MFW


It’s funny how you start to view your own daily, professional life through the eyes of this blog.

That, every now and again, a penny that’s dropped in theory, drops in practice. It did so again this afternoon in the unlikely surroundings of Archbishop Sancroft High School in Harleston. Why any of us were there in a mo; first to retrace our steps – or rather re-enter the ‘Who, exactly, is a journalist?’ fray and why, to my mind, Mayhill Fowler isn’t.

Who is Ms Fowler? Her moment of blog fame arrived last week and was siezed upon by Jay Rosen, among others, as a shining example of the new world order.

Neil McIntosh provides a good an entry point as any; albeit I would take issue with the headline. Who is and who isn’t a journalist these days is a question that is fundamental to our survival; for we, as journalists, have to prove our value…

Ms Fowler proved her value once; we need to do it regularly. So it does matter. Boy, does it matter…

http://www.completetosh.com/weblog/2008/04/17/whos-a-journalist-whos-not-and-why-it-doesnt-really-matter-anyway/

All of which clearly touched upon the issues raised here…

https://outwithabang.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/here-comes-everbody-and-before-they-do-we-better-define-for-once-just-what-makes-us-as-journalists-different/

In which, we threw a new definition of journalism into the ring – that it was simply someone who enjoyed regular access to a near-private conversation… that one-hit wonders (and, fair play to Ms Fowler, it was a formidable ‘hit’) are citizen writers, not citizen journalists…

Anyway, it being mid-week, there being no Tuesday night game and media being scarce, the call goes out from the Norwich City Press office – that Messrs D Huckerby (yep, him again…) and A Drury were bound for Archbishop Sancroft High School for a Q&A with the kids in the company of Stephanie Moore, the widow of England World Cup skipper, Bobby…

That the Bobby Moore Fund was the chosen charity of the retiring head-master; that the two Canary footballers had agreed to help promote cancer awareness and, ahead of said Q&A, would be doing interviews with the Press.

OK, so far, so parochial. But, to my mind, parochial is where we’re all going.

Because there are a number of aspects to this whole, homely tale of life on the Norfolk football front-line that ought to resonate further.

The original invite to the Press came not from Norwich City, but from the school. They issued a Press release. To the Press. You had to then phone up the headmaster’s secretary to say who you were, who you worked for and whether or not you’d be coming.

She was the ‘gate-keeper’ on this occasion; just as the desk sergeant, the court usher and the parish council clerk can be on others.

A school secretary. The quotes that we need to survive on lay beyond those school gates and she wasn’t letting anyone in… it was invite only. Indeed there, when you arrived, was a little name badge. Just to prove who you were; that you weren’t just anybody; or if you’re Mr Shirky, everybody.

The headmaster didn’t want just anyone – or everybody – talking to Ms Moore. Or our Darren.

Here’s the control point; the bottle-neck. Everybody might now have access to the means of production, but ‘a journalist’s control of regular access to a near-private conversation…’ – here it was. In deepest Harleston.

Access granted, the ‘near-private’ conversation was duly held – near-private because there was the local TV, our Chris from Radio Norfolk, the girl from the Diss Express and, of course, the lad from CanariesWorld TV.

Of course, there in the audience sat any number of giggling girls and star-struck boys – all of whom would be twittering away as they sat; mobile phone cams at the ready. A veritable army of citizen journalists? No, because they have to have ‘regular’ access to that near-private conversation.

Huckerby will next be doing conversation at the club’s training HQ at Colney on Friday morning ahead of the QPR game. Class 12J won’t be invited; besides they’ve got double domestic science at 9.30…

Now, providing I haven’t trod on too many toes, put too many noses out of joint by the ‘piece’ that we weaved later… http://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com/full_article.asp?i=3290 … I’ll be deemed OK for another of my regular conversations with his lordship on Friday…

And, yes, you’re right. There’s a pay-back in the piece; an acknowledgement of the original invite and the favour that the school secretary did me… because there’s the headmaster’s name, there’s his school and there’s his chosen charity.

