Archive for the 'The inevitable' Category

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.

From despair to where?

Otherwise known as a quick, likely-to-be-ill-thought-out, ill-informed pondering on the state of the media industry.

Everywhere media-related seems to be making cutbacks. Even places that you would normally have put down as safe are tightening their belts. Friends, colleagues and people I don’t know but have heard of are all getting laid off, and many of these have surprised given, given their jobs.

It’s not just that we’re in a global recession. It’s also that this industry really doesn’t know where the hell it’s going. Journalism. Broadcasting. PR. None of them safe. Or with any real idea of where they meant to be going.

If this were an interview and the media was asked where it would be in five years time, it’d have a hard job in answering. If it were then asked where it saw itself in ten years time, it’d find the question impossible to answer.

You do wonder if the skills you’ve been trained in, and others you’ve picked up along the way, will be completely redundant in the not-too-distant future.

Everywhere seems to be in trouble. We’re constantly told online is the future – and it IS the future – but it just doesn’t seem to be entirely sure how it wants to be the future.

I have an inkling things will pick up. Not in the sense of green shoots of recovery, but more to do with the fact that when this recession, and downturn and general media crisis of identity is over, there will be a need for quality journalism, PR and broadcasting.

Sadly this need will be because there will probably be huge holes in the market by this stage and, as with any good market, where there’s a hole and a demand, something will inevitably plug it.

So, yes, there will be an upturn. At some point. But when is anybody’s guess. If this were a Hollywood war movie, the sergeant would turn his face away and to the ground and sadly say: “We lost a lot of good men out there.”

At this stage it’s common for a blogger to offer his twopence worth on “hey, but this is how you can get through it.”

If only it were that easy.

All those of us in the industry – be it journalism, PR, broadcasting or a combination of some or all of these – can do is watch, learn, adapt to developments (both online and offline), try innovative stuff, and never ever compromise on quality or belief that nobody else, to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better, no matter what we do. There, by the grace of God, we will survive. Hopefully.

(Then again, you do wonder if any print papers will survive when you read something like this.)

If anybody has any idea what they think this industry will look like in five to ten years type, please do leave a comment below. I’ll post my own thoughts at some point in the near future.

Twitter bashing. Or, if you will, twashing

There’s a brand new sport in town. It involves shaping a Twitter-shaped stick and bashing the hell out of whatever purpose that stick’s shape is best for.

Sometimes the target of this is Twitter itself and involves beating the stick repeatedly on the ground. Sometimes the Twitter-shaped cudgel is the right shape for giving something else a good thumping. And occasionally the stick turns into a scattergun.

I imagine that if the rules of this sport were ever to be written, they’d probably be quite similar to Brockian Ultra Cricket.

As with any flavour of the month, people are queuing up to give Twitter a darn good slapping down, whether it’s in the comments about the global Twestival, getting psychologists to make sweeping assumptions about the users, or decry any organisation that dares spend cash on social media that could be better spent on, ooh, let’s say locking up feral children.

To those of us who’ve been on Twitter for quite a while and use the tool as part of our everyday life, these articles can be seen as a bit baffling and tend to provoke an angry response. My Twitter feed on Sunday was full of people getting angry about the Sunday Times piece [1]. Indeed, my Twitter feed is increasingly full of anger about the way Twitter’s portrayed.

But is it really worth getting worked up about any more? Any flavour of the month is prone to Freddie Star Ate My Hamster stories. Facebook had it, MySpace had it, mobile phones had it, mobile internet had it, Friends Reunited had it. Email probably had it, if I could remember that far back.

Twitter’s well and truly entered the mainstream and when that happens you’re inevitably going to get sneering and snide comments, both from people who, for whatever reason, what to have a pop at it, and from media outlets who either don’t want to get it or know that’ll provide a response and get read and passed around [2].

So, is it worth getting worked up about every badly written Twitter article or comment now? Probably not. It’s a good thing the Twestival organisers popped up in the comments to provide a bit of context to those who didn’t like it. And if it directly affects you or your company, then it probably doesn’t hurt to put a quick rebuttal wherever appropriate.

But as for the rest? Meh, I say, and meh again. We know Twitter. We love Twitter. And Twitter is no big enough to stand on its own two feet without us rushing in to defend its honour on a regular basis.

There are plenty of sensible conversations going on outside of the traditional media sphere. The celebrities who are active on Twitter, like Stephen Fry or Phillip Schofield, will attract and probably encourage users into trying out Twitter and, hopefully getting the service.

And if you don’t get it, don’t worry. David Mitchell doesn’t either and is funny and accurate in not quite getting it.

Twitter’s now getting enough coverage both in and out of traditional channels (and often a mixture of the two at the same time). It’s now at the stage where having hoards of angry Twitterers leaping on every badly researched article (and by God, there have been enough and there will be more time come) makes the service look, well, a little bit closed to those who don’t like it. Which couldn’t be further from the truth and we’re a very friendly bunch.

