I visited the Financial Times headquarters in London yesterday, part of a group of six bloggers who met with some senior FT editors and reporters for an informal get-together to talk about FT.com, blogging, journalism and anything else that took our collective fancies.
As someone who’s been a paid subscriber to FT.com for nearly six years, it was a special thrill for me to visit.
We were an eclectic group of bloggers: Roo Reynolds, Sarah Blow, Patrick Altoft, Andrew Donoghue from ZDNet UK, Robert Andrews from PaidContent UK (who grabbed an interview with FT.com MD Rob Grimshaw while there: read that for some business insight about FT.com), plus me.
It was the first such meeting of its type between bloggers and journalists at FT.com.
Our host was James Montgomery, editor of FT.com, and the epitome of openness and transparency, who took us on a tour. It’s the first time I’ve visited the newsroom of any media organization where a visitor could literally walk around almost at will taking photos and shooting video.
You can get a sense of the scale of the FT newsroom from the photo above which shows just a bit of it. Now imagine that three times as big and that’s the FT.
No surprise to note that it’s chock full of tech as you can see from all the screens. Flat panel Dell monitors, nearly all. (Dell is ubiquitous these days: go into any company, or watch any movie that has a computer on screen, and it’s always Dell you see.)
We did quite a bit of video. If wifi had been available, I would have done live Qik streaming video from my Nokia N95 8GB (no way I’m doing that on a cellular connection). Sarah and Robert were also videoing with their Nokia mobiles.
I’m planning to post some of my video once I’ve decided what to include and what to produce. That’s not likely before next week as I’m travelling the rest of this week. Robert has already posted a video (undoubtedly the advantage of working for a media organization or, at least, having production help!); keep an eye on Sarah’s blog for hers.
Reflecting on the nearly three hours at the FT, I’m most impressed by the openness and willingness to talk expressed by all the FT journalists and staff we met in our meeting and on our walkabout of the newsroom.
In addition to James, they included Kate Mackenzie, Interactive Web Editor; Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Media Editor; Tim Bradshaw, Digital Media Correspondent; Tom Glover, Senior Communications Manager; Sam Jones, FT Alphaville; and Steve Ager from the FT.com video team. We were also fortunate to briefly meet Rob Grimshaw, Managing Director of FT.com, who joined us towards the end of our session.
(My tech interest was piqued especially listening to Steve talking about the high definition Sony video cameras they have. That’s in one of the videos I shot.)
In our meeting, we had an interesting conversation about the Associated Press and its position regarding content use by bloggers, a matter that has been at the heart of a storm of passionate opinion during the past few weeks (and it’s been a discussion topic on the FIR podcast).
I think the consensus view by everyone, journalists and bloggers alike, is that the whole issue of fair use/fair dealing is a very grey one with no template answer you can apply to every situation where someone uses content from a media story to include in a blog post in a way that they think is fair (and try and define ‘fair’ to a lawyer).
The FT certainly has a far more flexible approach, though, than the rigidity exhibited by the AP with their take-down notices and lawyers everywhere.
I often use a paragraph or two from an FT story to illustrate a point I want to make in a post I’m writing. I’m wholly relaxed doing that as I’m confident of my fair use/fair dealing approach, and I certainly don’t expect to get the kind of hostile treatment the AP has dished out recently in the US.
An equally interesting discussion started on the subject of RSS feeds and full-content versus summaries.
My view as a consumer and creator of RSS feeds is that full content is what you ought to offer. From a consumer point of view, one obvious benefit is being able to read your RSS content when you’re offline, such as I can do with FeedDemon. That’s going to be very useful tomorrow, for instance, when I’m on an 8-hour plane journey; one of the things I plan to do on the trip is catch up with RSS.
From a creator point of view, I think it offers great benefits to expose your content widely through sharing and other opportunities to connect people with it. That tends not to happen with summary RSS feeds.
But offering full content RSS feeds is not the FT’s view as articulated by Kate, who is firmly of the opinion that offering full content is the equivalent of giving away your content.
The FT offers a wide range of RSS feeds for news and editorial content, none of which is full content, purely summaries.
This is clearly a hot topic as it occupied quite a bit of our attention throughout. One compromise I suggested is making available full content feeds to paying subscribers where you gain access to those feeds in your RSS reader through a user ID and password.
It’s technically easy (I have a couple of such feeds related to clients that I access in FeedDemon) but it might not be so easy actually doing it. No media organization does this as far as I’m aware.
It’s got me thinking quite a bit and I plan a post on this specific topic soon.
So, some initial thoughts on a useful and enjoyable experience at the FT, one that gave everyone some insights and sharing of points of view that I believe reflect the new nature of media relationships today.
And let’s face it, if you’re writing something from a business perspective that’s published on the web, you’re media in one form or another.