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There was many a line in this that caught my eye; most of which can be saved for another day.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/apr/23/bbc.pressandpublishing

It was Myners’ line right at the end, however, that maybe deserves some thought – the bit where he suggests that, when it comes to the regional press “there will be continuing pressure for consolidation of ownership to bring scale…”

We have been down this road a little before; in wondering just how Trinity Mirror’s excellent local community web-sites in Teesside – soon coming to a Coventry suburb near you – can be made to work in downtown Loddon.

It clearly can be made to work in Loddon; the question is whether or not it will be the Trinity-Mirror model that winds it’s way over the bridge from Chedgrave and up the High Street – or the Archant one. They are, of course, only ten miles up the road in Norwich and have, therefore, rather less of a trek to get here.

But Myners is clearly merely repeating what every regional newspaper executive knows; that to make their numbers work – to get that old, newsprint quart to fit in a web pint pot, they are going to have to get hold of some more pint pots… to give themselves scale, as Myners observes.

Now, I am no economist. But right now, with their share prices already halved and the credit crunch just starting to bite, who on earth has got any appetite whatsoever to consolidate the UK regional newspaper industry to the kind of scale that – in every likelihood – is now required must be something of a moot point.

Newsprint quart into a web pint pot and all that… how many pint pots are you going to need to make your scale viable in an age where, as Clay Shirky pointed out, traditional geographical constraints on our behaviour are flying out of the nearest window?

Does ‘scale’ entail a quantum mass that is numbers-only? Is that where advertising-heaven lies? In numbers? ‘Look, we have 22 million uniques… six million here, four over there, 200,000 down here…

But what if advertisers are looking for a scale that is more than just a patch-work quilt of numbers; more than pockets of influence? What if they want to hit every nook and crannie in the land?

Perhaps scale can come with ‘ownership’ of one of the four corners of this green and pleasant land… that Trinity Mirror and Northcliffe will sit down together and swap your Birmingham for our Bristol, our Cardiff for your Leicester, and so on…

Perhaps. But it seems unlikely. After all – and this is where I repeat that I’m no economist – but I presume that the wheels of any such consolidation process would need to be greased by large dollops of funding.

You sense that the markets have already delivered their verdict on newspaper stocks; the fact that the Birmingham Evening Mail didn’t exactly have people flocking to Trinity Mirror’s door might be further proof that whilst picking off the odd weekly here, the little free paper there might still be a possibility, the whole-scale reorganisation of the UK provincial newspaper industry looks one mountain that people have neither the will – nor increasingly the simple wherewithal – to climb.

Where that leaves us all is the next moot point. Under pressure, was Myners’ opinion.

In desperate need of starting from scratch, starting all over again from a blank piece of paper would be mine.

 

 

OK, here’s a simple test. What do you get if you put this….

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/apr/10/bbc.internet

Next to this…

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article3689881.ece

Exactly.

So much for the answer. The question, of course, is who pays the ferryman…

 

This afternoon, having rummaged around the back of the telephone for a very dog-eared book token, I went out and bought Clay Shirky’s new tome, ‘Here Comes Everybody – The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations’.

I haven’t finished it. I’ve dipped and dabbled; a dangerous pursuit if I was a serious reviewer. I’m not. I’m a journalist by day; a writer, by night. The only thing the two have in common is the fact that, with either hat on, I employ the same means of distribution. You read both on a screen. I don’t stain wood.

Otherwise, the two – journalist and writer – are pretty much chalk and cheese. One delivers conversation, the other comment. And while the distinction between the two may, on occasion, blur with my journalistic hat on; with my writer ‘Out With A Bang’ hat on, it is black and white.

I don’t do conversation. There’s no two-way interaction here. This is me just shouting my mouth off, little more. Half the time there’s no-one out there anyway.

