million (about US$28million).

And it’s not even an issue of awareness: at the continent’s largest annual conference for journalists, Highway Africa – which is actively supported and attended by most of the major media groups - the Internet has officially been on the local industry’s agenda for more than a decade.

It's not simply an issue of capacity: in 1994, the Mail & Guardian was one of the first newspapers in the world to go online.

It is, I would argue, down to leadership. In that, South African newspaper editors have much in common with their colleagues in the UK (the group with which I have the most interaction) and elsewhere (I suspect) : they've been happy to be seen to be on the web, but are not part of the web. With that they've been happy to let the techies do their thing somewhere else, but not nearly as eager to integrate operations. For example, the two of the largest media houses in SA have built pretty successful 'shovelware' news portals - & - which operate independently.

But there is evidence of some new thinking, as I've noted before and of which Johnnic Communication's Ohmynews-like site,, is a further example: The company's hugely profitable Sunday Times newspaper has also recently re-launched its website and have include interactivity which should help build a daily (rather than just weekly) dialogue with their users. Not a bad idea, especially given rumours that they're planning to spin off a daily print paper sometime soon.

Robb, also asked: "Who has it and who doesn't?". Any ideas?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What do you think the Internet use by SA's daily newspapers shows?

After the Bivings Report released an analysis of the Top 100 newspapers in America and their use of the web last August, I volunteered to take a look at how their South African counterparts were doing.

The SA study kept moving down and along my ‘To Do’ list until, in a last-gasp attempt to clear my list (and my conscience) before I logged off for the Christmas break, I solicited the help of Jethro Goko, a South African editor participating in our Journalism Leaders Programme . Jethro, who edits The Herald in Port Elizabeth, asked a staffer, Duncan Reyneke, to help collect the data. Today, I finally got around to writing some of it up and will keep posting bits as time allows and in response to questions.

The chart here shows the preliminary results of our analysis of the websites of the 19 daily newspaper titles in SA, as monitored by South African Advertising Research Foundation (Amps 2006A). Whatever else it shows – and I’d certainly welcome your insights – it’s clear that South African newspaper websites have a way to go.

While the country's largest circulation (tabloid) daily doesn't have a website at all, there is evidence of some experimentation with multimedia amongst the traditional titles. Notably, Media 24’s Die Burger, introduced audio and video last year.

However, in the main, South African dailies seem to be ignoring the key opportunity the Internet offers – the ability to engage in dialogue and collaborate with users. Or, to paraphrase Dan Gilmore, most still see news as a lecture, not as a conversation. That implies listening at least as much as you speak.

The papers, listed in order of readership and market share, are:

Daily Sun 12.4 none
Sowetan 4.9
Isolezwe 2.3
The Star 2.2
Die Burger 1.6
The Citizen 1.5
Beeld 1.4
Daily News 1.1
Cape Argus 1.1
Daily Dispatch 0.8
Cape Times 0.8
Daily Voice 0.7 none
The Mercury 0.7
The Herald 0.6
Die Volksblad
Witness 0.4
Pretoria News 0.3
Business Day 0.3
DF Advertiser 0.2 none

Note: In order to compare findings with those of similar studies of newspaper title websites in other countries – such as Brazil, Denmark and Italy, New Zeeland and the UK - we did not include the three most popular news portals in South Africa. Independent Online and News24 aggregate the content from the Independent News & Media and Naspers-owned Media24 titles, respectively, while the Mail & Guardian Online is linked to a weekly paper. (Looking at the weekly papers' sites is on my ‘To Do’ list for this year...)

In the meantime, what do you think the Internet use by SA's daily newspapers shows?