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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

Categories
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

The new media landscape (1): contours of change

Change in the media landscape is constant. Everyone involved in the production of creative content – photographers, journalists, writers, and musicians, as well as those who deal in those products – knows that nothing is as it was.

Too much of the current debate about how creative practitioners can cope with these upheavals proceeds without an understanding of the big picture and historical context. There are some hard realities that have to be properly understood before new strategies can be devised.

In this series of three posts, I want to lay down an understanding of what is happening, how some are responding, and what others can learn from them. Many of the elements I discuss are well known, and many of the examples I cite show that people are already positioning themselves to prosper from these changes. But for those who are still unsure about what is happening and what to do I think it is important to take this step back in order to plan where to go.

These posts are based on a presentation I gave at the CEPIC New Media Conference 2 in Istanbul on 21 May, and I would like to thank Marco Oonk of Fast Media Magazine for the invitation. For that event I knew I could not compete visually with speakers from the stock photography industry, so I selected key words that named the main themes.

In this first post, I will cover the concepts of disintermediation, disruption, ecology, disaggregation and free, including the importance of the relationship between scarcity, abundance and fungibility in the new media landscape. In part two I will unpack the concept of community and its importance, and in part three I will review how some are thinking about business models in this context. As one of my concerns is how documentary photographers and independent photojournalists can work better, I will outline some practical steps they can take to incorporate some of the lessons from this review.

So what are the contours of change in the new media landscape?

The internet has changed everything. That is obvious, but the question is how? ‘Disintermediation’ is one ugly word, but an important handle on the change wrought by the internet. Made popular by Dave Winer, the idea comes from economics and points to the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain. It highlights the way you can cut out the “middle man” and deal directly with your audience or customer.

The internet ‘disintermediates’ because it collapses the cost of publishing, broadcasting and distributing, removes obstacles to the creation of new social groups, and eliminates barriers to the formation of distributed networks.

All of this means we live in a remarkable time where our ability to communicate, share, collaborate and act has been expanded beyond the limits of traditional institutions, distributors and gatekeepers.

None of this means the internet is the single cause of all change or that we have a perfectly open world. And we have to remember that for all its potential universality, the internet currently only reaches one-third of the world’s population. But it does mean the internet is an important enabler of change that challenges or routes around many of the barriers and gates in our world.


Through disintermediation the internet is disrupting many walks of life, especially information industries. When we consider that global internet traffic is predicted to increase fourfold by 2014 its easy to see how many areas are being affected by the internet.

The disruption that follows from disintermediation can be understood as resulting in what Richard Stacey describes as “the separation of information from its means of distribution.” This means that all those modes of information distribution we have taken to be natural – the newspaper, magazine, radio station, album-length CD, television broadcaster, cinema and the like – are being challenged by new means of producing and circulating content. As one analyst remarked recently:

The very model of the traditional entertainment industry is predicated on the inefficiency of distribution…Films, TV, music are all produced and distributed in a tightly controlled way. The internet blows the doors off that concept because it’s an environment where everyone can distribute with maximum efficiency to everyone else.

Netflix is showing what this means in practice. It now accounts for one-quarter of North America’s aggregate internet traffic because streaming video is so much more efficient than mailing DVDs. It costs Netflix $1 to send out a DVD, but just 5 cents to stream the same movie. As a streaming service they will eliminate the $600 million they currently spend on labour for checking discs and the postal service, with obvious negative impacts for both those sectors.

The lesson from this is clear – in Richard Stacey’s words, “hitch your fortunes to the information and you will prosper, chain yourself to means of distribution and you will die.”


The web, built on top of the internet, has created a new ecology of information, both literally and figuratively. ‘Ecology’ is the study of organisms in relationship to each other and their environment. As a new ecology of information, the web exists as much more than a competitor to existing infrastructures. It is not a new market side by side with traditional markets – it is reshaping both the infrastructures and the markets for everyone.

Yet many information industries treat the web as a competitor rather than an ecosystem. For example, a recent debate about the difficulty of linking from many newspapers stories to supporting information revealed the print-centric nature of media company workflows and CMS’s, and showed how far they were from a digital-first strategy.


In this new ecology – where disruption is powered by disintermediation – we are seeing a change in the structure and process of information.

It is changing what have been called the “atomic units” of established modes of information, and unbundling traditional modes of distribution. We are seeing the disaggregation of forms and formats we have taken to be natural:

  • the disaggregation of albums to individual downloads in music
  • the disaggregation of newspapers and magazines to stories that can be circulated or linked to individually
  • the disaggregation of broadcast stations and fixed schedules to personal streams that can be consumed anywhere and anytime

The idea of the ‘stream’ is significant here. It emphasizes process rather than product, because once disaggregated, things can be updated.

Even when thinks look like fixed commodities we should think in terms of streams. iTunes downloads and Kindle ebooks are sold as though they are fixed units, yet they are parts of a stream leased for use on particular devices. With ebooks your edition can be updated or removed by the organization that controls the stream.

Disaggregation does not mean things dissolve into a formless universe. They are re-aggregated, but that is increasingly done through social networks. For example, a study for CNN found that social media was used to share nearly half of all news.

Disaggregation, therefore, leads to the importance of information that is social, modular and mobile. As Mathew Ingram has observed,

the future of media consumption is going to look a lot more like a smorgasbord of sources and content, personalized and recommended by friends and our social graph, and a lot less like that megaphone traditional media outlets used to have and control.


Few words rile creative producers more than the idea of free. But it is a concept that has to be confronted. We have to move beyond the competing ‘theological assumptions’ that either content should be free or that people should pay. ‘Should’ cannot be the basis for a rational response to the hard realities of the new ecology of information.

There is no escaping the fact that free is part of the intrinsic architecture of the internet. 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 problem is that the web’s essential characteristic makes earning revenue hard. As Frederic Filoux notes, “the social web’s economics are paradoxical: the more it blossoms, the more it destroys value.”

Filoux’s statement renders value only as price or revenue, thereby overlooking the cultural and social value that flow from free circulation and distribution. Nonetheless, the web’s architecture of free intersects with a basic economic formula.  As Chris Anderson argues in his book Free (p. 173), “if ‘price falls to the marginal cost’ is the law, then free is not just an option, it’s the inevitable endpoint.”

That does not mean that everything is given away for nothing. Despite claims to the contrary – for details see my review of his book – Anderson is very clear that (a) free is not a business model and (b) that it is always linked with paid.

The ability to leverage the web’s architecture for paid content depends on the relationship between scarcity and abundance. Most content producers have priced their work on the assumption that it is scarce, and inefficient modes of distribution have supported that. But because the web has made many things abundant, charging scarcity prices is not easily sustainable.

Here I want to introduce one more concept – fungibility.  Something is fungible if it can be substituted by something else. A breaking news story is fungible because there are a number of credible sources that can be substituted for each other. A music track or a specific photograph is not fungible because if you are a fan who wants only a track from a particular band, or an image by a particular artist, they cannot be replaced by music or images from others.

Scare items are not fungible. Abundant items are fungible. If you produce something that is unique and not found elsewhere, you can resist the inevitable free endpoint. If you produce something that is abundant and can be replaced by something else, then you will not be able to directly charge scarcity prices for it (although, as I will argue in the third post, there will be other ways of using that content to produce revenue to support its production).

