Wednesday, August 31, 2005

BBC & linking practices

Cyberjournalist links to an interesting piece that again highlights significant differences between the BBC internet strategy and that of corporate media such as Murdoch. Unlike most privately owned media companies, BBC has taken to providing prominently placed links that -- gulp -- take visitors off-site to the relevant information.

It has long been standard practice not to link off-site for fear of losing audiences. The links come up in the column ABOVE their own BBC stories. Cyberjournalist quotes from the BBC site:
The Newstracker system uses web search technology to identify content from other news websites that relates to a particular BBC story. A news aggregator like Google News or Yahoo News uses this type of technique to compare the text of stories and group similar ones together.

BBC News gets a constantly updating feed of stories from around 4000 different news websites. The feed is provided to us by Moreover Technologies. The company provides a similar service for other clients.

Our system takes the stories and compares their text with the text of our own stories. Where it finds a match, we can provide a link directly from our story to the story on the external site.

Because we do this comparison very regularly, our stories contain links to the most relevant and latest articles appearing on other sites.

How do you choose which stories and which sites to link to?

The Newstracker system is automated. The BBC does not censor or change the results. But because there can potentially be scores of sites covering each story, the BBC does define some rules (algorithms) that help define which sites we link to at any point in time - and in what order these links appear.

In general, our rules tend to give greater weight to national and international sources over regional or local ones. We have a policy of only linking to English-language sites. The results are sorted in date order to provide the most recent stories at the top.
It has been noted in recent research that younger online news readers particularly like the way Google, Yahoo and similar sites provide a range of news sources and, indeed, prefer this to a single corporate site. By linking off-site BBC may well be appealing at least in part to those desires as well as reflecting a better understanding of how news media of the future may need to operate. Digitaledge reported earlier this year that Google News often has more visitors than Fox News site or CNN's.

Murdoch in context

With Rupert Murdoch jumping back into the Internet, it’s perhaps useful to view his moves within a broader context. One place to start is the political economy of the global media. Which inevitably leads to Robert McChesney’s critical political economy work, an approach that critiques media institutions, charting their economic structures and ideological roles.

In a brief article written several years ago for media watchdog FAIR, title The Titanic sails on: Why the internet won’t sink the media giants, he summarized an argument he makes across a number of volumes including The Political Economy of Global Communication: The internet is not going to level the playing field for small media or alternative voices; media giants will instead use it to become ever bigger, increasing concentration, not diminishing it. He admits that big media have made missteps in this process – at the time he wrote, remember, Murdoch was making some himself. But their resources were so vast mistakes could be made.

McChesney goes on to list a number of reasons behind his argument, namely:

  • Media giants have lots of money to invest -- and lose if necessary
  • They can draw on their own programming (and thus don’t have to create content)
  • They have the ability to cross promote / draw on global name brands
  • They aren't afraid of aggressive investment
  • Advertisers will turn to them

McChesney (1999, 2004) has argued repeatedly that this concentration of media is a major threat to democracy and that public policies concerning media ownership have been enacted, particularly in the US, not to serve the public but to serve the corporations . This is clear in the non-enforcement of anti-trust laws and lack of governmental concern about monopolies. Consider that in earlier posts Murdoch was quoted as seeing the Internet as the perfect space to avoid government regulation.

In his Fair article, McChesney notes “The moral of the story is clear: If we want a vibrant noncommercial and nonprofit sector on the Internet, in the near term it will require existing institutions like labor and progressive funders to subsidize such activities.” He has also advocated for beefing up the US public broadcasting system which has been severely attacked in the last few years, although the downward spiral began long ago.

In an interview with Mother Jones, he restated what he argues in his most recent volume, The problem of the media: US communication politics in the 21st century:

Now, the one thing that's clear is that we need nonprofit, noncommercial media — not just broadcasting — more than ever in the United States. We don't need a purely nonprofit, noncommercial system, but we need a significant nonprofit, noncommercial system. Advertising-run media, profit-driven media, simply is not acceptable as the entirety of our media system. There's no defense for it.

The current public television and radio system in the United States, while it's better than nothing, that's about the best you can say about it. It's nowhere near the standard it needs to be for our society, and we've got to make a commitment to rethink the system altogether. You know, just giving more money to what exists on PBS now would be not great; we've got to have a new vision of PBS.

Where I would differ with him is that I'm not really sure the US public system can be saved. Is it worth trying? Yes, but with the current environment, I' m not optimistic. Which seems to me to lead us to the other dominant model that has been outlined on this blog: the BBC and the potential of a global public sphere or at least some sort of transnational Anglo public service sphere. And that's another post.

Helpful sources:

McChesney lays out some of his thinking early on in The Internet and U. S. Communication Policy-Making in Historical and Critical Perspective (Winter, 1996) Journal of Communication 46(1).

Rich media, poor democracy. (1999) Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press.

The problem of the media: US communication politics in the 21st century (2004). New York: Monthly Review Press. Some page summaries of important points can be found on the Third World Traveler pages.

A number of other academics have considered the political economic structure of the US media system including:
Ben Bagdikian. (2004) The Media Monopoly. Boston: Beacon Press. (New edition)
Jeffrey Blevins has written about media oligarchs colonizing cyberspace (published as an article in Television and New Media (2002) 3(1), 95-112.

MyBBC

As has been noted before, the BBC has a rather different Internet strategy than say, Rupert Murdoch. On Saturday, Director General Mark Thompson announced the possible 2006 release of MyBBCPlayer,which would allow audiences to download video and audio for up to a week. The Washington Post reports that details are sketchy -- would there be any fees? what about digital rights?

