March 2008

Given that this little baby was thrown together in something approaching haste the other night, Neil and I thought about jazzing OutWithABang up with a picture, now that both of you were reading it.

Having digged around for something appropriate, this somehow struck a chord…

In the end, it all proved a bit fiddly; a bit copyrighty. And we ditched the whole idea for a subtle shade of white.

But the more I looked at Mr D Potter suspended in mid-air, the more I realised it wasn’t the picture that struck a chord, more the headline…

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 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,

And if MFW can, eventually, be a 72-room hall as we cascade down the Football League ladder, 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 –

“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…

Many, many moons ago – when was even less than a twinkle in anyone’s eye – we stumbled out into this digital world as

I say, stumbled. And with good reason. Because in two years I’m not sure we’ve ever put one foot firmly in front of the other; it’s always been a case of putting a tentative toe forward and gently seeing if the ground is about to give away beneath our feet.

And I defy anyone to say that, hand on heart, they know what they’re doing. We’re all slaving over our Bunsen burners throwing in bits of subscription here, local advertising there…. hubble and bubble, tons of toil and plenty of trouble trying to discover this new media gold…

Anyway, back to our Mark I incarnation, For those of you who never set eyes on it, it had this set of legs whirring around on the top; the big idea was that these were the subscription characters – The Wife, The Pro, Eyes, etc, etc.

Given that Neil arrived on the scene only two weeks before its launch, his hands are clean; it had my finger-prints all over it. Which is why it is nowhere to be seen these days…

The other ‘big’ idea was that as a local journalist whose ugly mug had adorned various Carrow Road advertising hoardings and Norwich bus-stops for a number of years – there is a decent grafitti gag to be had on the speech bubble that adorned the one on Castle Meadow and my elderly mother’s reaction to someone’s spelling of the word… – but this being a family-orientated blog, we’ll move swiftly on.

The point is that – rightly or wrongly – I figured I had a strong enough local ‘brand’ that if I needed to throw myself off the top of Archant Towers and put my faith, my mortgage and my eight-year-old’s future in the hands of the Internet, there would be enough of a welcoming committee on the web to break my fall.

Cos I had a name. And that name wasn’t John Smith. It was easy on Google’s eye; if no-one else’s. And as such people would come and find me; we’d work the brand; the brand, the awareness and the bus-stop presence that 12-odd years sat on the back page of the Evening News had given me.

And if I could get my name, my brand to work out of one city evening newspaper, why not look to bring out all the other boys and girls who did my beat? Tatts in Birmingham; Mark in Portsmouth; Meeksy in Barnsley; Adam in Southampton… we were all on the same circuit; pounding the same beat; delivering the same, informed opinion and comment on a passionate niche subject – just to different niche audiences… then we pull all those niche audiences into one…

But it doesn’t work.

Cos you can’t work off a name; can’t work off an individual journalist.

And, in part, that’s back to that bus-stop. Or rather the no47 bus that arrives there. Because as far as a bank are concerned – and, indeed, your punters are concerned – you could fall under that bus. And, bang, the whole thing folds in an instant.

On this occasion, I see a bank’s point; you build a community around any one person’s individual name and it is only ever as strong and as durable as the individual concerned. Take Rick Waghorn out of and it collapses; on a wholly different level altogether, it’s why I don’t think would motor as far as the banks were concerned.

Massive traffic, interest, etc, etc… but only for as long as the brand itself were alive and kicking; that ‘brand’ falls underneath the wheels of the new Alfa 159 or whatever and the whole proposition goes down the pan. Again, where’s the value? There’s no value in flesh and blood; it’s all too human; all too frail.

Which is why one lunchtime in the Walnut, me and Neil had to come up with something more robust; something that could firmly do without me; that was a brand in its own right.

Hence MFW. But it still took six months to prove the point. Because as we wandered our way down the A140 and crossed the Waveney into Ipswich territory, the original idea was to add another familiar ‘brand’ to the pack, albeit now under the ‘MFW’ umbrella.

That went out of the window as a number of obvious candidates decided that they were better off sticking with the devil they knew; they didn’t fancy the leap. Which is fine.

But it left me with no option but to put a ‘clean skin’ into – just as we would three months later when Nick went into

Neither had ‘previous’; no bus-stops; no advertising hoardings at either Portman Road or Layer Road. All they had was a spot of match-day programme advertising and MFW as a platform.

