Paul used the term in one of the headlines to his JEECamp look-back the other week. I can’t remember if the term ‘cottage’ ever crossed my lips or not – it’s usually a phrase that I’m rather wary of – so, I’ll give Paul his due.

Because, to my mind, Paul’s spot-on. Journalism has every chance of returning to a cottage industry as the next generation of local journalists finally find their feet in this ever-shifting digital landscape.

After all, there are three of us here in East Anglia who sit at our kitchen tables and churn out professional copy for a living; whether the coffee shop in Tesco’s counts as a ‘cottage’ might be a moot point as Mark looks for the best place to file his Portman Road Press conference pieces, but the fact of the matter is we all travel light these days.

A lap-top, a 3G data card and a digital voice recorder and we’re away.

And, for me, it is a case of ‘returning’ to a cottage industry. For way back when, ‘journalism’ could be achieved by writing your proclamations on a scrap piece of parchment and nailing them to the nearest church door. Ask Mr Luther.

OK, so in every likelihood it was only the print press that then allowed the word to spread, but – in essence – you could still publish from home. There was, then, no other means of production.

Until the print press, of course. Which changed the world for ever. And as said presses got bigger and better, so they became more expensive and that control of the means of production slipped out of an individual journalist’s hands for the better part of 500 years.

Just as the weavers that weaved cloth for a living found themselves enslaved to the mills, so those that weaved words for a living found themselves with a print press strapped to their back. Dark, satanic press halls and all that. The cloth barons and the Press barons; peas from the same pod. Both made fortunes from the industrialisation of wool and news.

The Internet, of course, changes everything.

For I now control my own means of production.

What I don’t, yet, control is my own means of making a living. And, for me, if we all don’t pull together soon, there is a very real danger that having shrugged that press monkey off our backs, we will find another one in its place. Its name is Google.

Hence the need to crack this advertising nut.

But the analogy with the weavers and the mills still holds true. Because for as long as a journalist continues to produce something of value – be it fetching out football quotes from a dressing room or making either a head or a tail out of a West 14th St planning application – then we have a chance.

All we have to do is organise ourselves; to build ourselves a ‘market place’ where we can, collectively and elegantly, display our wares. Most will just feel the quality of the cloth and move on; others might be tempted to buy. In bulk; en masse. From our journalistic co-operative.

And, for me, that’s what ‘mother’ does; that’s what www.myfootballwriter.com is – a market place for our home-produced wares.

Here you go; from Wikipedia. It’s a Sunday night; I’m self-subbing, so I’ll trust it’s right…

The Halifax Piece Hall is a building in the town centre of Halifax, England, originally built as a sales centre for woollen handloom weavers. It opened on January 1, 1779, with over 300 separate rooms arranged around a central courtyard. The term piece refers to pieces of wool that were sold. As factories started up in the early nineteenth century the trade in handwoven wool declined…

No different to MFW; it’s just that our ‘piece hall’ has – thus far – just three seperate rooms; just three hand-weavers. But we’re still producing pieces – two a day; sticky, 1,000-word pieces, to be precise. The ‘central courtyard’ – the place where people come to read and, potentially, buy – is the mother hub, www.myfootballwriter.com.

And if MFW can, eventually, be a 72-room hall as we cascade down the Football League ladder, www.MyLocalWriter.com can, of course, be a piece hall of many, many rooms.

At the end of next month, Rupert Murdoch opens a new, state-of-the-art print press facility at Broxbourne. It is likely to be the mill to end all mills – literally, if you’re a provincial newspaper group trying to compete in that contract print market.

Speaking in the City of London back in 2006, Murdoch all but admitted that the control of the means of production was slipping from his hands – http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2006/mar/13/news.rupertmurdoch1

“Societies or companies that expect a glorious past to shield them from the forces of change driven by advancing technology will fail and fall,” he said.

“Power is moving away from the old elite in our industry – the editors, the chief executives and, let’s face it, the proprietors.

“A new generation of media consumers has risen demanding content delivered when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it…

The mill owners are in full retreat. Time to build our piece halls, people…

Apologies if we go back to the same ‘source’ material again. And this time, I’ll give the author his due – Mr Anthony Lilley, take a bow.

