Web brings new audience for issue groups

February 1, 2010

A fascinating piece from Nieman Journalism Labs on the new role of NGOs and online media. It focuses on Avaaz, a group I am now working with.

“The Internet opens up new means of communications for major NGOs. But does it also make their position vulnerable to a new breed of web-native upstarts, who understand the power of technology more fully? Denise Searle, who has worked with some of the world’s best known NGOs, explores…

Audience and influence are traditionally the ways that both media and NGOs measure their effectiveness. The internet has transformed the way that both can tackle the basics: getting their message across. For non-profit organisations, it has lowered the barriers to reaching people, raising money and transforming ideas into action.

“The problem is that today’s fast-moving internet isn’t an easy fit for all NGOs… Organizations that are known and respected in the real world often face competition for attention from a range of other sources and perspectives in the virtual world….”

“All this indicates that if humanitarian and development NGOs want to attract and retain visitors in the increasingly crowded and competitive online world, and turn them into supporters, they need to provide timely, easy-to-find information, genuinely involve their audiences, and keep up with the latest trends. This is a tall order, particularly when many of the web destinations competing for their audiences’ attention have commercial muscle behind them…”

“How long will it be before international development and humanitarian NGOs see their supporter base eroded by digital native organizations such as Kiva and Avaaz…? Will these digital-savvy communities start mobilizing online to ask hard questions about why, despite years of effort, international development and humanitarian NGOs have not made poverty history or achieved social justice? And how will they be answered?”


FT’s Murphy aims to go global

September 24, 2009

Paid Content interviews Paul Murphy of the FT on his plans for the paper’s lively (and free) online venture, Alphaville.

FT Alphaville – comprising a UK finance blog, live stock commentary and an analyst community – is growing to cover Wall Street and other markets, but remains outside FT.com’s pay wall. The blog’s founder and editor Paul Murphy, who just relocated to New York, from where Alphaville will now be run, says the aim is to “create a 24-hour global financial blog” that’s free to all. “

“ Murphy says the expansion need not end there: “The plan is to go global… We’d like to replicate the way the investment banking industry works.” Does that mean hiring more journalists? “You could; really we have to follow reader demand. There’s clearly demand in the US and a growing demand in Asia.” Watch this space.

Mapping out the news

September 20, 2009

The blog 10,000 words runs a feature on interactive maps, an increasingly popular way not just to illustrate a story but to tell it. “With a wide range of ways to create online maps, many more news organizations are using these tools to create interesting and unique online maps. Some media companies like the ones featured below are consistently producing good maps that are both visually engaging and educate readers,” he says.

Online classified surges

May 25, 2009

I found my new apartment in New York through CraigsList; most people do. “The number of online adults who have used online classified ads has more than doubled in the past four years,” says the Pew Research Centre. Almost half (49%) of internet users say they have ever used online classified sites, compared with 22% of online adults who had done so in 2005.

“On any given day about a tenth of internet users (9%) visit online classified sites, up from 4% in 2005.”

WSJ changes leave journos unsettled

March 29, 2009

The Wall Street Journal has been through a slow cultural transition since the Murdoch takeover. It has left many of the more senior correspondents very unhappy, and threatening to leave, concerned that the essence of the Journal was being weakened.

Jeff Bercovici writes: “But perhaps nothing since the ouster of managing editor Marcus Brauchli almost a year ago has done so much to crystallize that fear as a memo sent last Thursday by Brauchli’s successor, Robert Thomson. On the face of it, the memo was no different from any number of edicts issued by his predecessors: Thomson urged Journal reporters to contribute more breaking news to Dow Jones Newswires and previewed a new system that will facilitate their doing so.”

“A breaking corporate, economic or political news story is of crucial value to our Newswires subscribers, who are being relentlessly wooed by less worthy competitors,” says Thomson. “Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer – that same story can be repurposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time. 

“Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.

Journalists from other publications might find the WSJ reaction to providing more breaking news odd: isn’t that what journalists do? The contrary argument from the Journalites is that their paper distinguished itself by not adding to the noise, by having something else to say, and by enlightening readers with a different take. Remove that and they are just the same as everyone else, they say. They fear that Thomson and Gerry Baker, both FT and London Times transplants, are importing FT attitudes that won’t sit well with their readers. A writer at the Columbia Journlism Review says, “It’s gotten narrow, newsier, more small-minded than the ambitious pre-Murdoch paper.”

I am not sure I agree with this, but then I don’t work there and to be honest don’t read the paper every day. In any case it is clearly emblematic of the contest for the hearts, souls and news gathering operations under way in many newspapers. Business models change and so do content strategies: the two need to go together, and Murdoch and Thomson do appear to want to change both, rightly or wrongly.

New search tool for FT

March 22, 2009

The Financial Times has launched a new search tool, Newssift – in beta so far, but fun to play around with. It searches news but in a more organised, focussed way than a normal search engine: it clusters the results. “A next generation vertical search tool, Newssift offers access to a comprehensive database, indexing millions of articles from thousands of global business news sources. Searches are based on meaning and relationships, moving beyond traditional key word search. Newssift offers a better way to view the qualitative news trends and opinions that shape business. Higher quality and more relevant results cut out the commercial clutter found with current key word search.”

State of the US news media: grim

March 16, 2009

US media is struggling against the twin forces of economic decline and technological advance, says a report today. “Journalism, deluded by its profitability and fearful of technology, let others outside the industry steal chance after chance online. By 2008, the industry had finally begun to get serious. Now the global recession has made that harder.”

The annual study on the State of the American News Media is definitive, with lots of analysis and data. The overall message is of decline and decay. “Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23% in the last two years. Some papers are in bankruptcy, and others have lost three-quarters of their value.”

“First, the audience migration to the web accelerated substantially in 2008, and even though most of that growth was at traditional news destinations, the financial impact of that was a negative one, according to the report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Traffic to the 50 news websites, for instance, jumped 24%, triple the pace of growth of the year before, but online ad revenue flattened, and in newspapers it declined. Second, the recession hammered advertising and diverted attention away from innovating new revenue sources.”

And yet, as the survey points out, there is more journalism – and there are more readers – than ever before. “The problem facing American journalism is not fundamentally an audience problem or a credibility problem. It is a revenue problem-the decoupling, as we have described it before, of advertising from news.”

It notes a few trends:

  • The growing public debate over how to finance the news industry may well be focusing on the wrong remedies while other ideas go largely unexplored.
  • Power is shifting to the individual journalist and away, by degrees, from journalistic institutions.
  • On the Web, news organizations are focusing somewhat less on bringing audiences in and more on pushing content out.
  • The concept of partnership, motivated in part by desperation, is becoming a major focus of news investment and it may offer prospects for the financial future of news.
  • Even if cable news does not keep the audience gains of 2008, its rise is accelerating another change-the elevation of the minute-by-minute judgment in political journalism.
  • In its campaign coverage, the press was more reactive and passive and less of an enterprising investigator of the candidates than it once was.

The survey is worth reading if you have even a passing interest in the subject. As Alan Mutter, a respected commentator says, “It is the worst of times for the businesses that traditionally have funded professional journalism but the best of times to be a journalist, so long as you aren’t counting on a job at a media company to pay your bills, raise a family or fund your retirement.”