And as I read Chapter Three: Everyone Is A Media Outlet and Shirky’s difficulty in defining just what is a journalist in this digital age, that’s the thought that crossed my mind – that a journalist is simply someone with regular access to a near-private conversation.

Near-private because that ‘conversation’ could come in the form of a Press conference; and if that Press conference is beamed – or, rather, web-cast – live to the world, then the ‘near-private’ conversation is the one that you have in hushed tones once the cameras stop rolling; the little look that crosses one party’s face as his aides usher him hurriedly out of the room. Aimed at the right journalist with the right interpretative skills, that is a ‘conversation’ of the highest order. But it needs skills.

And here’s the other key ingredient, that conversation is ‘regular’ – that it is part of a journalist’s trade-craft to be able to have and to hold a conversation with a contact and then, story written and published, to still be able to have a conversation with that same contact. To keep him or her sufficiently ‘onside’, that they are still there the next time you need a Page 6 lead in a hurry.

And that, likewise, is a skill.

Interestingly, you could argue that it is a skill that is more finely-honed and appreciated in a local journalist than it is in a national journalist; that the latter can drop in, do an interview, cane the person concerned and never have to worry about darkening their door-step again.

Work the local beat and there’s a far finer level of diplomacy required to push the story to it’s natural ‘limits’ and still be welcome back on that person’s door-step. Or on their mobile phone.

Of course, there will be occasions where – even on that local beat – the story is of sufficient import that bridges have to be burnt; ties cut; relations severed. But it is a judgement call; a skill; a craft.

And not everybody can do it.

And that’s my point – I can wield a bread knife with the best of them; doesn’t make me a brain surgeon. Just because I can tap a keyboard and publish to the waiting world-wide web, doesn’t make me a journalist. Can make me a very good writer; a hugely influential ‘blogger’, but doesn’t make me a journalist.

And, for me, there’s value in that distinction that Shirky over-looks. In 90% of what he says, fine. Spot on.

A newspaper’s control of the means of distribution has gone.

A journalist’s control of regular access to a near-private conversation? Nope, that’s still there – that’s the ‘scarcity’ that he misses.

“Most professions exist because there is a scarce resource that requires on-going management…’

The ‘scarce resource’ is the invite to the near-private conversation. But he’s spot on about that needing ‘on-going management’. It’s called Ex’s. Or lunch. Or a drink at the bar round the corner.

“It used to be hard to move words, images, and sounds from creator to consumer and most media businesses involve expensive management of the pipeline problem, whether running a printing press or a record label…

“…Now though the problems of production, reproduction and distribution are much less serious. As a consequence, control over the media is less completely in the hands of the professionals.”

Fine. But for everybody else out there, the problems of access to that near-private conversation are, arguably, just as serious as they ever have been.

I would argue that you need a professional to simply worm and squirrel your way through the banks of PR people that surround most of the people we need to have a conversation with, let alone to then know how to act and report as and when ‘contact’ was made. And all with a view to keeping that contact ‘alive’.

‘Here Comes Everybody’ – but have they got an invite? That’s the question.

Who, even now, do you give the invite to? Go back to bread knives and brain surgeons – I might have been burning the midnight oil on my scalp-slicing style, but is anyone actually going to give me an invite to perform surgery? Not when access to the requisite patient – the one with the blinding headache – is so limited.

Likewise, can ‘everybody’ physically fit into a locker room, a council chamber, a magistrates court? What about their own day jobs…

And if the answer is ‘No!’, who do you invite in for a near-private conversation with the coach, the mayor or the judge? The writer or the journalist? Bearing in mind you’re looking for someone who can hold that near-private conversation on a regular basis?

“The future presented by the Internet is the mass amateurization of publishing and a switch from ‘Why publish this?’ to ‘Why not?'”

Why not? Cos you call coach a tw*t and publish and you won’t get invited back.

Defining what we are, what we do when we’re not talking to ourselves and writing blogs – but talking to others (regularly) and writing journalism – is crucial to our survival because we have to prove where the value is in this publishing process.

