Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Jan Boesman wins price for best thesis

I know that this blog is supposed to discuss some recent trends about online news media, but sometimes the pride becomes dominant. Internal powers force me to say that yesterday, one of our students of the post-academic course in journalism won the price for best thesis. This means that last year our student has written the best thesis of all the Flemish students. In "Race, why is cycling white?", Jan Boesman investigates the reasons why we seldom or never see black people in cycling.
Congrats, Jan, and all the luck in the future!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Online readers = readers (2)?

In this article of the online newspaper HLN.be, the journalist is making the same mistake as the one of Gazet van Antwerpen few days ago. When conducting an online poll, the results must be interpreted with caution and never be generalized to a population they never deserve: online readers are online readers, and not just readers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Online readers = readers?

When conducting an online poll, one have to be very careful when interpreting the results, especially when generalising the results of the sample to a whole population. In this article on the news site of the Gazet van Antwerpen, de journalist is paying attention to the lack of representivity of an online poll: instead of writing that the 'Flemish citizens' (a population often used in Flemish newspapers) do not agree with the political coalition in Lier, he states that the 'readers' do not agree. But the good work is only half done ...

Besides the possible confusion thanks to the word 'reader' (all Flemish readers? Worldwide readers? Print or online readers? Oh ... only the online readers of the Gazet van Antwerpen) , this generalisation does not take into account the fact that the sample is not drawn out of all the readers of the newspaper, but instead is based on a self-selection of online readers. Thus, the title of the article should have been "online readers of the GVA do not agree with ..." or even better "online readers of the GVA who participated in the online poll do not agree with ...". But of course, this doesn't sound right.

In the article itself, the interpretation is rather good: the journalist explains that the sample is composed by self-selecting, online readers of de GVA, but nevertheless, the title on top of this article leads to some extent of confusion for readers who do not read the whole article.

More about this kind of statistical difficulties and challenges on this site.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Van Thillo: "there is no bad medium, only bad titles."

During a guest lecture last thursday at the Lessius University College in Antwerp, Christian Van Thillo, CEO of 'De Persgroep' (on of the biggest multimedial publishing companies in Belgium and The Netherlands) nuanced the dominating view in traditional journalism that newspapers, radio and television stations are doomed and will be replaced by online counterparts. Van Thillo suggested that instead of seeing the online and digital revolution as a threat, traditional publishing companies must use this evolution to broaden their activities and even to reinforce and combine the power of the traditional titles.

Some of the most important conclusions of his lecture:
  • In belgum, the penetration rate of newspapers is, in contrast to other countries and regions, very high.
  • In Belgium, quality newspapers (like 'De Morgen' and 'The Standaard') are selling more copies then 15 years ago. Only 'De Tijd' is not doing well, propable because of the more generalistic course of this financial newspaper.
  • Popular newspapers are losing buyers. The most sold newspaper in Flanders, however, is 'Het Laatste Nieuws' and this paper is even more succesful then ever.
  • Because of the free character of the internet, there is indeed a challenge: The revenue of a newspaper is obtained by both selling copies and selling advertisements. Each of these activities stands for approximately 50% of the revenue. Both activities are under big pressure because of the internet: online readers can comsume news articles for free and advertisers can advertise on websites and blogs.
  • The challenge for publishers is to make use of this new medium and to incorporate the online environment into the whole publishing structure. Van Thillo suggested that there is no bad medium, there are online bad titles. So instead of having fear of the internet, it is better to use the internet and to have the biggest news website online. The strategy of De Persgroep is make sure that the company has in each medium the biggest title: the most popular television station, the best sold newspaper, the best sold magazine, the most clicked news site etc. Titles who are not doing well, will be sold or stopped.
  • While there are multiple online news sites, newspapers have the possibility to become the biggest news media online. The experience and the know-how of the offline media is priceless, even on the web. It is no wonder that online news sites like HLN.be, Standaard.be and VRTnieuws.net are among the most popular news media online in Flanders.
  • I-watch, the interactive service of the television stations of De Persgroep, already reached 30.000 downloads a week. Van Thillo suggested that this proves that the public is willing to pay for content-on-demand and that this could also be the case online. By combining both the traditional and online news media, publishing companies could reinforce their position on the media market. For example: after covering the concert of Clouseau on television, a message on screen tells the viewer that on the online counterpart, other concerts can be buyed and watched online. In this way, the traditional and online media are working together to re├»nforce the marques of the publishing companies.

At the end of the lecture, I confronted Van Thillo with his statements that 'there is no bad medium, only bad titles' and 'De Persgroup will only focus on titles who have the potential to stay or become the best title in the specific medium' with the current situation of 'De Morgen'. This quality news paper is selling more copies each year, but stays far behind De Standaard, the other quality news paper. When following the suggestion that only the best title per medium will stay, I asked Van Thillo whether he was announcing the end or the sale of De Morgen. He laughed and asked if I was a journalist. He stated that De Persgroep still believes in De Morgen and even wants to invest in this title to do better than ever before. I made the suggestion to redefine the main purpose of the news paper and especially to invest in investigative journalism, a form of journalism that is not common in Flanders anymore. He agreed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Theo Van Leeuwen about visual language

Yesterday, prof. Theo Van Leeuwen visited the Lessius University College in Antwerp and gave a guest lecture about visual language. Like in some of his books, which he wrote with dr. G. Kress (e.g. 'reading images'), he discussed the grammar of images and the connotations one can make when seeing some visual semiotics. A person who looks you in the eyes has a much stronger connotation that someone who's turning his or her back to you. Images that express a movement (e.g. English people with guns attacking some aboriginals on an Australian Island) are much more powerful than a visual enumeration of different weapons.

Regarding my research about the formal features of online news media and the effect on the cognitive information-processing, this sounds very interesting. Could it be possible that a heavy hyperlinked text is perceived to be 'stronger' or 'more striking than a low hyperlinked text? Does a news site with much interactivity elicits another connotation than a site with no interactivity? Could we even say that the features of interactivity, hypertextuality and of course multimediality can be seen as visual language? And do these 'virtual images' influence the cognitive efforts in the same way regular images do? To be continued ...
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