I’ve just spent a surreal 30 minutes over at ‘webcameron’, the brilliantly named, and cunningly contrived attempt, to portray Conservative party leader and Prime Ministerial hopeful David Cameron, as both web-savvy and stylishly informal.

My initial impressions, are that an awful awful lot of focus group planning, and  My-Space market research has gone into moulding and shaping something designed to look, as if it was thrown together by a happy accident.

The whole site has the kind of low-level polish, that you would normally associate with something like a boy band or an MTV ‘reality’ show. You get a sense that the people involved in its creation have spent both hundreds of thoughtful hours, and tens of thousands of pounds, creating just the right level of ‘amateur chic’ to appeal to their target demographic.

Like almost everything else created by our modern political leaderships, it’s amazingly short on depth, and frighteningly long on surface. It also seems to foreshadow the next staged electoral farce. Where we will probably see the lumbering Labour party lizards, led by the terribly dour and terminally uncool Gordon Brown, battling a fresh-faced version of the old boy Etonian Tory network, reinvented for the 21st Century, and fronted by the awkward hipster chic of Mr David Cameron.

Judging by this early effort, it promises to be both a truly bizarre spectacle and a well planned foregone conclusion. All the early running has Cameron ahead by a very long political mile.

The British political establishment and those who give them their marching orders, are well aware of the damaged credibility, and shortening shelf life of this present government. Currently mired in an unpopular war, and damaged by years of lying, it seems unlikely that they will be able to carry off another electoral term, without exposing the elite’s policy agenda to a level of unnecessary scrutiny.

Thus it is, that with the launch of ‘webcameron’, we are beginning to see the pointless political posturing and positioning, that is the prelude to a changing of the political guard. One designed to placate the restless disaffection of the British public, and to convince us all that we really do live in a truly interactive and representative democratic society. The truth of course, is something very far away from this, and no amount of clever contrivances can disguise the shallow and callous centre at the heart of the British political machine.

Source

Good guys, including YouGov founder Stefan Shakespeare and Politico’s founder Iain Dale, plan to launch Britain’s first political Internet TV Channel on 10 October.

18DoughtyStreet Talk TV will broadcast for four hours a night, Mondays to Thursdays, from studios in London’s Bloomsbury with a mix of live and pre-recorded programmes. It aims to stir up current affairs television with a mix of opinionated and controversial programming. Because it goes out on the internet, it is not bound by the political balance rules.

The station is currently prospecting for e-reporters, and aims to build a network of 100 nationwide and worldwide citizen journalist reporters, each equipped with their own camcorder, to film reports for 18DoughtyStreet’s broadcasts.

Daily votes on the station’s website will determine which news stories headline each programme, and viewers will see live blog streaming as they watch the presenters.

The channel says that “conventional political TV has let down its audience by dumbing down political debate to the lowest common denominator” and looks forward to “championing rebel opinions in all of the mainstream parties and constantly questioning authority”.

Source – Adam Smith Institute

The future of newspapers

Who killed the newspaper?

Aug 24th 2006
From The Economist print edition

The most useful bit of the media is disappearing. A cause for concern, but not for panic

“A GOOD newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself,” mused Arthur Miller in 1961. A decade later, two reporters from the Washington Post wrote a series of articles that brought down President Nixon and the status of print journalism soared. At their best, newspapers hold governments and companies to account. They usually set the news agenda for the rest of the media. But in the rich world newspapers are now an endangered species. The business of selling words to readers and selling readers to advertisers, which has sustained their role in society, is falling apart (see article).

Of all the “old” media, newspapers have the most to lose from the internet. Circulation has been falling in America, western Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand for decades (elsewhere, sales are rising). But in the past few years the web has hastened the decline. In his book “The Vanishing Newspaper”, Philip Meyer calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint dies in America as the last exhausted reader tosses aside the last crumpled edition. That sort of extrapolation would have produced a harrumph from a Beaverbrook or a Hearst, but even the most cynical news baron could not dismiss the way that ever more young people are getting their news online. Britons aged between 15 and 24 say they spend almost 30% less time reading national newspapers once they start using the web.

Up to a podcast, Lord Copper?

Advertising is following readers out of the door. The rush is almost unseemly, largely because the internet is a seductive medium that supposedly matches buyers with sellers and proves to advertisers that their money is well spent. Classified ads, in particular, are quickly shifting online. Rupert Murdoch, the Beaverbrook of our age, once described them as the industry’s rivers of gold—but, as he said last year, “Sometimes rivers dry up.” In Switzerland and the Netherlands newspapers have lost half their classified advertising to the internet.

Newspapers have not yet started to shut down in large numbers, but it is only a matter of time. Over the next few decades half the rich world’s general papers may fold. Jobs are already disappearing. According to the Newspaper Association of America, the number of people employed in the industry fell by 18% between 1990 and 2004. Tumbling shares of listed newspaper firms have prompted fury from investors. In 2005 a group of shareholders in Knight Ridder, the owner of several big American dailies, got the firm to sell its papers and thus end a 114-year history. This year Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, attacked the New York Times Company, the most august journalistic institution of all, because its share price had fallen by nearly half in four years.

