Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Archive for the ‘newspapers’ Category

Fortune-telling and Fact

Posted by alicocksworth on February 27, 2009


Last week I went to a debate at LSE entitled: ‘Why Did Nobody Tell Us? Reporting the Global Crash of 08’. The event set out to explore why the media had failed to forecast the banking crisis and the gravity of its impact around the world. In spite of an all-star line up (Vince Cable MP, Evan Davis of Radio 4, Gillian Tett from the FT among others) I left disappointed. The problem wasn’t the speakers – the majority confirmed themselves first-class thinkers – but the limitations of the topic.

At this stage of proceedings it seems not only counter-productive but pretty uninteresting to delve back into the whys and wherefores of who should have clocked the magnitude of the problem and whose fault it was that they didn’t.

Two much more engaging questions emerged out of the evening: firstly, is it the media’s job to forecast world events?

Willem Buiter (FT contributor and academic) held not:

‘I don’t blame the media – they’re not supposed to see it coming. Prophets, scientists – they’re supposed to see things coming’.

I quite agree with him.

All this criticism of the media for failing to see through the fragmented intricacies of the banking system or at least failing to report it feels a lot like a blame game that is not only ridiculous but indicative of a misplaced frustration. Journalists are meant to report and report rigorously. They cannot prophesy and nor should they be expected to. Yes, opinion and prediction are important elements of the media landscape but they cannot be allowed to infiltrate the reporting of fact – isn’t that the kind of irresponsibility we so often castigate the tabloids for? Surely Mr Peston’s ‘warning’ about NorthernRock and the consequences should stand as a lesson that the media must report, not only with clarity but with impartiality.

The second more interesting and I think more pressing issue was raised by Gillian Tett – one of the few journalists who actually understood and attempted to report the fragility of the system – and disputed by Evan Davis when he said this:

‘It’s not the media’s job to bang a drum when no-one else is’

Forgive me Evan but I think that is exactly what the media’s job is.

Some of the most brutal problems the world faces are spoken of only in blushing whispers: suffering up-close tends to inspire awkward embarrassment or a channel change to perpetuate a sense of plausible deniability.

The media wields the awesome power of being able to drag these things out of the shadows and it is the only means by which social silence can be broken and allow education – education that is desperately needed around issues like sexual violence and STIs – to begin.

I do not expect the media to champion causes or issue warnings and I certainly don’t blame them for not producing an accurate horoscope for the financial world. But keeping quiet because it’s what everyone else is doing? That is criminal.


Posted in bbc, business, journalism, newspapers, politics, trust | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why national newspapers are losing out to the web

Posted by Edward Mather on February 21, 2008


Daily readership of online news has overtaken national newspapers for the 15 to 44 age group, one of the most important target audiences in the UK. The findings, based on a sample of 1000 adults representative of the UK population, are published today in Spectrum Consulting’s Online Buzz Report 2008. They reveal that 45% of the 15 to 44 age group read online news on a daily basis compared to just 38% who read newspapers.

I saw this brief news snippet quoted on the WolfSTAR blog recently. Although it may not be classed as groundbreaking I think it is still very interesting – concrete statistics always seem to help raise something’s appeal to me.

There are many reasons why this trend is becoming so marked. You could talk about the increasing prevalence of mobile devices such as iPhones and PDAs that allow people to access the news wherever they are – the days of people desperately striving to track down an English copy of The Times while holidaying in some far flung corner of the world, have long since disappeared. Today’s reader simply flicks on their mobile and within seconds can be looking at Times Online or whatever takes their fancy.

A second reason may be the fact that when at work, people are so glued to their computer screens that they are barely able to raise an eye to acknowledge a colleague, let alone pick up a newspaper; but it is much easier to quickly navigate away from that thrilling financial report to check the BBC news website for a couple of minutes. 

Thirdly, and for me this may be the crux, online news offers readers an unmatched opportunity to actually engage with the news and react to what they read. Rather than having to accept the journalist’s viewpoint and be resigned to just debating the issues out amongst friends, readers can react immediately and throw their opinions out to the wider online audience.

This isn’t to say that response has never before been possible. People have always been able to write letters to the editor for example. But these have always had to be of a very high quality, because when you’re vying for a one-in-ten spot against thousands of other letter writers, your chance of being published is small. But online, the odds change considerably with the opportunity to “post your comment” handed out to anyone, so long (as that comment doesn’t contain insults or libelous content).

More importantly, the ability for so many to voice their opinions often sparks vigorous debate and enriches the original news content no end, therefore online news can often be more appealing than news in the “traditional” format.

Therefore, yes, paper readership may be suffering and this is upsetting (particularly for owners of printing presses); but in terms of the greater ease and richer content that online news can bring to readers, I, personally, see this revolution as nothing but a good thing.