While there’s a certain amount of fun to be had in picking apart the badly-done Twitter pieces, it’s getting to the stage where it’s not worth getting worked up about it.

I know Twitter’s useful in so many ways. And continuing to demonstrate that is probably the best thing that can be done to counteract any negative coverage. You just have to look at the money raised from Twestival or the instant news reporting from the Hudson Crash or Mumbai to show this.

Some have posited that the reason there are so many anti-Twitter stories out there is that the traditional media is worried that it might kill them off. Ok, there may be a slight bit of fear there, but I’d argue it’s just as much that Twitter is news right now so any way of shoehorning it in fits in with the news values. And there’s nothing like giving the flavour of the month a good kicking – it’s something the British media does well.

Twitter is another communication tool. It’s a great backchannel and, integrated into any news site, it complements traditional reporting rather than threatening it. Journalists are starting to understand that Twitter is a great news source. The really good journalists will have probably already written a lot of stories thanks to Twitter.

One thing’s for sure, the likes of Twitter won’t kill traditional media. It’s perfectly capable of committing hari-kari without any help.

Related reading: Shiny Red – The Twitter backlash starts in earnest in old media.

[1] And probably with good cause. It was a somewhat daft piece of space-filling.

Getting social with Nathan Barley

Bobbie Johnson from the Guardian has had it with social media. It’s easy to sympathise.

“Listen. I have blog. I use Twitter. I idly flick through lists of people I’d forgotten I ever knew on Facebook. I’ve even got a MySpace page, although I don’t like to talk about it. They are great ways of connecting people, and they’re very exciting when you start using them, because they allow virtual contact in ways that are analogous to – if not the same as – real life. You know, communicate with people. That old thing.

Nobody talks about people down the pub laughing about Bale’s expletive-laden bullying as a “social drinking sensation”. They don’t call people giggling about it on the phone as a “social telecommunications sensation”. They call it joking, or they call it gossip, because that’s what people do. Whether they do it online or offline, down the pub or on Facebook doesn’t matter. “Social media” is mainstream – we don’t need to claim any more victories for it.”

Quite so. I’m at a point where I roughly agree with Bobbie as well. I’ve probably spent as much time as anybody hyping up ‘social’ media tools. It was a convenient term, much like ‘new media’ was back in the emerging days of the internet.

It has now crossed into the mainstream. That, I think, we can safely say. But, as Bobbie points out, having Christian Bale’ s rant pinged around Twitter doesn’t act as proof that it’s taking over the world (such proof, for what it’s worth, is pretty easy to accumulate elsewhere).

Wadds wrote last week about the change that was coming in Twitter and other forms of social media (I’m still using the term as it’s convenient) and I think we’re seeing it now.

Now, unless I’ve completely misread his column, I don’t think Bobbie’s calling for the death of social media; rather that he wishes social media people would stop banging on about how great social media is on social media sites.

Christ, I feel incestuous just writing that last sentence.

There reaches a point where, in any technology or movement or whatever you want to call social media, where it edges onto the mainstream and suddenly everybody is an expert on it.

And, as ever, with any kind of new, erm, thing (sorry, I’m casting about for words here and can’t find the right one) there is a lot of bullshit. And a lot of people who get involved for little discernible purposes other than to self-promote their usually overhyped wares.

We’re probably at this stage now.

Now, this isn’t a post where I run screaming at Twitter yelling “YOU’VE CHANGED AND I DON’T LIKE IT” on my part either. But the site – and many other bits have become a mite trying at times. Largely because of the jargon and the self-promotion and the self-satisfaction and God alone knows what. [Insert your own examples here. I’m tired, ok].

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Social media is still important. It is, and will continue to, make an impact on our lives – how we view, consume and engage with both the media and the world in general.

But the likes of Twitter et al are also communication tools. And just as we all use our mobile phones to communicate in different ways, the same could be said for these assorted sites. They are a way of communication. No more, no less. How you choose to use them is up to you.

So, with that in mind, it’s not a surprise that PR (and journalism and the like) is naturally drawn to Twitter. After all, PR is a communications industry.

And, just with any new development, there will always be people in an industry who cotton onto it quicker than others. I guess you could call these people experts.

Whatever title you give them, these will be the people leading the way in training, enthusing and helping their colleagues or industry get the best out of the new technologies.

What’s quite interesting is some of the best people I know in this area have gone quite quiet over various social media outlets (God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t stop writing the term. I’ll stop it soon, I promise). And that’s probably as good an indication as any that social media’s moved into the mainstream.

It means that they no longer need to shout from the rooftops and are probably getting stuck into work and training and other such things. They’ve not moved on, they’ve just got more on their plates as every area tries to get a piece of the action. And this is a good thing, probably.

