Ada Lovelace Day 2012 fundraiser and events

Ada Lovelace Day, the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering & maths that I launched in 2009, has gone from strength to strength in the last three years. I’ve been amazed at how much support it’s garnered and how much enthusiasm there is for it.

This year, it has become really clear to me that there’s a lot more that I could do with Ada Lovelace Day, if only we had a bit of cash to pay for it. Since its inception, Ada Lovelace Day has been run entirely by volunteers and by partnering with organisations like the Women’s Engineering Society, Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, London Games Festival and BCS Women. We have managed a huge amount through the kindness and generosity of our volunteers and partners, but there is more we could do.

I now want to create a formal charitable organisation to support women in STEM, not just on one day of the year, but all year round. Some of our goals include creating educational materials about iconic women, providing media training, and building a directory of expert speakers. The fundraiser uses the ‘keep what you earn’ model so all money donated will go towards helping women in STEM.

So if you have a moment, please take a look at our fundraiser and donate what you can.

We also have a couple of events that you might be interested in:

Ada Lovelace Day Live! Featuring the WES Karen Burt Award
Last year’s Ada Lovelace Day Live! event, held with BCSWomen, was such an amazing success that we decided to do it again on 16 October at the IET in London! We are collaborating with the Women’s Engineering Society who will be presenting the prestigious Karen Burt Memorial Award to a newly chartered woman engineer at the event. Performers include:

All hosted by inimitable songstress and one third of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Helen Arney!

It will be an fantastic evening of science, technology, comedy and song, featuring all manner of wonders, from marine biology and particle physics to the secrets of fridges and performance robots. We would love to see you there if you can make it!

Tickets are £10 and available from WES.

XX Game Jam
ALD is delighted to have partnered with the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment and the London Games Festival to put on the XX Game Jam, an all-female games hackday where teams will compete to produce the best computer game in just 24 hours. Held on the 26th and 27th October, it’s the first all-women* event of its type.

We’re looking for programmers, producers, artists, designers, sound designers or composers, who would like to try their hand making a game! Direct experience of game development is not required.

Sign up for free!

* We believe the terms ‘XX’ and ‘woman’ are self-defining, so anyone who self-identifies as female is welcome.

There are more events being organised independently by grassroots Ada Lovelace Day supporters both in the UK and (coming soon) around the world. So come along and get involved!!

Digital first: We need to inspire change not just fear

Last week, the Journal Register Company announced their second bankruptcy in three years and I said on Twitter that I worried that digital first, as a strategy rather than the name of JRC’s parent company, was losing any positive connotation for journalists.

Like a similar comment I made about Advance/Newhouse Newspapers digital first strategy in cutting its print production days, my thoughts on the matter have a lot more nuance than I can possibly convey in 140 characters, and I tried to clarify.

Digital first has been my default position since 1996 when I landed my first job as an online editor. My concern really is about the connotations that are building up around digital first as a strategy and what that means for news organisations as they try to implement change strategies. In announcing their shifts to digital first, Advance (where I worked for one year in the 1990s) and Fairfax in Australia (where I have a number of friends) also announced deep, deep editorial cuts to try to get ahead of the declines in print revenue and the lower revenue base of their digital operations. In a lot of ways, they are simply facing the reality before them. But whilst as a digital journalist I am pleased that the industry is moving in a digital direction, I’m never happy to see fellow journalists lose their jobs or face uncertainty when it comes to their pensions.

This is worrying to me, not because I am trying to deny the business reality that faces these organisations but because I worry that unless managed well, this will make it even more difficult for these organisations to institute much needed digital transformation. Advance and the Newhouses handled the process particularly poorly, allowing employees to find out about their future from the New York Times. Their communications have been appallingly bad and they were on the backfoot for weeks after the announcement of the print cuts in New Orleans.

I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is to change the culture of an organisation from a print focus to a digital focus. You can get the business right and still fail if the culture of an organisation doesn’t move with it. My concern is that as digital first strategies acquire the baggage of redundancies and cuts that it will make this cultural change even more difficult to execute.

Post-industrial disruption

The reality is that there are going to be a lot fewer traditional journalism jobs in the future in the West than in they past. Like Mathew Ingram, I believe that journalism is one of the last 20th century industries to experience post-industrial disruption. The bottom line is that newspapers used to be the most effective way for advertisers to reach a lot of people with their commercial messages and, after competition granted local monopolies to a single newspaper in most American cities, that granted them a de facto licence to charge monopoly rents. Now, new digital advertising platforms, search and social, deliver advertising to larger audiences for lower costs. That’s the reality that we have to adapt to.