Compromised copy? Yes. It’s the price we pay; the deals we strike to get to where we need.

We journalists do that; it’s part of our trade; or rather part of our trade-off to get to our quotes, our near-private conversations.

And not ‘everybody’ can do that…

 

 

See below, but here’s their problem… first with the audio, last with the words…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/n/norwich/7358178.stm

For if the time-line is correct, Auntie had the interview for 36-hours before someone, somewhere spotted the story and wrote from what looks like a London, national perspective…

Advantage lost.

This I found interesting – if only for the fact that it touched on a conversation I had with one of the good gentlemen listed to your right. Well, on the home page right. Anyway….

Time.

http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2008/04/drive-by-surfers-peril-news-sites.html

I mentioned time at JEECamp the other month as one of those straws that I cling to; the fact that our average visit time for the month of January on www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcity was 436 seconds. And as they, on average, visited the site three-and-a-half times that same month, by hook or by crook we managed to grab their attention for, what, 25 minutes a month.

About the same length of time as one episode of EastEnders.

Or rather Coronation Street. EastEnders doesn’t build advertising around it. 

Anyway, to quote Mr Mutter… “In the first three months of this year, the average amount of time visitors spent on newspaper sites fell by 2.9% to 44 minutes and 18 seconds per month, or less than 1½ minutes per day…

This, he contends, is a problem.

“If drive-by surfers continue to generate a growing proportion of newspaper traffic, will advertisers put a high enough value on these relatively fickle visitors to pay the premium rates necessary to continue funding these elaborate, content-rich websites?

“I wouldn’t count on it…”

Nor would I. Because over the last couple of years I’ve long since discovered that you can pull all manner of tricks when it comes to hits, page visitors, unique visitors, etc, etc…

The one where it is hard to pull the wool over any advertiser’s eyes is time. How long are the eye-balls glued to that page…

And this should, in theory, give us all hope. Because with the tables now fully turned on us, the multiplication of choice facing our one-time reader means that we have to work that much harder to command their attention…

The average ‘drive-by surfer’ recognise a re-hashed quote from 50 paces; one glance and he’s gone. ‘Nah, read it… Seen it before….’

And that’s why stuffing newspaper websites with aggregated and re-aggregated copy won’t work; the eye-balls will linger over what’s new, what’s fresh and what they haven’t see before.

And, hopefully, what’s well written.

Because what are people looking for? They’re looking for a good read, in Clay Shirky’s famous words.

What they are not looking for is a re-read, a re-hash and a re-nose. They haven’t got time for that. Give it to me fresh and first; that’s where the value is; that’s where the eye-balls will linger longest.

Give it to me fresh, first and in a form that proves a good read, time and time again, then people will return time and time again. Keep me informed; keep me entertained; keep me happy. Or else I’m outta here…

That’s the challenge that the multiplication of media presents us all with – getting them not only to drive-by, but to park up. To surf, to see and to stay.

And in the midst of that challenge, quality will count.

Apologies first. For those of you with an interest in neither Norwich City Football Club nor Championship football, what follows may appear all-too parochial to be of any relevance to a new media blog.

All I can do is beg that you stay with it for there are far wider points to be made – lessons with a direct relevance to us all as we try to re-organise and re-align ourselves on this new, digital landscape; how we try to go out and build our piece halls; how we weave our 1,000-word ‘pieces’ off our kitchen lap-tops and try to sell our wares around a central, ‘mother’ courtyard…

What’s a piece hall…?

https://outwithabang.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/time-to-make-our-piece-with-the-world-and-make-halifax-the-centre-piece-of-our-survival/

OK, back to football. Norwich (the Canaries) lose at home to West Bromwich Albion; with two games left to play, they are only three points away from relegation; the crowd’s favourite player, Darren Huckerby, is out of contract this summer and unless a new offer is forthcoming, will make his final appearance next weekend in the Canaries final home game of the season.

Collared by the three local radio reporters as he came off the pitch on Saturday, Huckerby all but confirmed that next weekend’s game would be his last in a City shirt; and then went into something of a farewell speech after four, kind of glorious years here in Norfolk.

