Facebook for journalists: Hurrah! Facebook just killed the ‘like if agree’ thing

Google, as we know, works very hard to ensure its search results aren’t gamed by websites which have no right to be at the top of search results for any given term.

Google wants you to find the stuff you need easily, and for all the talk of what is and isn’t a trigger in the search giant’s algorithms, the principle behind it remains crystal clear: If your content appears to be valued (ie lots of people visit you, or link to you, or you exhibit signs of taking that content matter seriously, such as by updating frequently) you’ll get higher up in search.

If Google catches you gaming its search results  - such as through paying for advertorials containing links – it penalises you, and in some cases, the people who did the selling too. Here’s perhaps the most famous case involving Interflora. (I’d still pick them over Prestige Flowers, though).

Increasingly, Facebook is acting in a similar way as it seeks to keep the timeline you see as relevant to you as you want it to be. Lots of marketers are upset by the most recent change, which forces out fan pages unless people are organically interacting with them. However, this is good news for media organisations, who actually need to build loyalty to grow in the future. 

For Facebook and Google it’s about self-preservation. Attention spans online are short, especially when using a mobile, and being the ‘use that first’ website of choice is a status which must be treasured at all costs. People will move on if they aren’t getting the experience they want, and unless they’re moving straight to your news sites, that’s just as much bad news for you as it is for Google or Facebook.

So Facebook has announced another change: Killing off ‘like baiting’ – or the trend of encouraging people to press the like button for any reason other than because they actually want to like a post, such as a post making a statement and then asking people to like if they agree with it.


FOI Friday: Prostitutes wanting to work in schools, hunger on the rise, counselling on the underground and 11-year-old drug runners

FOIFRIDAYLOGOProstitutes applying for jobs in schools (or reasons criminal checks failed) < Nottingham Post

PROSTITUTES, shoplifters and even someone who assaulted a child have applied for jobs in schools in Nottinghamshire over the past three years.

Other crimes committed by those wanting to work with children include assaulting a police officer, growing cannabis and racially aggravated criminal damage.

The Post can reveal that Criminal Records Bureau checks flagged up the crimes of 779 people when they applied for positions in schools in the city and county since 2011.

This figure includes 164 convicted of thefts, 39 assaults, 33 instances of loitering for prostitution, and ten for soliciting prostitutes.

Malnutrition on the rise < WalesOnline

Doctors have diagnosed hundreds of patients in Wales with malnutrition over recent years, we can reveal, amid anger about soaring dependence on foodbanks.

The statistics show patients have even been treated for cases of “severe acute malnutrition” normally associated with the developing world.

Malnourished babies and children are among more than 1,200 malnutrition cases diagnosed since 2007/08 with rates in Wales’ worst affected area jumping by a staggering 1,400%.

Many of the 1,229 recorded cases have involved patients being admitted to hospital for treatment while the true tally is likely to be even higher after two health boards refused to provide data on diagnoses in response to our freedom of information request.


The most iconic newspaper front page in a generation?

What makes a great newspaper front page iconic? It’s a word which is used far too often, a bit like legend, or, if you happen to watch Channel 5 a bit, ‘celebrity.’

To be truly iconic, a newspaper front page has to be special. It has to capture a mood and remind people of that mood whenever they see it in the future. To me, it has to have that ‘yes, that’ factor which is almost impossible to describe.

The regional Press produces many great front pages every year. Many capture public feeling towards an event or issue at the moment, but few capture it in a way which makes sense without an explanation.

Many regional front pages provide considered, and generally compassionate, coverage of big news events, and perhaps more time than in the past is now spent on front pages as a result of overnight printing and the acceptance of the fact that print can’t count on being the turn-to source for breaking news. But how many are iconic?

Seeking out a dictionary definition of ‘iconic’, the Macmillan dictionary offered me:

very famous and well knownand believed to represent a particular idea

While the Cambridge one offered up: 

very famous or popularespecially being considered to represent particular opinions or a particular time:

Therefore, it’s fair to say this decision to describe Jolly Rancher sweets as iconic was a bit over the top.

And for all the good, great and memorable regional press front pages out there, I think this one is perhaps the only one which can truly be called iconic:


Five reasons UGC has made the regional Press better

WARNING: This is a very long piece, written over several periods of time, looking at the power of UGC. In summary, its sets out why I think UGC has been good for the regional Press.

As Time magazine pointed out, the audience now controls the flow of information. UGC is part of that

* * *

The other week, former editor and Holdthefrontpage blogger Steve Dyson turned his critical (often very critical!) eye to the Pocklington Post, a Johnston Press newspaper which is at the centre of the project to increase the volume of user generated content in the title to around 75% of total content.