But the more I read it, the more gems you find. With the same on-going proviso – that you read it through the eyes of a wood-stainer. For whether by accident or design, it bangs nail after nail on the head.

Or at least gives some great starting points for a discussion.

This baby, for example.

“Our use of media is shifting to find a new balance between the creation and distribution of content as we have known it in the age of mass media and the active participation of citizens.

“We are entering the age of “our media” – where the communication of ideas amongst groups and the sharing of content are at the heart of what’s going on…”

Spot on. The new balance between the distribution of content as we have known it and the active participation of citizens… Very good. Cos that’s new media gold – how to crack that interaction without moderation nut. As it stands, most of us have discovered only new media green on that score.

Am I going to run a messageboard community off www.myfootballwriter.com and spend my life enslaved to a moderating screen as anonymous 14-year-olds from their bedrooms Ipswich have a pop at Norwich…? Er, no.

Not as a responsible publisher with a family-friendly brand to protect. A post for another time, but that tide is on the turn was the feeling from both the floor and the platform of Paul’s JEECamp the other day.

I’d also take a different view in terms of the age of “our media”. No surprise given the fact we’re running www.myfootballwriter.com and www.mylocalwriter.com, but I’d say it was more the age of “my media” – something, you presume, Shane and his myTelegraph set-up would concur with.

This bit is good. Particularly if you insert the word ‘newspaper’ into the mix.

We already have a splendid system of media distribution using the mass media technologies of television, film, radio and, to some extent, the first generation of the web.

“Indeed, broadband networks have the added effect of improving this environment still further by facilitating access to media on-demand.

“But even this change from a scheduled world of media scarcity to a plentiful world of traditional media available on-demand represents a significant challenge to the assumptions and models of mass media players…

Newspaper hats on and two phrases leap out - “media on-demand” and “a scheduled world of media scarcity“, ie I want my news now and not when the paper-boy deigns to finally show and that “scheduled world”, one that for 400-odd years has been enslaved to the deadlines of a print press. And as such was able to keep media scarce.

And that’s a big, big word in this digital age of ours. Cos if media is scarce then it has a value. Simple supply and demand; keep supply scarce and the demand will push the price up.

To my mind – and that of Clay Shirky – the demand for media is not the problem. Everyone still wants a good read, just as they still want to listen to good music, etc, etc…

It’s the supply side that’s the problem. Media is everywhere. News is instant and universal. And free.

“Traditional media are at the zenith of their powers when they are distributing information and providing entertainment.

“These are powerful human needs; but they are not sufficient for life in the 21st century as the force of globalisation flatten our world. We are not in the information age; that has passed. We’re entering the networked, learning age…”

Sit down with a bank in these current, credit-crunched climate – and I suspect this will apply just as much to TrinityMirror, Archant, the LA Times, etc, etc, as much as it will to me and www.mylocalwriter.com – and that’s our biggest, biggest problem. Proving value.

If I can get this for free, on the web, what’s the value in your newspaper? Or, indeed, your website? Somewhere in all the recent talk of share prices halving, that fundamental thought is going through the minds of the markets. Where’s the value? When media was scarce, yeh, sure I get it… Now it’s everywhere. And costs me nothing. Where’s the value?

Because the ‘scarcity of media’ applies just as equally to the distribution of advertising as it does to the distribution of editorial content. For 400-odd years, there was only one local advertising platform in town – and that ad only ever got as far as the furthest paper-boy.

Now we’re in this ‘networked’ age and that ad doesn’t need a paper boy to carry it; advertising ain’t scarce anymore, that’s everywhere too. Where’s the value in that quarter page ad? Heh, and I’ll keep myself in the newspaper boat – where’s the value in that banner ad? What’s so special about you? Where’s your added value?

And for all of us the answer we have to urgently hope lies in that one word – that not only are we in this networked age, but we’re in this “learning” age…

Because if information is everywhere, what it actually means is still – thankfully – quite scarce. Or rather those that actually know what that information means are still quite scarce; those that can add the ‘learning’ to a football score, an on-line police rap sheet, a roadside death in Iraq, and all those other bland, bald pieces of information that don’t come with education attached.

