Am I crazy or yesterday did I catch a glimpse into why newspapers are struggling? The answer, I believe, is yes I am crazy (and I like it) and yes I caught a frightening insight into the thinking, or none thinking, that is dragging newspapers down.
The speaker at the SMarts London Social Media Un-Conference was the online editor at The London Free Press. He started his presentation with a giant blue square image with the message, "No signal detected." The chap just assumed that his notebook would talk to the projection set-up at the art gallery. The two systems wouldn't talk and the audience wasn't seeing his show.
I used to run seminars at the local university and I, like the editor, am not a technical wizard. It is cable-out-to-cable-in and if there is no resulting signal out, I'm snookered. For that reason, I always went to the lecture theatre before the event and conducted a complete run-through of the system. At the end, I wasn't all that much smarter technically but I knew I could run the equipment that I would be up against during the conference.
After failing to get his presentation to run on the large screen, our speaker went on to tell us that he wasn't "into technical stuff." All of us had gathered that already.
One young woman who recently lost her job asked how one makes money blogging as it was billed as a talk on blogging basics and social media etiquette. "I can't tell you how to make money from blogging," was the response from newspaper's online editor. (One quick, easy answer is this: if you are blogging on Blogspot, owned by Google, you can easily set-up an Adsense account, also run by Google, and this can result in some income. It sounds great but be warned that one should not quit their day job to blog. And you will not see a cheque until you have earned at least $100.)
Also, there are sites that will share the income with the posters. It is, after all, the posts that attract folks to the site. He could have finished his answer by warning her not to share with The London Free Press. The paper and its owner Sun Media insist that you grant "Sun Media and its affiliated companies, a worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, distribute, transmit, broadcast and publish that Material for any purposes, on any material form and in perpetuity."
I know of Internet sites handling images that will not touch a picture once the photographer has entered into such an agreement. Sun Media not only does not pay you money for your work but agreeing to their terms will cut your chances of making money with your image in the future. Got a once-in-a-lifetime image and you want to get it into print, get a lawyer. But it had better be a truly important and totally unique image or you will not sell your picture and you will be out the legal fees.
If you were curious about the tools used in blogging, our speaker was as lucid on this as he had been on everything else. His answer was simple and to the point: "I don't know about the blogging tools."
So, how well is The London Free Press blogger doing? He has about 60,000 pageviews a year with from 40 to 60 comments a day. A hundred comments would be a "really good day." (I just checked the latest Google Analytics for this blog and this blog has 1.99 pageviews per visit with the average visit lasting just under four minutes.
One interesting thing about Brown's blog and his small but loyal group of followers is that most visit his site to "breakup the boredom at work." Because of this, he told us, Fridays are his slowest days. Apparently on Fridays his followers rush to finish all they put-off doing during the week.
So, what is his goal with his blogging: "There is no goal." And if you were wondering, his blogging "is not journalism."
As one person remarked after his talk, "You know what his presentation said to me? It said he doesn't like what he's doing. Am I right?"
I don't think so. I worked with this fellow and I really think he likes his job. It is just that, as he told us, "I'm out of ideas" by Friday. He gave his talk on Saturday. By Saturday, there's "no signal detected."
If the above talk disappointed, the keynote speaker carried on with the theme - disappointment. The speaker was Brad Frenette, the online features editors for The National Post, and he brought along a show and tell video which The Post had uploaded to YouTube.
I looked at the woman sitting beside me and she looked back and we shook out heads. The video, posted a year ago, had had only 2,154 views. Sad.
The other videos from The National Post looked to have had 1302 hits and 3041 hits. Unbelievable. (If these videos are posted in more than one place under more than one name, the editor should have made this clear. As it is, it looks bad for The Post.
But all is not lost at newspapers. Those who caught Steve Groves, director of Internet media at The London Free Press, were in for a treat. In fact, his opening was so dramatic — the man knows how to quickly grab a crowd's attention — that he got more applause right from the get-go than those other speakers received at their finishes.
Groves said one result of the social media revolution is that today people are beginning to get information from other people rather than from organizations. And advertisers would be wise to understand that "people don't listen to marketers, they listen to the market." (I believe, I got that right but my writing hand was showing signs of fatigue by the time Groves hit the podium. Plus he was so interesting, one just wanted to listen.)
Groves gave the audience some insights into how the paper is taking advantage of social media tools such as Twitter. He talked very positively of reporter Kate Dubinski's use of Twitter to keep London Free Press followers up-to-date during the recent biker murder trial held in London.
He made it clear that the paper was not at all sloppy when it came to setting up their Twitter approach to covering the news. Almost everyone involved was consulted, including the presiding judge. The judge said O.K. And they learned from the experience and will include even more people in the loop the next time they pull the Twitter tool from the new media tool box.
When Groves was done, one young man was heard to exclaim, "Steve Groves rocks!" Actually, he said it with more enthusiasm and with stronger, more colourful, youthful language, but I have given it my best crack at an accurate translation. Other young people and older attendees were equally as positive if not as colourful with their praise.
Our online editor/journalist at the paper may have hung up his journalistic spikes when he started playing on the Net but I got the feeling that Steve Groves is just suiting up. With Groves on the Free Press news team, and a fine team it is, there may be hope yet for my hometown paper.