Archive: magazines

In my previous article, I argued that the problems that are hitting journalism are more to do with the quality of the content than with the fact that it’s difficult to charge for content these days. “Why pay to read Telegraph Digg-bait when you can read BBC churnalism for free?”, I asked.

I am sure plenty of journalists realise this if they stop to think about the situation. The fact that so many professionals blame bloggers for the industry’s ills says it all. Despite journalists’ qualifications, experience and resources, their entire business is supposedly being dismantled by a bunch of hobbyists who spend the odd hour of their spare time opining on the internet.

A few weeks ago I met a journalist at a party and I engaged him in a conversation about the future of his industry. He told me he hates bloggers (whoops! — I kept schtoom). But he told me that in his view the biggest problem was people scooping him on web forums! If the professionals see online discussion forums as not only competing with them but doing better than them, that surely must make them wonder if the product they are asking people to buy simply is not good enough.

Anyone who thinks that bloggers and the mainstream media are competing is wrong. If they are competing, the media simply isn’t doing its job properly. Let us face facts. For the most part, bloggers don’t have the contacts, the resources or the expertise to do, for instance, a big investigative story.

If the media is worried about amateur bloggers, it is a pretty bad reflection on the professionals. Perhaps to distinguish itself, the media should be focussing on those aspects of content production that bloggers cannot do.

The supply of mediocre content is too high. Too much of the same sort of content is as readily available to news junkies as sea water is to beach-goers. In effect, for the past decade or so newspapers have been driving up to the beach with a tankful of sea water, then pumping their water into the sea. Later they started stretching out their hands like beggars wondering, “why won’t these beach-goers pay us for all this seawater we’re providing them?!”

So what is the answer? In my view, less is more. What newspapers need to do is offer something distinctive and different. They should specialise more and differentiate their content from everyone else’s. They need to offer less, but better, content.

Newspapers should forget about reporting all the same hard news as every other outlet is. It is a crowded marketplace so there is no money to be made there. Instead, they should work on more exclusives, investigative reporting, analysis and features.

Actually, there is a problem with that idea, which is that it won’t save all newspapers as we know them at all. It points to a future where many daily newspapers may wither. But weeklies, monthlies and specialist publications are more likely to thrive. It wouldn’t stop the press from having a difficult period of job losses and paper closures. But it would mean those who could get it right would be able to charge for content quite comfortably.

Evidence suggests that this shift may already be happening. Speaking personally, there is not one daily newspaper that I would be happy to pay for. But up until recently I was perfectly happy to pay for the weekly Economist (and in truth, I only stopped because I didn’t have the time to read it). As for specialist publications, I still like to read the monthly F1 Racing if I get the chance.

It may be the same for other people too. Recent evidence seems to suggest that many specialist publications are doing well at the moment, even amid all the turmoil in the press and the worst recession in living memory. According to Malcolm Coles, 216,000 people are perfectly happy to pay £7.75 per month for an online subscription to Which?.

Yesterday I also read about two major news websites relaunching — with less emphasis on news. On the new LA Times website, Hamilton Nolan at Gawker wrote:

Scroll down from the top of page at the new LAT site and you find: Health, Food, Education, Technology, Sports, Blogs, Columns, Opinion, Photos & Video, Summer Hot List, and “Your Scene, Your Comments.” Did you miss the, say, ‘International news’ section? It is way up at the top in tiny tiny type. Below the top fifth or so of the page, there is no “hard news” at all.

As for the new Newsday website… well, just take a look.

Someone still has to do the worthy news stories though. Maybe that can be better left to agencies or major broadcasters. But maybe a simple reduction in the number of newspapers would suffice. Iain Hepburn recently estimated that as many as 17 major media outlets are all aiming at the same audience in Scotland. We make do without 17 major supermarket chains — five or six different ones satisfy most consumers. So do we need more than five or six major news outlets?

A merger here, a takeover there and even the odd shutdown or two might be a good thing. Fewer outlets can have a higher market share, more resources, more of the best journalists — and they’ll produce a better product as a result. Five or six excellent news sources would be much better than 17 so-so ones, which is more or less what we’ve got at the moment. Surely that is what’s needed to make news a viable business going forward.

Okay, so it’s not from the vaults, it’s from my attic.

I just happened to mention in passing to “me” from Sidepodcast on Identica the short-lived F1 magazine GPX. He asked me to upload it so that he could see what it was like, so I took photos of the two issues of GPX I own and uploaded them to Sidepodcast’s Dropio. I hope the people at Haymarket don’t mind too much. But this is over ten years old and it obviously didn’t make them much money at the time, so…

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

If you’re interested, Issue #3 starts here, and you need to click the left arrow to go through the magazine. Issue #4 starts here.

Issue #4 was the final issue of GPX. Obviously Haymarket had high hopes for it, and I even remember seeing posters in the window of a WH Smith advertising it. The magazine totally tanked though.

Originally designed to be a “laddish” magazine, issue #4 shows some signs of desperation with features designed to appeal more to females, including the “Top 20 sexy F1 drivers of all time” and a “hunky” poster of Mika Salo. Stuart C from F1 Racing has a bit more on GPX over at Sidepodcast here and here.

In retrospect, GPX wasn’t a quality magazine. It did have some good gags in it though. I like ‘Brainstorming with the Prost team‘ and the joke about spelling out ‘Schumacher’ with beer cans made me chuckle at the time.

