Directors' blog

Links, thoughts and updates from the directors of Dim Sum Digital.

Archive for April, 2008

If the media landscape is booming, why aren’t media companies?


The above title kicked off a panel Q&A session which included the author of The Long Tail, Chris Anderson (thanks to a web hook-up) at the Journalism Leader’s Forum debate last night.

Chris spoke about the well-known challenges facing established news organisations and his belief that market forces would shake-out the chaos leaving the nimble survivors to reap the rewards which are no longer the right of the big players.

The thrust of his argument (which you can see on video here) was that bloggers and other content creators who don’t have the overheads of print and broadcast companies, are providing a vibrant competitive market.

It’s a strong argument. And it’s the argument which the news industry needs to face up to. Three words from Chris which summed this up for me were “attention, time and reputation”. Those are the battlegrounds – grabbing attention, getting the users’ time and establishing a reputation”.

Being experienced professionals we should be good at grabbing attention and keeping people engaged so is it reputation where news organisations get unstuck? Having a good offline reputation doesn’t necessarily give us a good online reputation whereas the blogger or VJ just starting out can create their reputation purely online with no baggage. It’s going back to that being part of the web, not merely on the web, argument.

So what’s the best strategy to get “attention, time and reputation”?

Sadly the debate last night didn’t address this. Instead the panel returned to the well-trodden paths of the need to “control”, there was talk of “access” and “gatekeepers”.

Er, sorry to be the one to break it to you guys (and it was all male), the horse hasn’t just bolted, he’s built his own nice new stable in your garden.

While Chris’ free market model may be a step too far for those who believe the media (particularly local media) fulfills a wider community function than money-making, unless news organisations accurately identify and address the challenge, the war might just be over before a battle has been conducted.

 Some comments from the debate can be found on Twitter using the tag #chrisanderson

Written by sarahhartley

April 30th, 2008 at 8:25 am

Notes from DEN April 29; Making money

leave a comment

This post is some brief notes and thoughts from yesterday’s Digital Editor’s Networkget together at UCLAN, Preston.

At this new blog, I’m doing things a little differently from my norm and putting into practice some of the lessons I’ve learned and promoted over the years. Publishing some notes and thoughts in this way may lead to a more formal article at some point – may not. There may be themes I return to – may not. What happens to it next could be down to the responses but the process of what happens (if anything) will all be trackable.

OK first up on yesterday’s meeting. Where were the girls?
Just myself and my colleague Alison White from the Reading Evening Post (and I invited and drove her there!). Hardly representative of the industry but not that unusual at this meeting. The DEN Facebook group shows that almost a third (22) of the 70 members are women. Yes some are abroad and some are not digital editors, but a third would seem to be a more representative number in my experience of the industry so what’s going on here? The issues not of interest? No time? Unable to get away from work? Love to hear.

The theme of yesterday’s meeting was money making. The session was “off the record” so I’m restricting these notes to what’s already in the public domain although I’d just add that nothing commercially sensitive actually arose.

First up my colleague Peter Boler who talked through the MEN Mediacommercial startegy by running through all the online formats we offer online – affiliates, display, MPU, video pre-roll and classified.

Secondly Rick Waghorn who left a newspaper job and set up The speech was mostly the one given at the Jeecamp event in Birminghamlast month. I had the same response to it this month as last. While Rick is probably a good example of a journalist who has become a brand that people trust and follow (re-occurring theme at the moment), the revenue model is based on a series of local relationships and hand-holding of advertisers. While this may work for those small traders who remain nervous about digital, what will happen when they wise up and find ebay? 

Andy Dickinson gave us a talk about video, while being filmed for a video. He mentioned a great case study which I’m eager to find the source of. A media company which publishes all its activity online as an internal resource, in the place of wire feeds etc. Products within the organisation take what they will of it and then publish their re-packaged versions of the content online. Then any journalist that adds value further with links, new interviews, videos etc. gets a byline for that further activity and it is published online again. Goes into an area I’m researching creation V curation and seems the type of workflow you might come up with if you started out as a media group without print production background. He also mentioned this report on video;

Finally, a Hitwise presentation. Fairly standard stuff showing the type of statistical information and marketing assistance the company offers. Interestingly showed that users often put the question “How do I place an advert in (insert your newspaper tittle)” into Google. Well they would wouldn’t they? Trouble is that many newspapers don’t have an information page to answer that most basic of customer queries. Any journalists reading this, try it with your newspaper title – I’ve done a few and the results aren’t pleasing.