Conclusion

These are the dynamics that I think drive the changes in the new media landscape. They are the hard realities creating the new ecology we all operate in, producing a landscape marked by disaggregation in which traditional forms and formats of distribution are being unbundled, and content is increasingly social, modular and mobile. Content producers and distributors have to face up to these dynamics, and try and work with these developments in order to achieve their goals. In the second post in this series, I will argue that the concept of community is an essential part of that process.

 

Related posts

The new media landscape (2)

The new media landscape (3)

 

Photo credit: laihui/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Categories
media economy photography

Paying for photojournalism: a review of the New York Times ‘pay wall’

Newspapers in the US and UK continue to struggle with growing debt, declining circulation and falling advertising revenue. In the search for additional sources of revenue, new schemes for paid content are being implemented. (For an excellent overview of the issues, listen to WNYC’s On the Media podcast from January 28). After nearly two years planning, the New York Times launched its “metered” system this week.

This development has been greeted positively in the photographic world, with Aric Mayer, Rob Haggart and Joerg Colberg endorsing the thrust of the scheme. While agreeing that news organisations need to find new ways to fund critical journalism, I don’t share this upbeat assessment of what the New York Times scheme means for photojournalism. Indeed, as I’ve been arguing for the last eighteen months (see here, here and here), I think it’s a mistake for photography to pin its hopes on a revival of the long-lost editorial paymaster.

Here I will review commentary on the NYT scheme and suggest an alternative way to think about revenue that would be more beneficial for photojournalism. This a complex issue that demands some key assumptions are questioned, so this is a very long post. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I hope you will take the time to read it in full and engage the debate.

The pay scheme that isn’t a wall

Although much of the discussion has proceeded in these terms, the NYT scheme is not a pay wall. As Steve Yelvington argues,

A paywall…is a dumb, blunt instrument that separates content from the general public, prevents sampling, inhibits linkage and sharing, and usually is the product of an unhealthy arrogance.

That view sumps up the approach of the Times and Sunday Times in London, the experience of which demonstrates the limits of that approach. Although there are now 79,000 digital-only subscribers to the Times pay wall, there has been a massive reduction in the paper’s online readership (90% according to one initial estimate), advertisers have become nervous about the decimation of their online audience, and the journalists are cut off from the wider social media conversation because of the block on search engines and the inability to link freely. The small gains in monthly revenue will not make a significant dent in the tens of millions of pounds the Times loses annually, they may not offset the lost advertising revenue, and they come at the price of cultural presence and global engagement, which in turn most likely reduces advertising revenue that depends on reach.

To try and avert the falls in readership that result from demanding online payment, the NYT scheme permits some open access and encourages continued linking. Everybody can access 20 articles a month, after which you are asked to pay $15-$35 every four weeks depending on the device you want to use. If you are a print subscriber, you get access without additional cost, and if you come to a NYT article via a search engine or distributed link (via Facebook or Twitter), that does not count against the quota of twenty. To get it all up and running, NYT is offering, in an echo of iTunes, four weeks access for 99c.

Reactions and estimates

Reactions to the details of the NYT scheme have been many and varied (see eleven mixed responses garnered by the Nieman Journalism Lab here). Whatever one’s initial take, it is clear that the paper’s aim is to limit the number of readers who will encounter the request for payment. As Steve Buttry observed:

they have structured this to apply to a small segment of their online audience (people who read more than 20 pieces a month who don’t subscribe to the print edition and don’t find them through search or social media).

Buttry feels that the result will be “a trickle of revenue, not worth the time they spent developing the plan.”

Given that the NYT spent $40-50 million on planning and implementing its scheme, it needs to produce a significant amount of money just to cover development costs before there is any hope that new revenue will make its way into content creation – the journalism, and then photojournalism.

There is also the issue of lost opportunity cost. As Koi Vinh – a former NYT designer who was involved in the initial planning — asked what else could the NYT have developed with the enormous effort and resources the scheme consumed in the last two years?

I’m not qualified to judge detail of the economic projections, but it is clear from reading the commentary there is a great deal of uncertainty around the plans. From its global audience of 42 million unique users each month, the NYT is hoping to get 300,000 digital subscribers in the first year. That could mean it takes two years to repay the development costs, or it could mean increase in subscription revenue of 10% or more. However, even the latter, more optimistic calculation offers a boost that is marginal in comparison to advertising revenue. Ken Doctor notes that digital advertising makes up 26% of total advertising revenue for the paper, and that sector is growing:

If the Times could nab another half a percentage point in market share of that still-growing pie, that would amount to $140 million a year, dwarfing new digital circulation money.

Personal expense and premium content

The NYT scheme varies in cost depending on the number of access points, and is being sold somewhat disingenuously as a particular amount “every four weeks” which, although it sounds like a “per month” proposition, actually requires thirteen annual payments. At the top end, it is a very expensive deal when compared to others offering similar services. Michael deGusta has visualized the NYT and its competitors, and he concluded by asking:

Does The Times really think the mass audience is going to decide their $455/year is better spent on The Times rather than getting 20+ free articles/month from The Times plus The Wall Street Journal ($207/year) plus The Economist ($110/year) plus say The Daily ($39/year) for good measure, and still having ~$100 left over each year? (emphasis added)

What the NYT is requiring for its digital-only subscription has lead deGusta and others (such as Frédéric Filloux) to argue that the NYT scheme is a defensive strategy designed to stop existing customers from cancelling their print subscription revenue rather than a creative approach to generating new digital revenue.

Another part of the NYT scheme underscores its defensive nature. At first glance the scheme is a “freemium” approach in which a certain amount of free content is provided in order to build up demand for premium, paid-for access. Yet while the NYT is requiring payment from its most regular readers, it is not offering them anything new in return. The scheme requires payment for content they have accessed for free until now. As Dave Winer remarked, “they’re not offering anything to readers other than the Times’ survival, and they’re not even explicit about that.”

Still free for many

The NYT scheme is also not a pay wall because it is porous and easily avoided.

Part of that is intentional. To ensure it remains in the global social media conversation, the paper allows the front page of its blogs to be freely accessed, and has no limit on the number of articles that can be read by following a link on Facebook, Twitter and some search engines. Indeed, the paper has its own Twitter account @nytimes with more than 3 million followers, all of whom can follow as many links as they like each month. The Lens blog has discussed all this overtly in a special note.

In addition, NYT journalists and columnists with their own followers – such as the Lens blog’s James Estrin – will get more articles, posts and galleries for free. This is all before the computer literate pursue other ways to maintain free access, which involves little more than four lines of code to get around.

Can it emulate other successful pay schemes?

People who want to see good journalism well funded have been hoping that the NYT scheme might replicate the Financial Times success with digital subscriptions (although there is now a debate how successful the FT actually is). Nonetheless, the fortunes of the FT (or the Wall Street Journal) are not replicable for general news and daily journalism. The FT and WSJ provide time-sensitive market information that has direct value to subscribers, many of whom get it as a business benefit rather than through personal expense and are therefore not price sensitive.

Much as we may wish otherwise, even the investigative journalism of the NYT is not a scarce or fixed commodity like an FT market analysis or a music track from iTunes. With other credible news sources (e.g. the BBC, Guardian et al) pledged to remain globally free, and the news stream constantly updating, readers are resistant to paying for online content that has been and will remain freely available.

If that makes you wish for a chance to rewrite history – imagining that ‘if only’ newspapers had ganged together and set up universal walls at the beginning of the Internet age we would now be handing over money without complaint – then pause for a moment and reflect on this. The Internet is an intrinsically open system. If all the legacy media outlets had withdrawn into walled gardens, do you not think that sometime during the last fifteen a bright spark would have set up a free global news site attracting millions and funded via advertising or related sources? Something like, you know, that Harvard graduate and his little project called Facebook…

What is the purpose then?

