Archive for the 'Economics' Category

Who needs offices anyway?

Local newspaper group Archant has decided it doesn’t need as many offices in London. Managing director Enzo Testa told the Press Gazette: “”Offices are expensive, and we don’t need as many as we did. We’re operating with laptops, mobiles, 3G cards. They don’t need to be in the office every day.”

Without knowing the exact ins and outs of the office closures, this seems like a sensible idea, especially as Archant have said nobody will be losing their jobs. And it’s one I mused about a few months ago.

Even before the recession, media companies were looking for ways to cut costs and getting rid of office space is a pretty effective way of doing this. Rent and bills must come to a hell of a lot, so cut them out and you don’t need to cut back on journalists, so the quality won’t suffer.

Communications technology has moved on pretty quickly in just the last few years to the point where, for print journalists at least, there’s little point in heading into the office. Secure servers, cloud computing, internal wikis and the like all free up the journalist to be out where the news is.

Bloggers can use these tools and can get breaking news out quickly as a result, so why have the journalist wedded to the desk. If anything, it should give journalists more flexibility. Just because we’ve always worked in an office based environment, doesn’t mean we should today if the technology allows us to do otherwise.

If this move gives journalists the ability to move around a lot more freely and be less constrained by the notion of deadlines or having to head back to the office to file copy, then it’s a good thing. It puts traditional media on the same level as social media or citizen journalists (using that phrase for lack of a better one at this time of night).

Now what’d be really cool would be to give them decent smartphones that enable them to take pictures and stream video direct to their websites. That really would be breaking news.


Roy Greenslade picks up on this as well:

“But it’s a journalistic no-no. I know we are doing more work online, but reporters need to maintain human contact. Taking them away from their communities is a huge mistake.

Gary Andrews disagrees, arguing that we don’t need offices nowadays. That would be fine, of course, if publishers allowed their reporters the right to work from their homes. I suspect, however, that this manoeuvre is not about giving journalists freedom, but about constraining them still further.”

I don’t entirely disagree with Roy on this. Yes, of course reporters need to be in and around the areas they’re reporting on. That makes complete sense, and I’m definitely not advocating removing human contact.

If Archant are prepared to make sure that all the journalists on the title are living in (or, at the least, very close to) the area then that’s fine (and that doesn’t mean just employing journalists who live in the area – but helping those who don’t to find a property, whatever form that takes).

It also wouldn’t hurt to have the office – wherever that may be – to have a few hotdesks should journalists need to pop in, as well as a meeting room.

But I really do think that – if implemented properly – this could be an asset to reporters. The technology – wifi, 3G, smartphones, cloud – is in place, and a journalist doesn’t need to be tied down to one place.

I’m a big advocate of home-working or working from the coffee shop, or elsewhere. I know several freelancers – both in journalism and PR – who do just this, using these tools, and it really hasn’t affected them.

The thought of being able to zip from one story to another, or stay and file from the scene of a breaking news story, without having to worry about dashing back to the office – and being able to send in pics and videos live to the website – is one that really excites me. There is so much potential here.

But I’ll tag on a few caveats to the end of this. Firstly, repeating from earlier, I don’t know the ins and outs of exactly what Archant plans to do, so this is really just comment on my part on the idea rather than the logistics.

Secondly, yes, to agree with Roy, this move should be about freeing up journalists, not replacing extra restrictions on them to cut costs.

It’s easy to be cynical about this, but times like these call for creative solutions and this could be it. Providing it doesn’t impact on the quality or productivity.

But I’m willing to take a step back and concede that it maybe be too over-ambitious to suggest its going to live up to my ideal model. Not to mention over optimistic. And let’s make this clear – anything that results in journalists losing their jobs over this and leaves the papers understaffed is not a good things.

But nevertheless, with that in mind, let’s toss this out to any local journos who’ve stumbled across this post.

Taking this as a standalone idea (removing it, temporarily, from the Archant context), how does the idea sit with you? If somebody said: “Right, you don’t have to come in tomorrow – you’ll have access to everything you’d normally have access to, but you’ll be using a laptop, dongle and smartphone and can work from wherever you think is best. Oh, and you can phone or email at any time for editorial chats, plus we’ll make some kind of internal coms thing available (possibly using Yammer?) to bounce ideas off.”

Is that appealing? Or does it fill you with dread?


Foreign players and markets

Earlier today, on an Exeter City mailing list I subscribe to (yes, such things exist), Mike Blackstone posed the following question:

“What if the only players who were allowed to play in the Premier and Football  League were to be born in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern ireland  and the Republic of ireland? Would this not make the respective  international teams stronger (eventually) as more home grown players
came through the ranks?”

