UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

from Royal Wedding Diary:

Press faces royal wedding day dilemmas

Royals9.jpgMedia companies, particularly from Britain and North America, are pouring a lot of resources into covering the April 29 wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton in London. The amount of money they are spending, and the temptation to decide what their millions of viewers want to see, could cloud editorial judgment on the day should things not go according to plan.

One potential problem could be if a small number of protesters turn violent, and attempt to "hijack" an event which the British government believes will be watched in some shape or form by more than a quarter of the Earth's population. This happened only recently in London when a march by up to half a million people protesting at spending cuts by the government was overshadowed by the violent actions of a few hundred "radicals". The British broadcasters generally focussed more closely on the few than on the many, but would they do the same later this month?

Certainly the royal press teams and the monarch herself will be keen for media companies to stay "on message". They will see the wedding of the generally popular young couple as a good opportunity to bolster the royal family, and anything to spoil the big day would irk them no end. So far the press has been generally compliant, giving Middleton and William a relatively easy ride and producing overwhelmingly positive coverage of the marriage. Of course, there may be no violence on the day at all, but were things to turn nasty, would the broadcasters point their cameras away from the pomp and pageantry of the royal occasion to capture smashed windows and police in riot gear?

Another temptation may be to give the impression that there are more people lining the streets than is actually the case. There is no particular reason to doubt the event will be well attended (the wedding between Prince Charles and Diana drew an estimated crowd of 600,000 people to the streets of central London), but should it "flop" in terms of numbers, would this be accurately reflected in coverage? Graham Smith, who heads up the anti-monarchy Republic group, said he would be watching broadcasters like the BBC carefully on the day, ready to make a formal complaint if what he sees on his TV screen does not reflect what is going on on the street.

from Felix Salmon:

The FT’s decline

I had a hard-to-follow Twitter debate yesterday about the FT's paywall, where a couple of FT types -- Alan Beattie and John Gapper -- told me that the latest numbers for digital subscribers show that I was wrong when I criticized the FT's strategy in October 2007. I'm often wrong, so that wouldn't come as a surprise. But in this case I think I was right.

Because the FT is a subsidiary of a much larger corporation, it can confine itself to releasing only the numbers it wants to release. But a few things are clear at this point.

from Fan Fare:

May one moan about the royal wedding?

Royals1.jpgI may be in Berlin covering the film festival, but I'm keeping half an eye on the press coverage of the royal wedding. Needless to say there is an awful lot of it, and some of the stories appear to be as much fiction as fact, if not more so. The tone is almost entirely positive, with commentators glowing about the young royal couple, her style, his grace, how good it all is for the country, economy, morale, soul -- oh you get the gist.

Now there is not necessarily anything wrong with being positive -- after all, we are talking about a couple of 20-somethings about to embark on a big adventure (marriage) and we should wish them well.

from Felix Salmon:

Why you can’t see great video

I spent a large chunk of Saturday looking at The Clock. Christian Marclay's video masterpiece is currently on show at the Paula Cooper gallery in New York, and is also part of the British Art Show, which is touring the UK and will open in London on Wednesday.

Still, like a lot of excellent video, it's very hard to find. Wayne Rooney's bicycle-kick winner on Saturday is out there, although the copyright holders were being very aggressive in taking it down from YouTube for most of the weekend. And the Grammy performances from last night are still pretty much nowhere to be found.

from Felix Salmon:

FT Tilt: A blog behind a paywall

FT Tilt has now officially launched. Calling itself "a premium online financial news and analysis service focused exclusively on the emerging world," it has a total staff of 12, including 8 reporters scattered around the world. Founded by Paul Murphy and Stacy-Marie Ishmael of FT Alphaville fame, it has so much blog in its look and feel and its DNA that it's probably fair to call this the most ambitious paywalled blog in the world.

The design of Tilt is very clean and very modern—all Ajax and HTML5 and CSS3, in austere black-and-white reminiscent of Khoi Vinh's Subtraction. It clearly needs work, especially on navigation from article pages, which feel like dead ends right now; even bylines aren't linked to anything. And the site is far too prone to opening not only external but even internal links in a new tab. But that's all fine: if you're not embarrassed by the first version of your Web site, you're doing something wrong. The trick is to get something up, and then iterate continuously.

from Felix Salmon:

The user-hostile FT

John Gruber wrote the definitive article about "Tynt, the Copy/Paste Jerks," back in May. Tynt is the company which adds what Gruber quite rightly calls "a bunch of user-hostile SEO bullshit" to your clipboard every time you copy text from a website; most of the time that text comprises a unique link back to the post in question.

In the annals of Tynt-based user hostility, however, I suspect that has now won some kind of prize. For one thing, their addition comes before, not after, the text you're trying to copy. And what's more, it actually tells you that you're in breach of the website's terms and conditions. Here's an example:

from Breakingviews:

Murdoch will have to work to get his way in the UK

During the UK election campaign, Rupert Murdoch's newspapers attacked the Liberal Democrats with headlines like "Lib-Dumb exclusive." It shouldn't therefore come as a complete surprise that Vince Cable, the Lib Dem who is now UK business secretary, has ordered a probe into whether the 12.3 billion pound bid by the media mogul's News Corporation to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting is against the public interest.

Yet while politics may have influenced his decision, Cable has other reasons to probe the deal. Rival UK media groups vociferously oppose it: they fear that, in an online world, the combination of News Corp and BSkyB might kill off other UK newspapers—for example, by bundling Murdoch's newspaper websites with Sky subscriptions.

from Felix Salmon:

Newspaper paywall datapoint of the day

There's lots of schadenfreude at the expense of News Corp today, which finally released numbers on its UK paywalls. Mathew Ingram, for instance, reckons the numbers prove that the paywalls are a bust, while Ian Burrell surveys other media machers and finds lots of downward-pointing thumbs.

Certainly traffic has fallen off a cliff, from 21 million to 2.7 million pageviews per month. And while News International is trumpeting "more than 105,000 paid-for customer sales to date", everybody suspects that most of those are one-off £1 purchases to get a 30-day free trial. (News has also bundled in the papers' iPad and Kindle editions, just to make the totals even more opaque.)

from Felix Salmon:

The UK press vs the FSA

Remember the FSA's hilarious attempt to stop M&A leaks coming out of investment banks? Well, the UK press certainly does. The editors of the FT, Times, and Guardian, as well as Reuters's very own David Schlesinger, have written a "we, the undersigned" letter to the FSA expressing "profound concerns" with its recommendations and asking the agency "to reconsider and revoke" them:

Regulated firms will find it much easier to hide behind bland press releases that conceal inconvenient corporate realities and there is a heightened risk that journalists will feel compelled to publish unconfirmed reports and rumours, increasing the flow of misinformation.

from Felix Salmon:

The FSA’s foolproof method for preventing M&A leaks

The UK's FSA has conducted an investigation into the way that big M&A transactions can get leaked before they are formally announced. Its conclusion might shock you, so make sure you're sitting down for this:

Our enquiries revealed that media reports containing leaks were often closely preceded by telephone conversations between insiders occupying senior roles on a corporate transaction, and the journalists who published those media reports. Due to their position as insiders, these senior individuals held detailed knowledge of the transaction. The calls between the insiders and journalists lasted up to 20 minutes in length and in some cases took place with journalists the afternoon or evening before the leak was first published.