Resist the ego bath. Some thoughts on online video

In my latest piece for the the Guardian Media Network, I look at examples of good online video in action. My experience is that most video on the web is “long, self-indulgent, rambling and shambling – video for bosses (internal stakeholders, if you must); not video for viewers.”

By looking at those that (mostly) get it right – from the NME to WSJ, The Atlantic to Channel 4’s The Last Leg – it’s possible to learn some useful lessons that are applicable in most circumstances. Lessons such as these:

1. Answer the question. Explainers work.

2. Keep it short. Brevity takes times. But it’s worth it.

3. Repurpose, repackage, reuse. Better 10 well-targeted one minute videos than one 10 minute grand tour.

4. Think discoverability. Headlines matter.

5. Text and moving images, a perfect partnership. To liven things up, aid understanding or create a brand new strand.

6. Leave them wanting more. And tell them where to go.

Read: BuzzFeed to NME: a publisher’s masterclass in producing online video


So who will be affected by the Telegraph paywall?

Great post from Martin Belam yesterday on the Telegraph’s imminent metered paywall.

He ends by despairing at the lack of up to date information about the new plans on the Telegraph site and along the way points out who exactly would be affected by the 20-articles-a-month-for-free-and-then-you-pay model.

Here’s the key passage (my emphasis):

Now, from having spent a long time looking at news website analytics over the years I happen to know that the numbers will almost certainly say that the average number of pages viewed per user per month is between 1 and 5, or something of that magnitude. The only people who will get caught up in the twenty articles a month bracket are:

1. Telegraph super-users and loyalists, who may be tempted to add a print subscription into their package, and can certainly be marketed in that direction over the coming months.

2. Super-heavy news consumers and industry people like myself, who will presumably just tuck it into their business expenses like I do with my Times subscription. And now they’ll have more data about me.

NewsNow ditches Telegraph, Guardian and Daily Mirror

News-now *Breaking* UK news aggregator NewsNow is pulling links to many of the UK’s biggest national newspapers after failure to reach agreement with The Newspaper Licensing Agency Limited (the NLA).

The NLA had threatened NewsNow with legal action if it did not change the way it does business or cease from linking altogether.

The aggregator’s managing director Struan Bartlett said: “We strongly feel that to accept the NLA’s terms would set a dangerous precedent restricting our customers’ ability to conduct their business freely.

“We see this as a ‘slippery slope’ towards any free-to-access website demanding licence fees from any organisation for circulating or clicking on links.”

Newspaper titles that NewsNow is to pull from its subscription service include The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Mirror. NLA member publications will remain available via NewsNow’s free website.

For the background to this story see:

NewsNow: ‘End These Indiscriminate Attacks’

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?

Telegraph PM, Premature RIP For DIY PDF?


Call it serendipity or call it procrastination, every so often a browse through the internet in the name of research throws up something that makes you stop and think.

Late last week, it was this screenshot on the right.

Telegraph PM was launched in September 2006 as a downloadable afternoon edition of the Daily Telegraph.

A newspaper in PDF form, it was ‘published’ at 4pm each weekday with a further update at 5.30pm. It ran to 10 pages, made up of news, business, sport, entertainment, crosswords and – very 2006, this – a sudoku puzzle.

On launch, the Telegraph described it as:

Our commitment to being at the cutting edge of the new-media age.

Which sounds a little strange three years on.

Internet-enabled smartphones, WiFi and 3G dongles for your laptop have made the  printable take-away seem like an unnecessary indulgence. Why print when you can surf?

Telegraph PM was quietly dropped in January 2008.

In fact the downloadable PDF still lives on – and any Telegraph reader missing the ‘old’ form need only hold their nose, make their way across to the Guardian site, and print a copy of G24.

Perhaps G24 is still used in large numbers, maybe the overheads are small enough to sustain the remaining hardcore, or maybe the Guardian’s digital bosses have forgotten it exists.

Another alternative? Perhaps this is the future of print. Transfer the production costs to the user – or more likely the office HP LaserJet – and, hey presto the DIY PDF gives you the best of both worlds: the tangible value of print for the marginal cost of internet publishing.

Lehman Collapse Showed Power Of Print


A couple of years ago the BBC revamped its news website so when a major story came along it could push aside all the detritus and devote the top of the page to a single story – larger headline font and bigger image.

It was an admission of sorts that template-driven websites were all very well but come a big event (think 7/7, 9/11, Blair’s resignation etc) there was a need to make a visual impact.

Implicit is the power of print. Despite the onward rush of digital, no where is a splash quite as effective than on the front page of a newspaper.

The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the Lehman Brothers’ collapse last September is a vivid reminder of that. Appropriate then that one year on Google has unveiled  Fast Flip, digital’s latest attempt to ape that power.

News websites 1990s-style
What’s Wrong With This Telegraph Front Page?
The Express Fiddles While The Mail Earns

Adebayor, Arsenal And The Limits Of Crowdsourcing

adebayor-daily-starWhen James Surowiecki coined the phrase ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ for his 2004 book, it was a play on a 19th century work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay.

