The problem with a race to the bottom is that you might win.
I was in the pub celebrating a friend’s birthday on Monday night when my flatmate checked the Guardian app on his phone just before 9pm. “Amanda Knox has lost her appeal” he said, “bloody hell”.
For several minutes we talked about how terrible that must be for her, and how dodgy the police case was – until, that is, I checked Twitter. At which point it got confusing.
“People on Twitter are saying she’s been freed” I said, counting the dozen or so independent tweets from journalists, friends and colleagues.
“Are you sure..?” my flatmate said, reaching for his iPhone.
And so the sorry affair of the obtuse judge, the slow translater and the trigger-happy hacks unfolded.
In this mess lies a really important lesson for online publishers of all creeds, entrepreneurs and young journalists. The race to be faster than your competitors is the same as the race to be cheaper than them: it’s a race to the bottom. There is only one loser in this race and it’s usually you.
I remember an entrepreneur giving me advice last year when I launched my online video production studio: “you don’t want to compete on price – ever.”
So if you run, or want to run, your own publication or business, heed this advice: aim to be the be best: the most accurate, the most accessible, the best produced, the most beautiful – not the fastest and not the cheapest.
Don’t get me wrong, these were one-off mistakes, made by otherwise talented, experienced and honest journalists. But they are mistakes which are only made in a newsroom where the overriding attitude is to be faster. The ethos created the haste, not the journalists themselves.
In a newsroom where quality is king, the hands would have stayed.
I’m convinced if you’re to succeed as an entrepreneurial journalist (or whatever we want to call it), the only way to get ahead of the pack is by betting on quality. Sure, successful new businesses like the Huffington Post and Mashable gamble on quantity but to succeed here you need legacy, or lots of money.
Brian Storm, founder of MediaStorm, made the quality point really well on a recent visit to London. He makes sure everything MediaStorm publishes is as good as it can be – even if it means going several months between each new piece. As he put it: “why be part of the noise?”
The mainstream media (especially those who make speed their tagline) are trapped in this race and can’t reinvent themselves. But that leaves a nice space for the next generation of journalists with a remit of quality.
Whatever kind of journalism you do, aim to produce the best. That is a race to the top: a race worth winning.
One of my predictions for the next year is we’ll see an increase in journalism start-ups as the talk of journalist-cum-entrepreneur starts to come to fruition.
Many will fail, some will make it work, and a few might even shine a light on how to fund journalism.
And I think one thing is for sure: the secret to success is in the big c-word: collaboration.
I think a news start-up which begins without this in mind is doomed to failure.
The triumvirate of UK media scandals in the last 10 days (Trafigura, Jan Moir & Question Time) have proved the importance of people power. Does the future of journalism lie in collaborating, facilitating, and nourishing this power?
One newspaper investing in this future is France’s Le Monde. It’s set up a subsidiary site called LePost.fr – built entirely from collaborative journalism. In an interview with Forum4Editors, the editor Benoit Raphael explains:
“[the journalist] checks first what has been said and published in other media. He aggregates the best content from different sources, including blogs, Twitter, Youtube, etc. and traditional media. Then, on some of them, he brings complementary information, new elements, adds value and checks facts…The information is a permanent conversation that is built step by step by the community and the journalists…He understands that information is a conversation.”
Benoit explained the journalists routine is more like that of a blogger.
Over the Atlantic, US magazine Mother Jones is also seeing what the benefits of networked journalism can bring.
In December, editors are joining forces with editors of other magazines & broadcasters to launch a news product focusing on Climate Change. Its aim is to crowd source journalism using professional journalists.
Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffrey told Dumenco’s Media People:
And I don’t want to underplay how important folks see this as being journalistically. First, on the topic at hand, there was no need to convince anybody how important it is, how media coverage has been fractured and inadequate and not compelling enough. Secondly, everybody is really eager to use this as a way to test-drive collaborations, which everybody sees as a vital part of the emerging media landscape. On that front, we’ll likely learn as much from what doesn’t work as what does.
Journalists can no longer ignore the power of thousands or even millions of social media savvy people. Tapping into this power will have huge potential: finding stories, processing data, building communities.
And the professional journalist fits in there somewhere, filtering, processing, analysis and contextualizing…there could be value in this old game after all.
