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Date

Mon - 18.12.2017


Frederick Alliott

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American TV station CNN is set to recruit the former NBC boss Jeffrey Zucker to fix a network seemingly in the throes of an identity crisis.

The editor of the British periodical The Spectator Fraser Nelson has broken rank on the eve of the publication of the Leveson report, stating in an editorial that the magazine will play no part in ‘state-sponsored regulation’.

Speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange expressed surprise after the European Commission ruled that a block on processing donations for his organization by credit card companies was unlikely to have violated EU anti-trust rules.

ITN Productions, makers of both ITV and Channel 4 News, has launched an innovative ‘citizen’ video journalism platform called TruthLoader, which will host amateur footage from locations around the world.

Women’s weekly magazine Grazia is to present a new ‘shoppable’ iPad edition, enabling the reader ‘to buy items directly from Grazia’s influential fashion pages, acting on impulse as soon as they see items on screen.’

Poynter has listed 5 ways to use the new social media curator RebelMouse, a web application created six months ago and now part of ‘the digital journalist’s toolbox’.

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has announced the launch of a website which will be used to post content that has either been ‘censored or banned or has given rise to reprisals against its creator’, in an attempt to ‘make censorship obsolete’.

Sources: Poynter, Journalism.co.uk, Paid Content, Paid Content, Paid Content, Press Gazette, The Guardian. 

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-28 17:29

‘The newspaper industry is like the British army retreating on Dunkirk. As before Wapping, it asks only how many boats might there be for survivors, two titles or perhaps three? Erecting paywalls may delay the retreat, but I sense that as long as online news media are selling just information and comment, they will be vulnerable to Bailey's web attrition.’

Simon Jenkins’ take on the phenomenon of the newspaper paywall, still relatively new in 2009, reads well three years later. It also illustrates how far from resolution the industry remains on this question. Rarely does a day pass online without the vexed issue of newspaper paywalls loping sullenly into view, with arguments and statistics marshalled, profit projections scrutinized and business plans rubbished by those with settled views on the issue. Often this stems from ideology: Mathew Ingram calls the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, ‘evangelical’ in his advocation of his philosophy of ‘open journalism’. Yet the trend, particularly in the USA, is undeniably one-way: according to News & Tech’s comprehensive list, more than 350 North American newspapers have now launched some type of paywall across their sites. Indeed, the launch just last week of The Houston Chronicle’s premium website marks the first Hearst Corporation newspaper to place content behind a paywall and may well signal similar digital initiatives at other Hearst sites.

Prominent in today’s news, moreover, is the minor spat between the aforementioned Mathew Ingram and the Columbia Journalism Review, with the latter arguing vehemently for the new editor of The Washington Post to adopt a paywall (‘every day this simple, ameliorative step is not taken is a day wasted’) and Ingram equally adamant in his opposition (‘Sandbags don’t solve a rising water problem, just as paywalls won’t get rid of a declining revenue problem’). Sadly unequivocal, however, is the scale of the WaPo’s losses: $60 million-plus in the first three quarters of the year, and on track for a fifth straight loss year. Though many may look to the successful New York Times model for inspiration, it is undeniable that, for the long-term at least, the jury is still out.

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-27 18:50

At long last, the Gotterdammerung is nearly upon us. After months of celebrity evidence, rancorous debate, interminable editorializing and party-political positioning, the great dénouement to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the practise, culture and ethics of the press will culminate on Thursday, when his report (which the BBC learns will be a whopper, ‘Proustian in length if not in literary ambition’) is finally published. Having written at some length on Leveson no less than three times in the last few weeks (for those interested, here, here and here), it is perhaps more useful at this stage simply to collate the more thoughtful pieces from the web in one place, to be followed upon the publication of the judge’s report by a more detailed examination of his recommendations. In the meantime: David Cameron, if it’s a slow day in the office, you’ve completed all the levels on Angry Birds and you’re looking for some opinions, this is the blogpost for you.  

