UK AOP: Ulrik Haagerup, leading new media change

This was the second time in a year that I’ve heard Ulrik speak, and it’s a real treat. I first heard him talk at an IFRA convergence workshop last summer. His ideas are compelling, but his new media leadership is some of the best in the world. He clearly communicates a plan of action for media organisations but he also has a management framework that helps organisations help staff through the change.

He started off by quoting a Chines proverb:

When the winds of change blow, some build shields against the wind but others build wind mills.

In 2002, Nordjyske was a newspaper in North Jutland in Denmark as it had been since something like 1767. It took about 10,000 Euros a day to put out the newspaper in 2002, and he said that the staff would strike at the slightest provocation. But they were facing a crisis, possibly the worst thing that can happen to a newspaper in Denmark: They were under threat of being sold to Norwegians.

Something had to change. He asked his staff what Darwin had said. Invariably, they said that strongest survive. Ulrik corrected them. What Darwin had actually said was that those with the ability to adapt to change in their environment would win, would survive. And he said that if more change is happening outside your window than inside, you’re in trouble. They had to adapt to survive, which is a fair comment on lots of business models these days.

We as journalists have lost our monopoly on information

They looked and saw that their audience was watching TV. They could run adverts telling their audience not to watch TV, or they could manage the change. Everyone watched CNN Headline News, but what they needed was a local version, so they launched 24 Nordjyske. Now, it’s watched by almost everyone in North Jutland, and they suddenly have an audience far greater than the newspaper. And that wasn’t the end. They launched a radio station, a premium SMS service. They have a website, and a weekly newspaper as well as the daily newspaper.

They now have a multimedia newsroom. They don’t have newspaper reporters or radio reporters. They have reporters. They create story for all media, but not all stories are created for all media. He broke it down this way as media and their strengths:

  • TV- feelings
  • Radio- here and now
  • Web- searchable and depth
  • Mobile- everywhere
  • Traffic paper- find time
  • Weekly- to everyone
  • Daily- stops time

His thinking about convergence is some of the best in the industry. He was the first person who I had ever heard that said that convergence is not a cost-cutting measure. It won’t save you money. He said that his staffing has changed little since transforming his organisation from a newspaper into a multimedia house. (They are so successful that people the world over come for tours and sessions. They pay 2000 euros per visit. They put that money in a box and just bought a new helicopter.)

His journalists are multi-skilled, but obviously, the learning curve is steep and not all of the results are award-winning. But he said: Don’t criticise the product. Applaud the process. He also talked about the difference between industrial management and innovative management, and one of the things that he said was that industrial thinking looks for short-term returns, while innovative thinking looked for long-term results. He said that the word for manager actually came from a French word for controlling horses, but that modern managers didn’t need to order their people around.

One thing that he said last summer that he didn’t in this talk is one off the lessons that I learned and really informs how I work and now I lead as an editor:

Most managers point and say to their staff: Go that way. That’s where the future is. But leaders say: I’m heading in towards our future. Follow me.

AOP: The evolving content model

Torin Douglas of the BBC moderated this panel. The panel:

  • Rod Henwood, head of new business Channel 4
  • Zach Leonard, digital media publisher, Times MediaTim Weller, chief executive, Incisive Media
  • Jim Scheinman, VP of business development and sales, Bebo
  • Rod Henwood, 600 channels on Sky’s basic pack. Our business model is under threat in a multi-channel world and with the disruptive force of broadband. He says what will save their bacon is brand (We worship our brand, he says), exclusive content, cross-promotional capability, corporate focus and adaptability. The biggest challenge is not so much what to do but what not to do. They have embraced video on demand. It is a possible threat, but they see it as an opportunity. They are looking for platform ubiquity.

    I’m glad that VOD is coming. Even with 30 channels of choice on Freeview, too often it’s 30 channels and nothing on, and I go back to DIY video on demand.

    Zach Leonard and the Times are gunning for the Guardian. The last six months he said that they are bringing in deals that before were only familiar in a print market. The story telling process of journalism has changed forever. He made a plea for developers to come see him. “I am sure that we can make you an attractive offer,” he said.

    Good to hear that. At least someone is hiring.

    Integrated newsrooms and common platforms are just the beginning. They are also looking at user-generated content and community. They recently posted the video of the 9/11 hijackers in 2000 that was just discovered. Their traffic doubled and trebled. And their podcasting is ‘dominating iTunes’.

