Archive for the ‘UK media’ Category

The Irish Independent has clearly spotted a gap in the market – incitement to racist violence. As the Irish Daily Mail doesn’t carry the execrable Richard Littlejohn column so beloved of English bigots, the Indo has decided to use his non-union Mexican equivalent, Ian O’Doherty, to offer Irish readers some old-fashioned race hate.

The irony of opening his latest link-bait “column” with one TD’s ridiculous comparison of laws against turf-cutting to the crimes of the Third Reich and then writing that “Romanian gypsies have been descending on the city [London] in advance of the games so they can engage in their traditional cultural practice — thieving and begging” seems lost on O’Doherty. On the first, he “squares things up” by pointing out the idiocy of comparing: “Six million dead in the Holocaust, a total of 50 million deaths in the war in total and the complete destruction of Europe and . . . a bunch of pissed-off culchies who can no longer cut their own turf”.

While Ming Flanagan’s outburst was ludicrous, the Holocaust refers only to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. Maybe O’Doherty missed the lesson on the gassing of homosexuals, Marxists, Christians and … gypsies.

In his ignorance, Little Littlejohn has an original and creative suggestion to deal with this menace (that he read about in the always reliable Daily Express last Tuesday):

“… send in the cops, round them all up, crack a few heads and put them on the next plane back to Bucharest”.

Hooray. Night sticks and forced repatriation. Because nobody has tried that before. But then, O’Doherty has form:

“… when you have a dispossessed, disenfranchised working class which, rightly or wrongly, feels that more consideration is given to immigrants and religious fanatics than to the indigenous population, then sooner or later things are going to get ugly.

And when you have a political class which states that anyone who has concerns about the Islamicisation of Europe is a racist, eventually people are going to say … OK, call me racist.”

OK. you’re a racist. And you’re not funny.

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A lot of people are posting on the Wapping paywalls. This is my completely subjective selection:

The Drum has rounded up a few reactions from creative/advertising/PR types and the gist is a mix of time-will-tells and jury-still-outs. One interesting point was that the design of the site made it difficult to navigate on the iPad, which is odd given the resources the Times is devoting to the Apple device.

George Brock, professor and head of journalism at City University London, tells the Independent, reasonably enough, that it’s too early to tell whether the Wapping “experiment” will succeed.

John Naughton, in the Observer, also takes up the “experiment” line, saying “Rupert Murdoch may be richer or poorer as a result, but we will all be much the wiser.” My guess is Mr Murdoch will be poorer and the prevailing wisdom – absolute paywalls don’t work for general news content – will be confirmed.

Steve Outing at least lays his cards on the table, saying Rupert Murdoch’s move is uber-dumb. He makes a point of how “hard” the paywalls actually are – no Google indexing and no deep links. He suggests the Guardian’s all-open, all the time strategy is better suited to the web.

On the courageously pro-paywall side is this two-week-old piece from Prospect magazine, “Murdoch is right”. It asks “If we value good journalism, why don’t we pay for it online?” It doesn’t answer the question even remotely, but it’s worth a read and, ironically enough, it’s in the “free” section of their freemium-model website.

I’ve now heard two sources inside the Times, one direct, one relayed, that holding five per cent of their pre-paywall audience would be considered a success by Mr Murdoch and his expanding crew. As I’ve already posted, the sums just don’t add up on that for me.

Adrian Weckler, a tech reporter with the Sunday Business Post in Dublin, reported on twitter that he was offered a year’s subscription for £50, less than half the touted £2-a-week rate. He also pointed out that the subscription email referred to “joining 100,000 other subscribers”. But how many of those will remain beyond the £1 for 30 days trial period?

Poynter compares the Timeses’ approach to paywalls with the metered model the FT is using and the New York Times is planning. Again, to anyone who missed it, these semi-open paywalls are the better choice because they still allow discovery by Google, they allow deep linking from bloggers, tweets and Facebook updates and thereby maintain the exposure and currency of the Timeses’ expensive columnists and commentators. The “freemium” model also allows wide advertising of different price points at which consumers can enter – starting with the best one, free. The Times seems to ignore a fairly basic point of marketing.

My two cents is that the plan doesn’t seem coherent – the timing of the changes is unclear, the pricing is unclear and the underlying strategy for growing a web presence and associated revenues is non-existent. As I’ve mentioned before, I would have liked to see what the Times could have done in the open with the level of resources and attention it has thrown at a doomed paywall.

Finally, those papers and online news providers wishing to stay open but still looking to cut costs and needless levels of middle management procurement and implementation bureaucracy would do worse than look at the Ben Franklin project. Belated Happy Independence Day, Americans!

I am still trying to get my head around the Times’s and Sunday Times’s experiments with paywalls.