The magazine as a whole has slight shades of The Red Bulletin and Sniff Petrol. In fact, GPX might actually have had a chance if it was as consistently funny as Sniff Petrol…

While I was rummaging for those issues of GPX, I found some other interesting old F1 magazines and various other bits and pieces. Most of these almost certainly came free with F1 Racing. Click below to see what I found.

Click for more »

I’m taking a brief break from my break because I think I can afford to now.

When I last wrote about the racism issue in F1, it was to bemoan the media’s role in fuelling the fire. If you have been reading for a while you might know of the distaste I have for some of the coverage found in F1 Racing over the past year or so.

I am not the only person to have noticed a decline in the standard of the journalism in F1 Racing. For instance, Clive has spoken about “the abandonment by the magazines of the high ground.” Alvin in the comments here has said he is currently boycotting F1 Racing.

Craig at craigblog has posted at least twice on the subject of cancelling his subscription to F1 Racing. And there are a few people in the comments saying the same thing time and again — “I have been buying F1 Racing for around ten years, but now I have to stop”.

Speaking as someone who is sitting just yards in front of a huge pile of eleven years’ worth of issues of F1 Racing, I have to say I am in the same position. This is not the result of some kind of mass internet campaign against the magazine. But I can’t help but notice for a lot of people that at some point in the past year came a few straws that broke some camels’ backs.

One particularly low point came when the editor Matt Bishop wrote a poisonous piece about Ralf Schumacher. It was little more than an excuse for “The Bish” (as no-one but Mr Bishop himself calls him) to use up four or five pages to explain how he told Ralf Schumacher to “off you fuck!”

Now, Ralf Schumacher was not the most popular driver in the paddock and you would struggle to find many fans of his. But for me, Matt Bishop’s piece was highly unprofessional, particularly for an editor as experienced as him. It was just so childish. “Ooh! Look at me! I told Ralf Schumacher to fuck off!” It’s like a small child saying, “Hahaha! I called the teacher a fanny!”

Last year there was also a heavy dose of unbearable Hamilton hype (or should that be “Lewis hype”, seeing as the whole British media is apparently on first name terms with him?). Then of course there is the fact that it is much more convenient and quicker to get all of the news on the internet rather than waiting every month for a dead tree to pop through the letter box. By the end of last year, it is fair to say that quite a lot of us were bashing The Bish.

And then The Bish left. In retrospect, that is probably why he felt free to write that terrible Ralf Schumacher article. His new job is as an apologist for Lewis Hamilton–no change there then.

But it begged the question–would F1 Racing improve again with someone else at the helm? The first couple of issues sans-Bish did not promise much. But what a pleasant surprise I had when I read this month’s editorial, written by the magazine’s deputy editor Stuart Codling.

I sorely want to quote it in full, but out of respect for the publishers I will summarise it. Mr Codling writes about how the phone was ringing off the hook after the racism story broke as radio producers went on the hunt for “experts” (those are Stuart Codling’s scare quotes, not mine). He writes about this poisonous era of 24 hour radio and television which is making coverage of anything increasingly confrontational and shrill. “Complex issues become a shouty amalgam of ‘Us’ vs Them’.”

He continues, racism does not solely exist in Spain. The aggravation that Lewis Hamilton faced was as a result of his rivalry with Fernando Alonso. As I wrote a couple of weeks back, we all know that the racists would be out in force no matter what country was involved, and British people especially are not in a position to lecture others countries on how their sport fans should behave.

Mr Codling’s next sentence is such a breath of fresh air–it actually felt like a relief to read it.

But who stoked up this grudge that has so publicly become a vehicle for xenophobia and racism? Well, we all did — both writers and readers, supply and demand.

He goes on to bemoan the goading that Alonso received from a British press eager to get an anti-Hamilton comment from the Spaniard. It has to be said, that Alonso’s behaviour in the media has been absolutely faultless, and you seldom hear him commenting on Hamilton in negative terms, and certainly not on anything other than his on-track actions. This is certainly a great deal more than can be said for Lewis Hamilton, who cannot seem to resist constantly making snide comments about Alonso.

Stuart Codling clearly has his head screwed on. He has a sense of morals, unlike most in the media. The way his editorial ends basically sums it up. Hearing that Mr Codling speaks with a modicum of balance, the radio producer ended the call “to find someone ‘better’.”

Three cheers for Stuart Codling. His behaviour was certainly much better than that of Matt Bishop. Mr Bishop had no qualms appearing on Radio 5 Live to say one of the most ridiculously overblown things I have ever heard someone say about Formula 1:

Lewis Hamilton is in the same chapter only as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher. And that’s it.

This was made after Lewis Hamilton had completed his third race. No-one has a career after three races. Not even Michael Schumacher was Michael Schumacher after his third race. To compare Lewis Hamilton with names like Ayrton Senna after just three races does justice neither to Hamilton’s talent nor Senna’s legacy. If that needs explaining, as it did for one commenter* on this blog, please read this.

So I will not be cancelling my subscription to F1 Racing just yet. Unfortunately, this month’s issue is the last of Stuart Codling’s short tenure at the helm of the magazine as Matt Bishop’s replacement has been hired. For those who are worried about the increasing tabloidisation of F1 Racing it could be bad news. The new editor is Hans Seeberg. Is that the same Hans Seeberg who has recently been deputy editor of Nuts And / Or Zoo Magazine? Oh dear…

*Quite ironic when you look back on that actually. Lawrence says that Hamilton deserves comparisons to Fangio and Senna on the basis of his drive in Fuji. Hamilton was later to be investigated for dangerously bad driving during that grand prix.