Two months in and Mark had pulled 5,500 uniques into the Ipswich site. The next month was January; transfer window month.

And for those national commentators poring over the spike in bigger and better ABCe’s than ours; that’s your answer to January’s bumper numbers. Football transfer stories.

Anyway, we emerged from January with 20,500 uniques; a four-fold increase. Mark’s a good writer and a very solid operator; but that’s not his ‘brand’ working its magic. Nor, I suspect, is it too much to do with MFW.

It’s all about the functionality that working that web ‘beat’ brings; delivering people’s news where and when they want it – that and the way that the web virals out your ‘brand’ in an instant; pop up on a message-board and be the review good, bad or indifferent, people will have a look. You’re in their niche; talking their passion; they’ll look; they’ll decide. And you’re away…

The other big point now we’re starting to try and fit some bigger pieces of the jigsaw together; trying to be a long tail to someone else’s water lily, is that you can’t fit a jumble of individual names together; someone has to be ‘mother’.

Someone has to give it order, structure – and, above all, elegance. may have been many things; elegant it weren’t. As journalists we need to re-organise, re-group, re-think and re-align. Into nice straight lines, ideally.

That’s the challenge that my little brand was never going to meet. Never in a month of Sundays. Individual journalists still have huge strengths as individual brands; they equally have fatal weaknesses when it comes to organising, elegantly, the kind collective networks that we need to survive.

I’ve been meaning to wax lyrical about podcasts for a while now; cos if there is any ‘great’ discovery that we’ve made over the last two years podcasts might be it.

Because they work. And what they deliver on a local, niche level is fascinating. Because they make me, Mark and Nick local, niche radio stations.

Again, starter packs and DIY kits. But I give each of my boys the same digital voice recorder that I’ve got – only it’s one of those that snaps open to reveal a USB connection. Means you can download a 30-minute sound clip straight onto your lap-top; from there – albeit with the help, for now, of Neil – it transforms itself into an MP3 formatted thing and, bingo, we’ve got a half-hour radio show.

And that digital voice recorder costs £100. And makes me, once a fortnight, into a radio station.

And because we work this local, football beat we can sit in a quiet country pub somewhere and interview, I don’t know, Mick Mills and Johnny Wark about their memories of the 1978 FA Cup final; I can ask Dion Dublin if he’d mind getting his saxophone out and ‘jam’ with City youngster Matty Halliday… and before he hangs up his boots, let’s do a 30-minute radio show with Dion…

I use one of those lap-top effect mike things that cost me £9.99; and the effect is very simple… it puts the punters on the next door table in that country pub; all they are doing is ‘ear-wigging’ a conversation between a football writer and two revered ex-pros – a conversation that minus a local journalist’s contacts book they would never be able to have.

But now they can listen too…

But if that’s what you have in mind; that you’re setting your stall out to simply allow your ‘listener’ to pull up a chair at the next table, there is an added benefit… cos people don’t come to that table expecting to hear a pin drop; you can get away with the whole, ‘rough and ready’ feel to the recording; it’s the content that’s the king, not the quality of the recording…

Because we’re not setting ourselves up to be a professional radio station; we’re not pretending to be something we’re not. But for £100 I can be a radio station. For half an hour every fortnight.

I say all this cos last night I was out at a leaving do for one of the NCFC Press team; he’s been the man behind the mike for Canaries TV; tripod and digital camera in tow. And without covering old ground, the fact remains that ever since every football club opened the doors of their own website they became a TV station.

And if you’re MUTV or Arsenal TV, right now you’re giving everyone a run for their money. After all, everyone else can’t access ‘your’ news.

But what was interesting was the night’s thoughts on people bolting a digital TV camera onto their website and suddenly giving it the full: ‘Look at me, I’m a TV station….’ routine.

Podcasts, to my mind, you can get away with; you’re not raising the bar expectation-wise too high. TV, is another matter.

Because if you come out of a media ‘umbrella’ – that in the mix there is a professional journalist involved – then people arrive at your door with certain ‘professional’ expectations in tow. They expect a professional performance; with professional standards of presentation, of script, of lighting, of sound, of facial expression…

Otherwise, you sink back into little more than UGC; perhaps we’re back on the value trail again; that if you want to be viewed in a ‘valued’ light you have to demonstrate a quality of delivery over and above the norm.