The NYT scheme is expensive, complex, porous, and easily worked around. Even if it functions as desired it won’t generate anything like the revenue that would flow from the growth in online advertising. It is accompanied by risks, such as alienating the NYT’s most engaged and loyal users and reducing the reach of NYT stories. And it has potentially large lost opportunity costs – an on-going commitment to a print-based strategy that will run its course in the years ahead, and the lack of investment in creative alternatives during that continued decline.

It is possible that all the sceptics are wrong, and we shouldn’t knock the willingness to experiment in these revolutionary times. There is great uncertainty about the details of the economic projections, but even if the scheme succeeds beyond anyone’s wildest dreams it is only going to provide a fraction of the needed revenue to fund critical journalism. Paid content schemes, no matter how flexible and nuanced, are subscription models, and subscriptions have historically only ever provided approximately 20% of a newspaper’s revenues with 80% from advertising (although papers like the WSJ have a 50/50 split). Given the availability and culture of freely available general news, who would bet on digital subscriptions reaching even that historical share?

So why have they done it?

I think the NYT scheme is less a business model and more a moral imperative.

It is based on the claim that people should pay for quality journalism. It is a scheme designed to defend the worth of the paper’s journalism. This has been explicit in a number of arguments in favour of such schemes that talk about a “value proposition.” It appears when an editor says

the act of placing a value on our journalism may be more important than any penny we ever collect

And it is to be found in Aric Mayer’s statement that

it [content creation] is a thing worth paying for, and requiring the audience to pay for it demonstrates its value.

Of course, quality journalism and photography costs, and it should be paid for (though I am not as misty eyed about the USP of the NYT as some). The question is how and by who is content paid for. Taking an historical perspective again, we have to note two important things.

First, news and investigative journalism has never made money by itself in order to pay for itself. We should not, therefore, be judging current plans by the flawed assumption that we are looking for a single business model that will do what has never previously been done.

Second, we as readers have always paid for modes of distribution but never directly for content. Viewing the NYT scheme as a device for readers to value content though direct payment is wishing for a historically unprecedented change of behaviour in the most unlikely of circumstances. As Steve Buttry caustically observed:

My friend and former boss Jim Brady says that you can’t build a business model based on what people should do (and newspaper people believe in their bones that people should pay for their content). You build a business model based on what people will do. This tortured maze of exceptions and trigger points is a laughable effort to collect because people should pay but to find a way not to lose the people who won’t pay.

The NYT scheme also comes up short as a value proposition because of it offers subscribers nothing new, there being no exclusive or premium content to go with the newly demanded payments. And quite how a company rationalises asking patrons at the front door to pay while the very same goods are being handed out the back door free (via its own Twitter feeds) remains a mystery.

But above all else we should recognise that value has different forms and manifestations. It is a mistake to see price or payment as the only index of value. Circulation, distribution, engagement and global presence have considerable value.

Fine, but where does the money come from?

In his welcoming assessment of the NYT scheme, Aric Mayer wrote:

Journalists and Photojournalists should be applauding this move. It signals an effort by the New York Times to uncouple content creation from direct dependence on online advertising. Without online subscription prices or online newsstand sales, there simply is no other way of generating a predictable online revenue stream.

There are, of course, problems with a dependence on advertising, although that has historically been the mainstay of the legacy media many continue to view fondly, and online advertising is growing and will soon overtake print advertising.

Diversifying revenue has to be a good strategy. But is it that case that without online subscription “there simply is no other way of generating a predictable online revenue stream”? I disagree with that claim.

There are many other ways of generating predictable revenue streams, and this is where the news business has to learn from other sectors like the music industry, which encountered digital disruption before journalism. Pursuing these routes could mitigate the risks of the paid content approach.

John Temple, the last editor of the Rocky Mountain News, argued we have to appreciate that news organisations do not make money from news – news is the ‘brand’ for the organisation and the money comes from relationships and services only indirectly related to journalism. Instead of a single business model for journalism emerging, we need to see a series of diverse models producing revenue indirectly.

For music, the idea that content creation (the songs) is what provides significant revenue through fans paying directly is slipping away as album sales fall. For some of the mega acts, only a tiny fraction of their revenue comes from the music they write. The bulk comes from things that revolve around the content – concerts, merchandising, video games, advertising, and sponsorship. And some of these mega acts give their content, the music, away for free in order to enhance their revenue from the related but indirect sources.

This means that instead of just advertising and subscriptions, transactions are a major alternative revenue stream. Indeed, a Fairfax media executive has remarked that transactions rather than advertising or paid 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. The various ‘reader’s offers’ that papers have long provided are a pre-web version of this.

How might this work for the NYT in relation to photojournalism? Here is a proposal that is much more direct that the newly proposed scheme and the hope that some of its revenue trickles down to content creators. (BTW, has anyone reported a rise in photo fees or a spike in demand for photographers by News Corporation since the Times pay wall went up?). If someone takes up this proposal for a photography site, I might even coming calling for a consultancy fee, but for a limited time only I am offering it for free!

The Lens blog is a high profile site with some 750,000 users visiting each month. Instead of raising money by hoping some of those subscribe on their 21st visit each month, consider the monthly visitors as a community of interest around photojournalism and offer goods and services to that community. There could be Lens-sponsored master classes, special events and workshops for both professionals and the general public; print sales; discounted equipment and photographic services via business affiliates; photo tours and themed travel; equipment, medical and travel insurance for practitioners; logistics and visa services for photographers having to travel at short notice…you name it, anything that interests a broad photographic community, amateur and professional, could be offered by negotiated deals where Lens’s earns a percentage on each transaction.

This strategy would leverage the Lens blog Twitter feeds and referrals providing unlimited free access. It would be based on growing the community that comes to the site, thereby underscoring the value of having quality photojournalism distributed globally and the benefit of having it accessible to as many as possible. It could raise more revenue than subscriptions could achieve, and the revenue could go directly to photojournalism.

Funding critical journalism and photography has always been difficult and will remain difficult. Hoping for a paid content scheme to offer salvation strikes me as being like a cargo cult. Paying for premium content, or content with longevity – like the move to make magazine articles saleable as in-app downloads or Kindle singles – has a future, through the amounts may not be large. But there is little historical or contemporary evidence to suggest people will start paying for daily news in sufficient numbers, and remonstrating with individuals about what they should do is something best pursued by priests rather than corporations.

Equally, scepticism about paid content is not a theological position dependent on the virtues of free. I think an appreciation of how ‘free’ functions on the web is essential but that means seeing how it connects to paid. Like many I happily pay for multiple modes of news distribution. Having stumped up for a seven day print subscription to the Guardian and Observer, a digital replica subscription of the same papers and two versions of the Guardian iPhone app, while eagerly awaiting their iPad app, GMG has many of my hard earned pounds. They would get even more from me if they had a photography blog that offered equipment transactions, because purchasing that new tripod I need or shotgun mic I want could earn them affiliate revenue.

But if the Guardian was to go back on its commitment to free access to quality content through those modes of distribution, I would be heading elsewhere for my general news and comment. That is the nature of media ecology in the twenty first century, and only a realistic assessment of how people function in the world of social media will provide a sound basis for funding new content.

Featured photo: borman818/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

 

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.