It was, in short, as far as the locals were concerned ‘the story’ of the day. And it was missed by all the waiting written Press for the fact that, having changed and disappeared by another exit, Huckerby only gave that interview to the radios.

Scarcity of media and all that, the radio interview was captured by another media organisation at the game – Norwich’s own TV station, CanariesWorld. They are, of course, a news organisation in their own right these days – a penny that has still to drop with one or two in the old media world.

OK, to their credit, having broadcast the interview, as per usual Radio Norfolk then post the audio clip onto their website to allow the world to listen again to that Huckerby interview – you go here first…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/content/articles/2007/06/30/norwichcity_audio_archive_0708_feature.shtml

and then download the interview…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/realmedia/nb/ncfc_darrenhuckerby_wba_20080419_au_nb.ram

…and hence you get to ‘the story’. Or rather we – the written Press – get to that story. I haven’t looked, but I suspect you can access similar audio files off Radio Broadland and Radio Norwich…

OK, we missed it. But ask any football reporter of provincial or national ilk and they will all say the same, getting hold of players after games is fraught with peril; all too often ‘the story’ will spot the waiting written media scrum, turn on his heel and walk the other way… that’s the nature of the modern footballer beast. Hucks, to be fair, is far better than most.

On this occasion, however, he exited stage right as we waited stage left and took his farewell speech for the written Press with him.

But, no fear. It’s there on the Radio Norfolk website and as both the national and local papers put their feet up on a Sunday and wait for Monday’s press slot to roll round 36 hours later, minus any such inconvenience Huckerby’s radio interview becomes this on www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcityhttp://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com/full_article.asp?i=3275

Due credit given – …’ Huckerby, told Radio Norfolk, etc – if we go back to our ‘piece hall’ then Radio Norfolk delivered the ‘wool’, we weaved it into a piece of cloth that we then displayed around our central courtyard, www.myfootballwriter.com.

Displayed to both reader and potential buyer alike.

Because if you are the BBC and – subject to their nine-month ‘approval’ process ahead of BBCLocal’s full-scale roll-out – you ought to be looking at the written version of the Huckerby interview and be thinking: ‘Mmm… that’s a nice piece of sticky content that would sit very well on our Norwich City pages…’

As you would if you were www.itvlocal.com/anglia – and someone was adding the colour, the analysis, the background and the comment to a bland TV interview…

Because here both come – parking their local, digital platform on Norfolk’s lawn – minus the one ingredient that can make eye-balls ‘stick’ to a web page. Words.

Cos the trouble with both TV clips and audio clips is that they make a noise – not big or clever when you are sat at your office PC on a Monday morning and the boss is wandering around. Does your next-door-neighbour want to listen in to a five-minute Hucks interview, too? Nah, she’s got work to do… as do you.

Words, however, you can get away with.

In their respective current climates, are either the BBC or ITV going to do words locally? Tell said radio reporters and TV cameramen to turn round a 1,000-word written piece on the back of that Huckerby interview? Or are both going to stick to doing what they do best, TV and radio and out-source the written content?

To wander round a central courtyard, feel the quality of someone’s written cloth and – fee agreed – buy that ‘piece’ in? And then agree to buy, say, 60 pieces a month from the same supplier?

And if – having had meetings with both – the answer is potentially yes… and, in theory, it is no different from both organisations buying in TV content from independent production houses… then here we get to this fundamental need to reorganise ourselves in truly nationwide platfoms; to be be local in focus, but national in scope…

Because, it’s a one-stop shop… buy pieces at a fixed rate off www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcity and you can buy the same product at the same price off www.myfootballwriter.com/ipswichtown and wherever else www.myfootballwriter.com’s fancy takes him.

Try and arrange a similar deal within the existing patch-work quilt of provincial Press providers and those medieval circulation fiefdoms continue to dog their every move; one deal for Trinity Mirror and their Coventry City copy… but we don’t do Leicester… you need to speak to Northcliffe… and who does MK Dons? Oh, it’s you… a weekly free paper… 

Can’t do it – because there’s no elegant organisation for them to sell their wares on a collective basis.

