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media economy multimedia photography

Media disruption (2): news consumption today

Given the primacy of the screen and the rise of mobile – the topic of the first article in this series – how and where do people get their news? If you are looking for the audience, where are they?

The primacy of the screen means media companies necessarily operate within the same digital space. Whereas newspapers, magazines, radio and television used to be defined by their distinct modes of distribution, their largest audiences are now online, and they all deliver news and information through a combination of audio, text, photographs, video, and infographics to their audiences. As a result, despite the continuing importance of established organisations on the web, there is no such thing as traditional media anymore.

In this new environment we have witnessed a shift from news and information consumed in fixed places at fixed times, to mobile news consumed at moments selected by the users. What persists in this new environment is a strong public interest in news and information. This conclusion from Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism still holds:

The audience for good journalism is large. We may think modern culture has become celebrity obsessed at the expense of news, but international survey data indicate a strong appetite for domestic and international news among all age groups, and that people still like to read.

This is reinforced by the Reuters 2014 Digital News Report, which offers a global perspective through its survey of people in ten different countries. As they found, not less than two-thirds of people expressed an interest in news:
Interest-in-news-by-country

This is supported by detailed research from OfCom on News Consumption in the UK. While recent Pew research says “millennials” – the much maligned, allegedly narcissistic 18-34 generation in the US – trail their elders in interest about government and politics, an American Press Institute study shows they nonetheless have a strong desire for news broadly defined:
How-millenials-get-news

With the organisations formerly known as ‘newspapers,’ ‘radio’ and ‘television’ operating in the same digital space, it is no surprise that people are increasingly satisfying their desire for news online. In the US, 50% say the internet is their main source of national and international news. This is below television but far above newspapers and radio. For those aged between 18 and 49, the number using the internet rises and equals or surpasses television. In the UK, the number of users going online rose from 32% to 41% in 2013-14, with the number of 16-34 year old users climbing to 60%. Reuters ten-country survey confirms that online has become at least the second most important way of accessing news.

However, saying people get news online only tells us which platform or they use. It doesn’t say anything about their main sources, which is now being shaped by their devices (a point well made by Tom Rosenstiel, director of the American Press Institute, in this talk).

With are witnessing the rise of mobile, although, as noted in the first article of the series, ‘mobile’ does not necessarily mean ‘on the move’ or ‘in transit’ given the preponderance of home and office use. One consequence is that media organisations now find most of their readers/viewers are using touchscreen devices to reach them. Pew’s State of the [American] Media report revealed that “at the start of 2015, 39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic to their sites and associated applications coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers.”

The rise of mobile changes the way news is packaged, distributed, discovered, and consumed. They have extended both the number of touch points throughout the day, and meant that news is accessed constantly rather than according to the classic consumption curve of morning, lunch and dinner. Time spent on news sites during each session is a short 3-5 minutes, but as there are multiple sessions a day, the level of news consumption rises. And the more devices people own, the more news they consume.

Frequency-of-access-by-device

Smartphones and tablets drive use of news apps rather than the mobile web through browsers. The speed and efficiency of apps have lowered the threshold to news consumption by offering a one-touch route to a recognised source. Smartphone users reportedly spend 88% of their time online in apps – although a lot of time within apps involves redirects to the mobile web, and that a lot of app time is accounted for by the dominance of Facebook.

The convenience of apps means touchscreen users access fewer news sources, with 37% relying on a single news app each week. This may mean apps limit the disaggregation of news providers fuelled by the use of search engines and social networks. The Reuters Institute survey found that “that audiences consume the majority of their online news from familiar and trusted brands, but we can also see that they are using increasingly varied ways to find that content.”

There is a lot commentary about how we are in a “golden age” of video online as more and more companies produce video, driven in large part by the advertising revenue it can generate. Forecast to make up nearly 80% of global IP traffic by 2018, we might assume video is a prominent means for delivering news stories. In the UK, the number of people downloading or watching short video clips each week has risen from 21% in 2007 to to 39% in 2014 (although the question gave music and comedy clips, rather than news, as the examples). When the Reuters Institute asked for the ways in which people in their ten-country survey had consumed news, only 10-30% named video, with headline summaries and text predominant.

Type-of-online-news-content-accessed-by-country

The important Tow Center study Video Now investigated the production and consumption of news video in ten American organisations, and found that while their was considerable investment in the area, profits were non-existent because views were very modest. While there were occasional viral succeed, on average a single video on a ‘newspaper’ site got 500-1,000 views each, with brands like Mashable hoping for a minimum of 20,000 views per video.

This may not offer a true picture of the status of video, however. Singling out video versus text for news consumption in digital space is a problem. As Video Now concluded:

People consume news by subject, not by medium. Audiences don’t say “I want to watch news video.” They come for information on specific topics: Syria, Ukraine, Obamacare, sports.

This led to an obvious and important recommendation:

Video should be embedded with other content, inside a blogpost, next to a graphic. Videos posted with other media get more plays. Those left in segregated “video” sections get ignored.

That, of course, is the very definition of ‘multimedia’ in digital space. Whereas watching video would have once required users to go to a broadcast platform, they can now find it alongside other forms of information on any digital network or site.

Touchscreen devices are changing the levels and patterns of news consumption. Building on the majority interest in news, they increase consumption by offering unlimited access to information, principally through apps, at a time and place of the user’s choosing.

They also change the practices of news consumption, and reveal that “consumption” is a complex phenomena.

The web has given us an unprecedented capacity to measure audience consumption. Previously, news consumption was measured by the circulation of print publications. This recorded the number of units purchased, but could not reveal which stories within newspapers or magazines received the most views or the longest read. On the web, all this and more can be determined, yet the focus to date on traffic numbers determined by clicks has perpetuated the superficial assessment of circulation data.

The limits of our current metrics are exposed in an important study of the available research by Irene Costera Meijer and Tim Groot Kormelink. They went beyond the medium people use, or when they use it, to look at the different ways people engaged with the news. They identified 16 different news consumption practices:

Reading
Watching
Viewing
Listening
Checking
Snacking
Scanning
Monitoring
Searching
Clicking
Linking
Sharing
Liking
Recommending
Commenting
Voting [as on Reddit]

Many of thse apply to both print and digital, and a number of them – especially checking, snacking and scanning – do not necessitate a click. And as Paul Bradshaw says, this shows that “focused reading is not confined to any one medium, and that distracted forms of consumption popularly associated with smartphone use are equally typical of how people use television, radio or print. It’s not about the medium: it’s about the user.”

Producers now have to understand the complexity of user behaviour as they hunt for their audience – or the “people formerly known as the audience,” given their capacity to produce and interact themselves. But they should be reassured the audience for news and documentary is there and growing, enabled in large part by the screens that connect them to others via the internet.

In the third article in this series, I look at the effect social media has on the production and consumption of news

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media economy multimedia photography

Media disruption (1): The primacy of the screen and mobile

What are the key features of the media economy in 2015? And how do those features effect the work of visual storytellers?

Two years on from the publication of Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism, I want to update – in a series of articles – some of the central findings of that research. That report was the summation of the World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project, which was designed to review issues around, and map the global emergence of, multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism.

The research examined the transformation of the media economy so we could better understand how information is being produced, published, consumed, and funded. This is something I have been writing about since my five-part series on the revolutions in the media economy posted in 2009, and three posts on the new media landscape in 2011.

I believe understanding the nature and scale of the on-going disruption in the media economy is essential for anyone involved in documentary, news and non-fiction narratives. While I would argue the analysis in Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism still holds, some things are now even more significant.

First, the primacy of the screen and the rise of mobile.

World_media_consumption
[Source: Screen Fiends]

This year, for the first time, individuals around the world will spend more time online than with any other media platform. There are regional variations, some of this activity will take place concurrently, and given the rise of internet streaming the boundary between online and television is blurred. We have to recognise that internet access is unequally distributed (note the absence of Africa, where only one-quarter of the population use the internet, from the above data). But what is indisputable is that the screen has become the primary access point globally for information and entertainment.

Mobile-phone-screen-evolution
[Source: This Isn’t Happiness]

The primacy of the screen is closely tied to the growth in mobile devices. The 2 billion iOS and Android devices currently in use will soon grow to 3 billion, easily surpassing the 1.6 billion PC’s in existence. Mobile phone ownership has grown dramatically in all the world’s regions.

The smartphone – a touchscreen device with internet access – is becoming supreme. Smartphone ownership in the US has grown from 35% of adults in 2011 to 64% in 2014, and nearly three-quarters of American teenagers have smartphones. In the UK it is up from 30% in 2010 to 66% in 2014, and the level of smartphone penetration is similar in Western Europe. Global smartphone penetration shows wide regional variations, although growth is universal.

Times-and-screens
[Source: Paul Adams, Why ‘mobile first’ may already be outdated, Inside Intercom]

Mobile devices are not really mobile, at least in the conventional view that they are mostly glanced at when on the move. Yes, touchscreen devices – tablets and smartphones – are handheld and used outside the home, but two-thirds of people use them in both the home and beyond. In fact, they have become the way most of us regularly access the internet, accounting for nearly 60% of the time spent online in the UK.

Rather than regarding mobile devices as just a scaled down version of the internet, we should appreciate that each device is an entire internet platform that exceeds the browser version of the web available on PC’s. The smartphone is itself a social platform where apps are networked through contacts, images and notifications. And we know it has eaten the stand-alone camera, with the number of iPhones and Android devices exceeding the total of Japanese cameras ever sold.

This means “mobile” is the wrong frame of reference – it is not about the status of small devices, but the way in which information is produced, published and consumed via the screen. Indeed, the size of device is secondary. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, regards televisions as “just glass-panelled displays connected to the internet” rather than unique devices.

It has become a cultural cliche that smartphones are “ruining our lives” by making us distracted, isolated and stupid (humorously presented in these 27 cartoons). The ever growing number of US users have a different view, however, with the vast majority seeing them as “freeing, connecting, helpful.” This is part of their overwhelmingly positive view of the internet’s impact on society and their lives, with at least three-quarters saying it has been a good thing that improves their ability to learn things and be better informed. Nor do they complain of “information overload” – a majority of internet users (72%) enjoy having so much information at their fingertips, while just 26% find it overwhelming.

