Archive for April, 2009

I’ll be back

There are many reasons for a man to disappear, or at least go very quiet. Reggie Perrin had his reasons, as did Lord Lucan. Brian Wilson went a bit mad, while everything gone downhill for Mike Ashley after he decided to do away with both the reclusive and the multi-millionaire bits of his description when he brought Newcastle United.

I’ve not purchased the Toon Army. Neither have I taken control of Exeter City. But it’s fair to say that football has played a reasonable part in the slight silence on here over the last couple of weeks.

This isn’t to say that I’ve got obsessed to the point of installing 15 TVs in my house obsessively detailing how Scunthorpe United profit from their use of long throw-ins. In fact, it may come as a surprise if I say that I’m usually not too bothered if other events clash with any given game. Football can be put to one side.

But not now, not at this current point in time. It’s the business end of the season, you see, and there are so many twists and turns and then double-twists and then turns that aren’t so much turns as slight bends in the road that, nonetheless, still have an impact on the league.

In short, football is currently just too exciting. The Premier League is actually, for once, reasonably interesting. The Championship still has plenty of surprises. Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga make me wish I lived on the continent. Burton may just bottle it. And, of course, Exeter City can still gain their second successive promotion in as many years if they beat Rotherham away next week.

If you’re one of those who enjoy reading my ill-thought out analysis on the state of the media than you may want to blame Exeter that it’ll take a week longer to get back to normal service. You see, all of this could have been avoided today if we’d just beaten bloody Morecambe at home, rather than freeze for the first 45 minutes and only manage a 2-2 draw.

Had Exeter won, there would have no doubt been eulogies on here before I wound down the football excitement and started posting stuff that actually interests people. Instead, I’m still wound tighter than a watchspring ahead of next week’s trip from St Pancras to Up North (it’s all up north from Exeter, really). And then, if we balls it up at the Don Valley Athletic Stadium, then we’ve got the playoffs to come. Christ on a bike and all that.

The best you can hope for in that case, is that Exeter end up playing Dagenham, which is an easy journey for me, and means I can still get home long before the last tube and still have time for fish and chips before Match of the Day. Marvellous.

You probably don’t really need to know any of this. You don’t need to know that I have at least a dozen posts in my draft folder that probably won’t get written until the end of the season for League Two clubs.

Unless you’re planning on emailing me with important stuff, you don’t need to know that I’m mostly replying to people saying: “Sounds great, but I’ll have to wait until after the football.” And you also don’t really need to know that I should really apologise to the lovely people at BT MyPlace who sent me a load of stuff that I took a glance and liked a lot at before firing off an email saying: “Yes, this looks ace, I’ll almost definitely write something about it,” before getting distracted on an article on Boca Juniors and River Plate, or something similar.

And now I feel I should apologise again because I’m writing this long, rather pointless apology rather than writing about their service, which I quite like, and linking it into wider social media trends and no doubt throwing in an arbitrary quote from, say, Mark Twain, just because I can.

That’s the problem with us bloggers. We’re so damn unreliable.

So, yes, apologies to people waiting for anything that isn’t football on here. I’ll get back to writing about exiting new trends in PR and social media. I would add journalism to that list as well, but it’s got enough problems as it is without needing the added pressure of exciting new trends.

Anyway, this is a rather lengthy, rambling way of saying an awful lot when I don’t have anything much to say at all, other than being able to discuss the not-so-finer points of Exeter’s 2-2 draw with Morecambe, and you probably don’t want to read about that here.

Normal service will be resumed soon. In the meantime I’m off to read about the Eredivise.

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More football stuff elsewhere

The podcasts are coming thick and fast and despite me breaking the pod record for saying the word interesting, the twofootedtackle pod number five with Ollie Irish from Big Soccer and Who Ate All The Pies is sounding good.

Speaking of pies, the big debate on the pod this week was which football ground serves the best pie. Ollie says Plymouth (surely they just serve pasties there), Chris says Villa and I say Kidderminster (which Thom agrees with). I’ve never been to Wigan though.

(Other pie recommendations include Oldham and Bristol Rovers for pasties).

You can join in the pie debate by becoming a fan of the podcast on Facebook.

And, while I’m at it, this week’s Soccerlens piece is on the rise of AFC Wimbledon. Sadly not accompanied by the fall of Franchise FC.

Who wags who?

Martin Moore’s discussion around the death of Ian Tomlinson and the subsequent investigation and unearthing of footage by the Guardian raises some interesting points about the place ‘old media (for want of a better phrase) have today:

“Would the ‘truth’ surrounding Mr Tomlinson’s death have come to light had it not been sought out by journalists, and then published as the lead story in the Guardian? Perhaps, but I don’t think so.”

Then there’s the Damian McBride email scandal that may have broken in the blogosphere but still needed the traditional media to completely take it into the scandal it has now become. Would McBride have resigned if the accusations had just appeared on Guido Fawkes’ blog and nowhere else [1]?

