In our Throwback Thursday series, we take a look at what the key figures in media were thinking in the past, based on the Journalism.co.uk archive, and how those issues can be related to the current challenges and opportunities that dominate the conversation about the digital media landscape.
Read the rest of the series here, including a special on quotes from the first two newsrewired digital journalism events organised by Journalism.co.uk in 2010.
Today, we're taking a look back at the media news of September 2007, featuring hopes for blogging as a successful model in the media business, and user-generated content becoming an important part of the newsgathering process.
'UK offline media is one of the most competitive and creative in the world. You have to ask why that hasn't followed online'
Messy Media, led by journalists Andrew Levy and Lloyd Shepherd, launched in September 2007 to explore blogging as a media model that could captivate online audiences. The same month also saw the launch of their first blog, Westmonster, focused on politics.
Messy Media’s blogs approached general interest topics (in contrast to the niche characteristics of most blogs) in a tongue-in-cheek writing style.
Shepherd told Journalism.co.uk: "The UK offline media is one of the most competitive and creative in the world. You have to ask yourself why that hasn't necessarily followed online.
"We're only just now starting to see the opportunity to build new creative stuff within new types of technology that are available.
"In Britain we've always been a few years behind the US – I've never been entirely sure why we are, maybe it's a cultural thing – but I definitely think it's a time to do new stuff. The online media sector in the UK is going to get more competitive and more innovative."
Westmonster was followed by lifestyle blog Glitterditch, but the expansion of MessyMedia was short-lived. The blogs stopped publishing a year later as they could not attract enough readers to make their work pay.
"While we were able to find some very dedicated and talented writers, the effective advertising CPM we'd have needed to pay them a reasonable wage only existed at an audience size orders of magnitude larger than we were able to achieve," Shepherd and Levy said in July 2008.
Levy is currently senior director of product management at Beachbody, and Shepherd is a digital product manager and novelist, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
A website called Westmonster exists today, operated by Westmonster Ltd, a company incorporated at the beginning of 2017 and registered in London.
Mobile journalism at Fairfax
In 2007, Australian media company Fairfax equipped its breaking news teams at three titles with tools that enabled them to file stories directly from the field, using their mobile phones in combination with other technologies.
While different from the mobile reporting training of today, where journalists at media organisations are taught how to film, edit and file stories from their smartphones, Fairfax’s initiative in 2007 is a good example of using technology to help journalists cover stories more efficiently.
Naturally, it also brought up the issue of asking too much of too few newspaper journalists. Kitted with the new tool, were they now expected to also take pictures and record audio on every story?
"It's a cascading hierarchy of needs," explained Mike van Niekerk, Fairfax's then editor-in-chief of online. "The first obligation of a print reporter is to ensure they have all they need to produce a story for the newspaper. If they are then also able to file a story to the website and if they can also take images, audio and video then that's an important bonus. But they aren't expected to capture and file multimedia on every job. Only where it is relevant and there is something worth capturing."
BBC News UGC hub goes 24/7
User-generated content makes up a significant part of the images and videos we see online or on television today. The growth of media teams working with eyewitness media online and using social media users as sources in breaking news situations has brought up discussions about the ethics of the practice, the risks and the rewards.
But the term user-generated content is over a decade old, and although the platforms and tools used to share and source it have changed, some of the basic benefits of incorporating it into news stories remain grounded. In 2007, the BBC’s user-generated content hub became a 24/7 operation.
"Interactivity, the feedback we get from the audience, is across everything we do now at BBC News," Vicky Taylor, then editor of interactivity at BBC News, told Journalism.co.uk.
"Whatever the story is, wherever in the world it is, people want to be involved in some way by commenting or helping us tell the story; if they are directly involved, as an eyewitness, if it may have some resonance for them or they have experience of it, and all this feeds back into what we do.”
Rift between stories shared on user-generated news sites and those dominating the media
In September 2007 we heard the results of a study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), which compared the stories discussed on Digg, Del.icio.us, and Reddit to the stories that dominated headlines in mainstream media during the month of June that year.
It found that the top ten stories from the large media outlets monitored for the study only made up 5 per cent of stories shared on the site.
"Some of the sources being drawn on were unique and very day-to-day," Amy Mitchell, then deputy director of the PEJ, told Journalism.co.uk.
"The news and the events that they [users] were interested in were very transitory. The only story that had traction was the Apple iPhone, but in the rest of the stories there was no consistency or news event that the users of these sites were digging into. A story about one thing at 9:05am becomes at story about something different by 9:15am."
The research also found that technology and science, the most popular topic on the user-focused sites the study looked at, was not one of the top five topics covered by the media outlets analysed.
See you next week for more Throwback Thursday! Do you remember any predictions that never came to pass, or any quotes that were spot on from 'back in the day'? Tweet us at @journalismnews.
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