In its last valid ABCe figures, Times Online had about 1.2 million unique users a day.

If, as the Guardian and FT have suggested, about 10 per cent of users convert to paying £2 a week:

120,000 users x £2 x52 = £12,480,ooo a year.

Wired magazine quotes an Enders report which suggests Times Online made £15 million-£18 million in annual ad revenue before the paywall. Because the audience will drop so drastically, Wired guesses that the advertising take will fall to about a third of that after the paywall (I have no idea what they base this guess on, but keeping a third of your revenues with a tenth of the audience may also be optimistic).

So at the upper end of that scale, let’s say £6 million in advertising revenue on top of the £12.5 million in subscriptions. That makes £18.5 million – an increase of £500,000 in online revenues post-paywall.

That doesn’t seem like much of a gain and offsets a little more than two days’ reported losses at both titles (£240,000 per day).

Nor can it be too cheering for  journalists at both Times titles waiting to hear about the take-up of 80 voluntary redundancies, which closes today.

It gets worse — Paid Content quotes research by Enders Analysis saying the take-up could be as low as 2 per cent — making about £1 million a year. Even if the advertising revenues stayed the same as above, that would be an £11million loss.

It gets worse still — as I said yesterday, even the optimistic-looking 10 per cent will dwindle because stories are only discoverable from inside the paywall. There will be no Google search engine indexing. Surely this means that ad rates will also fall over time as the clicks to deep links fall off and are not replaced?

I pointed out yesterday how well-designed and enticing the new websites for both titles look — was it really beyond their capability to increase the uniques to the 30 million mark?

The Guardian’s website, which had 29.8 million uniques in February [2010] generated £25m in revenues last year [2009] (PaidContent)

The Timeses are trying to cut their combined £100 million editorial budget by 10 per cent, or £10 million. If they are really trying to protect the newspapers and their dwindling revenues with a paywall that limits the growth of online revenues, they could miss out on twice that in online revenue.

Can anyone explain the logic of that to me? Have I messed up the maths somehow?

It was quite entertaining to watch this Sky News interviewer try to tame Jeff Jarvis on the issue of the Times paywalls (the Sky guy looks to be shielding himself with some sort of tablet computer and uses the word “monetarising”, so the odds are stacked against him from the start).

While Jarvis’s language about Rupert Murdoch is a little direct, it is difficult to disagree with his conclusions – the Times is cutting itself off from the rest of the web. Therefore, how will it grow as the web grows? How will it increase its audience and reach online, how will it attract new readers via the new tools the Web is sure to throw up?

The New York Times, which tried a paywall experiment and relented —  partly under pressure from its own columnists unhappy with the lifeblood of links, tweets and comments being tied off — will install a metered model in January, where incoming blog links do not count against a reader’s allotted “free reads”. Given that most of the NYT content I read is via a blog or twitter link, I don’t see how that will raise any extra cash from me,  but at least they’re still in the open.

Malcolm Coles offers up a different problem – the divisions between the paper Times and Sunday Times start looking a lot shakier online:

“Forcing people to subscribe to both sites but keeping them entirely separate, with no cross linking, seems a bit odd.”

The people who work there make an eloquent case for online journalism (although not one of them mentions charging):

We have been here before. When Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal, he was very gung-ho about dropping their paywall, until the economics of the situation were brought home to him.

The irony of the situation is the Times website now looks fantastic. With the relentless focus of an operation that must either work or drop somebody in the shit, it has been redesigned. It is clean, there is hierarchy, the vibrant colours are from the Times-branded palette, the use of pictures is great. The interactive graphics and the Spectrum photo galleries are especially eye-catching.

However, it all raises the question that if this was worth doing as a spring clean before the paywall goes up, why wasn’t there this level of excitement and interest in how the website looked when it was officially chasing unique users and advertising money? The FT reports this morning that fewer than 10% of the Times’s unique 21 million-ish users are likely to pay for the revamped content. Would this level of energy and creativity have brought in enough extra unique users to justify staying in the open?

Journalists these days are being constantly harried to find the business model in what they do. On the Times’s and Sunday Times’s new-look websites, (video here, if you can stand the awful soundtrack and a PaidContent slideshow of pages here), the online editorial people have clearly upped their game, the designers have played a blinder and the infographics team – especially on the excellent eureka graphics – have pulled out all the stops. They are more than pulling their weight in trying to adapt to this experimental business model – but where is the commercial side of the operation? What are they bringing to the table?

It would be a terrible shame if, having come up with an elegant, if  newspaperesque, design (almost to the point of the website being a better designed paper than the Times itself), all of this hard work is seen by fewer readers than any other Fleet Street website. If enough of them pay, of course, it will be hailed a success, but for now it feels like Jarvis was right, and this is a retreat into old ideas rather than a striving for new ones.