All this has important implications for thinking about how information is structured and stories presented. The audience is engaged, and “mobile” can no longer be a subset of digital experience. While some offerings will be for those with little time while in transit, overall the mobile experience for readers and viewers needs to be comprehensive as it might be the only touchpoint between you and your audience. This is especially so given the willingness of users to access immersive, long-form stories via their small screens – as in the case of serious 6,000 word BuzzFeed report that had half its views on mobile with people reading for 12-25 minutes.

People are consuming more media, and doing it principally through screens of various sizes connected to the internet. Other platforms like print will persist, but in new and more limited ways. This is the media infrastructure producers need to know and work with.

Next in this series…how the audience consumes news in the digital space

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media economy multimedia

World Press Photo multimedia research project: video interview

A year ago I delivered and presented the World Press Photo multimedia research project report entitled Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism

In this interview with D.J. Clark for the World Press Photo Connected Learning project (which we did in the CCTV studios in Beijing where we teach on the MA in International Multimedia Journalism) I talked about the major themes of the multimedia research report,  which I think are more relevant than ever.

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media economy multimedia photography

Shaul Schwarz: A photographer finds a new world of expression in film

Reel Peek Films

“Magazines are hungry for video,” says Shaul Schwarz, a still photographer who has been interested in film since 2006. Schwarz — who recently directed both Rise, Red Border Films’ story of the people who built One World Trade Center, and Narco Cultura, the 2013 full-length documentary that grew out of his photojournalistic account of the drug culture on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border — is fascinated by the notion that photos can do more than merely illustrate a story. Schwarz is attracted to the way film can provide image-makers with a voice and, in the editing, a level of control over the narrative that’s rarely found in still photography.

In light of the growing demand for quality visual storytelling from media organizations, Schwarz has set up Reel Peak Films, a production company combining photojournalists and filmmakers. With photographers and directors like Maisie Crow, Uriel Sinai, Christina Clusiau, Gillian Laub, Yoni Brook, Leeor Kaufman and Jared Moossy — along with editors Jay Sterrenberg and Bryan Chang and sound specialist Juan Bertran — Reel Peak Films is a network of highly skilled freelancers formed with the aim of producing high-quality films of around 10 minutes in length (for example, Schwarz’s film Ashes to Ashes, Peter van Agtmael’s piece on Bobby Henline, a badly wounded Iraq veteran-turned-stand-up comedian, both of which featured on LightBox, and Christina Clusiau’s Black Rush Life).

“We’re not just taking pictures and doing audio,” says Schwarz, while also acknowledging that Reel Peak is not inventing a new visual form. Reel Peak’s priority, he says, is focusing on the film component around which a larger story and presentation can be built. Schwarz’s hope is to connect the collaborative model that large film projects demand with the journalistic ethos of his partners’ photography backgrounds. “We can go further and deeper into the story,” Schwarz maintains, combining “old school journalism’s hard-hitting perspective and great access” with strong, cinematic aesthetics — an approach very different from, say, that of TV crews.

Schwarz works in the field with a small footprint: no rigs, just a DSLR, and occasionally a sound person. This intimacy, Schwarz says, means “most people don’t even realise I’m doing video.” Reel Peak Films is emblematic of a major shift in the media, as disparate organisations increase their online presence and produce more programs and stories. The past year has seen broadcasters and magazines set up documentary film units, including TIME’s Red Border Films. The Atlantic started three video series, the New York Times expanded its output, placing its videos outside their pay wall; and the Washington Post opened a political channel.

As we concluded in the World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project I directed, the intersection of broadcasters, magazines and newspapers in digital space means there is no such thing as traditional media any longer. While there will continue to be print platforms, the screen has become the primary access point for most news and information, and media outlets have to be cross-platform. An encouraging feature of this new media economy is users’ demand for compelling stories. Ooyala, a company that runs 1 billion video streams per month for media organisations, including The Daily Telegraph in the UK, analysed the viewing habits of nearly 200 million unique viewers in 130 countries, and found long-form video (i.e., more than 10 minutes) very popular. MediaStorm reports very large audiences for their stories, with users viewing them years after the original release date, demonstrating that quality storytelling enjoys a long life online.

With distribution partnerships in place, Walter Astrada’s Undesired attracted a six-figure audience in the first week of its release. The online audience for a story like Danny Wilcox Frazier’s Driftless can quickly be 20 times as large as for a print publication, and has the potential to replicate print run numbers on a daily basis. More than half, and often two thirds, of those viewing MediaStorm pieces online stay with them to the end, even with running lengths up to 20 minutes or more.

None of this new and compelling information, of course, should be used to shore up simplistic arguments or proclamations about the imminent “death” of photography. Schwarz continues to shoot stills, and has recently completed a National Geographic assignment. In fact, paradoxically, he finds that he is now able to take more time with his still work — producing book projects, for example — now that he no longer looks to print media exclusively to make a living. Schwarz describes his photographic work as both “solitary and fun,” but when he wants to tell a complex story, he turns to film.

This post was originally published on TIME LightboxMarch 2014.

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media economy multimedia

Scarcity, abundance and value: the economics of digital culture

iStock_000023487932Medium

Understanding the changing relationship between scarcity and abundance – and how they affect value – is essential for visual storytellers seeking to operate in the new ecology of information.

The foundation for this changing relationship is the fact that the web is built on a structurally open system.

Open doesn’t mean all is equal and free of from power.

There are, for example, obvious international inequalities in terms of geographic and class access to the Internet.

It is also true that commercial interests (whether that be Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter or individual corporations) are able to exercise great power on the web.

Nonetheless, because the founders of the web took the historic decision not to patent and thereby privatise its invention we can all have our own piece of digital space.

So the system remains structurally open because anyone can, for very low cost, broadcast, publish and distribute information. Anyone can establish a web presence from which to attract and reach audiences. This simple fact, combined with other changes in digital technology, has altered the parameters of the media economy from scarcity to abundance. This has been well described by Nicholas Carr:

As the Internet becomes our universal medium, it is reshaping what might be called the economics of culture.  Because most common cultural goods consist of words, images, or sounds, which all can be expressed in digital form, they are becoming as cheap to reproduce and distribute as any other information product. Many of them are also becoming easier to create, thanks to the software and storage services provided through the Net and inexpensive production tools like camcorders, microphones, digital cameras, and scanners….The shift from scarcity to abundance in media means that, when it comes to deciding what to read, watch, and listen to, we have far more choices than our parents or grandparents did.

Of course, this doesn’t itself address issues of quality amidst abundance, but social recommendation, the filtering done by trusted sources, delivers a rich stream of information. I can avoid cheesy cat videos on the web just as easily as I can bypass tabloid newspapers in the shop. But I can get unexpected reports and stories much more easily now than when I had to rely on either the physical library or the newsagent.

The great challenge is how to financially support good stories in this era of information abundance. Approaching that question requires us to appreciate three things:

  1. Good journalism has always been indirectly subsidised and never paid for directly, and this is complicated by the way the artificial scarcity prices of print advertising have collapsed since 2000;
  2. We cannot confuse or conflate value and price: people value quality information and stories for their utility or experience, but the price that can be charged is driven more by issues of access and availability than content worth;
  3. Being able to charge scarcity prices depends on having something unique, long-lasting, easy to access and easy to pay for.

This is the eighth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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media economy multimedia

Digital and the the desire for long form journalism

The world is at her fingertips

The disruption of the Internet, the turn to online news sources, and the global spread of mobile technology are sometimes seen as producing a new age of distraction and superficiality.[1. This position draws on the likes of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and crops up in articles such as “Smart readers are too distracted to read smart content.” There are two problems with these claims. First is that the science on the impact of technology on thinking is contested, as the arguments reviewed her make clear. Second is that the claims are very absolutist, giving a sense there is a general social-psychological condition that automatically affects all. The New York Times ran a good series on brains and computers in 2010 but its opening character revealed that “distraction” might be a conscious choice. While 17 year old Vishal Singh was used as example of one whose love of computers and the Internet meant he couldn’t focus on school homework, he had no trouble concentrating unreservedly on his true passion – film making – spending hours editing short sequences and getting an A in his film studies class. As such, he is hardly “wired for distraction.”]

Without claiming that these are in fact the best of times for visual storytellers, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that contemporary developments are building on and encouraging a healthy appetite for engagement with news and information.

Here is what we found in the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie multimedia research project (see section 2 of the report for details and sources):

  • Over the last two decades – and consistent throughout that period – American data shows people enjoy reading (51% say they enjoyed it a lot), and there has been no decrease in the number reading a book on a typical day (c. 30%). Now, though, the proportion (currently 20%) reading those books via electronic devices is growing
  • In Europe and the US there is a strong appetite for news, with 75% or more of people accessing news daily
  • International news is a topic of interest for 44%+ in Europe and the US
  • At least two-thirds of the 16-24 age group in Europe and the US are interested in news, so the future is not so bleak as sometimes feared.

Significantly mobile technology is helping to cultivate this appetite for news:

  • accessing news is one of top things mobile consumers do
  • it increases the amount of news they consume
  • it increases the number of longer stories they read
  • organisations like the Wall Street Journal report people spend at least as much time (40-50 mins) on their tablet app as they did with the printed paper.

Web video is the subject of current debate, with some producers questioning its value. That argument makes some good creative points that need to be examined in more detail, although there is wide variation in what counts as “web video.” But it is clear that news consumers like linear video. Media organisations we surveyed repeatedly said it was one of the two most popular formats for people coming to their sites. As a result many media organisations (especially those formerly known as newspapers) are investing heavily in video production. All this makes online video the fastest growing multimedia format, with encouraging audience behaviour for those producing stories:

  • News is a popular category on YouTube (it was the most searched for item in four out of 12 months in 2011)
  • There is no strict correlation between length of video and popularity – one-third of popular videos were 2-5 minutes in length, and nearly one fifth were longer than 5 mins
  • Oyala, a large video streaming platform, reported that long form videos of 10 minutes+ accounted for 57% of viewing time on tablets they served
  • Multimedia completion rates can also be good: MediaStorm says that more than half, and often two-thirds, of those viewing their stories online stay with them to the end, even when stories run up to 20 or more minutes.

We can also point to studies commissioned by the Associated Press demonstrating that audiences desire breadth, context and depth – news consumers feel they have the headlines and what they want is the background. To that end, they value the depth visuals (both still and moving) can bring.