Re-organise, re-align and realise the value that we still bring as written journalists and we still have a chance.

 

I have to say one of the best newspaper adverts for some time is that Gladiator-esque ‘battle’ between the sexes that ends up with one side reading their ‘You Magazine’; the other their ‘Live’.

For while what’s left of my best liberal intentions might struggle with the general thrust of ‘The Mail On Sunday’, in our household we ‘get’ You and Live. It’s why The Daily Mail has more chance than most of us…

Anyway, the point is that I quite like all the gadgety features that ‘Live’ delivers. Not from a geeky-type, trainspotter kind of angle; rather these days for what it might do for me – or, hopefully, us – as digital journalists.

I’m not sure whether there’s a link, but P41 of this Sunday’s edition proved very much a case in point as Rob Waugh cast his eye over two little gadgets as part of his ‘Live For Tech’ section.

The first is about Intel’s new little baby, the Atom processor. I’m not going to do the numbers that come attached – just the words. The fact that it is ‘set to turn the computer in your man bag into the PC in your pocket…’  

And here’s the killer line. “The low-cost/low-power-usage Atom series is intended to see service not only in the next generation of small lap-tops, but also in an entirely new class of gadget: mobile internet devices…’

The MID.

Cue a nice glossy pic of the Lenovo IdeaPad U8.  Again, read the words. ‘The web, full-fat and fast, in your pocket…’

I’m not pretending for a moment to be any kind of marketing expert. Will the MID prove to be neither one thing nor the other; will it fall between two stools, being neither a UMPC or a PDA..?

Oh, come on… An ultra-mobile PC or a Personal Digital Assistant. Apparently. 

I’ve no idea. But someone at Lenovo – and perhaps they’ve looked at the Apple iPhone and decided that it’s web-browser capability is the stand-out feature there – has clearly decided that getting the Net into the palm of your hand is where we’re all head…

That to go back to our cheesy ad slogan… while it’s not in our kids genes with a ‘g’ to read a newspaper what will be in their jeans with a ‘j’ will be a MID…

OK, slung beneath ‘The Mighy Atom’ is a stick to beat your Wi-Fi with – in this case Vodafone’s new super-powered 3G modem.

“The HSDPA modem is a thumb-sized stick that plugs into the USB port of your laptop. If you’re in an HSPDA area (ie, a major city) is offers a 7Mb internet connection. That’s faster than many wired connections…

‘… And with a price of £39 up front plus £15 a month, I could envisage using one of these all the time…’

Here at MFW, we already do. Or rather when we’re sat in the Press box of football grounds up and down the country, we do. The chances of Loddon ever becoming in an HSDPA area are nil. But then I’m wired in at home.

Our Vodafone sticks are last year’s model; they come as part of the boys’ ‘starter packs’; I don’t think any of us run at 7Mb yet. And looking at the costings, I need to get back to Vodafone and do a deal…

Put the two together – a MID and a super-fast 3G modem that’s no more than a thumb-sized addition to your nearest laptop – and what are we seeing? That the delivery of news on a digital-only platform is becoming faster, cheaper and simpler with every passing month.

For that 3G modem is print press, delivery van and paper boy all rolled into one. That’s what we have got to keep reminding ourselves – it’s not a geeky gadget, it’s a survival strategy. It’s a way out of the mess we’re in.

And it’s getting faster, cheaper and simpler.

So ask yourself the next question – if I’m a newspaper exec looking at the latest figures from my production and distribution departments, could I say that it is getting faster, cheaper and simpler? What is the price of diesel doing to my bottom line? Can’t we get these kids to pedal their bikes any faster?