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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
photography politics Thinking Images

Thinking Images v.1: Chile, Africa and British students

Thinking Imagesan occasional series on a small selection of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt…

You would have to a cold-hearted person not to have been moved in some way at some time by the rescue of the Chilean miners. But there are always other dimensions to such stories. During the week Jay Rosen tweeted: “A big story and a great story, but does 1300 journalists covering the Chilean miners have anything to do with reality?” Later he added: “Wait: you’ve got 1300 reporters at the miners rescue AND you’re asking, “Who’s gonna pay for the Baghdad bureau, people…” You’re sure now?” Yes, when ‘the media’ gets mobilised it can cover international stories exhaustively. So when they say they can’t afford to do other stories, it’s a matter of choice rather than economics. (Photo: Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne (center) speaks during a press conference at the San Jose mine near the city of Copiapo on October 12, 2010. Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images).

Visuals include graphics, and this thoughtful map from Kai Krause has been doing the rounds, circulated by those who want a more complex view of ‘Africa’. It certainly makes a good point, and yet…in comparing a continent with countries, doesn’t it run the risk of perpetuating the homogenization of Africa’s 61 political territories into one entity?

The UK Con-Dem government’s announcement of an increase in tuition fees for university students saw many media outlets turn to the tried and true trope of graduating students in their gowns, as in this Christopher Furlong/Getty Images photo used by The Guardian. The failure of the media to find a way of visualizing higher education beyond these stereotypes is part of a larger representational problem for the university sector. In the absence of contemporary portrayals of mass education in an under-resourced environment, these images reproduce The Brideshead Revisited (or Educating Rita) view of university life, where staff are ‘dons’ who seem to occupy large offices, drink sherry in the afternoon and teach in leisurely one-on-one tutorials. An interesting documentary project awaits the photographer who wants to spend life on campus to see its increasing pressures.

Categories
media economy photography

Revolutions in the media economy (3): photojournalism’s futures

How do the revolutions in the media economy (detailed in the first and second post of this series) affect photojournalism? Given both the crisis in the distribution of information and the new opportunities for the structure of information, what futures are there for photojournalism?

This assumes ‘photojournalism’ is an accepted category of photographic practice.  It is an essentially contested category – there are a number of different accounts of what is or isn’t photojournalism, many photographers are happy to wear the label and may are not. I’ll call photojournalism the photographic practice where someone tells a story about some aspect of their world, where this story is compiled first using lens-based imaging technologies that have a relationship with that world. This encompasses what others call documentary or editorial photography, but excludes works of visual fiction produced with computer-generated images.

Of all the journalistic forms said to have died, none have had their demise declared more often than photojournalism. The recent Visa pour l’Image festival in Perpignan was previewed with articles lamenting a “dying field” because of the revolutions in the media economy, but such warnings have been frequent throughout the recent history of photojournalism (as in a 1999 editorial in The Digital Journalist, which was revisited in recent articles here and here).

Many of the concerns about the health of photojournalism have been well placed. The financial fragility of agencies like Eyedea and the liquidation of Grazia Neri show traditional business models are faltering badly.

This is the beginning of the end of a long decline. The traditional model of print distribution and direct editorial funding has been unravelling from the 1970s onwards, ever since weekly pictorial magazines like Life folded. This demonstrates photojournalism that required an editorial paymaster was in trouble long before the Internet was an issue or the global recession added to its woes.

How do photojournalists view the contemporary media revolutions?

As a community of practice photojournalism does not have a single voice with a consensus view. There are photographers attuned to the new media economy and working in new ways. But there have recently been a number of notable comments that indicate the world of photojournalism is paying minimal attention to contemporary debates about the revolutions in the media economy, or resorting to some commonly circulated but ill-founded views on how to proceed:

  • The photographic press is yet to explore in any detail the impact of the media revolutions on its constituency. For example, Photo District News had a blog post in June 2009 that devoted a mere two hundred words to wondering (without discussing, let alone answering) “if the journalism business fails, who pays for photojournalism?” but it and similar organs are yet to offer more detailed accounts.
  • One outlet that has offered a view is The Digital Journalist, which published two remarkable editorials in August and September 2009 – remarkable, that is, for containing some of the least considered commentary available. The August editorial held the Internet largely responsible for the current problems, made the mistake of conflating newspapers and journalism, and plumped for pay walls around news sites as the answer. In manner that would have befitted the East German regime in its dying days, it cried out – “Let us build that wall before it is too late.” It is very odd to see a major player parroting the same flawed arguments of the traditional media outlets that have done photographers no favours in recent years.
  • The September editorial of The Digital Journalist then demanded that foundations hand over large sums of money to multimedia publications (including itself), who would then distribute those funds to individual photographers with “projects that deserve coverage.” I’m a fan of the named companies who are a big part of the future (or, more accurately, the present) of photojournalism, but are the foundations really likely to part with large wads of up-front cash? Importantly, why would we want a system of new gatekeepers, and what about the fact that many of those digital producers are already partnering with photographers and getting foundation funding for specific projects? These arguments and proposals seem fundamentally out of touch with what is or likely to happen.
  • In an interview with John Temple, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Cheryl Diaz Myer endorsed paying for on-line content (“I’m a fan of micropayments for the web”). In a demonstration of how unfounded examples gain an aura of truth simply by being repeated, Diaz argued that if the news media followed the iTunes model or the Financial Times subscription system then things would be better – ignoring the arguments cited in my first post of this series that demonstrate Apple’s model cannot be copied because music is a different commodity to news, and that the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal are atypical news outlets that distribute economically valuable information.
  • Leo Hsu’s foto8 post on “The End of Newspapers” takes a novel tack on the debate by asking, “Without newspapers, without the received standards of print publications, what expectations will we have of photographs and their ability to speak “truth”? In the wake of renewed concerns about photographic manipulation (which I have discussed here) Hsu is worried about how norms that contest fabrication will be governed. It is an interesting argument with respect to the veracity of images, but its assumptions about newspapers repeat the common mistake of seeing information and its mode of distribution as the same thing. It is the community of practice around photojournalism that establishes and governs standards, and that is independent of any particular mode of distribution, as the on-line debates about manipulation this year clearly demonstrate. Most importantly, contra Hsu, it is the practice of journalism and not the institution of newspapers that have, in some moments, sustained democracy. We must not confuse the two and their different roles.

There have been some good analyses of the new media economies from within photojournalism – Aric Mayer’s review of the publishing crisis and the crisis in editorial photography come to mind – but overall there needs to be a better recognition in the field of what is going on and what it means.

What inspiration can photojournalism take from the media revolutions?

Many of the recent debates within photojournalism have concerned the coverage of issues and the aesthetics of that coverage. In the wake of the last two World Press Photo competitions there have been insightful and provocative comments on how photojournalism pictures the world by Stephen Mayes and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, which prompted some heated feedback (see here for the comments on Mayes lecture and here for a response to Broomberg and Chanarin). Mayes observation that his years as secretary of the World Press Photo jury led him to regard the submissions to the contest as primarily “romantic” – that is, “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized” – chimed with other critiques, such as Jörg Colberg’s thoughts on the visual language of photojournalism, which prompted an extensive discussion on the Magnum blog.

