For hire: Looking for a full-time job creating the future of journalism and digital media

A year ago in April, I announced with much excitement that I would be joining the Media Development Investment Fund (then the Media Development Loan Fund) to edit the Knowledge Bridge website and provide digital editorial training and consulting for their clients. We launched the site in May last year in public beta and then properly in November of last year. The project had two pillars: to build a website to capture actionable intelligence about digital media for the independent news organisations that MDIF invests in and news organisations like them, and to provide digital consulting and training for MDIF clients.

A couple of weeks ago, the decision was made to redefine the project and focus the website more closely on supporting the consulting pillar of Knowledge Bridge with content such as client training and seminar materials.

“Unfortunately,” MDIF’s head of communications Peter Whitehead told staff, “the changes mean that the website no longer needs an editor with Kevin’s depth of digital experience.”

MDIF was a great experience and a great team. I learned a lot working with the fund and its clients about product-led thinking and product development. That built on the product development experience that Suw and I gained as we worked with the executive editorial team at to refine and launch the ground-breaking digital news site in India. In my work with MDIF and as a consultant, I gained global  experience working with clients in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the United States and Europe including Russia.

When I joined MDIF, I had just started to look for a full-time job, so I’ll pick up now where I left off last April. I might do some consulting and training while I search for the right job with the right organisation, but my ultimate goal is a full-time job with a news organisation or a digital media company. I bring almost two decades of experience in digital journalism in a wide variety of roles on staff with the BBC and The Guardian. As a digital strategist and journalism trainer, I have worked globally over the last three years for companies including Indian media giant Network 18, CNN International and Reed Business Information. If you’re not familiar with my background, you can check out my work history at LinkedIn. What you won’t see from that public profile on LinkedIn is the endorsements of my work.

From November 2010 through September 2011, I provided social media training for Al Jazeera English, Arabic, Balkans and Turk staff, both on-air and online. I also provided Al Jazeera online staff with general digital journalism training. Mohamed Nanabhay, then head of online for Al Jazeera English said of my work:

Kevin puts journalism into the internet and the internet into journalism – a rare skill in an industry where the trend is to focus on buzz words and shiny toys.

We hired him to train our newsroom on using social media for news gathering and production. His training was one of the reasons that our journalists were so well prepared to report on the events that unfolded in the Arab world in 2011.

Simon Rogers, the founding editor of The Guardian’s datablog and now data editor at Twitter, said of my work at The Guardian:

Some just know what the future looks like; Kevin is one of those people. Sharp, talented and farsighted, Kevin has played a vital, and under-reported role in’s success, shaping the company’s digital vision, and producing fantastic journalism. The fact that he’s such a nice guy, well, that is a brilliant bonus.

As world editor of the BBC News website, Nic Newman was one of the three people on my interview board. Nic went on to work as the head or product development and technology for BBC News Interactive, where I worked for him to develop a strategic white paper on how BBC News could use blogging. He said:

Kevin was the BBC’s first online journalist in an overseas bureau. None of us knew what the role should be, but Kevin shaped it and made it work brilliantly. That is because he has an instinctive understanding of digital technology but also because he knows how to inspire and get the best out of journalistic colleagues. As with so much that Kevin did at the BBC, he was and is a pioneer, pushing the boundaries — but always with sense that technology serves journalism, not the other way around.

As I said, I am looking for a full-time editorial management, strategy or development position with a news organisation or digital media company. I have already applied for a number of exciting positions, both in the US and the UK, including editorial and strategy and development positions. We currently live in the UK. But as a dual US-UK citizen, I can work in both countries and both Suw and I are willing to relocate.

I have some scope to explore my options, and I want find the right job with the right organisation. If you have an opportunity that you think requires my skills, get in touch. We live in a time of great change and greater opportunity for journalism and digital media. I’m just as excited about the possibilities of digital media now as I was in 1996 when I got my first job in digital journalism, and I can’t wait to be a part of a new team.

If you want to talk, please drop me an email. I’m very much looking forward to hearing from you.