But, by the same token, these stories wouldn’t have become as big had it not been for the work of social media, with videos of Tomlinson and alleged police brutality at the G20 protests circulating around the internet. And in the midst of this, the Guardian showed how a mainstream media’s website spread this using social media tactics.

Then, on a lighter news story, Pete Cashmore muses at Mashable on Ashton Kutcher’s passing of the 1 million Twitter followers mark:

“And yet this assumes that social media needs mainstream media to justify its existence: that without its blessing social media is not confirmed. But mainstream media is increasingly becoming an echo of social media, allowing YouTube’s masses to define what matters (Susan Boyle, the Domino’s Pizza scandal) and mirroring that public sentiment.

For now, Twitter needs mainstream media more than mainstream media needs Twitter. But Ashton has an audience of 1 million at his fingertips: how much longer will the talent need its mainstream middleman?”

Is this a case of the tail wagging the dog or the dog wagging the tail? Or just a case of having a double-headed, double-tailed canine?

Chris Applegate makes an interesting comparion between the coverage of Hillsborough twenty years ago and the coverage of the G20.

Back in the 1980s, it was much easier for the police (with a little help from The Sun) to get out their version, deflecting blame and smearing the innocent. Today, the police’s account of the G20 was quickly contradicted by the wealth of material available. One wonders if the families of the 96 would still be campaigning for justice if Hillsborough had happened today.

At the moment, both social media and traditional media are probably wagging each other. The footage of Ian Tomlinson would probably have gained traction without the Guardian, but the newspaper’s work meant it was disseminated much quicker. McBride’s emails may well have just stuck to the Westminster gossip blogs  if the papers hadn’t run with it [2].

Certainly with significant news stories that originate in niche communities, then it probably does require a helping hand from the traditional press to take it that step further. But the lines are getting increasingly narrow between the two.

If you have an interest in an area, mainstream or niche, you’ll probably hear the news before it makes it to the mainstream media, but it’s also never been easier for journalists to keep tabs on what’s getting the internet buzzing – and if that’s beyond the usual geek or early adopter buzz, there’s a good chance it’s a story that more people will be interested in.

And then you’ve got somebody like Susan Boyle, who was on a primetime show like Britain’s Got Talent and got the traditional media and the social media talking, and social media helped turn Susan Boyle into a global superstar, which, in turn, became a story for traditional media.

My brain hurts.

Both sides still need each other still, but it remains to be seen for how much longer. Journalists are still gatekeepers, sorting the wheat from the chaff in the internet world, albeit with no small amount of help from places like Twitter. And when they do manage to come together, like the Guardian’s excellent work with the Ian Tomlinson story, then it can really take off.

And one final note that’s probably significant in some small way. When news broke that Tomlinson didn’t die of a heart attack, as was originally though, thenews was all over Twitter. But the most retweeted user on this was Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the Channel 4 News anchor.

Like I say, both sides still need each other.

[1] Ok, this is being very simplistic. No blog is an island and that’s one of the joys of the web. If people like what’s blogged or Tweeted, it soon finds its way onto other blogs.

[2] It’s worth remembering that while the likes of Gudio and Iain Dale are seen as influential within Westminster, once you leave this behind, recognition of their names probably diminishes. You can be interested in politics without having heard of either, especially if you don’t spend a great deal of time reading blogs. There is a world beyond the blogs.

Hillsborough

You don’t have to be a Liverpool fan to be shocked and saddened by what happened in Sheffield twenty years ago. It’s also probably not an outlandish statement to say the disaster went some way to shape the game as we know it today.

Over at Soccerlens, the column looks back at the events of that day and tries to put it in some form of context.

If you’re a (radio) journalist, Audioboo is dead exciting

Occasionally a service pops onto the internet that’s just brimming with potential for journalism (and the rest of the media). It doesn’t need any complicated explanations – you just plug and go and start having a lot of fun. Audioboo is one of those services.

Ostensibly it’s a very simple app for the iPhone that allows you to record a ‘boo’, which gets sent to the Audioboo website, where there are also the standard social networking functions. You can also embed it into your own website. This boo can literally be anything, but it’s normally short and snappy – rarely over two minutes. It’s a bit like an aural version of Seesmic or Twitter, although that’s not entirely accurate.

The Guardian used this to good effect on their liveblog during their coverage of the G20 summit and the accompanying protests. Mix with text and video, it gave you short, snappy reports from journalists on the ground.

This, to me, is exciting.

Let’s backtrack to when I was a radio reporter. It’s not a million miles away from what I would be doing for assorted news stories – often standing near a breaking news story (usually in a cold and/or wet place. Big news stories always seem to break when the elements are at their worst, just to torment news reporters) with a microphone in hand, describing what was going on for the benefit of our listeners.

Depending on what equipment was available on the day you’d either get a radio quality OB unit (although this would inevitably decide not to work or be in use when big stories broke), a mobile phone, or you’d just end up doing an ‘as live’ report into your recording equipment.

