Monthly Archives: August 2009

Top tips for professional video

The technology to make video is so widely available now that anyone in publishing can be asked to work in the medium. But though it’s easy to work the kit, it’s not so easy to make professional looking results. 

As ever, the devil is in the detail. Here’s a quick link to a really good how-to post on creating professional video results using Final Cut Pro (and even iMovie).

It’s from Colin Mulvany’s Mastering Multimedia blog. He’s a multimeeja producer in Washington State and also has some interesting things to say about the transition to digital journalism. Worth a look…

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Where’s the advertising going? Facebook, apparently

Need a job in the media? It seems Facebook is the place to go, as founder Mark Zuckerberg aims to double the company’s headcount to 2,000

Of course, you’ll need to be an engineer or programmer, rather than, say, a journalist, which is the problem when advertising deserts its traditional media home for that new-fangled social networking thingy. 

Revenues are up 70% over last year, and the company seems to be doing well pulling in brand advertising that would otherwise go to media such as TV or magazines. (I know, I know. Facebook still isn’t making a profit. But it is sitting on a pile of cash and isn’t burning through it so fast.) 

The problem for those of us toiling in the media anthill is that Facebook’s content is created by its users, not by professional writers and editors. 

Not great news for those trying to develop a viable paid online model

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Accuracy level of Guardian now a major concern for readers

My first reaction on seeing this Guardian media headline –  “Literacy level of recruits now a major concern for media, report finds” – was: I know – I’ve said it myself often enough.

But then I read the story. The story says absolutely nothing about general literacy. 

It makes the following points:

  • The industry needs more skilled advertising and media sales staff
  • Freelancers need to be up to date on technology and multimedia
  • Games and other creative industries are reducing the talent pool for journalism
  • Publishing is a highly qualified industry (not highly skilled, notice), with 45% of workers having a degree

Yet it deals with all this under an opening paragraph saying this:

The literacy level of young recruits at newspapers and magazines is becoming a major concern, a training watchdog has warned.

No – it simply hasn’t warned us of this. Not according to this story, anyway. Where’s the evidence? Where’s the reference from the report? Where’s the quote from Skillset?

In fact, the only halfway relevant comment the story offers from the Skillset report is this: 

…traditional skills such as good writing, editing and interviewing were “becoming even more important so that customers are prepared to pay for high quality content”.

Which may or may not be true – there’s actually no clear cut evidence that “customers are prepared to pay for high quality content”, or pay for content at all.

Even if it is true, this comment doesn’t touch on literacy per se – this is talking about communication skills and style, which is a different, if related, thing.

What’s worse, this isn’t just sloppy, sloppy writing – it’s sloppy sub-editing too. Any sub worth their salt would have picked up on this and certainly given it a more accurate headline…

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Critique of the Online Journalism Blog’s new look

OJB_250809Being as I’ve been too busy checking, unchecking and then rechecking tick boxes on a CMS for the past few weeks, I’ve only just caught up with the redesign of Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog.

The OJB is excellent as a resource, but it used to look dreadful – tiny type, an unattractive colour scheme and confusing post attribution, so you never knew who’d written what. It was also jam-packed with links, tabs and sections, so navigation could be a bit confusing.

So a redesign is good news. The bad news is that that the new design really hammers the blog’s usability. 

For a start, the blog has suddenly closed off its archive. I mean, it’s still there, but you can’t browse it by date. The home page only displays the latest post, and only displays the previous 5 posts in a “Recent Posts” section in the sidebar. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I like to flick back through a blog’s content chronologically for a while if I see something I like to see what else is up. The OJB has stopped this, and also has no calendar-based archive link, so you could look at June’s posts at a glance, say. A big, big failing. 

Other issues:

  • Typography – justified with no hyphenation, so there’s a lot of distractingly gappy text
  • Categories – navigation is much more category-based, with a prominent list in the sidebar. But you can’t see which categories have been assigned to a post just by looking at it. I don’t know why, but this bothers me. I think it must be because I am spending too much of my time with taxonomy at the moment. I’d like a more transparent taxonomy in the sites I visit, I guess. 
  • Attribution – authorship is much clearer when you get past the home page, but not on the “Latest post” which is the most prominent on the site, strangely. 
  • Clickthrough – the Latest Post is long enough that you might miss clicking through (like I did), because it seems complete in itself. I’d prefer to see the whole of the post on the front page, with images, or else an obvious excerpt. And with excerpts, I’d prefer to see more of them. Although I’d prefer the whole thing. 
  • Repetition – for some reason the Latest Post is published twice on the home page: once as a normal-looking post, the next as a box-out underneath it. I’m thinking (and hoping) it’s a weird programming glitch that will be sorted out. 
  • Signposting – I’m often not sure where I am or what I’m looking at. Underneath the Latest Post on the home page, for example are several items under the heading “Asides” that look like comments, but in fact turn out to be other posts. Confusingly, some are from the OJB, some aren’t. This may be a deliberate element of the OJB’s “This is a conversation” strategy, which is fine, but the fact that I had to look twice to realise they were separate stories instead of comments or something else, is less fine. They also don’t have headlines. They need headlines. And the clickthrough link is a bit weak. More clarity please!

Verdict: ultimately, the redesign gives the impression that there’s much less on the Online Journalism Blog than there was before. And makes it less easy to access. Just my tuppennyworth…

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Why the advertising model for funding print publishing is broken

Following his recent comments on Freelance Unbound, Martin Cloake has a nice post here on the changing dynamics of magazine publishing. 

His thesis (roughly) is that saturation in the market forced down individual title readerships, while a fixation on keeping advertisers happy made magazines so bland that this readership deserted the sector in droves. It’s not tah interweebs what done it – so we can still retrieve the situation with better quality product.

