Friday, October 10, 2014

Why the idea that content is free isn't only wrong, but rude.

After becoming the only UK winner of the International Press Institute's inaugural News Innovation Contest sponsored by Google, I have spent time (and the prize money) working to help news media startups in the UK and Turkey stay up. 

Three years on, Javier Luque of the IPI asked me to reflect on the experience of the MADE Project and to flag some of the key issues facing new entrepreneurs. 



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Out now: 'Pressed to Change: Business model innovation and integration in the British local newspaper industry'

A NEMODE case study
For much of the last decade, industry insiders and commentators have pointed out the need for newspapers innovate their  business models devised in the Industrial Age in order to ensure success in the Digital Age.

Thanks to funding from Nemode, an initiative of the Research Councils Digital Economy theme, I have recently been able to take a closer at just how British local newspaper publishers have responded to the challenges - on industry-wide, organizational and operational levels - through cases drawn from amongst the sector’s largest companies, Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror.

A few of the findings:

On industry level: Integration has been a theme from the start. The industry's initial business model was established through vertical integration with expansion (and increased profits) coming from horizontal integration.

On organisational level: While operational integration has enabled companies to continue to squeeze profits from newspapers, lateral integration with the digital economy has been slow, although under their new CEO Ashley Highfield (dismissed by one indutry commentator as a 'digital airhead') Johnston Press seems to be (finally) recognising that it doesn't help to paddle harder if you're rowing in the wrong direction. The market seems to share my cautious optimism.

Operational level: A close look at newsroom integration at Trinity Mirror's Liverpool Daily Post shows, amongst other things, the journey the company has taken to its latest 'One Trinity Mirror' strategy, which will see the companies newsrooms effectively operating as centres in a news wireservice. Yes, there have been many attempts to do that before, but with TM backing their policies with the IT infrastructure and with the inclusion of the (national) Mirror's archives in the mix, this will be one to watch. Local World (and others) may have similar ambitions, but they'll have a job to do culturally and technically to achieve that. (Aside: the varying fortunes of the 'sub-editor' in all this has been particularly fascinating to see. The TM Newsoom 3.0  positions the production desk as the key custodians of the brands. But I digress...).

This much is clear: Local newspaper publishers have been busy. But, through whichever lens one chooses to look, the results have been uneven. And formidable challenges remain - particularly as audiences shift their access to digital media from PCs to mobiles (Echoing my advice to publishers: 'Get your app in gear!').

 Asked to reflect on her company’s mixed success on the day Trinity Mirror announced its 2012 financial results – which included not only a 75 per cent drop in pre-tax profits, but also a 7.3 per cent slump in digital advertising revenues, Daily Post, Wales editor  Alison Gow (and JLeaders grad), who was also recently included on a global list of 50 ‘female innovators of digital journalism’, noted, ‘You’ve not only got to arrive at the right party, but at the right time.’

And, to continue the metaphor, this study concludes that if the British regional newspapers companies are to survive and thrive, they will need to have the energy and skill to ‘dance’ – and enough willing partners to join them. That is likely to require not only deeper horizontal and vertical integration of organizations and operations (read: more cuts), but also strategies that demonstrate greater lateral integration with the digital economy.

  • The full 16-page report, 'Pressed to Change: Business model innovation and integration in the British local newspaper industry',can be downloaded here - and, of course, I'd welcome any feedback and further discussions on the theme. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three words that will loom large in 2013: reponsibility, responsiveness, talent

When technology editor Sarah Marshall called me (along with seven others from both sides of the Atlantic) to discuss my predictions for digital journalism in 2013, three words came to mind.
The first was a word that loomed large in 2012 and will definitely feature prominently in journalism circles next year too: Responsibility.

Yes, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the responsibilities and irresponsibility­­ of news organisations. And that will no doubt continue, but I believe we will also see more discussion about the responsibilities of digital news users.

As I've said at both News:Rewired in London and  11th International Newsroom Summit in 2012 in Hamburg, it’s clearly not responsible - or sustainable - for users of any goods or services to expect something for nothing. 

So, as we see traditional media’s share of advertising spend remain under pressure, responsible digital news consumers increasingly understand that contributing directly towards the costs of  the  news and information they rely on is simply right thing to do.

Another word I believe will be widely used is Responsiveness.

It’s likely to be widely predicted that, for news organisations, 2013 will be the year that they ramp up their mobile activities.  In recent months, we’ve already seen occasions when news sites like the Guardian’s got more traffic via mobile devices than desktops.