That’s why I look at www.everyblock.com with huge admiration – in all but one, key regard. I want to learn from it, not be informed by it. Information is everywhere; learning isn’t… what do I learn from a hygiene report? A police crime stat? I want the analysis, the colour, the background – and I want it from a source that I respect and trust.

That’s the value.

One night last autumn I discovered I had 24-hours in which to submit my final proposal for this year’s Knight News Challenge; boy was the midnight oil burned.

But in my hour of desperate need, I found a quote from Bill Keller as he warned that for all this explosion of information on the Internet, the supply of reliable news reporting was dwindling.

“What is absent from the vast array of new media outlets is, first and foremost, the great engine of news-gathering – the people who witness events, ferret out information, supply context and explanation.”

There’s your scarcity; there’s your value; there’s our future.

Now explain it to a bank.

We haven’t mentioned banks yet. We will.

But on one of my little forays down to London, a mate of mine who helped me unearth Mexican Kev’s missing ‘millions’ from somewhere in mid-banking Atlantic introduced me to one of his best ‘blue sky thinkers’.

Nice lad, to be fair. And you could see he was Mr Blue Sky from the moment you walked into this open plan office. He was the one afforded enough space for a putting machine.

Anyway, I did the Mark I water lilies and long tails at him; he then did nice triangles at me.

Speaking to Kyle of www.scunnered.com fame at Paul’s JEECamp do last week, we discovered that we had at least one thing in common – we’d both had the triangle talk in the course of our various brushes with the banks. Maybe it was the same bloke; maybe he only does triangles.

Anyway, decent lad, etc… but we weren’t really on the same planet. We certainly didn’t talk the same language.

Which brings me – albeit in a roundabout way – to this little gem that popped up on www.journalism.co.ukhttp://www.journalism.co.uk/2/articles/531198.php – a lesson in how we should all be making money Google-style from those good people at Ernst & Young.

“The online revenue gap between nationals and Google is also evident if we consider that the latter could have generated £2.40 per UK unique user per month from its websites in 2007, compared to top newspaper websites’ £0.10 to £0.13,” said Luca Mastrodonato, media and entertainment analyst, Ernst & Young.

“This gap is an opportunity for newspapers as it shows that monetising online services in the UK is possible. But to do so, newspapers need to move away from the volume based CPM model towards more interactive ad models such as CPC (cost-per-click) or CPL (cost-per-lead)…

Far be it from me to stand up for either national or local newspaper industry, but I think Luca may be one of those that does triangles.

CPL – cost-per-lead – is something we ran courtesy of the OnLine Media Group here in Norwich.

I couldn’t get it to work.

I’m sure it does elsewhere, but when punters are on your site to read their football news, they don’t tend to buy a car insurance policy. Nor pet insurance. Bike insurance. Van insurance.

Nor do they order travel holiday brochures. Or even order bottles of wine. Not even if you’re offering 50% off a case of Virgin Wine.

The only thing, at the time, that the whole CPL thing gave me was access to a whole load of nice-looking banners that ran through the site and made me and our Kev look like the ad salesman of all time. Cash-wise? I’d like to say not a bean; it wasn’t a bean, it was peanuts.

Having just logged into my cobwebbed account, I can arm Luca with our up-to-date ’08 figures for the Virgin Wines offer we ran through the www.myfootballwriter.com/ipswichtown site until, that is, we got Ipswich Audi on board last month. Here we are, 29,624 impressions for 18 clicks… validated transactions? That would be nil, Mr Waghorn.

Half price cases of wine off a footie site. Not a taker in sight.

Because people don’t come to a football site to buy a case of wine… You come to a football site to read about football.

Just as when you go to a news site, you go there to read about news. Not to buy wine. Or car insurance. Or pet insurance.

OK, maybe it was me.

Here we go – another exercise for Paul’s kids when it comes to teaching journalism by teaching advertising.

First story that grabbed my eye when on the Guardian home page; I was in that ‘I’ve got a mo…’ mood; I’ll go see what’s happening in the world…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/19/tibet.china2

The Guardian runs the smartest piece of adsense-type advertising software around that story and what on earth in that story is ever going to encourage anyone to click-through somewhere? They’ll click on the embedded video; that’s an advertising ‘click through’ model, for sure.

But only cos they’ve still got their ‘news’ hats on; nothing else.