    Tim Weller, founder and CEO of Incisive. One of 40% that didn’t know what a blog is. He was the target of bloggers in the States for their search engine strategy. He founded the company 12 years ago. They turn a quarter of billion in revenue. They connect people who want to buy products with people who want to sell. They are platform agnostic. Key challenge is that the call for ROI (return on investment) is getting stronger. Buyers want real-time market intelligence.

    Work with search engines or block them out from paid content? I think it’s a fabulous marketing tool. Develop more community-based content with user-generated content. MySpace and Bebo, peer-to-peer markets are great at breaking down barriers to people communicating with each other.

    Jim Scheinman, of Bebo, was a no show. Bummer. I wanted to hear from him.

    Rod of C4 said the word: Convergence. I’ve heard about convergence for years, and for C4, it’s all about VOD right now.

    Torrin said that at C4 and the BBC, they have public money coming in, but how does the Times finance these changes. Zach says that they have a range of titles from the Times, the Sun to the Times Literary Supplement. On the Sun, they can play more with community.

    There was an interesting discussion happening about how to innovate. Rod said that there was the integrationist and the internal incubator model. They are two extremes, but he said that a balance must be struck between speeding up innovation but also getting this to the core of the business model.

    After listening to this, the absence of the voice of Bebo was noticeable. People are talking very peripherally about community, but you can tell it’s not core to their business models right now.

UK AOP: Five challenges for online publishing

I’m of at the UK Association of Online Publishers. The keynote is about how to compete in a new economy, giving by Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, so my boss’s boss’s boss, or some such high level above my head.

She laid out five challenges for online publishers:

1) Our brands and our staff are the foundation of our future. This didn’t wow me at first, but then she started to talk about online brand tracking. I don’t think (and Suw will tell you) that companies are doing too little to monitor how their brands are being talked about online.

Dell Computer’s business is a little soft. Did Jeff Jarvis’ continual drumbeat of discontent on Buzzmachine play a part? Definitely. Hard to say how much. But he’s offering them suggestions.

2) Stay close to your users. She mentioned that Flickr doesn’t even talk about users but talks constantly about community. This is one opportunity that bloggers like Robert Scoble understand implicitly, but publishers don’t yet. Blogging is an opportunity to listen as well as publish.

3) Innovate to learn. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You have to start somewhere.

4) Excel at software development. Our best developers are as important as our best journalists. Adrian Holovaty will be cheered to hear that his message is getting out.

5) Drive digital revenue growth as soon as possible. I’m not a hard-core money maker, but I feel very strongly about the importance of quality journalism, which costs money and takes time. It’s desperately expensive, but without getting into the pro-am debate, it’s also pretty important. Newspaper revenues are in collapse in the US, well at least they are declining from the double digit margins of the past. But to continue to pay for quality journalism, the revenue model has to change.

Torin Douglas asked who has time to read Comment is Free, the Guardian’s mega commentary site. Carolyn, honestly said, that she only goes there a couple a times a week to get a flavour of what people are saying about Iraq or the Labour Party.

Our second podcast pt 2: IBC, Hammond and This American Life

Ok, it’s taken me a little longer than I had hoped to post up the second half of the podcast that Suw and I did last Sunday night.

powered by ODEO

Again, if you want to download the podcast directly, you can click here. (29:32 14.2 MB)

I’ll add some more detailed show notes, but Suw starts off talking about her excitement about Second Life, watching the progress of Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond and the wonderful radio programme, This American Life.

Suw and I have a lot going on this week. Suw’s off to BlogTalk in Vienna, and I’m going to the Association of Online Publishers conference on Tuesday.

Our second podcast pt 1: A conference roundup

We recorded this on Sunday night, but I’ve really struggled with Odeo’s upload tool. In the end, I gave up, uploaded to the Internet Archive and just linked to it via Odeo. (Note: It does take a second or two to load into the Odeo player) The Creative Commons publisher worked a treat, and I’m happy that we’re using CC licencing anyway.

Suw has been on the conference circuit lately. I so glad that she got a new MacBook so we can do video iChat. Otherwise, I’d rarely see her. She’s been to FooCamp, EuroFoo, and EuroOSCON. It’s got her excited about Second Life among other things. And we talk about the devloper-as-journalist Adrian Holovaty.

She just left this morning to go to Shift in Lisbon.. We’ll have to talk about that later.

powered by ODEO

You can always simply download the podcast here. (20:28 9.8 MB)

We started off thinking that we really didn’t have much to talk about, but in the end, we talked so much that we decided to break up the podcast into two parts. I’ll add the show notes in a bit and post the second part in a bit.