For the TV broadcasters, it’s in their DNA. They have spent 60 years mastering their craft; their problem on this multi-media battlefield is doing the written stuff; words can sometimes fail them, just as the TV camera can all-too often fail the word-smiths.

And, to borrow badly from Mr Jarvis, if you can’t do something well yourself, link to someone who can… fill in the gaps in your armoury with the specialists who can. Don’t diminish the value of your brand by pretending to be something you’re not.

The future lies in collaborative networks; in people dove-tailing their skills and their services together in a professional package that lifts us above the norm; that gives value back; that delivers quality.

I can get away with rough and ready podcasts because of the niche content therein; I’m not about to broadcast the Last Night Of The Proms.

Likewise, I don’t see TV. I see that as an out-source deal; a content-swap; my words for someone else’s video.

Podcasts, no, they’re good. Think of the kit; think of the starter-pack. Think of the radio show with the chairman of the parish council on the ASBO teenagers; the Post Office manageress whose shop is closing; the Library van that’s not coming; passionate, niche subjects of interest only to a niche, local audience.

Last Night Of The Proms might be a no, no. A concert by the Junior School band?

£100 to be a local radio station; if only for half an hour a week. That works.

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 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 and, 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 – 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 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.

If you have a couple of hours to spare – it’s a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK and there’s five inches of slush outside our front door, that kind of thing – then this might be worth a dabble.

By web standards, it’s a hefty tome. And I won’t for one minute claim to understand and follow every nuance; in part that is due to the fact that it was delivered to a broadcast audience from someone, I guess, of a lengthy broadcast background. Neither of which apply to me.

I’ve always said that I drop to many Hs for radio, have too many chins for TV; so I stick to words. On a page. I just don’t stain wood any more.

But if you read through the words and thoughts of Mr Magic Lantern, it is a fascinating document – particularly if, like me, you tend to strip out all the TV references and look at it through the lens of a newspaper. In that light certain passages leap out.

Particular with reference to funding – a subject dear to the heart of any new start-up.

There’s another lengthy post to be had revisiting the whole Judean People’s Liberation Front gag when it comes to wandering around the corridors of EEDA, EEIA, NESTA et al, but for now let’s just work on one premise – that it might, just, be beholden on any fully-functioning democratic government to ensure that there is some kind of community representative attending district council meetings, magistrates court hearings, public inquests, etc, etc… and communicating their ‘findings’ thereafter to the wider society beyond.

Of course, that function has traditionally been serviced by local newspapers, but let’s try and envisage a world without your local court reporter, local government correspondent, etc, etc. Shouldn’t be too hard if anyone cares to poke their nose into any shrinking newsroom of late.

Back to Mr Magic Lantern; shining a little light into the darker corners of this new media world with his epic think-piece on the potential role of an OFCOM-backed PSP in ‘facilitating’ our journey into this unfolding digital landscape.

But, as I say, don’t think TV; think words.

“In some circumstances, for instance when particularly important scientific work has been funded directly by government, the public interest has been deemed to override the private. Either way, the relationship between the two is not fixed.

“In the media landscape of the 20th century this did not matter so much as it does now. Power was centred on the organisations which had control of scarce distribution outlets – such as television channels or cinemas. These organisations operated within a closed and controlled world – predominantly made up of physical products, like books, or within closed technologies such as television…

I’m not unduly worried about the copyright issues that then follow; it is the langauage of ‘closed technologies’ that fascinates. Because that’s printed newspapers; print press halls, delivery vans, corner shops and paper boys.

Given the number of times our newsagent next door has to advertise for ‘staff’, paper boys and girls in Loddon certainly qualify under the category ‘scarce distribution outlets’. Very scarce. Leave my sofa and my PS3… you’re havin’ a laugh.

Copyright, blah, blah, blah…. then this…

“The coming of global broadband linkage and the web has changed that landscape forever.

“In the process, as has been discussed above, an explosion of participation in media is beginning.

“This world has flipped from a state of affairs where scarcity of content was the norm to the landscape we see now – with many more content creators, aggregators and owners out there.

