So the new paywall websites of the Times in the UK have gone live. They look mighty impressive (images here courtesy of Press Gazette). Will they work? A survey says 90 per cent won’t pay. Perhaps not, but anyone who is a fan of the Times is likely to be tempted by the additional content.

It got me thinking about whether good old Rupert might look home and think about doing the same Down Under.

And then I realised he simply couldn’t. The problem is the internet in Australia is terrible. Unless you are happy to pay through the roof for unlimited downloads, you normally have to settle for a cap. And most are truly rubbish (I’m currently suffering with a 2GB cap, which is really nothing).

What, you may ask, does that have to do with newspaper websites? Well judging by the Times preview there is a massive focus on multimedia, be it exciting photo galleries or video news. Added to that are live Q&A and other interactive features.

All fun and games but guaranteed to eat at your download limit quicker than readers flip to the Beeb’s site. Aussies are unlikely to want their precious download limit to be destroyed by reading a newspaper online every day.

So where does this leave Murdoch? If his paywall is a success (and that is still a big IF) then one imagines  he will want to roll it out elsewhere, particularly America. But will we reach a situation where users of UK Murdoch sites are paying for content, while users of Aussie Murdoch sites get theirs for free. And what about the ex pats who want to read about news at home via the Times? One can’t imagine any will want to sign up given the free alternatives – if your download limit is going to be eaten, you don’t want to pay extra for it to happen.

It will be very interesting to see News Limited’s move in Australia after the paywall experiment in the UK…

Some more on the Times paywall here and here

 
 

So the big media news from last week was the sacking of Catherine Deveny over her Twitter comments on the Logies.

Some unwise remarks on Twitter got Catherine Deveny the sack

While the remarks were very poor taste and extremely stupid, the event has opened a huge media can of worms. Already this week I have received guidelines from up on high as to how to project myself on the world-wide web in order to not reflect poorly on the company I work for. No matter it may be in my own time and with no specific reference to publications, if I am an idiot and say something grossly offensive, I am risking my career. Scary stuff. Indeed even writing this is flirting dangerously with danger.

It is just the latest in a line of indiscretions on Twitter, not just in the media. In the UK, footballer Darren Bent tweeted a tirade of abuse to his bosses for not being transferred and got in a bit of a pickle as a result.

Darren Bent was also a naughty boy on Twitter

And as this article shows there have been many others, including a local council allowing a worker to run free under the council’s official banner until they realised what he was up to and shut the whole thing down.

To avoid the above misdemeanours, the guidance offered to us went along the lines of don’t bitch about anybody online (unless you can make sure you’re anonymous), don’t defame anyone, and realise even if you hadn’t realised, being a journo gives you a public profile, and if you don’t like it then get lost.

Useful, though not rocket science, but the Deveny case is worrying as it shows activities away from the newsroom can affect you in the newsroom.

It also leads down the path of whether social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are “a good thing”. I myself am torn on the subject. I can see the appeal of them, and when used well (and perhaps this is my problem) they can be a great tool. David Higgerson shows you can really make some progress if you put in the hours and I know many Twitter converts who think it is the bees knees in terms of community journalism and the like.

But I am also very wary of Twitter. It really gets my goat when what people put on Twitter is used as the basis of a story, not least because there is no way to tell if it as the person themselves that put that up. Particular grievance came when a story on the wires about cyclist Jonathan Cantwell used a tweet as a quote. It shows as well as a force for good, Twitter can be exploited by lazy journalists, producing lazy journalism. The fact the quote was restricted to 140 characters and had to be puffed with numerous explanatory brackets did not seem to put the author off.

So where does this leave us? With a new social media wave (which some argue – and I am tempted to agree – is mainly filled with media luvvies and tech geeks anyway) which could continue to boom or fade away like so many others. It leaves us having a great avenue to listen to what our readers are thinking and the chance to catch real-time news. Conversely, we can send up-to-the-minute news to thousands with regular updates and instant feedback which could help deliver a story.

But we also have a medium that is not controlled, that is open to abuse, that can only be trusted to a limited extent and that offers as many pitfalls and dangers as it does positives.

The main advice would be to play it safe. Set up a Twitter account and try to use it for stories, but don’t personal opinions and keep it solely work focussed. But also be wary. The internet is never all that it seems and while lifting that Tweet seems like a great way to get an easy quote, is it really the best idea, and is that the sort of journalist you want to be?

Let me know what you think of Twitter using the poll.

I’ve been meaning to blog about that dreaded 21st century journo tool, social networking, but have been pulling double shifts and other such fun so you may need to wait a little while.

In the meantime here’s a couple of interesting links.

The first is an old blog resurfaced praising (though maybe it should be warning) about the consequences of dating a journalist.

http://www.rockmycar.net/2007/05/10/5-things-you-should-know-before-dating-a-journalist/

The second is a UK blog about the truth behind the Newspaper Society’s Newspaper Week campaign, trying to get readers to appreciate their local rag. It’s depressing stuff but on the money.

http://blunt-a-blog.blogspot.com/2010/05/local-newspaper-week.html

Enjoy

Bruce Guthrie, editor-in-chief

Just a quick note about the news today  Bruce Guthrie, of the Herald Sun, insisted on taking the title editor-in-chief, despite only controlling one paper, when he was offered the job.

So says News Ltd CEO John Hartigan, while Guthrie denied he demanded the title, instead claiming it was offered to him.

While I do not want to get into the ins and outs of a legal case, I would not be surprised if an editor with an ego wanted a fancier title.