Thompson was quoted saying: "I accept the premise that if the BBC remains nothing more than a traditional TV and radio broadcaster then we probably won't deserve or get license-fee funding beyond 2016," he said. "That is very definitely not our plan."

He notes on the BBC's own website that they intend to change the nature of broadcasting. The BBC Board of Governors still needs to approve the plan.

Manchesteronline reports the content would be available only to license fee payers. This raises interesting issues mentioned in earlier posts -- what is the possibility of non-Brits paying a "license fee" of some sort to access the content? Would BBC become a truly global -- or at least post national -- public service entity?

They also quote Thompson and it's pretty interesting:

"Far from posing a threat, Mr Thompson said the BBC's public value mission made more sense in a multi-media world.

He said: 'It's an environment in which the original promise of public service broadcasting the very best available to all could actually be achieved.'

Mr Thompson said: 'Pessimists suggest that the BBC might disappear amid the infinite choice of the broadband/on demand world.

'That's because they have the wrong conceptual model in their heads - a model of some mad cornershop with a trillion different coloured sweets in different jars.

'Everything we know about the online world suggests that it's the big brands the eBays, the Amazons, the Microsofts that punch through.

'And the BBC is one of the big brands. In content terms one of the biggest on-line brands in the world and by far the biggest British one.'

More to come on this I'm sure.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Back to the Future: Murdoch and the Internet

I thought it might be helpful when thinking about Rupert Murdoch’s recently enhanced Internet presence to look back at his previous involvements with dot.coms. Some of the current news reports that suggest he has little experience with the online world are a bit simplified. For five years ago, just like now, Murdoch suddenly saw the potentials of the Internet and vowed to spend billions investing in it.


Wired quoted his philosophy at the time (and doubtless it hasn't changed much): "Governments can regulate satellites," he says. "You have licensing of the satellite spectrum, and you can identify people with dishes. But once the Internet starts to pass through you, it's pretty hard to do much about it. You can't afford to say, 'We won't develop a telephone system so people can't have the Internet.' You'll just rot as a country, you'll be left so far behind."

Here’s a rough timeline. I should note that he was involved in a large number of entities and I’m still checking on some of the information below.

1999

At the end of the last decade, Murdoch was still dismissing the Internet, claiming it would "destroy more businesses than it creates". But by that summer, he had changed his mind. His youngest son, James (now apparently next in line since the departure of big brother Lachlan), his son-in-law Alasdair MacLeod, and his wife, Wendi Deng, had convinced him to consider the potentials of the Internet.

According to some media reports, James had hammered home the importance of having an Internet strategy; other sources noted that Rupert had finally discovered the joys of e-mail.

Whatever the case, Murdoch decided set aside $2.3 billion for Internet investments, in some cases trading News Corp advertising platforms for media, in other cases drawing on company earnings. He called various associates together – apparently during his Italian honeymoon to Deng, and laid out plans.

This eventually included:

  • News Network, a new UK internet division; launched websites Revolver.com and Firedup.com; Learnfree.co.uk.
  • BSkyB invsted in LetsBuyIt.com
  • James’ News Digital Network invested in a bunch of struggling or failing Internet ventures including: Sixdegrees.com, a community site; Juno.com, an internet service provider; PlanetRX, a healthcare site; TheStreet.com, a financial website
  • Joined up with Japanese businessman Masayoshi Son in his venture, Softbank, an internet investment vehicle and announced they would bring up to 12 of the US’ leading Internet companies to the UK. They started ePartners, to invest in internet businesses. He convinced other major investors to buy into ePartners2, including IBM, Lord Rothschild, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.
    Through this, he bought a part interest in buy.com, the UK e-tailer that sells books, CDs and computer equipment at discounted prices; other UK investments for epartner included Riot-E, the wireless entertainment provider, and Ripcord Systems, the wireless enterprise solutions company.

  • Committed $1 billion to Healtheon Web/MD which aimed to provide online health care services. Son James was said to have gotten his father interested in the company.
Months later, the older executives at News Corps got Murdoch to pull back. News Corps wasn’t making money with these ventures, and faced a cash shortage. Nearly all of these ventures listed above lost money or had their plug pulled because they were not going to be able to survive without large cash infusions.

BY 2001, Murdoch had pulled out of Web/MD which failed to revolutionize the health care industry and earned News Corp, which had promised to invest $1 billion and already invested several million, nothing. EVentures olded after 18 months.

Murdoch renounced the Internet and News Corp dropped its online plans, fired online employees and shed much of its online presence.

By November 2000, Murdoch decreed the Internet couldn’t make money. BBC reported a couple of months later, his fling was over.

Almost five years late, in February 2005, 50 News Corps executives from around the world met to discuss their Internet strategy. In April, Murdoch called a group of news media executives too complacent in thinking about the impact of the Internet on their finances, declaring -- you guessed it -- the future of the news and entertainment worlds lies with the Internet.


Friday, August 26, 2005

Whose kind of town?

Joining the list of UK presenters heading for the U.S. is Johnny Vaughan, host of ABC’s new "late summer alternative" hybrid variety-reality show My Kind of Town, which debuted on Sunday night, August 14, at 9 p.m. The show (which apparently isn't based on a UK original) is co-produced by ABC and UK production company Monkey, though Monkey seems to be calling the creative shots. The executive producers are Monkey's Will Macdonald and David Granger, plus Michael Davies, "the UK-born producer who took Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to the US." ABC decribes the show thus:
    My Kind of Town is a relentlessly energetic primetime studio show in which real American people, in all of their imperfect and awkward glory, have the chance to become the stars of their own show for one memorable night. Each week a lucky handful of residents selected from among the townspeople in the audience will participate in individualized comedic games and gags for prizes tailored to their own lives, interests and needs. One person from the group is chosen to play the big end game, where they will shoulder the burden of either winning or losing a huge prize for the other audience members - all of whom they will see every day for the rest of their lives. No pressure!

