The passing of the Hack?

March 30, 2009

Great media analysis here today from Nick Cohen, on the passing of the Hack…and how bloggers could become a more trusted source of news and information in the future. More important and trustworthy than even the mighty BBC.

It’s an interesting proposition – if the Beeb continues cutting the numbers of journos, as do many other Media channels, and pushes for its editors to chase and re-angle News from some of the stalwarts of National news, such as the Telegraph, Guardian and Mail, as an audience we start to question the integrity of that content.

And we all know, ultimately, content is king, whether or not Management and the number-crunchers realise this simple, long-standing fact.

With fewer and fewer reliable sources of content, online audiences are increasingly turning to the bloggers, which raises separate issues of what will become of the professional journo, the newsroom Hack? It is a further Death Bell?

Time will tell.

But if  Cohen‘s predictions and statistics are to be believed, the passing of the Hack could be upon us in less than two decades. A brave new world? Not quite, but I’ll certainly be blogging more, that’s for sure. Hail the news-blog!?!

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Interesting blog here covering the disintegration of news coverage regionally in the States, from the ex-City Editor of the Winsconsin Rapids Daily Tribune.

The point of particular interest, for me, are the numbers covering the decline in the amount of local content being placed in the paper – the rot seems to have been ongoing for years. There have been similar patterns in the UK regional newspaper market, of course, as any editor will tell you.

Content cuts which have hit communities hard. Reader interest drops, advertisers wane, businesses switch off…the rot continues until the regional office is either closed and merged into a central operation – a favourite trick of Northcliffe Group – or we see yet more journos consigned to the redundancy queues across the country.

Wish I could provide something a bit more upbeat on a Friday afternoon – the blog, however, does highlight an ongoing and worrying trend in the slow and painful death of regional news globally. What’s your story?

…and the dubious award goes to these guys.

A huge thumbs-down to the PR Directors at PR firm Dada.co.uk today: following a mis-pitch yesterday on behalf of their client Whyte & Mackay, in which a press release on the drinks firm’s re-brand was sent to a printing industry-based Newsroom (ie mine) a follow-up email was sent by myself, asking the PR Account Director to remove us from their irrelevant PR issues.

Email received back, apologies accepted, we all move on and continue to cypher the 250 daily emails from PRs.

Or so I thought.

This morning, another email from a different PR Account Director at Dada, telling me about the wonders of how Whyte & Mackay are using Twitter to promote and launch Campaigns for consumers. Fabulous. And totally irrelevant. Again.

Many thanks to the second PR Director at Dada – this guy. He was too busy to take my call earlier, asking if they could actually confirm that they had removed our newsroom email address from their database, and if they would please, please, please stop PR Spamming us. Too busy to talk to the Press? Another clanger for a PR firm to commit.

So, in the absence of a decent resolution, here we are.

To top it all, Dada’s PR pitch on their site claims that ‘No-one can offer you a PR service like DADA’ and – for completely the wrong reasons – I am now inclined to agree.

Now pass me that chocolate fireguard, it could come in useful.

It is increasingly clear – from reports such as this and this today – that regional and national newspapers in the UK and further afield, particularly in the States, are suffering from reduced advertising revenues, falling readerships and a general sense of not being as relevant as they once were. The response from Management?

Continue to slash editorial.

The journalists which make up the very heart of these long-standing, influential, once-respected and admired publications – what do the number-crunchers do with this most invaulable professional resource? Get rid.

Reduce costs. Save marginal amounts of cash and centralise the news-gathering function. Eliminate the regional editorial and bring it in line with a stream-lined, anodyne, lifeless, soul-less, central, pared-down reporting function.

De-motivate the existing long-term reporters and over-worked section editors to a point where they feel compelled to take (profitable for Management) redundancy packages. Push more editorial work onto the young, hungry NCTJ entrants, they can take it. As for the rest? Let them write press releases for the stable of PR Agencies who provide the gaps in copy for us…

Cynical? Not really. I saw this pattern emerging years ago when the big ‘R’ loomed for myself and my team at Northcliffe. Back then, when departments were closed or reduced, it was always the same story – cuts from London.

But, to be fair, at least we could understand that it was the start of the rot. It’s been quite a few years since that date – and still the Management haven’t invested in other revenue streams and embraced the online opportunities available to protect and nourish the future for the most valuable asset they have – the editorial staff.

Would I work on a daily newspaper desk in this country again? Given today‘s News, highly unlikely.