There’s our future; there’s our hope. Sat there on P41 of ‘Live’. Cut it out, stick it on the fridge door and cling onto it…   

 

If only because I laid my Google revenue cards on the table early on…

https://outwithabang.wordpress.com/2008/03/17/lesson-no37a-for-all-that-follow-dont-pin-your-hopes-on-good-ol-uncle-google/ 

…this was interesting, Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine and Guardian column fame doing the same… and, in paricular, what Google did for him last year.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/apr/14/5

For those of you who are hard of linking, the two paragraphs to put side-by-side are, first the MFW ‘experience’… 

“Take, for example, our Google AdSense numbers since March ‘07.

“406,002 impressions, 846 clicks…. $223. So I did Google a disservice at JEECamp. Apologies. When I said $180 for 400,000 page impressions I was $40 out and 6,000 page impressions under. We made £110 in a year…”

To be then followed by the Buzzmachine one…

“Last year, Buzzmachine.com, which has been in business, loosely speaking, since 2001, made $9,315 (£4,655) from two blog ad networks, $1,866 from ads on my RSS feeds, and $2,674 from Google ads, for a total of $13,855. Though I’ve written many a blog post and column lamenting that there aren’t better, richer ad networks to support grassroots media, when I add that up, I’d say it’s not too shabby…

I, however, would describe our own Google ads income as shabby. If not particularly shabby. Or, indeed, utterly shabby. I might also describe it as someone having a laugh…

And let’s make several things clear; we’re not running like-for-like – it’s a horribly inexact science; the comparisons don’t stand up; we didn’t, for example, run AdSense for a full calendar year; if we had, who knows? We could have cracked the $300 mark…

But what I would be intrigued to know is just how hard our Jeff had to work to earn that $2,674…

Given that Buzzmachine has ‘loosely speaking’  been in business since 2001, he’s clearly had to work his ‘brand’ for at least five years (2001-2006) before earning a thousand quid off Google in Year Six…

I earned my princely sum off 400,000 page impressions – and all on the back of busting my b*lls twice a day to deliver two, great 1,000-word ‘sticky’ reads to the waiting Norwich City masses who, come January’s transfer window month, were 33,000 monthly uniques strong.

Plus we had coulmnists, characters and all sorts. We worked – indeed, still work – our collective n*ts off draging football punters to that site with a quality journalistic product that, we hoped, would offer enough context, comment and quotes that it would not only drag eyeballs there, it would keep eyeballs there.

And, touch wood, it appears to work. That’s back to my 436-second average visit time for the month of January. Seven minutes every time they visit.

Because it’s a passionate niche. Just as the future of news is.

What would be very interesting to discover is just what numbers Buzzmachine.com generates in terms of uniques, page impressions and average visit times to pop a cheque for £1,300 from Google into Jeff’s hands at the end of the year….

I’ve no idea. I read it most days. As, I suspect, many a media-luvvie does.

And because it is, more often than not, a well-informed and engaging read, my eye-balls stay fixed. And if, for argument’s sake, me and Jeff run at roughly similar numbers per month – my www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcity versus his www.buzzmachine.com – then fair enough, he cracked the Google nut more than I did.

Maybe – he says, looking for his excuses – Jeff is actually mining a richer niche seam; that the ads that appear on his site are far more click-appealing than those that ever appeared on ours; that maybe ‘football’ and ‘Norwich’ never quite made sense as ads.

And maybe it’s just a case of being patient – that come Year Six, 2012, I too could be pulling £1,000 a year back off them. In the unlikely event I was still pinning many of my hopes on Google by then…

Don’t know.

Fotunately, we didn’t put all our eggs in Google’s basket – and, nor, of course did Jeff. He’s got two blog ad network tickets working his brand; covering his ass to the tune of £4,500 a year.

Me? I’ve got Kev acting as MFW’s tail-end Charlie – trying to pick off every local advertiser we can find; as well as those national ones that like the cut of our demographics. Three cheers for the British Army… newly-signed up for a year-long banner ad deal on all three sites.

It’s still a tough nut to crack. Very tough in these credit crunch times. But they’re out there; all starting to think what they would do next if they didn’t have a local evening paper to advertise in… And if I can pull, say, £2,000 per month off the Norwich site in Pay-Per-Month advertising, that’s not too shabby either.