And in related news, this from the Guardian’s website today:


The US presidential elections and a bumper celebrity news month, with the death of Heath Ledger and Britney Spears’ ongoing problems, produced record traffic for the UK’s newspaper websites during January…

Posted in newmedia, newspapers | 1 Comment »

ITV hits corner flag while aiming for web 2.0 goal

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 13, 2007

“We can’t afford things not to be taken up en masse so we launch safe new features. We have a very practical approach to innovation. I wouldn’t say we’re not innovative, but that we’re only innovative in areas that we know will work.”

So said Jon Clark, the head of the ITV-owned Friends Reunited. And it’s an odd thing to say.

“We’re only innovative in areas that we know will work…”

That doesn’t sound all that innovative to me. Whatever happened to suck it and see?

I doubt Mark Zuckenberg thought along those lines when he launched Facebook. I doubt he knew it would work. It was simply an experiment conducted by a budding entrepreneur with no one to answer to other than himself. Success came by accident.

I heard Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, give the keynote address at an AOP event last year. She said that only one in 10 of the online experiments her company conducts pays off.

That’s a luxury the Guardian can afford, thanks to its ownership structure. No shareholders you see. And it works – the Telegraph’s beginning to catch up, but the Guardian leads the pack in the online newspaper space.

So is ITV prevented from experimenting in new media because it’s a listed company? Could be. The same could be said of Emap, which has pretty much missed the web 2.0 boat.

Then again Rupert Murdoch’s publicly listed media empire has done a better job of riding the zeitgeist, even if that has been achieved largely by acquisition (it bought MySpace in 2005). So maybe it’s just that ITV doesn’t ‘get’ this stuff. And looking at FriendsReunited these days, it’s clear that it doesn’t.

You want me to pay nearly £8 to get in touch with my old friends? No thanks. I’m off to Facebook.

Posted in facebook, itv, newmedia, newspapers, socialmedia, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Why print-based media will survive beyond 2020

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 7, 2007

Jeff Jarvis has written an essay on the future of newspapers. Dave Morgan is writing one (thanks to the admirable Mr Jarvis for pointing me to the blog post which outlines his thoughts).

Morgan predicts that, come 2020, “we will have virtually no paper-based media products… We won’t have paper because it is a very expensive and wasteful way to deliver news and information”.

While I agree about the wastefulness point, I’m not convinced that paper-based media products will die such a swift death.

A brief anecdote: I was part of the launch team for the IT news and information service (I’m afraid I am one of the hack-turned-flack brigade) way back in 1997. At a party to herald the site’s inception, our CEO Rob Lewis got up on stage and proclaimed that paper was dead, and that online was the future of publishing. He threw copies of Computer Weekly, Computing et al on the floor, which went down really well with the print journos there.

The truth is none of us (including Rob, I’d imagine) believed that paper was dead. His speech was a bit of a stunt (the party was in the Natural History Museum, so we were surrounded by dinosaurs at the time. Geddit? Dinosaurs? Soon-to-be-extinct magazines? Hmmm…) And while some print titles in the tech field have indeed become extinct in the past decade and traffic to online news and information sources continues to soar, the circulations of titles such as Computing and Computer Weekly have held up surprisingly well. Even some national newspapers are doing OK – the FT for example has seen its circulation rise in recent months. I think I’m right in saying that there are more consumer magazines around now than ever before.

Why? These old media dinosaurs deliver something that the web can’t. It is still easier to read long articles on paper than it is on screen. The experience of consuming news on your PDA isn’t as good as it is on paper, so travellers will, on the whole, prefer a paper-based product to an electronic version while they’re on the train, bus, tube or plane. Using a laptop in the bath (which is where I do most of my non-work related magazine reading) isn’t to be advised.

It is true that the quality of mobile technology is likely to improve dramatically in the next 13 years, as Morgan says. That means that some of the usability/readability issues that restrict PDA/mobile/laptop usage at the moment will disappear, as affordable ‘paper-like’ electronic products hit the market.

But Morgan’s quote looks at this from the industry’s perspective, not the consumer’s. I’m sure all the newspaper and magazine publishers would indeed love to go to an all-digital world (assuming they could migrate all their ad revenues online, which is a major moot point and may remain so for years to come). It would indeed save them money.

But does the punter care about all this waste and expense? Even in these increasingly eco-aware times, I’d say not. It doesn’t affect him or her. The Sun costs 20p in the South East at the moment. That’s hardly a major outlay. True, paid-for newspaper circulations are on the wane and are likely to dwindle further; some titles may well disappear before 2020. But nearly 1.5 million copies of the various freesheets are picked up every day in London. This is wasteful, certainly, but they satisfy a demand – and it’s a demand that’s unlikely to go away any day soon.

Will digital media really kill paper? One day, maybe. But not by 2020.

Posted in journalism, newmedia, newspapers | Leave a Comment »