This shows the audience is out there, they have an appetite for visual stories, and are consuming long form journalism and video. This does not mean the audience for visual stories can be easily found or quickly engaged. It still takes a good story, and one that is accessible to as many as possible. But both audience desire and our ability to reach them is being encouraged by the digital transformations many feared would have a negative effect on the future of visual stories.

This is the seventh in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

FOOTNOTE:

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media economy multimedia

The global spread of mobile technology and what it means for visual storytelling

iStock_000016115501Medium

The global spread of mobile technology is reshaping the media economy.

By 2017 there will be 5.2 billion mobile users worldwide, up from 4.3 billion currently, and the number of mobile Internet connections will exceed the number of people on the planet (albeit with a different distribution). The proliferation of smartphones, laptops and tablets has made the screen the primary access point for much information and is helping to drive the growth in online news sources. In the US, smartphones have outpaced almost every other technology in the speed of mainstream adoption, and are the backbone of most media interactions.

Instead of one technology killing off and totally replacing another, people are now getting their news through a combination of different new devices and sources. Nearly all media organisations produce mobile content, and those like The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal are seeing one-third of their readers coming in via mobile devices and the number is growing rapidly. The proliferation of devices for accessing the web enables and encourages multiplatform consumption.

The visual is at the heart of these developments. According to a Cisco executive, the “dramatic adoption” of mobile technology means “we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one as well.” That is because mobile video is the biggest single component of mobile data traffic – it now accounts for 51% of this traffic and will rise to 66% in 2017.

Mobile feeds social. The growth in mobile is fuelling the number of Americans – not just the young – who access news via social networks, which increased from 9% in 2010 to 19% in 2012. In the UK, social networks are equally important, with the Reuters Institute reporting that they provide the gateway to news for 20% of users.

These developments mean being mobile and social is essential for every visual storyteller. That does not mean every story has to be designed for mobile only. It does mean that to have the chance of reaching the largest and widest possible audience, at least some element of every story, or some version of every story, needs to be readily accessible on mobile devices and easily shareable on social networks. Storytellers need to find their audiences, and audiences in the new media economy are increasingly found, at least in the first instance, through mobile and social.

This is the sixth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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Featured media economy multimedia

The primacy of the screen

Google screen study

 

The screen has become the primary access point for much information.

The shift to online news sources, the growth of mobile platforms, and the expansion of video output are both cause and effect of the screen’s increasing dominance.

The above graphic comes from a 2012 study commissioned by Google and conducted by Sterling Brands and Ipsos. They concluded that 90% of media interactions by Americans were now screen based. This could well be an overstatement, despite the good mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, because the research sample was 1,611 people aged 18-64 in Los Angeles, Boston and Austin, three connected cities. Nonetheless, because of the many intersecting factors contributing to the dominance of the screen, it shows at least a clear trend.

This study reported that screens were employed both sequentially and simultaneously. Sequentially meant people would use different devices individually in different contexts and at different times. simultaneously refers to “the second screen experience”, where viewing on one device is accompanied by another. While mobile devices enable access anywhere anytime (assuming network connections), Pew found they are most often used for news in the home. And whether sequential or simultaneous, the study concluded that smartphones were the backbone of daily media interactions, the most common starting point for activities, and the most common companions in sequential use.

The main thrust of the Google/Sterling Brands/Ipsos findings are supported by a 2013 BBC study of global multiscreen news consumption:Multiplatform news consumption infographic

Jim Egan, CEO of BBC Global News Ltd, drew an interesting conclusion from this study:

Avid news consumers are hungry for information wherever they are and expect to stay in touch on all the devices they now own. There’s been speculation for years that mainstream uptake of smartphones, laptops and tablets will have a negative impact on television viewing, but this study has found that the four devices actually work well together, resulting in greater overall consumption rather than having a cannibalising effect.

The primacy of the screen is good news for visual storytellers. Increased access to, and consumption of, information is being enabled by these devices. The challenge will be how to make stories work on, and across, different screens, especially smartphones. The challenge will also be how to link print and other platforms with screens in this new ecology of information.

This is the fifth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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media economy multimedia

Newspapers, advertising and the Internet: How journalism has always been subsidised

iStock_000000503743Medium

The disruptive power of the Internet changed everything in media. But it did not cause everything.

The decline of newspapers, so long the editorial paymaster for photojournalism, is a trend dating back six decades.

Globally there are mixed signals concerning newspaper circulation, with some reporting growth in Asia offsetting falls in Europe and the US, while other sources reveal “printed newspaper readership is now declining in almost all major economies,” including China and India.

In the US, UK and Canada, the data is clear and dramatic. The Communications Management Inc. study on Sixty Years of Daily Newspaper Circulation Trends shows newspaper circulation has been falling since 1950:

CM2011 newspaper circulation comparison

Because the defining characteristic of the new media economy is “the separation of information from its means of distribution” we cannot conclude that the decline in newspapers means the demise of journalism, visual or otherwise. The reverse is in fact true – journalism has many homes and benefits from the freedom of circulation and distribution that the Internet makes possible – the Pulitzer Prize winning InsideClimate News is a great example.

The problem is that the traditional homes of journalism have seen their already parlous financial health further undercut. However, we have to remember that most media organisations are in business, but not primarily the business of journalism. Legacy organisations (including great ones like The New York Times) spend no more than 20% of their budget on news content (in fact, in the US the industry average is 12.7%). The rest goes on the management and operation of the distribution model.

Media organisations are in the business of advertising, advertising has accounted for 80% of their revenue, and that revenue has subsidised the journalism that provides the content that draws the readers/views in to see the advertisements. Above all else it is the collapse in advertising revenue for print media that has been the single largest cause of journalism’s financial crisis, as this graph from Mark Perry shows dramatically:

Newspaper ad revenue 1950-2012

The disruption of the Internet has put added pressure on print advertising and online advertising has not replaced print losses.

There are some vital lessons flowing from this for the future of visual storytelling. We have to understand that:

  • journalism (reporting, stories, pictorial coverage) has never been a viable, stand-alone product. It has never paid for itself directly and its users have never directly paid for all of it. Journalism has always been subsidised by indirect sources, principally advertising;
  • the culture of “free” is originally a product, not of the Internet, but of the mass media model – it comes from “free to air” radio, “free to view” television (both financed indirectly by advertising) and newspapers with small subscription fees making up no more than one-fifth of their revenue, all of which enabled many generations of users to get their information for no charge at the point of consumption;
  • there will not be a one-size-fits-all, single business model for good journalism in the future, but it will continue to depend on sources of indirect subsidy;
  • successful journalism operations (of which there many good examples) are becoming sustainable not by discovering some untapped, secret pot of gold, but by diversifying income, making new connections between advertising, paying for content, selling data and technology, events, freelancing, consulting etc.;
  • photojournalists and visual storytellers should not pin their hopes on “paywalls” for established news sites as the single best solution, because even if they work on some measures these are not going to bring back a lost golden age of editorial assignments, as user subscriptions can never replace lost advertising revenue for legacy organisations.

This historical perspective challenges some important myths about what happened to media. None of this makes the present struggle for critical visual journalism easy. But it should re-set the terms of the debate about what is happening now, and re-frame some of the strategic options for the future.

This is the fourth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

Categories
media economy multimedia

Disruption and the new ecology of information

What happens in an internet minute

The context for thinking about what is happening with visual storytelling is one of “disruption.” Yes, that term can be drained through overuse, but it is still vital in understanding the dynamics of the new media economy,

That is because disruption is more than just change through competition.

We have disruption because, as the Columbia University report Post-Industrial Journalism argued (p. 83),

the arrival of the internet did not herald a new entrant in the news ecosystem. It heralded a new ecosystem, full stop.

The Internet is not a competitor that stands separate from the traditional media institutions. Its dynamics have created something new that encompasses all who exist in the news ecosystem, including the traditional institutions. Even though there are still significant inequalities in Internet access within and between countries, the Intel graphic above makes clear the scale of the disruption the Internet produces for all.

The metaphor of the ecosystem and ecology is important here because it reflects the way the media economy is made up of networks through which news and information is produced, distributed and consumed. How can we understand the impact disruption has had on the ecology of news? Richard Stacy puts it best. The defining characteristic of the new media economy is “the separation of information from its means of distribution.”

This means (according to the Columbia study, p.1):

Everybody suddenly got a lot more freedom. The newsmakers, the advertisers, the startups, and, especially, the people formerly known as the audience have all been given new freedom to communicate, narrowly and broadly, outside the old strictures of the broadcast and publishing models. The past 15 years have seen an explosion of new tools and techniques, and, more importantly, new assumptions and expectations, and these changes have wrecked the old clarity.

As a result it no longer makes sense to speak of a traditional, print based media opposed to a digital competitor. There is no such thing as traditional media any longer, even if print remains a mode of distribution for some. When ‘newspapers’ are streaming more video on some services than broadcast stations, broadcast networks are competing on the web with everyone else, and public radio networks have multimedia producers for visual stories, you know the media world has changed forever. Everybody is implicated in the digital ecosystem, even if you think of yourself as a print producer, and that goes for individuals as well as organisations. We should therefore refer to the traditional distribution platforms for journalism as “the organisations formerly known as newspapers, radio and television.”

And if you want a sense of how we have come on the web, then find time to watch this 1995 PBS computer show introducing the Internet, and note how much more visual the web has become in its second decade:

This is the third in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

Categories
media economy multimedia photography

Learning to COPE: Multimedia freelancing in the new media economy

Guest post from D J Clark

How people make a living from ‘multimedia’ reporting and storytelling is one of the most pressing issues.

In the new World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project report (p. 44) is a colourful diagram. As an illustration of how indirect revenue can subsidise work, “Ways to make money blogging” sits in the midst of a discussion about how the old media system is now broken and how “in the new media economy all media is multimedia, social media, and it is increasingly mobile.” Examining the various income streams laid out in blue, yellow, red and green, I realized how similar this was to my freelance business as a photographer turned multimedia journalist.

The diagram below represents a quick email survey of five Beijing-based international freelance visual journalists, including myself, who have successfully made the transition from a single media (mainly photography) to delivering multiple media (mainly photography and video) to international clients.