These are vital debates even if there is no single resolution. My concern here, however, is with how the revolutions in the new media economy provide photojournalism with new opportunities for the future. These opportunities are made clear by thinking about what the changing structure of information does for photojournalism, and this changing structure of information will undoubtedly assist photojournalism in responding to the concerns about aesthetics and coverage of issues. Inspired by the themes of my previous post, we can say at the outset:

  • The web is where it is at. Photographers must not ignore the full range of outlets (print media, books, exhibitions etc) but the Internet is the only platform with a growing audience for news stories
  • To be on the web means producing multimedia stories. ‘Multimedia’ can mean many things, from simple photo galleries through to stand alone topic sites with stills, audio, video and text together, but it is the combination of sound and image which offers the basis for the most compelling form for storytelling

To say as much is to state the blindingly obvious. Photographers have been using the Internet for years, but what is at stake here is something more than having a shop window on the web. It involves seeing oneself as a publisher of content and a participant in a distributed story, the form of which helps reshape the content of the story. Rather than just producing a single image or small series of images to be sold into another person’s story, multimedia on the web has numerous advantages for visual storytellers:

  • It allows photographers to focus on a story, and produce more content with greater control over how those pictures are presented
  • While the meaning of visual stories can’t be controlled, they can be directed through the construction of a narrative that draws on sound and text as well as photographs and video
  • It potentially overcomes restrictions on getting longer and more complex stories published for a global audience, especially younger generations who do not consume traditional media
  • It is an effective response to the conceptual challenge of how to provide context for a photograph
  • It can overcomes photojournalism’s objectification of people by giving subjects their own voice

This gels with the changing nature of the atomic unit of the news media discussed in the previous post. Running parallel to a shift from ‘article’ to ‘topic’ will be the move from ‘single picture’ or ‘photo essay’ to ‘visual story’ as part of the multi-dimensional narratives that make up a ‘topic’. Moreover, the visual story will be set in context, linked, updated and distributed across the web.

There are increasing numbers of photographers beginning to work in this way, as sites like Interactive Narratives or KobreGuide demonstrate. However, what I am trying to highlight here is more than a shift from taking stills to producing videos. It is about rethinking the capacity to tell stories in line with what Fred Ritchin calls a “new visual journalism,” which he outlined in greater detail here.

Ritchin has long been a leading proponent on these changes. Back in the early days of the web (1996) he produced what is still one of the most innovative multimedia stories, “Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace,” which was organized around Gilles Peress’ photography and published by the New York Times. Ritchin analysed this production in a significant essay called “Witnessing and the Web: An Argument for a New Photojournalism” and has recently developed these ideas in his important book After Photography where he outlines, conceptually and practically, a new practice called “hyperphotography.”

Hyperphotography is a “paradigm shift into another medium, or more precisely into an interactive, networked multimedia, which distances itself from conventional photography” (p. 70). For Ritchin this means “an entire photograph can…serve as a node, a hyperphotograph, an ambiguous, visual, uncaptioned, tantalizing segment of a developing conversation leading, if the reader is willing, to other photographs, other media, other ideas (p. 71). Far from being abstract, Ritchin’s concept has practical pointers on how information can be embedded in images, offering viewers the option of deciding which links they follow in a non-linear fashion.

This move from ‘photojournalism’ to ‘visual journalism,’ from ‘photography’ to ‘hyperphotography’ does not involve either giving up on the still image or abandoning the documentary function of photography. It might employ a variety of new media formats, such as those used by FLYP magazine or the In a City flipbook curated by DJ Clark for the British Council. Whatever its exact form, it uses the power of photography to help structure a multi-dimensional story that through its links, context and openness can be a strong form of evidence for the story it wishes to tell.

How are photojournalists going to get paid in these changing times?

We have to constantly revisit this conundrum, but each time we get back to this point we have to remember something very important.

We can’t approach this issue via some misplaced nostalgia for a golden age that if it did actually exist certainly no longer survives. Photographic stories or documentary have always been difficult to fund directly. If there was a time when the majority of photojournalists simply waited for well-paid commissions to produce important work, that time is no more. We have to doubt though whether the past was like that, because in reality few if any photographers have been able to sustain a career entirely through editorial projects they chose to do. Even Sebastião Salgado had to do corporate and advertising work to cross-subsidise work on the social issues he wanted to explore, and Simon Norfolk sells his prints to a wealthy clientèle through a fine art gallery in order to support his visual critique of the US military.

That means, as mentioned in the previous posts, funding is increasingly going to be indirect. This was confirmed by Stephen Mayes of VII in a an interview headlined “Inventing Twenty-First Century Photojournalism.” Mayes began by stating “as long as any of us thinks that we’re going to make money from selling photographs, I think that we’re going to be in trouble.” Instead he proposed this shift:

[The biggest clients] have been the magazines and newspapers, and I still think that newspapers and magazines will continue to be incredibly important to our profession, but I think where previously we’ve seen magazines and newspapers as clients, I now see them very much as partners. At VII we’ll work with the magazines for distribution, but we’ll work with another party for funding, we may work another party for access and expertise, we may work with another party for technology. So what I find we’re doing increasingly is working on these multi-partnerships, amongst whom it’s hard to see who is the client.

Mayes’ thoughts were reasonably conventional in so far as magazines and newspapers were his primary distributors. Nonetheless, they attracted some outraged comments, with two people alleging that journalism dies the moment one enters into a partnership with the subject. To which Mayes replied, “it amazes me how this question comes up only when discussing non-publishing partners as though the integrity of the news industry is somehow unquestionable. Like fish in water we often fail to recognize the constraints of our existing media…”

I couldn’t agree more. If some of the great photojournalists had adhered to this absolutism we would have been deprived of great pictures – think, for example of how a Larry Burrows needed the US military to get around Vietnam, or a Tom Stoddart required assistance from MSF to travel in Sudan. Of course partnerships vary and anyone concerned about integrity will have to work hard to maintain independence, but that applies in all situations. Aside from the fact the old editorial paymaster model is all but gone, the idea that taking money from corporate media funded by advertising, so that one can create content which will attract more viewers for that advertising, is free from all moral issues is…well, rather daft.

Nobody works in an ethically pure zone. VII has to face those issues with its sponsorship by Canon, anyone working with an NGO or foundation needs to confront them too, and in accepting a commission from a newspaper or on-line site the same applies. Negotiating those issues requires transparency and reflexivity. Operating in the networked world of social media is one way to achieve that openness and integrity.

In the end, creating unique, quality content in a myriad of multimedia formats is the best way to produce value. We know great imagery on the web can drive traffic to sites and around particular stories, and where there is traffic there will be networks, relationships and the opportunity to find ways to fund that content. This does not mean multimedia, visual journalism or hyperphotography will kill off books, exhibitions and the printed image. But those forms of distribution will comprise only a part of a successful photographers portfolio of activity in the new media economy.

Next…what the new media economy might mean for universities and academic publishing…

Photo credit: Today is a good day/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Categories
media economy

Revolutions in the media economy (2): the changing structure of information

Is there actually a crisis in news and journalism? We must not ignore the historical perspective that locates the current problems in the media economy, as my previous post detailed, but Jeff Jarvis is right – if we start from the assumption that there is a crisis for all concerned we will ask the wrong questions, miss the great opportunities, and head off in the wrong direction.

It’s worth repeating what I think should be the guiding light for any discussion the new media economy: “the social media revolution…is all about the separation of information from its means of distribution.”

Following this means understanding journalism as information and newspapers as the means of distribution. As such, the death of the latter does not equate to the death of the former. Richard Stacey put it more bluntly – “hitch your fortunes to the information and you will prosper, chain yourself to means of distribution and you will die.”

If we are focused on the nature of the information there are opportunities. If like many of the traditional media companies we are preoccupied with the means of distribution, then there is most certainly a crisis. How, then, can we think about the opportunities and what they mean for the structure of information in the new media economy?