UPDATE: Show notes:

00:30 EuroFoo recap Suw talks about FooCamp and EuroFoo, including talking about the Google Flyover, making a crashed Cylon raider out of beanbags
03:25 Suw talks about a presentation on chocolate. Remember, only losers chew. Real people suck.
07:00 Other topics at EuroFoo, future of spying, Ryan Carson talks about working a four-day week, and ‘Could we build a tricorder?’
08:56 EuroOSCON. Suw discusses Tom Steinberg of MySociety presentation about democratising government. I talk about distributed journalism. I space on the details, but Glyn reminds me in the comments.
11:52 Adrian Holovaty talks about adding structure to the data that journalists gather. Adrian talks about the developer as journalists.
16:40 It’s like Tom Coates who talks about a ‘web of data’. Journalism now is a web of news, Suw says.

The first half ends a bit abruptly, but I’ll post the second half now.

EuroOSCON: Adrian Holovaty – Journalism via computer programming

Journalism right now is broken. Several ways – celebrity focus, political bias, circulation declining consistently, stock prices dropping, craisglist taking away classifieds market.

But that’s not the issue. The issues is that newspapers throw away data.

So if there was a burglary, you have the address, the person, the stuff nicked, roughly the time. has key value pairs. But all the journalist does is write an article and throw away most of the data.

News orgs have huge infrastructure, with reporters on the street, specialised. Infrastructure to collect and edit information, verify it. Not every media organisation does that, that they’re not taking advantage of. Have infrastructure to get info out to people, i.e. a printing press originally. Also have the attention of people.

But can’t take advantage of data because they are just creating big blobs – stories.

So contrast to
Google Base, (which is just infrastructure with no data).

All great frameworks desperate for data. Journalists have great data desperate for a framework.

Why is structured data important – because if it’s structured a computer can do cool stuff with it.

Journalism via computer programming.

News people write an article, or create a video. A programmer makes a web app that makes it easy to look at the data.

WaPo, Iraq war, huge issue. Most recent deaths page, total fatalities, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation Enduring Freedom. Collect data on everyone who’s died, but can’t do a story on everyone, but can make that data available.

Faces of the Fallen – get own page, bio, map of home town. Depressing but important. Breakdown of age of deaths, most are 21, look by age, photos, breakdown of state, see all the people from the state and their town. Googlemaps. RSS Feed for every state. Sounds depressing and gory, but people are interested and they are then making their own sites, using for political activism.

Another example:

Type of crime, street, by block, brows by day, by hour, and latest crime RSS feed

Votes Database, representatives in congress, their votes, breakdowns of late night votes, votes missed, get RSS out there. So people can get more interested in government: did you know your representative voted this way today?

Telling a story via an application not words. Being smart about data, dealing with raw data. Badger journalists to get the raw data so we can do cool stuff. End game is not creating an article, but getting data in one place to do cool stuff.

Cultural similarities to this and open source code.

Open source:
– making code available.
– understanding through transparency: can download stuff and look at it.
– encourages derivative work, although depends on licence.

Journalism via code:
– make the data available.
– encourages understanding through transparency: better to look at the data than someone’s opinion.
– encourages derivative work, can take the data from the RSS feed and do stuff with it yourself.

Call to action
Done talks at journalism conferences, and people grumble that this ‘isn’t journalism’, but that’s kinda depressing that the industry thinks that way. It’s not full of passionate people who want to do cool things with technology but full more of people more interested in the ends than the means. So if people are interested, then go out there and do it.

Why I blog, and why the MSM should and many times shouldn’t

That’s the title of the talk I gave last week at IBC and that I have given in various forms at other places over the last year. I began the talk by showing off some numbers from Dave Sifry’s most recent State of the Blogosphere reports, the latest one being from early in August. Technorati is now tracking 50 million blogs, and that’s just a self-selecting sample of people who have registered with the site (well self selecting and plenty of splogs, spam blogs, which the Team Technorati is working on trimming from its ranks). That’s a lot of people.

The mainstream media, or MSM for short, can give 16-year-olds trying to lay their hands on the latest fashion a run for their money when it comes to herd-like activity. And newspapers, TV networks and everyone else trying to protect or resurrect an old media business model have jumped enmasse on what Jon Stewart called the Blogwagon. But it’s mostly been an unthinking, headlong rush towards the blogosphere, “to get snaps” from the good-as-advertising-gold 18-to-34 demographic.