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While freelance assignments still make up the largest part of our income, surprisingly it is less than half. Of that half, the vast majority (78%) is for regular media clients rather than one-off assignments. As with TV news, multimedia not only requires the freelancer to be well versed in a particular style of shooting, it also needs the freelancer to understand complex workflows, compression settings, subtitling, transmitting etc., which together make it more likely the media companies will use the same people repeatedly.

Of the five of us surveyed, three had formal contracts with at least one media company, but this still made up only 10% of overall assignments. Commercial work was the next biggest earner, although two people said this takes up very little time and is undertaken to fund equipment and editorial assignments.

Teaching on university courses, conducting media company training, and running workshops all formed a reliable income source for most of us. Grants only made up 6% of income, although four out of five of us had received at least one. Funding projects with grants and crowd sourcing is often put forward as a potential substitute to publishers but much of the money is spent on travel and production costs with little going back to the journalist as income. My most recent grant ended up costing me money as the project went over budget by more than the amount allotted to my fee.

One other surprise was stock sales, which in the old system was a trustworthy form of income even when assignments were slow. At only 3% there seems little point in investing too heavily in the time it takes to organize media for stock agencies and send it off – maybe better to upload to YouTube, Vimeo or Flickr as a way of promoting yourself and generating sales?

There was one additional question I asked the group. How much time do you put into social media and/or online promotion? All except one explained they find it hard to separate social media/blogging from their work, and the individual who was not so engaged said she should be doing this. “This stuff is completely intertwined with my life,” explained one journalist. Yet all of us answered 0% when asked how much direct income we derived from these time-consuming activities. Indirect income is another matter, however.

Recently I discovered the world of COPE – ‘Create Once Publish Everywhere’, a concept first championed by NPR and now used extensively by media companies to get their content to where audiences are, rather than trying to bring audiences to them. For multimedia freelancers it is also important to spread your content on as many platforms and in as many ways as possible. Sharing photographs on Instagram while working an assignment, tweeting from behind the scenes, sharing links on Facebook, uploading (when permitted) stories to your YouTube and Vimeo accounts, and blogging all help promote the journalist effectively, if not more so than having a personal website you expect people to find. Learning how to separate the noise from the signal and using time-saving social apps like Hootsuite are also key skills to save getting bogged down in the social stream so you can concentrate on the story.

This short survey is by no means conclusive but it does demonstrate that developing strong relationships with a few media organisations, taking on a variety of income creating activities, and devoting a good amount of time to online engagement that is not directly paid, all form part of modern-day, successful freelancing in the new media economy.

This is a guest post from D J Clark, with whom I have worked in various capacities for more than ten years. You can find out more about D J Clark at djclark.com. The MA International Multimedia Journalism he directs (and to which I contribute) is now accepting applications for September 2013. D J Clark’s newly released, free, and co-authored multimedia training resource is at multimediatrain.com.

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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Featured media economy multimedia photography

‘Multimedia’, photojournalism and visual storytelling

SSPL_10299598_Comp

What is “multimedia”?

Searching for a single definition in answer to this question is neither possible nor desirable. At its most basic, “multimedia” signifies some combination of images, sound, graphics, and text to produce a story. In different realms of practice people speak of “cross media,” “transmedia” or “mixed media.’ In photojournalism, “multimedia” has often been first understood as “photography, plus…”, principally the combination of still imagery with other content. Nowadays we see it in multiple forms ranging from online photo galleries where pictures are combined with text captions, to audio slideshows, linear video (both short-from and long-form), animated infographics, non-linear interactives, and full-scale web documentaries and broadcast films.

The digital revolution has been a defining development in the emergence of “multimedia” that blurs the boundary between still and moving images. But that boundary has long been blurred. Even a brief consideration of the history of image making shows considerable overlap between still and moving images. Close-ups and freeze frames are moments in which cinema employs the still image, and photo-stories and sequences testify to the influence of cinema on photography. Famous photographers like Man Ray, Paul Strand and Gordon Parks were all involved in filmmaking and films like Chris Marker’s “La Jetee” (1962) and Agnes Varda’s “Salut Les Cubains” (1963) were based on still photographs. Ken Burn’s creative use of archival pictures in “The Civil War” (1990) was so powerful it gave rise to an effect now immortalised in video editing software. Modern television is not averse to deploying stills in either opening credits (as in David Simon’s “Treme”) or in news broadcasts, when a slower pace is needed to underline the significance of the event (the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq being two such cases), or when video is unavailable.

The roots of “multimedia” go deeper still. In the media history of photographic images, prior to mass reproduction of images in print becoming possible, pictures were displayed to the public with the help of technological devices such as the magic lantern (as well as the gloriously named phenakistiscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope, mutoscope, etc.) that created the perception of moving images in theatrical settings.

Moving forward again, we can recall other photographic projects in which images were entwined with other forms of content. Nan Goldins’ famous “Ballad of Sexual Dependency” was originally shown in the early 1980s as a constantly evolving slideshow with music. Pedro Meyer’s “I Photograph to Remember” (1991), Rick Smolan’s “From Alice to Ocean” (1992) and “Passage to Vietnam” (1994), and Tim Hetherington’s “House of Pain” (1996) were all on CD-ROMs and it was speculated that CD-ROMs might replace books as the chosen platform for photographic presentation. Gilles Peress’ “Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace” (1996) was an interactive photo essay, while Ed Kashi’s “Iraqi Kurdistan” flipbook style production (2006) closed the circle by deploying a nineteenth century technique on a twenty-first century platform.

Photojournalism has always been influenced by technological changes, and the arrival of DSLR cameras with video capability – the Nikon D90 in August 2008 followed shortly thereafter by the Canon 5D Mark II – have again highlighted the relationship between still and moving images, providing practitioners with dual image capability in a single camera body.

What is the significance of this history? It confirms that any attempt to strictly define “multimedia” would exclude more than it includes. And it demonstrates that what we need is not a restrictive definition of one genre, but an expanded understanding of “the photographic,” especially the long-standing and complex relationship between still and moving images, possibly what Tim Hetherington meant when he spoke of a “post-photographic” world. This is not a world in which one visual form has died, but a world in which multiple visual forms are alive and stronger than ever.

This is why this study speaks of “visual storytelling”. It opens up the field to different communities who share a common purpose in image-oriented reportage. It is the zone in which photojournalism, videojournalism, documentary, cinema and interactive storytelling have the potential to intersect. This does not create a new visual genre, but it constitutes a space in which photojournalists can bring their aesthetic abilities and commitment to reporting, and learn from those operating outside of photography.

This is not the “convergence” of everything into one, nor a place where a single new form replaces all others – none of this leads to the conclusion that all forms of print are passé. Instead, we have arrived at a place where image making is important to storytelling, and storytelling encompasses many forms across many platforms.

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

Image credit: Magic lantern show, 1881. This engraving of a magic lantern show is from La Nature (vol 1, 1881), and is signed ‘Smeeton Tilly’. The image being projected depicts a castle at night. © Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library — All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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multimedia photography politics

Contemporary politics and the retreat from reality

Sandy Hook kids

The Bush administration bequeathed a toxic legacy for contemporary politics. Most obviously in their mobilisation of war with Iraq, Bush and Cheney decided policy first and then manipulated intelligence to fit their framework. They weren’t the first politicians to mould facts to ideology, but the deep-rooted cultural disdain for the “reality-based community” exuded by their conservative political apparatus is something we continue to suffer under. And we can see disturbing traces of it in different national contexts.

Prior to Christmas we were horrified by the slaughter of 20 children and six adult staff at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut. For those of us not beholden to the power of American gun culture (so well pictured in Zed Nelson’s Gun Nation), the obvious first thought was that surely this massacre – on top of the Virgina Tech shootings or the Aurora cinema killings or any of the gun crimes that leave 12,000 Americans dead each and every year – would finally lead to substantive change. Obama has been praised for finally taking a bold stance in opposition to the NRA and others, but how radical is banning automatic assault rifles and limiting ammunition clips to a mere 10 bullets? When handguns, the number one weapon in US gun crime, are not even mentioned in these new proposals, reality seems to have gone missing once again.

BoM map

In Australia it is the devastatingly hot weather and resultant bush fires that show how up conservative contempt for reality-based policy. Australia’s climate has changed sufficiently that the Bureau of Meterology has had to extend its temperature scale to 54C and illustrate this extreme with an “incandescent purple” on its maps. After Sydney recently recorded its hottest day in history, few doubted that the international scientific consensus on climate change was being played out in the increasing probability of extreme weather events, even if climate change couldn’t be tied to singular happenings. Few that is, except the conservative opposition who are likely to win government in a landslide later this year. While whole towns burnt, the acting opposition leader Warren Tuss followed his absent boss Tony Abbott (ironically off volunteering for his local fire brigade) and declared no one should jump to conclusions about the role man-made climate change had in these catastrophic fires. Tuss was voicing the long-held belief among Australian conservatives that “climate science is crap.”

Tories

In the UK the conservative disdain for data is most evident in the coalition government’s ruthless economic austerity programme. While the Tories love to berate others for engaging in “class war” when they seek a minor redistribution of wealth from high earners to those who need a social welfare net, they have no hesitation in deploying their own class rhetoric – ‘shirkers, skivers and scroungers’ versus the ‘hard working’ – to divide the working poor from those who have lost their jobs or suffer disability. And yet any rational assessment of where money goes – the lost £70 billion through tax evasion versus the £1 billion of welfare waste – shows the cynical nature of the conservatives approach (aided and abetted by so-called liberal democrats of course).

All of this paints a bleak picture for 2013. How can the conservative ideologies of contemporary politics be contested? And how can they be contested visually? We live to a large extent in a political culture where denialism is a powerful force, and it is a force that too much journalism, still beholden to false notions of objectivity that require balance between competing viewpoints even when one of those viewpoints has at best a tenuous relationship to evidence, either furthers or allows to fester.

It would be good if this were the year that visual journalists redoubled efforts to take on the big issues with powerful pictures supported by clear evidence for the larger stories that need to be told. It would be great if visual journalists read and followed the critical ethos for a new journalism espoused by Jay Rosen:

The outlines of the new system are now coming into view. Accuracy and verification, fairness and intellectual honesty – traditional virtues for sure – join up with transparency, “show your work,” the re-voicing of individual journalists, fact-checking, calling BS when needed and avoiding false balance.