No doubt there will now be a slew of blog posts in the coming months claiming social media is dead (we’ve already had this with blogging). It’s not. It’s evolving.

Those who start proclaiming the death of social media are probably either trying to get attention or acting like the cool kid at school who spends ages raving about a band only to disown said band when everybody else realised how good they are. This isn’t the same as fatigue or frustration, which is what Bobbie appears to have.

I still love many aspects of social media. It’s integral to a lot of what I do. Twitter is increasingly useful for work, del.icio.us is a daily essential, I’m using wikis a hell of a lot more and I’ve only just realised how useful Tumblr can be.

But this does not mean I need to run around letting the whole world know I’ve just created a new wiki (although I’m as guilty as anybody of pimping my blog over the assorted networks).

This probably comes across as quite a jumbled post, but I think that’s a reflection of where things are at currently.

Social media tools are being absorbed into the mainstream but the principles guiding them are not new. Gossip is gossip, news is news, no matter how it becomes so. And talking about these wonderful new tools is easy. Doing something with them is considerably harder.

Twitter – and other sites you can lump under the SM umbrella – is useful, fun and interesting. Going around declaring yourself an expert in this probably isn’t. I removed the phrase social media enthusiast from my profile a week or so ago because I realised it made me sound like an utter wanker. And, frankly, I don’t need any extra help in that department.

I’ll finish by lifting Kat Hannaford’s comment from Bobbie’s piece, because it’s delightfully ranty, and pretty much spot on. And she’s one of my favourite, funniest Tweeters:

“Twitter and all the assorted other social networking brainfuckery has sapped the joy right out of the internet in recent months, and it’s taking all my willpower not to tell people to sod off, stop embarrassing themselves, and crawl back to the nook at Shoreditch House that they crawled out of.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go look at pictures of cats to reinstall a glimmer of hope within me about the benefits of the internet.”

Amen to that. Pictures of cats will still be popular no matter what stage of the web we’re in đŸ™‚

The future of journalism – a wee bit of crowdsourcing

This weekend I’ll be heading back to the student paper I used to edit many moons ago. They’re getting a few of their more successful alumni, plus myself, back in for a day to give a mixture of training and presentations on how to get into journalism and where the media is going.

So, in true social media style, I thought I’d do a quick bit of crowdsourcing (I’ll also be asking on Twitter and, if a get a moment at home, Seesmic) and ask for your thoughts on this.

The question is broad but simple: What advice would you give to aspiring young journalists looking to get a foothold in the industry in this day and age?

Hopefully it’ll inspire a new generation of journalists to get using social media and the like to generate stories and interact with their readers / listeners / viewers. Either that or they’ll all be so Web 2.0 that they’ll start throwing shoes and rotten fruit at me as I bore them hell out of them.

Your thoughts on this: ready, set GO

Twhere do we go from here

Twitter, it’s fair to say, has seen its profile soar in the UK media in the last couple of weeks, thanks, in no small part, to a growing band of celebrities who’ve joined the site.

Now, if you’re a celeb, you’re no one if you’re not on Twitter (ok, not quite. Don’t take this statement literally). Jamie Oliver swung by today. Phil Schofield has been Tweeting away from the set of This Morning [1]. The Daily Mail has started republishing assorted celebrity Tweets as articles. And swathes of new users have started signing up to the site, prompted by the celebrity Twitterers and the media coverage.

All of which is great. After us early adopters banging on for God knows how long, journalists are starting to pick up on its usage and PR and marketing are starting to realise there’s a lot of potential for transparently run Twitter accounts that engage with other users (as opposed to just having a twitterfeed account set up).

Twitter has always been a site that had the potential to tip towards the mainstream and it finally appears to have done so (or at least taking huge strides towards getting there).

But while the attention and new users are great, it’s left the old users – the early adopters – a little confused and, in some cases, uncomfortable.

At the ever-excellent London Bloggers Meetup last night, I was chatting to Steven Waddington (@Wadds) about this. As he’s republished on his blog, my analogy was that Twitter now is a bit like your favourite hidden gem of a pub that’s suddenly become ridiculously popular. All of a sudden, your secret boozer, where you know the names and faces of most people, has become filled with all kinds.

At this point, it all becomes a bit unsettling. Some of the early adopters are now considering whether to stay propping up the bar, or try and find another pub to drink in. Or find a corner of the current pub and ignore the new drinkers. It’s an understandable reaction. Who wouldn’t feel a little put out that their favourite pub that they’ve been raving about to everyone has suddenly become popular.

It’s a balancing act that any new Twitter-related PR activity has to be mindful of. On one hand, the more followers you have, the more you can spread the word of your brand. On the other hand, it’s still many of the early adopters who have the influence, not to mention the ability, to help push, or kill, whatever it is your PR-ing.