Is this really about giving a voice to the already voiced, as Jon Stewart says? What value is it to our audiences to serve up ‘news sushi’, content we already produce and publish but just served up in bite-sized blog bits in reverse chronological order? And I can hear the editors out there saying: “But blogs are just snarky comment, and hey we’ve got snarky columnists in spades. We are so going to own the Technorati and iTunes Top 10.” (And I’ve heard them say this.) Sorry, but if you want to sit up on high and keep pushing your content out at the “great unwashed masses”, YouTube, CraigsList and their successors are so gonna own your asses.

This is not about changing your content management system. You’ve already sunk a lot of cash into those. This is about changing your culture. What do blogs allow you to do that you don’t already do?

  1. Blogs can get you closer to your audience
    And that’s exactly where you need to be. I met Robert Scoble at a Geek Dinner here in London last summer, and he talked about having a conversation with his customers on how Microsoft could better serve their needs. I don’t really understand when journalists moved away from their audience, but many people have that impression.
  2. Blogs can bring new voices to your journalism
    Since when did journalism become a game of pick the pundit? It’s lazy, and it’s turned a lot of journalism into a talking shop amongst pundits, politicians and other journalists. Google yourself some new voices. In the last year, blogs have helped me bring serving soldiers in Iraq onto programmes, helped me hear from a Saudi teenager calling for women’s right to vote and let me eavesdrop in on a guy’s thoughts as he left New Orleans to escape Katrina.
  3. Blogs can get you closer to the story
    Blogs and a world of tools that have grown up around them make creating multimedia stories in the field easier than ever. I’m an online journalist because I believe that the internet is a revolutionary medium. I can do better journalism with blogging tools: Real, raw and in the field, while being in constant contact with my audience. What do they want to know? What questions do they have for the people I’m interviewing?
  4. Blogs could just re-invigorate western democracy
    OK, OK, maybe I’m getting a little carried away. But I’m still an idealist at heart. That’s one of the reasons I got into journalism. Steve Yelvington, who really should be in your RSS reader, put it this way recently:
    1. The end of mass media. Here’s what the 20the century gave us: A population of consumers whose economic role was to eat what they’re served and pay up. These “people formerly known as the audience” are alienated, disengaged and angry. Instead of setting our sights on building a nation of shopkeepers, bankers and passive consumers, what if we set our sights on building a nation of participants in cultural and civic life? Perhaps this world where everyone can be a publisher will not be such a bad place.

And as Steve says a few days later in his blog, there isn’t a silver bullet, and I’m not going to try to sell blogs as one. But Steve told me in Florida a year ago that blogs represent a complex set of social behaviours that we’re just understanding. Blogs are just the tip of the ice berg in this fast moving world of participatory media. Blogging and the mainstream media has to be more than ‘me-too-ism’, and it can be. With a little thought to understand these new behaviours and a willingness to actually accept and adapt to these changes instead of wishing they weren’t happening, we might just have a chance.

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Second Life (FOO and beyond)

I saw Second Life being demoed at Supernova last year, although I stood and watched a bunch of avatars dancing to Chumbawumba, I didn’t immediately pay much attention. Oh yes, that’s me, on the cutting edge right there… no, back a bit…

I have this really annoying practical streak. Whenever I see something new, I think to myself, “Yes, but what can I do with it?” and if I can’t immediately answer that question, I tend to move on. A few months ago, I started to hear stories of what people were doing with Second Life, and my ears pricked right up. Mixed reality events. In-game stores created by real-world businesses. In-game stores created by in-game people. Commerce. Oh yes. Now you’re floating my boat. (Oh dear… am I really that much of a capitalist?)

So I signed up for an account (I’m TiddlesMcNubbin Goodnight) and logged in to find out what all the fuss was about. What I actually found out was that my iBook really couldn’t handle the client. I’d press the arrow key three times, then have to wait whilst the client caught up – totally sub-optimal user experience, that. But now I have a spiffy new MacBook and I’m away. In just the last week, I’ve learnt how to move around, I’ve left the Help Island and gone to the mainland, bought my first plot of land, and been given a terminal velocity-triggered parachute, a house and a four poster bed, and been treated to a fight between two Daleks.

Two Daleks having a fight

(Really, no user experience is complete without Daleks.)

And you know, that’s just the start of it. American Apparel have a store there, apparently a replica of a store they have in Tokyo, where you can go and buy t-shirts. Creative Commons have an auditorium where they hold events. Nissan have a presence (not quite sure what to call the big tower-y thing they have, and not sure if it’s official or not). Developers from the Amazon community are building things in-game like virtual bookstores in which you can actually buy books from Amazon. And I’ve heard that a chain of hotels, W I think, are creating a replica of one of their hotels there so you can go check out the rooms.

