Posts Tagged ‘Reuters’

Committed to journalism – the Reuters Institute’s 30th anniversary

September 11, 2013

by Monique Villa

Reproduced by kind permission of The Baron http://www.thebaron.info/

Spending a week-end in Oxford is always a treat, but spending it with the likes of Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times, Nathalie Nougayrede, Director of Le Monde, John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail, and more than 100 fellows from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, was a real uplifting experience. Uplifting because a large degree of optimism in the future of journalism emerged from the two days’ celebrations and discussions.

The fellowship programme was the first launched by the then Reuters Foundation 30 years ago, and its anniversary was celebrated in style with almost 200 participants, mostly still journalists, coming from all around the world, with their suitcases full of memories and ideas. Seven years ago, the fellowship became the Reuters Institute, a partnership with the University of Oxford.

Mark Thompson kicked off the two-day event with the Reuters Memorial Lecture. And no, he didn’t talk about the BBC. Instead, he gave a fascinating insight into the complex dynamics of pay-per-read and digital advertising.

It is remarkable to see how the rise of social media is forcing long and well established publications such as The New York Times to re-think the entire business model, making video a key asset of their offering. “It’s one thing” – said Thompson – “when you compete with other newspapers in terms of digital impressions – it’s another when you compete with players such as Google and Facebook with their billions and billions of impressions”. He said the newspaper he manages leaves money on the table with advertisers because they don’t produce enough videos, the holy Grail of advertising online.

Mark Thompson stressed the importance of quality journalism, highlighting how time, accuracy and authority are even more precious at a time when everybody creates and circulates news via twitter. I agree with him, social media is not a substitute for journalism, and newspapers brands are surely not becoming obsolete.

What I found fascinating about this Oxford gathering was the palpable level of optimism shared by the executives of prestigious newspapers.

Both Nathalie Nougayrede and John Stackhouse depicted a future where newspapers will become more and more competitive, both commercially and editorially. It was refreshing to see an outspoken French woman outlining – in flawless English – the challenges and the opportunities ahead of the French media landscape. And it was captivating to find out how the Globe and Mail had shut down its print edition for a day – this past Labor Day – to drive users to a new, and enhanced online edition. The risk is part of a wider and bolder strategy at the Canadian newspaper that gives editors a financial premium if their audience online grows. The move, so far, has paid off, but it has also raised eyebrows among those who fear the red line between editorial and commercial could be blurred.

The role of women in journalism was also on the agenda. I was the moderator of an interesting panel which included: Suzanne Franks, Professor of Journalism at City University, Sue Lloyd Roberts, Special Correspondent at the BBC, and Laura Saarikoski, Sunday Editor at the Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest Finnish newspaper. Despite the recent boom in the number of female students enrolled in journalism courses around the world (in some cases up to 90 per cent of the students are in fact women), only a tiny percentage makes it to the very top. Why? The panelists were unanimous: childcare and family responsibilities. Even in Finland, where the government has a clearly progressive agenda when it comes to equal opportunities, maternity and paternity leave, a good number of women make it to middle management positions, but not to the role of Editor-in-Chief. According to Laura Saarikoski, this is due to the fact that women have an embedded guilt complex, which prevents them from putting career at the very top of their priorities. I don’t fully agree with such view, and the fact that two women are leading the editorial teams at The New York Times or at Le Monde is there to prove that things are changing fast.

I agree more with Suzanne Franks when she says that the career of most female TV presenters ends at 45. Sue Lloyd Roberts puts it in a very powerful way: successful female journalists are seen as a “third sex”. “They simply don’t know what to make of you”, says Sue – admitting that while reporting from tribal Afghanistan she was allowed to drink tea in the company of local men, while their wives remained segregated to the kitchen.

Seeing over 100 fellows from more than 40 countries in Oxford this weekend is direct evidence of the great success of the Reuters Institute that the Foundation partly funds. Great credit goes to David Levy, its Director, who has in four years succeeded to transform the Institute into a global player, with its trusted publications massively downloaded around the world. The Institute is today at the forefront of providing trusted information and data for media and policymakers adapting to the new challenges of the profession.

As Mark Thompson puts it: “Why did Jeff Bezos buy the Washington Post? Has he seen anything that the rest of us haven’t?” We don’t have the answer. And that’s why we need the Reuters Institute to pursue its mission of shedding light and provide analysis in the fast evolving media landscape.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is fully committed to journalism and to supporting the RISJ. Our Chairman, David Binet, came all the way from Toronto just for the event, as a testimony of this lasting bond. ■

Monique Villa is a French journalist, business leader and women’s rights advocate who joined Reuters in 2001 as managing director of media after a career as an Agence France-Presse correspondent and manager. She became chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation following the acquisition of Reuters by Thomson Corporation in 2008.

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Will The Economist’s phenomenal success feed through to Reuters?

August 26, 2013

(This article first appeared on 24.8.2013 on The Baron, a web site covering media trends http://thebaron.info/.)