The prospect of the report’s imminent publication smoked out the views of two more ex-editors: Will Hutton in the Guardian and Charles Moore in the Telegraph. Hutton strongly favours radical (for which read ‘statutory’) reform, stating powerfully that, vis a vis press malpractice, ‘Leveson is a once in a generation to put that right. The chance must not be missed’. Charles Moore, though somewhat more circumspect, is nevertheless similarly forthright about the need for the industry to take the report seriously: he accuses newspapers of radiating the same arrogant and blinkered self-interest exhibited by the trade unions in the 1980s. 

Roy Greenslade at the Guardian has collected most of the opinion from the Sunday papers, the most significant being the Mail on Sunday’s splash – ‘Cameron set to defy Leveson over new press laws’, which conflicts with other reports such as that carried in the Independent on Sunday that the Prime Minister will, on the contrary, ‘keep an open mind’. But whilst the PM has largely been keeping his own counsel, other politicians have been far less reticent. Ed Miliband has laid his cards on the table in a piece for today’s Guardian, coming down on the side of an ‘independent regulation of the press, made possible by statute’, while the former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett comes to a quite different conclusion talking to the BBC, urging ‘a more cautious response’. On the other side of the political divide, there was a marked lack of either deference or discretion in evidence at the Spectator’s Parliamentarian of the Year awards at the Savoy on Wednesday: the combination of Michael Gove’s gentle mockery and Boris Johnson’s thundering injunctions served as a timely reminder to Sir Brian, if he needed one, that state interference into the British press is antithetical to the Conservative principles of many in the upper echelons of the government.

It has been a perhaps inevitable characteristic of the debates surrounding the inquiry that there are very few genuinely disinterested voices being advanced. In an argument largely mediated by those who are themselves in the dock, with the case for the prosecution advanced by the victims themselves (who are sometimes also the legislators), clarity is often lost in the oppressive fog of vested interests. Nonetheless, the media consensus is firmly against statutory regulation in any form; and as individual opining crescendos into a collective sabre-rattling, Lord Leveson, whatever he recommends on Thursday, will surely find himself firing the starting-gun as opposed to waving the chequered flag on what seems an insolubly divisive issue.

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-26 18:59

Its potent mixture of news, celebrity and scurrility propelled it to the title of world’s most popular newspaper website, and figures released yesterday suggest the inexorable rise of Mail Online is far from over. Data compiled by owners Daily Mail & General Trust this morning reveal that digital revenue at Associated Newspapers, which also publishes the Metro and Mail titles, was up 72 percent to £31m. Mail Online revenue for the year to September 30 grew 74 percent to £28 million, after traffic to the site exceeded 100 million unique monthly browsers.

In a statement, the DMGT outlined an ambitious and expansionary future business model for the website in the coming year. Following the launch of an Indian version of the site earlier in 2012, 2013 will see ‘increased investment in expanding the New York and Los Angeles editorial bureaus, as well as the teams of UK and US video editors, which will be accompanied by significant investment in technology.’ Indeed, the trust has made clear its intentions to double staff at its US operation to as many as 80, as part of a wider multi-million pound strategic drive in its digital and online output. in addition, the focus on new video editors clearly signifies the vast potentiality of this area, with handheld devices such as tablets and Internet TVs proving more attractive video platforms than the desktop web.

In a statistic that encapsulates the concurrent differing fortunes of online and print media, advertising revenues were down 2 percent to £332m with a strong performance by both Mail Online and Metro offset by lower display revenues at both Mail print titles. Despite this, circulation revenue on DMGT’s titles increased by 3 percent to £353m, mainly due to cover price increases and the end of temporary price discounting by The Mail on Sunday last year following the closure of the News of the World

The sheer number of unique monthly visitors to the website never fails to stagger, and it is the significance of its worldwide footprint which allows for such seemingly grandiose global ambitions. Whilst other newspapers have garnered impressive, and international, online followings (The Telegraph increased its online readership last month from 51.4 million to 56.9 million, and The Guardian’s 71.8 million monthly unique browsers for October is ‘a record high’), the Mail’s unprecedented total of 106 million visitors, according to last month’s figures, gives it a status and an outreach that other titles must consign to the world of fantasy. Other popular newspapers, it seems, would do well to study its thriving business model.

