Legal challenges facing online journalists

law books

This is a guest post by Ed Walker . It is also published on his blog.

Had some media law refresher training this morning. It was tough going back three years and trying to remember specific cases but the best bit of the session were the debates about the challenges now faced by journalism when it comes to online and the law.

The web is moving quickly and with certain acts dating back to to the last century, you won’t find mention of Facebook in the legal statements. First things first, if you’re unsure about media law go and grab a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. You won’t regret it.

The three main things we discussed were dealing with breaking news online, and in particular breaking crime news, the use of content from social media sites (particularly images) and commenting on stories by users.

Breaking news online and the dangers

A crime has happened. The Police are on the hunt for two men who have raided the local betting shop. They are armed. You have the basic details and after confirming you’ve got it online. The headline screams out ‘Armed raid at betting shop’ and you’ve got an image of the smashed in door of the betting shop. No arrests have been made. Do you turn the comments on the story? You’ll likely just end up with a load of hearsay that will become obsolete once the Police make arrests but you might also get some extra details, you might stumble upon an eyewitness.

A few hours later and the Police force issued stills of the men they are looking for from the CCTV and give more accurate descriptions. You run these images in full with a big appeal for information from the Police. You create this as a separate article and through your keyword tagging the articles become ‘related’ in your content management system.

You leave the old article in the content management system and overnight the Police name the two men they are looking for and release mugshot images of them. You create a new article and run these images, again this story joins your ‘related stories’ list.

The arrests are made and you’ve still got all the information up on your site. Three articles, all with varying levels of detail and images. Possibly some video of the CCTV and a load of comments from readers. Charges are made and eventually, the trial will start and all this content will be in your archive and might start showing up in the related stories column.

Solution? Have one article and keep that updated. Avoid creating new articles if possible. Keep an eye on pictures/video and remove when no longer relevant. Avoid any compromising photos, just use straight up headshots. Ensure your CMS provides a ‘last updated’ date and timestamp somewhere on the article.

Use of content from social media sites

Facebook and Twitter. A goldmine of information and content, but a legal minefield? There’s not many tests cases out there in terms of using content from social media sites. We had an example of taking a photo from a social networking site of a 17-year-old girl who had died, but the photo showed her drinking alcohol.

Now the dead can’t sue for defamation but the mother would probably not be best pleased to see a smiling photo of her now-dead daughter with a glass of champagne in her hand. Plus, who owns the copyright to the photo?

Solution? We decided we’d run the photo, but probably crop out the alcohol aspect. Or try to find a more suitable photo. In terms of copyright, it’s a tricky one and does seem standard journalist practice now to rip photos from websites despite the copyright resting either with the social network or the user who uploaded the photo.

Commenting on stories

The elephant in the room. Do you post-moderate or pre-moderate? Do you have someone monitoring comments all-hours? Do you let people comment on every story? Do you close comments after a set period of time? Or is it just a free-for-all and it’s the Internet damnit and we can’t control it. Do you let journalists engage in the comments and the debate, or do you tell them to steer clear?

Solution? We couldn’t reach one. But we were sure that media websites benefit massively from having comments on stories – but for court stories the comments should be turned off. We felt more needed to be done to educate people commenting on the idea of ‘fair comment’ and how what they said needed to be based on facts, an honest opinion, without malic and in the public interest. We felt it was important for journalists to be able to respond to comments and engage with the debate as journalism is becoming a two-way process.

Image credit to Eric E Johnson

It was a very interesting morning. The above is just a taster but any of your experiences relating to media law and online journalism would be welcomed in the comments below.

ireport the death of newspapers

CNN’s ireport has posed an interesting question

Faced with declining readership and a worsening economy, many newspapers are grappling with whether to stop the presses. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News recently closed its doors, while the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is moving to an online-only format.

How does this affect you? Do you read the newspaper every morning over coffee, or do you catch up on the news online? Is your local newspaper still around?

Put your thoughts about the newspaper industry on video and share your daily news routine. Your stories could be featured on CNN.

The views sum up the general debate. Here are a few that have made it on CNN

Interesting stuff

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Newspapers not so popular shock. The bleeding obvious in french

Fench newspapers. Picture by Phil Moore from Flickr
Fench newspapers. Picture by Phil Moore from Flickr

Continuing a Francophile tone to the blog I thought you might find Alain Giraudo’s post on a report of the state of the internet interesting.

