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Uncertain futures


Friday, January 25, 2002

Is the amount of journalism online actually falling?

I'm not talking about weblogs and other forms of vanity publishing, but professional journalism of the sort found in printed newspapers and magazines.

Cutbacks and closures at Internet pure plays have presumably reduced their journalistic output. That leaves the traditional print publishers as the main potential source of professional journalism. But do they put all their articles online?

I haven't been able to find any numbers that directly address this question. But I suspect that the proportion of original content from print publications that is put online is actually falling.

Publishers are expert at making money out of printed information, but haven't really figured out how to make money online yet.

One thing they do know though is that a small proportion of their web pages generate most of their hits. So putting the full text of every issue online doesn't make much sense in traffic and therefore ad terms. It's only worth doing if you can charge for it directly.

The more prestigious newspaper sites do still have past-issue archives, but many now attempt to charge for access to it. But for most of the press, particularly the tabloid, local and specialist trade press, only parts of the publication go online.

This is certainly the case in the UK, the country I am most familiar with. Long feature articles are most likely to get the chop. Some sites are now little more than cheap syndicated news, with only a few comment or entertainment columns taken from the paper product to give them a bit of personality.

I find this particularly frustrating as a freelance journalist, as my more substantial pieces of work are the least likely to get a showcase.

Jupiter MMXI has just released a report suggesting that here in Europe publishers are more likely to make money out of mobile phone services and broadband content such as music than charging for online versions of their printed content.

"Newspapers and magazines struggling to generate direct consumer revenues from their Web sites have more opportunity to charge for content on mobile phones. They should use their Web presence as a way to promote mobile content with which they will be able to generate more revenues", the Internet research company suggests.


Monday, January 21, 2002

How to lose friends and influence people against you

The Bush administration is doing an amazing job of squandering support even from its closest allies. Here's the front page of today's Daily Mirror - a UK tabloid with a circulation of over two million that normally supports the government.

The accompanying editorial says "Bush is close to achieving the impossible - losing the sympathy of the civilised world for what happened in New York and Washington on September 11 ... The treatment of the prisoners in Cuba is no more than a sick attempt to appeal to the worst red-neck prejudices."

The current issue of Private Eye, the UK's top satirical title, has a picture of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay on the cover. One guard is saying to the other: "What about their rights?" The reply: "It's OK. They're chained to their lefts."

Treating religiously motivated terrorists in a worse way than normal prisoners of war or ordinary criminals can backfire badly. Here's the grave of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin. The harsh British policy helped transform a tiny movement of extremists in 1916 into a victorious movement only a few years later.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Israeli journalist calls for castration of Arabs

Meanwhile the spirit of ethnic cleansing is apparently alive and well among Russian immigrants to Israel. The broadly liberal daily newspaper Ha'aretz reports with some horror on an article published in Novosti, a Russian-language paper distributed in the country.

The article, called "How To Force Them To Leave", by Marian Belenki, says that the threat of castration might encourage Arabs to leave Israel. It also advocates Chinese-style measures against Arab families that have more than one child.

Though Novosti has now disowned the article, Ha'aretz comments that it seems to have aroused remarkably little controversy among the Russian-language paper's readers.

Saudis want American troops out, allegedly

Saudi Arabia's rulers are uncomfortable with the US military presence in their country and may ask the Americans to leave, according to a report in the Washington Post (there's an updated version at International Herald Tribune.)

If true this would have the unlikely effect of simultaneously pleasing both the Israelis and Bin Laden's followers.

But it may not be true. MSNBC has Colin Powell dismissing the story. Because flying in troops and equipment from elsewhere when an emergency arises isn't as effective as having the facilities already in place, both the American and Saudi military are likely to want the bases to stay.

Nonetheless, plenty of people have an interest in creating trouble in the American-Saudi relationship. There has been a developing campaign in the US against the Saudi alliance in both the media and Congress.

The Wall Street Journal ran a comment piece by Ralph Peters on January 4th called The Saudi Threat. (This is currently on the free part of the WSJ site but may soon disappear into the paid for archive). Here's a quote:

"By funding religious extremists from Michigan to Mindanao, the Saudis have done their best to destroy democracies, turn back the clock on human rights and deny religious freedom to Islamic and other populations -- while the United States guarantees Saudi security. It is the most preposterous and wrongheaded policy in American history since the defense of slavery ...

"We must work against the Saudis' campaign of religious hatred and subversion around the world ... Finally, we must be prepared to seize the Saudi oil fields and administer them for the greater good ... Far from being indispensable to our security, the Saudis are a greater menace to it than any other state, including China."

A strong case against this view is made on Chuck Spinney's Defense and the National Interest site. But the Saudi connection is coming under mounting political attack in the US.

Friday, January 18, 2002

Search engines reduce need for domains

Why aren't people registering as many Internet domain names as they used to? Dan Gillmor argues that it's not just down to the tech slump. It's also because search engines have become so good that users prefer to find sites that way.

I think there's a lot to this argument. When I'm looking for a site - even a company site, I generally go straight to Google rather than trying to guess the correct domain name. With all the new domains - dot biz and dot info, not to mention all the country versions, it's getting harder and harder to know what a site is called.

Another advantage of using a good search engine is that you get pointed to a variety of different sites about the company.

For example, if I enter 'BT Openworld' into Google, I get back links not just to the official British Telecom Openworld site, but also to BT Openwoe, a highly-critical user forum, and to press reports on various problems it is having with its customers.

In other words, search engines give you a more complete picture of a company's online presence.

Friday, January 11, 2002

Legal problems ahead for the Internet

Various prominent American lawyers give their views to the New York Times on how the law is going to affect Internet and IT developments this year. (NYT site is free but requires registration.) Most of them see plenty of legal disputes and dubious legislation ahead.

And here's an extract from Lawrence Lessig's book The Future of Ideas. Lessig, a law professor at Stanford, argues that we risk killing off many of the benefits of the Internet by enforcing over-protective property laws. In case this seems unlikely, he starts by showing how the application of 'silly and extreme' copyright law is already damaging creative filmmakers.

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