And I’ve seen some odd ones over my time already – deputy editors who edit several papers, news editors that are really that paper’s editor, trends reporter (is that even a specialisation?).

We have a style guide for the papers, so let’s all do the world a favour and get one for our job titles too. Though mine might then become office dogsbody.

So last post I looked at the reader’s relationship with their paper, and promised this time to blog on how we as journalists feel about our readers.

“Having asked whether readers hate newspapers, I feel the same can be applied to newspapers hating readers.

Certainly in the newsrooms I have been in there is often abuse towards readers.

Just some of the accusations laid at our beloved readers are: stupid, a pain in the arse, demanding, racist, ignorant, fickle, fat, ugly, lazy, boring, wrong.

Can you honestly say you’ve never felt one of those against a reader?

Many a time a journo has put the phone down after a conversation with a reader and let loose with a tirade of abuse, whether it is for wasting their time with a non-story, pontificating over a minor point in a story, claiming a story is wrong, or threatening to sue for defamation.

The green pen brigade are sneered at and we have all laughed at some of the more obscure and passionate letters that make their way to a newsroom (personal examples are Jesus will save us from the GFC and a man who claimed to have invented the golden goals rule in football only for Sepp Blatter to steal it over dinner).

There’s the citizen journalists, whom the bosses see as the future (mainly cos they’re free), but we see as annoying amateurs twitching their curtains a bit too much and suddenly demanding to be treated as equals.

There’s the politicians we think are morons, the PR people who sold their souls to the devil, the eco warriors who smell and think you should too (I honestly met one who said dentistry was a capitalist conspiracy and was going it alone – her breath stank).

And even if we are not openly expressing our feelings about our readers, we are showing our contempt for them in our stories.

Here are two examples of national newspapers happy to think they’re readers are so dumb they won’t realise the story is a pile of crap and completely at odds with past stories on the same topic in the same paper:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/apr/27/dailymail-cancer

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/apr/07/dailyexpress-health

Do we really hold our readers in such low regard we believe they will just lap up this drivel and not cotton on?

Certainly Blunt in his blog Playing the Game believes we should not treat readers in this way:

http://blunt-a-blog.blogspot.com/2009/07/flim-flammery.html

He says: “The trust of your readers is a hard-won thing and all too easy to lose”. Quite true.

But perhaps as illuminating (although clearly somewhat in jest) is his sign off:

Be fair, be accurate, be balanced. The only complaint they can have is they don’t like the story.
Then you truly can tell them to go and fuck themselves.

Ir’s an attitude that is out there. But “so what?” you may cry.

Well, how can we expect readers to trust us, respect us and ultimately read us if we treat them like imbeciles and are rude to them. Not only is there the word of mouth if someone is shirty to a reader, there is also the premise that if you are writing to the reader, if they are your focus and your driving force, then holding them in poor regard is not likely to make your product any better.

Yes, they can be dumb, annoying and a pain but they are also the ones who ultimately keep us in a job, so while we may whine and moan a bit when under the cosh, we need to ensure we see readers as lords, manna from heaven that we should worship and adore.

Is this what readers think of newspapers?

Does anyone independent of a newspaper actually like it?

This may seem a disparaging viewpoint but following on from previous blogs I’m intrigued by the relationship between newspaper and reader.

I was subbing the letters page recently and there was, as always, a good deal of feedback, some positive and some not. One letter was full of praise for the paper for highlighting a local issue of importance. Kudos for the paper one would think. And you would hope readers who were concerned about the issue would also be appreciative.

But most of these people, or at least the vocal ones, are the ones you see at the meetings anyway and would know about the issue beforehand. It seems the majority of the letters praising the paper etc come from those who’ve had something in the paper, and often from very interested parties such as politicians and community groups.

Conversely, reading Greenslade’s blog on the UK city Brighton’s paper The Argus (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/apr/20/local-newspapers-newsquest) what struck me was the comments from readers who said they thought of the paper in the negative. I must confess that I have had the same experience here with my paper. When I mention the publication, the reaction is one of `oh yes, THAT paper’, before them going on about how there’s nothing good in it and it’s all lies.

At my old paper, we were thankfully seen in a brighter light (if people had even heard of us – but that’s another post altogether), but I imagine this had plenty to do with our competitor being somewhat brash (add horror to every headline being their key editorial policy it seemed) and thus the more conservative types preferring our straight bat approach. Even then the praise was more `you’re better than that other lot I suppose’. Hardly encouraging.

I’m intrigued to discover how many local journos have had people praise the paper just because they thought it was good, rather than because of some vested interest. And compare that to how many will openly criticise the paper and local journalism in general.

Do our readers actually like us? Or are we just better than the alternative (a poorer paper or nothing at all)? And why is there so much hostility towards local papers – and there really is a lot of vitriol out there?

That vitriol can be seen in some of the language of this post:

http://aljahom.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/epic-work/

Click through to the article it refers to and in the comments again is a lot of abuse – and this from people who at least have some interest in the media. I do not defend the publication, but journos and papers seem to bring out the wrath in the public and surely that is a concern when readership is dwindling daily.

Perhaps it is a question we should flip on its head, do we actually like our readers. That will follow in the next post methinks…

A very quick post, before getting back onto topics, to show my favourite `no shit’ headline of the week from the Daily Telegraph (Aus) about gangland killer Carl Williams:

“Dead thug was hated by most of his victims”

Brilliant stuff. You can imagine the sub stressing at deadline to come up with a four deck head and just threw it in without really thinking first.

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