He picks up on an article on about the “ Etats Généraux de la Presse” – a kind of ‘what’s up with the newspapers then’ report.

Here are the findings (with Google providing a cod-translation)

Fact 1: The global supply of media is growing faster than consumption.
La preuve en chiffres: «Le nombre des chaînes de télévision a triplé en Europe dans les dix dernières années, le nombre des magazines a quadruplé en vingt-cinq ans.
The proof in figures: “The number of television channels in Europe has tripled in the last ten years, the number of magazines has quadrupled in twenty-five years.
Chaque jour, le Web grandit de 1,5 million de pages.» Each day, the Web grew by 1.5 million pages. “

Constat 2: Les annonceurs se retirent des médias. Fact 2: Advertisers should withdraw from the media.
Désormais, on voit moins de pubs sous la forme de pages, de spots ou de bannières. Now we see fewer ads in the form of pages, spots or banners. Un changement qui se fait au profit de davantage de sponsorisation, d’événementiel ou de marketing (direct et personnel, via les réseaux sociaux par exemple).
A change to be made with more sponsorship of events or marketing (direct and personal, via social networks, for example).

Constat 3. Fact 3. La hausse continue de la consommation de médias va de pair en France avec une dispersion des audiences entre titres et supports. The continuing rise in the consumption of media goes hand in hand in France with a dispersion of hearings between titles and media.
«A l’élargissement de l’offre, l’audience répond en se fragmentant.» Autrement dit, non seulement les Français consomment de plus en plus de médias différents, mais ils consomment en outre de plus en plus de titres différents. “With the enlargement of the bid, the audience responded by fragmenting.” In other words, not only the French consume more and more different media, but they also consume more different titles.

Constat 4. Fact 4. L’accès classique aux médias (TV, radio, imprimé) est minoritaire chez les 15-24 ans français. Access to traditional media (TV, radio, print) is a minority among the French 15-24.
Bruno Patino parle de «rupture générationnelle». Bruno Patino speaks of “generational break.” En effet, les pratiques multimédias (ordinateur, téléphone mobile, baladeur multimédia, jeux vidéos, etc.) «constituent 50,3% des contacts avec les médias des 15-24 ans français, contre 29,5% pour l’ensemble de la population.» Indeed, practices multimedia (computer, mobile phone, portable multimedia, video games, etc.). “Constituted 50.3% of contacts with the media 15-24 years of French, against 29.5% for the whole of the population. “

Constat 5. Finding 5. Les déplacements quotidiens sont l’occasion d’une consommation de médias et de loisirs numériques où le téléphone l’emporte désormais sur l’imprimé. The daily trips are an opportunity for consumption of media and entertainment where the phone now prevails on the printout.
«Pour trois Français sur quatre les déplacements quotidiens sont une occasion de contact avec les médias et les loisirs numériques. “For three out of four French daily trips are an opportunity to contact the media and entertainment. La radio reste leader (…) au sein de cette population “médiavore” en mouvement»; quant au téléphone, son utilisation explose. Radio remains the leader (…) in this population “médiavore” moving “about the phone use exploded.

Constat 6. Finding 6. La baisse de diffusion payante des médias imprimés est une tendance française avérée. The drop in pay-TV print media is a trend French proved.
Si la presse écrite payée voit sa diffusion faiblir, les premiers signes datent d’avant la montée en puissance d’Internet. If the press paid sees its dissemination falter, the first signs date from before the rise of the Internet. «Au total, la tendance baissière du papier payant est majoritaire, durable et continue.» «Overall, the downward trend of the paper is paying majority, sustainable and continuous.”

Constat 7. Finding 7. La presse imprimée est une dépense mineure dans le budget d’un ménage français. The printed press is a minor expenditure in the budget of a French household.
«Le budget consacré aux médias (2.272 euros par an) représente 8,5 % des dépenses d’un ménage (quand) plus du tiers est alloué à la téléphonie fixe et mobile, loin devant l’audiovisuel et Internet.» “The budget for media (2,272 euros per year) represents 8.5% of a household (when) one third is allocated to fixed and mobile telephony, far ahead of Audiovisual and Internet.”

