Category: newspapers

From ‘news cycle’ to ‘news spirograph’: disrupting patterns of consumption, production and distribution

Slides and quick summary of a talk I gave at the University of Northampton’s ‘Imagine Journalism in Ten Years’ Time‘ mini-conference. Other speakers included: Professor Jay Rosen, New York University; Matt Andrews, developer, The Guardian; Andy Dickinson, lecturer, UCLAN and Teodora Beleaga, data analyst, KBM Group EU. The event was chaired by Kevin Marsh,  director, OffspinMedia, and produced by John Mair, subject leader for Journalism, University of Northampton.

Also see:

Journalism in Ten Years’ Time…

I anticipate an unravelling of definitions and a repositioning of brands.

If the last ten years are an indicator in terms of pace, strange cultural legacies may live on, despite the potential for dramatic change through technological development. Nonetheless, things will shift, and one of the areas for the biggest potential change is the ‘news cycle’ and in particular, the ’24 hour news cycle’. One of the underlying confusions in the Leveson Inquiry is that the ‘press’ still plays a dominant role in setting the national news agenda, despite diminishing print readerships, and an ever-growing array of online news sources. The way they filter and select news is still highly influential.

Consumption, production and distribution are changing

However, the social sharing of news – the social distribution of news – disrupts some of the features of a typical news cycle. Key disrupters include: Google’s automated suggested search terms, aggregation sites like Reddit and boards like 4Chan, media organisations’ Facebook apps which give new life to old content and Twitter trends. Additionally, suggested search terms and the Google News’ algorithm have an increasingly influential role in setting the agenda.

The news spirograph


Lorenz Lachauer /

In ten years’ time the news cycle might have been replaced by a news ‘spirograph’, where stories loop back and re-emerge at different points in time, perhaps in a new form.

To check whether anyone else had visualised it like this first, I googled “news spirograph” and came up with one result: a Media Bistro story from 2010. The author of the piece described his sprirograph like this:

The new picture of a news story’s life cycle looks less like a tight loop that closes after 24 hours. Instead, it enters a period of dormancy only to return weeks later. The resulting chart of a story’s attention trajectory looks more like a Spirograph — a large circular pattern constructed out of smaller loops.

Mike Taylor, Fishbowl NY, Media Bistro (2010)

This is different from the idea that the news cycle reduces to minutes because of social media – as was suggested at another ‘future of journalism’ conference I was at this week:


Or from how the BBC’s head of digital communications, Sophie Brendel, described it in 2012:

Social media have changed what we talk about, who we talk about and how quickly we talk. The 24-hour news cycle is dead, now it’s 24 seconds.

Various_Spirograph_DesignsLike Taylor, I see the news spirograph as lengthening rather than shortening cycles. However, perhaps I see it in a more positive light: the news spirograph could help rather than hinder originality.  A spirograph’s shape can be incredibly varied (see this Flickr group, for example). A spirograph model allows for more points of entry from a variety of sources.

The full spirograph is not yet very developed:  there are occasional loop backs – such as this revival of an old Guardian article from 2009 – but these type of incidents remain anomalies.

The role of the public

It seems likely that the public will have a bigger role through their consumption choices, as well as active production of content, which will help strengthen their right to receive and impart information, as set out in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.

The technological disruption of the news cycle should allow the public an enhanced right to receive and impart information and ideas, which will be a good thing – for democracy, and for education.

But there will be challenges as well: legal, ethical and economic (for example: how will it be regulated; how will it pay; what about the undesirable parts of public influence?).

Evolving news patterns

So, to re-formulate Taylor’s original definition:

The pattern of journalism in ten years’ time may include a news cycle that looks very different from a neat 24 hour loop, with a small number of influential media sources. Instead, changes in digital consumption, production and distribution may transform it into a ‘news spirograph’, with a greater number of sources, and stories that loop back at different points in time. In fact, we are likely to see transformation in the very notion of news and the ‘news story’… It’s already evolving.

In 2013, we think about how the public consumption – and occasionally public production – of media changes how the professionals do ‘news’ and set the agenda.

