TL;DR: a selection of articles for the Guardian Media & Tech network

Thirteen articles from the last couple of years, starting with the most recent:

Facebook’s dominance in journalism could be bad news for us all
Could it be that the short-term high from socially distributed content – greater reach – inevitably gives way to symptoms of dependency: loss of control and financial damage?

From digital to print: the publishers bucking the online-only trend
The march of technological progress moves in just one direction. From analogue to digital. From standalone to connected. From print to online. That, at least, is the conventional view. The reality is far messier. And far more interesting.

How can publishers inspire trust in an era of distributed media?
Where once publishers used social media as a promotional tool to pull users back to their own websites, now social networks and messaging apps have morphed into content hosts – think Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, Apple News, LinkedIn Pulse, Google AMP and, even, Twitter Moments.

What is Twitter’s real reach?
Regardless of the stalling active users and top line numbers, perhaps Twitter still matters. Perhaps it still has influence, albeit indirectly.

Cosmo and Lad Bible reach new audiences through social
Nobody owns the audience, Facebook will change the rules of publisher engagement to suit its needs and the benefits of using social platforms controlled by others outweigh the disadvantages.

Current affairs magazines are defying the death of print
As it is with long-form broadcast so it is with current affairs magazines at their best. By taking a longer view and by devoting more time and space to key events, current affairs magazines can help readers marshal their thoughts (shape them, even) and separate the signal from the noise.

From Bloomberg to Quartz: five attempts to tackle our attention deficit
In a world of finite time and apparent infinite choice, how are publishers encouraging readers to stick around? And how, especially, are they persuading them to stay for the longish reads? One answer is to provide visual or text-based cues to indicate how much time readers will need to invest in a particular article. Here are five innovative approaches.

 TLDR: so just how short should your online article be?
In a world of 140 character tweets and five to six inch mobile phone screens, long is bad. Right? Well, maybe.

News UK, the Guardian and Outbrain on the labelling of sponsored content
If the problem is transparency and trust, is the solution better labelling? That was one of the questions a panel on native advertising wrestled with at the Changing Media Summit last week.

BuzzFeed to NME: a publisher’s masterclass in producing online video
Too many videos play as if they have been produced for company bosses. Brevity, focus and the ability to teach viewers something new are key ingredients

What kind of blogger are you?
From the polemicist to the magpie, here are four blogging archetypes worth exploring.

i100 and Quartz prove homepages are increasingly irrelevant
Homepages are a product of journalists who came from print and thought in print terms.

From Google to Buzzfeed: seven moments that shaped digital media
Seven milestones have marked radical change in the digital media in the 20 years since newspapers began publishing online.

Why online headlines are different. And 5 other Content Desk articles

I’ve just completed some work for Content Cloud, a new digital marketplace that puts those seeking content (words, photos, graphics etc) with those that make it. Content Cloud has a sister site called Content Desk and as well as helping develop an editorial plan for the site, I contributed a few articles along the way. Here they are, all in one place:

How to write headlines for the web

What George Orwell can still teach us about writing and readability

Online headlines are different. And here’s the proof

David Mitchell and the art of 140 character storytelling

The Content Marketing Strategy checklist

The Streisand Effect and lessons in transparency






The art of reinvention

A recurring theme of this week’s Digital Media Strategies 2013 conference in London was reinvention.

Here’s the drill: the transition from traditional media to digital media is disruptive and while it doesn’t necessarily destroy it does fragment and when those fragments are pieced together they are often done so in ways completely different from before.

That’s the theory. What about the practice? Here are three examples:

The Economist is now a radio broadcaster. Well not quite but it does deliver 1.5 million audio streams a month, according to Nick Blunden. That presents an interesting opportunity, he argued, because it allows The Economist not just to compete for scarce “reading time” but — given people can listen while doing something else — also to compete for their “free time”.