Constat 8. Finding 8. La recette publicitaire de la presse payante s’installe dans une croissance négative. The advertising revenue of the press pay moved in negative growth.
«Depuis 2004, avec la montée en puissance de la publicité sur Internet, la presse écrite payante facture moins les annonceurs, en France, comme aux Etats-Unis ou au Royaume-Uni.» “Since 2004, with the rise of Internet advertising, print invoices paid less advertisers, France, the United States or the United Kingdom.”

Constat 9. Finding 9. Les quotidiens gratuits (dont 20 Minutes, ndlr) ont la plus grande affinité avec le lectorat français de 15 à 49 ans. The free daily (including 20 Minutes, ie) have the greatest affinity with the French readership of 15 to 49 years.

Constat 10. Finding 10. Le gros consommateur de médias écrits ne se cantonne pas, en France, à un support unique. The big consumer of media is not confined, France, a single support.
«Une lecture forte de quotidiens est corrélée avec un comportement actif sur Internet. “A strong reading newspapers is correlated with an active on the Internet. De même, une lecture forte de magazines est corrélée avec un comportement actif sur Internet. Similarly, a strong reading magazines is correlated with an active on the Internet. Plus largement, l’intérêt pour la presse d’information générale et politique se combine avec un comportement plus actif que la moyenne sur le média Internet.» More broadly, interest in the press and information policy combined with a more active than the average over the Internet media. “

Constat 11. Finding 11. Le média Internet continue de croître en France, en pénétration et en utilisation. The Internet media continues to grow in France, penetration and use.
Avec une «population d’internautes en hausse de 5 % sur un an», la «barre des 60% de Français de 11 ans et plus se connectant au moins une fois par mois a été franchie à l’été 2008». With a population of Internet users, up 5% over a year “, the” over 60% of French people aged 11 and over logging at least once per month was reached in the summer of 2008. Sans compter que «l’activité des internautes ne s’arrête pas à la consommation, elle s’étend désormais à la production et à la redistribution de contenus.» Not counting that “the Internet does not stop for consumption, it now extends to the production and distribution of content.”

Constat 12. Finding 12. Le smartphone possède un potentiel de bouleversement complet de la consommation de médias. The smartphone has a potential to complete upheaval in the consumption of media.
L’apparition des Blackberry et autres iPhones a un impact sur la lecture des médias. The advent of Blackberries and other iPhones has an impact on playing media. «Le choc Internet du mobile peut rivaliser en impact avec celui connu sur le PC, d’autant plus que la pénétration du téléphone mobile a beau rester faible en France (83%), elle l’emporte largement sur celle d’Internet.» “The impact of mobile Internet can compete with the known impact on the PC, especially as the mobile phone penetration has beautiful remain low in France (83%), it outweighs the Internet.”

Constat 13. Finding 13. La recette publicitaire tirée d’un visiteur unique est vingt fois moindre que celle d’un lecteur. The advertising revenue from a single visitor is twenty times less than that of a player.
«Le revenu publicitaire fourni chaque année par un visiteur unique mensuel (sur un site Web, ndlr) varie de 1 à 3 euros, contre 20 à 60 euros pour un lecteur de presse écrite.» “The advertising income provided annually by unique visitors monthly (on a website editor’s note) varies from 1 to 3 euros, against 20 to 60 euros for a reader of newspapers.”

Constat 14. Finding 14. Google est au cœur des sessions sur Internet et sa vente de publicité en tire parti. Google is at the heart of sessions on the Internet and its sale of advertising exploits.
Comprendre: Google est un mastodonte. Understand: Google is a mastodon. «85% des sessions sur Internet incluent en France l’utilisation du moteur de recherche Google. “85% of sessions on the Internet in France include the use of search engine Google. (…) Ce qui permet à Google de capter 90% de la valeur dans la publicité à ciblage contextuel. (…) This allows Google to capture 90% of the value in advertising to contextual targeting. Une position dominante s’est créé dans les usages et n’est pas contestée sur le marché.» A dominant position was created in the uses and is not contested on the market. “

So mobile is where you need to be in France.

The last point is not a surprise given the French media’s attitude to Google. But Alain expresses some surprise in his response.

un, très humblement, je me demande pourquoi il a été nécessaire de réunir des Etats généraux pour constater ce que tout le monde sait;

Basically. “No, shit and why did we need a report to tell us this”. (my translation)and though the report gives some interesting figures,  I agree

Newspapers belong in bins not bookshelves

The disposable medium
The disposable medium - Picture by Pete Ashton via Flickr

I was on the train back from London last week and found myself sat behind a guy with a huge pile of newspapers. For the duration of the trip from London to Manchester he systematically went through the papers tearing out article and leaving a shredded mess behind him when he got off. By a quick reckoning he had left behind about 6 pounds worth of newspaper.