By 2023, advances in technology could shift the question slightly: how does the public control the news cycle, set the news agenda, and create the dominant debates?

In turn, this will throw up age-old debates about desirable characteristics of content and appropriate levels of prominence, and the defining features of journalism and news.

Two years ago, Martin Belam set out – perhaps a little flippantly – a simplified dead tree news cycle:

1. Write newspaper

2. Print newspaper

3. Wrap fish ‘n’ chips in newspaper

Which he expanded in the bullet points below, emphasising “and publish it all to the web”.



Spirographs on sale in Istanbul, 2009

But over the next ten years it may come to look like this:

1. Produce content, drawing from more sources and across more topics

2. Publish on digital platforms, selectively and carefully with effective curation, labelling and contextulisation

3. See content gain new lease of life and inform future content

Further reading:

•Belam, M. (2011) ‘How digital transformed the news cycle’,

•Belam, M. (2012) ‘The Guardian’s Facebook app’,

•Magee, K. (2012) ‘Beyond the 24 hr news cycle’, PR Week

•Taylor, M. (2010) ‘The 24-Hour News Spirograph’, Fishbowl NY,

•Tinworth, A. (2009) Our Real Problem: ‘The Death of the News Package‘,

•Wynne-Jones, R. (2012) ‘Enquirer: watching the hacks get hacked’,

A very short history of female national newspaper editors in the UK

Yesterday saw the announcement of Jill Abramson as the New York Times’ first female editor. You might say so what?

But more to the point, why not till now? Former editor Emily Bell could list previous UK national newspaper editors in a tweet, also noting that there used to be a lot of female online editors in the early days.

Actually, there are two in the editor’s chair right now: Tina Weaver at the Sunday Mirror and Dawn Neesom at the Daily Star. And men head the 19 other national daily and Sunday newspaper titles.

I was always amazed when attending media conferences how many male-dominated panels there were – in the top digital, as well as print, jobs.

But let us not forget the first lady of Fleet Street (HT: Adrian Monck), Rachel Beer, who edited the Observer and the Sunday Times in the 1890s.

Anyway, if like me, you’re curious about just how many there have been, see above for a list of UK national newspaper female editors – feel free to edit and add more if I’ve missed any.

My source for the table was Wikipedia and this rather good – and later updated – article in the Guardian by Hadley Freeman.

PS. I don’t blog very regularly on this site anymore – check out Meeja Law for media law and ethics related news and commentary.

The Digger’s pay wall may be doomed, but what’s to lose?

At a regional news debate at City University yesterday evening, media blogger Roy Greenslade asked us (me, freelance media reporter Jon Slattery, Northern Echo editor Peter Barron, Times web development editor Joanna Geary and paidContent:UK reporter Patrick Smith) if we thought pay walls would work. I said I thought Rupert Murdoch hadn’t much to lose as a result of pay wall experimentation. I noticed a little challenge to that on Twitter so here’s why I think that, in a bit more detail…

My boss – founder John Thompson – once called pay walls a ‘no hoper’ strategy and I’m inclined to agree with him when it comes to regional – and probably national – paid content. I’m happy to be corrected if it all works out in the pay wall publishers’ favour. Time will tell.

But let’s take a look at the actual risks involved for the pay wall pioneers, namely News International and Johnston Press. Let’s suppose it does flop (and remember that – as yet – Johnston Press are only trialling pay walls for three titles) … so what?

We’ve seen pay wall peekaboo before: now you see it for free, now you don’t. At the New York Times; on parts of UK sites; and various magazines. The readers come back – and multiply – when it’s free.

Now, I’m unlikely to extract a figure for how much pay walls cost to put up from News International or JP towers, but I suspect it’s not too great an investment and certainly, cheaper than buying MySpace (do drop me a line if you run a pay wall construction company and know the answer).

As a point of context, former Times online chief Anne Spackman once claimed that online comment pre-moderation systems cost a six figure sum to maintain (she didn’t specify the period and wouldn’t later be drawn on the statement). Not so much of that commenting manpower/equipment needed for imprisoned content…

Now let’s say the Great Paywall of Wapping fails:

a) People stop visiting the sites and go elsewhere for their news

But the real risk at play – (b) that people stop buying the Times – is the least likely outcome. As paidContent:UK’s Patrick Smith pointed out at last night’s debate (as in the past), Murdoch’s real strategy motive may be a bid to boost whatever print sales he can.

