Martin Belam – prasa nie zniknie ale się dostosuje

Miało okazję przeprowadzić bardzo interesujący wywiad z jednym z prelegentów zbliżającego się IA Summit 2011. Martin Belam jest projektantem UX i architektem informacji w portalu gdzie zajmuje się również projektami mobilnymi…

Nie mogłem nie zadać Martinowi kilku pytań związanych z dyskusja toczącą się wokół zmiany modeli biznesowych branży wydawniczej, szukaniem „świętego graala” w obrębie biznesu tabletowego i w ogóle kondycji dziennikarstwa w dobie mediów cyfrowych…

AK74 – It has been suggested that 68% of journalism in the future will consist of people sitting around discussing the future of journalism – do you agree?:)

Martin Belam
– Well, we do seem to have a tendency to be a bit introspective in the industry at the moment, but then I think we are going through a period of intense transition. That is exciting and full of opportunity as new devices like tablets and Internet-enabled TVs come on the market, but it is also a challenge.

I consider myself lucky that in my job I essentially get paid to spend a lot of time thinking about how we do things and what we should be doing digitally, both in the back-end tools we provide journalists, and what we present to users. I think that a lot of journalists are stuck in the daily grind of producing stories to tight deadlines, probably with less people in their newsroom than there was two years ago, and with no noticeable drop in the level of output expected from a news organisation.

I don’t think they have time to dreamily think about the future landscape of news, in the same way that I don’t ever have time to contemplate the future of diagramming software.

AK74 – What can newspapers do to turn “readers” into “customers”? Are we really going to read papers on screen in 5 years? Will paper versions be available only for the rich and trendy individuals?

MB – I used to think that print was going to vanish within this decade, but I’ve really changed my views on this. I think it is going to carry on being uneconomical to run print, but I think the prestige and influence wielded by owning a newspaper is going to be enough to keep attracting investors prepared to run them as a loss-making part of a wider business.

I also think that there are just plenty of situations where the disposable nature of print makes it an ideal medium for casual use, rather than fiddling about with electronic devices and chargers and batteries.
As for turning “readers” into “customers”, I think digital technology and the breakdown of the one-to-many broadcast model means that news organisations have to deliver a higher level of customer service than they ever have before.

You didn’t, for example, used to be able to comment almost immediately on a news story that contained a factual error and link to a source to demonstrate it. If news organisations don’t acknowledge that they are not experts in every domain, and that amongst their readership there will inevitably be someone with more knowledge of the topic at hand than the writer whose name appears on the piece, they risk looking foolish in an increasingly connected world.

AK74 – Is the iPad and the whole Apple ecosystem really a game-changer or just another greedy corporation with lots of tools and right momentum? Can the Apple business model survive or will it change because of Android?

I think Apple make great devices, I use them myself, and I’m sure that they would argue that they have invested in building the app store ecosystem, and so they are entitled to profit from it.

Whether the revenue splits that they are currently imposing are sustainable for content producers in the long term, only time will tell. I think the Android marketplace is interesting because it is more open, but that also brings disadvantages – there have been issues around piracy and malware that simply don’t happen in the closed Apple model.

In the end though I do wonder if it is actually what the telcos do with their tariffs and the handsets they offer that will have a bigger impact on take-up, rather than whether the Android App store or iTunes has the better apps.

AK74 – Can you describe process of newspaper web design? What do you need – what kind of information, to start your work? What do you feel your role is in this process?

MB – The answer, of course, frustratingly, is “it depends”. It depends on the size of the project and the urgency. In an ideal process, we’d start as a business by assessing an opportunity. That means research, understanding where we might fit in the market, and understanding who our target audience are, and what are success criteria will be.

Once we’ve done that, I usually break out my pens and pencils, and start sketching some ideas of user flows and rough screens. From there we’d hopefully iterate them through further research and establishing whether they meet the goals of the project.

Further design work takes them from some rough scratchings and scribblings into something elegant enough for the Guardian brand.
Sometimes, though, stuff has to be done in a hurry, and so you might end up building something that is based more on hunch and experience rather than true user research.

AK74 – The Guardian and BBC – impresive positions in your portfolio. Does it mean that you, after working for such noble clients, can take any project for any media company?

MB – Yes, the BBC and The Guardian are two great news organisations to have on my CV, but I’m sure that a lot of other media companies might say “that is all very well, but where is the evidence you have any experience in a commercial news environment?”. I also think I would find it hard to work in an organisation whose journalistic ethics and values I didn’t wholeheartedly support.

My career has always really been focused around media though, and in my talk at the Polish IA summit I’ll be exploring how that has developed and how it has been affected as the disciplines of information architecture and digital user experience design have emerged.

AK74 – Do you think Rupert Murdoch is on his way to conquer the market or rather he is going down? Can “Old media” teach us something new?

MB – I have to say that in the UK I am glad that there has been the pay wall experiment with a general news website like The Times. There has been a lot of discussion about whether it will or won’t work, but they are the only company with the actual numbers to see how it all adds up for them.

They have greatly diminished their digital audience though, and surely the point of entering journalism is to get your stories read far and wide. I’m not really sure that I buy into the classic oppositional divide between “old” and “new” media anymore.

There are very few “old” media companies that don’t have some digital output, and there are very few “new” media companies that have managed to build up the kind of brand trust and audience size that traditional news organisations still command.

AK74 – Based on your experience – what can you advise a media company willing to switch from “paper” to “all-digital”? Do you think organization can change as quickly as a business model?

MB – I’m not a business analyst or an economist, and so I have to recognise my limits in understanding how to keep a news organisation functioning. What I always say is that I think I understand pretty well how you would set up a small digital news organisation that reported brilliantly in one niche.

How you set up a great big chain of them within the same business to cover the number of niches you need to do in order to produce the traditional bundle of general interest that has been packaged as newspapers for a couple of centuries – that I have no answer for. And how you do that whilst sustaining the cost base of running a print operation alongside it…? I think the entire industry is puzzling over that one.

One thing for sure though, a credible digital news product has to reflect the fact that the news publishing cycle is 24 hours long, and that the delivery of news via sources like Twitter is getting faster and faster.

AK74 – Who will survive in the near future – “content farms” skilled with Google algorithm or reputable content providers such NYT or CNN?

MB – I’ve long suspected that traditional media companies like the New York Times or CNN, or indeed ourselves at The Guardian, will have to move to having a smaller core of staff, and do much more commissioning. An interesting model for us, for example, is what we’ve done with our science coverage. We recognised that mainstream reporting of science is considered weak, and that there was a thriving informed blogosphere out there.

We could have hired a correspondent to read the best blogs and regurgitate them, but instead we’ve gone into partnership with some of the leading voices ( They retain their own blogs and editorial independence, but their content is also published on We bring our mass audience to their quality content, and I think it works for us, for the bloggers, and for the readers.
It is an interesting model of how news coverage can be produced more co-operatively because of digital technology and the rise of self-publishing.

PS. Dziekuję za dokonanie korekty tego wywiadu Maćkowi Połońskiemu! :)

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