He tells dotJournalism why it is essential to protect a trusted brand by retaining editorial control over blogs and reader-generated content.
Have the conventions and business models of traditional newspaper publishing inhibited the development of online news?
I am not sure you can argue that newspapers have inhibited the development of online news. They have to be respected for doing such an effective job defending their offline businesses while progressively investing in robust online operations that extend their brands into the internet - that is certainly the case with Times Online.
Speaking of the industry generally, rather than the Times and Sunday Times specifically, I think newspapers have been understandably reluctant to offer content without a specific charge to the user.
It is also true that if you look at the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and others, they have led online news development in many respects - investing large sums in creating credible and substantial online properties. Without those traditional news vendors in the market, and without reliable news sources like Reuters having sold heavily into the internet space over the past six to eight years, the internet would have taken much longer to be considered such a credible source of news.
|"Without traditional news vendors in the market, the internet would have taken much longer to be considered such a credible source of news."|
On the issue of the newspaper business models, Metro (both the Associated publication in London and the Swedish company) have transformed the notion of what a newspaper business model can be.
I think people also have to remember that while Times Online and other sites may be notionally free to the user, they are advertising supported and therefore there is an effective cost. Only the BBC can be regarded as a genuinely free site if you take that view.
Do you think news organisations are capable of running truly successful, independent and exciting blogs?
I believe we have to embrace the blogging methods - rich links, fast and sassy comment and feedback - but they must always be done to the same standards as anything else under our brands.
|"We have to embrace blogging methods but they must always be done to the same standards as anything else under our brands."|
"I am not sure that surrendering brand values to become an online Hyde Park Corner is the way to go."
One of the striking things we have on the Times and Sunday Times is a stunning quality of writing. The columnists are wonderful and the news writing is very crisp. Much of that intellect and skill can be transferred into a blog format, but I wouldn't necessarily descibe them as blogs in the sense of individual publishing.
Andrew Sullivan writes a great column for the Sunday Times and of course runs the Daily Dish, one of the most successful blogs on the web.
Our lovely online only columns, Slices of London, Slices of New York, Single in the City and American Soup are as fresh and witty as anything in the blog area.
I was very impressed with the running blog we ran on the US elections, but it was more of a political market report than a blog as such.
We will be doing much more in this area and applying blogging technology, but I am not sure that surrendering the brand values to become an online Hyde Park Corner is the way to go. Our columnists who do write specially for online also adore the feedback and it is a challenge to them, putting them much more in touch with readers than if they are handing down tablets of stone.
Will citizen journalism take off in the UK as it has in the US? Do you think news sites will see this as a threat, or will reader-generated content eventually be a staple part of online news sites?
Citizen and community journalism and publishing is much stronger in UK than people fully realise - and it's not just blogs.
Regional and local newspapers often do a brilliant job serving local communities on the web with bulletin boards, local knowledge and the like. Some of the best work in the UK is led by commercial issues locally too - as anyone who has looked at websites in Cornwall or Norfolk know. It's about much more than soap boxes.
I think we also have to be clear about what is citizen or individual publishing and what is just using the same technology. I really admire what Nick Denton has done with Gawker, Gizmodo and Wonkette but he is building a mini publishing empire. It's far beyond the realm of individual publishing now.
|"We choose what reader comment goes up - it has to add something to the discussion and not be just rank abuse."|
"I think that is a problem I already see with the otherwise really intriguing Guardian and Observer work on blogs and reader responses."
However, we do reserve the right at the moment to choose what reader comment goes up. It has to add something to the discussion and not be just rank abuse. I think that is a problem I already see with the otherwise really intriguing Guardian and Observer work on blogs and reader responses.
What are your favourite websites and why? And what do you think is the most innovative news website?
For several years I think CBSMarketWatch.com has been the most innovative news site in the world - and what's more it has done it for readers and advertisers alike. It has blended audio, video and text more effectively than anyone else and its company business news and data rival many paid-for professional products.
I hope it can maintain that innovation under Dow Jones ownership.
If favourite means most-visited then of course Times Online is on the top, particularly because overlays on it give me real-time traffic data. But we do have a lot of work to do. I spend a lot of time benchmarking it against rival newspaper sites in the UK and elsewhere. Obvious candidates like the Guardian come up, as does the BBC - which I think does a great job but would look dramatically different if it had to serve advertisers like the rest of us.
MSN.co.uk is doing some interesting work in cars and money and I love clever sites like the Marumushi newsmap and the new customised Beta on Google News.
Will news sites eventually phase out mandatory registration?
Registration and payment barriers are a big turn off, particularly for the vast number of users coming to this and other sites from search engines rather than to the front page.
Times Online has no mandatory registration in place for UK users or charging other than for content such as the Crossword Club. Overseas, we charge only for the e-paper, an electronic reproduction of the newspapers, and for an index of newspaper stories.
At the moment we find this strategy of progressively making the site less restrictive makes sense. But equally, we have to be ready to respond to any changes in the business climate and changes in technology that make registration or other forms of data capture or charging more practical and more desirable.
The Wall Street Journal was celebrated for being a subscription site when that seemed the right way to go and is now criticised for it. But if the climate changes they will again look like heroes.
No one has the perfect answer.
How much will RSS-based services change the way that news is delivered?
I think RSS is only the start of a range of new customisation methods, many using RSS in the background. So long as the links are back to Times Online, and the stories remain in our editing control rather than copied, then I have no problem with them and welcome them - though we haven't introduced an RSS service yet.
We do also have to be mindful of the impact on syndication businesses.
What will be the next big challenge for online news publishers?
A key challenge Times Online faces, which I suspect most newspaper-derived sites have, is moving fast enough and responding fast enough each day, each week and each month - keeping the site dynamic and responding to reader trends. It is getting better every day and it is important to feed back what we learn about reader habits to the newspapers as well.
All sites also have to do more to work with advertisers to produce compelling messages that don't drive readers mad. We have to come up with more innovative formats to serve readers and advertisers together. Times Online's microsite supplements are a good example but there is still much to be done - and again I would say CBSMarketWatch has led the way in this.
Getting the mix of broadband content between video, audio, pictures and text right will be a big issue too.
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