George Osborne should quit as a MP to edit the Standard

Had a blog I wrote for the University of Northampton picked up by The Huffington Post.

You can see it here:

 

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Digital still the poor cousin at the RTS TV Journalism Awards

The decision to award Steve Hewlett the Judges’ Award at the Royal Television Society Television Journalism Awards dominated the reporting of this year’s event.

That’s no doubt correct. But it did somewhat overshadow what a terrific night it was for Channel 4 News; the team  won programme of the year, Matt Frei picked up TV journalist of the year and Waad al-Kateab won a number of awards including Young Talent.

Before the event I spoke to Digital Editor, Jon Laurence, the driving force behind Channel 4 News’s incredible success with social video – especially on Facebook.

Despite recent changes to make the RTS a more level playing field and stop ITN’s domination of the categories through its multiple newsrooms, the awards still don’t recognise the contribution of digital to the success of news journalism.

I find that surprising and disappointing – as I said to Jon, although he was self-deprecating enough to laugh it off.

Still, with digital threatening TV’s audiences as never before, it’s surely sensible to celebrate TV newsrooms’ digital success. And perhaps phase out the ancient news technology award.

One final thought. While Tom Bradby won for Network Presenter of the Year, even as the reviews of the Nightly Show suggested the move of the news was a mistake, and the BBC won for Home Coverage with its series on prisons, this wasn’t a great year for the big bulletins.

The RTS has tried to increase the pool of jurors, including myself, but it would be a shame if the awards lost their sense of the industry awarding its peers because the independent jurors ended up voting for the shows they watch or appear on.

In Nations and Regions News, the category for which I was a juror, the broadcaster representatives still had a vote – unlike some of the more hard fought categories, such as Programme of the Year. I wonder if that is a better solution than only independents voting. Perhaps some more tweaks to the rules might be advisable.

 

My journalism and media predictions for 2017

It has become something of a habit for me to post a few New Year’s predictions for the coming 12 months.

You can see previous efforts here, here and here.

So, what is ahead for 2017?

1.TOO. MUCH. VIDEO.

There is a glut of terrible video available online.

Driven by higher CPMs and the improved user experience provided by faster broadband and 4G phones, publishers have piled into video in a big way.

But too much of it is just rubbish.

Poorly produced and with little thought given to user experience, much online video exists merely to serve terrible 30-second pre-roll ads.

There are honourable exceptions but they are few and far between.

Even YouTubers are seeing a drop off in views.

Supply outstripping demand also showed up as an issue in this year’s Reuters Institute Digital Report.

The top reason for not watching a video – “I find reading quicker and more convenient”. Obviously.

video-report

But this isn’t about users, this is about producers and publishers.

They want eyeballs on content and are prepared to throw out any old crap in order to grow monthly streams.

And the worst, absolute worst, examples of this can be seen on Facebook Live.

Journalists have flocked to make live videos watched by an audience so small it is effectively nobody and have turned out the most godawful tripe along the way.

Even broadcasters, for whom there is absolutely no excuse, have managed to create amateurish, boring, pointless live content.

Please, all of you, stop it now before it is too late.

Live social video is an incredible tool – some of the stories being told are revelatory and revolutionary.

But stop turning out pointless lives for a few dozen people.

Surely by this point we must realise that behind-the-scenes video or extended interviews are the lowest common denominators of digital story-telling.

If you didn’t put it in your main story, what makes you think anyone wants to see the rubbish left on the cutting room floor?

So, here’s the prediction.

Over-supply will cause video CPMs to crash, forcing publishers to make tough decisions about whether to concentrate on quality or quantity.

Most will continue to put out rubbish for increasingly poor returns.

But smart publishers will focus on building dedicated audiences with targeted high quality content with a long tail.

2. Facebook grows up

Fake news and how to tackle it is a hot topic at the moment.

The performance of fake stories in the final weeks of the U.S. Presidential election has put the issue front and centre.

There has been a lot of talk about the importance of more fact-checking, more on the ground reporting, less comment and fewer paid talking heads.

That’s all well and good – much of it is a welcome recommitment to core journalistic values.

But the essential problem is that the distribution method of choice – Facebook – doesn’t feel it has any duties to its news consumers.

Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that he thinks Facebook is a tech company, not a media one.

That may be true, up to a point.

But in the end, if users lose trust in material they see on Facebook then it is Facebook that will suffer.

That means the company is going to have to start taking its responsibilities to users more seriously.

And draining the swamp of fake stories, propaganda, misinformation and disinformation is a good place to start.

So, here’s the prediction – Facebook will hire editors to improve its fact-checking and act to cut back the wave of fake stories as the start of a process of acknowledging its position as a world leading mass-media company.

3. AI in the newsroom

Smart newsroom products are coming.