Asiana flight 214: The value of professional social media

Ask most journalists about social media and they will immediately think of Facebook and Twitter, but social media is so much more than the major social networks. Humans are social creatures and whenever there is a new forum of communications there is almost always a social element. Online discussion forums began in the late 1970s long before the internet was available outside of the research and defence communities. Usenet and dialup bulletin board systems allowed people to discuss topics of personal and professional interest and, despite being overshadowed by modern social networks, many discussion forums remain vibrant hubs of conversation.

When I train journalists to use social media for newsgathering, I always make a point of mentioning online discussion forums because they can be extremely valuable if you want to reach professionals talking about something in the news related to their industry. My standard example is pilots discussing a plane crash like the Asiana flight 214 Boeing 777 crash over the weekend. If you want to see an example of how useful this can be, check out this summary by James Fallows of The Atlantic of pilots discussing the crash as well as an email from a reader. Fallows summarised the posts from PPRuNe, the Professional Pilots Rumour Network. The discussion is amazing detailed (and long, at 41 pages) with a series of rapid updates immediately after the crash. Of course, Fallows is an “instrument-rated pilot” so he brings quite a bit of knowledge to the post, and he helpfully translates some of the impenetrable alphabet soup used in professional aviation. Fallows says, “The opaqueness of the terminology is unfortunately typical of the Telex-era legacy coding of aviation announcements.”

It used to be a lot easier for journalists to find relevant conversations, as Google used to have a Discussions search that was focused on forums, but that now seems to have been rolled into Google Groups. It will still search Usenet groups and some mailing lists, but the search is not as comprehensive as Google Discussions once was. To search discussion forums, Boardreader seems to have very similar features to Google’s old Discussions search, so is probably the best place to search.

I always recommend that journalists know the online sources related to their beat, and this is a great reminder of looking beyond the usual suspects.

Note: If you want to see for yourself the breadth of discussion online about the crash, I’d recommend that you search for “Asiana Flight 214”. When I used the search term “Asiana 214”, for some reason Google thought I was looking for Asian porn.

Digital Journalism: Focus on the software not the hardware

Journalist and professor Carl Sessions Stepp celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first published story with a series looking at 50 lessons from his 50 years as a journalist in the American Journalism Review. In the final instalment of the series, he has a great call to action to revolutionise online content:

In many ways, we’re still in the hardware stage with digital journalism, still fixated on the tools. Journalists have lagged behind other entrepreneurs in imagining revolutionary content. Their momentum should accelerate into developing mind-boggling, irresistible, until-now-impossible information services for their readers. As we have already seen, if journalists don’t do this, others will.

In the past he says, progress in journalism relied on hardware, the platforms, from printing presses all the way through to the internet. Now, it is much more about software.

When Stepp says that we’re obsessed with the tools, I think he’s saying that we’ve been focused on platforms, and I think that is true. However, I have also seen enough digital techniques come and go that sometimes we become tools of our software tools too. How many editors are saying that they want their own Snowfall or Firestorm, their own immersive multimedia stories? Don’t get me wrong, I love immersive storytelling and some of the new techniques, but it’s always worth understanding which stories are appropriate for those techniques.

Fortunately, digital journalism has matured. When blogs were first popular, every journalist wanted a blog because a lot of them saw blogs as a short-cut to their own columns. They didn’t really see them as social media, just a digital incarnation of an existing format they understood. Now that digital has become a primary platform, rather than just another channel for distributing content originally crated for another platform, we’re seeing a lot more sophistication with digital storytelling.

That said, I know that Stepp is making a broader point, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with. It’s not just about telling stories in new ways. It is about delivering information and engagement in new ways. Although journalistic storytelling is my passion, I know that this is about thinking beyond stories to information services.

We are now seeing some great experiments in creating indispensable new information services. Mobile news service Circa is on to something. I’m not entirely convinced about breaking up stories in single screen swipes for mobile, but I think getting notifications about new developments on stories I would like to follow is something very interesting. Zite, which was acquired by CNN, is the first thing I open in the morning, and Watchup, the tablet app that lets me roll my own TV newscast, is my second.