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-23 17:59

Did you know that only 29 percent of Lady Gaga’s 30 million followers on Twitter actually exist? Let me just repeat that: 29 percent. That’s less than a third. The overwhelming majority are unreal, inert, mere cyphers shackled together in a collective expression of inanimate inanity. Isn’t that extraordinary?

Well, no, actually. Earlier this year, StatusPeople introduced a web tool called the Fake Follower Check that claims to ascertain how many fake followers you and your friends have. Lady Gaga, it turns out, is far from unusual: a writer at Forbes used the application to determine that 70 percent of Justin Bieber's 27 million followers are fake, as are 88 percent of Britney Spears', and 74 percent of Oprah Winfrey's.

Now, clearly, there are many plausible explanations why an account might be ‘fake’. Vast quantities of automated spam permeate the site’s chasmic recesses, and many once-genuine profiles are simply inactive. Recently, however, a more insidious manifestation of this fakery has come to light: namely, the phenomenon of ‘followers for sale’.

The term ‘follower’ has always had faintly servile connotations, the notion of ‘following’ denoting a partial or even total abnegation of the self with respect to another. Such a concept is, in this case, followed to its logical extreme. A security company called Barracuda Labs conducted a study recently, citing the need to protect clients from phishing and other Internet scams. In doing so, the company found that ‘there are 20 eBay sellers and 58 websites (within top 100 returns of searching 'buy twitter followers' in Google) where people can buy fake followers.’ The average price to buy 1,000 followers is $18, the company said. Want to get ‘retweeted’? No problem: 2,000 retweets retail at just $5.

US Comedian Dan Nainan is happy to explain what he considers to be the sound marketing rationale behind his own purchase of ‘a small city’s worth’ of new followers at the slap-down price of $424.15. ‘There’s a tremendous cachet associated with having a large number,’ said Nainan, 31, adding later, 'When people see that you have that many followers, they’re like: ‘Oh, my goodness, this guy is popular. I might want to book him.’' It’s tempting to react with either a laugh or a shrug to such practises: after all, paying to artificially augment one’s digital appendage for the sake of a bit of publicity, while a little duplicitous, is hardly criminal. Nonetheless, there is something deeply unsettling about the flagrant commercialization of that which is inherently 'social', seemingly undermining the central role of social media as a tool for increased access, influence and unmediated communication.

Media consensus labels Twitter emblematic of the technological winds of change that are sweeping through journalism, politics, business and the world of public relations. Look at the Arab Spring, many say: here is the Internet acting as a revolutionary democratizing tool whereby propaganda and governmental falsity may be circumvented by the empowered citizen, armed with nothing more than a camera phone. And so it is; yet, in the modern age, to be popular is to be famous, and to be famous is to wield influence and power. The ability, therefore, to artificially create an illusion of influence through an unreal army of tacit acquiescence is to introduce the age-old precedent that power is exercised by those with the deepest pockets.

It is fun to reflect on the suitably post-modern aspect of such virtual non-existence: fake Twitter accounts as the ultimate crystallization of an inert pointlessness, the sacrifice of individuality on the alter of consumerism and commoditization. It’d make rather a good academic thesis. The trouble is, such accounts really are going to the highest bidder, making it genuinely difficult to spot what’s real and what’s not, which campaign’s got big money behind it and which hasn’t. Despite some social media sites like Facebook vowing to seek out and destroy their fake accounts to preserve 'true engagement', vendors like Samir from Singapore say it is unlikely that they will stop selling fake followers in the near future. As he said in a recent interview: ‘I'm making too much money.’

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-22 19:11

The social media aggregation site Storify has launched a restructured interface that places a revamped search function at the centre of its design. The site, which allows users to create stories from online content from social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, had already included a search feature, but as of Tuesday an enlarged version becomes the central aesthetic focus of the homepage. In addition, search items will now be ranked, as Storify puts it, ‘based on the resonance each media item has on our platform’, and all media elements of searches (photos, quotes and videos) will be displayed in a ‘tile’ or ‘card’-based layout. 

