Working Week: Neil McIntosh

28.09.2006
The new media year, it seems, is similar to the academic one. Frenetic activity through the spring, and then there is a lull, as staff (and users) head off on their holidays.

It's the party conference season that wakes things up. Our users are back at work and surfing again. And we, hopefully refreshed from our breaks, start trying new things out. Our poor old news and politics team always seems to bear the brunt.

At this time in 2004 we were experimenting with "live-blogging" from the conferences — lots of rapid-fire updates from our correspondents — and it went well enough to encourage us to go on and roll out our network of blogs.

Last year's conference season was a dry-run for podcasting, with our intrepid politics team struggling to find broadband lines to send back audio from the seaside. A year on, we're producing eight hours of audio a week.

This year, we're experimenting with video, and who knows where this will take us. Dan Chung has been blazing the trail for us in Brighton and Manchester, and this morning's discussion of the Labour conference coverage is pretty upbeat. His video of Gordon Brown's reactions to Tony Blair's speech has been doing very good traffic indeed.

But getting the pictures is only one part of the equation. As with nearly everything you do in new media, there's tons of stuff that needs to happen in the background to make it work. For video, the technology is being cracked by our chief technical strategist Stephen Dunn, who's spent long hours experimenting with the complex business of putting up video that looks OK, but doesn't bring the site down because of its size.

In the end, it seems to work well editorially and technically. Combined with Dan's brilliant 360-degree panoramics of the conferences, and some slick audio reporting, the multimedia trickery has added a bit of verve to the conference season.

We'll want to do more. The trick is learning how to do it efficiently, and to a decent quality. That's not straightforward — there's always the danger, especially with multimedia, that people are so surprised newspapers are doing this stuff they overlook the quality of the journalism itself.

There's also the temptation of just throwing money at the problem by getting someone else to do something that's adequate. Neither's a particularly good idea in the long term, but the alternative is a lot of hard work.

29.09.2006
The previous day's announcement of a "memorandum of understanding" between Microsoft and BBC has caused a fair amount of chat in the office. As ever, my loud mouth lands me in trouble — media editor Steve Busfield demands I write a Friday morning rant for our Organ Grinder media blog.

I'm happy to oblige, and make a few calls to discuss the deal with people who should know about it. Few people think it's a very good idea for Auntie to be cosying up to Silicon Valley giants — as one person points out, in the US the BBC is just another small player with some reputation for its programming and journalism, but very little for its management or technology. That won't help them get a good deal.

I write up a blog post that sparks a lengthy and very technical discussion. Some of the comments are longer than my own contribution, and in classic blog style I end up learning enough from my readers to write another piece. It's not all very interesting though. I'll maybe hold off.

Instead, I head out for lunch with Ashley Norris who, although he winces when I say it, is almost certainly Britain's leading blog mogul. Ashley, a technology writer I've worked with for years, set up his Shiny Media network of blogs a few years back with business partner Chris Price.

There's now six of them on staff, more "super bloggers" working as freelances, hundreds of thousands of readers a month, and it's all funded by advertising. They're branching out into video blogging, doing reviews of new gadgets and putting them on YouTube. It's proved so successful that BBC2 have snapped up their presenter to work on something for "real" TV. I wonder how many publishers working in the same niches as Shiny are aware of what's happening online?

02.10.2006
It's not all lunch and press calls. There are days, as we all have, when your day is contained in one, long, to-do list. It's not top secret, but it's also not very exciting. I could tell you what it all is, but then I'd have to revive you.

03.10.2006
This is more uplifting. Today, with audio editor Tim Maby, we're interviewing potential audio producers for the site. We're in the process of expanding our small audio team — it's only been running for around six months, but already we are turning out around eight hours of programming a week, and that number's only going to grow. Having put out an ad in the paper, we've been deluged with responses.

Maybe a year ago, the thought of a newspaper doing radio-style programming would have seemed outlandish, but the quality of the responses we got suggests we're persuading people we can do it well. One candidate talks enthusiastically about how we should be looking to win at the major radio awards, taking on the big broadcasters on their own turf. I quite like the sound of that.

04.10.2006
To the West End of London all day, for the Association of Online Publishers' (AOP) annual conference and awards, the big shindig for our bit of the media world. Much of the value to the thing is found over coffee between sessions, or over drinks later, although the three keynote speakers — including Guardian Media Group's new chief executive, Carolyn McCall — have plenty in the hall taking notes.

I enjoy US publisher Tim O'Reilly's now familiar message on the challenges of Web 2.0, the challenges the web is bringing, how the winners in this new world recognise that users add the kind of value that traditional publishing can only dream of.

But the unexpected treat of the day is the lunchtime talk by Ulrik Haagerup, editor-in-chief of Nordjyske Medier. Being talked at while eating your pudding doesn't sound an attractive prospect but, luckily, Ulrick is a wonderful speaker, with a message that is by turns entertaining and worrying.

Put simply, he's actually done all that Fleet Street is thinking about doing with digital publishing. He talks about the need to change, and the pain that causes in newsrooms. In a message that must be causing some discomfort to fellow delegates, he insists integration of print and online isn't an excuse to cut costs — his journalistic staff is the same size as before.

And he adds, to what will be many a reporter's relief, I'm sure, that the multimedia future is not about one poor soul juggling gadgets to file words, pictures, audio and video for their story, but rather about teams being built to cover specific stories. Management, he says, needs to provide lots and lots of training and, vitally, support as a newsroom changes. It takes time — three years, not a quick fix. It's inspiring stuff.

Later in the day it's the awards, the source of my slight nerves all day. Guardian Unlimited is nominated 12 times — more than any other publisher — but, of course, the paranoid fear over drinks before we go in is that we manage to win nothing, amid general scenes of glory for our competitors. The fears prove unfounded — we win best editorial team for our mammoth commentary blog, Comment is Free, and best advertising sales team. The celebrations, I suspect, will go on into the not-so-wee hours.

As the champagne corks pop, it's nice to reflect on where we were last year, and where we are now. But it's also a little scary to look at what we need to do for a follow-up, if we want to be back here again next year. I'm going to have a thumping headache tomorrow, but it'll still be an early start.

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