Evening Standard deputy political editor Paul Waugh starts his new job this morning, as editor of (increasingly paywalled) website PoliticsHome.com. Mildly interesting in itself, as evidence of the still-growing influence of online in the political space, although far from the first time a ‘proper’ journalist has gone over to the blogs’ side.
What’s quite interesting is the mechanics of the move itself. His final post on the Standard’s (Typepad-powered) blog gave full details of his new job, and where you’d be able to follow him – including direct links to his new home page. I find it very hard to imagine any other media outlet being so relaxed about a star reporter or columnist ‘taking his readers / audience with him’.
Equally intriguing is the fact that his (personal) Twitter account has just kept going as it always did.
Despite the on-page linking and the background wallpaper – Standard last week, PolHome this morning – Waugh ‘owns’ this particular channel of communication… and its almost 10,000 followers. He isn’t dependent on his employer’s infrastructure, or brand, to talk to his audience.
Former BBC man James Cridland, now a ‘radio futurologist’ (?), wrote an excellent piece about this issue 18 months ago, in the context of radio presenters moving jobs. His rather draconian-sounding conclusion was this – although it’s worth noting the dissent, some from known names in the industry, in the ensuing comments:
Give your presenters official Twitter feeds for your station, and make it clear that they can only promote these. XFM is doing the right thing here, since it has a set of them – @daveberry_xfm is Dave Berry, for example – but this is clearly part of the station’s output. Ensure that -you- retain the password, and ensure that you actively monitor what they say (just like you monitor what they say on-air.) That way, when you part company with that presenter, you can communicate this fact to their followers your way – and, crucially, you stay in control.
[Over the next couple of days, James also offered opinions on promoting personal websites (in short: no) and email addresses (likewise), stirring similar levels of controversy.]
So whether he realises it or not, Paul is offering an interesting case study in what constitutes ‘brand’ in the world of third-party online services. When communications infrastructure was difficult, employers could keep control. When we’re all just a few seconds away from creating our own Twitter / Facebook accounts, the employer is left with little more than guidelines. And perhaps a rather weak argument about using company resources for personal purposes.
I really enjoy Paul’s stuff: and I’d happily be subscribing to his new blog right now… except that somehow, the website – running on a bespoke platform which happily ‘ingests’ other people’s RSS feeds – can’t offer an RSS feed of its own, although one is promised ‘soon’. (FYI: it’s two months since prominent blogger Waugh’s move was announced.)
Oh, and by the way, PoliticsHome – disabling the ability to right-click on your pages… really?
‘Staying on top of modern politics has become a full time job,’ declares the long-awaited PoliticsHome on its About page. ‘Things move too fast: it is too much for any single person to track.’ Unfortunately, the same can be said about the site itself: load up the homepage, and a torrent of headlines hits you head-on. It’s overwhelming, and it leaves me dazed. I complained that the new Foreign Office site didn’t guide the eye: I take it all back.
There’s no doubt that, if a political story is out there, PoliticsHome has it in here, somewhere. Most of it is well-intentioned: the whole ‘live reporting’ aspect, a few ‘ticker’ areas, a nice grouping of the various sources’ coverage of the day’s big stories, a diary, a bit of story categorisation. A couple of ideas look familiar – the ‘newspaper front pages’ is a direct lift from my work at Sky News, for example.
But it looks like an ugly big database, more like a stock market terminal than a ‘super blog’, or an online magazine / newspaper. It’s hard to imagine a less engaging design; maybe they don’t consider that a priority. But having brought some famous faces on board, such as Andrew Rawnsley and former BBC man Nick Assinder, I’m surprised not to see them making more of the faces and their original material.
The idea of scrolling 100 items horizontally, in the window at the top of each page, is ludicrous; it’s utterly unusable. I’ve got a few issues with the technicals too: some page elements seem to refresh randomly, then there’s a brutal full-page refresh if you leave it five minutes. Quite simply, there are better ways these days.
I fear PoliticsHome has miscalculated. Politics is increasingly about personality, warmth and engagement. That’s why the blogs’ visitor numbers are growing (regardless of the accuracy of the specific figures). But PoliticsHome feels cold, functional and soulless. I don’t expect to use it.
onepolitics has competition. The Dizzy Thinks blog revealed at the end of January that Stefan Shakespeare (who previously brought you 18 Doughty Street and YouGov) is set to launch PoliticsHome.com, promising to be the ‘definitive portal to the ongoing political debate, edited by some of the UK’s leading political journalists and pollsters’. Then Guido published a screenshot a couple of weeks back (although his footnote that PoliticsHome ‘is not going to be the final name’ looks a bit shaky given the company’s later use of the URL).
First there was a job advert for ‘well paid part-time shifts‘ on the Work for an MP site, withdrawn early due to a high number of applicants. Now there’s an ad on the Guardian site, offering a salary of around £40k for a ‘Daily Editor to manage the newsroom and head up its website coverage’. But crucially, the ad notes, the site ‘does not produce its own content.’
Promises of a February launch look a bit optimistic now. But there’s clearly a lot of money going into this – and it had better be good, very good. Because in a matter of a couple of days, and using fairly straightforward technology, I produced a website which (if you don’t mind me saying) does a more than reasonable job of providing a ‘portal to the ongoing political debate’. Granted, onepolitics makes no attempt to offer a qualitative commentary on individual posts… but it could, if anyone fancies helping me construct a business model?