Well this weekend the madness returned, and not just inside the City of Manchester Stadium.

Surowiecki argument – “the many are smarter than the few” –  is a theme that’s been taken up by others, most notably Jeff Howe in his book Crowdsourcing, and applied in a variety of ways in the digital space.

One of the best newspaper adaptations of the crowdsourcing idea is player ratings – rather than rely on the opinion of one sports reporter, an irregular watcher of the players on view, source the opinions of the fans.

The aggregate marks out of 10 you’ll find on the Daily Telegraph ratings application are invariably a better guide to the true worth of a footballer’s 90 minutes than those from your correspondent of choice.

Counterintuitive, maybe, but the football fanatic is also the football realist and knows more than most when the talent is failing to deliver. It’s the media that often has the blinkers on when it comes to Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, Fabregas et al.

But once in a while the crowd gets it wrong – and the correspondent gets it right.

Take Emmanuel Adebayor’s performance on Saturday when the Manchester City striker faced his former club.

Fuelled by festering animosity towards the Arsenal fans and some of his former colleagues, Adebayor was an effective footballer (one goal from one opportunity) but an ineffective diplomat (inappropriate, near riot-inducing goal celebration and a boot, seemingly put there deliberately, into a ex-teammates face).

On the football alone, the player deserved a strong rating. And that’s what he got from the writers – 7 out of 10 in the Sun and the Guardian; 8 out of 10 in the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times and The Times.

And in the Telegraph’s crowdsourced player ratings? 5.82 at the time of posting. In other words, the worst Manchester City player on the pitch. Surely not?  A case of Arsenal fans getting some digital retaliation, perhaps.

Of course these ratings are subjective but in this particular case the wisdom of football writers does seem nearer the mark than the madness of football fans.

Just as the custodians of Wikipedia put editing restrictions on pages covering the Middle East, perhaps the Telegraph should re-consider how it deals with some footballing conflict zones.

How The Guardian’s Crowdsourcing Experiment Ran Out Of Steam
Crowdsourcing 1920s-Style
BBC Goes Crowdsourcing To Save The NHS

Daily Telegraph Meets Fail Whale In Case Of The Phantom Twittercrat

Twitter_Fail_WhaleIt was one of the more entertaining tit-for-tats of the week. The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express all ran stories about the government preparing to appoint a £120k-a-year ‘Twittercrat’ to teach it how to use social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Bebo.

Nice story, except it wasn’t true.

In a rebuttal far better written than the original job ad that sparked the row, the Cabinet Office set out five key inaccuracies in the papers’ reporting (“The job title is wrong. Details of the job description are wrong.” etc).

Could the Cabinet Office use those very social media tools to get its message out?

For more read my latest column: A telling tale of the Twittercrat who wasn’t

News websites 1990s-style is indulging in some digital nostalgia with its How 20 popular websites looked when they launched piece published this morning.

An enterprising member of the online team has raided the WayBackMachine and dug out screengrabs from big web names including Google, YouTube, Amazon, Drudge and Flickr.

The piece is doing great business on Delicious, Digg and co, although I’m sure that wasn’t the editorial driving force behind it.


Among the news sites featured are the BBC (from 1 December 1998) and the New York Times (from 12 November 1996).

There some aspects of the design and implementation that immediately date these sites. The BBC’s use of the words ‘Front Page’, for example. Presumably that’s so everybody knows they are on the, er, front page.

It’s not quite as big a 1990s sin as the Flash front-door but it’s redundant and wasteful nonetheless.


Over at the New York Times, the direct aping of the newspaper front page – masthead and all – actually holds up quite well, and although the lack of multimedia now seems odd, the use of a large image and grabby headlines stand the test of time.

Compare and contrast with the uninspired copy writing over at the 1998 BBC site.

Nevertheless, there are two print hangovers on the New York Times site that feel anachronistic.

First there’s the use of a ‘Late News Update’ strap over the air crash story – there’s no such thing on the web.

Secondly, there’s the Times’s famous strap line – ‘All The News That’s Fit To Print’.

As we now know, finite space is a thing of the past. Or to borrow Clay Shirky’s phrase: ‘publish, then filter’.

The Independent Adds Video. Why?
What’s Wrong With This Telegraph Front Page?
The Express Fiddles While The Mail Earns
The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and BBC: Lessons in Crowdsourcing

What’s Wrong With This Telegraph Front Page?


Nothing, surely? It’s the first day of the final, and deciding, Ashes Test and the alliterative Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is making his last test appearance for England.

So why not splash his picture across the front page of the paper?

Well, for a start he may be blonde and grinning but he’s not female – and he’s not holding a mystery envelope.

I was under the impression that on A-level results day it was a constitutional must that the Telegraph carry such a photo. Clearly the Will Lewis revolution continues apace…

Wait a minute, what’s this above the masthead? Phew!





A Year In The Life Of Newspapers
The Express Fiddles While The Mail Earns
Daily Mail Ends Moderation. Will Anybody Notice?