As I was writing what was to be a new blog entry on the difference between ki work and freelancing something happened to me for the first time in my life. I was fired. Yes, I've lived through recessions and been made redundant before, but I've never been sacked for any sort of misconduct, real or imagined.
The story of my sacking has been covered in a few places including: The Guardian's media website, Roy Greenslade's blog
and UK Press Gazette. You can also read the original article and a follow-up on allmediascotland's website.
In my words here's what happened and it's a sad example of the way old organisations can react as they face being swept away by the digital tide.
Until this week I wrote a weekly gadget column for The Scotsman. I've had a relationship with the newspaper for more than a dozen years as a staff member and freelancer. Throughout the dotcom boom of the 1990s I was the paper's technology editor, with sole responsibility for its weekly supplement called 'Interactive'. Later I was part of the team that launched the award-winning scotsman.com website. And I continued to write for the paper after I left to start my own business penpusher.com in 2000.
Last week I wrote one of my regular blogs for allmediascotland. As you might imagine it's a fairly specialist website for media types in Scotland. The theme of the article was how communications technology would make newspaper offices and some types of job obsolete. In fact, I was describing how something along the lines of the ki work model could be applied to newspapers and their associated websites.
In passing I mentioned how all but one of the estate agents I had talked to about selling my Edinburgh flat had told me not to bother advertising in The Scotsman. I didn't think there was anything remotely contentious about reporting these conversations. In fact at the end of August the paper carried an article about the company that owns it under the headline Johnston Press hit by house market woes as property advertising slides.
Most newspapers have traditionally made the majority of their income from advertising, not from the cover price. And the most profitable ads are recruitment and property. Partly that's because they can charge more from a page full of small ads than a few big ones. More importantly, perhaps, local newspapers operated a de facto monopoly. Until a few years ago, for instance, I would have had no option but to advertise my flat for sale in The Scotsman because anybody wanting to buy property in Edinburgh would look at the paper's property supplement.
Now the logical place to go to is the web where potential buyers can search according to criteria such as price, location, number of bedrooms and so on. Unless a property is unique and photogenic advertising is probably a waste of money. It's the same with recruitment. Most jobs can be broken down into fairly simple criteria of location, qualifications and salary. A simple online form will lead job-seekers to what's available.
A few years ago newspapers had the opportunity to use their brand recognition to grab the online property and recruitment markets. It would have been a bold move to offer free advertising on their websites. But they were scared this would cannibalise their income so they left the door open for craigslist, Monster jobs and others to take the markets for themselves. The newspaper industry hasn't been uniquely shortsighted, its behaviour is little different from the music business which is also being destroyed by its determination to protect its short-term position.
So far this blog posting has been somewhat negative, looking at the economic forces that are destroying newspapers. I like to think that some of those same forces can be harnessed to produce something better. I don't mean a world where bloggers replace all other news sources. I do believe there are skills in written journalism that go beyond the ability to type. Wikipaedia has shown that collaborative editing can produce quality writing. I'll look at how I think that model could be developed for news journalism in a future ki work blog.