Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Murdoch’



ONA UK meet-up at the Telegraph

Has social media killed photojournalism? That was the question debated at an ONA UK event at the offices of the Telegraph Media Group earlier this week and it sparked some lively exchanges.

Panellists who led the discussion were Turi Munthe, founder and CEO of photo news site Demotix, Paul Lowe course director of the Masters programme in photojournalism and documentary photography at the London College of Communication and Edmond Terakopian,  an award winning photojournalist.

We ranged over many issues, among them: Is agency boss Neil Burgess correct, that the profession of photojournalist no longer exists? Who or what is a photojournalist? What’s a picture worth and who sets the rate? How can photojournalists survive? What’s the business model? Are amateurs being exploited?

When you strip away emotional reactions, it’s technological change that is at the heart of these issues. The barrier to entry has been lowered, the kit is in the hands of millions of people, it’s easier to use than it’s ever been and the ability to distribute images is open to all.

All the hand-wringing from professionals that amateurs are undermining their livelihoods isn’t going to alter the fact.  As attendee Frank Wales pointed out, portrait painters had the same beef with the early practitioners of photography, but it didn’t make a blind bit of difference.

We’re now in a world with a super-abundance of images and the laws of supply and demand apply. A picture may be worth a thousand words but what’s its market value?  The simple answer is its worth is what someone is prepared to pay.

In the news industry that’s likely to be determined by the elapsed time between the event and the image’s publication or broadcast, its exclusivity and its merit in the broader news agenda.

Quality matters, but not as much as pro-photographers seem to think, and only if there’s choice.

The first images of the Air France Concorde in flames taken by planespotters at Charles de Gaulle Airport were blurry and poor quality. The 7/7 Tube train image of people exiting a train down a tunnel was indistinct and grainy. The Hudson River plane crash-landing was an iPhone shot taken by Janis Krums and uploaded via Twitpic.

In this world, first is good enough no matter what the quality.

As to what they’re worth, Krums’ picture would have been a licence to print money had the plane sunk within a minute or so of coming to rest.  The longer it stayed afloat the more pictures were taken and it’s then that the quality issue arises.

In future, breaking news images are increasingly likely to come from social media.As the preamble to the gathering stated: “We live in a world where anyone with a mobile phone camera and social media account can break a story faster than you can say ‘photojournalist’.”

Was that ever really the beat of the great photojournalists of the past, anyway? I think not. Consider, too, that the world is a smaller place, much less “foreign”, we’ve all seen more and travelled more since photojournalism’s heyday through the 1930s-50s).

With shrinking budgets hitting commissions from news organisations, agencies covering diary events and set-piece stories, and outfits like Demotix brokering deals between user-generated contributors and media buyers the outlook for pro photojournalists does, indeed, look bleak.

The transition to a business model that works is still in flux, but there are pointers to a way forward from crowd-funding operations like – which I wrote about last year – and Kickstarter.

The questions I posed then remain unanswered but the opportunity to break free from pitching only to editors and commissioners remains.

Would you, as an individual, put money into a photography assignment?  Larry Towell surpassed his target of $12,000 to fund a trip to Afghanistan in this way, promising “a personal handshake if I see you on the street corner of my home town” for those who stumped up $10, with a rising scale of rewards for the more generous.

Documentary photographer Daniel Cuthbert calls that kind of funding a virtual begging bowl, while photography consultant David Campbell sees it as a way of creating communities of interest.

Whichever view you take it requires more entrepreneurial effort from the photographer to get going, greater transparency about how the money will be spent and greater interaction with the backers/audience.

Paul Lowe also mentioned self-publishing through sites like Blurb which I’ve done myself, but only as a vanity act, not to make a living, and I’d be interested to hear if anyone’s making a success of this.

Chewing over all of this the following day with BBC Online’s picture editor Phil Coomes he raised the possibility of photojournalists selling their work bundled up as PDFs in a content marketplace like an app store.

We are, after all, ready to pay for music, so why not for atomised content at a threshold so low that it’s taken up by millions.

This is, essentially, what Rupert Murdoch is trying with The Daily – 99 cents a week or $39.99 a year.

The thing is we’re so used to advertising invisibly subsidising content that we expect to get content for free; the idea of paying is anathema.

Advertisers no longer want to spend millions of dollars just to reach mass audiences. They want smarter spend, to pay only for the people their product is aimed at, and as the metrics get better spending will be squeezed still further.

I fervently believe in the editorial merit and power of picture-based storytelling. The greatest stills capture a moment, give the viewer pause for thought and imprint themselves on the mind in a way that video does not.

Think of the man standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Sq, Robert Capa’s D-Day landing shots, the Vietnamese girl running down a road after a napalm attack.

Far from being dead, I think a new golden age of photojournalism lies ahead with tablets opening the door on intelligent, picture-led storytelling the equal of anything served up by Picture Post, Life and Paris Match.

It’s not so much the photography that needs vision, but the business model to sustain it.



I didn’t get it when details were first being leaked and now the wraps are off Murdoch’s The Daily I still don’t.

If it wasn’t for the Digger’s very deep pockets and obvious enthusiasm for the iPad the plug would have been pulled long ago.

As former BBC tech editor Darren Waters put it in a Tweet: A newspaper on a connected device that updates once a day? What use is that to anyone?*

Ex-Guardianista Emily Bell weighed in with: Playing with The Daily. It doesn’t look like the future of newspapers, it doesn’t even look like the future of apps.