I was pondering this as I read a nice post over at Jo Geary’s blog where she ponders the ‘value’ of print. In, what she calls, Quick, incoherent thought #4: the power of print (I like the number thing, makes it sound like a series of artworks)she questions the value of print in world where digital is cheaper. Does digital mean that people value print less?

Well, the people who queued outside The Washington Post for their special edition on Obama’s victory would tell you there was a value to print and it has been argued that this is proof that newspaper is still the format of choice for important events. “People didn’t print out the news on their computers”, goes the argument.

In fact Jo argues that in some cases the content is so valuable that it could go in a hard back book.

I have some sympathy with that view (despite my link bait title), the transient nature of the web is often its least appealing characteristics. But I think there is one key factor that makes newspapers, rather than books, a valuable platform and one that should thrive and it isn’t the keepsake value.

Would you bin a kindle?

For me the man on the train proved to me that the compelling feature of newspaper as a medium is that we are prepared to throw it away. Bin it, shred it, leave it on the bus. Whatever we do we are happy to spend money on it and then leave it.

That’s why I think Jo’s book idea is a good one. But it’s also why I think that the newspaper industry excitement (or maybe that should be panic driven hope) for the development of e-readers and digital paper is so, so wrong. I have actually heard newspaper managers talk about how things will be ‘all right’ once digital ink is sorted.

Would you buy this and bin it?
Would you buy this and bin it?

Allowing people to download the daily newspaper to an e-reader or flexible screen may feel like it gives the industry back some of the monopoly on the distribution platform it thinks it needs to survive. But in reality it flies in the face of the way we consume and discard our daily news fix.

Maybe that’s just me. But I’m sure the man on the train would rather have his pile of paper.

Newspaper photo by Pete Ashton from Flickr

Turning dog poo in to stories

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing prep for teaching and training that I’m doing at the moment. So expect the slow appearance of a backlog of posts on video and other related issues. But I thought I would share something that has been in my radar for a few days.

I’ve been doing a lot of talking (shocking for me I know) about using the web for research – journalism toolbox stuff. And one of the things I have been stressing is that the web will very rarely just ‘give’ you a story. It will give you lots of data and information but the story is in the way you, as the journalist, put the things together. The phrase that I heard last week that best summed that up journalists are sense makers. Phil Trippenbach has a nice post on this so I won’t labour the point.

But whilst I was browsing for resources and examples to show my students and delegates I came across a site that made me wonder if I had to re-think that position – is a site by the fantastic Mysociety group who specialize in socially aware, achingly web2.0 sites. Top stuff on a number of levels and their other sites are worth a visit. Anyway, here is how they describe fixmystreet:

A site where people can report, view, or discuss local problems like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.

Nearly 25,000 problems have now been reported across the UK, with our users following up many thousands with updates, news and notifications that problems have been fixed

Here’s an example of an ongoing problem with litter. - tracking local problems - tracking local problems

You can also sign up for an RSS feed or email alerts for a location. Told you it was brilliant.

So I’m showing my students the site today as we discussed ways that you can get a handle on a patch. They enjoyed it, not least because it offers, what must be, the most accurate geographic mapping of poo that I have yet to see on the web. With pictures! Anything scatological is a hit with students it seem.

I made the point that it shouldn’t replace physically getting out on the patch but it could provide some insight and a conversation opener when wandering around. But it wouldn’t throw up a story. Then we came across this entry.

Is this just about dog poo?
Is this just about dog poo?

Take a look and ask yourself if there is a story in that or not and if it’s a story about dog poo.

Locating the meaning

In terms of the way you would work a beat to get a story to pitch to an editor this site serves up a hell of a lot in just a few lines of comment. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is located that adds the context you need. Maybe it did take my eyes on the story to make the connection. But one thing is for sure, fixmystreet proves that locally focused geo-mashups work.

So if the embryonic geotagging of your content or the occasional attempts at mapping this kind of thing have fallen of the radar or been dismissed as gimmicks, maybe it’s worth looking again.