Auto Trader: the people behind this new-and-used car magazine have turned themselves from publisher to search provider; an obvious move in retrospect for a listings paper but, most likely, brave at the time. That initial move last decade has, said Trader Media Group’s Nick Gee, made the “transition to mobile relatively easy”. Now a third of their traffic comes from mobile phones. And, given the rate of growth, Gee predicted that like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, he’ll be able to call Trader Media a mobile company by the end of the year.

Computer Weekly, launched in 1966, was the world’s first weekly technology newspaper  and became the UK’s last weekly technology newspaper when it stopped printing in 2011. The transition from print to print-plus-digital to digital-only brought with it new lessons and insights, said editor-in-chief Bryan Glick. For example, “We moved from knowing exactly who was subscribing but no idea what they were reading to knowing exactly what they were reading but no idea who they were.” Online registration has since underpinned Computer Weekly’s business model.

Another insight: the assumption that news was what the reader craved did not quite hold up to scrutiny. “News attracts [readers] but long form is what keeps them there,” he said. Where once the ratio of stories was 70:30 in favour of news the editorial team now produce as many long form pieces as they do news stories.

I’ve written more about The Economist and Auto Trader talks over on the Press Gazette — and plan to flesh out some thoughts about Glick’s very interesting Computer Weekly presentation in due course.

NewsNow: ‘End These Indiscriminate Attacks’

news-nowNewsNow is something of a British success story. Launched in 1998, during that first phase of internet entrepreneurship, it is the country’s leading news aggregator and the UK’s answer to Google News.

It currently accounts for 20 per cent of the market

Set up by two technology journalists, Nick Gilbert and Struan Bartlett (declaration of interest: both former colleagues), it is proof that not all of us watch from the sidelines. Some get stuck in.

But now the NewsNow business model is under fire. The company has been threatened with legal action if it does not change the way it does business or cease from linking altogether.

In an open letter to national and regional newspapers – a number of whom have NewsNow in their sights – Bartlett called on them to end these “indiscriminate attacks”. 

In the letter, widely circulated on Twitter yesterday, he wrote:

We don’t redistribute your web pages to anyone. We operate within the law, and we don’t do you any harm.

Far from it. We deliver you traffic and drive you revenues you otherwise wouldn’t have received. The idea that we are undermining your businesses is incorrect. It is fanciful to imagine that, if it weren’t for link aggregators, you would have more traffic or revenues. We provide a service that you do not: a means for readers to find your content more readily, via continuously updating links to a diversity of websites.

The truth is, if anything, it is the growth of the Internet itself — not link aggregation — that has undermined your businesses by destroying the virtual monopoly that you once held over the mass distribution of written news.

Which seems about the sum of it.

I’ve yet to hear a really effective case made against aggregators. From publishers, at least.

I can understand why those who make their money from syndication – step forward the Associated Press – are unhappy. Aggregation, formally through the likes of Google News and News Now or informally via social media, is the new syndication.

That’s why AP has led the fight.

But publishers? Their approach is, frankly, schizophrenic. Take News Corp. If it is not shouting “kleptomaniac“, it’s showing a bit of leg to Google while dabbling with aggregation models of its own.

Here’s what we know – aggregators drive traffic.

We can argue, as many publishers are doing, about the value of these passing eye-balls, but asking whether we need NewsNow and co. to deliver this transient traffic is not the same as declaring them harmful. And it is a very long way from proving that without these apparent parasites, revenue would be up, up, up.

Good luck, NewsNow.

Top 10 News Aggregators In The UK
What Would Google Do? Fail Quietly.

Telegraph And Mail Go Troughing With The Micro Pigs

Further evidence that the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail are print media’s most aggressive online operators. And their latest success is all down to eight inches of bacon-busting micro pig.


Micro pigs are, apparently, the latest celebrity accessory and many of your fellow surfers have been searching for news and information about these must-have pets.

So much so that according to Hitwise, ‘micro pigs’ was the fastest moving search term in the UK last week.

Never ones to miss an opportunity, both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph were quick out of the traps (the pen?) with some puff on the pigs.