Vaughan, who has a Cockney wide-boy demeanor, has done a bunch of British TV, though I remember him for his stint on C4's The Big Breakfast. The ABC web site describes Vaughan as one of the UK's "favorite comedic forces on TV and radio." As Media Guardian points out, Vaughan follows other UK summer travellers, such as Vernon Kay and Gordon Ramsay, who have been in the U.S. presenting American versions of their British shows this summer - respectively, Hit Me Baby One More Time and Hell's Kitchen.

First ratings results showed that "Town" did alright, though not great. Media Life Magazine thinks that "the show’s lack of focus perhaps led viewers to turn away. It wasn’t among the summer’s worst bombs by any stretch but it also shows little promise for coming weeks." Still, Media Guardian notes that the show's first episode "finished up third in its slot, with 7.1 million viewers, but second among the 18- to 49-year-old viewers who are the holy grail for US advertisers." But the Guardian also quotes the Hollywood Reporter, whose reviewer "was not that impressed with the show or Vaughan, describing him as 'heavily accented (and equally heavily annoying)'" (an assessment I agree with).

Celeb Weeklies, still OK?

Brit Richard Desmond's high profile launch of OK is already in trouble, Media Guardian reports. Despite dumping $10 mill into advertising the new pub, its sales are off. Way off. Perhaps only a tenth of the initial run was sold.

What does this mean, if anything? Desmond miscalculated? The Brit touch for scandal pubs has turned cold? Media Life gave it a big thumbs down, panning Jessica Simpson as cover girl and scolding the magazine for using old gossip and photos and gracious me,, lacking US Weekly''s "wit and Star's cheek."


Business2.com says OK isn't the only problem with this genre, suggesting that celeb weeklies are in a bubble that's about to burst.


The market seems solid, if you consider these Audit Bureau stats for OK's rivals, as reported in the Guardian: US Weekly, 1.67 million weekly; Star sells 1.4; National Enquirer 1.32; In Touch sells 1.23. (People sill rules with 3.78 mill readers.) Business2.com says US Weekly is in fact up some 30 percent and In Touch by nearly 50 percent over last year. Media Life doesn't see any slowing to this phenomenonal growth (but notes that the newsweeklies are off in sales.)


Yet Greg Lindsay of Business2.com argues the bubble will indeed burst as titles beget spinoffs and oversaturate the market. He believes that the distribution model based on supermarket check-out sales, which follows the British (and European) model, means there will simply not be enough slots to accommodate so many new titles. " '
Nobody owns those pockets,' Bauer CEO Hubert Boehle gloomily told me this spring. 'Everybody has to go to the chains and rent them. Any newcomer can step in with an offer that, if it’s strong enough, can knock your magazines from the best spots.' "

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Don't be fooled . . .

Doctor Media's been adding some excellent posts over the past few days, while I've been taking a break and communing with nature (that's what I call it whenever I get in a tent). After all, August is here. While there's still lots going on, it seems that following a period over the summer where the stream of British news had been constant in USA media-land, things have died down a tad - at least for the moment, and at least in terms of the big news stories. We've stopped hearing so much about the London terrorist bombings. Gleneagles and Live8 are already distant, all-but-forgotten memories. No-one seems to be talking about Making Poverty History anymore. All is silent on the 2012 London Olympics front. America is consumed by the missing Aruba teenager and (maybe if they're looking for more serious news) Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protest and the Israeli evacuation of Gaza. Maybe this is as good a time as any to take a breather.

But hang on, not so fast! While the U.S. news world takes a break from blighty, the steady drumbeat UK's hidden and not-so-hidden influence on U.S. news and entertainment continues relentlessly, even during the dog days of summer. Just think of all the British institutions and people who are having an impact on the U.S. media landscape right now (many of whom we've aleady commented on in London Calling).

Of course we all know about the BBC, The Independent and The Guardian. But what about Granada International and Celador Productions? What about the WPP advertising agency? Pearson (owner of the FT)? Conde Nast? News International (the UK arm of News Corporation, and home of The Sun and BSkyB)? And don't forget Richard Branson's Virgin.

Then there's Tina Brown and her husband Harold Evans; Christopher Hitchens and Richard Curtis; Martin Walker; the defection of and any number of tabloid journos and serious journalists heading to the US for the big bucks; Ricky Gervais in the world of comedy.

Let's not forget Daniel Battsek (of Miramax) and Howard Stringer (of Sony); then there's dodgy Richard Desmond and OK! (see also here). And now there's James Goldston at ABC's Nightline. In hard news and TV entertainment, in magazine and book publishing, in the big city tabloids, the British influence is palpable and incessant. And yes, the list really does go on. (Btw, a few weeks ago I put up a list of UK media figures - culled from the Guardian's "Top 100 media figures in the UK"; there's a bunch of extra names in there to consider.)

So things aren't as quiet as they seem. All that's happened is that the temporary blip of Big British News Events has settled back down to the constant background noise - a drumbeat, even - of the UK's continuing (and expanding) media presence in the United States. So even if we hear less about London's war on terrorism or Blair's electoral capital or the London Olympics or Britain's EU Presidency or its war of African poverty, don't be fooled.

There's still a lot going on.

Economist - even more American?