The web changes everything

The revolution in the media economy has few certainties, but one thing is crystal clear when it comes to news coverage – the Internet is the only platform with an audience growing over time.

This growth comes from the new ways people consume information. While traditional sources such as newspapers, analogue TV and radio have declining audiences, the amount of time people spend reading, watching and listening is increasing.  This is driven by the way – as American data shows – “people are relying more heavily…on platforms that can deliver news when audiences want it rather than at appointed times, a sign of a growing ‘on demand’ news culture. People increasingly want the news they want when they want it.” And satisfying that desire can only be achieved digitally.

The revolution, though, involves much more than making information available in a variety of accessible digital formats, as a recent German manifesto on the challenge of the web made clear. (Interestingly, this manifesto was a direct response to the Hamburg Declaration in which traditional news organisation sought to tame the internet through new intellectual property rights to restrict fair use, make people pay for quotes and withhold the ability to link to content).

The web revolution changes the structure of the information that is being provided, and it changes the relationship between the producer and the consumer of that information. As an article in the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted, “the Internet is a medium in the word’s truest sense. It is something that exists in the between. It is connective tissue.” And far from undermining the institutions of democracy, these transformations could be the basis for a more democratic culture.

How is the structure of news information being transformed?

Traditional media deal with news as an information relay. On a daily cycle reporters gather information, construct a story (as an article or an item) before a fixed deadline, then transmit this to readers/viewers/listeners who some time later passively consume the information.

Of course, modern newspapers and television stations compress this cycle with their web versions, electronic comment facilities or rolling news networks, but the overall idea of a story as a discrete thing produced by a deadline remains. As the CJR declared:

News organizations have had trouble adapting to the digital world because they operate under a broadcast sensibility. They produce discrete bits of content—finished products meant for passive consumption.

On-line media changes all that. Some have argued that the “atomic unit” of news media is changing. Marissa Mayer of Google told a US Senate inquiry on the future of journalism “the structure of the Web has caused the atomic unit of consumption for news to migrate from the full newspaper to the individual article.” This shift mirrored that in music when consumers moved from albums of music to individual downloads, and is driven by the fact that 80% of on-line users find their articles via search engines rather than through the home pages of particular sites.

The web’s challenge to traditional information structures might be more radical than a move from newspaper to article. The atomic unit might be no longer fixed in space as the article, the item, the page or the publication – it could be something that evolves over time via the post, the tweet, the link as a flow or wave of iterations that together produce a story that – like the world it is reporting on – is never finalised.

The changing nature of temporality means that a plural and inherently more democratic approach to news information is now possible. As Charlie Beckett argues, “with the death of the deadline comes multi-dimensional narratives.” Rather than the tired old formula of “he said, she said” journalism we can have competing perspective at the heart of every story.

This means journalism becomes a process rather than a product, and the developing topic rather than the finished story is the new fundament of reporting. As Jeff Jarvis argues, this requires much more than having a list of links to other people’s stuff at the bottom of an on-line article:

Instead, I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and discussed. It’s a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering. It’s also a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides annotated links to experts, coverage, opinion, perspective, source material. It’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but that tries to accomplish something… It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organized.

There are some small but important practicalities that can achieve this – such as media organizations treating stories as topics under a permanent URL, which Google’s Mayer recommended as a way of constructing a “living story.” With the recent introduction of Fast Flip, a new user interface (UI) for news that aggregates individual articles and web pages via subjects, Google is leading innovation in this area. As Scott Karp argues, this demonstrates once again how traditional media companies are failing to address challenges – new formats for presenting news – that should clearly by their concern:

Most publishers are focused on how to charge for news. But there’s very little talk about how to innovate the packaging of news, much less a new UI for news. There’s very little talk about how people consume news on the web, about the value of aggregating articles from multiple sources, about solving consumers’ problems rather than publishers’ problems.

Most importantly, rethinking the ‘atomic unit’ of information goes beyond any technological issue and changes the nature of reporting.

What does this mean for journalists and editors?

One of the fears flowing from the ‘death of newspapers’ and shift to on-line news platforms is that our capacity to sift important information from unsourced trivia will be lost. In typical fashion, commentators see the end of one thing (stories by authoritative reporters) leading inexorably to its polar opposite (rumours by amateur gossips). It’s dreadfully easy to come up with examples of trash on the Internet and argue that it is therefore an unreliable medium. But, apart from the fact that the traditional news outlets produce more than their fair share of rubbish, there is nothing automatic or inevitable about digital media dumbing down standards of inquiry or reporting. As Taylor Owens and David Eaves make clear in their excellent review of the relationship between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media (Missing The Link), the rise of blogging is a boon for good journalism, in part because of the way it makes fact-checking an open source phenomenon that draws on the wisdom of the crowd.

The new structures of distribution affect the structures of information, but they do so by changing rather than eliminating the role of the journalist and editor. This is because the number of people who can write and publish without being filtered out by the mainstream media (as in this blog) is increasing all the time. But even for full-time journalists and editors in established news organisations a change is coming, and understanding their role as being a “curator” is what marks this change.

Instead of thinking as journalists and editors as the privileged insiders revealing secrets in a one-way relationship to their audience, they become those whose experience and knowledge allows them to give context and order to an ever-developing topic. Mindy McAdams has listed seven different practices that might make up this process of curation. In addition to these will be commitment to real openness, in terms of encouraging a real-time dialogue with feedback from the audience, ensuring transparency about sources (without compromising confidents), and tapping into the power and wisdom of readers through “crowd sourcing” exercises (such as The Guardian’s encouragement of its readers to sort through the raw data of politician’s expense claims).

The role of transparency in this new structure of information is vital. Showing how you get the story, and linking to others who have different but relevant aspects of the topic, is the best way to establish credibility and legitimacy for this mode of reporting. Indeed, David Weinberger has gone as far to claim “transparency is the new objectivity.” In the past, media accuracy was achieved by a handful of editors and fact-checkers who verified data, but with thousands of interactive readers function as open source reviewers, this accuracy can only be enhanced through thoughtful curation.

What might a new media organisation look like?

These ideas can guide the structure of a new media organisation, and if we summarise the points above and blend in the thoughts of Emily Bell and Chris Brogan, with a dash of Jeff Jarvis, we get the following pointers:

  • The future of journalism is networked not silo’d, it has to be distributed not static, everything is modular, linkable and fluid
  • Everything must be portable and mobile-ready, and it has to be appropriate for the platform, using any means available which, in the days of Audioboo, flip videos and social networking sties, is pretty much every way
  • Stories are points in time, and won’t end at first publication, but become a flow of edits, links, updates, and extensions that together make a topic
  • Journalists and editors work as curators, and creators aren’t necessarily on staff. Contributors come in many shapes: paid staff, partner, guest, and conversational
  • Media cannot stick to one form. Text, photos, video, music, audio, animation, etc are a flow
  • Everything must have collaborative opportunities, and journalists and editors need the help of communities to build and engage audiences and to break stories
  • To be effective and trusted information has to be transparent and open to engagement
  • Advertising cannot be the primary method of revenue. Value-add services are another source of funding
  • Paper isn’t dead: it’s on demand
  • Above all else, produce unique content with clear value – that is, clear social as well as economic value

A final thought about how to fund it

Funding new media organisations remains, so to speak, the million-dollar question. But think about this slide from the Daily Telegraph’s digital editor Edward Roussel, presented at a CUNY conference last November:

Edward_Roussel_slide

It underlines the point from my previous post that if we think about funding in terms of paying for editorial content rather than the entirety of traditional media organisations, where the bulk of the cost goes on printing and distribution, we start with a much smaller need. If an existing news organisation like the New York Times was to be reshaped for a purely digital future, there would still be a major shake-up and much heartbreak, but it wouldn’t be the much-prophesied ‘end of journalism’. Because we are in a revolutionary moment no one knows how the media economy will shake down, but the outcome can be positive for the process of journalism.