Of course, there is – especially for those of us with post-structuralist philosophical commitments – no easily discernible, singular, uncontested reality. There are no facts beyond dispute or arguments immune from contestation. No group has privileged access to the truth. Reality has to be narrated and narratives are inherently constructed. But some stories have more support than others, and the “concordance of evidence” favours some positions over others. When anyone flies in the face of such evidence it’s time to get angry and insist that we won’t stand for such BS.

Photo credits: 

Sandy Hook: Photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a reported shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks), via Business Insider.

Australia: Bureau of Meteorology, via Damian Carrington’s Environment Blog, The Guardian

UK: Conservative poster via @billybragg

Categories
multimedia

World Press Photo Multimedia research project

I’m pleased to announce that I am directing a research project for World Press Photo – under the auspices of the World Press Photo Academy and supported by the FotografenFederatie (Dutch Photographers Association) – that will map the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism.

‘Multimedia’ is an imprecise and problematic term, and some refer to ‘photo films’ or ‘web documentaries’. While not a replacement for other approaches, these concept point to an emerging consensus in photojournalism that, , presenting a story through a combination of images, sound, and text offers a number of advantages. Stories are able to provide greater context and give their subjects a voice, while being easily distributed through new digital channels (the web, apps) that are no longer constrained by the limited space of print publications. However, one of the major challenges is to see how the production of quality content through these means can be supported and expanded.

This project, underway now and to report by next April, will examine these issues through a comparative study looking at multimedia trends in three parts of the world: the USA, Europe, and China. In each of these locations, this study will ask five general questions:

1.  How is multimedia being produced?
2.  How is multimedia being financed?
3.  How is multimedia being published and distributed, and who is publishing/distributing multimedia?
4.  How are viewers consuming multimedia?
5.  Which types of multimedia attract the most attention, and what are the criteria of success?

The aim is to have a comprehensive survey that makes clear what is possible and practical. I don’t envisage defining what ‘multimedia’ is or is not: rather we want to see the full range of what is happening globally and how it is being made possible, and what we can learn from that for the future.

The research is going to involve a combination of secondary literature and primary interviews with key players. I am also keen for anyone interested in the topic to contribute, so will be making appeals for information from the photographic community.

There is a dedicated email address for the project, so please get in touch at david (at) worldpressphoto.org.

A final note:  as an independent research and practitioner, I make a rule of recusing myself from public comment on organisations who employ me. As a result, while I will continue to publish my own personal analyses on photojournalism here, and I will not be making any comments about any issues relating directly to World Press Photo, the World Press Photo Academy or the FotografenFederatie while working on this project.

 

 

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More posts multimedia photography

Springsteen and storytelling

I fulfilled a long held ambition last week – seeing Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band live in concert. It lived up to all expectations. And then some, in a three hour virtuoso performance.

Shortly after I read David Brooks’ New York Times column on what he took from watching Springsteen in Europe. It contained this pearler:

The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!” Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.?

FFS. How do you get paid good money to write that? I doubt European audiences have any trouble recalling their place of birth. Sometimes they just like a good tune.

Brooks then riffs (sic) off this observation to develop a theory of how we need imaginary worlds (‘paracosms’) and how the best imaginary worlds are those based on the local and the power of the particular.

On Open Culture, Dan Colman endorses that interpretation but also adds the idea that Springsteen’s appeal is based on transcendence – “his ability to transcend his own music and embrace the universal spirit of rock ‘n roll.”

I don’t think we should over-intellectualize our personal passions, though Springsteen is very interesting when he talks about creativity and remix culture, something Brooks ignores with his opposition to “pluralism and eclecticism.”

But there is something we can learn about storytelling from this. The opposition of local/global, particular/universal that structures Brooks’ and Coleman’s readings both misses something and inserts too much for my liking.

I think many fans outside of New Jersey identify with Springsteen because the personal and social concerns he writes and sings about. These are points of intersection with the audience, links between us and the narrative, moments of possible identification. They aren’t structured by geography. They reflect recognisable experiences. To develop compelling stories we don’t need to rely (in Brooks’ terms) on the geography of our past, or, in Colman’s formulation, invoke a universal spirit. We just need (and here Brooks’ is right) to have a commitment to be credible and distinct, and offer stories that can connect in one way or another.

And sometimes those connections can be utterly prosaic. After all, when you live through an English summer that produces storms like this, who could not get something from someone singing this:

Photo: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Stadium of Light, Sunderland, June 2012 / David Campbell

Categories
media economy multimedia

Paying for multimedia: MediaStorm’s Pay Per Story scheme

Few things remain more challenging, and require more experimentation, than finding a way to fund new visual stories. It has never been easy to sustain documentary work, but now we have a new development that is worth watching. MediaStorm have built an enviable reputation as the leading multimedia production studio, and their launch of “Pay Per Story” with the release of “A Shadow Remains” by Philip Toledano and “Rite of Passage” by Maggie Steber, is an important moment for this issue.

Full disclosure: I’ve known Brian Storm since we taught together for a week in China in 2008, and I’ve continued to benefit from his advice on projects and insights on the industry. I’ve visited MediaStorm a number of times, most recently in April, when I got a behind the scenes look at the player that powers PPS. For this post I checked a number of factual details with Brian this week while writing this post.

Here are a few thoughts on what MediaStorm is doing. In particular, I want to call attention to the need to frame our discussion of this development in a particular way if this is going to be a productive step.

Pay Per Story means you pay $1.99 to access feature length stories and support material, and that access is on-going, so it’s not pay per view. As is standard for MediaStorm, revenue is being shared 50:50 with the photographers whose stories are being produced. PPS is also being applied only to the new editorial work MediaStorm does, so access to client projects and workshop stories is not being monetized through individual payment. The player for the stories is HTML5 meaning it can be viewed on phones and tablets as well as computers, though whether it can be viewed on a device different from the one it was purchased on is not clear to me, and something I would still like to check, because ease of access and use is one of the key conditions for success. (Update: MediaStorm confirm that once purchased you can log in on other devices to view, which is an important feature).

In the PDN report on PPS, Brian noted that the majority of the 30 plus stories they have produced since 2005 have had million or more views. Because they are “non-perishable” – that is, they are not time specific, with sell by dates – it is possible that revenue from new stories will be accrued over a long period of time.

Given the vast investment MediaStorm makes in its stories, they would need to turn 10% of viewers into paying consumers to full cover the cost of production. That’s a very high proportion when you consider most media companies count it as a success if they turn 2-3% of their audience into payers.

This means we need a sense of perspective on this development. Pay Per Story is not a silver bullet strategy. It’s not a self-contained, all encompassing business model that’s going to right all that’s wrong with the editorial sector. And Brian seems sanguine about it being another source of revenue rather than immediately a replacement for the client work or training they undertake.

That said, in announcing the move, Brian was keen to highlight the wider implications of what they are doing:

…the reality is, no company or industry can sustain itself for long without producing a product for which people are willing to pay.

At MediaStorm we think it’s time for us, as content producers and publishers, to bring this conversation into the limelight. Frankly, our long-term survival as an industry depends on it.

We believe that our industry is in need of a sustainable business model that will allow us to continue to report and produce compelling stories. While Pay Per Story may not be the definitive answer, we believe that it can be a step to getting us there.

As one of the experiments that could really help, there is no doubt PPS is significant. But it’s more than a question of whether individuals will pay. I think Time overstated the case when they said the video player that makes PPS possible was a “game changer” – there are no single things that will by themselves change the game in my view – but licensing the rich functionality in the player, which effectively makes MediaStorm also a software company, is a major part of this development.

While many are wishing MediaStorm well, some of the immediate reaction to MediaStorm’s introduction of Pay Per Story has been quite silly. Many of the comments on PDN talked of the problems with paywalls. If we were talking about daily, general news – content that is dated within minutes if not seconds, and can be sourced from credible sources elsewhere – then the paywall analogy might be relevant. I’ve certainly been very sceptical of paywalls for organisations like The New York Times, even though I am a digital subscriber.

What MediaStorm is doing is not building a paywall. It’s offering unique stories, rich accounts with lasting value, to which people can purchase on-going access. From iTunes to Louis CK we have plenty of examples now to show that people are willing to pay for content they want and which can be accessed easily. Those instances are often dismissed by those who say they don’t scale easily for something like photojournalism and documentary, and that’s true in one sense.

However, it overlooks the lessons we can learn about how people value things in the digital world and are willing to pay and pay often. We are now witnessing photographers releasing book-like apps that cost much more than the MediaStorm stories, though I’m not aware of an analysis of their prospects. But if you want an example of an individual pay per story experiment that was quite successful, think about Nick Turpin’s 38 minute In-Sight film, which he sold via Distrify for two or three times the amount MediaStorm are charging, and which earnt him a not insignificant amount of money. What Nick had was a community who were interested in his work, and that is something, with an engaging social media strategy, MediaStorm have perfected too.

My one concern about the debate over PPS as it moves forward is we have to be careful about how it is framed, at least in so far as it allocates responsibility for success or failure. Maggie Steber wrote a tough response to some critics who obviously dismissed the idea of paying for her story. I can appreciate her frustration, but in the end if potential customers choose to behave in certain ways there is not much producers can do about it.

And the least productive thing is to turn any resistance into a moral rebuke. We might think people who readily pay three bucks for a coffee but bemoan $1.99 for a visual story are “mistaken and shortsighted.” In the end, however, it is the producers not the consumers who are responsible for getting people to part with their money. I think if the stories are engaging and easily accessed – as they are – then a paying clientele will be found. The issue will be the size of the paying community.

Finally, let’s not turn this into a debate over free versus paid, as though those two things are unrelated. MediaStorm is in part successful because they employed the idea of free to leverage the web over some years, building a great portfolio and an engaged community around their work. We have to work with the open dynamic of the web, not against it, and Pay Per Story is consistent with that logic by focusing on particular kinds of projects.

Let’s hope it succeeds within those terms, and whatever its course, MediaStorm keeps us posted about what it learns from the experience as it goes along.

 

Categories
multimedia

Laygate Stories: a new multimedia project

 

Laygate Stories’ is a multimedia project that portrays, in their own voices, the lives of those living and working in the Laygate area of South Shields on Tyneside, in the north-east of England.

Creating new visual stories excites me, and its a pleasure to again be working collaboratively with Peter Fryer on this project, which is part of an Arts Council England funded commission (‘Homelands’) organised by the Side Gallery in Newcastle. Peter undertakes the photography, I take the lead on the audio and the technical aspects of production, and together we edit the pictures and sound into a ‘photo film’.