I started replying, the realised it was turning into an epic consideration of all things foreign, football politics, and quite possibly ill-thought through economics of the sport. So, what the hell, I’ll post it on here.

Normally this would go over onto Soccerlens, but it’s very much a work in progress and I’d be interested for other people to throw their own views in here, as I’ve undoubtedly missed a few things or there’s a stunningly good argument to demolish one, or all, of the points. It might get shaped into some kind of article in coming weeks. Possibly.

Here, in all its unrefined glory (or lack of) is my answer to Mike’s question:


To go back to Mike’s original question, I think it would make more players available for the teams, but may not necessarily make it stronger. Ok, so there may be more players to chose from, but that won’t help if all the players are of a lower standard than the foreign players they replace. It will weaken the league and, in the long run, damage the international teams, no matter how good the short-term measure would be.

Blaming the foreign influx is an easy way to see a solution to the perceived problem, but there are wider underlying issues here that aren’t the fault of foreign players.

1. First of all, foreign players have benefitted the league. Having world class players like Henry, Cantona, Zola, Bergkamp, etc compete in England has made the league more attractive to advertisers and sponsorship and has resulted in more money flowing in. That clubs lower down have not benefitted from this cash is due to the Premier League and the FA, not foreigners.

2. Players such as Henry et al have provided inspiration for youngsters today to take up the game, and have given our game something different. Previously a player such as, say, Matthew Le Tissier, wasn’t fancied at international level despite being one of the nearest things we had to a continetal playmaker like Totti or Cantona. Now there’s much more of an appreciation of the different types of skills and players and such role models can only be good for the British game. Look at the likes of Aaron Ramsey – he could be that type of player in a few years time. Fifteen years ago, he’d have probably been discarded in favour of a workhorse who would put in energy and muscle but not as much skill.

3. The failure to bring through a generation of younger players is, again, down to the FA and the Premier League. By abandoning the idea of a national centre at Burton, there was no focal point and incentive for PL clubs to invest in their own homegrown talent – indeed, PL clubs weren’t overly fond of the FA taking off their brightest young talents on a regular basis. Owen, Joe Cole and others went through the old FA schools. Reviving Burton will give us a better chance at training and indentifying promising youngsters.

As an aside, the whole system of training our children is probably flawed. The emphasis is on putting them into a position as early as possible, stick to it, and win at all costs from a very early age. Other countries encourage children to play on all positions in non-competitive games in their pre-teen years. That way youngsters can enjoy the game without the pressure of having to win, and develop an apprecation of what their colleagues on the pitch can do, as well as enhancing skills they would not have got had they simply played as a striker week in week out.

4. The strength of our economy over recent years has played a part. Foreign players have an incentive to move here because they will often earn more than in their home countires due to the strength of the pound. Their wage demand and cost would be less than British players, so clubs would go for the cheap option. Although, there’s also a part of this whereby clubs have thought with short-term goals, seen the success of Cantona, Zola and Henry (and some of the players to progress through Arsenal’s ranks) and have tried to do the same, albeit on a cut-price level in line with their budgets. They were cheaper than British players to bring through.

5. By the same token, British players, for whatever reason, have been reluctant to move abroad. Part of this is to do with the inflated wealth whereby they can get more for bench-warming in the Premiership than playing football abroad in a country where the currency is weaker. Also, there’s a slightly suspicious attitude of Brits playing abroad, probably scarred by past experiences. Owen Hargreaves was widely assumed to be no good for a long period of time, despite a successful career at one of Germany’s biggest clubs. This also gave him a slightly different footballing education and exposure to a different style of play. Who is to say that, for example, Justin Hoyte, wouldn’t have been better served by going to Hamburg or PSV rather than Middlesbrough? As has been pointed out, we have a large flow of foreigners coming into this league, but very few going in the opposite direction. A more even import-export ratio of players would benefit British teams.

6. In the midst of all this, you have bad decision making, both from the clubs individually and the governing bodies. No matter how many rules and regulations you put in place, you can’t legislate for businesses making mistakes by buying bad players or overspending so they can only afford cheap foreign imports, and nor should you. Plus, nothing can ever account for Steve McClaren.

7.  Supporters too have their part to play in the current state of affairs. By wanting success instantaneously, they’re less willing to see a club spend time on developing and blooding younger players. Take Theo Walcott – wonder boy at 17, written-off at 18 when he hardly played, now seen as a key player to Arsenal and a huge blow when injured. Less single-minded managers than Wenger may not have given Walcott the time and patience he needed to develop. A medium-name foreign signing comes with little baggage and may temporarily appease fans, regardless of his ability.