Take more of a healthy interest in your audiences poo.

UPDATE:Because I am that plugged in at the moment I didn’t see this great interview with one of My society’s developers Francis Irving on (thanks the Alex Lockward for the nudge)

How the regional papers use video: The Yorkshire Evening Post

For the next in my series reviewing the way the UK regional press use video I’m going to take a look at The Yorkshire Evening Post owned by Johnston Press

Before I get in to the review I should disclose an interest. I provide training for JP journalists and photographers in the use of their video kit. It’s a two day course that introduces the camera (a sony a1e) and Avid Express software as well as shooting and editing tips. So as well as an interest you could also say I have take some responsibility for the content as well. eek!

The platform

The YEP has a number or routes to video
The YEP has a number or routes to video

The Yorkshire post site follows the same centrally designed template that all the JP papers do. I’m not really a fan as I think it is too cramped by generic content and ads. Too much sales and not enough content. But I guess I’m not reviewing the design.

Video is available through a link in the main navigation through a link in a block further down the page. The Yorkshire post also has a number of themed video strands – The Sin Bin, The Boot Room and The Pavilion linked from the main menu and small image ads but more on them later.

Clicking the video link takes you to a menu page. No player here, just thumbnails to the stories as all the video on the YEP site is ‘embedded’ with an article. But the page has clear headlines and some neat descriptions as well as the odd thumbnail. Generally I would have mixed feelings about not being able to view the video here as well as in an article. When you get to an article page there are plenty of links to other stories; a bonus of using the article part of a cms to serve the video link. But in this case I think it’s a mistake.

The main reason for this is that the video page doesn’t seem to have an archive of any description. Go to /audio-and-video and you get a fuller set with a paged archive but it seems a lottery if it turns up or not following video links. That’s a real shame as the standard page only gives you ten or so videos to work with and if you are looking for a particular video, a good repository here would be better than wading through the search for the article that it appeared on.

A lot of this, I’m guessing, comes down to the way that JP serves it’s video.

You have to work for your video
You have to work for your video

Go to an article page and you’ll see that video isn’t actually embedded. You have to press the green play button and a pop-up window appears with the video in a window. This is generally WMV format video – which meant intermittent reception on my mac. I think the delivery platform is something that JP are going to have to bite the bullet on and change in their CMS if they want to properly integrate multimedia content in to their sites.

The Presentation

The content falls in to two clear forms of presentation – video and slideshows. But both are served through the video player as video clips. So in this case slideshow is probably more descriptive of the style rather than the delivery.

The slideshow quality is pretty good but suffers from the lack of context caused by the problems with the external player. Take the VW Camper story as an example. Nice pics and groovy music but where is the context. No graphic to set it up or captions. If the story had been embedded then it would make much more sense. The same follows for pretty much all of the slideshow content.  If it’s going to be seperate then it needs a hell of lot more context. Location sound would help. How about some interview sound or sync sound of the sermon over the pictures of Don Fox’s funeral?

The video sufferes the same problem. The stuff is generally well shot and well put together but a lot of it lacks context. The recent post office closure protest video would keys well in to the article but the lack of VO or set up means it doesnt stand alone and in the seperate player, I think it has to.

The Pavillion - One of the YEP's sports shows
The Pavilion - One of the YEP's sports strands

Away from the general video and slideshow content is the YEP’s themed content that I mentioned earlier. The paper has put together three exclusively sports based strands. The Boot room for Football, The Sin Bin for rugby and The Pavilion for Cricket.

These take the form of double-header talking heads between a journalists , one of them usually the senior writer for the sport, sitting at a desk in front of a greenscreened background. The technical duties for this, I happen to know, are handled by the Visual Communicator and though sound can be a bit rough at times and a tighter shot would work better for me, the quality is consistent. Presentation wise things can get a bit stilted. Once they find their stride the shows are pretty entertaining but they are too long.

The shows also have the offer of some interactivity and they’re sponsored which I imagine ticks a lot of boxes. Perhaps the addition of some onscreen graphics highlighting the fixture or match they are talking about and the punter they are answering would break up the presentation a little. Oh, and a nicer table.

One other themed video that’s worth a mention is their Haunted Leeds feature which is a hokey bit of fun. This is a sponsored effort and takes the Most Haunted format and makes it a bit web2.0. Not directly video produced by them but, although it does have one of the ghost hunting locations at the Newspaper offices. If nothing else, I thought the thing was worth a mention for the only user submitted video. Nothing to see? No really.


