About Me

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I'm a journalist, ex-national papers, now working in what we call "new" media.
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PAYMENT AND PIRACY

If payment becomes the norm for online news and content sites - and the idea is getting up a head of steam - I wonder if they will have to grapple with the question of piracy. Will opportunistic blogs, for example, start lifting articles wholesale and reproducing them? Might pirated versions of newspapers start to spring up? My suspicion is that they will.

Today there is a report that online music piracy has fallen dramatically; the reasons for this being not the music industry's hamfisted attempts to criminalise its customers but the emergence of alternatives that are more palatable to music consumers - in particular Spotify. Basically, why bother going through the hassle of downloading pirated music, when you can get what you want for nothing? This has been accompanied by a shift in attitudes to music ownership, which may be generational. Personally, I like to own stuff, to have the physical CD in my hand - or at least the MP3s on my computer. Spotify to me is a nice adjunct to that. Hardcore Spotify users, it seems, may be happy to know that the music is out there somewhere and that they can access it whenever they want. Which makes sense, especially for as long as the service is free.

So instead of music being sold as a high-priced, fetishised experience, involving the physical possession of an expensive object, it's become rather commoditised - something that's out there, to be tapped into as ad when you want it, at little or no cost. The profit centre of the music industry is live performance and merchandise. Recorded music is a loss leader. The industry, and record companies in particular, are having to adapt to this new reality.

What does this mean for newspapers?  I suspect they will face a battle to shore up their porous paywalls in the face of piracy. Direct charging for content will, for many of them simply be a troubled step along the road to a completely different model of monetisation, which will change the shape of the industry.
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Yasmin Alibhai Brown grapples with the internet in the Independent. She would like more regulation - censorship, if you like - preventing what she sees as extremes of violent pornography and personal attacks (from which, she says, she has suffered).

It is true that there is distasteful stuff online and that debate in forums and on blogs all to often curdles into abuse. But, given that the web is bound by all the laws that govern any other form of publication (libel, hate speech and so on), so we really need more constraints?

Am I right to detect in her words a concealed fear of the democratisation of opinion, and a nostalgia for the days when newspaper columnists had a effective monopoly on public, published comment?
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Quite nice and tells you quickly that there is a fire in Dean Street, Soho and presents some pretty good pics. Doesn't tell you much else, though. How did it start, anybody inside, dead, injured etc. Perhaps at this point you need a reporter asking the basic questions.

Also, because it happened in the centre of media land where everyone has twitter, cameraphones etc. If it had happened in Newton Abbot or Burnley, it wouldn't be getting this attention
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SOHO FIRE

The Dean Street fire seen through the lens of Twitter. Quicker to the draw than the BBC, I think.

http://www.twitscoop.com/search?twitpic+soho+fire
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WHAT IS PHONE HACKING AND WHO DOES IT?

The Guardian's story on 'phone hacking' at the News Of The World is creating a mini-storm, partly because of the press's narcissistic desire to talk about itself.

How does phone hacking work? In essence a reporter phones the target on his/her mobile and keeps them talking. Meanwhile a second reporter phones the same number and gets through to voice mail. Armed with a list of the default settings for voicemail passwords (8888 for one phone company, 1234 for another), it is possible to get through to the targets voicemail account, assuming s/he hasn't reset the password.

When I worked on papers (outside News International), this was widespread and regarded as little more than slightly sharp practice (it's illegal now, of course). But I am certain that many journalists and newspaper groups will be quaking slightly at today's revelations. And I don't think all of them will be tabloids...
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THE EGO OF THE JOURNALIST 2

Here's another piece from the NYT reflecting what Jeff Jarvis correctly calls the 'narcissism' of journalists.

"The table was formidable: oval and elegant, with curves of gleaming wood. The editors no less so: 11 men and 7 women with the power to decide what was important in the world."

The reporter is talking about the 4pm news conference at his own paper. They aren't just debating what to put in a newspaper, they are "deciding what's important in the world". British journalists probably wouldn't put it quite so self-confidently, but many would share the assumption.

Really, the need for this process stems from the formal size limitations of a newspaper. With print you have to leave something out. Journalists have parlayed it into something grander - a prioritisation of what matters - that is, like papers themselves, in the process of becoming obsolete.

The web lets me decide what is important to me through a host of means: swift browsing of key sites, feed readers, recommendations from trusted sources, be they blogs, Facebook friends, Twitterers. My news agenda is different to his, hers, yours, theirs and the NYT's. So why do I need 11 men and 7 women, formidable or not, to decide for me?
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THE EGO OF THE JOURNALIST

Roger Cohen of the New York Times reflects, in rather florid prose, on his time in Iran and what he sees as the 'actual responsibility' of the journalist. American journalists are famously serious about their calling but his sentiments would be shared by many Brits, too.

Cohen believes that journalists can bring something to a story such as the Iranian revolution that you could not get from Twitter, Youtube or the web. But is he right, I wonder, or is he really reflecting on the pleasure and sense of self-worth that he got from being close to and observing the conflict?

I'm not meaning to criticise Cohen - the attitude I detect in his piece is common among journalists. Ego has always been a motivating force in journalism, the desire for a byline, to prove yourself, to witness momentous events and believe you are helping shape them. But who gets the most out of this: readers or journalists?

Do we any longer need journalists as quasi-omiscient intermediaries, reflecting on and explaining events for us? Or can we get a better, more vivid, multidimensional view from other sources? Or is the journalist's role to curate what's out there, select the best and weave it together in coherent form?