I guess we can rule out the ‘Trekking in Tibet’ buttons; B&Bs in Lhasa… in fact the only possible thing that crossed my mind came from the last line….

“The Dalai [Lama] is a wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast…”

At a push, you might get a couple of clicks on a Fancy Dress place. Otherwise, don’t work.

Not on news; not on football. People aren’t in the mood.

Ernst&Young. Bet they do triangles.

With Kev hanging out of his back bedroom window, Ian slaving over a hot addiply cms in his mum’s spare room and Neil off proofing the history of art, it was time for the boss to treat the rest of the MFW troops to lunch.

Both of them. It should have been three, but Tom was down with flu.

Mark does Ipswich, Nick does Colchester; both do MFW like a dream.

There was a time when we thought we might go the franchise route with MFW; build a football reporter starter-pack and let people take the ‘kit’ off the shelf and off they go; it’s where we think MLW might be able to go.

But go down the franchise route and, as far as I could ever work out, I’d have spent the last six months slaving night and day writing a training manual.

So instead when first Mark and then Nick joined the party, their ‘kit’ was a 3G data card, one of those digital voice recorders with the UBS thing that makes them a radio station and a decent, second-hand motor off Col’s Cars in Acle. £120 a month over three years; works out OK.

Like most 20-somethings, they come with a lap-top attached.

A quick chat about remembering they’re a local; that it’s great to get a headline one day; not so great if that same headline doesn’t talk to you the next… and that was about it, I think.

I showed them once how to upload the Action Images stuff off the CMS; Neil bunged them the link to their site stats to keep track of their hourly circulation figures and neither of them have missed a trick. Or a deadline.

They’ve had to change; to adapt. We all work Sundays. For until the provincial newspaper industry start producing Sunday newspapers – or flooding out the post-match quotes and copy ahead of their Monday print editions – we’ve got that day to ourselves; but they don’t seem to be bothered.

Write the piece on a Saturday night before you go out; time the piece on the CMS to go up at 10am on Sunday morning and these boys can still be sleeping off the night before as they publish to the waiting world.

During the week, minus deadlines we have this deal that they aim for the whole ‘My first coffee break…’ market sometime around the mid-morning; then hit the ‘One last look before I log off…’ brigade some time around 5; 5.30pm. And all the time, you’re about to roll out stuff as and when anything breaks.

Because these days punters call the shots; they access their news when they want to – and where they want to. Not when we tell them. It’s on your door mat at 4.40pm. Take it or leave it…

And we’re not going to get everything first; ask most football reporters these days and they get sweet FA first – not ‘news’ wise. News belongs to the clubs; that’s why they run their own TV stations; hire ‘club journalists’… the rest of us just mop up afterwards.

That’s why we run the RSS feeds from elsewhere; look here’s the news from the local newspaper, Sky, BBC, Telegraph football… just get it off our site while you’re here… And look, before anyone starts to complain, here’s your branding on our site…

News is everywhere; me, Mark and Nick can’t be. So we link.

And this is the thing; they get all of this; the fact that all we can ever do now is aim at this ‘When I get a mo…’ market; the fact that they need to work slightly different days; be slightly more flexible in their thinking.

But they’ve been flexible in their thinking since the first time they set a finger on a keyboard. When they were five, probably. In school.

This generation of young journalists embraced the web years ago; they know what it can deliver; they don’t need a training manual; it’s in their DNA.

Podcasts? Yeh, fine… Upload pictures? Whatever…

We got 72 CVs through for the Colchester gig; good CVs; nigh-on all were the same age, same background; journalism courses, year or so on a local weekly; a good few on an evening sports desk. All can clearly see the writing on the wall.

So you go back and say: ‘Right, given a choice…. given your contacts, location… what club would you like to do?’ And they’re all there; the six for Watford, four for Preston, eight for Palace. Cos they all get it; like I still don’t most of the time.

Twitter? Me? Behave.

But my boys will. Stand in front of that JEECamp and listen to Paul talk about what his kids are up to and, boy, are they going to have fun.

Someone, somewhere, just needs to set them free. That’s why we want to beta MyLocalWriter through the J-Schools, the colleges, the universities. Cos the kids know what they’re doing; they know where their world is going.

Most of the time, we haven’t got a clue.