In other words, it’s a fine line between making the most of Twitter’s newly found fans and not getting up the noses of those who are already on there.

One thing is certain though: Twitter has now reached the point where it is starting to change (not that it was particularly easy to define in the first place – and it’s even harder now). The slew of celebrities and new users means that the nature of the site and its usage is starting to become a bit different. That isn’t a good or a bad thing. It’s just a difference.

From a work point of view, the emergence of Twitter is very helpful for my area and department. We’ve already used Twitter a bit for campaigns – it’s now going to be a lot more fun, and a lot more easier, to ask celebs and shows to get a Twitter presence.

From a personal point of view, it is a bit strange to see the site explode in popularity. And, yes, it does take a little bit of adjusting to. I guess this must be what Facebook was like when suddenly the floodgates opened and everybody you knew appeared to be joining. And MySpace before that. And so on.

As Wadds says, it’ll be interesting to see what happens once this initial flurry of activity following all the coverage dies down a bit (if, indeed, it dies down at all). It will be interesting to see how many use it as a fad and how many stick with it.

It’s not inconceivable that Twitter becomes a key part of everyday use in the UK. It’s also not inconceivable [2] that everybody will give up on it in a few months. We shall see.

What is does mean is that companies and PRs – both the early adopters and the new wave – will have to adjust their thinking on their use of the microblogging site. Those who tap into the right aspect at the right time will do well. And will probably be followed by a host of imitators who’ll do it not so well.

The next few months will be fascinating. Twitter will be different and we need to embrace this. Let’s grab ourselves a table, pull another beer, and get chatting to the newcomers into our virtual pub. Just as long as they don’t hog the quiz machine all night long.

[1] And is a brilliant example of somebody who ‘gets’ the site. If you were going to pick a perfect Twitter user, @Schofe would be it. 

[2] This has nothing to do with Twitter. I just realised I typed inconceivable twice. And now I’ve got that scene from The Princess Bride stuck in my head.

This may actually be the point I finally shut up about Twitter and journalism

A point, I think, has been reached. Quite where this point sites and what exactly it signifies is perhaps not quite the  issue. But it is a point that has been reached nonetheless.

That point is, as Adam Tinworth says is moving “from something that is used by the social media cognoscenti amongst journalists, to something that is rapidly spreading amongst the more web aware hack.”

Although Twitter’s use as a breaking news source isn’t exactly a new thing [1], with a growing number of users and an increasing number of both journalists and users all over the globe, it’s now reached the point where it’s the first place people are looking when something breaks.

And it’s also now become the norm that newspapers are reporting about the immediacy of breaking news on Twitter, as opposed to treating it as an interesting sideshow. Witness the Telegraph’s very good write up of yesterday’s New York plane crash.

That crash, along with the Mumbai attacks, seems to have convinced sceptical journalists to at least give the service a go. And once journalists try out something new, they’ll write about it, even if only a limited number of people are using it. That’ll then bump up the number of people who give it a go [2].

In the past few days, I’ve seen a serious rise in the number of people I personally know joining Twitter, while the number of people following me has also risen dramatically (I think they’ve nearly doubled already this month), as has our corporate accounts at work.

Having a slew of famous names join as well has also given it credibility. Never mind the sneering articles written about these (although, and I may be along in this, I thought Bryony Gordon’s piece was quite funny), the fact you have such a diverse range of celebs on there shows there’s an appeal across a range of personalities.

Stephen Fry, Robert Llewellyn, Will Carling, and Andy Murray have all helped. And then there’s Jonathan Ross, courting controversy with a few comments, but also quickly becoming the Twitterer’s favourite celebrity.

Ross, will his huge contacts book, has been verifying celebrities as they join Twitter (or don’t), and last night posted photos of him introducing the service to Danny Wallace and Eddie Izzard.

Phillip Schofield, who I think is the first ITV celeb to join, got Tweeting on Monday and has lept straight in, and is already being inundated with plenty of Twitter love. He’s already proving to be a great role model on how to use the service [3].

So, Twitter is finally moving into the mainstream now that it’s moved beyond a curiosity and into a genuinely useful communication tool (not that it wasn’t already). Quite where it goes from here, and how it goes, I have no idea. But it’s going to be fascinating to see how the site develops in the next few months.

And it also means I can probably stop banging on about how and why journalists should use it, because they’re now doing just that. Which will probably come as a relief to everybody.

[1] See the Exeter bomb blast last year.

[2] See also: The Wire. Until a few months ago, the only people I knew who’d actually watched this were Guardian journalists and people who knew Guardian journalists. That sentence hasn’t even been written for comic effect.

[3] And, about half an hour ago, gave me advice on the best organic veg box company to use in London.


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