The work is centred on the diverse community along Frederick St and the Laygate area. This is a vibrant area made up of indigenous north-easterners, a long-established Yemeni community – who were once migrants but now includes second and third generation British citizens – as well as people from Angola, Bangladesh, the Congo, Iran, Jordan, Palestine, Poland and Somalia.

Through existing contacts and friendships within the community, we are documenting the daily interactions of the different social groups that constitute this community. The work does not profess to be an all-encompassing overview of the area but uses short photo-films to give people a platform to express their everyday thoughts, feelings and concerns, and to reflect on their place within the community.

This project builds on our earlier work in this area, especially the ten-minute photo film ‘The Boarding House‘. It is also inspired by The New York Times One in 8 Million‘ project, which uses sound and images to introduce characters in that city. Their purpose was to showcase “ordinary people telling extraordinary stories, of passions and problems, relationships and routines, vocations and obsessions.”

We have endeavoured to show the everyday, believing that this gives an insight into the extraordinary things people have to offer and the different histories they have to tell. We have also ensured that those who volunteered to speak are involved in the way their stories are produced.

We begin with four stories. Over the next year we will be adding more from this diverse community as the work progresses. As individual pieces they offer insights rather than a developed narrative, but we hope that once we have a dozen or so portraits available the cumulative effect will be the story of a community.

We are grateful to the Side Gallery and the Arts Council England for support. We hope you enjoy the first instalment, which is available on the project site at www.laygatestories.com.

 

Categories
multimedia photography

Post-photography: Tim Hetherington’s living legacy

Tributes to Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros have been widespread and heartfelt after the devastating news of their untimely deaths in Libya. The injuries to Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown were also shocking, and hopefully they will recover fully.

Photojournalism Links has curated the numerous memorials, including many fascinating videos in which Tim and Chris articulate their visions. I wanted to pay tribute to them, and I’ve been ruminating for twenty-four hours about what to say. I hope its appropriate to offer that respect by pointing to a legacy that can live on.

Over the years I was fortunate to have talked with Tim on a few occasions. Many know him better than I, but even sporadic discussions, such as a debate over embedding in Afghanistan, were testament to his creativity, intellect and generosity.

Back in 2000 Tim was part of a Panos Pictures workshop that opened an exhibition at Side Gallery in Newcastle. Tim was the standout speaker, and presented his “House of Pain” project (published online by Fred Ritchin’s Pixel Press). This was a multimedia piece that began as a student project at Cardiff in 1996 and was influenced by a work placement with Pedro Meyer. To experiment with multimedia more than a decade ago in order to take photojournalism into new areas is proof of Tim’s energy and vision.

Ten years on and Tim was back at Side for the opening of his Liberia exhibition in March 2010. Not only did he speak at the gallery on the first Saturday of the show, on the Sunday he showed the draft of his personal Diary project, and discussed the numerous challenges of filming in a war zone. He was again generous with his time and engaging with his insights, and we enjoyed continuing the exchange about Afghanistan.

Tim’s legacy will be rich and profound. But it can be more than the work he leaves behind. It should also be a living legacy in which the boundaries of photojournalism are continually pushed in pursuit of a story with purpose. To that end, the thinking he exhibited in his June 2010 interview with Michael Kamber could be the blueprint. The whole transcript repays attention, but here are some of the provocative extracts:

If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible.

If we are interested in the outside world and making images of it and translating it and relaying it to as many people as possible, then in some ways the traditional photographic techniques are really not important.

Authenticity and making a picture authentic is obviously important. I am not interested in traditional photographic techniques. I am not interested in putting a black border around a photograph as a way of saying that is authentic. You know, “protecting photography.”

My point about not being a photographer is that we can’t protect photography – forget photography – when we are interested in the authentic representation of things outside of ourselves.

I am interested in visually representing something in as many ways as possible, exploiting as many different forms as possible, to reach as many people as possible.

We are making so many images, but we aren’t actually connecting these images. We aren’t exploiting what we have made. We aren’t mining it enough to make it into audiences’ minds. A strategy to hit people about this idea of Afghanistan across multiple forms – “Oh, I’ve read Sebastian’s book, “War”; I’ve read the Vanity Fair articles; then I saw the film and the film made me want to see Hetherington’s book” — is a multilayered thing. It is different than the images you see out there that are already lost.

And to make that happen, you have to navigate through the business side of things. That isn’t easy. But if we see ourselves merely as photographers, we are failing our duty. It isn’t good enough anymore just to be a witness.

We who are working in the realm of photojournalism and documentary photojournalism have to focus on whom we want to talk to. We need to know who our audience is. That will help us figure out how to reach them, which language to reach them with. I don’t think enough image-makers do that.

I encourage them to look at many different forms. Not to say, “I am a photographer,” but to say: “I am an image maker. I make still or moving images in real-life situations, unfiltered and un-Photoshopped. I am going to look into how I can put this into different streams for different audiences; maybe some on the Web, some in print.”

That’s why I think the most important thing for our industry is not style, it is authenticity. It is: “I go to you because I know you have an authentic voice in the work that you have been doing.”

We all know that having professionalism in any field is important. We have a weird skill-set. Send us into a difficult circumstance and we will get out there and know how to find a story. That is what we do for a living. That is valuable. It is not part of the problem, it is part of the solution – in addition to citizen journalism, in addition to local photographers. The more, the merrier.

Tim died in pursuit of a story for us. I find it very hard to write those words. But if image makers, visual journalists, put his thoughts into practice, his legacy will be alive and productive. We live in a post-photographic world. It’s one where there are more images than ever before. Forget ‘photography’, meaning the industry. Don’t turn inward and protect a tradition just because its done things a certain way for a long time. Find ways, including photographs, to make “the authentic representation of things outside of ourselves.” What better way to honour someone taken prematurely than continue down the path they helped forge?

Categories
multimedia photography

Missing multimedia: where are the stories from Egypt, Japan, Libya?

World Press Photo announced the shortlist for its inaugural multimedia award this week, with three narrative stories and three interactive projects. Coming after six weeks of monumental global events, it got me thinking: where are the multimedia stories from the revolution in Egypt, the disaster in Japan and the conflict in Libya? Recalling Paul Conroy’s March 11 photograph (above) of his colleagues running from an air strike in Libya prompted this thought, so let me explain the connection.

In an interview accompanying the WPP announcement, the chair of the jury, Ed Kashi, outlined multimedia’s benefits. ‘Multimedia’ embraces a huge range of approaches and styles and their are few if any rules. It is a concept that has been applied to everything from the short-form news story to the long-form documentary, from something that adds a little audio to something that is predominantly video.

Everyone has their preferences, and mine are for stories that have still photographs at their heart, accompanied by audio of the subjects and their environment, supplemented by video if and when appropriate. These are the sort of projects well done by the likes of MediaStorm, the Bombay Flying Club and duckrabbit (who prefer to call them “photofilms”), and I have tried to follow their lead in the two I have produced to date.

I think of multimedia as fundamentally a photographic project that can address context through additional technologies. While I’ve seen some video pieces from Egypt made with DSLRs, these are either television reports or scenes with sound but no overall story. They are impressive demonstrations of what these cameras can do visually, but they are not the photo-based narratives I find most compelling. I think the absence of this type of multimedia project from these events is a missed opportunity for photojournalism. Please correct me If I’ve overlooked examples, but I can’t think of any. So how did Conroy’s photo trigger this post?

Large numbers of the world’s best-known photographers have made their way to cover recent events, and they have produced a considerable body of compelling work that has been published in print and on-line. Conroy’s photo shows (left to right) Lynsey Addario, John Moores, Holly Picket, Phillip Poupin, Tyler Hicks, and (as Photojournalism Links worked out) the legs of Yuri Kozorev between Poupin and Hicks. It makes great sense for photographers to band together in dangerous environments, and the last thing we should be asking of them in such moments is to whip out the audio recorder or start shooting video in addition to taking stills, let alone spend their nights struggling with Final Cut Pro to produce a film.

However, once an event has gone on for a few days, and once we have seen a range of similar images from photographers working together, wouldn’t it be possible for one or more photographer to find a new angle on the story and develop that angle with sound as well as stills?

Reflecting on his weeks in Egypt covering the revolution, Ed Ou remarked:

Having been photographing Tahrir for the last few weeks, it became very difficult to make images. You start to run out of ideas, because you photograph the same thing every single day. Until today, it was really hard to keep things fresh or give a new angle that wasn’t being repetitive.

Ed noted in another story that after doing his stills he was shooting video for Stephen Farrell of the New York Times, but what I imagined was this:

  • instead of another day shooting stills of people in Tahrir Square, a photographer found a protester they could spend a day with taking pictures and asking questions
  • during that day, with a simple audio recorder, they record their subject reflecting on what they did before the protests, what made them come to the square and what they wanted the protests to achieve
  • at the end of the day, in addition to filing pictures, the photographer FTPs their audio files to an editor/producer in their agency/news organisation
  • a day or so later, that agency has a 3-5 minute story with some focus and depth to go alongside the stills galleries, as well as another saleable commodity

Think of the possibilities in Libya – a story with an accountant from Benghazi who has taken up arms to fight Gaddafi’s forces, or the insights of a migrant worker caught in the camps on the Tunisian border. We have television reports with their obvious conventions, but we don’t have the combination of powerful still images and the subjects speaking for themselves.

Last year, after more than sixty well-known photojournalists went into Haiti to cover the earthquake, Michael David Murphy wrote about the problems of redundancy in visual coverage. While I don’t agree with his proposal for a pool system to deal with that, I do think the convergence of the corps of international photographers on Egypt, Japan and Libya again raises questions about both the dimensions of the story we could see, and the different forms in which we could see it.

If I am correct about this absence of stills-based multimedia, photojournalism – as both an industry and creative practice – is currently missing a great opportunity to offer more in a way that is manageable for photographers in the field. In the first instance this is not the responsibility of individual photojournalists. I think agencies should take a lead in setting up a workflow along the lines indicted above. It would benefit all of us, but none more than the subjects of the stories.

Featured photo: New York Times photographers Tyler Hicks (right, in glasses) and Lynsey Addario (far left), run for cover during a bombing run by Libyan government planes at a checkpoint near the oil refinery of Ras Lanuf on Friday, Mar. 11. Copyright Paul Conroy/Reuters, via MSNBC Photoblog.