A scribble, yesterday

It was a simple question from Pete Ashton – and one that, at the time, I had no answer to.

I’m not sure I do now.

Which is why, in part, Out With A Bang is here to help. Kind of.

Anyway, the question. ‘Is that model you drew online?’

Drew is probably over-stating it. Scribbled is a more accurate phrase as the old flip chart, marker pen and A-frame were assembled for the new kid on the (un)conference block as I tried to offer some ‘elegant organisation’ to the whole MFW thing. And, indeed, potentially to the whole www.mylocalwriter.com baby.

I’d scribbled the thing out a couple of times before – once to some Barclays Bank types who drew a really lovely triangle by way of return; all-too-often to Col and Gary at the accountants who tend to nod politely as their eyes glaze over; once to Shane Richmond in the midst of a ‘Norwich aren’t going down, are they?’ conversation that he invariably demands.

OK, the idea is that if journalism is to thrive and survive in any post wood-stainer world, we have to build new alliances, forge fresh commercial links; re-organise; re-invent; start again from a blank piece of paper – and scribble all over it. Elegantly.

And what we create are these tubes – and I’m sure someone will think of a better term – but tubes that are, as I discovered at Charlie Beckett’s POLIS gig way back when, “two inches wide, but a mile deep…” Long tails. That’s the theory.

So beneath our mothership, www.myfootballwriter.com, we bolt a succession of sub-sites on www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcity, www.myfootballwriter.com/ipswichtown and down and down we go.

For down there in the depths is this hyper-local world that features not only some prime, ‘sticky’ content, but also all that untapped local advertising; all these traditional, evening newspaper types who have built their own little business websites of late but don’t now know what to do with them…

Up top, where the sun shines and the lily pads are, that’s this new and emerging world of previously ‘national’ media brands who are suddenly discovering an escape route via global audiences – that’s where the circulation wars of the future will be fought between your Mails, Times, Telegraphs and Guardians. In their ABCe’s – how many monthly uniques are they pulling from the Mid-West US….

The trick is to devise an editorial and advertising platform that mirrors a Craig’s List or an eBay; that has this similar capacity to be both local in focus, but national in scope.

That’s why the BBC is laughing – or would be if it ever got the green light to do what it’s doing on its Worldwide platform and source UK-facing advertising.

For it can be this huge, global media beast – and yet at the same time via its county radio stations and its forthcoming BBC Local roll-out – it can drill down to being local in focus.

Just as MFW can. As ITVLocal.com can – albeit via its regional platforms. As, in fairness, RightMove, PrimeLocation, Monster and all those boys are.

With their minds all set on broadening their global appeal, do the Mails, the Telegraphs and the Times’ want to dive down to the bottom of the pond and see what’s there? Or will they concentrate their energies on spreading their wings and being a lily pad – and let someone else hoover up what’s down below?

Cos then, the theory goes, you just bolt your tube onto the bottom of a lily-pad; up comes local content and local advertising – down goes national content and, potentially, national advertising… BMW ads and Russell Brand’s Saturday football column makes it to the bottom of the MFW pond, as podcasts with Mick Mills and Johnny Wark reach the surface.

And this is where me and the provincial newspaper industry go our seperate ways.

Cos they’re neither lily-pad nor bottom-dwelling pond-life.

As this new kid on the (un)conference block I did my homework before JEECamp and looked at Trinity Mirror’s excellent online communities site that they have trialled – very successfully – out of the Gazette. I know that TS10 is the postcode for Redcar.

And fair play, it’s good.

And then you read that they’re planning a ‘national’ roll-out. Fantastic.

So when are you going to do NR14? Have one of those TrinityMirror babies rolling down our street? Complete with a local advertising revenue driver…

Cos clearly this being Archant-land, they won’t mind. As they won’t in every other traditional provincial newspaper fiefdom across the country. Don’t mind us, you carry on…

Me, Neil, Kev and Ian are four boys on their laptops. This being Norfolk, if I want a mobile phone signal to speak to Kev my ad man, I need to stand in a three-foot circle in our dining room; he answers by leaning out of his back bedroom window.

But we can still see a lily pad.

mylocalwriter.com/ts10, mylocalwriter.com/nr14 – or mylocalwriter.com/redcar, mylocalwriter.com/loddon if you prefer.

