Last Thursday was the quarterly meet of the Digital Editors Network at MediaCityUK and so, as a prisoner of late to our impending launches, a rare day away from One&Other HQ. The focus of the day was “Innovations in Social, Local and Mobile news” – an agenda close to our heart.
It was a good opportunity to hear about the latest industry innovations firsthand, to mingle amongst our more traditional competitors, and to see if we were placing the same big bets on the future.
Concentrating on the three talks that spoke the most to me, below is my critique (or at least initial impressions) of what I heard and a view of how we might utilise them at One&Other. The world is more forgiving of beta efforts when they come from humble beginnings so I was particularly keen to discover how the Guardian and Sky propose approaching their respective community bulletin and video services. Add to that the appearance of a few personal heroes and it promised to be a worthwhile conference.
Over to the speakers (in order of appearance)…
Sacrifices are important in any business, and in the case of this pilot it is web and mobile video over “old media”. At least for now that is. The video platform is accompanied by a user-updated events guide which, if maintained, looks to drive additional traffic.
Sky (at least publicly) claims it is growing the market by addressing a gap that traditional local media have neglected. I believe they’re right in this observation, however a standalone video site still needs to be able to stand on its own two feet commercially, particularly it is to be a new engine for growth. The 13 staff (including 9 video journalists) assigned to the pilot sets off alarm bells and Sky’s supposed goodwill gesture of “giving something back” to its viewers will only stretch so far and for so long. The intention is for the platform to be supported by advertising but, like others before it, unless it adopts lean thinking from the off it will remain a loss leader for a long time.
All that said, Sky can comfortably absorb a mix of such pilots in an attempt to find fertile ground and sets to learn a lot from them. Conversely, local newspapers have more to lose by sitting still, yet they seem paralysed when it comes to video. As I tweeted at the time: “Profit isn’t the motive behind @skytyneandwear. I suspect delivering further blows to traditional local media is.”
Next up was Sarah Hartley (@foodiesarah), MD at Talk About Local, and Community strategist at Guardian Media Group.
Whilst we share some of the thinking behind the open community platform n0tice that Sarah introduced us to, as I also tweeted at the time, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed by the service in its minimum viable product form (or “experiment” in Guardian speak).
The race is on for a hyperlocal solution for connecting and empowering geographical communities, however n0tice appears to fall short of a destination that will illicit any meaningful level of interaction and encourage repeat visits. A search of posts within 5 miles of York (for example) throws up a handful of responses, when presumably the hope is for the service to be the hub of local conversations and activity. It is hard to see without concentrated marketing campaigns how it can reach critical mass across the country and without a clear network effect it’s all too easy to feel lonely on such platforms.
By Sarah’s own admission, n0tice is in its infancy and by opening up the API it may yet find new uses and forms of engagement. It’s certainly interesting and the Guardian are no fools, so we’ll be keeping an eye on n0tice in the future.
Based on a freemium business model, ads are free to post, unless opting for priority positioning which is charged at £1 per square mile. As Sarah again conceded herself, as per any double-sided platform, there needs to be sufficient traffic in order to appeal to potential advertisers tempt the Guardian to invest in a new round of development. Looking at the traffic stats so far, it has some way to go.
As a Guardian reader myself, one last concern is that the publisher’s history of canning local “experiments” might work against it as (with any social network) n0tice relies on consumer faith that their investment in time and effort won’t suddenly go to waste.
These are all challenges we face in the local mediascape and no doubt the Guardian have plans to add new layers to this beta product.
Lastly, I was enthralled from start to finish with Greg Hadfield’s (@GregHadfield) talk on open data. Inspiring and eye-opening in equal measure, it laid bare the potential of open data cities and the shortcomings of journalists (in a local media context) to embrace it. To paraphrase Greg, there is an ocean of raw data from publicly-funded bodies going to waste.
He sees data as the secret to unlocking a new news agenda and deeper reader relationships. As a local newspaper, what better way to show you are taking a vested interest in the future of the region you serve than helping to shape its future? At the very least, you’re creating more meaningful conversations with its citizens and your readers.
If traditional local media don’t seize the obvious opportunities open data cities present, we will.
To echo his closing words, “There has been far better times to be a newspaper owner but there’s never been a more exciting time to be a journalist.”
You can follow the full thread of tweets from the day at #solomoden.