The possibilities really are endless and the above is just a tiny selection. It doesn’t really matter what you do or how you do it, you can do something in Second Life. You can stream audio and video into an in-game theatre, as BBC Radio 1 did from their One Big Weekend gig in Dundee. Actually, there’s a ton of music events in Second Life, as this Wired article shows, with a Duran Duran gig coming up. You can give away goodies – the BBC gave away headphones with their logo on. You can create and sell, for Linden Dollars, any object you like, from clothing to houses to jetskis.

So, whilst I was at FooCamp, I went to a couple of talks about Second Life. The first from Matt Biddulph about bringing web apps into the game, and the second from Philip Rosedale of Linden Lab, who talked about what is happening with the game and how its community is developing and behaving. Both were fascinating.

Matt’s talk was pretty techy, and I missed the beginning so I didn’t really fully grok it until I read Tom’s summary, but in short, it’s about taking stuff from the web, such as a Flickr photo stream, and bringing it into Second Life – in the case of the Flickr stream it is projected up on a big screen that anyone can go and look at.

Think for a second… you can take anything that’s out there and bring it in-game. And then people can see it in-game and follow the link out to the web. Does this make anyone else as excited as it makes me? Think of all the really cool shit that you can’t afford to do in real life, but which you can do in Second Life!

Philip was talking about what people do in-game. One of the things that interested me was that there is an in-game building industry, with skilled builders creating objects and selling them, either in-game for Linden Dollars, or on eBay for US Dollars. Bear in mind that both currencies are ‘real’, no matter how you define ‘money’. I’ll spare you the detailed argument right now, but if you doubt me go and read Play Money by Julian Dibbell and that should convince you.

So there’s a bunch of cool – and sometimes physically impossible – things you can do in Second Life and an ecosystem of skilled artisans in-game who can help you realise your ideas.

Of course, it’s never that easy. Like blogging, if you’re a business and you wanna get into Second Life, then you have to be really careful what you do and how you do it. Talking to Jeff Barr from Amazon, he told me about how people will turn up and protest – with placards and everything – when a business turns up in Second Life without been a part of the community before, or without giving something back to the community they are ‘invading’. People don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want the creep of commercialism to take over their play environments as well as their work and home environments.

So what is successful? Well it’s early days for me in Second Life, so I’m still figuring that out. Like my friend and fellow social software consultant, Stephanie Booth says, it takes a while to learn what’s happening in-world and how it all works:

What makes Second Life exciting is also what makes it really difficult to get into: it’s complex. I’m spending a lot of time learning stuff which isn’t really that interesting in itself for me (I have no ambition to become a digital hairstylist) but which is needed for what’s coming next. Feeling comfortable with your inventory, moving the camera about, doing things with objects… there are all basic skills and I’m not comfortable with them yet. But if you want a world where people can be digital artists, build businesses, organise live music performances or conferences, you need that level of complexity to allow users to be creative.

But I think the rules for businesses in Second Life are going to be similar to those for blogging:

– be a part of the community, and empower them to do stuff with your stuff
– be respectful, truthful, honest, genuine
– don’t sell at people
– give people something valuable in return for their attention
– do cool shit

And the capacity for doing cool shit in Second Life is huge.

County fairs, country music and loving your audience

I grew up in the rural Midwest in the US, about 90 miles west of Chicago, and my father loved – still loves – county fairs. Back in the mid 1980s, I was lucky enough to see Johnny Cash with his wife June Carter at a country fair. I still remember the shiver that went down my spine when he took the stage and said: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

I’m not a huge country music fan, but I love good music. Johnny Cash was a living legend, but he still thanked the audience for coming to the concert, for buying his records. He was humble, but it was a humility and a gratitude for his audience that was common to country singers. When I saw Walk the Line this year, I realised for Johnny Cash it might have been because of all of the letters of support he got, especially when he was struggling with his demons and addictions.

I got that feeling of connection with my audience when I was a cub reporter in western Kansas. It was not just a connection with my sources but also with my audience. That feeling of connection is one of the reasons that I find blogging as a journalist more fulfilling than traditional publishing or broadcasting. I find it odd now to write a story that doesn’t have a space for comments. Yeah, I can see the stats. I know people are clicking on the story, but I find having a conversation with my audience more fulfilling.