“In addition, the availability of low cost digital production and post-production technologies is driving an unprecedented surge in creation, modification and remixing of content by the people formerly known as the audience…

Blah, blah, blah… I know I’m leaping; cherry-picking; go read it yourself…

Here we go… “It should be sufficient for the PSP to invest in order to deliver public benefit – if others can build on this investment to create commercial goods then so be it…

Uh-huh… Is there public benefit in putting a community representative in a local council meeting? Uh-huh…

Sorry, time to pick another cherry.

“Traditionally, the development of a well-established brand in the media ecology has been a slow and expensive process – particularly where direct to consumer propositions are concerned.

“However, more recently, brands such as Google and eBay have developed not simply as a result of external marketing and branding exercises but as a result of the way in which they have offered services which have effectively harnessed and resonated with the essential participatory nature of the interactive, networked media…

Mmm. Like to think we ‘resonate’ – well, for at least seven minutes every day…

“By working in partnership with distributors and syndicating content widely, the information that the project had received support from the PSP could be developed to become a mark of quality in the public service media landscape…”

Interesting. Given that trusted content is invariably king – to reader and potential local advertiser alike. So, kind of a like a charter-mark; the content meets a ‘trade standard’… Yep, suits me…

Blah, blah, blah… Oh, that’s it. It finishes, dare I say it, somewhere in mid-air. No going out with a bang.

But it is fascinating. For one simple, fact.

Because it’s not too long ago the world was told that the PSP as a concept ‘has served its purpose’.

And, according to the Guardian’s report ‘its projected costs were scaled back last year to between £50m and £100m a year, with a revised focus on exploiting opportunities in new media…’

Suits me.

Because if the PSP idea was indeed a “rock thrown in a pool” then the ripples washed over my kitchen table this Bank Holiday. 

Cos, for me, they were spot on. In many, many regards. They just need to have a word in EEDA’s shell-like and after all that talk, ‘facilitate’ some of us to actually do this digital walk.

I have to tread very carefully round this subject. Very carefully.

But as we all know the news the other week that Archant (Suffolk) were pondering the possibility of replacing 20-odd sub-editors in Ipswich with advertising designers prompted a furious debate in media circles.

It prompted an interested debate in one or two domestic circles, too, given that my Mrs is still a part-time sub with Archant (Norfolk).

But it is interesting; the role of a sub – particularly in a purely digital context. Cos we don’t have one; I guess you’d say we ‘self-sub’ – that as me, Mark and Nick sit at our various kitchen tables across East Anglia, we try and deliver as clean a piece of copy as we can; literal and libel free, whenever possible.

But, being human, the odd mistake still slips in under the radar. It hoppens.

And here’s the interesting bit; where the sand is shifting beneath a sub’s feet. Because if I spot a literal, I go back into the CMS, click the edit button, make the correction and re-publish. And no-one need be any the wiser.

If your audience comes and goes as they please – as opposed to coming and going as and when newspapers demand – then you put a story up at 11.35am, re-read it when it’s up at, say, 11.48am, spot a literal and change it, then it might only have been read and spotted by, say, 20-odd in your daily 4,000-readership. For the rest, as and when they ‘get a mo’, it’s clean…

Now there are aspects to all this that make football-writing a little different; if we were running, say, then I suspect we’d put a few more safeguards in place. That said, I suspect the onus will ever more be on the reporter to know their legals – that’s where the responsibility will start and, all too often, end in a world of nigh-on instant publishing.

We’ve had one big legal in our two years; but that again was instructive. Long story the moral of which was never, ever trust a football agent. But the point was we held our hands up, whacked a correction up on the site within two hours, deleted the offending story and moved on. Quickly.

The wronged party was pleasantly surprised how swiftly and professionally the matter had been dealt with; he saw the correction on the site; a day later and it was gone.

Because there’s another interesting point – how long do these issues linger on the web as opposed to print? If newspapers are only ever tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, what does that make a web-story? If it disappears off into our archive 36-hours after it’s been published – or, indeed, is deleted or corrected – then, for me, web stories are far more ephemeral than any newspaper story…

Clearly – at the right/wrong moment in time in front of the right/wrong pair of eyes – they can be just as damaging and can develop a whole, viral life of their own as they sweep across the web-waves via message-board after message-board.

But they don’t quite have this same, tablet of stone, there for time immemorial quality that a newspaper story has. And with that comes the heightened need for a sub – on newsprint you’ve got one chance to get it right; there’s no going back. On the web, you can always go back. That creates a very different mind-set. Very different.

