Tag Archives: new media

Ex-Scotsman editor on demise of Scottish papers

Former Scotsman editor John McGurk has produced a fascintating investigation for the BBC on the future of the indigenous Scottish quality press. His conclusion is that it’s fucked.

When I was editor of scotsman.com (seven years, ten-fold increase in readerts, ahtankyew) John and I had our differences insofar as he would joyfully have strangled the online edition in its cot. But he has hit the nail on the head with this piece.

As well as exposing the guilty secret of plummeting sales at the Horrid and Hootsmon, John reveals that public sector advertising worth £47m will no longer be placed in the Scottish nationals. To put that the effects of that in layman’s terms: game over, man, game over.

Some thoughts occurred to me:

  • If the Scottish public sector (and the politicians who run it) want native Scottish journalism they should continue to advertise with the Scottish nationals.
  • They are under absolutely no obligation to do so, any more than readers are obliged to buy the papers.
  • This is a lesson that the Scotsman and Herald have not learned. They are owned by companies (Gannet and Johnston Press) that insist on obscenely large profit margins and sacrifice quality to achieve them. Both papers are produced on a shoestring. It shows. The quality of journalism in both papers has fallen drastically. That’s why people don’t buy them. Why should they?
  • At no point did John mention the Metro. On the 26 bus to the centre of Edinburgh people used to read the Scotsman but they now read the Metro – a low quality tabloid packed with wire copy. As that’s what Scotsman has become why should people bother paying money for it? (Oh and Johnston Press does not understand The Scotsman and their much-lauded digital strategy is deeply flawed – no matter how much Tim Bowdler clings to it when the share price falls. Again.)
  • While Andrew Neil and John spoke movingly about the decline of Scottish papers they were strangely reticent about their own contribution. Brillo in particular has been loud in his condemnation of JP’s record at the Scotsman (correctly, by the way). However, the wirily coiffed one is not so hot on his own record. A listener phoning in to BBC Scotland’s Morning Extra to discuss John’s report had this to say: “These two were handed a quality paper and handed back the Beano at the end of their tenure.” McGurk had no answer to that but a joke about how healthy the Beano’s sales were. For years, I tried in vain at the Scotsman to discover the exact decline in sales when Neil was in charge but no-one could ever tell me. I do know that his stewardship was a wasted opportunity. He had the backing and the ambition to take the paper forward but his bloody true believer Thatcherite ideology got in the way and he alienated the readers and lost many, many fine journalists – mostly to Business AM.
  • The Herald and Scotsman will merge soon. Both titles will survive as west and east coast editions of one product. I don’t think either Gannet or JP have the vision (or cash) to do that. As John said in his piece, PLCs are a bad bet for newspapers. I believe the future lies with trusts and family firms. My money’s on DC Thomson or the Guardian to buy and merge them. I have no reason for thinking this other than a feeling in my water.

Finally, readers still care. One lady on the phone-in lamented the demise of the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch. But despite feedback from readers, Charles McGhee of the Herald did not seem to take on board any of their criticisms. And that’s part of the problem too.

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Se7en deadly sins

Over at the site of my new business, we’ve been having fun with the seven deadly sins. Nothing sordid, mind, all very tasteful. We’ve been listing the various downfalls we’ve seen befall sites and matching them up against the classical vices. (Of course, being a business, we then offer ourselves as the solution.) It’s part of our radical strategy of making clients’ content interesting.

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You think no-one’s watching?

It’s not always easy being a hack. You throw your creativity out into an uncaring world and think nobody’s watching.

But they are, especially when you screw up, as BBC Scotland’s Judith Tonner demonstrates.

What’s even more surprising is the extent to which even the smallest (albeit very flashy) gesture gets analysed over and over again, as with David Robertson’s pen trick.

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w00tonomy director relentlessly delivers nauseating self promotion

Posted on w00tonomy:

Stewart Kirkpatrick, our Content Marketing Director, has induced a bout of vomiting at w00tonomy with this self-serving communique:

“I have been elected to the New Media Industry Council of the National Union of Journalists (in a jobshare with Euan Williamson of Imagineering). Like nearly every large body, the NUJ has struggled with what the web means for today and tomorrow. I am delighted to have this opportunity to help guide its thinking.”