I also did this with the MEN. Using the well-accepted abbreviation “MEN” I got this as the top search result; using the “Manchester Evening News” I got this slightly better (but still out-of-date) result;

What an obvious starting point for money-making - think like a customer.

I know the first thing I’ll be doing when I get into work this morning. And so do you.

Written by sarahhartley

April 30th, 2008 at 7:07 am

links for…..year/month/day = need 4 headlines

leave a comment

Links, links, links. We all know they’re web currency but what’s the best way to deal with them? At this new blog I’ve been considering the best way of sharing stuff with my (small, select, some may say, exclusive) audience.

Of the blogs I follow I’m seeing an increasing trend of offering a page of links. My RSS page is a sea of “links for ….year/month/date” these days.

I find this an unsatisfactory experience - the headlines break every golden rule of writing for your audience – yet I click on them every day.

This treatment of links assumes that, because I’ve selected these particular commentators, I’m prepared to read everything they have to offer regardless of topic.

But while I do find these links throw up some important and interesting postings, what I really want is for the blogger to provide some analysis, comment or, most importantly, context for their selection.

If I wanted to just browse what they’re browsing then I could follow their delicious bookmarks.

It made me ponder whether the old attention grabbing headline skills are dead in the age of feeds, niche content and personalisation?

I’d like to think not. Not just because of a nostalgic nod to the dark arts of the grey cardigans but out of usability and even serendipity.  

Does anyone ever click on “links for year…. month, day” headline found randomly through search?

I’ve a feeling this will be a topic which I’ll be returning to repeatedly but, for now, my delicious bookmarks will be available on the right-hand side of this blog, on my Facebook profile and any other feeds that I start,  but any other postings, articles, comments etc I want to share on this blog will be introduced to the user with some sort of headline and explanation.

Call me old-fashioned if you wish but, for me, context is king.


Written by sarahhartley

April 26th, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Journalism

Tagged with , , ,

Your neighbour in court (or hyperlocal rules)

leave a comment

Turning my thoughts this week to local – hyperlocal to be more exact. Starting with a trip to Teesside to see the Middlesbrough Gazette’s award-winning hyperlocal offering and still continuing online.

It seems such a downright obvious thing to serve up news that is on a user’s doorstep. The minutiae of life that’s important because it is happening to YOU.

That’s why I’ve called titled this post in such a provocative way. If your neighbour really was in court, you would want to know. Wouldn’t you? Even a slapped wrist or an unpaid fine would be of interest despite not winning any ‘scoop of the year’ gongs. (Anyway, serial killer would be just plain alarming and think of the property prices!)

And property prices is where all this hyperlocal user education started. If you want to know something about your area, as a user you automatically go for the postcode. Upmystreet, Google maps . The clever bods at Teesside recognised that and are reportedly reaping the rewards with audiences and advertisers.

As someone from Boro recently told me about their experiment: “It’s great. Like Facebook – but better!”. Praise indeed.

But that’s the exception and it’s achieved by manually sorting content into postcode areas rather than by any technological wizardry.

So why then are most of the online solutions to providing hyperlocal news for a UK audience so poor at present?

Is it the fact that the technology is not quite there? The fact that most American towns and cities share names is a complicating factor as anyone whose been frustrated with attempting to get news on Topix , Google news et al will know.

But, of course, the news stories coming out in an online search can only be as good as the data going in, so is the issue just a case of lack of geotagging data at the source? 

It was reported that Northcliffe have been working on this so it will be interesting to see if that prompts changes across the industry and surely advances such as this technology to geotag live video will move this issue on.