Having ignored reality for years, newspapers are at last doing something. In order to cut costs, they are already spending less on journalism. Many are also trying to attract younger readers by shifting the mix of their stories towards entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may seem more relevant to people’s daily lives than international affairs and politics are. They are trying to create new businesses on- and offline. And they are investing in free daily papers, which do not use up any of their meagre editorial resources on uncovering political corruption or corporate fraud. So far, this fit of activity looks unlikely to save many of them. Even if it does, it bodes ill for the public role of the Fourth Estate.

Getting away with murder

In future, as newspapers fade and change, will politicians therefore burgle their opponents’ offices with impunity, and corporate villains whoop as they trample over their victims? Journalism schools and think-tanks, especially in America, are worried about the effect of a crumbling Fourth Estate. Are today’s news organisations “up to the task of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends?” asked a recent report about newspapers from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a charitable research foundation.

Nobody should relish the demise of once-great titles. But the decline of newspapers will not be as harmful to society as some fear. Democracy, remember, has already survived the huge television-led decline in circulation since the 1950s. It has survived as readers have shunned papers and papers have shunned what was in stuffier times thought of as serious news. And it will surely survive the decline to come.

That is partly because a few titles that invest in the kind of investigative stories which often benefit society the most are in a good position to survive, as long as their owners do a competent job of adjusting to changing circumstances. Publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal should be able to put up the price of their journalism to compensate for advertising revenues lost to the internet—especially as they cater to a more global readership. As with many industries, it is those in the middle—neither highbrow, nor entertainingly populist—that are likeliest to fall by the wayside.

The usefulness of the press goes much wider than investigating abuses or even spreading general news; it lies in holding governments to account—trying them in the court of public opinion. The internet has expanded this court. Anyone looking for information has never been better equipped. People no longer have to trust a handful of national papers or, worse, their local city paper. News-aggregation sites such as Google News draw together sources from around the world. The website of Britain’s Guardian now has nearly half as many readers in America as it does at home.

In addition, a new force of “citizen” journalists and bloggers is itching to hold politicians to account. The web has opened the closed world of professional editors and reporters to anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection. Several companies have been chastened by amateur postings—of flames erupting from Dell’s laptops or of cable-TV repairmen asleep on the sofa. Each blogger is capable of bias and slander, but, taken as a group, bloggers offer the searcher after truth boundless material to chew over. Of course, the internet panders to closed minds; but so has much of the press.

For hard-news reporting—as opposed to comment—the results of net journalism have admittedly been limited. Most bloggers operate from their armchairs, not the frontline, and citizen journalists tend to stick to local matters. But it is still early days. New online models will spring up as papers retreat. One non-profit group, NewAssignment.Net, plans to combine the work of amateurs and professionals to produce investigative stories on the internet. Aptly, $10,000 of cash for the project has come from Craig Newmark, of Craigslist, a group of free classified-advertisement websites that has probably done more than anything to destroy newspapers’ income.

In future, argues Carnegie, some high-quality journalism will also be backed by non-profit organisations. Already, a few respected news organisations sustain themselves that way—including the Guardian, the Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. An elite group of serious newspapers available everywhere online, independent journalism backed by charities, thousands of fired-up bloggers and well-informed citizen journalists: there is every sign that Arthur Miller’s national conversation will be louder than ever.

Source

5 October 2006

Tony Blair with Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton (R) gave a speech at this year’s main conference

The Labour Party is to ditch its annual spring conference next year in favour of a series of smaller “seminars and consultations” across the UK.Party bosses said shelving the 2007 party meeting in Glasgow would help to involve more people in policy-making and was not designed to save money.

Blogs and podcasts would be used to broaden “online engagement” with the new “interactive party”, they said.

The party had debts of about £28m earlier this year.

While the main conference was held in Manchester in September, some 3,000 delegates had been expected in the Scottish city next spring.

‘Record bloggers’

Labour’s National Executive Committee said it had decided to take politics “out to the country”.

The committee said the Manchester conference had seen “a record number of bloggers and podcasts”.

“The change of format will involve the largest-ever number of people in our discussions on future policy priorities.”

Peter Watt, Labour’s general secretary, said he was “excited” about the plans.

“The Labour Party has always led the way in reforming its structures and outreach to involve the largest possible number of people in policy-making,” he said.

“This new approach will allow us to involve the greatest-ever number of party members and supporters in the preparation of what will become our next manifesto.”

Source

4 October 2006

iPods

Only 20% of online Brits own an iPod, says a survey

Britons are increasingly tech-savvy but are still bamboozled by tech jargon.According to research from Nielsen/NetRatings, people are buying cutting-edge technology but often don’t understand the terms that describe what their device actually does.

So while 40% of online Britons receive news feeds, 67% did not know that the official term for this service was Really Simple Syndication.