Categories
media economy multimedia photography

Covering Japan’s disaster: A visual journalist’s reflections

Dan Chung spent four days covering the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Based in Beijing as the Guardian’s videojournalist, Dan runs the DSLR Newshooter blog and is the video tutor for the MA in International Multimedia Journalism I contribute to. Upon returning to Beijing on Thursday Dan came into class to give an immediate, first-hand account of his experience in Japan.

Dan spoke for nearly two hours, offering a revealing and thought-provoking analysis of the aesthetic, logistical and reporting challenges he faced working in the disaster zone. He kindly allowed the talk to be recorded and made available as a podcast. I have edited the talk, taking out the sections that recorded the audio from the video reports he showed. In the recording you will hear questions from DJ Clark, and references to Adam Dean, a freelance photojournalist in Beijing, and Tania Branigan, the Guardian’s China correspondent.

You can listen to the podcast here, and I have provided the videos Dan discussed so you can follow the discussion and engage the debate about how to cover an event of this magnitude.

[powerpress]

Some of the key points I took away from the talk were:

  • the logistical challenges of getting to the disaster zone quickly were immense, as were the challenges then faced in moving around the disaster zone. He noted that each day only about 2-3 hours was available for shooting still or video images; the rest of the time was consumed by logistics, be that sourcing fuel, power, internet connections and food
  • although he has advised journalists not to shoot stills and video at the same time during an assignment, this was an event in which that dual function was unavoidable. (Dan’s stills galleries can be seen here and here, and he talks about them at 42:00 in the podcast). However he opted to focus on video because of the large number of highly skilled photographers working on the story
  • the fundamental question he thought journalists should ask themselves is ‘what are you doing there, and what can you add to the story’ given the blanket coverage by both the Japanese and international media
  • in assessing a visual journalist’s contribution to the story, he argued that you had to consider the overall media environment you were publishing into. In this story there is the extensive coverage of the Japanese media, the large presence of international agencies and wire services, and extensive social media networks.
  • In this context, the most dramatic footage came from user generated content (such as this video, discussed at 18:15 in the podcast), and it was very hard for international journalists to compete with that. He described a lot of the western coverage as “formulaic,” driven by conventions of reporting and the limits of what one could do in the disaster zone.
  • Dan said his function was to be a witness, providing images to take the reader somewhere they are not.
  • He wondered whether we would be seeing some “stylised photojournalism” in an effort to do something different. He felt that the drive to differentiate oneself through aesthetics was problematic. He asked, “how much thinking can you do outside the box photographically in a disaster like this? How much is down to what you come across, what you see?”

Dan discussed the videos he produced during the talk. At 15:26 he introduces the first story, which is this standard “television style” package presented by Jonathan Watts, that appeared on the Guardian site on 13 March.

[jwplayer config=”Custom Player” mediaid=”1908″]

This was contrasted (at 17:38 in the podcast) to Matt Allard’s Aljazeera English report, which Dan regarded as amongst the best of the TV reports.

In an effort to offer something different, Dan produced a piece of ‘cinematic journalism’ he felt embodied the experience of being in the disaster zone. He discusses his intentions at length in the podcast (from 20:55 to 30:00). This film, which took less than two hours to make, has generated a lot of controversy online, as the comments on Vimeo demonstrate.

 

Aftermath – The Japanese Tsunami from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

The Guardian did not like this package, largely because of the music that accompanied the shots. In London they took Dan’s footage and re-edited it with some audio of a survivor, producing this version.

Watching both versions back to back it is striking how different the visuals can feel when associated with music in the first and the voice over in the second. It demonstrates well that pictures do not speak for themselves.

The final video story Dan discussed (at 31:20 in the podcast) is that of a helicopter rescue, that begins with some of the amateur video he felt provided the strongest visuals.

Dan concluded with a reassessment of his earlier commitment to solo video journalism. He argued that being a single operator visual journalist is extremely difficult for spot news. It offers enormous advantages for a documentary approach, he said, but because the media environment is not a level playing field given the large operators’ resources and logistical support, it could not contribute as much as he had originally hoped to the coverage of event like the earthquake/tsunami.

Featured photo: Fishing boat washed up on the waterfront of Kessennuma, 13 March. Dan Chung/The Guardian

Categories
multimedia

‘Living in the Shadows’ wins ‘Best of the Best’ award at SABEW

Earlier this month I was delighted to announce that “Living in the Shadows,” the multimedia story on China’s internal migrants I produced for Sharron Lovell, was named among the winners in The Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual Best in Business Journalism competition. Now we have heard it has gone one better…

The Global Post’s ‘Living in the Shadows’ project was awarded “Best of the Best” in general excellence at the SABEW competition. It was the only online project among the thirteen stories recognised from the original list of 163 winners, beating competition from The New York Times, the Associated Press, CNBC.com amongst others.

Judges for the Best of the Best portion of the contest were Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post; David Callaway, editor-in-chief of MarketWatch; Kai Ryssdal, host of Marketplace on National Public Radio; and Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief of ProPublica.com. The judges assessment of the project was that:

Living in the Shadows shines a vivid light on those living in the margins of China’s red-hot economic boom. The ambition is audacious: follow three of the 200 million migrant workers as they struggle to survive and adapt. The intimate portraits — captured through evocative photos and enticing and engaging multimedia — move storytelling into new dimensions.

Categories
multimedia photography

‘Living in the Shadows’ wins multimedia journalism award

I hope you will excuse this tiny bit of trumpet blowing, but I was excited to hear this morning that “Living in the Shadows,” the multimedia story on China’s internal migrants I produced for Sharron Lovell, has won an award in the United States.

It was named as one of the winners in The Society of American Business Editors and Writers 15th annual Best in Business Journalism competition. ‘Living in the Shadows,’ which we licensed to The Global Post, won for “Online excellence in projects for mid-sized web sites.”

Most credit goes to Sharron for her excellent photojournalism, in the truest sense of that word. Recognising the significance of internal labour migration in China, Sharron pursued a long-term project based around three families in Shanghai, shooting stills, recording audio and producing video. Thanks goes also to the multimedia team at The Global Post who structured our project into chapters.

I can’t say we ever thought of the project as business journalism, but we are very happy to be counted amongst those recognized for “the best business news reporting during 2009.”

Equally, we have been delighted to see the project deployed by Compassion for Migrant Children, who have used it to help raise awareness about migrant issues.

Most importantly, it demonstrates the power of multimedia – giving a voice to the subjects, providing context and developing a more detailed narrative – in the future of photojournalism.

Categories
media economy multimedia photography

Revolutions in the media economy (5): the pay wall folly for photographers

This has been a momentous year for media. In my previous four posts on the revolutions in the media economy, I have used the present uncertainty to take a fresh look at the past many now view nostalgically. This critical view demonstrated that newspapers have always been commercial enterprises rather than altruistic associations, they were in decline many years before the Internet restructured the conditions of publishing, and that the practice of investigative journalism is something we need to create as much as we need to protect. In this context, photographers who believe that their practice is defined by an editorial paymaster committed to documentary work are going to have a very hard time. During a recent panel discussion in London on “the new ecology of photojournalism,” Ed Kashi remarked that despite all the gloom and doom we should realize that this is now a potential golden age for photojournalism. He didn’t underestimate the problems but he urged people to think about the prospects for new forms of visual journalism across multiple platforms to diverse communities. I think Ed is spot on with his reasoned optimism, but to appreciate where this might lead us, we have to drive a stake through the heart of a prehistoric argument that has dominated the last few weeks of the year.

‘Parasites, thieves, and promiscuous behaviour’

Rupert Murdoch and his trusty lieutenants (Les Hinton of Dow Jones, James Harding of The Times and Robert Thompson of The Wall Street Journal) have launched a vicious rhetorical war against the free circulation of content on the internet, singling out Google and others for making aggregation and distribution possible. This is part of a News Corporation effort to garner allies for their strategy to charge for news content. Plans to put their papers behind pay walls have been much trailed by Murdoch executives. The time it is taking to implement these proposals, combined with their unwillingness to follow through on their threats to block their content from Google’s view, demonstrates the purpose of these manoeuvres is to try and reshape the public debate, get as many other legacy media companies as possible to join them in similar strategies, and wring some business concessions from the successful new media companies in the process. Murdoch’s protestations – which have been effectively countered by Eric Schmidt – have given some comfort to those in the photographic world who hope that the sight of a pay wall going up might mean the return a benevolent editorial paymaster. It’s time to put that dream to bed once and for all and face up to the challenges and potentials of the new era.

The problem with pay walls

What Murdoch and others are missing is the new ecology of the web and how that has changed things for good, in both senses. For those who want critical journalism in all its forms, the debate on pay walls is at best anachronistic and at worst counter-productive. We can see this in three different ways:

(i) Little money:

Building on the points in my first post of this series, we need to appreciate that even the most successful pay wall strategy will never fund investigative journalism. Pay walls are a form of subscription. But subscriptions have only ever generated about 20% of a newspaper company’s revenue. This means the most successful pay wall will never compensate for the collapse in advertising revenue. Nonetheless, the idea that people paying for content is the holy grail of lost revenue is increasingly promoted by media organisations who are now more willing than ever to explore this option. It has become an almost theological commitment that users should pay. But this overlooks one very significant historical point – consumers have not previously paid for content. As Paul Graham argued, we have paid for the mode of distribution rather than the information being distributed:

Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. They treat the words printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics.

This has been the case with newspapers too. Rupert Murdoch, now demanding customers stump up for his articles, had no qualms about selling at a loss by reducing the price of The Times to 10 pence a copy (or giving it away as a free item in bulks) during the British newspaper price wars of the 1990s. Having never priced his products in terms of the cost of content, now is an odd time for him to start. It is possible that for highly specialized content consumers will be willing to pay something for access (see the conclusion to this debate). While recent surveys offer contradictory data on how much or how often people will pay, even the highest of these numbers offers no hope as a general solution to the economic crisis of distributing journalism (while the lowest condemns it as a flawed strategy). Corporate media debts are too vast to be eased by revenue from premium content, so we should not cling to the false hope that new money will fund the documentary stories that have long been under-resourced.

