Archive for the ‘Digital thinking’ Category

I’m helping out the Hartlepool Mail team with their coverage of the Tall Ships Races 2010.

It’s been a great excuse to play with live video streaming.

It’s the kind of job I love as it lets me fiddle with technology, exploit a platform which minimises effort for instant returns and I’ve been given the freedom to work autonomously.

I’ve used my iPhone 3GS over a 3G connection to stream (near) live footage to a custom page via Qik.

The results have been good, and being able to wander around looking for compelling subjects to shoot with an almost instant upload has been great.

Lessons learned:
– Close all your apps, or notifications that appear on screen will pop up in vids you are streaming back
– Start talking as soon as you push the record button, even if Qik is buffering, or you look dumb ūüôā
– Don’t shoot anything further away that ten yards
– Make sure the people back at base have a half-decent connection speed when viewing your results
– Stay within a few hundred yards or a plug point so you can recharge your iPhone at (VERY) regular intervals
– Manage expectations on the quality of video returned and sell the message that what it lacks in quality it more than makes up for in immediacy
– Be quick at returning expense forms if you are about to leave your current employer and you have just racked up a data bill that will make those Jimmy Choos you bought the missus for your anniversary look like a bargain.

I’m back on Tuesday shooting more live footage between 2pm and 7pm if you want to take a look.

>> Hartlepool Mail Tall Ships 2010 Live Coverage


I’m always¬†nagging¬†students, colleagues and random people in bars about the fact the web is not just a publishing platform, it’s a tool that can make you a better journalist irrespective of how your content reaches an audience.

It’s a hard sell when you’re giving examples involving the BBC or a Guardian tech reporter.

But I had a simple win today when I tweeted out a call via asking for anyone planning to buy the iPad to drop me a line for a feature I’m writing.¬†Two people¬†duly did and as a result I have case studies with local relevance for my piece. Plus, a relevant local government body got back to me offering their input.

The alternative would have involved digging out some rent-a-quote or – worse still – just asking around the office to see if someone¬†knew anyone who might be the type…

With authorative quotes, background and info, this extra source will lift the piece. Had I ignored Twitter, or shunned the web as some folk seem to, my output in Friday’s newspaper would have been weaker. Simple as that.

>> Newsdesk also tell me that one of the reporters was stuck for fillers at the weekend and put out a call for community events of Facebook. She got a pile of responses from local people. Everyone’s a winner.

As a resource realist, I could probably be described as an¬†advocate of the ‘quick and dirty’ approach to video.¬†That’s because user-generated footage of a city-centre blaze, police clips of a scuffle with local hooligans, or a simple talking head interview shot by one of our reporters will generally deliver a good return for our effort.

>> Ghost Hunt – North East Aircraft Museum FULL VIDEO

I rarely encourage the production of complex packages which¬†are often seen¬†by just a¬†few hundred¬†users despite eating¬†up a day of a reporter’s time. This trade-off is especially galling when the¬†journalist’s written words or a photo¬†slideshow would have been¬†a more¬†effective means of telling the story.

Sometimes the compelling¬†subject of¬†a video (such as our forthcoming series of¬†first-hand accounts of the Second World War) or its longevity make going that extra mile worth it. We spent a little more time on our Halloween video than the hits we’ll get this year would justify, for instance. But it can now be rolled out every year without dating, along with our other Halloween specials.

We don’t claim the camera-work, voiceover or editing are world class, but the overall effect will hopefully be enjoyed by our visitors and enhance the Sunderland Echo brand online. Plus – yes – I enjoyed pulling the¬†project together in Avid. And maybe that’s the best reason of all to spend time on your video output…

New media poster boy Stephen Fry is one of the biggest names in the Twitter universe and has long-embraced the net to build his personal brand, but even he seems to struggle to make cash directly from the web.

Recently his Smallfry company announced the launch of a network of celebrity sites Рa collective to monetise the activities of the already pretty rich online.

As an interesting aside to the news it emerged that is struggling to make ad revenues, despite attracting upwards of one million unique users per month* (corrected figure).

Andrew Sampson, co-managing director of¬†SamFry with Fry said: “We‚Äôre just taking network ads and are looking at other options.

“We‚Äôre only selling 50% of the inventory. At the moment we‚Äôre at the lowest yield, it‚Äôs not even worth talking about the number we‚Äôre getting in terms of revenue, but we are addressing that.‚ÄĚ

So, Fry is making pennies per thousand clicks, despite his immense pulling power. Still, I¬†wouldn’t mind betting those pennies add up to a few quid in the end…

Interesting words from the MD of NewsNow, Struan Bartlett, in an open letter to newspapers of all shapes and sizes.

He’s responding to concerns from mainstream news outlets that aggregators are stealing¬†our content.

Bartlett writes: “The truth is, if anything, it is the growth of the internet itself – not link aggregation – that has undermined your business by destroying the virtual monopoly you once held over the mass distribution of written news…”

Certainly¬†Newsnow helps – rising¬†as high as¬†number four in our monthly top referers list – and I only see it as a positive influence on our site. It enables us to compete on a level playing field with the ‘big boys’ who have urls which are more likely to be saved in someone’s favourites list. And it brings new users to our site in a way our sometimes sub-optimal search engine optimisation rarely manages.

