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

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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

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.

So I read with interest the latest Dyson at Large column on Hold the Front Page: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/blog/100407dysonblog14.shtml

The blog itself was, as always, interesting  – even if some say it is easier to critique from the outside than run the ship (to which I agree). But of much more interest to me were the comments. Dyson presents the Bradford Telegraph and Argus as a good paper with strong stories, a high story count and several other features of note, but then adds their ABC figures were poor.

He puts this down to poor marketing as costs are cut. Speaking from personal experience, the marketing departments of most newspapers are truly terrible and have no concept of brand message or brand awareness or even basic marketing techniques (the exception being my current paper where a huge ad campaign has reaped rewards of a circulation increase and much excitement , but that is for a later date).

Undoubtedly some of the blame lies here, but as other commenters are quick to point out, there is no shortage of local papers where staff have been cut and budgets slashed, yet their ABCs have not suffered as much. So maybe it is not just the marketing to blame, but the content of the paper, or another arbitrary factor not considered (one comment mentioned mucking around with editions which is bound to alienate some).

Which all begs the question I pointed to in my first blog. Do we, as journalists, decide what the reader wants based on what we think sells, is readable, interesting etc? Or do we follow the reader to the end, even if it means no council stories and more about celebs on patch?

Certainly, the Argus example suggests what we journalists think as a cracking read and a top paper (and the blog seems to indicate this) does not appear to be what the reader wants if we accept their ABC figures are at least in part down to content. What then do they want? Are they fed up of crime yarns? Do they tire of council debates, community news and boring business? And how do you tell without conducting a very expensive survey which might not provide the answers anyway?

At this point the web journos come in and say look at the web stats – an instant way of seeing what stories prove popular and what do not. But of course the web readership is not the same as the paper, no matter how much of one overlaps with the other. In the old days, one might have used the letter contributions as an indicator. But this can be skewed, with the most controversial, not the most read or interesting, being pushed up the bill. And letter writing is a dying art

Ultimately, there are some tough decisions that need to be made in newsrooms. Readership is declining. But we still sit here and think we’ve put out a cracking paper, if not every edition then as many as we possibly can. I often pick up a tale and get super excited about it and think it’s going to get the world talking. But has being in the industry warped my perspective? And is it the same for editors, long in the tooth and accustomed to the usual journalism fare? Maybe those great exclusives we fight for are not worth all that much to the readers, who want a page of nibs for easy digest and big pictures to look at on the train.

An Australian man…

Perhaps the worst intro ever? But not according to some. What is the obsession with location. Yes, hyperlocal is the in thing, and yes I understand with websites that if you put locations at the top of things it makes them easier to find on Google etc.

But in a local or regional paper, does someone really need to know the suburb a man comes from in the opening paragraph? I’ve always had the belief if it’s a good yarn then people will want to read it, regardless of where they are from. Why would people bother reading national stories otherwise? Most involve people they don’t know from places far away (that they might not ever have been to). Yet they read them because they are interesting.

This means either the local rag story is dull as dishwater and the only pulling power is that Mr Darcy who stubbed his toe rather badly is from Little Bigtown, or there is too much emphasis on location. And if it is a good yarn then the reader is likely to read up until the point you mention they’re locality anyway

It’s obvious they’re going to be vaguely local as it’s a bloody local paper! Really there should be more emphasis on location if they’re from the moon rather than Townsville or wherever.

Of course, it also doesn’t help that following the strangely obligatory location identifier, the generic man is thrown in. To me it screams of lazy journalism. Someone has not asked what the subject of the story does for a living, or how old they are, or what they used to do, or their favourite past-time etc. All of these would likely make a better intro: a part-time contortionist, a retired lion tamer, a one-time pal of the Queen, a constipated plumber, a 90-year-old pole dancer…

So why do so many journalists persist in using the age-old “A Somewhere man” and why do so many sub editors let it in? What do you think of “A Newtown man”? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Do you give a monkeys about where a person’s from if they’ve just fought off a crocodile with a small eggplant? Let me know below.