But what was equally interesting in the debate that raged was the emphasis everyone placed on the whole check, check, check argument. For me, it under-played the other great duty of state under-taken by the sub-editor. To cut, cut, cut.

Not with a butcher’s cleaver; more with a surgeon’s scalpel. Or, at least, that was the theory. When time and management allowed.

That was the sub’s great craft; that yes, a reporter-stroke-news desk would push copy through that was roughly to length, but it was the sub that got it to the line; got it to measure up. A tweak here, a little line out there. They got it to fit.

That’s how I learned – as the ‘sports department’ on the Gazette & Herald, the weekly Sunday football round-up filled the outside leg, 25cms depth under a four-deck, 30-point headline.

Can’t remember the word-count now, but say it was 500. Trouble was the old boy that contributed the Devizes & District Sunday League wrote for Britain.

A 1,200-word tome that was a nightmare to crack down to length; for the change page, his oppo from the Chippenham & District Sunday league wrote 250 words on the back of a fag packet, but still expected to see his four-deck, 30-point headline and 500 words of polished copy – just like they get in Devizes….

The web changes everything.

We still write to length. Somewhere in the region of 900-1,000 words. Twice a day.

That way we can split two, chunky 500-word reads over two pages; double our page impression numbers; have eight ad slots as opposed to four.

No-one’s being short-changed – 500 words is still more often that not longer than most evening newspaper back-page leads. Certainly the ones that I wrote for 13-odd years.

But the web doesn’t need copy to fit to the line; nor do you have to look for nasty ‘widows’.

It flows. And if you’re dealing with a passionate niche like football and you know that your readers will lap up every last spit, dot and comma, why cut?

And if you’re looking towards an advertising-metric that might be drifting to one that’s ever more time-based – how ‘sticky’ is your copy? – why cut? Keep the eye-balls there; don’t leave any quotes on the cutting room floor.

And if you haven’t got a 4×16 garden centre ad in the bottom left corner and 5×24 action pic in the top right, why cut?

And if you’re not cutting, not tweaking, not getting copy to fit to the line; if you’re self-checking and self-correcting, dipping in and out of your own CMS as and when you spot the od literal, then the role of the sub simply becomes, well, just kind of part of what we do; it’s not anything special anymore; it’s just another strand to our new, digital DNA.

As, I suspect, will be the ability to make-up an ad; to be our own DIY ad department running alongside our back-bench come kitchen table.

I’m sure our Luca’s sick and tired of people having a pop and I’m not about to re-visit that Ersnt & Young report; I’ll let these boys do that – and, whilst you’re there,

And I was thinking about this the other day as we started to wander our way around this whole local advertising thing.

Because the other model that appears to have slipped under the Ernst & Young radar is PPM. Has anyone actually done PPM yet? It’s pay-per-month.

It’s very simple. Me and/or Kev wander into a local advertiser and, say, ‘Here you are, fella, give us a 150 notes and you can be on our site for a month…’

What can then follow is a conversation that would make Jeff Jarvis’ head spin and our new best pal Luca reach for his triangles.

But it’s a conversation that again needs to be slipped into next autumn’s course-work because out there – where the metal meets the meat, so to speak – it’s a conversation that the next generation of local, self-financing journalists need to have.

Because not everyone they encounter will, actually, have a website. But they may still recognise a good, banner placement opportunity when they see one.

And for all those thousands and thousands of little local firms out there who have known nothing else but advertising in their little local paper, you have to hold them by the hand and lead them oh-so gently across the great divide and into this whole new world of digitally-based advertising.

These are busy people; with small ad budgets and even less time than most to worry about the latest CPM rates; PPC ratios, etc, etc… We’re back to Ady and the man from Google. Out there, down Sprowston Road and up Martineau Lane, you just make their lives as easy as possible.

And if they have grown up paying £250 for one night in an evening newspaper, then the next step is to say: ‘OK, how about £150 for 31 nights on a local website…’

Gently, gently catchee monkey… Let’s start with PPM. Let’s go from there.

Here, you go Luca. Take yourself up Aylsham Road – if memory serves it’s just before the Bingo – and there’s a pawn-brokers. Good lads. Not yet got round to getting a website.

Busy people. Times are hard; business is up.