Say a) is the outcome and sales / subscriptions decline and the print sales don’t make up for lost advertising revenue. Well, Murdoch can bring the wall down. The Times is probably a big enough brand to lure those news bloodsuckers back to its site – and the advertising cash with them. Back to square one, but little really lost – just a bit of egg to wipe off News International’s face.

I’m not alone in this view: Peter Kirwan dissected the ‘bogeyman’ in August 2009, in a piece that adjusted the frame of the pay wall debate [I recommend reading it in full]:

“As a risk-taking entrepreneur running a $30 billion-turnover quoted company, Murdoch is one of the last representatives of a near-extinct species.

“Like most entrepreneurs, Murdoch is capable of conceiving great enthusiasms that can be dropped rapidly if they don’t work out.” [my emphasis].

Also, consider Murdoch’s other businesses: cable and film, in particular, and the fact that 70 per cent of News Corp’s revenue comes from the US.

As pointed out by Peter Kafka, reporting rather bluntly on News Corp figures in  November:

“Newspapers: Getting hammered. Operating income was a mere $25 million, a decrease of $109 million in the last year.”

$109 million down isn’t good, but it’s in the context of News Corp overall revenue, $7.2 billion (down 0.3 bn).

So what’s to lose in Murdoch’s bid to re-gain $109m +? He isn’t enjoying advertising dollars from his news sites so he needs a new strategy. If it doesn’t work, he can go back to the old system… or (as his shareholders might prefer) pull back from newspapers and invest elsewhere.

It’s the same with JP: they’re struggling to make money online so this is a last ditch attempt to bring some in. It doesn’t work, well they haven’t gone back any further than they were.

They try it. It works – they win. It doesn’t work – well, back to square one. Like Kirwan said, a game of entrepreneurial risk, with – in my view – fairly low stakes.

Instead of worrying about whether the Digger is doomed, I suggest we take Kirwan’s lead and re-write the ‘paid content’ debate to include Guardian sponsorship and membership drives:

“Increasingly, the question isn’t about whether or not to introduce a paywall. It’s about where to locate it: around content, reader affinity, affiliated retailers – or at the entrance to festival tents in the British countryside.”

Cervical cancer jab: SEO advice for the NHS and correcting scaremongering journalism

A campaign to balance inaccurate news reporting about the cervical cancer jab is working. Malcolm Coles, SEO consultant and blogger, informs me that NHS pages with information about the HPV immunisation are steadily getting bumped up the Google rankings, displacing misleading and deliberately alarming newspaper reports. He says:

“The three NHS pages I was targeting are now on 1st page, 2nd page and 2nd page of Google results so it’s working.”

To fill you in on the background: first of all Malcolm pointed out ‘that any concerned parents searching Google for information on the cervical cancer jab (in the tragic wake of a schoolgirl’s death) see a mass of negative and inaccurate information linking the girl’s death to the vaccine’. So summoning his SEO might, he called upon bloggers and Twitterers to influence the rankings in anyway they could, to get the NHS pages higher up the results.

Here’s how in full.

Or in one quick step (and this is me doing my bit):

“Ideally, use some link text like cervical cancer jab or cervical cancer vaccine to link to those pages, like this: cervical cancer jab information and cervical cancer vaccination and Q&A about cervical cancer vaccine.”

Finally Malcolm has some SEO tips for the NHS::

“The page I’ve suggested you link to is the one recommended by NHS Choices. However, it doesn’t have cervical cancer jab in the title – I suggest you change this.”

[To-do: find out to what extent those management consultants – (reportedly) brought into the NHS for around £300 million + last year – thought about SEO and online marketing in their efficiency analyses]

In the meantime, this from NHS Choices in the comments on Malcolm’s blog:

“Just to let you know that the marketing team here at NHS Choices are aware of the adwords campaign wording and are looking to make it more appropriate given the current scare. We’ve got lots of content on cervical cancer & HPV, but nothing ‘newsy’ at the moment which would supplant the newspaper headlines. The best page to push from an SEO perspective would be this one on NHS Choices – – good video on it too – anything that can be done to bump this up would be great! John, NHS Choices.”