Terms such as podcasting and wikis are still meaningless to many.

“In the relentless quest for the next big thing when it comes to new forms of digital consumption, there is a significant tendency for the industry to over-estimate consumer’s knowledge and understanding of the seemingly limitless new terms and products out there,” said Alex Burmaster, internet analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings.

Knowledge snobbery

QUICK GUIDE TO TECH TERMS

VOD – video-on-demand

Wikis – Collaborative technology for editing websites

IPTV – internet protocol television

RSS – Really Simple Syndication alias automated news feeds

PVR – personal video recorder

Web 2.0 – user-generated content phase of internet

Triple-play – internet, TV and phone in one subscription

VoIP – voice over internet protocol

IM – instant messaging

Blogging – frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts on the web

Podcasting – internet broadcasting for playback on MP3 players

Acronyms in particular foxed users. 75% of online Britons did not know that VOD stands for video-on-demand, while 68% were unaware that personal video recorders were more commonly referred to as PVRs.

Millions of people keep in touch via instant messaging but some 57% of online Brits said they did not know that the acronym for it was IM.

“The technology industry is perhaps the most guilty of all industries when it comes to love of acronyms,” said Mr Burmaster.

“There is a certain level of knowledge snobbery in so far as if you talk in acronyms you sound like you really know what you are talking about and if others don’t understand then they are seen in some way as inferior,” he said.

Terms such as blogging and podcasting have achieved a high enough level of exposure to have made it into dictionaries but there are still plenty of people who don’t understand the terms.

35% of online Brits had heard the term podcasting but didn’t know what it meant and a quarter had never heard of it. Similarly with blogging, 34% said they had heard of it but weren’t sure what it meant.

Rejecting iPods

MOST POPULAR DIGITAL DEVICES

PC – 85%

WAP-enabled mobile phone – 57%

Games console – 53%

MP3 player (not iPod) – 48%

Laptop – 47%

3G-enabled mobile phone – 30%

iPod – 20%

High Definition TV – 15%

PDA – 13%

“Some of the figures surprised us,” said Mr Burmaster. “It is important to remember that this is a survey of people who are already online so the numbers among the general population will be even higher.”

Regular surfers are, according to the survey, gadget-hungry. Interestingly, although 68% of those interviewed possessed an MP3 player, only 20% owned iPods – the biggest selling digital music player.

The iPod may be less popular with surfers because there are fewer online music stores from which music can be purchased, said Mr Burmaster.

“The whole ethos behind the internet is about open access and for people already online, being able to access music from a variety of sources is important,” he said.

Source

‘It is difficult, indeed dangerous, to underestimate the huge changes this [media]revolution will bring or the power of developing technologies to build and destroy – not just companies but whole countries.’ Rupert Murdoch

Source – what is social media?

“The proposed Treaty would undermine those uses by layering a new and overbroad set of rights on top of copyright. This will require a second layer of rights clearance for transmitted materials. This will increase transaction costs for podcasters, who already face significant hurdles in obtaining
necessary copyright clearances due to undeveloped licensing markets. But it will also give broadcasters the ability to silence podcasters who depend on use of copyrighted materials”The WIPO Broadcast Treaty is being debated in Geneva tomorrow, and Gwen Hinze from EFF is presenting a joint statement from podcasters from around the world. This piece of internet history is an attempt to make sure that the development of the Broadcast Treaty into internet broadcast/netcast/webcast does not wipe out grassroots podcasting.

http://www.eff.org/IP/WIPO/broadcasting_treaty/podcasting.php

UKPA (UK Podcasters Association) has been working for months with the Irish PodRepBod, the German Podcastverband, the Open Rights Group in the UK and the EFF in the US to resist aspects of the Broadcast Treaty, which many podcasters, podcast users and a growing number of politicians feel are inimical to the healthy development of grassroots new media culture. The issues are about copyright, and the ongoing ownership of content.Many podcasters fear that the Treaty is giving broadcasters the upper hand when it comes to rights, and creative people everywhere are becoming wary of blanket licenses which remove their rights in the small print – YouTube and MySpace have recently attracted widespread criticism and some legal action.Activists are also pushing for recognition of Creative Commons licenses in the Treaty – millons of people who self-publish, webcast, and podcast use these licenses for their content; CC is a widely understood and established system which must be respected.

UKPA’s campaign has unified podcasters globally, particularly in the UK, Eire, Germany, and the US, in a common cause, to influence the outcome of this looming – and binding – international legislation.Background: In April 2006, a group of independent UK podcasters, including businesses, publishers, and enthusiasts formed a non-profit podcast association, UKPA – UK Podcasters Association.UKPA is producing a UK-specific version of the Creative Commons podcast license with the author of the US licence, Colette Vogele, and working to develop podcast metrics standards with ABCe.UKPA currently represents around one third of independent UK podcasters.

Dean Whitbread
UKPA Press Release 11th September 2006
UK Podcasters Association
http://ukpodcasters.org.uk

Source – issue 9 podcast user magazine