(ii) Who they block:

The second problem with the supposed pay wall solution emerges when we have a more nuanced understanding of web traffic to news sites. Companies like to make a big deal about the number of “unique users” visiting their URLs, and this summation of global clicks is an important indicator of reach. But most visitors come quickly for something specific and leave equally as quickly. They aren’t reading “the paper” on-line, but searching for a specific piece of information, consuming it, and moving on. Indeed, although some surveys have reported higher numbers, the average time spent on a US news site in November 2009 ranged from just four minutes up to a high of 23 minutes.

If a news organization wants to extract commercial value from its online users, it needs to find a way to first attract large numbers and keep a proportion of these visitors on site for longer so that over time they become loyal. This means the target audience for such an economic strategy is much smaller. To illustrate this, consider the following metrics from the Daily Mail in the UK:

  • 28.7 million unique users/month globally
  • 8.9 million unique users/month from the UK
  • Of the UK users 611,588 came to the web site every day
  • Half of those UK daily users (c. 300,000) stayed for 20 minutes

So while the headline-grabbing number of 28 million unique users suggests a vast community of potential value around the Daily Mail, in fact their loyal on-line users number just 300,000, which is just 7% of their daily print readership.  (The Times editor recently confirmed a similar pattern on his site by contrasting 20 million uniques with the 500,000 who had developed a ‘genuine digital habit’. If one were thinking about a pay wall to control access to content on a paper with these user numbers, where would it be built? Around all content so that each and every visitor had to pay to pass? Around content viewed a certain number of times so the daily visitors were forced to open their wallets? Or directed at those who stayed on site the longest? Two recent posts by Steve Yelvington and Damon Kiesow brilliantly illustrated the counterproductive nature of this dilemma from their experience with local American papers. Kiesow_graph As this graph from Kiesow’s Nahsua Telegraph in New Hampshire makes clear, if your advertising depends on reach, you don’t want to cut off the huge number of uniques on the left, some of whom might be transformed into loyal users if they have open access.  And the number of daily/loyal visitors on the right is too small to build a viable subscription model on. All this shows a general pay wall for news content will slash the number of visitors and fail to generate even modest revenue for investigative journalism. This is not the counter-theological proposition that “all information should be free” (a view Jay Rosen recently found to be often proclaimed but little referenced by those in favour of pay walls). It is recognition of the harsh economic realities of the web’s ecology for news that too many traditional companies are failing to appreciate. Some, though, are realizing that this disparity between the millions of casual users and the thousands of loyal readers points the way to a new strategy. A Fairfax executive in Australia recently remarked that transactions rather than advertising or content were the best on-line revenue streams. Crucially, transactions require news organisations to build a community around their brand and product, and then take a percentage of the transactions (hotel bookings, financial advice etc.) those community members conduct through the associations, links and relationships provided. Building a community based on the smaller, loyal audience is something a Daily Mirror executive outlined, while Slate has been shifting from the pursuit of a mass audience (7 million uniques) to a smaller, more engaged audience (target 500,000) because “one curious reader is worth 50 times the value of the drive-by reader.”

(iii) How they limit public good:

Proponents of pay walls say consumers must contribute to the cost of journalism because it is a public good. We should debate the assumption that journalism per se is automatically a public good given “the media’s” patchy record for accountability in recent times. But even if we rather rashly accept that the majority of the fourth estate is critical of conventional wisdom and questioning of those in power, pay wall advocates have this argument upside down. The public good of journalism in the age of the Internet comes from the vastly expanded possibilities of circulation and distribution. Clay Shirkey has argued this recently (see video here) by calling attention to how a 2002 Boston Globe investigation of child abuse by Catholic priests in the city travelled globally from its Massachusetts origins to the global community of Catholics, mobilising social groups along the way, and ending with the Church having to take action internationally (such as in the recent Irish government report on abuses in the Dublin Archdiocese). Shirkey’s argument is that it was the forwarding of the original article, rather than just its publication, which enabled people to mobilise and force authorities to act. Circulation was what gave the story value as a public good. So while Murdoch and others see public re-use as a crime against civilization, both Shirkey (and Jay Rosen in his interview with Shirkey here, starting at 9:30) demonstrate that in the new ecology of the web this forwarding (or “super-distribution”) of information and its public re-use is the condition of possibility for the very democratic ethos and public virtue media proprietors say they are desperate to defend. If information gets forwarded to journalists to cross-check and challenge their stories it can make them better, and the journalists’ stories get forwarded to people who are the most relevant thereby enabling social action. For Shirkey, this is the public good of publishing on the web. Murdoch might regard it as ‘promiscuous’, but pay walls would prevent the expansive sharing that is at the base of this public good.

Towards the new futures of photojournalism

Here is my point for photographers – forget all the fuss around the Murdoch-inspired debate about paying for content that has dominated the last few weeks of this year. Perhaps News Corporation will make pay walls work for some of its titles, but they won’t be the economic saviour of any media company. Nobody should pin their career hopes on them enabling a rosy future that will replicate a lost and largely mythic past. A new subscription-funded editorial paymaster looking for photographers to assign is not going to emerge, and holding out for media conglomerates to deliver this will only stymie creative development.

However, Murdoch is not really trying to create a new revenue stream (let alone one for documentary work). He is trying to change the terms of the public debate on the web in order to “call time on free distribution.” But that is an even more impossible task, because free distribution is both the intrinsic architecture and great virtue of the web. Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with inventing the web, was recently asked why he put the web into the public domain as a free facility rather than a private enterprise. “Because otherwise it would not have worked,” he said. (Just watch the first two minutes of this video interview with Berners-Lee to appreciate this core value).

The successful visual journalist in the new media economy is therefore going to be someone who embraces the logic of the web’s ecology, using the ease of publication, distribution and circulation to construct and connect with a community of interest around their projects and their practice. Like the media players beginning to understand that developing and engaging a loyal community is more valuable than chasing a mass audience (while being open so those passers-by can become associates), photographers need to do the same. If people now understand they are publishers as well as producers this puts them in a new and potentially powerful position. It won’t be easy (but when was photojournalism or documentary photography easy?), but the successful visual journalist will be someone who uses social media (in combination with the more traditional tools of books, exhibitions and portfolios) to activate partnerships with other interested parties to fund their stories, host their stories, circulate their stories, and engage with their stories.

The social value of this is obvious, and this social value will be the basis for drawing economic value so the work can continue. A good number of people (like Ed Kashi) are working this way now. Jonathan Worth has been pursuing a fascinating project based on his portraits of Cory Doctorow (read an interview with him here discussing this), and VII is promoting discussions around these themes. In the last couple of weeks we have seen new digital magazine formats unveiled, and if developed these will be exciting platforms for visual work. What all these moves have in common is an embrace of the virtues of digital technology in an open web. Google has been one of the icons of the last decade, and while as a company it is far from perfect, its success marks the path for the future so long as we understand what is novel about the web.

Featured photo credit: Karl Randay/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Categories
multimedia

The Twitter test

There’s a buzz about Twitter and I’ve decided to try it out (@davidc7) to see what’s behind this excitement.

Twitter styles itself as a social networking tool that circulates to your followers answers to the question “What are you doing?” I’m not much interested in either sending or receiving that sort of stuff, but if you edit that question to ask “What are you thinking?” or reading, or bothered about, or excited by…then you have a potentially interesting resource.

This, of course, is what Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu), a journalism professor at New York University, has done, calling the approach “mindcasting.” For Rosen, the Twitter feeds that he follows hooks him up with a network of web tipsters, such that his own Twitter feed becomes an editorial product about the topics that concern him most. In a week of following Rosen and others on Twitter I can see his point. Indeed, the links in this post have come through the tweets I’ve been getting.

Interestingly, because “Twitter-ers” are also extensive blog users and social media consumers, the short, snappy format of Twitter potentially changes the nature of the blog a feed is associated with. For the likes of Rosen and Chris Geidner, using Twitter as an information resource leads to “slow blogging” – more occasional but deeper and more analytical posts.

This strikes me as crucial, because as we get more and more embedded in the velocity of Web 2.0’s hypermedia, we still need – and perhaps need more than ever – the time and space to think about the big issues and major trends. And beyond the considered post, there is a need for even slower forms of communication like the research report, the documentary story and even (god forbid!) the academic monograph. These “old media” (a problematic concept, but more on that later) are essential because “new media” (an equally problematic concept) depend upon them for the material they re-mediate and circulate.

We’ll see how this goes. Along with trying to keep up with RSS feeds, a stream of tweets may produce information overload. Many people try Twitter and its growth has been impressive, but apparently 60% of people who sign up for Twitter don’t last a month. Maybe that’s because simply knowing what others are doing is in the end not very illuminating. Knowing what others are reading and thinking might be where it is at.

Categories
multimedia

War in multimedia

As I wrote in today’s photographic post on Afghanistan, John D. McHugh’s multimedia series Six Months in Afghanistan offers some of the best visual insights into the military realities of that conflict.

McHugh, in a session chaired by Roger Tooth of The Guardian at London’s Fontline Club last week, also provides a series of good insights into both the benefits and problems of producing his multimedia stories. You can see a 79 min video of this discussion here. The discussion deals with these issues from the 30 min mark onwards, and reveals how uncertain the political economy of multimedia is for news organisations in the UK. How to manage, produce, publicise and value multimedia is still being worked out project by project. The visual revolution for journalism is still very much in its infancy here.

Categories
multimedia

Newspaper as television

The media landscape is changing radically. When The Guardian (rightly) wins a Broadcast News award for its July 2008 video on Zimbabwe’s rigged election – which was posted on the newspaper’s web site before being shown on BBC television – then we have proof that the barriers between print, on-line and television are being blurred by multimedia.

This convergence is not without its problems. The mainstream media is using ‘clickstream’ data on what drives digital consumers to their site in a way that could see more of the same superficial journalism in more outlets. According to Andrew Currah of Oxford University;

“A paradox of the 24/7 media environment is that – owing to the integration of newsrooms, and the duplication of stories across print, broadcast and online – the news agenda has become more homogeneous, despite there being more channels through which to access it.”

The work of The Guardian, and independent producers like MediaStorm, shows that creative and challenging stories can be produced and distributed. It’s up to the mainstream digital media to use the technological opportunities to do something similar.

[See Andrew Currah’s full report on the future of news publishing in the UK in the digital age, What’s Happenning to Our News, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, January 2009].