Saturday, 16 December 2006

Newspapers battle with the future

Why would you buy a printed newspaper when you can get all your news free online? Or why not just pick up a free paper?

The key to any strategy for current print news providers is deciding what and how to put content on their websites as currently very few papers have found success charging for content.

It isn't as simple as putting the print content straight onto the web, that is a one-way ticket to oblivion.

People turn to the web for breaking news now, first reports, following up watching longer analysis on TV and in the following days newspapers.

Advertising revenue from online newspapers is way behind print revenue, although this is improving, but I cannot currently see many printed titles being able to drop their cover price in order to encourage more readers that way.

What are newspaper good for?

People don't tend to read long news articles on a screen, personally I would rather print them off to read and take in later.

Lengthy feature or analytical articles are what print is and has always been good for.

This is part of the key to any level of success in the current murky media climate. Clever integration and cross-promotion of the print and online products.

If both products can be successful editorially and feed off each other, drawing audiences through their quality, then this can only help grow potential both advertising revenue streams.

The main problem for national and local titles is there is no tried and tested path for a successful future strategy. Their are titles that have large audiences and a strong presence online, particularly The Guardian in the UK and The New York Times in America.

Multimedia minefield

Broadband has enabled the web to embrace multimedia content, and this has trickled down to news organisations, including newspaper titles.

Podcasts have begat video reports, but the danger with treading into visual waters is that there are plenty of broadcasting operations who have far more understanding of the medium and can produce superior content.

Summing up

The future looks very uncertain, but the opportunity is there to reinvent newspapers for a digital age. The question will be: "But how do we do it?".

There is no simple answer, but one thing news providers must never forget is that content is king.

Taking your eye off the ball regarding producing relevant, intelligent and focussed news reports would be a big mistake, that is the one advantage news operations have over the majority of bloggers or citizen journalists.

The editorial team will always be the most vital resource, but newspaper owners must support them wisely and cleverly in order to keep the paper afloat in the coming decades.

Read more:
Papers battle online news sites from BBC Click technology programme.

More links on online newspapers and the future of newspapers.

Monday, 1 May 2006

Web accessibility. Who cares?

Web User reports Most websites fail accessibility tests. Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa, said: "The Disability Rights Commission estimates that there are over 10 million people with disabilities in the UK and by ignoring accessibility and usability, companies are excluding over £80bn in untapped revenue."

Ignorance of web accessibility potentially leaves these companies open to legal action. Simon Norris comments: "Ignoring accessibility actively turns visitors away.”

Millions of people have difficulty browsing and interacting with the web. Online accessibility is about giving everyone the opportunity to see and use web content and services. Norris also added: "Conditions such as learning difficulties, cognitive impairments, visual impairments and Repetitive Strain Injury affect the way people access the internet"

Web design and development has to take this in to account, not because we feel we should, or because it's the law, but because making a site accessible (and thus usable) to as many people (and potential customers) as possible can only make good business sense. More links to accessible sites and articles.
File under: web design.

Thursday, 27 April 2006

The popularity of the MySpace web design train-wreck

Commenting on Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0: User Content and Lock-In, I think maybe Web 2.0 vs Web 1.0 is not necessarily the best scenario. Maybe it's simpler, maybe web standards is a waste of time, when you see how popular myspace is right now, and yet it's a web design train-wreck.

Somewhere between the popularity of MySpace and the simplistic usefulness of Basecamp lies the future of the Web. At least the near future, as trying to see too far ahead is becoming difficult as technology and software develops and mutates ever-quicker.

I've seen some disgusting looking MySpace sites, not just from a technical web production point of view, but visually the colours and layout are awful. But on the whole it obviously works, and as we all know people rarely actually complain about stuff they don't get or can't use online, they just go somewhere else and find what they want.

I couldn't survive at work without my Basecamp, to-do dynamic lists and email reminders saving me from searching through pages of written notes, ideas and lists.

But to those that don't work inside the web industry daily, something as simplistic as a MySpace page speaks - particularly younger web users - to them in a simple voice. Here is a wake-up call for all web designers of large and small-scale sites alike, the importance of engaging with your audience, in terms of not only the content, but the layout and visual structures.

Journalism meets blogging

How does the print journalism world adjust to the new media age of "citizen journalism", bloggers from all corners suddenly having a voice, opinion, a say on local and national issues and stories?