Cricket fans used to receive their views and impressions of important matches from the pen of a Neville Cardus or a John Arlott, who are still remembered as great judges of the game and fine writers. Instead today we have the kind of live blogs you see on the BBC and elsewhere, replete with stats, debate, description and argument, with the journalist as ringmaster, rather than ultimate authority. I know which I prefer.
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THE AUTHORITY PROBLEM

One thing that can make journalism valuable is its authority - the idea that the writer has knowledge or insight that cannot easiy be gained elsewhere. It is part of the personal and professional myth of many journalists that they have this authority, that they are highly knowledgeable, well connected or both. The reality is often different as Sathnam Sanghera of the Times candidly admits.

"business journalists rarely get the full truth about companies. The fact is that, despite all the awards we enjoy giving ourselves, with the exception of one or two individuals, we failed to predict almost all the crises enveloping us: the Ponzi schemes, the frauds, the credit crunch, everything in fact, including Cobra. Not that it’s our fault: journalists are only as good as their sources and if there’s one thing we’ve learnt this year it is that the people running businesses are as clueless as everyone else.

The second painful truth revealed by the Cobra debacle is that the business world is hugely susceptible to the influence of public relations. This is, in part, because business is overrun by PR people — and Cobra was more image-obsessed than most, announcing plans to sponsor this year’s Bafta awards as part of a £8.4 million PR and marketing drive only months before it went into administration — and, in part, because business is a bit boring and a good story, such as Cobra’s, gets seized upon.

I’m not guiltless in this respect. I was one of the hundreds of journalists who wrote positively about Bilimoria in recent years, penning a piece a decade ago that mindlessly cited growing sales without mentioning the lack of profits. Frankly, I should have realised when the company subsequently sent me some Cobra wine to try — a beverage that tasted like fermented mouthwash — that its attempts to diversify were going to get it into trouble."

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JOURNALISM: NOTES ON A CRISIS

Journalism is in big trouble. It doesn't seem very long since the internet was a saviour, opening up new ways of telling stories and bringing them to the public. Now online seems to be falling into the same mire as print. Is the web going to be able to support journalism even at the rather attenuated level at which it is practised in today's newspapers? Will there be experts, investigations, scoops, exclusives? At the moment, it doesn't look likely.


What's gone wrong?


1 The economics - the expectation that online everything is 'free' or, more accurately paid for by users being served advertising or handing over valuable personal data.


2 The recession - this has made everything worse


3 Structural problems with the advertising market - I think these are independent of the recession and won't go away


4 Shortsighted management determined to do things on the cheap - poor quality of most journalistic websites. Journalism is expensive.


5 Reluctance to embrace new ideas - most journalistic websites are print put online


6 Journalism isn't valued in Britain (which is often the fault of journalists) and this has led to a conviction that amateurs can do the job just as well as professionals.


7 Web metrics, which have encouraged publishers and editors to focus on the populist at the expense of the complex, risky.


8 Linked to 7, the death of the media 'package' wit its web of hidden cross subsidies.


9 The dominance of the BBC.


These are just notes to myself at the moment and my plan is to expand on each of them over the next few weeks and see where it takes me. Then I want to start thinking about what can be done to - and I know it sounds grandiose, but I can't put it any other way - save journalism.....


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Malcolm Gladwell reviews Chris Anderson’s book. He doesn’t like it

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/07/06/090706crbo_books_gladwell
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SHOULD JOURNALISTS GET PAID AT ALL?

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0519/p09s02-coop.html
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AND MORE...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2009/may/14/newspapers-blogging?plckFindCommentKey=CommentKey:0fd09898-183f-46d5-bb6d-b50ca329f106
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MORE ON FREE

Chris Anderson, himself, talking to the Guardian.

http://paidcontent.org/article/419-chris-anderson-newspapers-need-to-find-the-pet-for-their-penguin/

You can't put the genie back in the bottle....no model works perfectly etc
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Review of Chris Anderson's new book in the Observer by Emma Duncan of the Economist

Key quote for journalists: "Wikipedia and open-source software, for instance, are the products of something that has floored economists - that people enjoy doing, and will do for free, all sorts of things that other people regard as work."


Key quote for journalists: "The good news is that quality still sells."
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DES EMEUTES DANS LES RUES

The French like a good riot and they are on the streets of Paris in protest against the global economic crisis and the way it has been handled. Why should bankers be bailed out and their comfortable lifestyles protected, when ordinary people are finding it tough, is their complaint. The overtly political and socialist context to the riots makes it feel very 1968 ish.

There have been similar riots in Latvia, Bulgaria and Iceland, where the government was brought down by violent protests. How long before it happens here? 
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I JINX OLD ROCKERS

So John Martyn has died. I saw him at the Barbican just before Christmas in what I'm pretty sure was his last gig. I only went because a friend got tickets but I ended up really enjoying it and went back to his CDs for the first time in years. Solid Air and One World, which I'm listening to at the moment, are great records.

Life had not been kind to John Martyn. To be more accurate, he had not been kind to himself. He was an alcoholic, bloated, ill looking and confined to a wheelchair, having lost a leg a few years ago. I'd known he wasn't in great shape but it was still a shock. As we left, one of my friends said he didn't look as if he was long for the world, and so it has proved.

He's the fourth musician whose last, or nearly last, gig I've seen in recent years. Arthur Kane of the New York Dolls keeled over a few days after we saw him at the Royal Festival Hall; Arthur Lee of Love died not so long after playing at the same venue and Ron Asheton of the Stooges died not so long ago, after I saw them playing on Clapham Common last year. Am I a jinx or do I just watch too many clapped-out musicians?
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