I’d be really interested to find out how many mainstream media companies do geotag their content, at what point in the process and how it’s proved useful or otherwise.

Some more links on this topic here;

Written by sarahhartley

April 25th, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Twitter cartoon day – the movie

leave a comment

For anyone who missed Friday’s sillyness, there’s now a movie.
Thanks to Alex Gamela for this and his idea.

Written by sarahhartley

April 21st, 2008 at 11:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

The gas bill

leave a comment

A gas bill arrived this morning. Not usually grounds for much mirth but it did prompt a brief smile.

“Have you been online recently?” it inquires.

Well………..where to start!

Written by sarahhartley

April 21st, 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in Life

Tagged with ,

Let Twitter be


I thought it would be fitting to kick off this first post on my new blog with a look at Twitter. After all, the fact that this weekend the Today programme saw fit to mention it, must mean it’s mainstream now.

I’ve been twittering along with the best of them recently but notice that there’s already something of a backlash brewing – and maybe the first seeds of privacy doubt have started creeping in.

As newsgatherers, there’s aspects of Twitter which could prove invaluable – TweetScan  for instance has the potential to be a great tool for coverage of any sort of news event where a lot of people are gathered at one time.

But how public are these Tweets? It’s easy to be bullish and claim anything published is in the public domain, but the closed circle nature of the engagements mean this is slightly more intimate medium than, say, posting on a blog.

It was an aspect which struck me when I blogged 

the utterly harmless bit of fun – that was Twitter cartoon day. It struck me that those involved might not wish to be named as participants in something which could be regarded as trivial and, while they might be happy for their identities to be known to those who “follow” them, maybe a wider audience would be an intrusion too far.

It’s a point also made by Andy Dickinson who blogged on the same event asking; “ Am I being rude by posting a link that popped up in a twitter conversation? It feels kind of like e-eavesdropping”.

 It’s a difficult call to make and it remains to be seen whether the PCC will be able to get to grips with it in any meaningful way during its deliberations.

But the most often discussed part of the social media movement, of which Twitter is the flavour of the month, is its ability to be distracting or time consuming (i.e. successful).

 The influential Bivings Report published a post by  Todd Zeigler in which he admits to having doubts about it, or more accurately, doubts his ability to invest enough time into making it valuable: ”I am finding my current Twitter use unsustainable and have more or less abandoned the tool over the last week.”

 He cites the example of Hugh MacLead of Gaping Void who announced that he was leaving Twitter because he found it was distracting him from what he really wanted to be doing: writing books and drawing cartoons.

The issue of time spent on Twitter and other social networks is also a concern for those in the Museum world. (The shared issues of the Museum and News industries is something I intend to explore further with this new blog so all contributions welcome.) 


At the Museum 2.0 blog, Nina Simon reveals the discussions about time spent and comes up with an interesting classification of users – participant, content provider and company director – depending on how much time is spent.

Interestingly this puts Twitter at the entry point of all Web 2.0 activity. But wther it’s time-consuming or not, surely the hours spent on such activity should be judged on the outcome? Is spending your afternoons learning about a topic, sharing ideas or pushing a service on Twitter any less worthwhile than addressing invites, undertaking telephone research or posting free newspapers through doors?

The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss  thinks it’s too early to write it off. After speaking on the Today interview she posted: “…we should all be a little more willing to explore these tools without feeling the need to classify it or nail it down to some definite function when it is still so young. So many inventions were born out of a completely different idea; vinyl records were a spin-off (no pun intended) from a project for talking dolls or some such… It’s far easier to dismiss something out of hand than to be open-minded, creative and playful.”

So right. Be playful and have a private Twitter today.