How much longer before The Economist can't even be considered a British magazine anymore? The Times reports that the magazine, which already has more than half its circulation (around 500,000) in the US, wants to expand by buying other US pubs.

Right now, they own Roll Call, a political mag, and CFO, for biz pros, but the company -- half owned by Pearson which also owns the FinTimes -- has $73 million on hand and wants to spend it. Editors told the Times they want more US advertising and buying American properties would mean less dependence on a single pub.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

More Murdoch

The Guardian gives a bit more detail on Murdoch.com's plans, noting that Murdoch was criticized for not getting into the Internet biz in the '90s but now gloats over having not experienced the dot com crash that followed.

Another piece mocks his entry into the Internet world as septuagenarians dancing to Girls Aloud. Emily Bell writes that "His vision for News Corp on the web, which in America means Fox Interactive Media, has undertones of portals and keeping your audience tied in - something which is a long way behind the latest curve, where content flies freely across whichever platform the users choose."

Whether Rup can adapt to the culture of the Internet remains to be seen, but he is right about one thing: Old media such as newspapers are not the wave of the future (or as LA Weekly columnist Nikki Finke so indelicately calls them, newsosaurs).

Meanwhile son Lachlan has already announced the launch of his own new company called Illyria, which the Guardian reports might be either a Shakespeare ("The Twelfth Night") or a "Buffy the Vampire" slayer reference. Most reports are going with Shakespeare. He is forbidden by contractual obligations from competing against Daddy's company.

Murdoch roundup

Much has been written in the last few weeks about the resignation of Rupert Murdoch's son, Lachlan, 33, from News Corp. where he published the New York Post among other things for the $85 billion company. This is bigger than a single post can cover but I did want to note a couple of things here.

The first and most obvious is that an Anglo geo-linguistic triangle is complete: Rupert began in Australia and moved to London's Fleet Street where he benefitted from Margaret Thatcher's deregulation schemes to challenge the unions and remake the industry. He brought that tabloid sensibility to the US and among other things started Fox. Therein lies his enormous significance to anyone interested in the British media's influence in the US. He posted a second son, James, a Harvard drop-out and one-time rap impressario, back to England to run BSkyB and now Lachlan returns to Australia.

Rupert is not British, but his time in Britain, (let's not overlook the British PM connection here as with Tony B) helped him hone a particular view of how to operate media businesses in a way that gave up on public service, instead emphasizing entertainment.

A round-up:

The Economist reports that Lachlan was not "obsessively interested" enough in running the family business to suit Rup.

The New York Times reported that Lachlan's relationship with Rup had recently frayed due to his father's constant interference in how he ran his share of the business. Also a factor was Wendi Deng, Rup's third wife and mother of his two toddlers, now called one of the most powerful women in the world.

As HDougie noted earlier, Peter Chernin and Rogers Ailes are moving into more powerful positions. Murdoch appointed Ailes chairman of Fox Television Stations Group, and thus control of 35 local affiliates, Fox News Channel and Twentieth Television. Not to worry about a Republican political strategist gaining ever more power at Fox, though. The NYT reports on a study that PROVES watching Fox doesn't affect one's politics one iota. Uh-huh.

MSNBC ponders: Why did Lachlan quit? Answer: News Corp is a jungle.

Other important Murdoch news is his acquisition of My Space which Business Week describes as a move aimed at establishing Murdoch.com.

The 74-year-old spent $580 million to buy Intermixwhich owns the world's most popular social networking site.. The site happens to be popular with teenagers and college students. Murdoch also bought Scout Media, a college sports site, as well. My Space has been trying to do damage control as the news that the right-wing Bush apologist had taken over what has been perceived as a free-wheeling, grass-roots venture.

In recent weeks, Murdoch has also created Fox Interactive Media, the entity that will overlook My Space. This comes on the heels of a speech he gave last spring and described here earlier that the media company had not made good use of the Internet and needed to evolve its approach.

Meanwhile, Smart Money says Rup has vowed to spend a $1 billion or more to be a dominant Internet presence. His plans include starting a web portal, buying a search engine and possibly other web businesses. Rumored targets include Technorati and Blinkx. Rup also denies he's been trying to buy out Skype, which enables free calls via the Internet. His ultimate aim, says Business Week, is to bypass other portals and deliver all that Fox content straight to audiences worldwide.

The FinTimes reports Murdoch is after IGN, a video gaming company, whose sites are aimed at young men and include GameSpy (video game news), Rotten Tomatoes (film) and Filmforce (film). The Pink Paper points out that Murdoch has moved rather quickly in making these acquistions and that buying Scout Media and Intermix upped their online visitors from 16 million a month to nearly 50. Just last June, IGN bought Askmen.com, another guy-oriented site. And finally, FT notes that Murdoch was also bidding for an Australian real estate site.

Other related items:

Ketupa.net provides a large annotated bibliography of all volumes Murdoch as well as a comprehensive News Corp site.

And, last but not least, Women's Wear Daily updates us on what we really want to know: Murdoch's re-decorated London flat including its bullet-proof sliding glass doors.

Friday, August 12, 2005

GOP vs. Brit musicians

Political Wire reports that Republicans plan to hold fund raisers at the Rolling Stones' Washington concert, apparently in response to their song, "Sweet Neo-Con" on the new "A Bigger Bang" album set for September release. (More lyrics: "How come you're so wrong? My sweet neo-con, where's the money gone, in the Pentagon" and "It's liberty for all, democracy's our style, unless you are against us, then it's prison without trial.")