Next – what all this might mean for photojournalism…

Photo credit: Carol Mitchell/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Categories
media economy

Revolutions in the media economy (1): the context of crisis

The way news and information is reported and delivered to citizens is undergoing profound transformations, especially in the United States and Europe. In the last twelve months commentary has been rife with claims about “the death of newspapers,” the end of journalism, and the impact this crisis will allegedly have on democratic politics.

In a series of four posts, I want to consider the revolution that is reshaping the media economy through which we come to know about the wider world. This first post deals with the reasons for this upheaval and how it is changing the economics of news. Because of the ground to be covered in providing the context of these changes, this will be quite a lengthy discussion.

The second post will look at how the structure of information is changing in this new economy and what it means for the practice of journalism; the third post will ask what these transformation mean for photojournalism; and the fourth post will consider some of the implications for academic publishing. [Update: in December 2009 I added a fifth post on “the pay wall folly for photographers”].

What crisis?

In the US the transformation of the media economy has been mapped on Paper Cuts, which records company closures and job losses in journalism. With high profile newspapers like the Christian Science Monitor and Seattle Post Intelligencer giving up print and moving on-line, and the Rocky Mountain News shutting for good after 150 years, the decline of traditional news outlets has been hard to miss. In the UK, the local and regional press has been equally hard hit, with half of that sector facing closure in the next few years. These changes may not be repeated globally, but it is clear the established outlets of the print media economy are vulnerable.

Structural changes or cyclical problems?

Because the upheaval in the print media has coincided with the international financial crisis of September 2008 onwards, we have to ask whether the global recession is to blame, or whether there are larger structural problems in the media economy that are now coming to the fore?

Newspapers have been in decline for a long time. In America, overall circulation (when adjusted for population growth) is “about half of what it was in 1946 and is declining rapidly”. That decline has been constant since the 1960s, when other media, especially television, overtook papers as the primary source of news. The decline in readership by age has been constant for all groups, but given younger generations have always used papers less, there is no prospect of this trend being arrested in the future.

The way papers have been in competition with other forms of media such as television shows that the impact of the Internet on newspapers is not a qualitatively new phenomenon, even though it might be an especially important development. These changes were obvious after the 2008 US presidential election:

For the first time, more Americans are getting their news online than from traditional ink and paper, although the popularity of television still eclipses all other forms of media. In an apparently sharp shift in habits…the number of consumers using the web as a main news source surged from 24% to 40% in a year, overtaking the 35% who rely on newspapers. Television slipped from 74% to 70%.

These structural changes in audience behaviour intersected with changes in media ownership beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. City and regional papers in America were purchased by corporations trading on the stock market, which meant shareholders rather than readers became the primary concern of management. Balancing the books to ensure profit meant that journalism was cut, which in turn accelerated the decline in readership as people went elsewhere for news. In recent times, these corporate strategies have produced a further decline in journalism because servicing the massive debts undertaken to finance new acquisitions has required cost cutting on a grand scale.

The collapse of print advertising revenues during the current recession is regularly cited as a reason for the death of the newspaper. But as Nichols and McChesney have written, this revenue stream has been in long decline too:

Print advertising, which still accounts for the lion’s share of newspaper revenue, declined gently as a percentage of all ad spending from 1950 to ’90, as television grew in importance. Starting in 1990, well before the rise of the web as a competitor for ad dollars, newspaper ad revenues went into a sharp decline, from 26 percent of all media advertising that year to what will likely be around 10 percent this year [2008].

Long-term declines in audience and advertising, constant challenges from other media such as television, all hastened by debt-financed corporate strategies that put profit ahead of journalism, show that changes in the media economy will not be reversed even if the current global recession is followed by a period of renewed economic growth. They also show that the constant sniping at Google and craigslist for ‘killing journalism’ are way wide of the mark, even if both organizations have added to the current pressure on traditional news organizations.

Save newspapers or save journalism?

The current crisis in newspapers has led people to speculate at every opportunity about what strategy, product, technology or unknown revenue stream will “save journalism.” There are two things going on here that need unpacking, because how we approach this question conditions the sort of response we can imagine.

First, there is the assumption that journalism, as routinely practiced in traditional news organisations, is a public good essential to democracy because of its history of challenging authority. To put it mildly, this is viewing things through rose-tinted lenses. It’s easy to think that each and every news organisation is run by people who see Bernstein and Woodward’s pursuit of the Watergate scandal as a template for daily reporting. But recent history suggests that much reporting promotes the interests of those in power (think about The New York Times cozy coverage of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, which subsequently prompted an apology of sorts from the paper) or recycles PR material (see Nick Davies critique of “churnalism” in the UK, and the “10 ugly truths about modern journalism.”). For sure, we need critical journalism more than ever, and there are some good existing examples, but overall it is something to create as much as it is something to protect. With survey’s showing Americans barely trust what they read or see, journalism’s belief in its inherent social value is ill-founded and needs to be re-established.

It is important to note there that this faith in the assumed relationship between journalism and democracy comes in part from what Daniel Hallin calls the “high modernist” understanding of journalism as “objective” and “socially responsible.” This journalism ran from the end of World War II until the 1980s, when more partisan and ideological coverage emerged, yet it is now being resurrected as the essential ethos of journalism rather than a historically specific form of the practice. Equally, we should not forget that the idea of objectivity as the defining characteristic of journalism was also central to corporate strategies in the post-war period – the best way to maximise audiences for advertisers was to draw readers in via a promise of non-partisan reporting, because the advertisers’ clients did not want to be associated with controversy.  All of which underscores Hallin’s argument (revisited recently by Jay Rosen) that journalism in recent times has been less about fearless objectivity than producing the “sphere of consensus” for political debate.

Second, there is the assumption that newspapers and journalism are the same thing. While we certainly want to save the good, critical, contextualising bits of journalism, we need to understand the difference between the practice of journalism and the particular modes of its delivery. Saving journalism is not the same as saving newspapers. As Robert Picard has argued:

Many…misunderstand the nature of journalism. It is not a business model; it is not a job; it is not a company; it is not an industry; it is not a form of media; it is not a distribution platform. Instead, journalism is an activity. It is a body of practices by which information and knowledge is gathered, processed, and conveyed. The practices are influenced by the form of media and distribution platform, of course, as well as by financial arrangements that support the journalism. But one should not equate the two.

Journalism was synonymous with newspapers so long as there were no competing media. The advent of radio news in the 1920s and television news in the 1950s broke that link, but the current debate proceeds as though journalism cannot exist without traditional print media organisations. Yet the financial analysts Moody’s have called newspapers a business suffering “structural disconnect” given that only 14% of their operating costs are dedicated to content creation (i.e. journalism) while 70% of costs are consumed by printing, distribution and corporate functions. There is no doubt that legacy organisations like The Guardian or The Washington Post carry important cultural baggage when it comes to producing credible reporting, but their journalism can be delivered to audiences much more cheaply and effectively through a variety of media, as is now the case with web sites, podcasts and the like.