It’s a project which has drawn criticism from journalism traditionalists ever since it was launched in Bourne, a tiny town in the Lincolnshire which is home to the Bourne Local newspaper, and which was predictably dubbed ‘the Bourne Experiment’ as a result.

Steve kicked off his blog post by drawing on an old stereotype of UGC:

Surely, my darker side whispered, all this UGC palaver means it’s going to be full of badly-written tat, blurry cat pictures and superlative PR masquerading as news.

And he’s right, that’s the perception many have of UGC. But Steve was quick to note he liked what he found in the Pocklington Post. And, as he notes, readers seem to love it. That’s surely the most important thing – and often the most discomforting thing for journalists, that what we consider to be important, often isn’t as important to our readers.


FOI: The tram bosses who appear to be on the wrong track about redacting


What is it about local authorities and trams? The two just don’t seem to go together.

In Liverpool, years and millions of pounds were spent before the government decided the region didn’t need Merseytram. In Edinburgh, the tram plan there has provided Private Eye and local newspapers with many fascinating stories, and in Leeds, plans for a trolleybus project – a tram without tracks - continue to fascinate many. 

Such schemes generate a lot of interest, as you might expect, but in Leeds at least, it appears that interest isn’t all that welcome.

The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that a bid by anti-trolleybus campaigners to see the consultation responses for a trolleybus plan in the city has been rejected by Metro, the public transport body which oversees, well, public transport in West Yorkshire.

Metro argued it would take too much time – ie go above 18 hours, or £450, of staff time to compile the responses, which seems a bit odd, as you’d assume all the consultation responses would be kept somewhere, together.

But then came the quote given to the Evening Post:


FOI: Adding a celebrity angle won’t always improve a story…

While searching for stories to include in FOI Friday on Google News, I found this one:


The story, based on an FOI request, goes on:

The most senior policeman in Islington says the borough is not at risk from a Breaking Bad style crystal meth epidemic – despite people being caught dealing in the past year.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Gazette reveals that three people were arrested for possessing or supplying the Class A drug methamphetamine in 2013.

The drug has been raised into the public consciousness by the hit TV show Breaking Bad, in which a school teacher with terminal cancer starts making the drug to raise cash for his family.

But Det Chf Sup Gerry Campbell, Islington’s borough commander, says the drug – which can have devastating effects for users – is not a problem in the borough.

He said: “Lets face it, meth has been available for a long time – it’s not something new.

“It has been found in London and there have been labs up and running, but as this investigation shows it is not something we would identify with the borough.”

I love the idea of using TV programmes to inspire FOI requests, and this is a great example of that. Reporting, however, that an area isn’t at risk of something most people wouldn’t have thought it might be at risk at, I’m not so sure about.

Half the battle with FOI requests is deciding which ones to invest the effort in when the information arrives.

But at least the people of Islington who were worried, can be less worried now.

FOI Friday: Teachers causing concern, prisoners on Facebook, school place fraud and teenage career criminals


Teachers on the ‘concern list’ < Basildon Echo

ALMOST 170 teaching staff are on a council list showing there are concerns about their working in schools.

They are not barred from working, but schools will be aware of the list of concerns, compiled by Essex County Council.

A total of 23 teachers and 14 other school workers have been added to the list in the past five years due to allegations of a sexual nature, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Social networks in prison < Daily Record

PRISON bosses last year shut down 80 Facebook accounts run by inmates in Scotland.

The social networking pages were updated using smartphones smuggled into jails and have been used by convicts to taunt victims or contact fellow criminals.

Officials investigated 118 allegations in 2013 that prisoners were running accounts on Facebook from behind bars, freedom of information figures released yesterday revealed.

Caught defrauding the school selection process < Camden New Journal

FIVE children in Camden were removed from school or had offers of places withdrawn after their families were caught fiddling the state admissions system, the New Journal can reveal.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request, Camden Council confirmed it had conducted 11 investigations into potentially fraudulent school place applications between 2012 and 2013. It had opened only two similar probes over the previous two years.

A “fraudulent” application was defined as using a temporary address, using a family member’s address, faking religious observance or supplying false information on application forms.


Introducing Shed Journalism. Something you never want to do

At the Society of Editors seminar in the Midlands on Monday, Liverpool Echo editor Alastair Machray was one of a number of editors to answer the question: “Is sport still important?”

Actually, Ali also answered the question: “How we will make sure we’re important to fans?” as well, because the actual title of the session could be answered in sentences containing one word, or just three letters.

The challenge for the regional media, however, is simple: Lots of people think they can do sport now, and by sport I generally mean professional football. Some do it very well – football clubs for example, and some blogs – others don’t

So where does the regional media fit in? Ali pointed to the fact the Liverpool Echo is the only media to get 30 minutes a day with both Everton boss Roberto Martinez and LFC boss Brendan Rodgers. It’s what sets the Echo’s writers apart from the ‘men in their sheds’ bashing out content on LFC and EFC without ever going to the football ground, let alone grill the manager on what’s happening.