The Stones continue to say the song is not anti-Bush, so reports the WAPO. (Surprised they had time to report this what with devoting all their resources to sponsor Rumsfeld's Pro-war rally at the Pentagon next month). Some bloggers are calling the Stones cowards for their denials -- it actually seems like Bush strategy -- just deny the obvious.

Also, a couple of Republican representatives (from Illinois and New York) are holding fund raisers at an Elton John concert in the US next month. The reps voted to ban gay marriage last year (Sir Elton plans to marry his boyfriend in December). Not the first time American politicians have tried to force their morals on other people but, really, do they think their districts now extend into the UK?

The Blair Effect?

Having recently encountered John Kampfner's Blair's Wars along with James Naughtie's The Accidental American; Tony Blair and the Presidency, I've been thinking about the nexus of Blair's reign as PM and the apparently rise of British media within the US. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, there are important, unexplored connections here.

Unanswered questions.

For one, did the British media's relationship with the US change in part because of the Blair administration? (This is not to say British PMs have never had special relationships with Americans -- witness Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that somehow were reflected in coverage). Of course, I'm not saying Blair ordered up a closer media relationship, but rather his own odd friendship and support of Bush in some ways reflects or even indirectly influenced the new rise of British media within the US. (The connections have long been there. Tunstall well documents this but this blog argues that those connections have grown larger and more complicated in the last few years, particularly post 911 when the US media have been unable to carry out a watchdog role in any meaningful manner). This is not to overlook changes driven by economics and the global economy, yet I am increasingly convinced that things would have played out differently under a different British PM.

Blair helped push a positive view of Britain to a much higher profile. (HDougie has earlier commented on how Americans have been exposed to the British parliamentary system via C-SPAN and seen how the PM is put to real questioning with no easy escape -- I've heard many Americans comment in awe about this comparative openness when contrasted with our own politicians).

Naughtie notes the extent to which Blair was feted by left and right in the US, with his well received speeches and appearances before Congress, with Bush at press conferences and in other arenas. Naughtie argues that Blair found 911 to be a seminal event in a way that many Europeans and even fellow Brits did not. This combined with positions he had already articulated concerning global poverty, climate change, terrorism, etc. before the hijackers struck as well as notions about himself as different or above his own party and politics came together under those unusual circumstances.

Of course many have asked the broader question of why did Blair team up so closely with Buch? According to Three Monkeys, which provides a nice summary of Kampfner's book,: "a general confluence of agreement on the issue of liberal intervention with a wing of the neo-conservatives; a desperate sense of wanting to be America’s best friend; there was the what I call pessimistic view of Britain’s role in the world, that it’s nothing if it’s not America’s best friend."

So, another question: Does the British media see itself as having to succeed with an American audience to be truly successful? Or is succeeding in the US part of a political-economic-social strategy of maintaining British power post-empire? The managers and executives would likely subscribe to the second Q -- carried out by willing reporters and editors who are perhaps more personally concerned with the first question.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

First the lads, now the lassies?

Following the British lead, women's magazines are seeing some changes this fall -- particularly the introduction of women's weeklies. Subscriptions are dropping to monthly women's pubs here and news-stand sales are becoming a more promising route of generating revenues.

While the British magazine market does operate rather differently than the US, it has already inspired the lad's magazine trend which targeted an untapped audience, introduced snappier writing with shorter stories and bolder covers designed to snag newsstand buyers.

Here in the US, August saw the launch of Hearst's Quick & Simple, inspired by the generally down market women's weeklies in Britain. Myrna Bly writing for the New York Sun, says the US women's market has been unusual because it did not cater to the down market women's weekly audience as much as is done in Europe and Britain.

In a related launch, Men's Vogue is planned for Sept. 6. The New York Observer reported a heavy hand from British magazine maven, Anna Wintour, (See Is Anna Wintour Satan or the thinly veiled fictional account: The Devil Wears Prada) who heads Vogue and is also said to have inspired Teen Vogue and now Men's Vogue which is edited by Jay Fielder, her former arts director. Conde Nast head SI Newhouse has long been said to fancy British editors and writers, having hired Tina Brown to helm first Vanity Fair, then the New Yorker as well as Wintour, and Glenda Bailey (formerly editor of first British, then US Marie Claire) at Harper's Bazaar.

Men's Vogue is said to be trying to differentiate itself from the men's magazines such as Men's Health that are how-tos and is instead aimed at a slightly older (30 and up), wealthier ($100K and up) reader. Fielder said of Wintour: she is "around the corner whenever I need to consult with her . . . She's ready to give advice whenever she feels like she needs to give it, and whenever she feels she can improve upon what it is we've already done to make it better."

Mick to George & the Neo-Cons: "You're full of ----!"

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, set to start their latest US tour, seem to be getting some satisfaction from their new tune, "Sweet Neo-Con." Wonkette reports the lyrics include: "You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite/You call yourself a patriot. Well, I think you're full of shit." The song is also said to criticize Secretary of State Condoleeza ("I NEVER said Ellen Degeneres was cute!") Rice.

Aussie TV reported that Mick says it's not an attack on Bush. "It certainly criticises policies he espouses I'm sure, " Sir Mick noted. Yahoo reports the real worries are from fellow rocker Keith Richards, who lives in the US, and apparently fears the sort of hysterical attack that the guardians of US "freedom" launched on the country group, the Dixie Chicks when they dared utter a negative word about Bush.

Sir Mick has said since he still lives in Britain, he's not afraid. Take note artists, if you want the "luxury" of infusing your art with political criticism. (Hey, we thought that's what good art was?)

The album, "A Bigger Bang," will be released on Sept. 5.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tina Brown's husband the new Alistair Cooke?