A columnist at the Philly Inquirer writes: “...the biggest evil of blogs is that first flaw, blogging's original sin: the discounting of news-gathering in favour of news analysis. Bloggers are forever telling us how easy journalism is, yet very few of them have ever really practiced it...but opinion writing is a tiny - and let's be honest, inconsequential - corner of the journalism world. Real journalism - the practice of adding to the store of public knowledge by reporting news - is a difficult, thankless, and often unpleasant task. Bloggers want no part of it.”

Bloggers without journalistic training or experience are no less worthy of reading. Coherent and articulate arguments and opinions are all valid. But surely the myriad of bloggers will not overrun the trained journalists backed by experienced news teams.

Writing regular articles and thoughts takes time and mental energy, as well as background reading and research to produce quality content. But not everyone has the time or inclination to do this for free.

True, some bloggers have made some money out of it, but it has to be almost a full-time job to be churning out lengthy quality writing at regular intervals.

For journalists and news teams it is an opportunity to break into new avenues of writing. Adding depth to articles there would otherwise not have been space for in the print world alone.

Speaking to the audience in more personal ways, taking a second look at stories with the benefit of hindsight and feeding the instant desires of those online readers who do not want to be tied down by waiting for the next days newspapers or the next weeks magazines or supplements.

The new journalistic age is still finding its feet, but the opportunities - providing some revenue streams can be found - could be rewarding for those currently inside journalism and those speaking from the blogosphere.

File under: newspapers and blogging.

Friday, 24 March 2006

Take a break, refresh your productivity

Particularly busy day at ET Towers today. It wasn't until I took a break in the afternoon to grab a few bits for dinner that my mind began to be a little more objective about my current workload.

I had more constructive ideas and clearer thoughts on issues that needed resolving in that forty minute break than the rest of the day.

When you have a busy day at work and you haven't got time to stop and take a break and be objective about how things are going it can be difficult to focus on the priorities and effectiveness of your routine.

Bill Gates wrote this in a 2005 Executive E-Mail column:

"A recent study showed that 56 percent of workers are overwhelmed by multiple simultaneous projects and interrupted too often; one-third say that multi-tasking and distractions are keeping them from stepping back to process and reflect on the work they’re doing. In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated that stress accounts for nearly one-third of absenteeism and sick leave." (Source:

While technology makes many jobs and tasks easier, it also enables us to do more. But then we are almost expected to do more, but does this in some way stifle creativity and block clear thinking?

I find taking regular breaks, how often depending on the individual needs, clearing the mind, even for a few minutes can help to overcome a creative block, prepare for a nagging deadlines or bring fresh ideas to unsolved problems.

Thursday, 23 March 2006

Review: Prague, Czech Republic

Sunday, March 12 until Wednesday, March 15 2006.

Our Gatwick flight was cancelled after nearly a foot of snow had fallen in the last 24 hours, closing the airport in Prague.

Things looked bleak but as it turned out Becky and I ended up on a later flight from Heathrow. The snow stopped and Prague's airport opened for business, welcoming us about 8 hours later than planned, but glad to be on holiday.

On our first full morning we found a very cold but bright day greeting us. Most challenging was the icy cobbled streets. But we managed to stay on our feet, and frankly the snow added to the picturesque view of the city.

Our photos from Prague

Everyone we had spoken to had good memories of Prague, and from the guide books and reviews it sounded perfect for a short break and change of scene.
Even though we went off-peak it was still awash with tourists from America and around Europe. Prague's popularity means that it is easy to get around and communicate as virtually all the locals we encountered spoke enough English to avoid embarrassing incidents.
We stayed at the Hotel Julian, just south of the Little Quarter to the west of the River Vltava. We travelled by foot, although there are plenty of buses and trams if needed. I found it to be good exercise and would rather be pounding the streets than sat a desk at work. Discuss.

Brief historical interlude

The Czech Republic is a country full of history. It gained independence in 1918 becoming Czechoslovakia, ending the 400-year reign of the Habsburgs. But it wasn't until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 when democracy returned, and in 1992 Czech Republic and Slovakia were formed.
But over the centuries, the Czechs have been busy, building elaborate buildings, churches and cathedrals. I've never seen so much impressive and ornate architecture.