In appointing a senior manager of The Economist as “chief executive, Reuters, running news and media business from London,” Thomson Reuters has picked talent from one of the world’s most successful news businesses.

Instead of turning to another wizard from America, the company is looking towards a UK-based organisation which has built a powerful readership worldwide including the U.S. The Economist boasts playfully that it is the Voice of God: read its content once a week, and you know all you need about the world.

So what are the keys to success that Thomson Reuters must surely be eyeing in choosing Andrew Rashbass? Some of his colleagues recently briefed journalists attending the Reuters Institute in Oxford:

– The Economist has a circulation of 1.5 million, making 70% of its revenue from subscriptions and 30% from advertising. It is profitable on subscriptions alone. In five years, the ratio is expected to move to 80:20 or more. So much for the myth that nobody pays for news in the digital era.

– Digital publishing grows rapidly, but The Economist finds that print is far from dead. In fact, it tends to be more profitable.

– The Economist employs only a handful of staff journalists. But it draws on a powerful array of expert writers who produce dauntingly thorough series on subjects such as the U.S., China, India, international finance, technology and science.

– It surprises readers by writing about topics they had no idea mattered.

– The Economist does not try to be impartial. It believes readers accept an openly expressed point of view. It is liberal, socially and economically, and sees this predictability as a strength.

– Its journalists don’t write just for the weekly edition. They keep the news flowing in between in the form of blogs. They use feedback from the blogs to adapt followups.

– They see apps delivering news to tablets and smartphones as a more promising business model than web sites with paywalls, because consumers feel they are getting the whole news, not bits and pieces.

Some of The Economist’s lessons will not apply, and Reuters brand already carries authority. But Reuters does not quite have The Economist’s intellectual firepower. It has introduced comment, but it is varied and unfocused. Reuters avoids having “a line,” and in The Economist’s experience that is not a plus.

Look at Reuters web pages, and you see a disparate array of stories – some financial, some global, others lightweight and local. While Reuters has more experience of running 24-hour news, it has struggled to make it profitable. Its web sites have no paywalls.

By refocusing on the name “Reuters,” Thomson Reuters is signalling that it wants to make serious money from news. This has been the Holy Grail for Reuters throughout the ages.

Rashbass, who has been guiding a highly profitable global news brand, has been brought in to deliver.

Why there will be no “Arab Spring” in China

March 8, 2012

Rob Gifford, head of The Economist’s new China section, talked to Fellows of the Reuters Institute of Journalism in Oxford. Highlights:

– In Arab countries people were hopeless. In China, there is hope. People are getting wealthier, and many believe they are lucky to be able to “join the gold rush.” There will be no “Arab Spring” in China.

– Over 300 million Chinese are middle class. But there is a big gap in living standards between the cities and the countryside and this is causing tensions.

– The regime’s unspoken deal is: stay out of politics and you can do what you like. The Chinese people have bought the deal.

– China has 175 million manufacturing jobs. But it can no longer live on being a cheap manufacturer. Skilled labour is so expensive and scarce in the coastal cities that firms are building new factories deep in the interior.

– The current combination of a one-party state and market economy cannot last. State capitalism has done well so far, but is transitional, not sustainable.

– The regime is frozen and unable to plan a road map forward. Communist Party politicians are scared of the chaos which broke up the Soviet Union under Gorbachev.

– China won’t be able to keep up its non-interventionist foreign policy of the the last 20 years, since it has so many Chinese working abroad. China is already helping nations combat piracy.

– Chinese journalists cannot write about Taiwan or Tibet – the subjects are off limits.Chinese know nothing about the crimes of Mao Tse-Tung. The subject is too painful.

– Over the next decade, China is likely to be transformed by the development of a civil society.

– If you are confused about China, you should be!

 

Numbers, damned statistics and egg on journalists’ faces: cautionary tales

March 1, 2012

If you read a headline that eating a bacon sandwich a day increases your risk of cancer by 20%, that’s sounds bad. Not according to Tim Harford, columnist of the Financial Times.

At a seminar of the Reuters Institute in Oxford, he gave a hair-raising account of the pitfalls awaiting journalists tempted to use juicy statistics in news stories.

So what cancer was involved? It turned out to be bowel cancer. How many people get bowel cancer in the UK? Four in 100. So a 20% increase means five in 100. Is that so much different? Is the bacon sandwich factor significant? Hardly.

A British Prime Minister announced that his government would spend £300 million over five years on care for pre-school children. Seemed a lot. But divided by five, the amount each year was £60 million. Around one million pre-school children in the UK qualified, so that made £60 per child per year. Which was about 20 pence per day.

“Not much childcare to be bought for that,” notes Harford.

These are his tips for journalists dealing with numbers:
– Is it true?
– What’s really being said? Does the statistic exactly define what’s measured?
– What’s the bigger story – the context, the history, the period of time?

Mmm. After 50 minutes of his harrowing tales, I think I’ll avoid numbers altogether. I’m just going to look silly.