Anyone with an interest in journalism should spend a few minutes checking out Craig Silverman’s excellent “Regret the Error Best of 2008”
All the top cockups, apologies and corrections from newspapers around the world are included.
My favourite correction is from the Daily Mail:
In articles published on 23 and 26 May 2008, we gave the impression that Mr Gest had contracted a sexually transmitted infection and alleged that he had Liza Minnelli’s dog killed without her knowledge.
This was wrong. David Gest has never had a sexually transmitted infection and did not have Ms Minnelli’s dog killed.
We apologise to Mr Gest for any embarrassment caused.
Top pictures include the newspaper which misspelt it’s own name, and this brilliant screenshot of a website which automatically screens for the word ‘gay’ and replaces it with ‘homosexual’.
(Hattip to Dave Lee)
The BBC have carried out some research into how the modern homo-sapien consumes its news. They asked a load of people to keep a diary noting everytime they checked up on the news, and how they did it.
Steve Hermann writes about the results here.
Interestingly, their researchers described each person as having their own “news eco-system”: ‘where an individual might read several papers, hear news on the radio, look at various websites and/or TV channels for news’.
Well I hope that pattern isn’t news to the BBC.
But that’s an interesting term, and got me wondering what my news-ecosystem might look like….
0630: BBC 5 LIVE – DAB radio, in bed – to find out the headlines and who’s saying what
0800: Viking FM – DAB radio, in bed – to see what stories I’ll be sent out to cover that day
0830: Radio 1 – radio, in car – to get an idea of how Newsbeat are tailoring the news for their audience.
0900: Scan through the local papers, plus Mail, Mirror and Sun – to get an idea of what our listeners are reading.
Mid morning – a catch up with the big stories online. I also check Media Guardian, BBC News Online, NY Times. I also get email alerts from various sources.
All day – brief glances at Sky News in the office. I’m also drip fed news via IRN’s wire service.
1330 – BBC Look North – to see what the opposition are up to; inevitable plug of Peter Levy’s show.
Evening – check up on social news: Facebook, Google Reader/blogs and Twitter all tell me what people I’m interested in are up to.
1900 – Channel 4 News – but these days for just a few minutes. On Friday’s I love Unreported World.
Evening – alternative news sources if I have time: Current TV
There you go – I count 17 different sources (20 if you breakdown all the local papers, 50 if you add each blog). Each one consumed for no more than 5-10 minutes, and each one I select, chew and spit out as I please.
So what could be a useful conclusion for the future of news? It can be alternative. And it needs to be short.
What’s your eco system? Post below, and maybe we can give David Attenborough a ring!
Billy Cox, the fifteen year old boy who was shot dead on my estate on Wednesday, was one of the fifty people who are killed each year in gun crime. For the British media however this was something much more.
“WARZONE UK….NIHILISTIC ANARCHY!” screamed the Daily Mail.
“NO END TO GUN CRIME?” was Sky News’ dubious headline last night.
I could go into the journalistic flaws in a headline including “no end to…” but that’s beside the point. The point is I am apparently living in the centre of nihilistic anarchy. Really? If I was, would I have been able to pop down to the shops for a pint of milk yesterday? Would my mate Jimmy have been able to come round to watch the Reading-ManU match?
Surely we would need to have been wearing flak jackets and I would have expected to have been airlifted to safety by Friday at the latest.
The series of shootings in the last fortnight are, as far as the police know, unrelated. They’re a statistical anomaly, which, if they continue, would boost the average number of shooting fatalities year on year. But we don’t know that yet.
I’m not accusing the media of lying. Every report I’ve seen has dutifully reported the facts, but the events of the past week have revealed a meta-level of news: the stringing together of several unrelated events to create a narrative of gun crime anarchy in the UK.
But on the flip side, although it’s a distortion of the truth, the media hype has sparked a high level debate about the UK’s gun laws. The Met Police held and emergency meeting on Thursday, and Tony Blair appeared on BBC One’s Sunday AM programme this morning talking seriously about updating gun crime laws.
And that can only be good.
Has Billy’s death come a month ago or in two months time, it would have hardly warranted an inch in page 10 of the Metro. But that’s news I guess…as someone far wiser than me said to me last week…in news you simplify and then exaggerate.