For more background on the misleading media hype, see Ben Goldacre’s most recent Guardian column.

Professor Harper, featured in last week’s ‘Jab ‘as bad as the cancer” Sunday Express article that Goldacre bases his article on, has complained to the Press Complaints Commission:

Quite incredulously, given the Express article, Harper doesn’t oppose the jab. “I fully support the HPV vaccines,” she told Ben Goldacre. “I believe that in general they are safe in most women. I told the Express all of this.”

You can also complain to the PCC on this one, I believe. While the body doesn’t take complaints from third parties, there is this clause:

“In regard to complaints about matters of general fact under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code – where there are no obvious first parties cited in the article, who might complain – the Commission can, and regularly does, investigate complaints from any concerned reader.”

PCC contact at this link.

Subtext at the Observer

I admit, I wasn’t really serious when I suggested that Kathryn Flett was politically motivated in her failure to name one ‘remotely famous’ Carolyn for her recent Observer Magazine column.

But take a look at p6 of Private Eye (no. 1244). Flett may well be leading a subtle Observer resistance movement, with subtext (buried in the trivial undergrowth) as its weapon!

“As Observer hacks wait to hear if Alan Rusbridger and his Scott Trust chums will kill off their title, coded messages to the underground resistance are creeping into print.

Reviewing Top Gear, the paper’s TV critic Kathryn Flett notes that “according to Clarkson, J, it only takes four people to pick up a G-Wiz and throw it into a canal, but (he reminded us, as if we need reminding) this is something one really ought not to do under any circumstances, however tempting it may be.” This is of course a reference to the G-Wiz-driving Alan Rubbisher, whose office in King’s Place overlooks the Regent’s Canal.

Mutterings of dissent can even be heard in Rubbisher’s own paper. Last week the Grauniad devoted an entire editorial, rather surprisingly, to the travails and possible closure of the Reader’s Digest, but readers who persevered to the end probably spotted a sub-text. “It would certainly be a shame,” the leader concluded, in a none-too-cryptic message to the Scott Trust, “to lose a publication which has been part of the furniture of our lives for so many years.””

A polite letter about online accuracy

I rarely feel the urge to submit a letter to a newspaper, thus inadvertently supporting a trend that sees women write in far less frequently than men.

But here’s what I’d write in response to Joan Smith’s piece in the Independent on Sunday about the dangers of the web. I tried to post a similar point online but LiveJournal, which powers the Indy’s online comment system, didn’t allow it for some reason.

I probably won’t send it. Mainly because it would frustrate me to see it without the links.

Joan Smith complains that ‘[online] posts that politely take issue with a published article are hugely outnumbered by snarling invective, much of it based on incorrect assumptions and careless misreading of the original text’.

Yet an example in her column the ‘Unsociable truth behind social networks’ (IoS September 6) undermines her argument.

She refers to an incident in which Lisa Greenwood, a civil servant, was sacked after she ‘used her work email account to post [an attack on Hazel Blears] on an internet forum’.

This is factually wrong. Presumably Smith has read the Telegraph’s, or the Mail’s, or the Mirror’s inaccurate versions of events, which remain largely uncorrected online.

In fact, Lisa Greenwood sent a private email directed at Blears from her work account via the MP’s website. The Telegraph also incorrectly made a reference – now removed – to MySociety’s, the site via which Greenwood located Blears’s website and contact page, not where she posted her message.

The Guardian’s technology editor, Charles Arthur, followed the story up, after MySociety founder and director Tom Steinberg clarified the situation on the organisation’s public email list. Correct accounts then appeared on the BBC and the Guardian sites.

The irony is this: the inaccuracy repeated by Smith occurred as a result of stubborn mainstream journalism habits. Why don’t the newspapers correct the copy? Responsibility isn’t always taken by named and supposedly accountable writers either.

Judith Townend