Want to make award-winning documentaries? Find good story-tellers

January 19, 2012

The BBC starts another of its multi-programme political documentaries tonight (2100 BST BBC2): Putin, Russia & and the West. Award-winning documentary-maker Norma Percy told students at the Reuters Institute in Oxford how they do it:

– A series typically takes 3 years to make and is costly: the BBC pays half and other TVs the rest.
– Based on interviews with protagonists, they aim to show how the closed-doors decisions in major political events were made.
– A good time to tackle an event is when many of the protagonists are out of power writing their memoirs.
– The politicians who come across best are those who are good story-tellers.
– Do the interviewees ever complain? “Only that we didn’t use enough of what they said.”
– How do you get the politicians to tell good stories? “I ask them to tell it as they did to the person they were negotiating with.”
– “We only broadcast what we believe is true. We don’t use obvious lies.”
– How do you know? “Either another politician corroborates it, or our researchers check it out.”

Previous series have covered Gorbachev, the break-up of Yugoslavia, Milosevic and American hostages in Iran. The BBC can attract big audiences, secure sizeable funding, and persuade world leaders to talk. That’s the drawing power of a broadcaster which has built its reputation carefully over decades. Worth learning how to do it.

“Sift, crunch, pack” – making money out of news in the digital age

November 23, 2011

Fascinating talk at the Reuters Institute in Oxford by The Economist’s Tom Standage. He says his newspaper’s strength is that it is seen as The Voice of God, telling its readers (and Obama, Merkel etc) what to think.

A few choice views from the oracle, as conveyed by Tom:

– The Economist makes 70% of its revenue from subscriptions and 30% from advertising. It is profitable on subscriptions alone. In five years, he expects the ratio to move to 80:20 or even 90:10.

– The Economist employs 75 full-time journalists – the New York Times some 1,200.

– The Economist’s processing of news can be described as “sift, crunch, pack.”

– Economist journalists now write news in two ways: one for print and the other as blogs. Blogs can test ideas for the weekly print edition, since they attract feedback.

– In the digital age, publication of an article is no longer the end of the process. It is the beginning.

– Impartiality is venerated in America, where local newspapers have a monopoly and don’t want to antagonise part of their readers. The trend is for an openly expressed point of view to be accepted. “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

– Digital publishing of newspapers is not always more profitable than print: advertising in print editions does not necessarily migrate to digital versions.

– Apps have an advantage over web sites in providing news, in that consumers feel they are getting the whole news, not just bits and pieces.

– There is no single new business model for news, but for digital metered paywalls are promising – the reader gets a few news articles per month free, then has to pay.

Will Leveson change the British media? Unlikely. But something can be done.

November 23, 2011

This year’s Reuters Memorial Lecture in Oxford earlier this week focused on the astonishing invasions of privacy by the UK media being revealed to the Leveson inquiry. A panel of leading academics and media people provided interesting and varied insights into the conflict between privacy and freedom of the press. ‘Something must change’ was the consensus, and in the direction of more control.

I doubt whether all that much will change in the long run, nor should it. Britain has laws protecting both privacy and free speech. The tension between the two has existed ever since people gathered round the village pump and chatted.

Hacking into telephones of victims of crime does seem outrageous. At the same time, a glance at popular media web sites shows some celebrities pretending to be enjoying private moments clearly pose for paparazzi to attract attention, adding sexual titillation to make it captivating. Likewise, media headlines every day reveal attempts by governments and corporations to manipulate and cover up. So we may regret more controls.

Can anything be done? Baroness Onora O’Neill, the lecturer, suggested journalists should have to reveal publicly the extent to which they use covert methods to collect information. No betraying of sources, just a cataloguing of their practices. I am not sure what benefits this would have brought when I was a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War. But generally transparency is welcome.

I suggest mobile telephone companies should also be regulated to force them to make their phones more secure. In the digital age, this is unlikely to be absolute. But banks have generally been able to keep ahead of the criminals in e-banking, so why not mobile phone makers?

Lastly, people having a tough time with journalists could make more use of professional media coaching. This is not foolproof, but can allay fears and restore confidence. For people with few resources, perhaps the state could even provide this for free, in the same way as it offers psychological counselling to victims of crimes of violence.

Man landing on Moon 40 years ago – seems like yesterday

July 18, 2009

I feel as I were there (except I wasn’t). I remember where I was when the television showed the blurred pictures of the American astronauts stepping down on to the Moon. I was a young Reuters correspondent in Paris, manning the office late in the evening and wondering why I was not on the big story.

I was young, the world was changing, I was growing up fast, and landing on the Moon was one of those exciting things which kept on occurring. After the Moon, no doubt something else.

Now 40 years have passed, and nobody has traveled to the Moon for a long time. It fascinates nobody, is on nobody’s radar screen. Watching the television pictures of the landing is just one of those many things I did long ago. Some great, others mediocre and the odd thing I feel slightly ashamed of.

Landing on the Moon even begins to sound like one of those old war stories – no doubt hairy for those involved, but of concern to us today? Not much.

Anybody out there feel thrilled by all this?


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