>> Full text of Struan Bartlett’s open letter to newspaper chiefs

How do you measure the success of a news website? How do you quantify its reach and popularity for the benefit of advertisers? Maybe there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all answer.

The current ABCe measure of different pairs of eyes on a site each month Рunique users (UUs) Рsometimes feels like about the worst fudge you could get from a regional newspaper viewpoint. 

The trouble is, successfully attracting UUs¬†is less about serving a community with content, more about appealling to as many different groups as possible. Fine, perhaps, for a national site which is gunning for a global audience on just about every topic going. But I have a problem with it for local news sites. Continue Reading »

Ninety-five per cent of users won’t pay for online news content¬†–¬†that’s according to a poll I ran on for 24 hours yesterday.

Visitors responded as follows to our multiple choice questionnaire:

How much are you prepared to pay for news content online?
Nothing  95% (378 votes)
5p per article  0% (1 vote)
£1 per month for unlimited access  2% (12 votes)
£19.99 per year for unlimited access  2% (10 votes)
43p per day for unlimited access             1% (5 votes)

Interesting that there is next to no interest in the kind of micro-charging suggested by Rupert Murdoch recently.

Given the Echo’s unique users stood at just over 258,000 in July 2009, if we extrapolated the above figures we’d pull in the following revenue at each price point*:

5p per article = £8,890 (assuming ten articles downloaded per month)
£1 per month = £17,145 
£19.99 per year = £15, 867
43p per day (assuming they pay every day) = £40,957

*These figures are calculated by adding together the revenue per person per month at the price point x the number of respondents willing to pay at the relevant price point and at higher prices points x 635 (the sample of 406 people was just over 1/635th of the total audience of unique users)

The resultant drop in page impressions if we did charge would doubtless have a huge impact on advertising revenues, and the loss even in terms of dreaded CPM¬†could offset the gains. However, it’s food for thought to consider that at only a fraction of our current audience we could comfortably cover the current wage bill for one dedicated member of editorial staff at the Echo.

Plus, with 95% of our current audience to aim for as a target for garnering extra subscriptions, is there a case for flicking the switch now and charging a fee for what we currently give away for free?

I guess the major caveat here is respondents did not specify the type of news content they would pay for. ‘News content’ could cover everything from live video feeds of major international events¬†produced by¬†the BBC to three-paragraph¬†snooker updates from our local Green Baize club.

So the question remains, do we¬†serve¬†up the content¬†people want and are willing to pay for? I’d say ‘yes’, but I would, wouldn’t I?

I can’t let today pass without celebrating a major – and it has to be said long overdue – step forward¬†for the Sunderland Echo.

From this momentous Monday all comments on our website will be post-moderated, allowing registered users to log on and say whatever they like without their thoughts being queued (sometimes for days) awaiting approval.

Such a baby step towards engaging with our users will still seem like a dramatic leap of faith to some.¬†Afterall,¬†it won’t be long before the first defamatory and/or¬†offensive¬†comment appears attached to a story (and I should know¬†after some of the corkers I had to reject on the Michael Jackson tribute page).

In fact, in legal terms¬†we are safer than ever now we don’t effectively endorse every single comment.¬†From this day forth we¬†are no longer¬†saying¬†‘this rant¬†is ok’, even though it might have been approved by accident or through bleary eyes in the moments before an onerous deadline.

Our legal experts have confirmed what we already knew – we should let folk say what they like, and make sure other users can report comments for review by moderators, instantly hiding them from view.

The boost for interaction will be significant, with the possibility of real-time debates growing in a space away from our extremely counter-intuitive forum.

Like I say, it’s a small step. But it’s an important one for a media organisation still getting to grips with the fact we¬† must enter¬†a conversation with our audience, or risking losing¬†it altogether.

In the mid- to late-19th century there were over 1,000 daily newspapers in England. Information was scarce and people were as hungry then as they are now for grisly tales of murder and titillating stories from behind the doors of respectable Victorian villas. (Murders in The Times archive 1850-1899 Рrequires subscription to see full articles)

At the same time Madame Toussauds was doing a roaring trade, and for much the same reason papers were selling like hot-cakes. Information – be that the likeness of great figures such as¬†18th century naval hero Horatio¬†Nelson¬†reproduced in waxwork, or news of the British Army’s escapades thousands of miles from home – was scarce. Continue Reading »

As part of a much longer Q&A, Sunderland Uni student Josh Halliday (editor of asked for my thoughts on the newsroom of the future. Here are my note-form musings on changing roles and job titles. 

You’ve said¬†before you want to move to a fully-integrated newsroom. How will job roles change here then? (Content curator) And how might this affect the requirements of new recruits? Might they need to have knowledge of publishing and consuming in all media, for example?

In terms of roles there are two things going on, and those companies yet to shake up their job titles/roles ¬†will almost all do so soon‚Ķ Continue Reading »