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

BBC News at 6 and 10 ran lengthy pieces on Andrew Flintoff having moved to Dubai to build his career as an international cricket mercenary. Flintoff is, it turns out, an 'ambassador', presumably paid, for Dubai and the BBC piece had all the characteristics of a tourist puff piece for the place. There certainly wasn't much news in it and one wonders what deals were done behind the scenes to bring it to our screens.
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With the I-Slate (or whatever it ends up being called) almost upon us, Ben Hammersley's series on the implications of e-books is a must read for everyone in the publishing business. If you're a journalist, because it will show you how the right technical platform will transform the value of the content you create - and the way you create it; if you're a developer because of the pointers it offers as to what content management systems need to become.

Acolytes of Antonio Gramsci sometimes use the phrase 'the language that speaks us' to describe how the words we have available to use form and constrain our thought processes. Something like that has happened in the world of internet publishing. We think and talk about articles, stories, images, headlines, text and video that we treat separately or bundle up together in packages of greater or lesser elegance. In our minds, we're creating magazines, or newspaper sections instead of actual web experiences. CMSs are designed and built according to this hugely limiting paradigm. Publishing companies make the minimum possible changes to their working methods to accommodate the web.

And then there's the whole question of analytics: the way we measure what we do. What most publishing companies care about more than anything else is page views - the number of times a web page appears in the browser of a computer. Doesn't matter for how long, whether the user meant to call the page up, where they are in the world, whether it's one person coming a hundred times a month or a hundred people passing through once each, never to return. Did they find what they want? Did they like what they saw? Doesn't matter, so long as they hit the page, just long enough for the javascript tag to register their presence.

We care about page views because we can count them and because they seem like a pure and uncontroversial metric compared with, say, unique users. Crucially, advertisers find page views simple to understand so the digital publishing economy essentially works by selling bundles of page views at an agreed CPM (cost per thousand, oddly) to advertisers. Clearly a commercially successful publisher is one who keeps his production costs below his CPM. The principal targets given to journalists and editors were page view-based and inevitably a series of practices developed to meet them. In a way these practices have come to define what a lot of commercial web publishing looks like.
o buying feeds of cheap content from agencies (such as Press Association) and rebranding it as your own. Instead, say, of employing journalists to find out something new.
o creating massive image galleries knowing that it's easier and cheaper to get users to flip rapidly through fifty or sixty nice pictures than it is to get them to engage with fifty or sixty different pieces of content
o letting the SEO tail wag the content dog. Don't get me wrong, search engine optimisation is an essential and valuable tool: it makes your content visible and helps users to find what they want. A publisher who doesn't use SEO is a fool. But using SEO shouldn't mean simply creating lots and lots of stories about Kate Moss, Madonna or, worse, shoehorning their names at every opportunity into stories where they don't really belong. "A teenage boy was stabbed just yards away from a nightclub in which celebrities such as Kate Moss partied, oblivious to the unfolding tragedy"

Publishers encourage this sort of thing because their business model forces them down a 'quantity' route - producing as many page views as possible, as cheaply as possible. Inexorably, quality gets squeezed out. In newspapers and decent magazines, notions of quality are woven into the fabric of what everyone does: a piece should brilliantly conceived, properly commissioned, written with insight and intelligence, designed and laid-out with flair and so on. In many online publishing houses quality is not even spoken about: the only thing that matters is the generation of page views. Perhaps, in a Gramsci-ite way, it's no longer possible to speak about quality in this environment.

But might the I-Slate (or whatever) help publishers find a way out, to restore the word 'quality' to the vocabulary of their businesses? I'll look at this in part 2.
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When I first came to London in the Eighties we used to go to warehouse parties in Battle Bridge Road, just behind King's Cross. The area was a mix of old canal and railway buildings, deserted and rather desolate for somewhere so close to the centre of town. It was known principally as a red light district, because there were man quiet streets where kerb crawlers and prostitutes could go about their business.

Development was just beginning back then and the area progressively became London's largest building site as the St Pancras Eurostar terminal and the surrounding 'King's Cross Quarter' took shape.

I went for a walk around the area yesterday. There are lots of shiny modern, rather characterless buildings and shops: the Guardian have moved up there, for one. But there remain some pleasing reminders of the areas industrial past: gasometers, brown brick canalside buildings. The Battle Bridge Road warehouse where we used to party has been razed and there is some sort of development going on. I took a couple of photos, surveilled by a suspicious security man. He didn't call the police, though....

The purpose of my visit was to take a look at the Camley Street Natural Park and it's Natural London photography exhibition. It turns out that the park, built on an old coal yard, came into being at about the same time that I was attending those Battle Bridge parties. It's a few acres of carefully crafted wilderness alongside the Regent's Canal and very beautiful and on a damp, late afternoon in winter, soothing and restful. I particularly like the glimpses of industrial architecture through the foliage. I wonder how long the gasometers and warehouses will remain, though.

I love finding unexpected little places like this, like the overgrown botanical gardens you often find in European cities; they contrast with manicured, packaged and reparcelled, high-land-value nature of most urban space.

It turned out that the exhibition is next weekend, so I'll go back then.

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