And it’s worked a treat. As Robin Goad points out today, the Daily Mail has been the grateful recipient of one in four clicks from ‘micro pig’ search results. The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, got a very handy 13 per cent of downstream traffic.

And just like the little pigs, all the search traffic is organic.

Is This The Ultimate Daily Mail Headline?
Telegraph PM, Premature RIP For DIY PDF?

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Scaremongering Pits Google Against The Blogosphere

vaccineFellow blogger Malcolm Coles is conducting a medical experiment, but you’re more likely to see the results in New Media Age than The Lancet.

Following death this week of a teenage girl moments after she had been immunized against cervical cancer, Coles  noted how many of the papers had failed to offer a balanced account of events, implying that the vaccination and the death were linked when at best there was no proof.

As we now know, the tragic death was later attributed to an unrelated tumour. Too late for the papers – and too late for the aggregator of the newspapers, Google.

Of course Google didn’t author any of these stories but it does disseminate –  and Coles wants those stories off the top of search and Google News results pages.

The solution?

He wants as many bloggers as possible to post about the jab, and rather than link to some scurrilous story, they should instead link to this NHS cervical cancer vaccine page.

The more inbound links, the higher the page rank, the more likely that particular NHS page is to appear on page one of Google.

The net result (no pun intended) is that concerned parents scouring the internet for information will more likely see the informed advice.

As I blog, the NHS cervical cancer vaccine page (oops, I’ve linked to it again), has yet to make Google page one but an NHS Q&A has. And someone – the Department of Health presumably – has bought a sponsored ad.

But none of this should stop the experiment. Go link…

Google Fast Flip Verdict – Good News For Users, Bad News For Newspapers
Google Ads. FAIL
BBC Goes Crowdsourcing To Save The NHS

Google Fast Flip Verdict – Good News For Users, Bad News For Newspapers

google-fast-flipSo long Google News and thanks for all the traffic.

Google Fast Flip may still be in the labs but the search giant’s latest efforts should give some in the newspaper industry nightmares.

First things first, it is a pretty nice concept (if far from new) and it offers a decent user experience. Search a news event – Kim Clijsters US Open win for example – and Google Fast Flip will return results in all their visual glory by rendering the look and feel of the host website.

You can browse from one page to the next by clicking backwards and forwards on the blue arrows. And if you want to visit the site in question simply click on the image.

Google is in no doubt why you’ll want to use it:

In short, you get fast browsing, natural magazine-style navigation, recommendations from friends and other members of the community and a selection of content that is serendipitous and personalized.

There’s also a promise of a revenue share for publishers who sign up but here’s where it starts to unravel for a news industry increasingly fretful about generating revenue online.

Paul Bradshaw, writing on the Online Journalism Blog, is in no doubt that this is a bad move for publishers and the only motivation to sign up is “blind panic”. He notes:

Of course, by hosting screenshots Google are eating into one of the key metrics that publishers use to sell advertising: the time a user spends on your site. And given that many readers don’t read beyond the first few pars, there’s a good chance it will eat into the numbers clicking through to the actual page at all.

The Telegraph’s Shane Richmond nicely satirises the move in his Fake Eric Schmidt blog this morning. Adopting the potty-mouth of Google’s (fake) CEO, he writes:

And here’s the part you ——— will love: we’ll share the revenue with you. Of course the ads will be ours, not yours. Oh, and Fast Flip shows enough of the article that readers will decide not to click through and read your pages at all. But you’ll thank us for it because we’ve saved your business model. Happy now bitches?

Top 10 News Aggregators In The UK
What Would Google Do? Fail Quietly.
‘I Consider Google News A Gift, Newspapers Consider It Theft.’

10 Google News Optimisation Tips From Google

Google_News_Spencer_E_HoltawayAs someone once said, “I consider Google News a gift, but newspapers consider it theft.”