British newspaper veteran Sir Harold Evans seems to be easing himself into the shoes left behind by the late Alistair Cooke. Cooke is well known as one of the twentieth century's formost Anglo-Americans. He died in 2004 after having broadcast his famous "Letter from America" for nearly 60 years. (See his Wikipedia entry here). Now Evans is helming his own BBC Radio show that looks at America through British eyes: It's called "A Point of View". (The text of Evans' first piece is here).

A BBC piece on the passing of the baton notes the history and significance of Cooke's series:
    Letter from America kicked off in 1946 with a report on Britain's GI brides sailing on the Queen Mary to a new life in the US, and came to a close in February 2004 with a letter about the Democrats' growing belief that they could beat Bush in the Presidential election that year (which, of course, they didn't). A month later, Cooke died at the age of 95.

    But Letter from America had become the world's longest-running speech radio programme, listened to by millions of people in more than 50 countries.

    In his mellifluous tones (belying his origins as the son of an iron-fitter from Blackpool), Cooke, based in New York, painted a picture of a seemingly strange and vast continent for his British listeners - bridging the gap between two countries that, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, are "divided by a common language."

Harold Evans seems to be a worthy successor. After leaving the editorship of the Times of London in 1981 (he butted heads with its new owner, Rupert Murdoch) Evans "moved to America in 1984 where he and his wife Tina Brown - former editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and the short-lived but zeitgeisty Talk magazine - are about as well-connected as you can get." Wikipedia notes that "Evans was appointed president and publisher of Random House trade group from 1990 to 1997 and editorial director and vice chairman of US News and World Report, the New York Daily News, and The Atlantic Monthly from 1997 to January 2000, when he resigned to concentrate on writing."

Evans is as proud of his American side as his British character, and he hates simplistic, knee-jerk "America-bashing." The BBC piece suggests that "perhaps 'A Point of View' will be less 'A Letter from America' and more of a love letter to America - which, indeed, is how one critic described Evans' first book on American history [The American Century, published in 1998]."

It'll be interesting to see if Evans cultivates a global following - including in the United States - as loyal as that once enjoyed by Alistair Cooke.

Monday, August 08, 2005

John Simpson on Peter Jennings

(Copied from mediaville): With the sad death of former ABC anchor Peter Jennings, I've been looking around for good eulogies from the media. One of the best I've found so far comes from the BBC's John Simpson. He has a lot to say about America's best news anchor by far - in fact Simpson describes Jennings as "probably the best in the world at his trade." But crucially, Jennings "always maintained a wry awareness that reporting, and fronting other people's reporting, for television was something pretty slight in the grand scale of things." Simpson says a good deal about Jennings' personal and professional talents, but the most saddening passage is this:
    Peter did what he could to halt the downward spiral of television news in America - that terrible turning inward, which means the less you know about the world, the less you want to know about it, and therefore the less a ratings-obsessed industry decides to tell you. He often forced news items onto his programmes because they were important, not because the producers wanted them.

    He loathed the arrival of the Fox network, with its open, noisy adherence to a political agenda, and believed it would destroy the old-fashioned notion of honest and unbiased reporting forever.

    As for his own political opinions, I could never work them out. He would not tell me what he really thought about Clinton or George W Bush, and I eventually stopped asking him.

I really like that last bit. Poor old Peter Jennings. To this day, if I watch any network news broadcast, it'll be ABC - that is completely because of Jennings. I watched him for hours at the dawn of the new millennium and after 9/11, and many other times, and you could only respect the hell out of the fact that, somehow, he managed to stay above the mundance idiocy that increasingly surrounded him. Maybe his Canadian background helped; he maintained a small yet essential distance from America, even as middle America embraced him. I've said before that the people coming through America's news system are in no way comparable to the anchors of a generation ago. That's never more true when you consider the stature of Jennings against the pygmies and puffed-up, opinionated idiots that dominate news today. I don't care how many times you put Anderson Cooper or Brian Williams in a flak suit or on location overseas - these guys will never match up. Simpson puts it best:
    Now, though, he seems to me like the last, best example of a tradition that had already started to vanish long before his death - the tradition of Martha Gellhorn and Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite, people who went and found out what was really happening before they started to talk about it.

    Nowadays, most American and British writing and broadcasting about subjects like Iraq is done by people who do not go there. Peter Jennings did go there, and continued to go even when he knew he was dying.

    "What brings you here?" I asked him the last time I saw him, standing outside the Convention Centre in the Green Zone in Baghdad last January.

    "Oh, the usual. Just trying to find out what's going on."

    That was Peter's greatest art - or as he would have said, in his self-deprecating Canadian way, his skill. It is something which is fast disappearing.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Robin Cook, RIP

ROBIN COOKLess than two weeks ago I posted a blog titled "Where's Robin Cook? (Where's Noam Chomsky?)" (click on it here.) I complained that Cook, the former British foreign secretary and an erudute and level-headed anti-war spokesperson, was missing from any debate in America about the Iraq debacle, and that was a great loss. Well, now he'll be missing from all debate, tragically: Robin Cook collapsed and died earlier this afternoon, while on a hill-walking trip in the North-west of Scotland. As the BBC's obituary notes, "The Labour MP for Livingston was considered one of the Commons' most intelligent MPs and one of its most skilled debaters." Also, "His stance on the Iraq war - and his resignation speech - only enhanced his reputation as a man of principle and a great Parliamentarian."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Brit at the helm of Miramax

British-born Daniel Battsek is to take over at Disney's Miramax division, from October 1. Battsek will lead "the Walt Disney Co.'s specialty films division into a new post-Harvey and Bob Weinstein era." Also according to Hollywood Reporter Battsek "will bring London-based Buena Vista International executive Kristin Jones with him, Disney sources confirmed, though not as head of production."
    In the next few weeks, Battsek will move from the U.K. to New York, where the Miramax headquarters will continue to operate autonomously, separate from the parent studio. He has yet to decide where the new offices will be, though they will likely be housed in one of the buildings in Lower Manhattan that Disney leases for Miramax. "We will not be at Disney," he said. "We will have our own address. I was very determined that New York was the right place for an independent label, not a studio lot, given the way in which independent productions are created there."