8. As with most markets, this process is circular. Cycles come and go, and we may well see with the credit crunch, a return to home-grown players. With the pound a lot weaker in recent years, foreign players may find they’re better served with their careers abroad. Some British players may also decide abroad is the best option. Similarly, clubs that have kept faith in their youth acaemdies, such as Exeter and the likes of Villa in the Premiership, are now starting to reap the benefits with their long-term attitude. In this credit crunch era, with less cash available, many clubs may well start to look at those teams that are successfully bringing through young players and see it as the solution to cutting costs (and external pressures, such as the constant debates on foreigners, may convince clubs its politik to have more home-grown players).

Conclusion: Football is a business, like any other (but also one that does spend a lot of time operating outside the parameters of what most reasonable businesses do) and has now moved into a much more globalised world. This has benefitted the quality of football, globally, as a whole and the Premier League as a market leader in this product. Much of the problems with foreign players can be explained by markets – having restrictions on the market in the form of home-grown only players (short-term protectionism) won’t work in the long-term, no matter how attractive a solution it may seem now.

We’re moving onto another cycle of the market in footballers and this should even out over the next 12 months. English football currently appears to have the best available man for the job in the post who brings a different sensibility to the game and, you suspect, wouldn’t dismiss players from his plans if, say, they moved abroad.

I’m actually pretty optimistic about the long-term future of English future in this current climate. And, yes, looking at the current crop of Welsh players emerging, I’m actually quite optimistic about our chances for Euro 2012 as well.

The weirdest thing I’ve read all week

Tim Worstall branded an online extremist and a threat to democratic debate after an argument about economics with Richard Murphy (that I won’t even begin to pretend to understand) gets a bit heated, and one person on Tim’s blog calls Richard some rather rude names.

Gawd alone knows there’s enough political bloggers who could be accused of being a bit suspect with the idea of a democratic debate and particularly nasty when it comes to (somewhat pointless) online spats, but Tim would probably be bottom of that list.

In the earlier days of blogging Tim was one of those people who did as much as anybody to try and bring the community together, largely through the Britblog Roundup, but also via various other initiatives. A lot of the stuff was a bit ahead of its time and would probably fall under the social media banner now – and he’s not even a PR, marketing or tech guy.

He’s also one of the very few (reasonably) high-profile bloggers I can think of who has earned himself regular writing gigs for most of the mainstream press at one point or another, and has kept the gigs going for a number of years. He’s also very quick to pounce on any kind of assault on civil liberties.

His politics may not be anywhere in line with my own but there’s no doubt the internet – and blogging in particular – would be a slightly poorer place if it weren’t for Tim.

The most bizarre bit of all is Richard stating that Comment Is Free (which both of them write for) is the best place to fight a war against online extremism. The abuse on CiF may be moderated, but it’s often far more vicious than anything Tim’s regulars post in his comments.

Fine, by all means try and sort out flaming (and other people have tried and failed) but at least start in the right area.

Local news FAIL

Sometimes I fear I give the Express and Echo – the newspaper for my home city of Exeter – somewhat of a rough ride. Given I know the area better than most papers, their site is one I tend to visit on a more regular basis than others, hence my worry that any criticisms are probably no more than nitpicking on my part.

And then I get days like today, where the criticism is checked least it becomes too cutting.

Why? Like many others, I’ve been somewhat glued to the ongoing news around the economic crisis, and yesterday came the news that local authorities across the country had significant sums of money tied up in the Icelandic banking system. Devon’s council’s, at first, didn’t appear among them.

I was out last night, so didn’t get time to check again until this morning when the first place I read about it was on Exeter City matchday programme editor Mike Blackstone’s football blog (yes, I check my football feeds before anything else. Force of habit).

Seeing Exeter City Council’s name on the list made me search for more. Naturally, the first place I headed was the Echo’s site, only to forget they don’t post their full articles online immediately, so instead I found this:

COUNCIL leaders are battling to recover millions of pounds invested in Iceland’s troubled banks.

But they are attempting to ease fears public services could be affected, claiming there is “no short-term risk” despite the crisis.

The reassurance comes amid the news South West councils have hefty cash deposits in several financial institutions, including high street banks.

Despite initial reports that Devon’s councils did not have investments in collapsed Icelandic banks, it has now emerged that Exeter City Council has £5m invested, including £3m with Landsbanki and a £2m on deposit with Glitnir.

For the full story see Friday’s paper.

Which told me absolutely nothing whatsoever that I didn’t already know. 