Storify’s new look comes exactly a year after its last digital face-lift. The rationale behind this new change appears to be based on aping the format of other media sites, giving greater prominence to that which is being currently shared and accessed (much like Twitter) whilst updating the personal aspect of people’s profiles (Facebook-style profile pictures are one of many other innovations). But it is the layout of the homepage that is most strikingly new, signalling a new emphasis on topicality and ‘resonance’ across other social media platforms. Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify, said that the company ‘wanted to show the media our users were collecting from the front page of the site directly, and also create a more engaging teaser for the stories inside. We think of it like a table of contents for a magazine where the best quotes and photos are there to draw you deeper.’

Herman also stated that the new search rankings should allow relevant content to show up regardless of any keywords or hashtags used. For example, he said that when Sohaib Athar live-tweeted the killing of Osama bin Laden, he didn’t used any hashtags (because the event’s significance and broader context weren’t clear while he was tweeting), but his tweets still show up in Storify’s Osama bin Laden results due to being mentioned in countless other stories about the attack.

Some have raised questions about the company’s responsibilities to other publishers of content consumed on the site, and indeed the broader financial strategy of Storify itself (the site contains no advertisements). ‘The stories can still as always be embedded on publishers’ own sites, or pulled in from our API, to be placed wherever [publishers] want for monetization,’ Herman points out. ‘We’re very early in all this and want to help publishers monetize in the future as we also develop our own monetization strategy.’

Storify has seen 30 million story views in the past 30 days – up 30 percent from the previous month. Whilst Herman concedes that most of the traffic comes from stories embedded on other sites, there is no doubt that traffic to Storify is growing, and that this redesign represents an important step in the continuing influence and expansion of the site.

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-21 18:07

For a billionaire chairman and CEO of the world’s second largest media conglomerate, Rupert Murdoch does a decent impression of an 81-year-old who’s going slightly gaga. Sure, he is 81. But such was the widespread impression in the aftermath of his evidence to British parliamentarians given in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal last year. In his halting expressions of contrition, amnesic failure to recollect his activities and a delivery that might charitably be called measured, many found it difficult to reconcile such a diminished prune-like exhibit with his fearsome reputation as the ultimate éminence grise of British politics, the scourge of left-wing politicians for a generation.

Indeed, other octogenarians suffering such a pronounced annus horribilis might be tempted to sink into a retirement of card playing and 9-iron swinging. Followers of Murdoch’s Twitter feed, an intemperate volley of vituperation aimed at those with a worldview alternative to that of R. Murdoch, might suspect otherwise. (‘Why is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?’ he enquired yesterday to general consternation). And so it is being proved: from the ashes of disaster and ‘the most humble day of my life’ come the roses of (potential) success. 'Rupert has his mojo back,' says Todd Juenger, a media analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. 'The stock is up, investors are happy with the company’s recent decisions.' Buoyed by the troubles at his old nemesis, the BBC (‘Look to new CEO to shape up NYT unless recalled to BBC to explain latest scandal’, he gleefully posted last month, killing two much-loathed birds with one tweet), Rupert’s ready to go shopping again.

News Corp’s ultimately ill-fated $1.6 billion cash offer for Pearson’s Penguin publishing house is emblematic of this new resurgence. Relinquishing its $12 billion bid for the portion of BSkyB that it did not already own gave News Corporation ample cash to consider other acquisitions, and top of the list could be a 49 per cent stake in the Yes Network in New York, an investment that could help create a new nationwide sports network to compete with ESPN. What’s more, despite the publishing arm of News Corp taking some heavy knocks in the third quarter of this year due to lower advertising revenues – the group reported a 48 per cent drop in operating income to $57m – strong profits from its cable television networks ($2.2 billion in the three months to 30 September) depict a company in rude financial health.