This highlights what is most significant about new technologies in the evolving media economy. As Richard Stacey has observed, “the social media revolution…is all about the separation of information from its means of distribution.” Journalism is the information and newspapers are the means of distribution. The death of the latter does not equate to the death of the former.

How do we fund the good stuff?

The Internet has solved the problem of distribution and collapsed the cost of printing (assuming widespread access to broadband, which is not something that can always be assumed), making almost everyone a potential media outlet. Plenty of people are making money from the web (especially pornographers), but how can this new technology of distribution be used to fund the public information we need? While good journalism has been under financial pressure for the past thirty years, how can the social media future be leveraged to support investigative work?

The first thing that is necessary in answering this is to resist the temptation (again) to look back on an allegedly golden age that has been lost. We have to recognise that news and probing journalism has never made money by itself in order to pay for itself. We should not, therefore, be judging the social media future for reporting via the flawed assumption that we are looking for a business model that will do what has never previously been done.

We have to recognise that the media in the twentieth century has always been corporate, and that journalism has always been funded indirectly. Oliviero Toscani once noted that editorial was “the advertising of advertising,” the content which drew in the readership to view the material the advertisers paid for, thereby indirectly subsidising that information. The idea of a newspaper as a publication containing everything from comics to sport scores to political analysis to clothing advertisements was simply a function of those ads requiring a large print format that was expensive. Clay Shirkey has put it succinctly by noting:

The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident. Advertisers had little choice other than to have their money used that way, since they didn’t really have any other vehicle for display ads.

The search for new business models for news is occupying the minds of people much more knowledgeable than me. However, from reading recent debates it is pretty clear that the new model will in fact be a series of diverse models producing revenue indirectly. As John Temple, the last editor of the Rocky Mountain News has declared, news organisations do not make money from news; news is the ‘brand’ for the organisation and the money comes from relationships and services only indirectly related to journalism.

When it comes to the question of how to ‘monetise’ journalism on the web, everyone is talking about “pay walls” – especially now that Rupert Murdoch has flagged his intention to introduce them on all his publications in the next year. However, a large number of commentators and publishers believe they are not the answer. Why are pay walls not the future solution to funding journalism?

This has been a raging debate in the last year – see this huge selection of recent articles and posts from a short time – but there are few if any examples of enterprises successfully restricting the openness of the web. This is because the Internet, and the link in particular, has fundamentally changed the structure of the information economy, enabling a distributed and collaborative conversation happening in different places at different times (think about the composition of this post and the links it employs, for example). If people using the web by following links come up against a pay wall – part of a site that demands a small payment or subscription for access to a piece of information – nine times out of ten they will go somewhere else where information is free and accessible. The result is that the information behind the pay wall is cut off from the audience and the developing conversation, and the author of that restricted information has had their public impact curtailed.

How do we know comprehensive pay walls don’t work for most news journalism? Take the web site that emerged in the wake of the Rocky Mountain News closing. InDenverTimes needed 50,000 subscribers paying only $5/month to support their operation. The RMN had 210,000 subscribers before it closed so this seemed reasonable – yet only 3,000 of those individuals were willing to go on-line and pay for the new site’s content. In contrast, think of how The New York Times ended its TimesSelect subscription in October 2007 and saw its web traffic increase by 40% as a result (thereby making its columnist’s views part of the public conversation and boosting advertising revenue through a larger audience).

Even if we leave aside the larger questions of participation in the new link economy, a rough analysis of a pay wall for Murdoch’s paper The Times suggests the economics don’t make sense. A common assumption for any business offering free versus paid versions is that only about 10% of the customer basis will migrate from the free to the paid. If 10% of Times readers were willing to pay, it is estimated they would generate between £4-8 million/year (excluding the administrative cost of running the on-line payment system). Given that the paper probably earns about £45 million in digital advertising, and that this amount would decline sharply with the lost audience who refuse to cross the paywall, thereby wiping out the revenue generated by the subscription if not much more, the value of the exercise seems dubious. And for a media company that has £445 million in revenue and £51 million in losses, the gain of £4 million+ seems hardly worth the effort even if there were no associated losses. On a different scale, a recent review of small-town American papers that have instituted some form of on-line charging, usually to protect print editions, shows mixed results, with declines in on-line audiences. It is therefore no wonder that most publishers “fear they could lose 75% or more of their traffic and banner revenue if they started to charge for content.”

Comprehensive pay walls might work if every single credible news organisation erected one at the same time, but that isn’t going to happen. In the UK The Guardian declared it will not follow Murdoch down the subscription route (partly because they recall the American audience they created while TimesSelect was in place), the BBC will always have news free for global users (albeit paid for by the indirect subscription of the license fee in Britain), and National Public Radio will continue to offer its 26 million listeners quality programming without direct payment (NPR’s executive director recently called the desire for pay walls a “mass delusion” of the media industry).

The desire to make pay walls a key strategy in the new media economy is historically odd given that news organisations have never relied on subscriptions for the majority of their revenues. As a rule only 20% of newspaper revenues have come from subscriptions with 80% from advertising. That means even if pay walls were somehow successful it would only ever be a very small success on the road to funding journalism. And as the only beneficial pay walls are likely to be small and partial – as part of a “freemium” strategy that leaves general news open to all while restricting access to premium content – the revenue they produce is likely to be even smaller.

A common response to this argument is to highlight the small number of successful instances of subscription, such as the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal or a consumer publication like Which in the UK. However, what these outlets have in common is that they offer subscribers sensitive information with financial benefits (often paid for by corporate expense accounts) or, in the case of Which, they provide impartiality through advertisement-free reports. And if someone argues that micropayments for individual news stories might be a better approach than a comprehensive pay wall then — aside from questioning the idea there can be an ‘iTunes for news’ — we should ask if this is a good scenario: would journalists like their proprietors to judge the quality of their work by the number of consumers who had purchased their writing? Would serious investigative journalism compete well in an environment where pageview bonuses (like those at Gawker) were in operation?

That leaves funding journalism back in the troubled world of advertising, which as noted above, has been declining in print media for a long time. In the early days of the on-line revolution, it was hoped the vast amount of web traffic (“unique users”) going to sites would provide the basis for a new advertising model for the Internet. In part this has occurred, and on-line advertising remains a growth area in percentage terms even during the current recession. The trouble is that the values of this advertising is small, perhaps one-tenth of the print sector it is replacing. Except for Google and its distributed mode of advertising, “print dollars are replaced by mere online dimes” [Jarvis, What Would Google Do, p.125].

So neither pay walls nor advertising are the answer; what then? As noted above, instead of a single business model for journalism emerging, we are going to see a series of diverse models producing revenue indirectly (see the example of one profitable blog, Techdirt, here). And that will bring journalism into line with other digital industries. Take music for example – it is rumoured that only 10% of U2’s revenue comes from its songs/albums. The bulk comes from concerts, merchandising, video games, advertising, sponsorship and any number of other sources. It’s going to take some creative accounting, but funding good investigative journalism will only be as difficult as it has always been, and largely achieved indirectly.

Next…what all this means for the structure of information and the practice of journalistic inquiry in the new media economy…

(These thoughts stem in large part from my presentations on ‘the political economy of multimedia’ made to the MA Photography programme at the Dalian College of Image Art, China, in June 2008 and July 2009. I am indebted to Dave Clark for making those presentations possible, and for our on-going conversation on these issues.)

Photo credit: William Couch/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

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].