All three of those groups are start-ups, but that doesn’t mean that traditional news organisations can’t create such innovative services. However, one of the hardest bits of software to manage in this process has been, and is, the culture of news organisations themselves. We already have a pretty good strategic template for rebooting a news organisation — the Newspaper Next project. Although few newspapers have followed the strategic advice that the project provided, we are seeing it in action with Clark Gilbert at the Deseret News where a core strategy is to develop print and digital separately. On a tactical level, we’re also seeing hack days and internal incubators. So companies are tackling some of these major cultural and organisational issues, but even Clark Gilbert is honest about the difficulty of this task.

I think it’s clear that we don’t have a choice but to do this hard work. Stepp is right if we journalists don’t do this, others will. But I know that journalists can and will do this.

Digital media success beyond cranking out lots of low-cost content

Dipping through my morning digital media reading on Zite, I found a piece that put digital media success simply, though I’d argue overly simplistically. Josh Sternberg writing at Digiday, wrote:

Winning in digital media now boils down to a simple equation: figure out a way to produce the most content at as low a cost as possible.

Volume as a winning strategy is then taken as on faith throughout the rest of the piece. Sternberg goes on to say that publishers are turning to volume to “combat low ad prices”. But ad inventory oversupply has been one thing driving down digital ad rates, and pumping out more content exacerbates rather than solves that problem. As Justin Lewis said on Twitter:

I think that high content volume at low cost can be a good strategy for start-ups and some established brands: It has worked well for the Huffington Post and Forbes. But in the volume game, we’re going to see a few big winners and a lot of sites swimming in the deadpool. Consolidation will happen, although the lure of the media is so great that I’m sure that we’ll have quite a bit of churn with new content sites and apps being launched all the time despite a few big players owning most of the space. This is why the Daily Mail isn’t comparing itself to other newspaper sites but to internet giants like Yahoo and MSN, even if it has a way to go to get into that league. It’s a bold statement of how aggressively they are going to push the volume model. They started with a large base of readers and have simply adapted the skin-and-celeb model of tabloid journalism to the digital world, which isn’t that difficult to do.

However, it’s important to remember that volume of content is not the same as commercial success. The figures are a couple of years out-of-date (2010 data), but Ken Doctor looked at the average revenue per user (ARPU) of the New York Times and the Huffington Post. In it, he found that each of the 48 m global unique users at the New York Times was worth $3.54 versus 96 cents for each of the Huffington Post’s 31 m users. It would be very interesting to see the ARPU for the New York Times with its paid content strategy now firmly in place. The New York Times has struggled like most newspapers in developed markets over the last few years, but their paid content strategy is successful. As Ken says, a premium brands get higher returns than non-premium ones.

Digital paid content is also becoming a source of serious revenue for early paid content pioneers. In February of this year, the Financial Times announced that it has more digital subscribers than print subscribers, 316,000 versus 286,000. Jeff John Roberts at paidContent says, “But it’s hard to see how the FT case study can apply to anyone other than the FT.”

The FT has always been held up as an exception not an example for other, largely general interest, news publications, but dismissing its lessons out of hand is a mistake. However, the FT shows the counter-example to the volume strategy: 316,000 digital subs is peanuts compared to the millions of pay views, but it is proving to be a financially sustainable strategy.

More than that, publishers are moving beyond a two-pronged revenue strategy of ads or paid content. Most publishers, even the Daily Mail’s parent company, are developing multiple revenue streams to create a sustainable business, including events, digital marketing and development services and e-books just to name a few.  There are other publications, such as The Atlantic, doing quite well that are pursuing different strategies.

And that’s only big traditional publishers. My former Guardian colleague Bobbie Johnson launched low-volume, high-quality science and tech publisher Read Matter after a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign. They must be doing something right. They were acquired by Ev Williams’ newest project, the blogging platform Medium, in April of this year.

You don’t have to play the volume strategy to win in digital, but you do have to find a way to translate your digital audience to revenue. That’s the big challenge, and thankfully, big numbers aren’t the only way to do that.