This blog has repeatedly called for more innovation at Norwegian news websites. So when such occurs, it should be noted. Nettavisen today launched Na24.no as an “important stories only” subsite. The concept is exactly what I have been missing, since Norwegian sites for years have been overbidding each other by pushing out hundreds of stories a day flanked by incredible amounts of noisy advertising. It’s correct as the editor says that Na24 means Nettavisen going back to its roots. But the first impression is that central elements are missing from what you have to expect from a modern news site today: Where are the graphs in the business stories? Smart selection of photos? Intelligent treatment of external web sources (a meagre “interesting links” box which include Google – come on!)? And no RSS feed?? Head for a quick relaunch!
The honourable jury has done its part. Nominations for Norway’s best blog are out, and voting is underway. These are the nominees (most of them written in Norwegian):
Being in the jury nominating Norway’s best blogs has given me some extra homework. So has it been worth it? Definitely and absolutely. There are many, many good blogs out there now (you’ll soon learn which my co-jurors and me think are the best). Working my way through them there were moments that reminded me of the revelation of reading Salam Pax’ blog for the first time back in 2002 (See an older Axess piece for a description of that discovery): Inspired and fresh writing, original and insightful ideas. A genuine pleasure to read (I’ll supply some examples after the nominations have been published). Now how often do you get to say that about your newspaper nowadays?
Steve Outing visits one of the most important challenges facing journalism in his latest column: Will investigative journalism survive? (it’s related to the who pays question discussed here earlier). I hope to get back to this in detail, here first just one of many interesting thoughts Outing sketches:
The low cost of publishing on the Internet makes it likely that journalists and bloggers who take an investigative bent will publish such work independently, if they have to. As several experts who I interviewed for this article said, investigative journalists often put in extra hours on projects because they are passionate about telling the story — and don’t get paid extra for it. A lack of or very little money for independent Web publishing probably won’t deter the investigative journalist with a story he or she really wants to tell. [Brant Houston, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors] sees the Web as reviving the era of I.F. Stone-like independent investigative reporting. With the costs of publishing to a large audience so low, it’s likely that some independent reporters will discover an economic model that supports what they do. Houston thinks that in-depth niche-topic reporting has the potential to be particularly lucrative online.
Outing also points to an amazing story I had overlooked. Now that’s philanthropy with a purpose.
Ex-FT editor Andrew Gowers joins the ranks: Print media are “the early 21st century equivalent of running a record company specialising in vinyl”. He goes on:
Those newspapers that will survive will have to produce truly original content and translate it into the all-encompassing, all-singing, all-dancing new medium of the web.
New? But this is still interesting coming from such a high-profile media man. After all he was the start-up editor of Financial Times Deutschland, which probably was the last daily (paid!) newspaper to be established in Germany.
Five years ago today Germany’s first national online-only news-“paper” was launched in Berlin. The date was chosen as a potentially good news day. The same morning we would know the name of the new president of the United States. Hence Netzeitung could demonstrate one of its advantages over print media – instant publishing. The news day turned out to be better than we could have imagined, of course. Here’s a headline from 06.45 and here’s one from 08.06. Our editor Michael Maier came late to the launch press conference because the front page had to be re-edited all the time.
The site was redesigned in 2001, but this page lists all the stories published that day.
The lessons that can be drawn from Netzeitung’s career – an incomplete chronicle here – illustrates some major themes in the development of internet journalism and the media industry in the last few years:
- Search and filter: “Suchen, filtern, aufbereiten” – search, filter, organize – was the headline of a good Berliner Zeitung article about Netzeitung on launch day. This was Maier’s idea of positioning the website, and in retrospect that was an even better idea than we probably realized at the time. Netzeitung couldn’t compete on original news production with the big newspapers and magazines, so the niche would be to search for existing information on the web and present it as an informative package to the reader. One of the best examples was the Altpapier (mentioned here earlier), a daily column commenting on the newspapers’ media pages. Of course Netzeitung also needed original “content”, otherwise the internal journalistic culture could not have been built. But had it been possible to pursue that original idea of “search and filter” with great persistence, there’s reason to believe the Netzeitung would have had a larger presence in the German media world than it has today.
- Speed as profile: Actually, from the beginning Netzeitung built its profile more on speed than search. The slogan was “Aus Prinzip schneller”. At least back then, speed of publishing really was a way to stand out in the media landscape in Germany. Today any blogger can in essence be just as fast, so can speed be a profile? It can, if its supplemented by the new openness of perspective which was important from day one: Since Netzeitung didn’t carry any historical baggage, it wasn’t connected to any political party or social movement. That was clearly very welcome for many readers. Netzeitung’s journalism had to be open and curious, and Netzeitung as a company had to be a fast company to succeed.
- Lonely alone: Netzeitung’s ad budget was tiny, and it didn’t have a big partner to rely on for marketing (apart from Lycos, but that’s another story…). If there was one thing the web didn’t eliminate, it was the necessity of marketing. Actually, the web’s diversity makes reach and visibility even more important. In Norway, the media group Schibsted has shown this with the success of their classified ad portal Finn, which has been pushed into a dominant market position by the publicity generated by the group’s printed newspapers. This was not available for the Netzeitung, and that has been a major weakness.
- Constant innovation: Netzeitung itself was a major innovation in the German media market, which the extensive press coverage indicated. But the company itself wouldn’t have had a chance if it hadn’t kept innovating. Difficult circumstances hampered this, but even so a string of important new features such as a news search service, a job search engine and a personalized pages with news alerts have been introduced over the years.
Netzeitung has had a solid Norwegian owner since this summer. Hopefully that means long-term investments in innovative journalism. Good luck with the next five years!
Search engine Sesam launched today. Some first impressions:
- News search: All news searches are welcome, it helps toiling journalists (and bloggers). But Sesam’s is very incomplete, and so far Kvasir’s is still better (of course: Sesam owner Schibsted used to believe in search and catalogues, and owned Kvasir for many years until it was sold off to Eniro, now one of Sesam’s toughest competitors…) Above all, the trumpeted newspaper archive search, which opens up some of the Invisible Web, delivers confusing results. I find no pattern – why are these articles included and not others? I understand why the papers in the archive don’t make everything available, but what Sesam could have done is to show all hits in the archive, and then restrict access to the story to paying customers only.
- Business search: This is a good feature: Company information has been connected with a map service. Excellent.
- General search:: Is Sesam a worthy Google competitor? Doubtful. Sesam’s niche must be Norway (and soon Scandinavia?). But then Sesam must deliver much better Norwegian results than Google. So far I’m not convinced. Example: Consider the results when you search for Jens Stoltenberg (Google) and Jens Stoltenberg (Sesam), both searches restricted to Norwegian pages. Sesam delivers very funny, but hardly useful results. The first is a pdf file about a forestry seminar (!) one year ago, in the second our prime minister declares that “rally is important” (!!). Google delivers mostly very relevant results, number one is his party’s presentation of him.
Other first impressions: