Charter exposed – exclusive!

Nothing exposes the UK political parties’ determination to pursue their “Royal Charter” on press regulation more than the court case that is unfolding re Brooks, Coulson, et al.

It’s clear that the law is throwing the book at a small number of executives from one company. We can speculate and ultimately determine whether this is justified or not. But current legal process is in play.

What this case exposes is the stupidity of government intervention in the running of the industry. The defendants are facing serious charges across a range of established legal frameworks that already recognise decency, privacy, honesty and the rights of individuals.

The press industry has responded resolutely to the issues that the case has raised, and as I’ve written before, the witchhunt for further vengeance does nothing but demean the UK’s image as a society of freedom of expression. The laws demonstrably already exist.

Meanwhile in Scotland, The First Minister, Alex Salmond, has uncharacteristically missed a trick. His initial response to the Leveson machinations was to argue for a free press in Scotland, separate from the UK. The subsequent farcical McLuskey report destroyed any opportunity for debate regarding Scotland’s devolved position on press freedom.

The Scottish publishers correctly, at the time, aligned themselves to the position being taken in London. That, as I predicted, has not landed perfectly. Hence an opportunity:

The Scottish Government, which is seeking broader international recognition, with ambitions for independence, has an opportunity to distance itself from a dubious process that has seen the UK’s rating on the World Press Freedom Index fall from 18 to 28.

There is a strong correlation between the quality of press freedom, and economic prosperity, which is seriously observed by the World Bank and IMF. Both UK and Scottish governments need to take notice.



2014 will be the year of renaissance …. for some

2014 could be the year of recovery, rejuvenation and renaissance? The road map signals routes to success as well as barriers in the road.

All the signs are that there are strong reasons for optimism. But not for all.

On the upside there is:

  • Evidence is appearing at last of economic recovery with growths in GDP, consumer and infrastructural spending, and business confidence, the drivers of the economic multiplier.
  • Tablets appear to be injecting a new life into the news publishing industry, with higher levels of audience engagement, rapidly growing (>100%) advertising and content revenues, and significant, ongoing growth in tablet adoption.

But for many publishers there are downsides:

  • Macro-level analysis of the industry suggests that “on average” western newspaper companies currently have a half-life trajectory of seven to nine years in terms of revenues, and for most a tougher projection regarding profitability.
  • Analysis of company performance and finances suggests that around one in five Western newspaper companies currently have a sustainable strategy for growth.
  • For most the incremental benefits from digital are not replacing the declines in print, in either audience engagement, or consequentially in revenues.

But many publishers have achieved or are approaching their point of inflection by following four identifiable steps.




Is digital first ….. yet?

Interesting interview with Jim Brady, president of the Online News Association and editor-in-chief of Digital First Media, on the Reynolds Institute website.

Digital First have been attracting the interest of publishers around the world due to their aggressive move into the digital arena inspired by their charismatic leader John Paton.

What caught my eye was that, when I was analysing ComScore audience engagement measurements in the USA, their flagship title got the highest rating in the country.

I’ve been quite dubious about the “digital first” strategy because of 1. Our continuing dependence on print, and 2. Our seeming inability to generate sufficient engagement with our digital audiences.

So perhaps Brady’s three key messages are a compass:

“Put digital people in charge.” If this is where you want to be then don’t rely on traditionalists (and we have a lot), to get you there.

“Appropriate compensation plans for your sales people.” If you want digital revenues to grow fast (and newspapers’ share of digital advertising is woefully  behind the market), then sales people need the incentives to deliver.

“Spend money on newsroom equipment.” Since strategic analysis points to the engagement index as the critical factor for our industry’s future, linkage between audience measurement and content management will become the differentiators between the leaders, the average and the once-weres.

The Digital First Media story is both an inspiration and a success. It may not be for every publisher, but certainly it is a lesson in the value of conviction.