Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tidying up Google's mess

I wrote a couple of pieces on some days off from the normal gig last week. For those who clicked through from Twitter and elsewhere previously, my apologies for the tatty presentation and lack of paragraphs. You can blame me, but I'd prefer it if you blamed it on Google's Blogspot.

When is Google going to get on the pace and ensure bloggers like me can upload properly formatted material from an Apple mobile device, in my case an iPad?

I understandthe Google-backed Androids are locked in an interstellar fight to the death with the iWorld, but I don't appreciate being collateral damage. It's enough to get one thinking about WordPress as a better option, although I understand there's less scope for some of the finer points of formatting like colours, fonts etc.

But if I am continually thwarted in my attempts to bore the world stupid with my blogs, then I will migrate to WordPress. I know it won't change the world, or perhaps even break anyone's sleep, but I will have the satisfaction of knowing that I took a stand.

Once again, apologies to any readers this week who appreciate the finer points of paragraphing etc. I have now tidied up the page using ancient desktop technology.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brand journalism? The media and commerce conspire

Way way back, when I began a journalism cadetship on The Courier-Mail in Brisbane, there was a massive separation between advertising (promoting brands and products) and editorial. Never the twain should meet in those days. But the other week, I joined a LinkedIn group called 'Brand Journalism'.

It was the final sign-off for me from journalism, as I once knew it, and PR and marketing. Don't get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with brand journalism, as long as it doesn't masquerade as pure journalism, like many of our so-called current affairs programs do.

I crossed to the 'dark side' when I left newspapers in 1981 and moved into Ford Australia's public affairs office. It wasn't long before I was elevated to the lofty position of 'Product Information Manager', which was the first formal transition from PR into marketing. From there, from the journalism purists point of view, it was all downhill for yours truly.

It's now widely acknowledged that there are more journalists working for corporate masters than reporting on them. Over 80% of many newspapers, more in some cases, originates from copy or ideas generated by brand journalists than from those employed in the media. Whether this is a good thing is another issue, but it's a trend endorsed by the growth in media distribution and the 24-hour news cycle.

Get past the first section of your daily newspaper, or the first two items on your current affairs program and you're well into understanding the growing nexus between editorial and PR / brand journalism. You're into channels hungry for content and grateful for any corporate largesse that may help fill them.

What's worse is the evidence suggests the public is generally happy with this arrangement. They're happy for a current affairs show to research whether it's cheaper to shop at Aldi than anywhere else. They think all content should be free on the Internet.

If they wanted truly independent editorial, they'd pay subscriptions to independent news services. Indeed some do, but not enough to sustain a genuine global news organizations. So brand journalism is here to stay, perhaps to become one of the fastest growing professions in corporate communications, as companies not only interact with media organisations, but also service their own growing channels in the social media and web.

Always thought of myself as a journalism turncoat until I discovered brand journalism. I've subscribed!

Leveson inquiry - an archaelogical dig into what the media used to be

Pretty damning isn't it? My last blog entry was January. Slack, uninspired? What has been the cause of the demise? Two things have come to light in the last 24 hours that have helped me understand where the answer to this question lies.

Everyone's favorite media guy, Uncle Rupert, fronted the UK's Leveson inquiry into media ethics, while The Atlantic published an article pointing out that 90% of news stories may eventually be written by computer algorithms. Clearly, I am a humble scribe who has neither the access that Uncle Rupe has to people who can inspire or be inspired, or the smarts to create an algorithm that can generate blogs for me. But I am inspired to return to the keyboard by Murdoch's first appearance at the Leveson hearings.

Due respect to the inquiry inquisitors, but what háve we learned from the first interview with Rupert? The Guardian this morning described a series of concessions uttered by the media mogul, but the reality is that, beyond obtaining some specific insights about conversations between him and various UK politicians and prime ministers,did we learn anything we did not know, or at least assume, already.

Today's Guardian, for example, asks how Rupert can believe that meeting Tony Blair a few times a year demonstrates little more influence than that accorded the average citizen? This misses the point. It is no more access than any substantial media mogul would have to a prime minister. I don't believe the Murdoch assertion that commercial interests never sway the content or support delivered by newspapers like London's The Sun, but then I don't believe there is any media enterprise that lends support to one or other political party's election campaign without taking it's own commercial interests into account.

The main issue I have with the Leveson inquiry and any other similar investigation is that it is interrogating the past, not the future of media. As marketers and corporate communicators, we are well aware of the disaggregation of media. If The Sun had the influence that some claim, all our media strategy issues would be resolved. But the reality is that we know audiences are behaving differently.

Ownership of traditional media channels is increasingly becoming a financial liability rather than an asset. Mini-publishers, like me, today are taking to the web, mobile and other distribution channels together our message out. I have about 300 people a month visiting this blog (apologies to them for my recent neglect). Unless that 300 are all prime ministers and presidents, I obviously have much less clout than Rupert, but the collective efforts of hundreds of thousands of bloggers do have influence - perhaps even more because followers tend to be people who generally subscribe to the credibility or value of the source.

And now, with the advent of journalism by algorithm, there is no sign of disaggregation continuing. As The Atlantic suggests, algorithms are unlikely to replace opinion pieces and so on, but they do have the potential to increase the sheer volume of news covered. I cannot confirm it, but The Atlantic claims these algorithms already account for thousands of stories about America's Little League coverage.

To me, this suggests the technology has the potential to create micro packets of news for local community digestion. So for me, putting the octogeneric Rupert in front of the Leveson inquiry at great expense is only of passing interest, an archaeological dig into what media used to look like before the US President funded much of his campaign and ultimately won office on the back of a slick social media strategy.