And here’s a contemporary version of the same battle…in one corner, an ageing megolithic rambling beast, too large and slow to sustain itself and adapt…in the other corner, a nippy, lightning-fast contender with super-quick reactions…newspapers vs. online.

I had an excellent meeting with Dave King, Editor of regional daily newspaper Swindon Advertiser recently, and amongst the topics of conversation, new media and the challenges facing traditional newsrooms came up. He surprised me – positively.

With a team of seven journalists, covering a huge patch, and working in probably one of the most competitive, budget-reduced areas of British journalism, King is pushing ahead through online boundaries. There are a host of regional bloggers contributing to the site, local news is mixing comfortably with solid online advertising, and the site could exist in its own right separate to the daily newspaper from which it sprang. Encouraging indeed.

Also encouraging was to see a traditional daily newspaper editor actually embracing contemporary challenges, and given the environment which Newsquest finds itself at the moment in the UK, King’s approach is nothing short of courageous. Bravo.

The conversation included talk of increasing the mix, adding value to the online offering, and of strengthening the remit of online and offline news – such as distributing certain exclusives online, and others offline, to protect circulation. Smart cookie.

Maybe we’ve all gotten so used to negative news around our media delivery, we’re not aware of the positive work being carried out there in the regions by budget-pressed journos. Maybe they aren’t shouting their successes loudly enough. Maybe a bit of both.

Time will tell, according to this story today from Paul Bradshaw’s excellent blog.

One of the main USPs of newly-launched London-based www.theblogpaper.co.uk aims to be allowing readers to vote for the content to be used. Giving the readership control of the content online, and letting bloggers integrate directly with the news stream.

Interesting. Truly exciting and coming from a UK publisher, too. Despite the reliance on advertising as a revenue stream, the site aims to offer an alternative view on the selection and dissemination of news. Moving away from traditional editorship.

As a balanced, objective editor, I can see the pros and cons here: it’s a fascinating proposition. You decide on its merits.

Embrace digital or die

July 13, 2009

In light of this today, it seems clear where the winners are residing in Medialand.

Interesting to see the top tech firms riding high in the Guardian Media 100 for this year, but given the economic state underlying commerce, no real surprises. The power of the internet and content combined continues to dominate firms in our space.

However, it’s likely that we’ll see further cutbacks, job losses, business closures and related dropouts in coming weeks, as traditional media firms, PR agencies, old-school publishers, Dickensian newspaper managers and the like refuse flatly to embrace change and integrate online into everything they do.

And the result? More journos knocking on the doors of local councils for press office jobs, or maybe considering for the first time to leave newsrooms and enter the Dark Art of PR in agency-land. My money would be with the digital marketing agencies: at least as a content creator with NCTJ credentials, there is some hope following the harsh reality of redundancy.

It’s a thankless task, trust me: I’ve been there, and seen many a Hack suffer a slow and painful professional death at the hands of a commercially-bereft, cold-hearted account director in the past. Of course, there are some good ones out there too!

So, what’s the message from the Guardian Media team this year? Pretty simple. Embrace the digital age or die.

At least, according to this today.

Actually, in part I agree: many of the traditional publishers in the UK observed the coming of digital and internet-based publishing, blogs, twitter, and the numerous online innovations, instead remaining focused on the print options only.

The readerships, as consumers, have voted with their feet and mouse clicks, and more of them are migrating to free content online than ever before: the hundreds of redundant journalists across the UK lay testimony to this.

But still, in spite of overwhelming evidence indicating that newspaper management needed to engage the audience, the reader, the market, in the places they choose to get their news, what have many done? Continued observing, done nothing, introduced no innovations, given minor allowances to the digital age by copying content from print to the web…and wondering why readerships walk.

Let’s not forget one simple economic fact: when a product or service no longer serves the market, it becomes obsolete.

And so we see the current state of the British newspaper industry. They forgot to nurture the relationship with readers. And then bemoan the state of advertising and consumer interest when the paginations keep plummeting on a daily basis.

It’s all about listening to the market demands and repsonding accordingly. It looks like for some it’s too late. As we all know, when you lose their interest, readers rarely ever come back. This simple business rule applies to the publishers too.

Had an interesting meeting with Chris Brown, Editor and Founder of new regional online news site Bristol247.com yesterday.

Here’s a guy that’s got it right – for the readers, advertisers and online consumer in general. Great service and fantastic business model. Plus, a genuine, sparky, fun, professional, switched-on, and digitally-savvy commercial editor.

Not just that, but the site offers something new, refreshing and contemporary  – not just a re-hash of newsroom content, as you’ll find here. At last, an online content portal for news-hungry readers looking for objectivity, plus great advertising opportunities.

Bravo. Nice Tweeting from him too – check it out here.

Well, according to this it does.

Statistics from the Guardian’s Charles Arthur highlight that the mass consumer is migrating with incredible proliferation to tweeting and facebook status updates, rather than spending time writing and posting blogs: Arthur goes to suggest that time is a factor. As always, most people will take the easiest, least-effort path to content creation.

But, the argument for blogging – certainly in terms of marketing strong content and attracting potential customers, media readers and building loyalty with existing clients – all form a powerful case for the continued influence of blogging.

After all, despite the fact that – according to the New York Times – 95% of all blogs are being abandoned for quicker forms of content provision and distribution, it is still very much the case that despite the billions of blogs out there which have died and been forgotten since the blogosphere really took off in 2004, blogs are still read and given significant attention. If the content is good. A blog selling stuff soon fades, but a blog giving advice, hints, tips and insight stands the rigours of Twitter and the like.

More importantly, for me, although tweeting and linking on facebook gives a snapshot, a brief indicator of attitude, business ethics and other micro-indicators, the true test of endurance will come from a sustained, thoughtful, insightful blog site.

And I, for one – and as an ex-Northcliffe Newspaper Group Editor – welcome the dedication, drive and determination which today sees the launch of Bristol24-7, the brainchild of ex-Western Daily Press journalist Chris Brown. Bravo.

Its mix of news, opinion, sport, business and comments offers a direct competitor to the grinding online effort rolled out some time ago by the Bristol Evening Post, which is largely a hotch-potch of editorial taken from the newsdesk journalists copy anyway.

The original and online-focused content delivered by Brown could well prove to highlight that the targeted, intense, community-based hyperlocal approach will win through after all. I wish him every success in this exciting news venture.

At least, that’s what the top brass at Journalism Online are predicting from their latest paid-content business model.

The story on the Guardian’s Digital Content Blog makes for interesting reading: not least due to the optimism, foresight and unshakeable belief the Journalism Online founders have in the model, but also in their faith in the micro-payment niche which appears to be growing in poularity amongst online publishers. This has, I think, real implications for all businesses looking to increase revenues, attention and loyalty via online content and associated offers: heck, look what it’s done for Apple.

What I am really pleased about is the simple fact it all comes back to quality content.

Certainly, judging from his inputs at the Association of Journalism Education Event recently.

The comments and insights from this veteran journalist were particularly relevant for newly-qualified and long-time hacks alike, covering politics, technology, the internet, social media and hyperlocal reporting. I found this especially pertinent:

“Start going where there aren’t many hacks, because that’s what will interest people. It’s now more possible to do that than at any other time. It’s an incredible time to be somebody who can retrieve, prioritise, order, create and write in a way that makes it irresistible to read or listen to or view.”

Not an endorsement of citizen journalism, rather a nod to the time-honoured tradition of actually uncovering News.

Wise egg, that Jon Snow…heading off to his Twitter feed now.

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