Saturday, 25 August 2007

How I made £750 by going shopping

Classified ads are at the centre of one of the various tussles newspapers are having with the web.

Here’s a personal experience of what is happening.

Years ago, when we wanted to go on holiday, we’d look in the small ads in The Observer. There you got owners offering their second homes for rent. The chances were that you got a well-loved family home-from-home, in a pleasant place, at a reasonable price.

For years that was how we found and booked our holidays. When we came to have a holiday home of our own, and wanted to rent it out to cover costs when we weren’t using it, we looked to the classified ads. From ten to five years ago, we could place an ad in The Sunday Times for thee weeks in January, and get around 20 weeks of lettings out of it.

But, in more recent times, the ads dwindled. We tried other papers – The Telegraph (Saturday and Sunday) and the Saturday Times, but to no effect. The lettings were down to ten, then eight, then three weeks. And the ads were costing around £250.

When the reps rang I’d point out that we were now barely covering our costs, and that my very basic home-made website was getting me more bookings than their expensive ads. They suggested using their websites. So we did, in both The Times and The Telegraph. We got not one enquiry.

Last week, convinced that there must be a market for a very nice, reasonably priced flat on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy, I did a Google trawl for dedicated websites on which to advertise. The one that looked most reliable was called Owners Direct. So I paid my £65, drafted my description, uploaded my pictures and waited.

I didn’t have to wait long. The day the ad appeared I got three enquiries. Out of that came one booking, at £250, which easily covered the cost of the Owners Direct listing.

I hadn’t expected to get any bookings for this year, it being rather late in the season, but this morning as I strolled around the farmers’ market I got two SMS messages on my mobile, forwarded from visitors to the website. When I rang the enquirers I got two bookings for next month. Later, at the garden centre, I got another call, and sold a week next August.

So, while I went about my other business, I took £750 in bookings. That’s more than my last Times and Telegraph ads achieved, at several times the price.

There is a lesson here. It is that the cosy and reliable community of owners and renters of private holiday homes has migrated to a place that serves them far better than any print publication could.

The print publications, being slow off the mark, have allowed dedicated websites to syphon off this business.

As we all know, newspapers are working hard and fast to make the web work for them as they fight to retain their classified lifeblood.

Will they do it? I have to say that, in my very limited experience, they don’t have a hope.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

We tell the postgrads on the PMA magazine course that their blog is read by the industry, but they never quite believe us. How handy, then, that Press Gazette's Axegrinder should pick up on Tori Hunt's blog account of a talk given to the students by an NUJ rep:

Axegrinder drugs special: The National Union of Junkies?
Posted by Axegrinder on 15 August 2007 at 12:02pm

NUJ freelance branch representative Humphrey Evans gave PMA students taking a postgraduate course in magazine journalism a pep talk on the importance of joining the union.
According to Humph, any NUJ member could even expect the union to defend them should they be alcoholics or drug-takers.
"It would be reasonable to expect the employer to agree for you to go into rehab, rather than be fired," Evans assured his audience. "Obviously, no one wants drug-takers snorting cocaine in the office loos, but let's face it, if you're having to wait around in the cold for your witness to come home, of course you're going to start drinking. It's warm and welcoming."
One of the wily students, Tori Hunt, then wrote this up as a story on the PMA blog. No doubt the NUJ would support her pursuit of a scoop.

See Axegrinder here

There is a link to the PGs blog on the right

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Print journalists can’t tell a story in pictures. They’re too wordy. That’s the view of many broadcast journalists.

I’ve never believed it, but haven’t until now had the direct evidence to refute it.

This week at PMA, where the 12 postgrads are in week four of their fast-track diploma course in magazine journalism, we’ve just introduced video reporting.

It’s a new element of the syllabus, brought in partly because the magazine industry – like newspapers – has embraced the web and is experimenting with video reporting and podcasting on its websites. Also because PMA is aiming for NCTJ accreditation and is trialling the new Magazine Journalism syllabus that I’ve written for the NCTJ.

So, as if they didn’t have enough to contend with – having been bombarded with news writing, features, subbing, headline writing and flat planning over the past three and a half weeks, I announce this afternoon we are going to make some movies.

The students are a great bunch – smart, savvy, confident and up for any new challenge you care to throw at them. So they were enthusiastic. I was nervous. This was an experiment, and I had little idea how it would go.

I’ve also been trialling an online journalism qualification for newspaper journalists and there has been some fierce debate among some in the industry about how much training is needed to master this new skill.

There is also a debate about the quality of video reporting that we should aim for. Some feel it should be up to TV quality. My view is that, because magazines and newspapers are creating a new hybrid of print and video – sometimes using video as an adjunct to a print report – and publishing it on a screen just a couple of inches square, different standards should apply. Some might say these standards are too low – I say they are appropriate for the online medium

So, it’s early days, but here’s how these 12 students got on.

We gave them one short afternoon. I told them we’d like them to go out in pairs with a camera, and film a vox pop. I gave them a rough brief to make it something to fit in with the magazine that they are creating as part of their course – a B2B title aimed at those who work in the tourism industry within the M25 area, which they have titled Attract London.

We had six groups to share two cameras – straightforward Handycams . They took it in turns to go out and find half a dozen interviewees around the training centre - in Camden - and come back to edit their footage into a coherent package.

They also had a half hour talk on the basics of filming a report – including getting a range of interviewees in terms of age, sex and race; avoiding filming them all from the same side; how to frame their picture; and the importance of getting footage for an establishing shot and other material to be used when you want to edit and need to cut away from the interviewee.

As each pair returned they were shown how to upload their footage – using i-movies in this case. The film uploaded in handy chunks corresponded to each clip they had shot– turn the camera off and you end a clip. Once uploaded they had a grid containing each clip, and could look at each, chop out the bit they wanted from each interview, and drag and drop them to create a storyline.

They quickly identified the good talkers and isolated the sound bites they wanted.

Most had good establishing footage and cut-away shots. As they ran through their material they quickly saw how to organise things: how to tell their story in pictures and sound.

They found out how to marry the speech track of their report with the pictures they wanted; some choosing to start with a piece to camera, others taking their introduction and laying it under their establishing shot. For most it was clear which interviewee should come first, and several had a great ending.

In one afternoon, they had created their first video reports. They were by no means perfect, but the mistakes they made were obvious to them and could easily be rectified.

So what did I learn this afternoon? It was that these bright young people had an instinct for telling stories in pictures – acquired no doubt through a lifetime of watching television. They barely had to think about it.

It bodes will for the Online Journalism qualifications we are trialling. Here is concrete evidence that print journalists can take very quickly to video reporting.