There’s a time and place for a debate about the effect – insidious or otherwise – of the web’s leading news aggregator. And this isn’t it.

Except to say that search engines and aggregators continue to be kingmakers for news websites. Something that news publishers know only too well.

So when Google speaks – or, in this case, videos itself speaking – publishers listen. The 15 minute presentation from Google’s Maile Ohye offers some advice that you’re probably familiar with – and much you’re not.

10 Google News Optimisation Tips From Google

1. Don’t break up article body
Sequential paragraphs work best, so don’t be tempted to pepper the copy with users comments or links to related posts – leave that to the end. And don’t post your news article across multiple pages.

2. Spend time on the article title. Both of them.
Make your title “extremely indicative of the article in hand,” says Ohye. And we’re not just talking about the headline here. Make the html title (ie) the one that appears in the web address, a good one too. Indeed (and this is not Google’s advice, you understand), if it’s editable you can make it longer and more keyword-heavy than the headline. Just don’t game the system with irrelevant link-bait.

3. Submit a News sitemap
The News sitemap gives greater control to which of your articles appear on Google News, and helps supply relevant meta information such as publication date and keywords – all of which aids classification. Click here for more on News sitemaps.

4. Use Jpegs
If you want your images to appear on Google News results pages, don’t use Gifs of PNG files. Use .jpg.

5. Get a citation
If your news organisation has broken a story or developed new lines on an existing one, make sure others cite you as the source. And that they link back to your original story. Google looks for citations when ranking articles within a list.

6. Don’t worry about your PageRank
While Google PageRank matters a great deal for your placing within Google’s conventional search, it matters far less for news aggregation. Why? Because the linking structure of a brand new article isn’t going to be the same as one published months or years ago. Google News is far more interested in timeliness, local relevancy etc.

7.  Use large images
If you want an image to appear on Google News (and images get clicked a lot) make sure it’s large, with a good aspect ratio. Also, inline images are preferable to those that are a click away.

8. Keep your opinions to yourself
Google says only news articles appear on Google News – that means no satire, press releases or op-ed will be considered.

9. Put dates between article and body text
This helps Google’s date extractor do its work and more accurately classify your work.

10. Don’t worry about the content
Only kidding. Every search engine optimisation session ends with the obligatory “create unique and original content” and this one is no different. I guess it makes these traders in the dark arts of SEO feel slightly less dirty.

Top 10 News Aggregators In The UK
What Would Google Do? Fail Quietly.
The Express Fiddles While The Mail Earns

[Picture credit: Spencer E Holtaway]

Which Is The Second Largest Search Site After Google? (Clue: It’s Not Yahoo!)

And for those who are thinking quizically, “It can’t be Microsoft Bing, can it?” you’re right, it can’t be.

The truth is that the biggest search rival to Google is … Google. In the guise of YouTube, that is.

Of course YouTube isn’t a search engine – it doesn’t bring back results from the web at large. Nevertheless, the video sharing site logs more searches per month than Yahoo!

This may be obvious to some of you but it was only when reading the recently published Sticks & Stones: How Digital Business Reputations Are Created Over Time and Lost in a Click by Larry Weber (he of PR behemoth Weber Shandwick) that the point struck home.

In the book, Weber cites ComScore numbers. And this is what he found: 

  • Google logs 7.6bn searches per month
  • YouTube logs 2.6bn
  • Yahoo! logs 2.4bn 

(Incidentally, MySpace and Facebook log 600m and 200m respectively.)

As Weber notes:

Considering that YouTube went live … in February 2005, it’s achieved an incredible record of growth in a very short time.

But in a couple of respects the numbers are worrying. First, they suggest that nobody does video searching well. Instead people are going to the source.

Second, this volume of search logs is indicative of YouTube’s quasi-monopoly of web video.

Of course it has competitors and some other video sharing sites, notably Dailymotion, have significant market share while others, like Vimeo, are growing fast.

But YouTube remains the go-to site for video – and it has morphed into a video search engine/destination in one.