Tourists galore, but impressive views

We headed for the Old Town Square, via the Charles Bridge, an impressive site, lined on both sides by statues of kings, princes and religious scenes. This was pretty busy with tourists. I imagine it must be a little too crowded in mid-summer, but it gives a great view up and down the river, with the castle spanning the northern view of the city.
The best way to enjoy the city is to stroll beyond the Old Town Square and down side streets and alleyways to get a less tourist-driven feel for Prague.

Church of St Nicholas, Little Quarter

We almost missed this stunning building as we walked through the Little Quarter to the west of the Charles Bridge. After seeing a steady stream of people heading in and out of a building, we ventured in, and were treated to a an array of ornate carvings, statues and a fantastic frescos adorning the ceiling.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle stretches along the hills, dominating the city skyline to the north. It was only about 30 minutes walk from the hotel, and gave stunning views across the river and city beyond.
It contains many buildings, courtyards, as well as the opportunity to see another country's version of the changing of the guards. St Vitus's Cathedral is another stunning cathedral, lined with stained glass windows, full of the history of Prague and the Czechs.

Old Town

Every hour the Town Hall Clock strikes and out troop the 12 Apostles, as this impressive Astronomical clock draws regular crowds.

Food and drink

Along the tourist route through the city, you will find no end of restaurants, bars and cafes. Plenty of European styles available and a good standard.
Becky was more adventurous trying some local Beef Goulash with dumplings, which was very nice. Be aware that these were no dumplings I had ever experienced, very filling. The prices varied, but even the popular restaurants charge no more than you would pay in this country.

Commonly the weight of any meat is listed on the menu, a relic of the communist era. And the beer is strong and cheap as you would expect from the Czechs, roughly 70 pence a pint. After pounding the streets check out the popular Kaverna (Cafe) Slavia, overlooking the river and watch the world go by. In the evening try Red, Hot & Blues, just off the Old Town Square, for some tasty Tex-Mex food and lively jazz and funky music every night.

Useful links:

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Building an online local newspaper in 2006

In a word, diversify. Online newspapers need to push on with their unique selling points; namely, local knowledge and a trusted brand bringing loyalty within the a local marketplace. These need to be visible online whilst providing a more user-driven site, accessible to all on any platform.

Aims & objectives

Encouraging interactivity and providing high standards of usability for users; using web standards and offering flexibility for the web producers.

Design & construction

  • Usable and accessible to all potential users in any browser, on any platform (mobile, PDAs, etc).

  • Clean design and layout, with clear branding links with any print editions.

  • Consistent branding and navigation.

  • Produced in semantic, web standard code (XHTML and CSS) to improve control of layout.

  • Makes temporary changes within layout templates more flexible, make content viewable on any platform with minimum of extra development work and make future developments easier.

Content & features

The digital age is well and truly upon us, modern news providers are multimedia outlets where news is transmitted and received in new formats by ever hungry users devouring news and information as quickly as it is produced. As Media Guardian puts it: "With news websites starting to fill up with audio and video clips, we are seeing just the beginning of "convergence"."

  • Regularly updated content, i.e. up to the minute news from the local news team.

  • Follow-ups and updates of news from print edition. Established print working patterns would need to be augmented by an understanding of the web audience and skills in writing for the web.

  • The written content would be more geared towards a web audience. Shorter sentences/paragraphs and use of bullet lists.

  • Flexibility to change homepage features regularly with eye-catching content whilst keeping basic structure and layout.

  • Use of audio and visual content to augment written articles (but not just for the sake of doing it).

  • Alternative distribution methods: Email newsletters, RSS feeds, blogs, email alerts.

  • Awareness of online news aggregators: Google News, Newsvine - " build a perfectly different, perfectly efficient way to read, write, and interact with the news." Read an analysis of Newsvine.

  • Text containing terms related to article keywords more helpful for search engine ranking. Google's advice for your website: Content.

Relationship with the audience

  • Giving them the content that they want, in the format they want it: RSS feeds, email updates for specific sections.

  • Offer blogs, user feedback/input, blog comments.

  • Still pushing commercial options.

Marketing & promotion

  • Clear consistent branding across all off and online editions.

  • Cross promotion of features and offers.

  • Print edition pushing online only content and vice versa.

Revenue/Return on investment

  • Targeted advertising within sections.

  • Sponsorship of features/sections – cross-branded between off/online editions.

  • Interactive competitions – use of SMS.

  • Not overwhelming the homepage with advertising, but specific content can carry relevant advertising options.