James Evelegh’s roundup of some of the news stories that caught his eye since November/December issue of InPublishing magazine.
Peter Preston: a giant of the newspaper world.
In a further sign of the ever-blurring lines between different media sectors, The Scottish Sun, in tandem with sister News UK company Wireless Group, launched three radio stations in January: Scottish Sun Hits (“back-to-back chart hits”), Scottish Sun 80s (“tracks from the 1980s”) and Scottish Sun Greatest Hits (“classic hits from the 1970s onwards”). The launch follows the success of a number of pop-up stations last year. “People tuning in can expect a generous helping of The Scottish Sun's renowned fun factor,” warned Scottish Sun editor, Alan Muir.
Richard Bogie, general manager of News Scotland, said: “We’ve invested heavily in these new stations and in the marketing campaign that will launch them over the next few weeks. These new Scottish Sun stations will be key to [our strategy in 2018], growing our reach and creating excellent opportunities for advertisers and commercial partners."
Looking to get in on the new trend for voice activated content, Time Out launched a conversational app on the Google Assistant before Christmas, to help users discover the best things to do in London. To access the content, users can say “Talk to Time Out” on the Google Assistant to start what the publishers promise is a “fun and engaging” two-way conversation.
“…a generous helping of The Scottish Sun's renowned fun factor…”Questions might include, “Ask Time Out what I should do tonight?”, “Are there any Christmas markets?”, “I want to go ice skating,” “What’s a good theatre show this week?”, “Where should I go on a date?”, “What’s a great restaurant to go to tonight?”, “Surprise me” or, intriguingly, “What’s the word on the street?”
Alice Zimmermann, of Google’s global product partnerships team, commented: “We’re at the beginning of a massive shift towards conversational interfaces. Time Out has an extraordinary wealth of local content tailored for different audiences including families, singles, professionals, and couples.”
I have to say that I’m not so sure about the “fun and engaging” bit. As the result of a rash Christmas purchase, the Evelegh family is now the proud owner of an Alexa – is that even the right way of saying it – and I have to say I find it lifeless and robotic, which of course it is. Useful, though, and full of potential. After one glass of mulled wine too many, I boldly put it to the test, asking ‘when was the battle of Bosworth’ and ‘who scored the winning goal in the 1978 FA Cup final’. It knew the first (1485) but not the second (Roger Osborne). I also had problems turning it off the other night, resulting in a bit of a shouting match. All that probably tells you more about me than it does Alexa…
Back in the less “fun”, but probably more profitable world of B2B, there was evidence that depth continues to win over breadth. Euromoney’s stated strategy is to “manage a portfolio of businesses in asset management and other sectors where information, data and convening market participants are valued. We deliver products and services that are critical to our customers’ business.”
In terms of ‘portfolio management’, the company has gone on a bit of a divestment spree, selling Adhesion Group, its wine exhibition business, its minority equity stake in Dealogic, and most recently, Institutional Investor Journals to Pageant Media. For a company whose full name is Euromoney Institutional Investor plc, that last deal shows there’s little room for sentiment in today’s publishing environment.
In the B2B world, data is gold dust, and November saw the roll out by Reed Business Information’s Proagrica division of Agility, its new data platform for the agri-food supply chain which collects, aggregates, cleans and delivers accurate and timely data from multiple sources, or so the press release said.
Agility aims to give businesses, across the agriculture supply chain, competitive advantage through actionable insights and data analytics.
From farm production to food manufacturers, brands and grocers, the millions of aggregated data points Agility delivers, enable those companies to personalise recommendations for their customers, make immediate improvements to the customer experience, improve productivity and deliver business efficiency.
“…delivering unprecedented results…”“This is nothing short of a business revolution,” says Nick Evans, Head of Agility. “Agility is delivering unprecedented results for the onboarded businesses so far.”
Well, you might well observe, he would say that, wouldn’t he, but RBI has already proved its ability to go large in the data arena, with its successful ICIS (chemicals) and Accuity (banking) data-centred businesses.
A matter of trust
Trust and reliability is at the core of any data product, and is also at the heart of some recent initiatives of consumer and news media to take advantage of the ongoing travails of the social media platforms.