With Santa likely to be stuffing thousands of tablets and smartphones into Christmas stocking this year, that’s likely to become the rule rather than the exception. Of course, for news organisations, the challenges are not only how to shift their content onto the increasing variety of mobile devices, but also how to take advantage of commercial opportunities that high-speed, affordable, mobile connectivity brings. 
Finally, I think that there will also be a lot more talk about Talent.

After several years of re-organisation and rightsizing of news operations, news executives are increasingly recognising that that their futures depend not only cutting costs and investing in new digital technologies,  but also on attracting and nurturing talent.

Forward- thinking executives will not only be focussing on how to work smarter, but how to get the smartest people to work for or with them.  

Others who contributed to the podcast are: Alison Gow, editor of the Daily Post and, North Wales (and recent alumnus of the Journalism Leaders Programme) ; Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news, New York Times; John Barnes, managing director of digital and tech at Incisive Media and chair of the AOP (Association of Online Publishers);  Mark Little, founder and chief executive of social news agency Storyful;  Raju Narisetti, managing editor, WSJ Digital Network,  Wall Street Journal ; and Stephen Pinches, group product manager for .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Updates on news innovation research, funding and projects

It’s been a hectic few months. And, it seems, there’s more to come in 2012.

  • Today, it was announced that I’ve been selected from amongst more than 300 entries as one of three winners of the inaugural International Press Institute’s News Innovation Contest, funded from a grant by Google. (More about the Media And Digital Enterprise or  MADE project here. Also, please add your contact details here, if you want to be kept in the loop or work with me on this one. Follow the Twitter conversation at #MADEproject ).

  • I've also recently learned that the research paper, “The 4Cs of Mobile News”, which my research partner Oscar Westlund and I presented at the (always excellent) Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff in September, has been selected for a special issue of the prestigious Journalism Practice journal due out in 2012.

  • Earlier this month, Martha Stone and I also wrapped up the data collection for World Newsmedia Innovation Study (formerly the World News Future & Change Study) and plan to issue our third annual report early in the new year.

  • Also coming soon (I hope) is the final report of the #journopay study into how UK journalists are rewarded, which was launched with the help of Sarah Bould and the team at Hold the Front Page . Roy Greenslade previewed the interim results in the Guardian.
  • Haven't finalised my conference schedule for next year, but looking forward to speaking more about how UK regional news publishers are mobilising (or not) at News: Rewired in London on February 3rd. Also hope to be able to share more details about the #MADEproject by that stage, too.
Then there's also my continuing work with the inspiring editors on the Journalism Leaders Programme, helping Nick Turner out with the Digital Editors Network (diary note: next meetup on 23 Feb), a new Fundamentals of Business for Media Entrepreneurs module for MA magazine and publishing students at UCLAN, planning for the journalism division's 50th anniversary (yes, we're not only one of the best journalism programmes in the UK, we're also the oldest), two book chapters and the final stretch of my doctoral thesis at City University with Prof Howard Tumber.  No doubt, 2012 is going to be a busy one.

Updates along the way on Twitter @francoisnel and

And, of course, always keen to meet up  with kindred spirits f2f. So be in touch if you think our paths might cross in (or near) one of the following cities in 2012 - Manchester, Preston, London, Winchester, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Istanbul.

Friday, July 15, 2011

#ukjournopay New study: How are journalists being rewarded?

There's been a lot of talk about the financial health of the journalism industry (Summary: diagnosis - poor; prognosis -mixed). And there's been quite a bit of discussion (and some research ) about the experiences of journalists who have left or been forced out of their jobs.

But what about those staying behind? Just how are UK journalists, who face increasing demands, being rewarded?

After Jim Oldfied, the striking editor of the South Yorkshire Times, revealed in an NUJ meeting reported on by Jon Slattery & HTFP, that his annual pay after 37 years in journalism is £25,500, I figured it's time to take a closer look.

To that end, I'm conducting an online survey of the pay of UK journalists. If you're a fulltime, part-time, contract or freelance journalist working for a UK newspaper, magazine, broadcaster or online news site, please take 10 minutes to complete this survey.

While all answers will remain anonymous, I will be happy to send you a copy of the report if you add contact details, which will be held separately and never passed on.

Of course, if you have any questions or suggestions for this study, please don't hesitate to be in touch. And any efforts to spread the word about the #ukjournopay research would be very much appreciated.