But you bring an ad-make up function to the party – and this is what our Nick down Norton Road knocks me out…

Now, it is not about to win any awards at some swish London bash; this isn’t Saatchi & Saatchi – this is a pawn-brokers half-way up Aylsham Road in Norwich; and he’s got a second place out Lowestoft way.

But to my little, local mind – that ad looks good.

And what is more important, that simple PPM ad makes that pawnbroker feel good.

I bet, quietly, he’s quite proud of his new – if not, first – web presence. After 30 years running virtually the same ad in the local paper, now he’s got that to show his family and friends.

Whether it actually drives him new business, who knows? Depends, as ever, as to whether or not he asks every customer who walks through his door where they saw his ad.

But it’s interesting – and very telling as to what you can actually do out there on the front-line; what models you can actually get to work at a local level. Cos if he actually likes the way his ad looks on-line, then there’s a sneak of a chance that come the end of his four-month PPM, he’ll book again.

Just like he used to do when the lad from the local newspaper used to pop his head round the door. ‘Same again..?’ he’d ask.

‘Yeh, go on then…’ they’d reply.

That’s how they’ve given local newspapers a living for donkeys years; that’s how – in part – they might, just, give local news websites a living, too.

It’s still mights and maybes. Ifs and buts.

But PPM and pawn-brokers; we ignore them at our peril. For let’s face it, way things are in our line of work, we may all need cash quick…

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 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 – 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 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…

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.

When I was first cutting my journalistic teeth on that mighty organ of the west that was the weekly Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, the advertising department was something you tried to get off with pass seasonal greetings to every Christmas.

And it was the same when I graduated to my local evening paper; the advertising department was something that you wandered through en route to the accounts dept; it was another world; one that we journalists never knew anything about. Like I say, we’d try to build bridges come Christmas time – for the rest of the year, we went our way; they went their’s.

And I guess that’s true of 90 per cent of old newspaper institutions; more, probably. Even now, I don’t think habits and perceptions have changed.

But they need to. In fact, given what most reporters can – in theory – do with a digital camera these days, I’d ditch the old reporter-photographer combo altogether and send the reporter out into battle locally with an ad person at their side – you get the story, I’ll get an ad… and they’d sit next to each other in the office.

And swap contacts books. One would gut the other’s battered little black book for stories and leads; the other would likewise gut the list for ad leads… this parish councillor, doesn’t he run a garage…?

It’s funny, but doing what we’ve done of late you tend to bump into more academics than newspaper executives. Don’t know why… perhaps it’s something we’ve said.

Anyway, you listen to what the likes of Paul, Adrian, Charlie, Roy, Jeff and people are all up to with their students and they all seem to be grappling with the same big issue – what do we actually teach our J-School kids these days that’s going to be of relevance to their digitally-based journalistic lives?

What do you teach the next generation of journalists? Simple.


In fact, I’ll even get the ball rolling with a simple, multiple-choice question for their Fall ’08 module on ‘Enterprise and journalism; making ends meet when the local newspaper goes t*ts up…’

Johnny Smith’s family furniture store half-way up the Sprowston Road was one of your early launch advertisers. You join your ad-man for what you presume to be a straight-forward re-booking. Johnny Smith, however, has had a re-think. ‘To be honest, we’re going to give it a miss this quarter,” he says. “We’re just not seeing any response…”

Do you…

(a) say: ‘How the f*ck do you know that? What, do you ask everyone who walks through the door where they heard of you? What about them over there, you asked them?’

or (b) say: ‘Look I know you’ve only had six click-throughs this month, but how many f*cking click-throughs have you had off that ridiculous taxi you had painted last month? Who’s ‘clicking through’ on that, twat? And while we’re on the subject, how many people have clicked through that half-page newspaper ad you’ve been running for the last 30 years… eh?’

or (c) say: ‘Johnny, that’s fine. We’re just grateful for all your initial support; maybe we can pop back in again in a couple of months when you’ve got your new autumn cane furniture range in…?’

If you answer either (a) or (b) you are a journalist.

If you answer (c) you’re our Kev.

But if, as a journalist, you can learn and/or be taught to answer (c) then you’ve got a chance.

Even if you still think (a) and (b). You’ve got a chance.

Teach the kids how to sell; at a local level certainly. They sell, they survive.

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