Incidentally, in between starting this blog post ten minutes ago (11.10pm) and now, the full text has become available. A bit too late, really as I’d already found what I needed to know elsewhere.

A quick Google News search found much better articles on the Exmouth Herald’s site (which is a much smaller paper) and the sister site of Devon-wide paper, the Western Morning News. The latter was understandably Devon-centric but also told me, for the first time, that Mid Devon District Council – which covers where my family live – also had a lesser sum of money tied up in an Icelandic bank.

Had the full Echo article been online at that point in time, I wouldn’t have needed to go elsewhere to find this out. Nor try and fill in the Exeter-specific gaps that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

A cursory search of and Digg didn’t turn up anything, not was there anything more specific on the blog searches. None of these were a massive surprise (although possibly says something about social media, or lack of takeup, and Devon). Had I had time, I’d have searched WordPress tags.

As it is, I sent off a couple of emails to friends I was fairly sure would be in the know, and got most of the information through that. I did briefly consider ringing up the press office at the council to find out more, and then blog it [1] (which raises another interesting point about blogs and citizen journalism, but I’ll leave that for another time).

[In case you’re asking why I’m so interested, it’s because this used to be my reporting patch and was home for around 21 years, so I tend to take a strong interest, even if I don’t live there any more].

So, you may say, what does this matter. In some respects, it doesn’t. I’m just one person writing on a probably not very widely read blog about something that irks me. Hell, it’s not as if there aren’t enough of *those* around.

But, on the other hand, it’s still a potential eyeball that they’re losing elsewhere. As soon as I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I wet elsewhere. Now they’ve actually stuck the article up, I clicked around the site without ever really thinking.

And, what really gets to me, is they have the news, but I have to spend a bit longer searching elsewhere to find it. As a result, I’ve now pulled together several Devon-related news feeds from assorted sources meaning I don’t have to go back to the site unless there’s something of burning interest.

I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only person with ties to Exeter who checks all their news online each morning rather than in the paper, and has a decent set of RSS news feeds relevant to their interests.

The world’s a global place. People have moved around. Yet I suspect I’m also not alone in being a person who keeps tabs on the news ‘back home’ even though I no longer live there. To be unable to access this news on the basis that you don’t live within the paper’s sales area is crazy. We’re global citizens, but we’d still like hyperlocal news for areas we’re connected to m’kaaay?

[Again, another question here – in this current economic climate would it be worth the site offering the paper online on a subscription basis? I’ll leave that one dangling.]

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a little moan about this particular pet peeve, and it probably won’t be the last.

It’s a shame because, as I often point out, there’s a lot I like and respect about the Echo – both in the paper and on the website.

I can get Exeter City news elsewhere (and did a long time before I moved). Big national stories of interest occurring in Exeter I can also get elsewhere (although recognise the nationals probably will have a more general overview than the excellent local reporting you often get in these situations).

But this is the first time there’s been a specific local story I’ve been keen to read. I suspect that it won’t be too long before I can get most information on any further local stories I want to find out more about without having to wait until 11pm to read the full article.

A quick plea to finish: please, please, please, any local papers who partake in this habit – open your articles up. It really will help your brand and paper in the long run.

[1] Technically, although I work full-time in a non-journalism job, I can classify myself as freelance, even if it’s football and media writing and not reporting.

Social media: where the hell are we going?

Hands up who remembers the dotcom bubble burst of the late 90s? Recently, I’ve sometimes mused to myself on the possibility of it happening about but with social media. Every day, there’s a new social media app, often with a ridiculous name, to be discovered. And at least half of them I haven’t got a clue what to do with.

So it’s with a small degree of relief on my part to read Livingston Communications muse on a similar topic and conclude social media isn’t about to burst, but scale back a tad, probably shaking out some of the worse/more unsustainable sites.

It’s an excellent post, especially the first point:

“1) Too many communicators have the shiny object syndrome, yet don’t have domain expertise. That means we’re seeing a lot of bad social media this year. In turn, you can expect corresponding failures and a reaction against social media.”

One of the saving graces for social media, though, is many of the sites and applications seem to be born out of an idea of how to make something better or improve communication – something that will work for the group rather than immediately designed to make money. Take crowdstatus, a neat little site still in alpha – it was born out of the creator’s desire to make communication easier and it’s easy to see the potential uses. The note on the about page, to me, sums up this attitude nicely:

“This is a personal project for the moment so don’t ask me about business models :p”

Social media at the moment feels like its reached a tipping point of sorts. The secondary and tiertary adopters are now using these sites a lot more while some obvious cases, like Facebook, have gone beyond any expectations.