From there it’s up and into MySun, MyTelegraph or whoever…

Well, that’s our theory. F*ck it.

Like the blog says, let’s go out with a bang.

Actually it’s more a case of trying to work out how this thing works…

Anyway, welcome to Out With A Bang.

For which you need to blame-stroke-thank Paul Bradshaw, Pete Ashton and Banks’ Brewery who – quite correctly, with hindsight – pointed out a gaping hole in MFW’s armoury, a blog in the beery aftermath of last Friday’s JEECamp.

But one early word of warning, Out With A Bang is not going to touch on all things football. Or not much, anyway. That’s the day job; this is the late-at-night musings bit.

This is bit where we work out – in public – what on earth we’re ever going to do with MFW’s new big sister, www.mylocalwriter.com; how we can spread the gospel of www.addiply.com and, how, in short we can ever hope to make a difference when it comes to the survival of quality local journalism.

Hence the title. Cos if we are all engaged ‘in a race to the bottom’ as I was cheerily told by some BlogAds lad at Jeff Jarvis’ NewsInnovation.com bash in New York last autumn, let’s at least go down kicking and screaming; let’s not walk quietly into the night.

Let’s ask some awkward questions of our former lords and masters now that – perhaps – we’ve got one or two answers.

Or rather, got one or two answers as to what doesn’t work. As for what does, let’s just say that that, for now, remains very much a work in progress.

Doing the day job I do, you get to see an awful lot of the A14; hence you turn the music up loud. And on Thursday as I headed off to Paul’s JEECamp, it was The Smiths banging out of the dashboard. ‘Typical me, typical me… I’ve started something… and now I’m not so sure…’

Which probably is a good a theme tune for Out With A Bang as any.

That said, me and Martin Stabe agreed on one thing way back when – that if there is a message for our troubled times, then it comes from the lips of Clay Shirky.

And probably it is worth quoting in full as we go out with a bang. Because it changed my life. Whether it was the fact that I read it on my 40th birthday; whether it was because, at the time, there was a one-in-three redundancy process going through the sports and subs desks at Archant; whether I was just over-due a mid-life crisis… I don’t know.

But I know, one way or another – be it commercially or physically – Shirky’s words will follow me to my grave…

“In the same way that there’s a split between the music industry and the recording industry, there’s a split between writers and the newspaper industry.

“The recording industry is in trouble but the music industry is not, because musicians still make music and people still care about music enormously. The people who sell plastic circles with the music on it, on the other hand, are in real trouble.

“So if you base your business model on producing plastic circles, or, by analogy, staining wood with ink, you’re going to be in trouble.

“Do people care about good writing? Of course they do, and it’s the writers who can adapt to the new technologies. The only technological innovation that the newspaper industry is waiting for is a time machine so that it can turn back the clock.”

That’s it. That’s the straw we all need to cling to; that’s why I look at all the numbers we’re churned out at MFW over the last couple of years and cling to 436 seconds like you wouldn’t believe.

Why? Cos that’s the average visit time to www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcity in the month of January ’08. We had 33,000 of them; on average visiting three and a bit times. And every time they visited they stayed for over 7 minutes.

Why are they staying for that long? It ain’t rocket science; we’re giving them a good read. About a subject that they love. A passionate niche that commands their attention for at least seven minutes of their frantic lives.

Because we deliver it to where they want it. On their office lap-top, their home PC and, above all, into the palm of their hand. Onto their mobile.

We don’t ask them to waste seven minutes of their lives going to find a newspaper…

Crass advertising slogan, but as you will come to know, I suspect, I’ve got an eight-year-old boy.

I look at him and you just know it’s not in his genes with a ‘g’ to read a local newspaper; what’s in his jeans with a ‘j’ is a mobile phone.

Or rather, will be. When his Mum says yes…

The trick that we’ve all got to pull as professional journalists is to get our words and our news to his mobile phone by a means that can earn us all a living.

But if there’s one first thought to cling to, it is to take Shirky’s words to heart. It’s not us that’s in danger of becoming an endangered species… it’s newspapers.

Sure our own reticence, our own conservatism is part of the problem, but some way down the line we will still be part of the solution. We just won’t need those who still insist on staining wood with ink.

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