Particularly, if we can then find further revenue streams to add to our income bow.

Because that’s the real point. For all we do, for all the hours we write and for all the pavements we pound, the jury is still out as to whether advertising of any sort will – on its own – be enough to save our bacon.

And that applies to all of us. From The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times down… is there enough value in what we ‘sell’ in terms of advertising space to guarantee our survival?

No.

Just ask our Jeff. Without a column or two up his sleeve, a consultancy here and there and a teaching gig at CUNY, could he survive on $13,855 a year. Just over six grand…?

No.

Exactly. No.

 

 

What follows will touch on two places that we’ve been before – the scarcity (or not) of media and the value of anything we, as journalists, do in this digital age.

Quotes.

If I was Paul or Charlie or Adrian or anyone of those boys entrusted with the education of the next generation of journalists, I would start my first term with a lesson on the treatment of quotes.

Given that in all likelihood we are now always going to be talking about quotes in their sound clip form – ie as held on a digital voice recorder not as an ineligble scribble on an reporter’s notebook – in a sense the classic meaning of the ‘treatment of quotes’ has changed.

You don’t ‘treat’ them at all; you have a perfect record of the conversation, of the interview; one that you could – and I’m not sure as to the argument why we don’t – simply attach the sound clip of the interview as a ‘source material’ link beneath your article.

It’s there in all it’s dropped ‘aitch, no sentence glory. But it’s fresh, it’s original, it’s untreated and, above all else, it’s yours.

And that’s key; that’s a fundamental. That possession of quotes is nine-tenths of our digital law.

And when we talk of the digital treatment of quotes, that’s what has changed – we don’t ‘treat’ them in the sense of smoothing out the grammar; applying the right tense to the passage – and we’re back to the whole ‘Who needs a sub?’ line here – instead we treat them as you would the family silver. Never let them out of your sight.

Every quote is a prisoner, there we go. Theme for the day. Every quote is a prisoner…

If you give them away, you only do so for a very good reason. Cash, ideally.

And if that fails, then it is a credit. ‘Blah, blah, blah…’ told MyFootballWriter.com.

And that’s your fall-back position; you don’t budge from that line.

Clearly it depends on the occasion of the interview. If it’s open season and the world and his media wife are there, then the argument shifts; then perhaps it is more a case of who’s first, who’s got the best analysis, the best intro…

But – as all locals do – if you know it’s the same old faces attending the same police calls, the same pre-match Press conference, etc, etc and, by the same token, you then know where those same quotes are head next – onto BBC Radio, the morning provincial paper 24 hours late(r) – then you have a fair chance of ‘tracking’ your babies. And watch where they go like a hawk.

And here’s another trick that we should all learn – insert the odd, quirky punctuation. Bit like an individual stone mason used to leave his mark.

Because in this age of cut and paste, that’s your ‘finger print’ – mine tends to be over-use of the semi-colon; I like a liberal dash of hyphens – anything that will lure some unsuspecting cut-and-paste clown into nicking your quotes complete with your punctuation… cos that’s so much harder for any news desk to defend; that not only are the quotes the same, so is the punctuation…

And it’s hugely important. If there are just two of us who have got off our arses to talk to a single football player in the West Country rain and you know who the other ‘local’ face is… then you know where those quotes are going; and where they shouldn’t be.

Or at least, not without either a cheque or a credit attached. Because a credit is a marketing device; it proves that you had the quote first; you were the one that got your hands dirty at the coalface; that you’re the one with the fresh, organic stuff – you don’t re-package and re-use for a living.

Back to the Piece Hall. By all means let people feel the quality of the cloth; that’s why you’ve built a communal space in the first-place; for people to see, to feel and – ideally – to trade.

But you don’t let people wander off with your hand-woven ‘pieces’ and then re-sell from the back of the dirty white van parked round the corner.

Value; you delivered value by sourcing those quotes yourself. And if you are selling your wares to a passionate, niche audience for whom those fresh quotes have a real value and interest, do not give them away.

Guard them with your life because, with a fair wind, they may just save yours…

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