This is why Audioboo excites me. The quality, as far as I can tell, is decent – certainly better than using a mobile. Sure, it has limitations – you can’t do a two-way, for example. But the principle of just sending a quick report of where you are and what you’re doing… hell, that’s no different from standard radio journalism and opens up a wealth of possibilities.

If I were still in radio, I’d be getting onto our technical and website bods to make sure we could send Boos direct to the newsroom. How liberating would it be if you can send an immediate report back in decent quality without having to do a pre-record or even take up precious time from the journalist at the other end who’ll be recording your call.

And if a radio journalist found themselves somewhere without any recording equipment (maybe during off-duty time), it’d be easy to get a report back to the office.

But Audioboo goes way beyond that. Citizen journalism is usually, these days, a fairly vague term that’s just used to lump ‘the internet’ together but in this case it suits Audioboo perfectly. If newsrooms encourage listeners to send in their ‘boos’ from news stories, there’s a whole wealth of material that can be collected freeing up precious time for the journalist (and please God, meaning that we have to do less vox pops. I’ve yet to met a journalist who enjoys vox popping. That said, there is a time and a place and they do make for good radio).

Then there’s the radio shows themselves. Audioboo can add another easy, interactive aspect to any DJ’s show, or any podcast as well (it’s certainly something I’d like to play with in the future for the twofootedtackle podcast when I get a moment). Given how simple it is, there are so many possibilities.

Of course, it’s not just radio journalists this can be useful for. It should be reasonably easy to work them into TV news (I’d imagine), and the Guardian have already shown how any news website can work them into coverage. Again, any newspaper – be it national, regional or local – should be looking to work this into their site.

Inviting ‘boos’ from the public is essentially opening up audio is the same way camera phones and the like did for pictures, and that’s now a staple part of any news coverage.

The only downside. I don’t yet have an iPhone so can’t Audioboo myself. But it’s a concept that really excites me and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that about any web service, no matter how much I love or use them.

Podcast 3 & Soccerlens

The twofootedtackle podcast three is now up. Chris and I were joined in the studio by Luton Town fan and general football obsessive Ben Shaw.

Unsurprisingly, Luton’s Johnstone Paint Trophy Final victory featured, alomg with a general chat about Luton’s ongoing woes. Continuing the woe theme, Southampton, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Barry Ferguson and, erm, Ade Akinbiyi all featured in the discussion.

And Southampton are also the topic of this week’s Soccerlens. Sad times on the South Coast.

Alas poor Press Gazette

When the trade magazine for an industry closes, it’s a sure sign that things aren’t looking good for said industry. When the trade magazine for an industry that includes magazines closes… well, you tell me what that means. Nothing good, that’s for sure.

The Press Gazette has been bumping along, barely getting by, for a while now so while today’s announcement is somewhat of a shock it can’t be said to be a surprise.

The publication will be mourned by those in the media and rightly so. Not too long ago it was still essential reading. Even when it switched from a weekly to a monthly and got by on reduced staff it was still worth reading, if only as a place where you could get a reasonably comprehensive roundup of national, local and regional and it still provided food for thought.

But the writing has been on the wall for a while, as illustrated nicely by Dave Lee’s anecdotal post. It was still important reading but not vital reading. It was useful but the website wasn’t a daily must-read.

If anything its demise acts as a pretty good barometer and illustration of the industry itself. It was struggling with declining revenues, cutting costs, struggling with whether it was a print or online publication and, most importantly of all, struggling to stay relevant in an online world. It was just about managing this, but having mediaguardian.co.uk as a competitor didn’t help.

More worrying is what this means – and says – about the media itself. We’ve already seen other big name publications, most notably Maxim, disappear from our shelves.

And while we’re not quite at the levels of the US where several big names have gone, local press is seriously struggling to keep going here. Plenty of people I’ve trained with, worked with or have got to know have been made redundant or have been asked to work shorter hours. The prognosis is not good.

Roy Greenslade asks if anybody will be willing to save the Press Gazette. But we’ve been here before and the publication has just lurched from one owner to another, struggling to stay alive all the time.

And this is, let’s not forget, a media industry that, for whatever reason, cannot make a magazine about media aimed squarely at them work [1].

The industry will be much the poorer without the Press Gazette, especially as it seems their online offering won’t actually offer any proper journalism after the start of May (which kind of defeats the point in keeping it going). Hopefully somebody will give it the proper send off, the celebration of its life that it deserves.

It’s going to be a long hard year for the media, sadly. I still maintain that the cycle will come back round at some point (whenever that may be) and the industry will pick up.

But quite what the industry will look like at that stage is anybody’s guess. That the business model has to change is beyond doubt, but if anybody had a clue on how best to change it, it would have happened long before now.

Ouch.

[1] Although this is a slightly simplistic way of looking at it and the various owners can be said to play at part in this.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com