How do we get to where we need to be as an industry? First off, it’s important to be realistic about where we are in the process. Newspaper advertising revenue peaked in 2005 in the US but has been halved since then. We’re probably at the end of the beginning of the transformation for newspaper journalism. I agree with Mathew Ingram, this transformation is going to take a while, years and probably a couple of decades.

During this transition, how do we inspire change and not just fear? Kylie Davis on News Ltd (Australia) had some good observations at the International Newsmedia Marketing Association. (If you’re not reading INMA, start. They are doing some great work in realistically meeting the business challenges of journalism.) Davis came away from a recent conference with this great bit of insight: “People don’t fear change, they fear loss.” With respect to the challenges that she is facing at News Ltd, she said:

As we work through major change projects back at News Ltd., thinking about this quote has helped me keep all the pushback and drama in perspective. It has helped me to hear — in what seems to be the never-ending process of communication — what is truly motivating people to resist: their fear. And it’s not their fear of change, but that they will lose something they truly love and value about their jobs or about their personal sense of security.

Yes, there is a lot of pushback and drama, and everyone knows it. This transition was always going to be challenging, and now, the real pain of it is clear. This encapsulates the concerns I expressed on Twitter. To shift newspapers from a print-focused editorial and business model to a multi-platform, digitally-led model, as Davis says, we need to address the fear and find strategies to move on. She has some great advice on how to do that. Go read the entire post, it’s worth it, but I do love her penultimate paragraph:

It’s now time to demonstrate how the key things we value — such as quality journalism, great coverage, fighting for the underdog, and holding institutions to account — can and will be captured and upheld in our new business models.

Yes, the change is real, but we can and will carry our shared values as journalists into the future. Let’s work together to face and overcome the fear (and bitterness) and build a future for journalism that honours its values.

Digital advertising does pay, just not for newspapers, yet

Last week, WAN-IFRA said what many of us in digital journalism have known for a while, that we’re losing the battle for attention. They said that digital news audiences lack the same “intensity” of print audiences. Put simply, digital audiences are less loyal and spend less time with each digital news source. WAN-IFRA CEO Christoph Riess has put the problem this way:

We are not losing readers, we are losing readership. Our industry challenge is engagement. Because someone is a subscriber does not make him a loyalist.

Several people in the industry have been trying to raise the alarm for years now. Two years ago, Ken Doctor pointed out that audiences were spending 7 hours a month on Facebook versus 20 minutes a month on the New York Times or 8-12 minutes on the average US newspaper site. US digital journalism pioneer Steve Yelvington has been talking about this for years, speaking about the problem with audience frequency. As Steve said earlier this year:

Forget all the newspaper industry puffery about how we’re reaching more people than ever. Frequency and time spent are the important metrics.

And the reality is dismal.

From a business standpoint, this has meant that while digital advertising spend has increased dramatically, news organisations’ share of that digital revenue still remains piteously low. As WAN-IFRA noted:

Overall digital advertising market rose from US$ 42 billion to US$76 billion from 2007 to 2011. Only 2.2 per cent of total newspaper advertising revenues in 2011 came from digital platforms.

What you will continue to hear over and over and over, from the likes of former Guardian editor Peter Preston, is that print still pays the bills. They will tell you that you can’t make money online. Preston cherry picks figures from the recent Journal Register bankruptcy filing in the US, pointing to that fact that print revenue is down 19% but still represents 50% of the group’s revenue. However, he conveniently leaves out that digital revenue at the news group is up 235% from 2009 to 2011. Yes, they probably started from a low base, but it is pretty impressive growth. Many news groups in the US have seen their digital revenue growth slow or stall this year, and at least the Journal Register team can point to 32.5% growth this year alone.   

The reality is that you can make money online but that newspapers are not competing effectively for digital advertising. As WAN-IFRA noted, “Search advertising accounts for 58 per cent of all digital advertising and 13 per cent of all advertising expenditure”. US news analyst Alan Mutter noted in April:

The share of the U.S. digital advertising market garnered by newspapers shrank to the lowest level in history in 2011, according to newly published data.

With the growth of digital formats like highly targeted search, mobile and social advertising vastly outpacing the ability of publishers to develop competitive new products, newspapers sold only 10.3% of the $31.7 billion in digital advertising purchased in 2011.

When the Newspaper Association of America first started counting online sales in 2003, newspaper websites carried 16.7% of all the digital advertising in the United States.

There is money to be made online, but newspapers aren’t the ones making it. That’s the problem and, unless newspapers focus on creating not just large audiences but loyal audiences, that problem won’t be solved. Newspapers also need to build up knowledge about those audiences to better serve them journalistically and to provide better targeted advertising.  Those are the challenges we need to meet, and we need to ignore the voices in journalism that say we can’t make money with digital. They have ruled the debate for far too long and have delayed us from meeting the real challenges of digital.