Spotlight on ... Emma Barnett: 'The internet has moved on'

Emma Barnett, the Telegraph's digital media editor, talks to Cathy Bussey about the 'social web' and why agencies are playing catch-up.

Emma Barnett: Telegraph digital media editor
Emma Barnett: Telegraph digital media editor

Emma Barnett started out at PRWeek's sister title Media Week and has risen to become the Telegraph's first ever digital media editor. She specialises in news and analysis on the fast-growing sector, and frequently appears on LBC and Sky News as a commentator.

This year, the 26-year-old was named one of Red magazine's 20 under 30, which adds to her accolades as digital journalist of the year at the Association of Online Publishers Awards 2011, and digital writer of the year at the Online Media Awards 2011, marking her out as one to watch.

She also has shows with Sky One and BBC Radio 4 lined up for late 2011 and early 2012, and has just launched a weekly Tech Briefing email bulletin for the Telegraph, which is a mix of opinion and her selection of the best tech and digital media stories of the week.

 

On the Telegraph and the competition ...

How does the Telegraph embrace digital media and tech?

The Daily Telegraph was the first newspaper with a website in this country, and we now have one of the largest teams of people doing media and tech of any national newspaper.

We take articles from the online system and puts them in the paper - not the other way round.

How do the website and the print product fit together?

They are extensions of each other. The site design isn't radically different and it still feels like the Telegraph. Readers expect certain things from the brand, whether that's in print or online.

As digital media editor of a national newspaper, where does your competition come from?

Mashable. TechCrunch. The competition is more from online than from other national newspapers. The FT is very good in this area as well, but these sites are the 'must reads', along with people like Kara Swisher on AllThingsD.

 

On the UK's tech scene ...

What do you make of the hype around the UK's 'Silicon Roundabout'?

People are saying that the Government is trying to make this 'an area', but the whole area came up organically. That's how Silicon Valley was created - it had no help from the Government; it was a privately funded existence.

Is the UK lagging behind the US?

There are some significant companies coming out of Europe - Spotify, Skype and Skimlinks. The big issue is getting tech education back on the curriculum. The UK does not value tech from a grassroots level. Stanford University has an amazing course on artificial intelligence, which is all done virtually.

In the UK we don't celebrate failure. In Silicon Valley if you haven't got two or three failed start-ups to your name you're doing something wrong.

 

On the digital media and tech companies of the moment ...

What strategy do you think AOL is pursuing with its high-profile purchases of TechCrunch, the Huffington Post and GoViral?

AOL's idea is that it will have a content-led recovery. It will surround itself with extremely powerful web brands, sell lots of advertising and make lots of cash.

Will it work?

I am not convinced. AOL used to be your portal to the internet, but the internet has moved on from being a place for information - now it's the social web, an internet you navigate with your friends. The whole experience of AOL being a navigator is dead. It is now trying to step away from that, but so far I have not seen any brand other than Apple bounce back.

 

On the online world ...

Why do you think it is so hard for a brand to 'bounce back' online?

There is often a younger, faster, more innovative brand waiting in the wings. Also, people don't like products that are covered in adverts. It's got to feel different. Yes, Facebook has adverts on it, but it also has your mates on it.

Entrepreneurship, powered by the web, has become a very desirable career path. Why do you think that is?

The web is an unforgiving place - it takes, but it also gives, and you can make a business a lot of money if something goes viral. Shows like Dragons' Den and The Apprentice have entered our psyche. When you go to Silicon Valley, or to Hoxton, and you see the guys in groups sharing offices, there's a sense of positivity.

 

On PR ...

What is your relationship with PR professionals like?

I find in-house PROs the most useful and effective. It's not that agencies are doing anything wrong, but they are always on the back foot in terms of what's going on. There has been a big shift in PR in the past few years.

In what way?

Previously I could interview someone and the PRO would not be in the room or on the call. But now, they will be. I do understand that PROs want control but people can tell when they are being fed a line. That's why Twitter is so important. You can tell when people aren't writing their own tweets. There are a lot of people out there now forcing transparency.

What do PR professionals do well?

More and more write press releases in a way that is mindful of what quotes can be used rather than quotes saying: 'This is amazing, I love my life, I love my job.'

 

CV

2009 Digital media editor, the Telegraph

2007 Reporter, Media Week

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