December saw the unveiling of the IPSO mark, a visual symbol that can be used by publications to show their commitment to professional standards and an edited, regulated product.
IPSO’s Chief Executive, Matt Tee said: “The newspaper and magazine industry faces a number of complex challenges over the short term and I firmly believe that one of the ways in which it can thrive and prosper is by its commitment to independent, effective regulation. That means IPSO, and that’s why I’m proud that so many of our member publications will proudly display our mark on their pages.”
As I noted in my InPubWeekly column at the time, higher standards are indeed what it’s all about, but having a code and being regulated doesn’t necessarily translate into the highest standards. The Editors’ Code says: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”, yet an unwillingness to provide context and an increasing tendency towards agenda-driven journalism is blurring the lines between the regulated press and the unregulated fakers. To really separate ourselves from the fake news peddlers in the eyes of the public, we all need to demonstrate our commitment to abide by the spirit of the Editors’ code as well as the letter.
Also looking to cash in on the trust issue, News UK, Guardian News and Media and The Telegraph have joined forces to launch The Verified Marketplace, described as “an exclusive premium publisher marketplace for outstream video ad inventory”.
Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director, News UK: “With the introduction of The Verified Marketplace we have created a safe medium for advertisers who want to access verified inventory at scale. It is an encouraging development from the newsbrands that will give advertisers access to quality audiences on one single platform.”
Meanwhile, Haymarket is joining some of the world's leading media organisations in backing The Trust Project – a new global industry initiative designed to give audiences the transparency they demand when judging the quality of media.
Participants will display 'Trust indicators' on their websites, demonstrating their commitment to a common set of standards in the openness of the publisher's ethics and expertise. Apparently, Google, Facebook, Bing and Twitter have all agreed to use the indicators, and are investigating and piloting ideas about how to best use them to surface and display quality journalism. Each 'Trust indicator' is signalled in the article and site code, providing the first standardised technical language for platforms to learn more from news sites about the quality and expertise of a journalist's work, says Haymarket.
Haymarket Consumer Media Editorial Director Mark Payton said: “The Project's taking precisely the right approach by going to the heart of the issue. The research conducted before we began exploring the indicators revealed that the public is only too aware of the problems with modern media - they demand transparency, and this is the Project's primary aim.”
Three Haymarket sites will show the Trust Indicators early in the New Year - FourFourTwo, Stuff and WhatHiFi.com.
Talking of transparency, in December, Mail Newspapers announced that the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday will stop all multiple copy sales activity. ‘Bulks’ has been a highly contentious matter ever since the first ABC certificate was issued; is it a valid sampling technique or cynical wheeze to inflate the circulation figures. The reality was always a bit of both, but more and more newspapers have been ditching the practice.
As a result, Mail Newspapers’ circulation figures will no longer include any copies (currently around 60,000 copies per day) given free of charge by airlines to their customers in airport lounges and departure gates.
Demonstrating a commitment to professional standards…Dan Scott, circulation operation director: "We base analysis of our circulation on UK retail sale, which is a true reflection of customers walking into a shop and paying money for our newspapers."
Job losses continued to be a feature of the news business, and not only at traditional players. According to reports, BuzzFeed is to cut 45 of its 140 staff in London, including 24 journalists. Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: "At a time when other organisations are investing in digital for the long term, cutting back staff with these skills seems perverse.”
The NUJ has been especially busy of late, with Newsquest in particular in its sights. Two days of strike action at Swindon in early January, over what the NUJ says are poverty wages, job losses and excessive workload and the calling of an all-day mandatory NUJ chapel meeting at Darlington, served to up the ante.
Finally, I was sad to read of former Guardian editor Peter Preston’s death in early January. Over the past fourteen years, Peter had contributed regularly to InPublishing, most recently for our November / December issue. Over the years, he never turned me down, was always thoughtful and polite when interpreting / improving my article ideas, invariably submitted his copy early and to the right wordcount and his articles were unfailingly articulate, insightful and highly readable.
Alan Rusbridger wrote of his predecessor at The Guardian: “He combined great integrity, a stubborn toughness and a decent humanity with real strategic vision. The paper owes him an immense debt.”
As I wrote in my mini-tribute at the time, Peter was a giant of the newspaper world, respected at home and abroad. He will be missed.