We have already started to see experiments and roll-out of automated writing.

That will continue.

But we will also see more use of machine learning in newsgathering and production too.

During the past 12 months I have been providing some advice to a Silicon Valley startup looking at how AI can be implemented in the newsroom.

UGC verification and social newsgathering are obvious places to start, using machine learning to parse huge amounts of data.

It doesn’t mean all of us journalists are going to be replaced by robots.

At least, not yet.

But 2017 will start to see more use of automated and smart products in the production of news, freeing reporters to work on adding value to the basic commodity of information.

4. Peer to peer becomes a peer

Snapchat has become the latest social media platform for journalists to embrace.

Early adopters have seen big returns – Buzzfeed has suggested that a fifth of its total traffic comes from Snapchat Discover.

But it has really only been publishers with heavy footprints in the U.S. and UK that have seen big returns.

That is set to change in the coming year.

As Twitter struggles with open messaging, expect peer-to-peer and closed group chat to grow faster.

And news publishers will want a slice of the pie.

I ran a number of strategy sessions for digital publishers across Africa and southern Asia during the summer.

It was striking how many of them thought WhatsApp with its huge install base was a potential audience driver.

They won’t be alone.

In 2017 expect to see more and more publishers experiment with peer-to-peer and personalised news to phones.

5. What is already hard just gets tougher

2016 was a great year for news reporting.

Taken in the round, audiences have never been larger, we had unmatched international reach, and stories of weight and importance.

But the business of news continues to get harder.

It has become clearer that a business strategy based on scale cannot deliver financial security.

And we’ve all had to get used to the guilt-tripping begging notes asking for more money.

As the impact of Brexit decelerates the British economy, trying to make a media business sustainable via free content and advertising at scale is going to become more difficult.

Smart publishers have already added other revenue streams to their business strategies.

2017 is going to be a year of hard decisions that have already been deferred too long.

More publishers will embrace paywalls, cutting costs through reduced editorial staff, and the decision point for newspapers on when to stop the presses will inch closer.

How bad this gets will depend on the scale of Brexit’s economic shock.

If it triggers a full-blown recession, Shane Smith’s oft-quoted but never quite materialised bloodbath will come to pass.

Publishers can future-proof themselves if they embrace solid business plans with diversified revenue streams, and produce content audiences value enough to pay for.

Otherwise they risk being cartwheel makers in the age of the motorcar.

 

Five predictions for the coming year – let’s see if my track record for accuracy shows any sign of improvement in 12 months’ time.

Media predictions 2016 – what was right and what was wrong?

Time for me to mark my own homework again. 12 months ago I made some predictions for 2016.

How on point do they look at the end of the year?

1. Ad-blockers will go mainstream

If you’re under 25 you are almost as likely to use an ad-blocker as not.

And the numbers are rising.

This year’s Reuters Digital News Report made the same point:

Ad blockers age

One report, published in the summer, suggests a 90% jump in ad-blocking on mobile devices in the past year alone.

That said, mobile network Three seems to have gone luke-warm on its plan to introduce automatic ad-blocking for all consumers.

As I argued last year, this is all about user experience.

If users feel ad blockers cut data usage, improve page delivery speeds and kill off ultra-intrusive formats such as splash screens, they will vote with their feet.

There are some signs of progress in the ad industry.

But companies need to move faster to tackle what is a potentially existential threat.

Once an ad-blocker is installed, what incentive is there to remove it?

Appeals to logic are not sufficient.

I teach undergraduate journalism students.

Rough in class surveys suggest that most of them use ad-blockers and none of them pay for news, but they still want to work in an industry being strangled by a lack of digital revenues.

I’d say this prediction was correct.

2. A choice to make: destination vs distribution 

Would it be distribution or destination in 2016?

Not much doubt the resounding answer was distribution.

The old adage that you should be where you customers are, held true again.

But the underlying financial weakness of this as a business strategy has been shown again and again.

Buzzfeed and NowThis are both heavily invested in a distributed content strategy.

They’re both huge content farms that appear to make essentially no money from distributed content but use it as an advert for their branded content businesses.

Both companies also continue to attract significant VC investment.

But is this a sustainable business strategy or are the disrupters at risk of being disrupted?

It’s not yet clear but should the financial outlook turn chilly in 2017, things may come more sharply into focus.

The question in the prediction was right – whether it was the right answer though is debatable.

Let’s call it a half.

3. Innovation will move to the heart of the newsroom

More innovation was on show in 2016.

The Washington Post demonstrated there’s still some life in newspapers.

And there was a lot of talk about VR and immersive video. Not least at The Guardian.

But there’s still a long way to go to make it deliver as a story-telling medium.

Have newsrooms really embraced innovation? There are some examples of progress.