Written by sarahhartley

April 20th, 2008 at 11:53 am

Having some Twitter toon time

leave a comment

olive.jpgHundreds of twitter followers enjoyed cartoon day yesterday and turned their virtual selves over to an avatar of a cartoon character.
The idea was the toony brainchild of Dick Dastardly but quickly spread as individual twitterers passed on the request. It wasn’t long before a Flickr group was set up to capture some of the avatars for posterity.
From Manchester to the States, tweets sprung forth from the mouths of avatars as diverse as the Man Eating Cow, Dr Strangelove, and even Carwash from Will ‘o the Wisp.
But what was the point of it all?
Stockholm based MarkMedia was one of those to take part. As well as being fun, he said it showed how a meme could achieve traction if just one or two people pushed for it, showing just what a powerful PR tool social media could be.
In all the exercise probably doesn’t stand up to much detailed scrutiny, although the character selection did prove to be an insight into the way normally pretty sane people view themselves.
For my part, I enjoyed part of the day as Olive Oyl in recognition of my foodie status and was even feeling a little sad at giving her up today – while at the same time not wishing to think too hard about any underlying reason for it!
I did fail in my ambition to see number the 10 Downing Street twitter stream turn into a character from barbapapa (perhaps “aw shut up, you bilge rat!” would have been more persuasive).
The point of having a bit of Friday fun is probably akin to the point of flash mobbing. As one of the Manchester flash mobbers once put so succinctly (with capital feeling): “the WHOLE point of flash mob is there is no point to make, no political stance, no axes to grind… All you kill joys wanting to ruin what was a Top Laugh, Totally meaningless and the main point some people forget, FUN.”

Written by sarahhartley

April 19th, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

Ever been poked by Greater Manchester Police?


It only came to my attention today, but GMP have decided to start using Facebook to provide updates to Mancunians, and their recently announced application even has an ominous looking tab titled “Submit Intelligence”. I’d click it, but I’m worried the room will darken, a spotlight will get turned towards me and DCI Gene Hunt will start shouting at me to “Tell us what you know, or I’ll get you as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sarahhartley

April 18th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

It’s all about the money

leave a comment

There’s a couple of interesting events coming up for those in the North West involved in digital publishing and wondering where the next few quid is going to come from.
The first kicks off tomorrow night when Chinwag Live takes a look at new advertising formats and asks the all-important questions:
Is advertising that’s attuned to and valuable for consumers a contradiction in terms? Does it exist? Should it be created, and how will it work?
Speakers at the event include Hugo Drayton (CEO, Phorm), Dan McDevitt (Director, w00t!media), Priya Prakash (Head of Product, Flirtomatic), Charles Reid (Director, MediaVest) and is chaired by David Bird (Senior Lecturer, MSc Digital Marketing & Communications, Manchester Metropolitan Uni).
Chinwag Live is on Tuesday, April 15 @ 5.30pm (discussion starts 6.30pm sharp).CUBE, 113-115 Portland Street, Manchester, M1 6DW Cost: £20+VAT (limited numbers), £35+VAT thereafter.
The second event comes later this month when the Digital Editors’ Network takes a detailed look at what media companies are doing to monetise their web offerings and how advertisers’ expectations are changing.
Digital editors from a wide range of regional newspapers and other media will contribute to the discussion with their own examples of good practice, but the meeting will also benefit from the contributions from three key speakers, each with their own perspective on the issue.
Ruth Spratt, digital and broadcast director at the Manchester Evening News, will give an insight into how the company’s business model is adapting the challenges and opportunities of digital publishing.
Paul Bradshaw, author of the Online Journalism Blog, will report back on the recent Journalism Enterprise & Entrepreneurship Camp which looked at different revenue models for online journalism.
Rick Waghorn, founder of, will also be on hand to discuss his views on how local journalism can be funded through contextual advertising – either supporting newspaper websites or independent writers.
Organiser Nick Turner, head of digital content for CN Group, said: “I’m really pleased with the speakers we’ve got lined up and when you add into the mix the views and experience from digital editors from all the big newspaper groups and it should be an interesting afternoon.
“It will be a chance to share experience in an informal discussion and in a way that allows us all to improve the commercial sharpness of our websites.”
The Digital Editors’ Network runs from 1pm to 5pm on April 29th at the University of Central Lancashire, starting with a buffet lunch. It is a free event, but to book a place and further details please email Nick Turner on

Written by sarahhartley

April 14th, 2008 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with