Now that’s a bit harsh. As an editorial product it’s a curate’s egg – but the good bits are good – though it dates horribly quickly.

It has strong imagery, including some dynamic 360-degree stuff, a nice gallery on the big US snowstorm, and an interesting light-and-shade mix of stories: The Battle for Cairo, a disco for dogs in New York, and a stated mission to campaign for improved schooling in the US.

Navigation is quirky with some elements requiring you to turn the iPad through 90 degrees to get the full benefit of the content and, as a colleague put it, there are times when you’re left stubbing the screen like a caveman because you’re not sure what’s linked and what’s not.

But leaving aside the editorial components, it’s the strategy behind The Daily that seems flawed to me.

It’s iPad only and, even though millions of iPads have been sold worldwide, it’s a niche device and will remain so amid an explosion of tablets in all shapes and sizes and at much lower price points.

Paid Content founder Rafat Ali Tweeted that, for him, if The Daily was to be read daily “it needs to be on the iPhone. As a commuter read, at least in NYC, NYT iPhone app is my subway paper.”

Here in London I never see people using iPads on the Tube. It’s portable but it’s not mobile and constant orientation changes to move through content isn’t an optimal interface when you’re strap-hanging.

I think The Daily is a Murdoch hobby project, a flag-waving device, and an attempt to prove that charging for content is a viable – but on a niche tablet that’s only getting updated once a day I wonder where he’s going with this?

For the Telegraph’s Shane Richmond it’s down the pan – but I suppose he would say that, wouldn’t he.

*Update: Launch editor Jesse Angelo said it would be possible to insert breaking news updates on The Daily, which begs the question, why wasn’t it done for the launch?

newyorktimesThe hoo-ha around this week’s launch of Murdoch’s The Daily in New York has largely drowned out an even more significant unveiling – that of the New York Times’ Recommendation engine which seeks to deepen reader engagement with its content.

Last August I posed the question What Would Tesco Do? If it moved into the news business and started to mine data about readers in the way that it currently does with its supermarket Clubcard customers.

Offering people individual cuts of news based around what they regularly read, the genres that interest them, the people they follow and the themes they track seems so obvious you’d think all news organisations would be well advanced in their thinking on this. They’re not.

On its own, of course, even intelligently filtered material isn’t sophisticated enough to fulfil our information needs.

Serendipitous discovery – I-didn’t-know-I-was-interested-in-that-until-I-read-it – is a significant factor in how we consume material. Being walled in by existing preferences would be like eating the same few favourite meals day-in and day-out – ultimately not very satisfying.

So this isn’t a trivial undertaking. The Times is competing for people’s time in a world where they already feel crushed under the weight of information overload (or filter failure, as Clay Shirky would have it).

The idea isn’t necessarily to make you read more – though there’s not an editor alive who wouldn’t want you to – it’s to get you to feel that you’ve come away with something new and useful that you wouldn’t have chosen yourself, that has enriched your understanding and, crucially, that your time has been well spent.

That kind of engagement brings people back and builds loyalty, the antithesis of the click-whoring treatments so often deployed to pump-up page impression stats and extract money from advertisers who, by now, really should know better.

If The Times engine can pass this test and add value by exposing stories you might never have seen – that are tangentially connected through interests and not just by what you last read – then it will be a triumph.

Given that it’s only been up and running for a couple of days it’s too soon to make a judgment. The more stories you read and the more the engine has to work with, the better and more nuanced the results should be.

But however it pans out they should be applauded for their ambition in attempting to open a new route to a richer, more relevant, consumption experience.

The more I read about Rupert Murdoch’s pet project “The Daily” the more intrigued I become.

With all the properties at his disposal the American media magnate has rich potential for his proposed digital “newspaper” for the iPad.

But the nomenclature is troubling: A “newspaper”? On a digital device?

Is that just shorthand to reference something new against something familiar, or is leaning towards replication of the printed product in electronic form?

If it really is the latter it’s akin to putting coaching lamps on a horseless carriage – not very illuminating and not much use – but that’s the way it looks.

According to the New York Times’ David Carr, “The Daily” will be produced in the evening and “printed” for the next morning.

“There will be updates — the number of which is still under discussion — but not at the velocity or with the urgency of a news website.”

Oh dear, oh dear. Has he not understood Eric Schmidt’s concept of “nowness” – a world of real-time data, blended with location and context.

And iPad only? Surely not, not when a wider, burgeoning tablet market beckons?

There’s also the question of content, the vast majority of which is supposed to be original.

The Guardian’s Edward Helmore in New York says the paper is intended to combine “a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence”.

With only 100 journalists assigned to the project at News Corp’s Manhattan offices that’s a big ask

Salon cofounder and commentator Scott Rosenberg thinks 100 staff is plenty – provided they’re the right people and the aim is not to be a matter-of-record publication.

How might that look? Well, with video from Fox Sport and Sky, travel and lifestyle material from The Times and Sunday Times, scandal and sleaze from the New York Post and The Sun and even tech and gadgetry from the WSJ there’s plenty of light and shade to choose from.

Rosenberg argues that the biggest weakness with the proposition is the narrowness of its scope. Like a paywalled website it won’t be linkable or shareable and therefore won’t be part of the conversation around news.

For that reason he reckons the Murdoch tablet will be Dead on Arrival.

For all the unanswered questions – and we won’t know the answers until its launch early in the New Year – the commitment to try something new, that makes use of rich media, incorporates original content and sells for 99 cents a week, has to be applauded, flawed though it may be