Stewart will also be speaking at the Sunday Herald’s Shaping Scotland’s Digital Future event – at 9am on 24 April at The Teacher Building, St Enoch Square, Glasgow – where he will be tarred and feathered by the rest of w00tonomy if he comes out with anything similar in tone to the above statement.

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Three cheers for Rab McNeil

Robert McNeilWell played, Sir Robert of McNeil, who has apparently seen off a wealthy person who was offended at his comment that “the rich are leaving and good ruddy riddance to them”.

Carol Høgel – who hails from a place called Chicago in one of the former colonies – also referred to The Scotsman columnist as a “destructively spiteful philistine“. This is a plainly untrue as Rab is a devotee of the poet-warriors in green and white who grace this Earth under the name Hibernian Football Club. He thus demonstrates delicate artistic sensibilities that make Ovid look like Stephen Frail.

At the risk of being “spiteful”, I note that Ms Høgel is an heiress. Perhaps if she had had to make her money herself she wouldn’t have so thin a skin. In the hope that Rab can keep this up, I have sent him a list of people that I think Scotland would be better off without. Sadly, he has not replied to my pleas.

More seriously, Rab is one of the very, very few writers in Scotland who is provocative. I’m sure that rich people prefer paeons of praise – such as they might hear from desperate fundraisers after some dough – but that is not what real journalism is about. Too much of what fills our papers is tepid, timid, predictable and corporately approved.

Thank God for the Rabs of this world who remind us that proper journalism jars, surprises and – yes – offends. Let’s hope the Carol Høgels of this world see the art in that.

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Bad news for papers: the public sector wins

For eight years I plied my trade as an online journalist. My mission, should I have no choice but to accept it, was to attract readers to pages where adverts were served. For every 1,000 page impression a piece of content received we could expect something like £10 (plus any sponsorship for the relevant section).

That’s a lot of work to get a lot of traffic for not much cash. That’s a key problem for commercial publishers online. Another key problem is the way that online has moved in the past two years or so.

Thanks to the phenomenon known as Web 2.0, the focus has shifted to individual items of content not to where they are displayed. Blogs, RSS feeds, widgets, wikis, social network and umpteen other phenomena take content out of its context and share, manipulate and distribute it in more ways than seem possible. If the content is interesting enough, that is.

This presents a bijout problemette for commercial content producers. While it’s great to have lots of people reading their stories or watching their videos it’s hard to generate revenue unless you can drag those users under an advertising banner or beside a sponsor’s logo. This mission is not impossible but it is damn hard.

But this is all great news if your aim is not to make money from attracting people but simply getting a message to them. And this is where the public sector wins big, especially when it comes to delivering public service messages.

Online is now about distribution and content. If you can embed your message in interesting content then the natural flow of the web will take it to the people for you.

(Also posted on w00tonomy.com.)

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Web 3.0: the future is now, says Tim Berners-Lee

For those of you who are still struggling with what this Web 2.0 thing is, I’ve some bad news (though really it’s great news): Web 3.0 is just around the corner, according to the man who invented these tangled Webs.

Tim Berners-Lee says in an interview with Paul Miller that the Semantic Web – a crucial part of the Web 3.0 vision – is open for business.

“Wow,” I hear you say. “Web 3.0. The Semantic Web. Great … Err, what the **** does that actually mean?”

Well, the sainted Sir TBL puts it this way:

Web 2.0 is a stovepipe system. It’s a set of stovepipes where each site has got its data and it’s not sharing it. What people are sometimes calling a Web 3.0 vision [is] where you’ve got lots of different data out there on the Web and you’ve got lots of different applications, but they’re independent. A given application can use different data. An application can run on a desktop or in my browser, it’s my agent. It can access all the data, which I can use and everything’s much more seamless and much more powerful because you get this integration. The same application has access to data from all over the place.

Now in my view all data is content. What we are looking at is a future where you will be able to access all data (or content) from any device or any application anywhere. But that does not mean that the Facebook Vampires application will stalk you to the toilet or “private personal enhancement medication” emails will start tumbling out of your iPod. One of the key characteristics of what’s known as Web 2.0 has been the organising of data (content) to enhance relevance. As technology allows the universal sharing of data this trend towards completely targeted relevance will become even more pronounced.

It’s good to know that TBL believes William Gibson’s oft-quoted dictum: “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”

(Also posted on w00tonomy.com.) 

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