That doesn’t mean if you’re on not on such good terms with the football manager, you’re  a man in a shed. Indeed, Ali was at pains to say the Echo isn’t in the pocket of the clubs – fans of both clubs would be very vocal about that if they thought the title was. The Echo appears to be in lucky – and rare – territory: it has clubs which appreciate the importance of the local title, but don’t seek to regulate what it does and doesn’t write.

So Shed Journalist – as I’ll call him or her now – is someone every journalist should avoid being. To me, being a journalistic Shed Man is basically about publishing stuff because you can. I can, therefore I am if you see what I mean. Shed Man does it without connections into a wider community of people who can inform and shape what you do.

There are lots of such sports sites out there, churning out content just for audience, knowing that their success hangs on getting something out on NewsNow at just the right time. The audience is passing through, not coming to you specifically. It feels lonely, a bit like being in a shed, I guess.

Journalism is increasingly about connections with readers and engagement with them too. For the Echo, sports coverage is defined by having the inside track at the football clubs, but the confidence to call things straight when it needs to. At the Newcastle Chronicle, it’s a different picture – the club banned writers from the Newcastle titles over coverage of an anti-owner protest march.

That’s given the Chronicle especially a closer tie with the fan community, and the freedom to write without fear of punishment from the club at a time when most fans want the owner – and increasingly the manager – out.

In Portsmouth, The News was always being threatened with being banned when Pompey were big time. Now they’re not and the paper is more connected to fans than ever before – thanks in part to resurrecting the Saturday Sports Mail and donating 10p a copy to the fans organisation which now runs the club.

The whole point of a shed is to have the ability to lock yourself away from the world if you want to, and that’s the last thing journalists can allow themselves to do, even if some have been prone in the past at doing just that.  The ability to connect with people, and make people think of us, is what separates ‘shed journalism’ from real journalism.

There will be some who would construe the idea of shed man as an attempt by me as a professional journalist to belittle the attempts of those who aren’t lucky enough to be paid to be journalists, or who write and don’t see themselves as journalists at all. Honestly, I’m not trying to do that.

I’ve seen hyperlocal sites crop up with active editors who are all over their community, turning some journalists at established brands into ‘shed men’ – at best, not as connected to their communities as the new hyperlocal sites are.

The internet has been a very honest assessor of just how connected the many parts of our newspapers are to the communities they serve. Subjects we would consider essential to a daily newspaper often look a lot different under the microscope of audience analytics.

In the weeks, months and years to come journalism will increasingly be measured by its ability to engage, its ability to make people think ‘If I want to know about this, I have to go there’. That’s the key to success, and it depends on making sure we never become Shed Man. You can get page views and unique users without talking to the audience, the hard work comes from convincing them to find you, not the other way round. And you’re a lot harder to find in the shed.

* * *

PS: Just to be clear, I like sheds, but to make this post work I’ve had to take Ali’s lead. I’d much rather have talked about greenhouses. I have a real problem with them. If you like sheds, I’d point you in the direction of Andrew Wilcox, a colleague of mine who knows all about building communities around sheds.

So, what does a great journalist look like in a digital newsroom?

One of the things I get asked most often – generally by university lecturers, or at least those who realise it’s good to talk to the industry into which they send hundreds of graduates every year – is this: “What do you need a good journalist to be these days?”

A similar, but slightly different, question sometimes gets asked by editors: “What does a great journalist in the future look like?”

Recently, I’ve been told on a number of occasions that ‘a great journalist will always be a great journalist’ and that ‘a great story will always be a great story.’ It’s comforting to think that will be the case, but I suspect it won’t. It’s a bit like a butcher thinking he’ll not have to change when Tesco opens up down the road.


The Duke of York was right: Journalism needs apprentices

It’s not often I nod along in agreement with a member of the Royal Family, largely because I’ve never spoken to a member of them.

But the Duke of York, speaking at a seminar focusing on the regional press held by the Society of Editors, appeared to be on my wavelength – or me on his, as I imagine royalty gets ownership preference of all wavelengths, as they do with most of the land in Lancashire – when he talked about apprenticeships.

He was at the Forest of Arden Hotel in Meriden, West Midlands, to promote a project being run by the NCTJ and the SoE to get more apprenticeships created in journalism.

I didn’t write down exactly what he said, largely because I was nodding along, but basically he was saying that there’s an assumption that you will go to university once you’ve finished further education, and I think he was saying that such as assumption can be perpetuated by the fact most, if not all, teachers have also gone to university.