I talk to a lot of people in the media who view their audience as an annoyance. In the past, the only time they ever heard from members of their audience was to complain. Here in the UK, they jokingly refer to agitated callers or writers with the blanket phrase, ‘Angry in Milton Keynes’.

When I started this post, I was going to point out some of the many incidents when the media turns on their audience. It’s a pointless exercise really. It gets pretty ugly pretty quickly, like when Richard Cohen of the Washington Post this spring called e-mail correspondents a ‘Digital Lynch Mob‘. (For more background, Kos called it the ‘Substance of a Blogswarm‘. Tailrank has a nice roundup of this particular spat.)

I’m not going to pick on Mr Cohen or any publication. Even I have found myself in a middle of a blogswarm or two, such as when the brothers at Iraq the Model banned the BBC from their blog last year. A poor colleague, Sarah, who actually had little to do with the misunderstanding, got some pretty abusive e-mail. She asked me to help out. I hopped into the comments and explained what we were doing. Two comments later, the tide turned, and a commenter named Thomas was even talking about linking back to us.

As I’ve said before, if we in the traditional media blog, we have to play by the rules of blogging, not our own rules. You don’t issue a press release. You get out ahead of the blog storm. You get into the comments. You give your side of the story.

But you don’t always have to be on the defensive. Real blogging – getting out there and actually engaging in a conversation with your audience – has real benefits, both in terms of the business bottom line and just in terms of personal satisfaction.

What do I get back from it? A lot. As I blogged a few weeks ago, I’m changing jobs. Friday was my last day in the office at the BBC, and my colleagues blogged about it. I had plenty of well wishers. Abdelilah Boukili in Morocco has become a loyal member of our audience. He’s been quick to let us know when something is wrong with the blog, usually technical glitches. But it’s helped us fine tune our blog setup. He has also set up his own blog to chronicle his comments on BBC websites. But his comments on the World Have Your Say blog and here on Strange Attractor show how blogging opens new ways to relate to your audience. He said in a comment to me:

It was your interaction with the contributors to the BBC blog that encouraged me to be one of the frequent contributors. I am not a journalist like you equipped with means to get information. All I can do is give my comments which can be good or bad.

In case, you leave BBC blog I will be “following” you in the Guardian blog.

And there are several bloggers who have become frequent visitors to my blogs, Steve in Utah, Ipanema, Anbika in Nepal and Roberto in Miami, who have wished me well.

It takes time to build a community with a blog. Media companies are rushing to blog, rushing to use social networking tools. But as Suw and I always say, the technical tools are just the start. First off, learn to love your audience. We need to learn from the country music crowd. They remember who pay the bills.

Under new ownership…

Guardian UnlimitedThis is probably the worst kept secret, which is why I’m a journalist and not a member of the intelligence services, but I can finally announce that I’m under new ownership. After almost eight years with the BBC, I’m joining the Guardian as their Head of Blogging and Interaction.

During my eight years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great people on some great projects. The correspondents, videographers, radio producers and business managers at the Washington bureau, which I called home for six years, are the best in the business. I can’t thank them enough for their support. And Andrew Roy and Martin Turner, the two bureau chiefs I worked for, were instrumental in the success of the BBC News website’s Washington operations. John Angeli, Nic Newman, Cathy Grieve and Steve Herrmann at the News website gave me the support and the freedom to innovate.

Nic’s idea for our first US Election road trip put our audience in the driver’s seat. The US Election Challenge in 2000 pushed the edges of technology and the limits of endurance as Tom Carver and I raced across the US. More than 6,500 miles in six days.

Before Strange Attractor, I used to joke that “I’m not a blogger, but I play one on TV”. It was an accident of professional prodding really, but I was excited when Steve suggested that I blog during the political conventions in 2004. But it was such a success that Richard Greene and I reprised the 2000 road trip and I blogged across America. As I will be the first to admit, technically, it wasn’t much of a blog. No RSS. No trackbacks. The comments were put on the bottom of one of our standard web pages. But I tried to behave like a blogger.

I’ve been an online journalist for 10 years now. The reason why I am an online journalist is because every morning I get to wake up, go to work and create a new medium. And there is a lot more work to do. Here’s just a taster of what my new job is about:

[To act as] a role model for the new, participative form of journalism emerging from the best blogs. The role won’t just be about encouraging more journalists and commentators to blog. It should also be about experimenting with different forms of community interaction, spotting opportunities to launch new blogs and develop existing ones, and helping us form a strategy.

Watch this space. Now it gets interesting.