Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Warts and all

Every day, we read about how journalism is changing forever. And so it should - not just because of the opportunities online offers, but because of some bad habits MSM has got into. Far cleverer people than me are debating which qualities should be saved - but I thought it would be fun to compile some of the more, er, frivolous aspects, specifically of local newspaper life which I hope will endure.

First up, and inspired by the reaction I got to this tweet today - the honourable tradition of newsdesk ritually humiliating reporters by making them do stupid stuff - all in the name of a good read. Dressing up is the favourite - tweets and office banter revealed we've been made to dress up as dogs, chipmunks, Lara Croft, monks, pirates, 1930s spivs and David Beckham. At my last place, we even had an arrangement with the local fancy dress shop - costumes for plugs. Abseiling was also a surprisingly popular choice, with @dankerins revealing he'd been made to: "abseil 220ft with a 92-year-old woman, whom I had to interview half way down. Interview was one word long."

The beguiling hush which falls over the office when someone gets a challenging call. Usually the person on the other end is a little unhinged and the reporter can be heard excitedly getting details of the scoop, gradually realising there isn't one, then desperately trying to get them off the phone. Other favourites are the mum of the guy who's just been up in court over some unpleasantness threatening to "have you" for printing her little darling's name - and the 100th birthday girl so deaf the reporter has to shout embarrassingly dull questions at the top of their lungs: "How has life changed since you were a girl?"

The way office banter turns into stories. You get a phonecall about a missing tortoise, which sparks a conversation about how far it could have crawled since going awol - hey presto, there's your page 3, complete with cut-outs of Tommy the tortoise wearing a beret, on top of Stonehenge and perched on the  shoulder of the Angel of the North. I'm sure there are many more examples out there (This one's probably closely linked to the ritual humiliation one).

Gallows humour. I still want a job tomorrow, so I won't post any examples. But feel free to leave yours...

Puncturing pompous, jargon-laded or just plain incomprehensible official-speak. Best example I've heard recently is from @murraykelsoWM who tweeted: "Ambulance quote: 'She suffered injuries incompatible with life". No, really. That was the quote. I didn't make it up. You couldn't.'

And closely related to that would be developing an acute sense of moral outrage, which can be sparked by the important or the trivial, but especially when denied the opportunity to report something, comparable to that seen with this week's Carter-Ruck vs The Guardian saga.

Hearing about stories which no family friendly newspaper could run. A dog born with two willies was a recent one. The way every single bin in Brighton has been vandalised so instead of having slots labelled Butts and Gum, they invite Butt and Cum is another. Related - daring the news editor to see if he can sneak said stories into the paper under the editor's nose.

More treats can be found on Stuff Journalists Like, Newsroom Quotes and a recently discovered favourite, Glum Councillors.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Advertising moving online - but where?

Some interesting stuff has come out over the last week or so about online advertising.

Last week, it was reported that online advertising had become the biggest advertising medium, overtaking TV for the first time. Great news for those working in online news, right? Hmmm.

Here's with their recommendations on where to spend your money online. And notable by the absence is any kind of advertising which news sites might currently benefit from. Paid search? Tick. Web design? Tick. Social media? Tick. Display ads, directories or classifieds? Er, no.

As one of the commenters says, you need to take this list with a pinch of salt as it comes from "an SEO company and is therefore biased towards a reductive click-based model of online marketing" but I'm not sure it's that far off the mark when it comes to where smart companies are thinking about spending their budgets. 
Take studies like this one from Qube which found in one particular case social media was 23 times more effective than banner ads (as a social media agency, they would say that, wouldn't they - but those figures are pretty striking).

Of course advertisers have always found ways to avoid shelling out for adverts. Every hack knows about the bogus survey - a poorly researched top of the pops on a subject vaguely related to the product, usually with a pointless embargo, which are a) easy and cheap to report b) insanely popular with readers. One dropped into my inbox yesterday. We ignored it, but a quick Google News search shows about two dozen plus sites did publish today. 

But the difference here is that social media allows brands to bypass mass media entirely. And it's not just commercial brands - it's also local authorities, celebrities, politicians, lots of the people who previously relied on the papers to get their message out there.

Are we feeling irrelevant yet?