Such a commanding position, moreover, gives Murdoch the chance to indulge himself in his love of newspapers. Rumours abound (despite being officially denied) that News Corporation has been talking to the bankrupt Tribune Company, who is looking to offload such struggling titles as The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune; and plans for total structural reorganization at the company are allegedly underway, involving the transferral of all underperforming publishing assets into a separate publically traded entity. The implication is clear: the Sun King is far from ready to abdicate. Wapping may not be Versailles, but the Murdoch empire is powerful, far-reaching, and isn’t finished expanding – yet.

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-20 19:49

Wide-ranging research has been completed into the trust and value readers across Europe place in their printed newspapers, says a report by INMA.

Major European media and advertising groups have been hit hard by the continuing economic downturn, with Lagardere posting a 17 percent slump in Lagardere Active, the magazines and radio division, in Q3, reports Reuters.

Editors of local papers in the UK have signaled their frustration at being treated the same as their badly behaved national counterparts, campaigning to retain self-regulation and rejecting statutory involvement, Greenslade explains in the Guardian.

A PR firm working on behalf of the Russian government has been found to be posting seemingly independent opinion columns praising the current administration, ProPublica reports. Pieces have appeared on CNBC’s website and the Huffington Post in the past two years connected to the public-relations firm ‘Ketchum’.

Although Sunday newspaper circulation figures have outshone their daily competitors in recent years, there is evidence of a slowdown in growth, for reasons that are not immediately apparent, Poynter's Rick Edmonds believes.

Sources: Guardian, Poynter, ProPublica, Reuters, Inma

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-19 18:49

A ‘dossier’ signaling an imminent ‘coup’ from that ‘incestuous […] quasi-masonic nexus’, the ‘Left’s old boy network’; it could only really be one UK newspaper, couldn’t it. Never one for sending its cavalry round the flank, today’s Daily Mail charges headlong into the boggy mire of the Leveson battlefield, bayonets fixed and ready for a scrap. Over the course of its front page, five subsequent double-page spreads and its main leader column, the paper marshals a typically uncompromising thesis of corruption, cronyism and general left-wing Establishment conspiracy which, it fears, threatens to inveigle the otherwise irreproachable Lord Leveson’s august inquiry down the path of unrighteousness, imperiling freedom of the press and the world as we know it. Or something like that.

It’s easy to mock the tenor of the Mail’s thundering style: Roy Greenslade at the Guardian speaks for many when he dismisses the story as the deranged rantings of an paper noted for its long-standing dissent vis a vis Leveson. ‘I really think it's time for the men in white coats to visit its Kensington offices as soon as possible’, he begins, labeling its ‘exclusive’ a ‘farrago of distortion with added vilification’. The New Statesman also has some fun, gleefully chronicling the more hyperbolic, irrelevant and/or misleading aspects of what they label a 'hatchet job'.

As so often with reporting on the Leveson inquiry, though, the undercurrent of political activism, hidden agendas and self-referential complexity can often obscure the truth of the matter. ‘Politics has been threaded through all this the way fat marbles good beef’, the parliamentary sketchwriter Quentin Letts memorably remarked; it is certainly unsurprising to see the Guardian line up against the Mail, and fun though the vituperative arts are, they don’t provide much in the way of resolution. But cut through the politics of the Mail’s tenuous grandstanding, and the Guardian’s knee-jerk moralizing, and there is a sense that the Mail’s story might harbor something worth examining after all.

Looked at objectively, there is no doubt that the Mail significantly compromises itself by succumbing to an overarching notion of conspiracy. Without covering the ins and outs of the sprawling network of intrigue that they claim to identify (the full story is on the website), the premise centers around a member of the six-man team appointed to be assessors to Lord Leveson, Sir David Bell, whose connections to various other charitable and campaigning groups lobbying for statutory regulation of the press are portrayed as symptomatic of a wider collusion between the inquiry and leftist interest groups agitating for media censorship. Regrettably, the pages and pages of ‘evidence’ tend to sacrifice accuracy on the alter of conspiracy, since much is overplayed (even if he was a trustee of the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, it wasn’t Bell’s fault that Alistair McAlpine was wrongly accused of being a paedophile), and some is downright misleading (it is widely acknowledged that the News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler’s phone, and the ensuing controversy over the actual deletion of voicemails surely gives no license for the Mail to brand it ‘untrue’).

