Sorry, sold out

We heard it for the first time last year, and now again: The leading Norwegian news sites have sold all their most attractive advertising formats several months in advance, according to media agency Carat. There are some interesting details here, such as why don’t the sites increase their (real) prices? Also worth noticing: While before the business pundits always told you that only a few big websites would earn money from ads, now also smaller niche sites and those targeting special interest groups are getting interesting.

The big Norwegian sites are big. Newspaper site VG now boasts 901.000 daily readers (numbers from TNS Gallup). In a country of 4,5 Million… For those able to understand Norwegian, there are some demographic specifics over at Gallup.

No 1 reporting assignment

For any reporter interested in media and communication technology issues, it would be hard to beat China for the prize of most enviable reporting assignment right now. Today’s New York Times reports on how a hundred cellphones bloom, and does it well, but there are so many questions here waiting for answers. Take, for instance, the sheer logistical task of monitoring a web population of 100 Million, even if the government is supposed to have allocated the incredible number of 50.000 people for this (to be able to interview one of those 50.000…). Or the activity of 350 Million cellphone users. Behind it all the constant negotiations between “open” or “closed”, as can be read out of this passage:

“Perhaps most significant, the government sent signals for weeks that the public interpreted to mean that the marches were “politically safe.” But the scale of the protests did seem to surprise the government. There is no doubt that underground chatter created momentum.”

Absolutely fascinating also the information about the police of Shanghai pushing a text message warning out to all cellphone users the day before a planned demonstration.

New things are happening every day, but there’s also a history of wired China – just have a look at Wired Magazine’s In the Kingdom of Mao Bell – from 1994.

Spot the business

Business Week reporters produce a glossy blog simulacrum and end up with a radical claim:

“Think of the way we produce stories here. It’s a closed process. We come up with an idea. We read, we discuss in-house, and then we interview all sorts of experts and take their pictures. We urge them not to spill the beans about what we’re working on. It’s a secret. Finally, we write. Then the story goes through lots and lots of editing. And when the proofreaders have had their last look, someone presses the button and we launch a finished product on the world.

If this were a real blog, we probably would have posted our story pitch on Day One, before we did any reporting. In the blog world, a host of experts (including many of the same ones we called for this story) would weigh in, telling us what’s wrong, what we’re overlooking. In many ways, it’s a similar editorial process. But it takes place in the open. It’s a discussion.”

Ah, the discussion. But is it really a similar editorial process?

Ten out of ten trees

“Ten out of ten trees prefer Nettavisen”. That was our half-official slogan. If you called and had to wait on the line, the tune we played was this:

“Who wants yesterdays papers

Nobody in the world”

Another good marketing gimmick for a 1996 start-up news website without a paper parent was to claim that the printed newspaper would be gone by circa 2010. Our good print colleagues would protest furiously and give us more publicity, but I don’t think even the internet evangelists among us grasped what was about to happen. Do we now?

The history of the media and the web is a tale of permanent undervaluation, permanent lack of imagination. Wishful thinking on the part of newspaper executives (“there’s no way to earn money from the web”, “people will always want their printed paper on the morning breakfast table”) mixed with flawed analysis (“don’t link to other websites, it sends “eyeballs” away from our ads”). Now the Economist sums up the latest twist in the saga of yesterday’s papers: Rupert Murdoch’s speech to US newspaper editors. It’s been said that our lives in the information-saturated world stand completely still at a furious pace, but that must be wrong. The pace is furious, but the news is new. In just a few years, the metaphors and concepts of “citizen/grassroots journalism” and “news as conversation” have raced all the way up to the boardrooms of News Corp. This is Murdoch about today’s youth: “They don’lt want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what’ls important. (…) They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.” Dan Gillmor left his job to work on a grassroots journalism project, and four months later Murdoch talks like him.

If something could be gained from Murdochs examining grassroots, then let it be that we talk more about journalism and less about paper or not paper. Journalism flourished sometimes under Gutenberg, and so it can under Berners-Lee.

All the social democrats’ fault

The white noise of Big Media, Small Media and Bloggers “will produce a phenomenal demand for originality” (quoting myself here, sorry). It also represents a fantastic chance for the educated, cultural conservative writer, and Per Svensson of Expressen knows how it works. To get ahead nowadays you have to blog, he acknowledges: “One is, I have understood, supposed to blend details from one’s richly textured daily life with profound reflections on the banalized present day, tell stories about meetings, food and coffee filter, blame the social democrats”… So he dutifully goes to work, with exciting tales of devouring his favourite inflight snack, a snack he had to bring with him because the SAS doesn’t serve the passengers anymore, terrible, the SAS isn’t what it used to be, now a cheap airline, the populism, the market – the social democrats’ fault, of course!

Svensson mocks blogging cliches and defends the banalized present at the same time. Well, he should. Google the wonderful Swedish word “förflackad” (the Norwegian “forflatet” can’t compete, the German “verflacht” is better but not quite there), and who is on top of the charts at the time of writing? Hr. Svensson. Out of respect I won’t even try to translate this favourite quote:

“Det har alltid varit ett skandalöst faktum att det kejserliga Roms bättre bemedlade damer tycks föredra muskulösa gladiatorer och bjärt sminkade skådespelare framför hårt bildade skalder med seriösa ambitioner.”

(via the Blind Hen’s post about the blogging ketchup effect now reaching Sweden.)

Falling to the ground

Recently Bjørn Stærk wrote critically about a story Dagsavisen brought a few months ago (I’ll omit the details as the debate is well documented by Stærk, see this follow-up). Now, as knowledge about blogging and its disruptive potential is slowly, slowly trickling through to even the most secluded editorial retreats in Norway, several newspapers and -websites have found reason to comment on Stærk’s critique. In his regular column (not online…) in the left-wing daily Klassekampen, media research fellow and previous editor Paul Bjerke rejected the notion of bloggers’ media criticism as simply a far-right phenomenon (see Stærk again). In other words, Bjerke only revealed that he (a media research fellow) hadn’t bothered to research blogging? Yes, but there is something else and more important going on in this text. It’s what’s left unsaid in this sentence, an offhand remark about Stærk’s arguments:

“Stærk’s accusations quickly fell to the ground.”

They did? How? Bjerke doesn’t elaborate, and maybe he just means “Stærk was wrong”. But I prefer to interpret him this way: Stærk’s “accusations” didn’t result in anything – i.e. no one was reprimanded at Dagsavisen, no one had to leave their jobs (he talks about Rather & Eason Jordan in the same column). A strange logic. As long as an act of criticism doesn’t directly provoke a dramatic outcome, it’s irrelevant? Stærk pointed out what he saw as weaknesses in Dagsavisen’s reporting. After a while he even got an answer. That Stærk and others now have the opportunity to hold the media accountable in this way isn’t irrelevant, it’s immensely relevant. Potentially it can give journalism and the public domain a tremendous boost. Editors, journalists and media research fellows should be the first to recognize that.