Battsek has an interesting biography. He "began his industry career at the Hoyts Film Corp. in Sydney, where he rose to general manager in Victoria State overseeing distribution. He then served as managing director of Palace Pictures before joining Disney" in 1992, "after laying out plans for a U.K. distribution arm for the company. Having set up Buena Vista International U.K., he rapidly rose through the ranks, ending up executive vp and managing director of distribution and production for BVI U.K."

In 1999, Battsek helped set up the BVI U.K. Comedy Label, "which has produced three features, 'High Heels and Low Lifes' (2001), 'Hope Springs' and 'Calendar Girls' (both released in 2003). He has forged relationships with such filmmakers as Frears, Minghella, Christopher Nolan and John Madden."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

It's a celeb mag war, OK!

The Guardian Unlimited gives a bit more juicy detail on the arrival of the UK's OK! magazine in the US.

First, billionaire publisher Richard Desmond's story is a bit tantilizing. In a previous dust-up over starting up phone sex lines in NYC, he was ordered out of the city by the NYC mob which also, so the article says, may have sent a hit man to London to make sure orders were clear. Also, Desmond tried to strike a deal with Penthouse some years back and apparently lost big time, vowing not to do business with the Yanks again. So, this is a risky move indeed!

Secondly, the arrival of OK! is meant to be a direct challenge to People, the celeb magazine that tries to present itself as the clean version of an often smary topic (note: they're owned by Time Warner). Already there are reports of wars over celeb photos. Other competitors will be National Enquirer, Star, and US Weekly.

That's not all. USA Today reports that UK's Hello will launch a US version in 2006. It's not clear how the market can support them all. (Their story also includes a comparative chart of the leading celeb mags).

Again, I predict more boundary maintenance -- either from the "quality" media covering the story -- in order to tell audiences how trustworthy American media -- or the other celeb pubs pushing an anti-British line. Just a guess.

Also, I ran across an article from Columbia J-student, Katie Prout, with a quote from Christopher Hitchens concerning the differences between British and American reporters: "British magazine writers are taught to write with a point of view. You’re not supposed to be neutral. Be judgmental. Interest, enlighten, outrage and offend others. You’re there to do for the reader what they can’t do for themselves. Journalism cannot go too far."

Prout includes a long list of Brits who jumped ship to work in the US magazine industry and quotes a number of experts on why the two countries journalism styles differ. Reasons range from the Brits being more concise, more openly political, and better educated, to perceptions of their superior writing talents.

Brit magazine invasion continues

Yet another British magazine -- this one called "OK" and focused on celebrities is launching in the US this week. While the celebrity magazine field seems to be saturated, publisher Richard Desmond doesn't apparently think so.

The New York Sun reports that there are differences between OK and its US competition including the fact that Desmond is a more "colorful" publisher having come from a porn, er adult, magazine background. Not sure how that will play out . . . Also, OK pays for access to events which US celeb mags claim not to do. Newsday has this delicious quote from Bonnie Fuller, publisher of among others, the National Enquirer: "I don't think that most Americans would consider that paying for celebrities to give you a story would really fit with that requirement." (The various self serving quotes about the celeb rags -- see earlier posts about the National Enquirer's hiring of a new stable of British writers -- seems to be a case of boundary repair for American media. Oh, nooo, American scandal mongers have ethics! Not like those nasty Brits. Uh-huh.)

The bigger picture, it seems to me, is the import itself of British magazine styles, writers, editors and indeed magazines themselves . For example, the introduction of lad's magazines, a trend started by the British with Maxim in 1997 and followed by IPC's Loaded and Emap's FHM, which in some ways changed the world of men's magazines here -- targeting younger, hipper audiences; introducing new content and adapting the consumeristic styles of women's magazines to men's; and introducing new design styles.

Then there is the allure of British journalists for US magazines. Tina Brown is not a solidary example. Take Ed Needham, editor in chief of FHM, who was hired away by Rolling Stone to bring some juice to the aging publication (although Maxim later lured him away from RS.) Even the lowly Toby Young, a 20-something Briton who wrote "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," a biting memoir on his participation in US magazine culture, epitomizes this on-going pattern of US magazines relying on Brits at all levels. It seems fairly difficult to argue that US lacks in editors or writers, so clearly some other cultural phenomenon is at work.

Nightline's new honcho

As noted in an earlier post, Briton James Goldston is taking over as executive producer of Nightline. Today's Romenesko links to a New York Observer column on his remarks last week to staffers of the long-running news show. Some were concerned with his involvement with the infamous Michael Jackson documentary, others with the fact that he will commute from New York to Washington where the show is based rather than relocate.

Apparently the Oxford grad got off to a good start, promising more international reports, more aggressive reporting and more taking the show on the road. Goldston credentials include work on the second Iraqi war, Kosovo and the Good Friday peace agreement. That said, already in-progress moves to revamp the show will continue such as more of a focus on pop culture and more segments per show. I'm guessing this all could mean more of the sort of program that featured actor Don Cheadle ("Hotel Rwanda") reporting on the genocide in Sudan. The actor accompanied a Congressional delegation as part of a report that at least WAPO media critic Tom Shales appears to have approved of.