To some extent these new users will follow the early adopters, but they’re also likely to be more discerning. They’ve not drunk the initial kool-aid and will be asking questions such as “How can this help me in a personal/professional manner?”

I’ve started training, in the loosest sense, colleagues on how to get the best out of social media and, along the way, they’ve fired some difficult, direct questions at me. Sometimes it’s easy to show the value of a site like Twitter to PR, or netvibes to your personal way of working.

But with many of the other sites it’s somehow difficult to justify exactly why it’s worth spending time getting to grips with it and often it’s just a case of play and see if it suits you.

And this is where the shakedown comes. If you’ve got an overcrowded marketplace, there will undoubtedly be some casualties and financiers tighten their belts and new users ask why they should be using two or three similar applications.

Take Plurk, which I like but don’t use often, against Twitter, which is unreliable but has embedded itself in my life. It’s hard to tell if it’ll become Facebook to Twitter’s MySpace or Betamax to Twitter’s VHS. The most common question I’ve had in the past few weeks is ‘why should I use site x over site y?’ And there’s no good answer. At that point, I drop my geeky semi-early-adopter mentality and start thinking about if site x or site y is more useful to me in a work setting. And I’ll confess sometimes I get overloaded with the amount of new sites that pass by my eyes and wonder how or why the hell I should keep them all going.

Blogging is now embedded in online culture. Sites like Facebook have become part of our everyday lives, regardless of how much you use it. Twitter’s becoming a great source of not just conversation but also breaking news and news gathering.

I’m not quite sure what the final point is, other than that social media is here to stay but will eventually fall back into line with the basic laws of economics and the markets. And, at that point, as Livingston Comms say, “a more measured, intelligent debate will take place.” It’s a debate I’m looking forward to, even if the enthusiasm for social communication tools is fun at the moment.

MyFC for rugby fans

It was only a matter of time before a My Football Club-style experiment found its way into other sports, so it’s no surprise to see the venture Our Rugby Club starting to pick up a few mentions here and there.

But what’s interesting is this isn’t carbon copy of the Ebbsfleet owners’ model. Indeed, the website makes a point of saying:

“Unlike similar ventures in football (My Football Club and The People’s Club), our intention is not to buy a rugby club, but by offering such significant investment, we will all be important stakeholders.

Given that we will not purchase a club outright, we will not have to incur significant legal costs, or be burdened by the practicalities of owning facilities and employing players – instead, all of our money can be put towards improving the existing setup. This should mean that our investment will yield results much more quickly.”

There’s also no direct mention of the controversial pick the team aspect, which is still causing much disquiet among both MyFC members and non-MyFC Ebbsfleet fans. There is a vague mention of having your say in selection matters and in the member’s benefits page, this is expanded to:

  • Opportunity to provide input as to how the money should be spent
  • Access to coaching team for suggestions, ideas, moves, and general observations
  • Access to online member forums to discuss the club, team and performance
  • Rate players, provide match analysis and suggest new players
  • Access to online highlights footage of matches
  • Invitations to attend club social events with other members, fans and players
  • Discounted match tickets
  • Discounts on sponsor products
  • Opportunities to buy International Tickets
  • The chance to participate in a trial match at the start of each season
  • Free Our Rugby Club T-shirt
  • Free Our Rugby Club car sticker

All member benefits will be confirmed once the relationship with a club has been established.

It’s interesting that the language is a lot more tempered and the members input into team selection has the above caveat with no explicit promises to this regard made. The investment rather than outright ownership is also another noteworthy point, as it gives them an escape plan if things go wrong.

Although I’m still sceptical if schemes like this can work, given their membership is largely made up of people with no initial loyalty to whichever club they buy into, Our Rugby Club is the most sensible one that’s come along so far insofar as it appears to offer more flexibility and less potentially problematic promises – like voting on transfers, outright ownership, and pick the team – than MyFC.

That said, it still remains to be seen exactly how far a good coach would welcome the constant interfering and suggestions from members, even if the final decision appears to rest with the coach.

It’s unclear whether they’ve been following the progress of MyFC and noted the problems or mistakes, or have simply decided their model is better, but there’s some form of evolution of the internet fan-owned idea. It may be, and I don’t really have a basis behind this assertion, that rugby fans and the sport in general would be a better fit into the ideals and framework, certainly at grassroots level. Time will tell.

It’s also, indirectly, one of the reasons I can’t see MyFC being sustainable in the long-term in its current guise. At some point, somebody will work out a better, more attractive, more successful way to do things. At that point, what’s stopping a good chunk of MyFC members not renewing their membership and decamping elsewhere?

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January 2023

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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