This is a shame, since were the case couched in less apocalyptic terms, there is a serious argument to be made. As even Greenslade admits, ‘the Mail does raise some questions about Bell that certainly do deserve attention’. His colleague at the Guardian Michael White agrees (‘Daily Mail ‘dossier’ isn’t all dross’), as does Andrew Gilligan at the Telegraph who covered parts of the same story in the early part of last year (‘David Bell: there is a real story here’). It does seem a bit off, for instance, that funding for the Media Standards Trust, which Sir David chaired until recently and which spawned the campaign group Hacked Off, should be funded by a charitable trust of which he himself is a trustee; or that donations to Hacked Off were held in a bank account ‘managed by the Media Standards Trust’ itself. It is interesting, moreover, to note the considerable activities of Bell as trustee and former chairman of the leadership training organization ‘Common Purpose’, which was reprimanded by the Information Commissioner in 2009 for six probable breaches of the Data Protection Act and whose active left-liberal bias one doesn’t have to be Miss Marple to discern. 

Now, there is nothing here that is illegal, and much that isn’t even particularly reprehensible. But there is certainly a pattern, a network of prominent individuals and organizations, which gives a kernel of credibility to the Mail’s contention that those involved in the upper echelons of the Leveson inquiry ‘are drawn from a narrow and powerful section of the liberal Establishment that has come into increasing conflict with much of Britain's newspaper industry.’ It is something of a pity, therefore, that the paper couldn’t resist sullying a decent argument without descending into a general rant about anything from lefty police commissioners to ancient scandals about Labour MPs caught in flagrante. Michael White is surely correct when he states that ‘anti-establishment bodies should be as much fair game for accountability as those of the old establishment, which have been targeted by reformers for decades’.

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-16 19:22

In a move to highlight their respective business-friendly credentials, both the biggest social networking site Facebook and the virtual social pinboard Pinterest have unveiled separate platforms designed for marketers and corporations in a move that has clear ramifications for the newspaper industry.

In their latest move to declutter the standard 'News Feed', Facebook will today role out a new ‘Pages Feed’, an unfiltered section devoted solely to promotional posts and updates from businesses. Introduced to minimize any unwanted juxtaposition between business concerns and genuinely social interaction, the concept exemplifies the balancing act Facebook must constantly perform between everyday users and those who use the site for commercial or promotional purposes. The feature, which users can click to from a button on the left side of their profile page, was reportedly developed in response to criticism from some businesses that their activities on the site were failing to reach a sufficiently wide audience.

In a similar announcement, Pinterest revealed new business accounts, whereby the use of the platform for commercial purposes is explicitly accepted without mentioning retail or advertising. Whilst the innovation is free of charge, and comes without any enhanced functionality (they are not specifically ‘brand’ pages in the tradition of Facebook, Twitter and Google+), the decision represents a symbolic courting of business and commercial interests in what has been regarded largely up till now as a medium dominated by the social and the informal.

Opportunities for newspapers, themselves ‘brands’ constantly in search of new audiences in the burgeoning landscape of social media, are varied. Whilst the argument that the creation of Facebook’s Pages Feed sidelines and annexes where it should integrate instead is to an extent valid (the feed is, ultimately, easy to ignore), it does mean that those who do click on the extra feed will see more posts from the brands that they follow.

Pinterest aims 'to connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting.’ The website states: ‘With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests.’ In terms of ‘things’ to be virtually ‘shared’, newspaper companies worldwide must be hoping that informative, investigative and entertaining journalism comes high on the list. As the website notes, ‘Pins are the most useful when they have links back to the original source’: redirecting traffic to news sites from a larger base of excerpts and quotations on Pinterest, and indeed on Facebook, could prove potentially lucrative.

Author

Frederick Alliott

Date

2012-11-15 19:05

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