Related: In case you're interested, my 2010 report, Laidoff: What do UK journalists do next?, is available here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top 3 findings from the World News Future & Change Study 2010

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers this month published our annual survey of senior news executives  - and the findings show there's some reason to be festive this Season.

The study, which I conduct in collaboration with Martha Stone of the Shaping the Future of the Newspaper project and Erik Wilberg of the Norwegian Management School, is the largest of its kind and in 2010 had responses from nearly 500 newspaper owners, publishers, editors and senior commercial managers from 78 countries on all five continents.

Not surprisingly, the 128-page report is packed with great information and selecting my top 3 findings wasn't straightforward. But here's what I think and why I think there's some reason for cheer as we wrap up the first decade of this Millennium and gear up for 2011:
  1. The impact of the global economy recession is easing. No, we're not out of the woods yet. Far from it. But a third fewer publishers (18.5 % in 2010 vs 28% in 2009) reported severe revenue declines – that is more 20 per cent. Declining print advertising revenue was the biggest driver of overall revenue decline, with more than 80% of the respondents saying they lost between 1% and more than 20% of their print ad revenue, with the most pronounced declines happening in Northern Europe and North America regions. Meanwhile online advertising revenue and content revenue did not take the same hit as print revenues, with half of the respondents reporting growth, many reporting no change, and a handful, less than one-­quarter, reporting a decline in the last fiscal year.

  2. Advertising-supported print products are no longer enough. The vast the vast majority of the world's news publishers recognise their traditional revenue sources of print advertising and newspaper subscriptions will no longer provide the financial returns of years past and, in response, the publishers are making it a top priority to diversify their revenue streams and to development new products and new channels.

    Publishers are bullish about mobile.
  3. Innovation - and mobile - are keys to future success. One question summed up the publishers’ collective desire for the future of their business, and that is, new business growth. Respondents in both 2009 and 2010 spoke loudly and clearly: the way forward is through investment in new product development for new revenues. We consider this to be one of the most important findings of the study. . Other clear investments for newspaper companies were marketing and branding for newspapers, increased audience research and investment in customer relationship management. In 2009, investment in new product development was followed by marketing and branding for the newspaper, increased audience research, investment in customer relationship management and investment in editorial technologies. This year, investment in new product development was followed by marketing and branding for the newspaper, and then "mobile platforms."  When asked, “Please consider which of the following platforms could be opportunities for your organisation over the next three years,” the top choices were mobile phones (58%), followed by Websites (54%) and e-readers, such as Kindle and iPad (53%.). Clearly the emerging importance of mobile is an important take-away from this year’s study and, of course, we’ll be investigating this in some greater depth in 2011.
free summary of the study is available for download on the WAN-IFRA site. And, of course, I'd be happy to answer any questions [Twitter @francoisnel / FPNel @ uclan . ac . uk ] .

We’re already working on the 2011 survey and planning to expand the study to 10 languages by including Arabic, along with (in alphabetical order) Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

For academic citations of the report, please use: STONE, Martha, NEL, Fran├žois and WILBERG, Erik. (2010) World News Future and Change Study 2010. Paris, France: World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Still no industry consensus: To integrate your print and online newsrooms, or not to....

That has been one of the hottest questions in news organisation for more than a decade. And, despite much, much discussion - and many examples from the UK and elsewhere - there's still no industry consensus.

Just this week, Robert Andrews of PaidContentUK reported that Trinity Mirror chief Sly Bailey, whose Regionals division's integration efforts have been held up as best practice examples internationally, said operations at the national Daily Mirror, for one, would remain separate:
Bailey said Trinity Mirror’s recent national digital executive-level digital reshuffle was about creating a digital division “separate” from print, allowing each to focus on their respective areas.

“It was just too difficult to ask the editor of the Daily Mirror, who has six newspapers to get out every week, (to run the website as well),” Bailey said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, there are also divergent operational strategies aimed at achieving a similar result: maximising online opportunities [read: revenue].

Five years after America's second largest paper, USA Today, announced that a merger print and online operations "will improve our report to readers both in print and online", the company has had a "radical" rethink.

By contrast, The Cutline reports that a recent reorganisation at the New York Times, that country's largest paper, is aimed at bringing online and print operations even closer together.

What ever else this means (and I look forward to discussing this further), it suggests how you answer the integration questions depends in no small part on how you answer the key question that every business should answer:

What's the most efficient way to sustainably deliver customer value?