That may seem a bit of a cursory overview of the video on the site. But to be honest the quality and range of the video is pretty good. Yes, the increased reliance on the slideshow format on the YEP site means that any talk of video has to be done in a kind of inverted commas. It’s not video but it is, if you know what I mean. For me that’s not a problem it’s semantic.

There is obviously room for development. Their slideshows need to break out of the music and pictures formula and get a littl more editorial and narrative drive if they are going to be locked in the linear delivery of the video player. Otherwise they need to allow flash embedding or somehing equally as interactive in control.

Maybe the slideshow approach is more here interesting not for it’s content but for the way it illustrates a clear editorial shift away from ‘traditional’ video to something more ‘managable’.  It feels like the way someone like the Croydon Advertiser has approached thing, excpet a bit in reverse. Wheilst they started with slideshows and slowley integrated video. It seems that the YEP ar going the other way. That’s not a negative assesment. It shows that things will find a level that the newsroom is comfortable with.

Away from the quality I think the real issue is  the way the content is presented generally.

What really causes problems for me on this site is the way the ‘video’ is served. Having no embedable player system essentially cripples the video on the site. Where other papers have the capacity to archive video in a section and, though many chose not to, link and embed it in article pages, the YEP can do neither. The video exists in a no-mans land to be summoned by a benevolent user who will click, hopefully not have blocked pop-up pages and has the right mix of media player and codecs on hand.

Both the video and slideshow stuff is becoming more illustrative and the seperate player robs it of valuable context. But rather than spend a huge amount of time trying to shift a lot of the context in to the videos, (although they need some) they need to address the delivery.

There is some good stuff here that could really lift an article page, yet the player makes it so near and yet, so far.

How the regional papers use video: The Liverpool Echo

After a look at the way the tabloids and the broadsheets use video I’m looking at the UK regional evening market and next on my list is the Liverpool Echo.

The Liverpool Echo, owned by Trinity Mirror, is the daily evening paper for Liverpool and Mersyside along side it’s sister paper The Daily Post, a daily morning paper. (The post has recently been making a name for itself with a live blog and video of its editorial meetings) The paper has had video on the site for a few years and at one point the company also ran a cable TV channel , Channel One. Channel One is no more and after a few brushes with joint ventures (The occasional Echo TV branding is a legacy of this) the paper is producing its own video in house.

The platform.

The front page video feature box
The front page video feature box

The video on the Echo website is combined with stills in a Pictures&videos section where pictures get first billing (nothing wrong with that). But the front page does have a sizable video feature box just below the scroll. In keeping with the whole site design the video feature is big, bold and clear. It displays the latest video with a clear headline and tease. It offers a list of the most current videos along with the latest video.

The video is served from youtube via a flash player and does suffer the occasional mix-up in aspect ratio. The video is shot widescreen but the 4×3 youtube player won’t handle it unless it’s letterboxed before upload. The stories I spotted this on had an air of user submitted about them so perhaps it’s pre-existing.

Another problem with the widescreen video is some tearing at the bottom of the screen. This is usually caused by problems with digitising from tape and seeing ‘more’ picture than you normally would. A little masking would help here but it doesn’t happen on some videos

The video player itself is useable but there is no obvious backlink to related articles so linking through to video from the frontpage feature takes you away from the articles. I say obvious because the tags do work as functional navigation to related content but I’m not sure how intuitive that is.

Video is often presented in a sidebar as well as embedded
Video is often presented in a sidebar as well as embedded

Video is embedded in articles and also presented as a related video sidebar. Given the general lack of images on a lot of stories perhaps embedding video and using it as an image as well would kill two birds. But the option to embed or go in the sidebar is nice to have but the same from the video player, given its front page prominence, would be a bonus.

The presentation.

The majority of the content on the site is self-produced packaged video with the occasional user or third party submitted video. Subject wise it could be best described as feature based. Local events, interviews and interesting stories with the odd video showing the scene of a shooting. The format is pretty standard with voice over, general views and a smattering of interview and vox-pop but the quality of the video is variable.