I’d certainly agree with much of this – although I have to stand up for the disruptive technology argument again. 

This time the technology was desktop publishing (DTP), which opened up the print magazine world in the late 1980s and early 1990s to many new entrants and was a big factor in the market saturation that Martin cites. 

Can we go back to a mass readership for magazines, so that newsstand sales and subscriptions pay our publication costs – including decent salaries for journalists?

I think the odds are against it, purely because of over-supply versus shrinking demand. And remember, reading as a leisure pursuit is under threat from a whole range of new content types and formats – from gaming to social networking. Whether we can keep younger potential customers on board is a big question…

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Lessons from the superheroes: Marvel comics and mass media

There’s quite a bit of activity in the comment threads again today, as we wrestle with issues such as why newspapers (and TV) are struggling in the internet age.

Martin Cloake makes some interesting points about the women’s mass market sector, which he says relies on cheap production, high sales and relatively few advertisements to make its money. 

There’s an interesting near(ish) parallel with another publishing sector – American superhero comics. 

I read these avidly as a pre-teenager – so avidly, in fact, that I would even devour the publishing details in the indicia, and the regular panel of distribution and sales information that would appear at the back detailing how many copies were printed, distributed, sold and returned. Yes, I had a sad, geeky childhood.

But these figures were, and are, very illuminating. I remember comics like the Fantastic Four printing some 450,000 copies in the late 1960s or early 1970s, with about half those being sold and the rest returned. 

The comics themselves were garishly printed on cheap stock, and were filled with advertisements for the kind of products you could only buy  in the US – sea monkeys, x-ray glasses and money-printing machines. How my heart ached to buy them. What disappointment I avoided.

They were also cheap to buy – 5 shiny new pence at first, rising to about 12p as sterling fell steadily against the dollar in the early 1970s. And they were sold through newsagents and sweet shops – all bundled together in little piles or, if you were really lucky, in a spin rack of their own. Though not in my north London parish. 

How things changed. Hammered by TV and suffering from quality issues, sales fell steadily. Crucially, as discussed at some length by Chris Tolworthy in his very informative Enter The Story site, slim margins on comics meant they were sidelined by retail outlets, which could get a much better return from glossy magazines. 

The result was the comics publishers were forced to distribute through specialist comic shops, catering to a niche collector audience. Sales figures went down generally, though this was masked for a while by a speculative boom, which saw collectible issues selling multiple copies to collectors. 

The numbers are interesting. Chris Tolworthy says:

In 1979 a typical comic sold 100,000 copies, and much more ten years earlier. But today, 20,000 is common, and comics only survive because they make extra sales in trade paperback compilations.

I don’t have the specific numbers myself, but his sound reasonable from what I’ve heard. And a lot of small press and independent self-publishers have given up publishing regular monthly comics in place of graphic novels that have a much longer shelf life. (I don’t know about the margins, but I suspect they’d be higher, too.)

No – it’s not an exact parallel. But exchange newspapers for comic books and you have some indication of where they might be headed.

First – your mass market will erode to a niche market. With much less available advertising, newspapers will have to become much more expensive.

Second, like comics, you may see them less often, as they may well not be able to publish every day. That’s already happening in the US as papers give up some of their daily editions

But most troubling, big publishers such as Marvel and DC Comics simply wouldn’t survive if they relied on revenue from comic sales. Marvel went bankrupt in the 1990s and is only thriving now because its characters are used in blockbuster movies such as Iron Man. In similar fashion, DC is now owned by entertainment giant Time Warner, which can also spin out comic characters into movies (Dark Knight, Watchmen) and merchandise. 

The disadvantage of newspapers in all this? I’m not sure fanboys will be rushing to collect mint editions of the Independent‘s August 24 issue. Nor will film studios rush to option the media section of the Guardian for a summer blockbuster…

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Why newspapers (and TV) are struggling in the internet age

The news that Gap has scrapped TV ads for social media should come as no surprise. And it’s bad news for those who think that the media’s focus should be on getting readers to pay for online content.

The internet makes it easy for anyone to become a publisher of traditional-style media content at virtually no cost, which puts more pressure on media owners.

But it also makes it easy for brands to bypass traditional content vehicles altogether, and interact directly with consumers.

In the Gap’s case, this does mean still using existing channels – cinema, print and outdoor ads – to drive consumers to a Facebook page. But that ad spend will be shrinking. And even if brands still need to reach consumers via advertising – whether online or offline – that advertising won’t necessarily be going to newspapers or newspaper web sites.

Instead, brands can place ads into games, social media sites and Twitter streams, and reach their target audience through a whole range of niche interest web sites (some of which they might set up themselves).

And don’t forget the increasing importance of live events in this. The effect of digital reproduction of music on the music industry has been to reduce the importance of the music track and increase the importance of the live relationship between music act and audience.

This effect will also play out in newspapers and magazines. People will stop seeing printed magazines as being as culturally important as they have been. Instead, I predict, they will respond better to brands that interact with them in the real world.

So look for brands doing more live sponsorship and field marketing activity at the expense of plain old visual advertising.

A lot of the debate about whether or not newspapers will survive hinges on getting readers to pay for content – whether online or off.

But actually, single copy purchases and subscriptions have never been the core of newspaper revenues – that honour goes to advertising. And it’s the fact that advertisers are deserting newspapers in droves that has pushed the industry on to its knees.

Unless we can find a way to key advertisers paying for newspapers (and magazines, and television), there’s really no escape from the decline of printed news media. And it means that the traditional, resource-hungry newspaper web site is also in trouble.

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