While I'm tempted to dismiss such an approach, having spent the last few weeks pondering Richard Curtis' "The Girl in the Cafe" (and here and here) and read Liesbet van Zoonen's "Entertaining the Citizen" about the intersection of politics and popular culture, I'm increasing reversing my thinking on this -- it may indeed be an effective way to reach American audiences.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

New MD, new role at BBC Worldwide

BBC Worldwide is to get a new managing director: Darren Childs, who moves over from Sony Pictures Television International. Childs' post is brand new, "created as a result of the restructuring of BBC Worldwide into six divisions - TV channels, TV sales, magazines, children's, home entertainment and new media." According to Media Guardian, "BBC Worldwide's channels business comprises 19 wholly-owned and joint venture television channels with current availability in more than 320m homes around the world. In 2004/2005 the business generated sales of £140.6m and a profit of £4m." (is it me or does that profits number seem low compared to the total for annual sales?)

Citizen journalists, citizens' pictures

CITIZEN JOURNALISTCitizen journalism and its increasing prominence during breaking news events is something we noted in the days following the 7/7 bombings in London (see e.g., the "Guardian's London bombing media coverage" and "More attack coverage" posts). It is also the subject of a recent piece, "From the editor's desktop", by editor and acting head of BBC News Interactive, Pete Clifton. Clifton notes:
    One of the features of the appalling attacks in London this month has been the extraordinary range of material we have received from our readers. Many of the defining images of the bombings on 7 July came originally from users of this site who were caught up in the incidents in some way. . . . In the weeks since then we have received tens of thousands of e-mails, bringing pictures, video, eye-witness accounts and sometimes valuable tip-offs about alerts in various parts of the capital.

    The contributions of our readers have not been a sideshow, they have been at the heart of our coverage. It's hardly something to celebrate at a time of such alarm and uncertainty, but there has without question been another step change in the relationship we have with our readers, their comments and pictures.

(Clifton points to some examples of the images received by the BBC here).

Clifton is also quoted by Mark Glaser, writing in Online Journalism Review (published by USC Annenberg). The article generally praises online news sources, which, Glaser says, "were at the top of their game on July 7 and beyond." But the BBC receives a special mention for its coverage. The BBC Web site, according to Clifton "experienced its most trafficked day ever on July 7 and was inundated with eyewitness accounts from readers - 20,000 e-mails, 1,000 photos and 20 videos in 24 hours." Replying via email Clifton told OJR : "It certainly did feel like a step-change [on July 7] . . . We often get pictures from our readers, but never as many as this, and the quality was very high. And because people were on the scenes, they were obviously better than anything news agencies could offer. A picture of the bus, for example, was the main picture on our front page for much of the day."

Glaser also posts as a sidebar the Nielsen/NetRatings figures for the most-visited news websites on July 7, 2005, in thousands of [U.S.] unique visitors, with the percentage change from the day before." Note that the BBC doesn't make it into the Top 10, by this measure - but it does show easily the largest day-on-day increase.

1. Yahoo! News . . . . . . . . .6,888 (+21%)
2. MSNBC . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5,437 (+45%)
3. CNN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5,162 (+24%)
4. AOL News . . . . . . . . . . . 3,173 (+22%)
5. NYTimes.com . . . . . . . . 1,855 (-1%)
6. Fox News . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,787 (+55%)
7. Internet Broadcasting . . 1,643 (+12%)
8. drudgereport.com . . . . . 1,491 (+11%)
9. Gannett Newspapers . . .1,453 (+26%)
10. washingtonpost.com . . 1,378 (+7%)
11. BBC News . . . . . . . . . . 1,314 (+138%)
12. USATODAY.com . . . . . . 1,289 (+53%)
13. Tribune Newspapers . . . 1,279 (-11%)
15. Google News . . . . . . . . . 1,125 (+13%)
16. Knight Ridder Digital . . 1,026 (+12%)

Glaser's piece also has a mention for the Guardian web site, which didn't make it in the U.S. Top 15. He points out that "the BBC and Guardian both had reporters' blogs that were updated as events unfolded, and group blogs such as BoingBoing and Londonist became instant aggregators of online information." Also of interest, Glaser notes: "both the BBC and MSNBC.com gave particular citizen journalists who survived a bit more room to tell their story on instant diaries set up for the occasion." (However, he also notes that "the diarist on the BBC, a woman who would only identify herself as Rachel (previously just "R"), was not totally thrilled about becoming a media sensation herself.")

Monday, August 01, 2005

Tectonic rifts at NewsCorp

As Doctor Media noted the other day, Rupert Murdoch's eldest son Lachlan quit as NewsCorp's deputy chief operating officer (though he'll retain a seat on the board). Rupert, 74, is said to be "saddened" by his son's decision. Yeah fine, but what's really going on? Now the media (well, those media not controlled by Murdoch at any rate) are buzzing about serious rifts between the leading members of the Murdoch clan; Lachlan is said to have "chafed" under his father's domineering style. And there are apparent rifts over the potential divvying up of family spoils, which would include Rupert's third wife and their two toddler children. Many might think that this leaves the door open for Rupe's second son, James (head of BSkyB), to take over, though the Wall Street Journal notes that, at least for the short term, News Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin might be best placed to take the top spot should the elder Mr. Murdoch step down. And rumors continue that News Corp could become the target of a takeover bid by Liberty Media Corp., controlled by "media titan" John Malone.