“If anyone can be a publisher, then anyone can be a journalist.”

Wrong. If anyone can be a publisher, then anyone can be a writer.

“Journalistic privilege is based on the previous scarcity of publishing. When it was easy to recognise who the publisher was, it was easy to figure out who the journalists were. We could regard them as professional (and therefore minority) category. Now that scarcity is gone…

“For a generation that is growing up without the scarcity that made publishing such a serious-minded pursuit, the written word has no special value in and of itself.”

Shirky cites two fine and up-standing examples of the craft of journalism pre the Internet’s dawn – Bob Woodward and his Uncle Howard, of the Washington Post and the Richmond Daily News respectively. Both are clearly professionals.

And what made them professionals? The ability to get ‘Deep Throat’ to a multi-story car park late one night and, I suspect, the ability to get the Mayor of Richmond out of bed in the early hours of the morning when something big broke – and still be able to talk to both the next morning.

Both could hold a semi-private, if not exclusive, conversation with a major source at any time of day or night. And all on a regular basis – for as and when the next story demanded.

And not everybody can do that.

I guess the accompanying headline should run along the lines of: ‘If you think we’re screwed now…’

Or some kind of suggestion that the fun might only have just begun; that our friend – and some clearly still see it as our ‘enemy’ – The Internet is but a little baby to one, awesome kick-ass mother that lies just around the corner.

Bit like ‘Aliens’ I guess. That if the hapless Ripley had her hands full with one of them, just wait till you get to meet Mum… and, boy, is she mad. Only this time she’s buried not beneath some atmposphere recycling planet on Zeltron 2-Alpha or whatever it was, but underneath some charming Swiss valley.

What are we talking about? This that popped up in The Times today… Meet Mum, meet ‘The Grid’.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article3689881.ece

OK, so The Grid’s purpose is to dig out some elusive little proton; the one that gives matter mass… but does that even matter given the likely impact it is to have on the rest of us in the midst of its game of molecular hide-and-seek?

Download a whole movie in five seconds instead of three hours? Holographic formats? What, you mean that a web-casted council chamber could now appear in a holographic format on the palm of my hand?

Heh, that’s Star Wars; OK, so it’s South Norfolk District Council in five years time, but the image is of Star Wars… five-inch figures sat in the palm of my hand debating matters of planetry import. As it effects the Waveney Valley.

Five years? Who knows. CERN is, of course, the birthplace of the Internet. And like ‘The Grid’, both will filter their way out into the wider world via the academic institutions.

But the fact is that mother can now piggy-back off her little baby; here we are, after all, reading about ‘The Grid’ on the web; we’re not learning about the potential impact of the Internet in some dusty, academic tome as might have been the case some 20-odd years ago.

‘The Grid’ is just one push of a ‘red button’ away; it’s live, happening and coming to a lab near you.

Whether it comes to a mobile near your is the next question; at what cost and at what speed, the question after.

But look at the impact The Internet has already had on the way we do our newspaper business – or, rather, don’t do our newspaper business – and now envisage a delivery system that is ‘10,000 times faster than the average broadband connection…’

News of which is about to be delivered on a delivery system that, in itself, is what 10,000 times faster than the wood-staining system that delivered The Internet? Depends on how fast the little lad on his push-bike delivered the newspaper down your street, I guess.

Is there a lesson? Well, if even half of what they say about ‘The Grid’ is true then the likelihood of the newspaper surviving much beyond the next decade grows ever less likely; that my eight-year-old little man will, in every likelihood, look at The Internet and laugh at how slow and clunky it seemed…

‘I can’t believe you tried to run a business of that, Dad…’

‘And before that I used to work on a newspaper… imagine that…’

Scary, scary times. We can’t even find an answer to the problems that The Internet poses. And now, deep beneath some Swiss valley, out comes ‘The Grid’…

And this time she really means business.