Being the paper of record in Liverpool it’s no surprise that sport plays a big part in the video. Divided in to three sections – Sports, Liverpool and Everton, the content comes in much the same style as the news stuff and some of the same problems surface. Mike Torpey’s preview piece Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is okay but it contains an almost textbook example of how not to shoot an interview and proof of just how valuable a shotgun mic can be.

How not to shoot and record an interview
How not to shoot and record an interview

And there in lies the biggest problem with the Echos video. The shooting is generally good and whilst the video is clunky in places it holds together but the audio is very patchy.

The video of the threatened closure of local brewery Cains is a good example. The voice over quality is poor, some of which could be youtube’s notorious audio mangling but it sounds distorted from the start. The interview sound is worse with the voice lost in background noise. I think some of this is likely to a problem with stripping out audio tracks but lack of a decent mic could also be to blame. Lack of mixed audio also kills a piece on the annual Brouhaha parade.  Great pictures but none of the fantastic location sound. Its squashed in the background,

The Cains piece also highlights a problem that all newspapers face with journalists making the change from print style interviews to ones that work on video. If you listen through the Cains piece you can here the problem. Questions that suit reported speech and a constant ‘yes’. This often makes the video longer than it needs to be as the question, which can often seem labored on video, needs to be left in. Some more open questioning and maybe (ethical police look away now) a little more direction of subjects would tighten things up.

The range of video on the Echo website feels slightly limited. Light features and lots of vox pop seems to be the order of the day. That’s not a problem in itself, given the amount of work they are doing with live blogging and other initiatives to better cover breaking news stuff. But there is an opportunity there to stamp more of an identity on that style. A move away from the package to more clipped stuff for vox pops and interviews with better embedding/linking in stories would put more of Liverpool in the story and could cut down on production pressures. That way the heavy packaging could be left to more evergreen features.

Unlike a lot of papers where video is the visible nod to digital the Echo has a huge amount of digital content to play with – Maps, blogs, liveblogs and widgets – fitting video in to this portfolio is a challenge.  It seems that video at the Echo, as it has been in the industry, has had a varied history. Joint ventures and TV channels have given way to a in-house team working hard to establish an identity. How they develop that identity and integrate video in to that rich mix will be a challenge. But a bit more work on tightening things up and working out better integration with articles could see them in an even stronger position.

Note: In writing this I made a mistake which must be a regular bug bear for the Post and Echo people in confusing some of the stuff the post are doing – live blogs etc – with the Echo output. There is obviously  a lot of good stuff happening in Liverpool full stop.  But credit where credit is due to the Post staff.  Sorry for the confusion.

Also, in the same vein as the Express&Star review. In return for letting me waffle about your efforts I’m happy to offer an open post for anyone at the Echo (or post) to tell readers about anything they like. Let me know.

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Music industry lessons.#2million

The Guardian has an article outlining BSkyB’s plans to build an itunes killer in partnership with Universal.

The new service, scheduled to launch this year, will combine an unlimited on-demand jukebox service with a set number of monthly downloads that can be saved, even if users stop subscribing, for a single monthly charge.

There are positives. The music would be DRM free and, as the Guardian points out, this could be the thawing of relations between “ISPs and record labels over a future model that will reduce piracy and establish new revenue streams.”

It will also be available to everybody. But…

…Rob Wells, Universal Music International‘s senior vice-president of digital, said it was “an inevitability” that Sky would eventually bundle music subscription into its broadband and television packages. He said that once consumers became used to a combination of subscription services and paid-for downloads it would become the dominant way of listening to music.

Ahh, if only the future where that easy to control Rob. So, the logic seems to be as soon as we can get people back in to the idea that there is only one place to download this stuff, we are back in the record shop model again. Thank God.

So why is this a lesson from the Music industry? What can the journalism industry learn from this?

I think it comes from asking a simple question: When there is a workable service out there, why build another one?

The only possible answer to that is because ‘we can control it’.

Don’t duplicate. Collaborate and Innovate.

I know that right now there are newspaper groups who are paying developers to code photo share, blogging, ad platforms etc. You are. Admit it. If they aren’t doing that, they are buying them in and re-engineering them. Great. Some innovation there. But it seems to me that the best way forward is to collaborate.

Ownership of the platform only goes so far. What you gain in control you will eventually lose in market share. Surely we know this from the decline in print.

Having a presence, and leveraging that with your core audience is more valuable

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Making journalism a numbers game

The formula shows that the lines are the same colour as the car.