For the most part, though, the answer seems to be to keep doing what they’ve always done while incrementally changing.

That’s hardly a surprise. But disappointing nonetheless.

4. Twitter will face an existential crisis

Boy, did it ever.

It’s been a tough year for Twitter.

Shares tanked after a failed sale over the summer.

And costs are running so high it’s losing $500 million a year on revenues of $2 billion.

Its active monthly user base appears maxed out at circa 300 million.

And it has a terrible reputation for trolling, misogyny, and racist abuse.

Twitter is going to have to change to continue to exist – there can’t be a standstill point here – without change it will decline and die.

No company can survive for long on flatline growth and losses of hundreds of millions.

And those of us who love it will have to hope that its charm and vibrancy isn’t destroyed in the process.

5. Managing decline in TV news

It has been another great year for TV news content.

Huge stories and amazing, brave and fascinating reporting.

But the slow decline of the medium continues.

As a fascinating report for the Reuters Institute for Journalism by Professor Richard Sambrook showed, a sustained decline of 3-4% in audience per year is comparable to those seen by newspapers a decade ago.

And the inexorable rise of on-demand programming shows that linear programming is, at least in the long-run, dead.

The BBC News Channel may have survived the latest cuts – at least for now – but TV news is in long term decline.

That doesn’t mean everything ends tomorrow.

But editors need to think hard about what the netflix of TV news looks like, even as disruptors like Vice move into the linear space.

We know that traditional TV packaging doesn’t work well in social news.

Can a lean-back experience deliver where a smartphone based approach won’t?

A tough nut to crack but one that I hope will be solved in the coming years.

So I make that three and a half out of five. Thoughts for 2017 will be coming shortly.

Most popular posts of 2016

It’s December and it is time to take a look back at this year’s most read stories on my blog.

Up at the top is always the generic homepage – that doesn’t tell me much so I’ll drop down to the specific stories people read.

  1. Once again at the top of the leaderboard is 2014’s post about John Oliver quitting The Daily Show and how I set-up The Bugle podcast with him and Andy Zaltzman when I was head of multimedia at The Times.
  2. This year’s predictions for the year ahead was the second most read item.
  3. In September I took a sceptical look at a report into how much the BBC was paying its journalists.
  4. The fourth most read story was a look back at my media predictions for 2015
  5. And fifth was a look at some of the fake news about journalism spread in the wake of the Brussels attacks.

Twitter, search and Facebook were the most common referrers. Facebook always surprises me as I don’t post blogs to Facebook but presumably readers share articles there.

Linkedin also put in a showing – although I doubt some of the figures. Linkedin always claims a far higher click-through rate than WordPress records arrivals.

Search terms on Google are usually encrypted these days so there’s little of interest in what has been recorded. Usually just a variation of my name and a topic.

Traffic by country tended to be predominantly the UK, the US and Australia. But with a smattering of places where I’ve done international work over the past year such as India.

In terms of total traffic, 2016 was approximately on par with 2015. 2014 remains the most active year in terms of postings, impressions and visitors. The main driver was the John Oliver story being shared by Andy Zaltzman and Bugle fans sharing it on social media and reposting it to fan-sites.

 

Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Demons – not as bad as you might have heard

Poor Sir Craig Oliver.

His memoir of the inside story of the Brexit referendum seems to have been universally panned by the press. James Kirkup’s evisceration in The Telegraph is particularly brutal.

It is true that it is not that well-written. The number of times that Craig “runs into” a world famous politician and then is reminded of a pop-culture reference suggest it needed more careful editing.

It has clearly been rushed out and is little more than a diary rather than a considered view of the campaign and its implications.

But that was also true of Alastair Campbell’s diaries too. So, why the universal derision?

I better declare an interest. I’ve known Craig for many years. He was a highly intelligent and capable programme editor at ITN and one of the driving forces behind ITV News during his tenure as Head of Output. He was a smart, driven but thoughtful journalist with a populist touch.

We stayed in contact after he moved to the BBC and I briefly worked for David Cameron in opposition – although I’ve not seen him since his elevation to Number 10.

But he’s not exactly clubbable.

When he started working for Cameron I heard back from friends in the Lobby and on comment pages of newspapers that they found him supercilious, unconcerned with the needs of the print press and purely focussed on broadcast news.

That was clearly the right thing to do in my opinion. Getting the message right on Radio 1, Radio 2 and the main broadcast bulletins watched by millions of voters is far more important than appeasing the Sunday Telegraph’s comment writers.

But it is clear the Lobby has never forgiven him and is getting its revenge now.

That said, this is an insight into the heart of the campaign and its failings. And it is surprisingly refreshing to see politicians actually being quoted in what would normally be off-the record moments.

And that might be something the Lobby, with its reliance on anonymous sources, might want to reflect on.