Alistair Brown, general manager at Scotsman.com
A Scottish slant on innovation, integration and making money
I think this depends on the environment in which they operate. For the Scotsman Publications, all our titles feed into Scotsman.com and I believe it is an advantage rather than a handicap as we reach an audience the newspaper doesn't. I think they are complementary and it means we can offer advertisers access to Scots and people with an interest in Scotland worldwide.
How much impact has Rupert Murdoch's speech had on the newspaper industry?
It was very significant. Suddenly senior executives involved in publishing are not only alive to the potential of the internet but it is dawning on them that it is central to their future.
Has it been a battle to convince senior executives that the internet is essential to the future of the newspaper?
It has taken time, but within the Scotsman Publications we have a strong senior executive team who are very ambitious and open to new opportunities.
In the past four years scotsman.com has become part of our core operation and is seen as giving the group a competitive advantage - it allows us to communicate directly with an audience our newspaper titles may not reach.
I think we are ahead of many publishing groups in terms of communication across the various titles both online and offline and integration within the overall group operation. There is also an awareness at the highest level that online and digital media will be at the heart of the future development of the business.
An example of the support we have received from the senior team is the recent investment in the Scotsman Digital Archive. This was a six-figure investment which has brought the group a significant new revenue stream - as well as high praise from our customers and industry peers.
Do you think local and regional newspapers have responded quickly enough to the opportunity of the internet? Will competition from more innovative online services, such as Craigslist and Google Maps, kill them off?
The first local IT jobs have already appeared on Craigslist.
The challenge for publishers (especially smaller ones) is getting the balance right in terms of where to focus their resources - which products should be developed in-house and where they should partner or outsource.
We use a combination of all three and are currently re-platforming all our classified sites as we recognise that this area will become increasingly competitive given that Google AdSense and Local, eBay, Yell etc. are already targeting the local market.
How can news organisations run truly successful, independent and exciting blogs?
The question of the moment - as always it's about appropriate application.
The G8 blog from the Guardian team was very good. I think this worked because it met a very strong demand for information over a limited time period with very detailed and comprehensive reporting.
I suspect this is a key lesson for news organisations. We all probably read (or will eventually read) certain blogs compulsively because they offer comprehensive coverage of a specific subject of interest to us – be it paid content, genetic engineering, TV soaps or whatever – but I'm not convinced blogs really work for day-to-day news.
Will newspapers have to introduce elements of 'citizen journalism' to survive? Would that be a good thing?
This is such a broad term covering someone sending a picture or a video clip to someone reporting from a community or commenting from a specific perspective.
As we saw from events last week in London it is already happening in a big way. The quality of the pictures being sent from phones is improving as technology improves and individuals sending material are including far more detail as they appreciate how it will be used. I think the issue of credibility and responsibility is key here and the need for verification is still crucial.
I think it is a good thing. One of our sister print titles, the Evening News in Edinburgh, is doing a lot of work on getting readers' views into the paper. I think this is very positive and can only build on the feeling that it is a local paper that supports and champions the views of its readers. We want to develop this online and will be looking to experiment in the next few months.
There are examples of 'citizen journalism' all over the place. Driving to work this morning the presenter on BBC radio read out a few listeners' opinions on a news story, and at the end stated all comments could be read online.
Scotsman.com started experimenting with photo blogging during the Edinburgh Festival in 2003. Entries increased two-fold in 2004 and I'd guess it will be even more popular in 2005 due to the increased penetration of photo phones.
We also supplied all reviewers (the Scotsman and scotsman.com) with photo phones to capture the spirit of the festival.
Do you feel that you need to educate your readers into using new tools and services on the site, such as RSS feeds - or is the demand
created by your readers?
We launched RSS nearly two years ago and now have more than 2,000 feeds serving 4 million feeds a month. We immediately received a great deal of positive feedback from our users who were pleasantly surprised that we were such early adopters and that we had such an extensive list of feeds.
We based the feeds on our 'themes' - so for every subject area within the site we created a corresponding feed. We also supply free news headlines to thousands of sites via our webfeeds system and also deliver personalised daily updates on these topics via HTML email. We are lucky that our team here tend to be ahead of the game on this kind of thing.
What will it take for RSS to become a mainstream tool?
Integration with the next version of Windows - which I hear is planned.
Will paid content and registration gradually disappear?
Not in the near future. I reckon publishers will start to take even greater control of their digital assets and as well as payment barriers, this may mean tightening up on where their content appears. This will mean they take greater control over how it is used and ensure they get a better return on investment.
This is why it's interesting to see what is happening with Yahoo Search Subscriptions and Google Premium Content which index and provide access to premium and paid content. I thought this was coming.
Some of the aggregators (Factiva, Nexis etc) already offer pay-as-you-go access to similar material, so they will be getting twitchy at the prospect that users can search all digital assets that Google or whoever can index. Imagine searching across all material in the major libraries and all the material from newspaper text and digital archives...
Google and Yahoo will be actively looking at how they take payment and pass revenue to the publishers. Right now for the Yahoo Subscriptions service you have to have a subscription to the resource. Analysis early on was that it could be via an advertising model, but there has always been a suspicion that it had an eye on the business publishing market. Google already has a relationship with many publishers via AdSense. It wouldn't be too big a leap to charge customers via a PayPal type system (see recent coverage on Google Wallet) to access material and pass the appropriate revenue share onto the publishers.
As a result, I see the balance swinging in favour of the people who actually produce, or at least commission, the content. Google and Yahoo are clearly going for what has been dubbed the 'iTunes approach' (working with the publishers to secure agreement) - in stark contrast to the early 'Napster approach' (challenge publisher head on).
This could mean that any content provider could make money from Google Premium (or whatever) in the same way that anyone can make money from AdSense.
What are your favourite websites and why? And what do you think is the most innovative news website?
New York Times, BBC, Guardian, Editor & Publisher, Economist.com – for their content, quality, professionalism.
gawker.com, newsmap, Google News, Wikinews, lawrence.com, Daypop - all doing interesting things with news.
What are you proudest of on Scotsman.com?
That as a relatively small team we are able to compete with national publishers in terms of audited traffic and being short-listed for - and winning - awards.
We are also capable of developing what we believe to be world-class services such as the Scotsman Digital Archive.
I think it's significant (and I’m proud of the fact) that the core team has been together for over five years.
And what is the biggest mistake you've made with the site?
Not really a mistake, but maybe more a bit of regret.
As a small publisher we can only do so much at a time and we recently had to delay re-vamping the core Scotsman.com site (such as extending XHTML and flexible page templating across the whole site) to focus on developing other key elements of our business.
Despite the short delay the site has continued to grow significantly – meaning there is great scope for future growth when we introduce these changes in the coming months.
What will be the next big challenge for online news publishers?
There are a good few challenges ahead, but I think one of the key challenges will remain in advertising revenues.
In terms of impressionable media it has been a case of 'last man standing' over the past four years. The survivors have been reaping significant rewards in terms of traffic and revenue in the last 18 months.
Online advertising is mainstream now and it’s great to see that, but I still believe we have a lot to do in terms of education and consistency in measurement and reporting.
I'm not predicting it, but it would be 'interesting' to see what would happen to the online ad market if there was a significant downturn in the economy. Would there be a shift to more traditional media; would the spend be even more focused on the bigger players and traditional brands; would there be greater demand for accountability?
We are also still very reliant on classified revenues. Therefore competition in the 'local' classified market from global players is going to be a major challenge.
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Richard Burton, web editor of Telegraph.co.uk
Alisa Bowen, head of Reuters.co.uk
Tom Regan, executive director of the Online News Association
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