I don’t watch a lot of TV when it broadcasts, I tend to catch it online, on digital replay or on repeat on one of the many digital TV channels. I’m in to timeshift rather than tivo. But I happened to be channel surfing the other day and came across a series called Numb3rs. It’s the highest of high concept – you can tell by the way they spell numbers.

It’s about the ongoing adventures of an FBI special agent and his math genius brother. Yes, they use maths to solve problems. I told you it was high concept.

But I was reminded on it when I read a post by Dan Shultz over at the Media Shift Idea lab.

In his article World of digital mediacraft, Dan suggests that the mechanics of World of Warcraft could easily be applied to collaborative journalism. It isn’t a new idea and anyone with even a passing interest in this stuff knows that ‘risk and reward’ is where it’s at.

But two things struck me about Dan’s take on things.

He outlines some community ‘traits’ that could fit within a risk and reward model

  1. Recognize quantity – The more a user ranks and judges new content, the more potent that user’s vote could be. For instance, after voting on 100 articles that person’s vote could count as 1.01 votes in future. As always, uses a system like this.
  2. Recognize accuracy – The more accurate a user’s judgment is when categorizing new content the more sway they could have over the categorization process in future.
  3. Recognize quality – If a user has a track record of submitting valid journalism articles, maybe it could be slightly easier for them to submit future journalistic articles.
  4. Recognize wisdom – If a user’s contributions are regularly judged to particularly insightful or even just accurately reflect the attitude of a community then their future observations could have slightly more prominence.
  5. Recognize roles– As a user performs acts that fit the role of a good journalist or good citizen the system will slowly start to associate their digital identity with these social roles.

A nice range there – could it work? I’m not sure. But it struck me that you have a pretty workable equation for defining a journalist in your communities. There has to be a pretty nifty mathematical equation in there somewhere. Perhaps an applied maths journo wants to take that on and solve the case.

That’s tongue in cheek I know and I don’t hold out too much hope. Because the second thing that struck me was a point Dan made about roles.

Api journalists

In an earlier post Dan made a plea for journalism and content organisations to look at developing a ‘api’ that would allow people to identify the ‘journalistic’ role. Having read through the post a few times I’m convinced it’s a bad idea. Why? Because it’s a journalism licensing system. An open source one, but a licensing system none the less.

What both of Dans ideas have in common is a programatic approach. The idea that a genius brother can come along and find the formula that solves the case.

By the numbers

Over recent months I have seen a steady shift of perspective in the world of digital content.   The extremes of the division seems to be on where the value of the content we create really lies and how we profit (not just in terms of money ) from that.  And the responses to the problem seem as high-concept as numb3rs.

On the one side is the view that the value is in those who create it. The trust we can place in the individual or organisation. Build the brand and people will ignore the rest.

Imagine the pitch for that. A hard bitten editor uses his MBA genius brother to solve the journalism crisis by applying cardboard box production techniques to journalism.

But the journalist first model relies on roles, responsibilities and an implicit structure  – never articulated but policed ruthlessly. The programatic response demands that this can be quantified. But this is an exercise that is framed at the point where the internal and external market touch. It doesn’t engage with the internal roles other than through, apparently arbitrary measures only fixes half the problem.

The other side sees more value in the way we move the content around. Tag it, geotag it and make sure its semantic and the digital economy will decide. Cream will rise and the people will lap it up.

if we tag it and postcode it we achieve perpetual content motion – trust me I’m a genius.

That’s right. A hard bitten newspaper editor uses his SEO genius brother to solve the crisis  in journalism by finding the right tag that gets everyone reading a story.

This relies on the numbers to do the editorial work. But this falls in to the centralised distribution model.  Print, and the clicks and mortar fiascos of the nineties show that a centralising model inevitably means that the means of production will also be centralised and moved away from the communities they serve.  Relevance to an audience,  niche, geographical or other wise, suffers and no amount of tagging solves that.

Across the great divide

Last year the divide’d’jour was the Quality Vs Quantity video debate. But, appearing now on your screens is the new divide. It’s a numbers game.  It’s high concept. But it glossily produced and just about lacking in enough substance that you can’t help but take it seriously.

But both these positions are problematic as they both rely on an programmatic response to the problem.

Neither view engages properly with the value of risk and reward or the value of clear roles.

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