World Cup media playground offers a glimpse of the future

The Times has got Baddiel and Skinner’s World Cup podcast, promoted with a big banner on its home page and e-mails to its subscribers. There’s a fans’ forum and the podcast is good fun, though some might say a bit of a comedown from the post-m

There is as much action off the pitch as on it in Germany this month as new media comes into its own, and also takes a big step at home

The Times has got Baddiel and Skinner’s World Cup podcast, promoted with a big banner on its home page and e-mails to its subscribers. There’s a fans’ forum and the podcast is good fun, though some might say a bit of a comedown from the post-match slot on ITV1, where their World Cup show once resided.

Guardian Unlimited also has its own “World Cup Show” promoted on its front page. Its World Cup section is full of excellent sports reporting, facts and figures and commentary and, as well as its “World Cup Show” it also offers “Fantasy FuÃball, your big chance to grab World Cup fame and fortune this summer! So roll up, roll up, and find out whether you’re a Sven or a sham, a Big Phil or a big flop⦔

The BBC has a large World Cup website, offering everything from the chance to watch matches on broadband and details of the teams and stadia to blogs and World Cup Daq – a football version of the NASDAQ and Celebdaq stock-tipping sites.

Figures out this week from Nielsen/ NetRatings show the BBC’s was the most popular sports website in the past week, with 1.3 million unique visitors – almost four times as many as nearest rival Sky Sports. That won’t please its commercial rivals, who are already campaigning to curb the BBC’s Web expansion plans. The World Cup is merely the latest focus for all the interactive new media activity that is transforming the way the media relate to their listeners, viewers, readers and users.

The online world allows journalists to swap jobs, to try their hands at something different and see if the grass really is greener on the other side. Crossing the media divide used to require heavy investment – making programmes and bidding for broadcast licences, launching new publications with all those printing and marketing costs. Now it’s easy and cheap.

Channel 4 has become a radio broadcaster, with a podcast service on its website. Broadcasters are now columnists, with editors’ and presenters’ letters and blogs on BBC and Channel 4 websites. They’ve also become podcasters, not just making existing programmes available for download but creating new audio such as the Newsnight podcast and the BBC Radio Newspod, presented by Eddie Mair.

Newspaper journalists have become broadcasters, some with more success than others. The Daily Telegraph, which blazed an early trail by appointing a podcast editor, then blew its advantage by asking its writers simply to read out their newspaper copy – though it has since found more imaginative ways to use the medium. Much more successful is the Media Guardian podcast hosted by Matt Wells, a relaxed chat between informed and articulate commentators on the media issues of the week.

But alongside what some see as a bit of fun and froth, there’s been a more significant development. The Guardian has announced that its website will take prominence over the newspaper for breaking news, and it won’t hold stories for the following day’s paper. This is a brave step given that newspapers’ main source of revenue – if not profit – is the paper itself. The Times is reportedly considering a similar move.

The obvious danger is that they will forfeit credit for their exclusives. We saw this last month when Media Guardian journalists had a scoop about the imminent death of the BBC’s flagship sports brand, Grandstand. The news reached them late in the afternoon and they broke the news on the Media Guardian website at 6pm, texting the story to their news-alert subscribers. I got the text at a minute past six. Within a few minutes I’d checked the news with the BBC press office, got a full statement, and been on Radio Five Live to discuss the story. I filed a report for the 7pm radio summaries and the news was running on PA soon after. It was later covered by the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News.

The following morning, the story was the splash in the Daily Mirror and made the front page of some other papers. But not The Guardian’s…

Leave aside the incongruity of the BBC picking up a story about itself from a rival medium – on this occasion, The Guardian blew its own scoop, and its new policy ensures that this will happen more often in the future. Some may say this is simply “old media” thinking. But surely the jury is still out on the way the still-dominant news media – newspapers, radio and TV – will eventually relate to the interactive new media?

The next phase of the internet will mark another sea change in the way the media operate. But aren’t some stories still worth holding back, to give them the prominence which only the front page of a newspaper – or a major TV or radio programme – can provide?â¢

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