What occured when journos, new media experts, bloggers and start-ups got round the proverbial table for a chat?

Find out here – it’s fascinating reading.

The paid-for vs. free content debate continues with passion here in a great overview of an interview with Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired. It’s a fascinating read, and raises many issues for publishers to deal with.

Those who continue to give away content must find other revenue routes within the overall offer, of course, or face the prospect of losing their business. Those, on the other hand, who are giving away most of their content for free, and retaining a percentage as paid-for, on a premium knowledge-provision-basis, have at least got a good chance of developing a profitable publishing model which will ride the recession and move into a more certain future…hopefully.

It’s a great interview with Anderson, and he raises some pertinent and prudent points.

More importantly, it resonates for all of us – if your business depends upon knowledge, information and content – typically, a publisher falls into this category – then monetizing this content amidst a glut of free online content is probably the biggest single issue facing the survival of your business today.

Free content – either embrace it in some form, or lock up. If you don’t, chances are you’re going bust.

Stunning, shocking and eye-opening post in today’s media Guardian regarding the swathing cuts in regional journalism across the UK in recent months from Jon Slattery.

It is not pleasant reading – all the more reason to read it.

And then read it again.

The true state of British journalism is worrying indeed – those of us working inside it have known this for far longer than the recession-filled, fear-laden six months in which the Public has become fully aware of the current economic situation.

The stream-lining of newsrooms across the regions has appalled many of us, largely due to the very nature of the ways in which management and number-crunchers have dispatched editorial staff.

At times, it has seemed as efficient as a falcon culling a flaying pheasant in the fields. Not pretty, brutal, and with the prospect of a bloody kill.

I am talking about the falcon here, not the number-crunchers reducing the journo count across the country, by the way, but of course seeing a pheasant ripped open for sport is not an appropriate likeness to a newsroom’s heart being decimated by management to reduce the running costs on a failing, dated business model, is it? Is it?!

The excellent Guardian article from Slattery points out that there has been an influx of journos looking to organisations such as Councils for in-house work, and a drift to PR agencies by journalists and editors who would never have considered anything other than being committed Hacks for the rest of their writing careers this time last year.

But the times have, and are still, changing. Ok, so there could be marginal salvation ahead in magazines, online portals and the growth of the Internet and associated social media platforms requiring professional content providers. But will journos want these roles?

Adapt and survive is increasingly the message. If you don’t, watch out for the incoming falcon.

Keep it simple – that’s today’s motto.

Whether you are:

1. Writing editorial

2. Pitching for new business

3. Creating copy for a blog, website, editorial consultancy proposal

4. Updating website content and images

5. Looking to integrate your online and offline editorial promotions

6. All of the above

Keep it simple – as is superbly highlighted here in this post. When, for example, as an Editor a press release arrives with more than one simple, strong, clear, focused message…guess what…yep, that’s right, we switch off and bin it.

Same thing with prospective clients and new customers: if your content is rambling, confused, elaborate, pretentiously-worded, trying too hard, and just plain difficult to read, the prospect is switching off too. And once your editorial has lost a target, they’re not coming back. Ever.

A great post, with some really useful hints and tips from  Adam Singer. Fantastic.

Found this fun post – from the Online Journalism blog’s archives in 2008, but it’s still relevant today!

Which stage is your blogging at?! At times, editorial here hits all five blogging life stages on the same day…

It’s an interesting question as the Jade Goody media debacle continues. Great overview here from Jon Slattery.

An emotive area around the Goody PR issue recently, of course, as it can be argued that she is merely going to any lengths to protect an uncertain future for her family. The media machine, in light of a terminal illness, is naturally lapping up the morsels fed to it by the Clifford PR team as a subject of immediate human interest.

Are you willing to go to any lengths for editorial coverage? What messages are you sending out there and why? I have seen individuals being deliberately contraversial, over-the-top, pushing accepted boundaries and generally trying to be ‘outrageous’ with a small ‘o’ in the past, in the vein (and vain) attempts at clawing out additional column inches in the publications I have edited over the years.

Individuals and businesses which try to hi-jack media attention through dubious/contraversial/self-focused means rarely succeed in adding any value longer-term to the media, and largely result in delivering a less-than-positive view of their commercial concerns in the process.

It’s all about maintaining editorial integrity and bringing a positive experience to your target Press.

This usually comes from positive people-based stories: whether the Goody affair will be classified in this category remains, at this juncture, to be seen. Coming weeks and mass media coverage will tell of course.

Personally, I am with Slattery all the way.