I would suggest not much.
Two things here – few news outlets in the UK are convinced that the BBC has overnight started taking seriously its distorting effect on broader media. It is the BBC making a smart gambit (for a change). The Tories are almost certain to form the next UK government and they will be gunning for the BBC, as this morning’s Telegraph points out.
Peter Kirwan sums up the approach well in the Press Gazette, but the gist is that the Beeb has offered up a sacrificial limb or three. The loud response from its fans, especially those of BBC 6 Music, should raise doubts as to whether any of these ‘cuts’ will see the light of day.
Secondly, RTE’s hybrid funding model muddies the water somewhat for the purposes of any comparison with the BBC. It is very difficult to argue against a supposedly public-service broadcaster engaging in commercial sidelines, such as RTE.ie/news, when the status quo is that more of the public service activities are paid for by advertising than by the licence fee.
As for Adrian Weckler’s post, which Hugh references, it definitely raises some interesting questions, but his statement that “it is RTE’s commercial spin-offs, more than any other entity, that are behind the demise of newspapers’ potential survival” ignores years of underinvestment and lack of imaginative management by newspapers in Ireland and worldwide, ignores the decamping of classified advertising to free sites such as craigslist and gumtree — nothing to do with RTE or BBC —  and rather hyperbolically overstates the importance of RTE in the Irish media ecosystem. If free online news sites were that threatening to commercial media interests in Ireland, it would make it profitable for somebody to fill the gap even if RTE vacated it. A similar situation exists in the UK – the Guardian has committed itself to staying outside a paywall because it does not want to “close off journalistic options”, despite how many other outfits follow Rupert Murdoch’s lead.
The second problem I have with Adrian’s argument is that he suggests that RTE.ie is an entirely separate commercial body, but doesn’t clarify where its profits go. If someone on the Authority is pocketing them, that’s one thing. If they reduce the burden on the licence fee payer of paying for RTE’s actual public service commitments, what’s the problem? The RTE Guide has long existed as an entity separate to RTE’s core public service duties yet never seemed to attract this much attention.
As an aside, Adrian’s post also raises the point that RTE’s website news staff are paid less than those who work in the TV and radio newsrooms. If memory serves, a similar split long existed between employees of ireland.com and those Irish Times journalists who worked in D’Olier Street. It has certainly been an unfortunate fact of life on this side of the channel. Can Adrian confirm that no Thomas Crosbie Media holding enforces such a sliding salary scale for its web-only employees?
There is certainly an interesting public service argument to be had here, but it will be much more beneficial to the diversity and future of Irish media if the vested interests Hugh refers to — purely profit-driven companies, such as Adrian’s employer, and effectively charitable enterprises, such as the Irish Times Trust — put their cards on the table.
I completely agree with Hugh that RTE has failed to engage publicly about the best way to maintain a vigorous and diverse media into the 21st century and would love to see them experiment more along the lines of BBC, with iPlayer and Project Canvas. But for Irish media in general to  “move out of its habitual defensive crouch on these issues” the Times, TCH, the Independent and the rest are going to have to meet RTE a little closer to halfway.

Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun,  gave her Cudlipp lecture last night and, following a path trodden by Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, she bemoans “the drip, drip of case law in the High Court without any reference to parliament” that is leading to a privacy law by the back door.

So far, so dull — but then she namechecks campaigns such as the Times pushing for the Reform Act of 1832 and  investigations into thalidomide victims by the Sunday Times under Harold Evans.

Hmm, cleaning up massive parliamentary corruption and an almost decade-long struggle to secure adequate compensation for thousands of people born with deformed limbs.

… Ok, those are both good things that newspapers did.

She even says: “Great investigations, like yesterday’s Sunday Times exposé of the Labour Lords are lifeblood to newspapers.



”

… Yes, yes they are. Where is this going?

But it is “the epitome of self-flagellation when The Guardian publishes Max Mosley’s views on press freedom”.

Hooray — did you see what she did there? Why flagellate yourself when “Nazi” hookers will do it for you.

Is this for real? Can the editor of the Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper really be comparing 



the genuine work that papers do fighting on their readers’ behalf with the prurient, moralising muck-raking of the News of the World’s Max Mosley “investigation”?

Does anyone really at this stage not get the fact that the Lords investigation, while important, doesn’t interest that many Sun readers, while the Mosley “investigation”, while utterly trivial, had them slavering for more?

Can’t we stop pretending that this is about the courts’ erosion of  “freedoms hard won over centuries” and about satisfying a lust, feeding a need and making a buck?

Or is it just that if law is made with “reference to parliament” rather than by inconvenient judges, then Rupert Murdoch and Mr Dacre know exactly on whom to call to have their curtain-twitcher’s licences reinstated?

melanie_phillips1

Oh, how this made me smile.