Author: davidhiggerson

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:



Published on April 15, 2009, it marked the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Given what has happened since 2009, it’s remarkable to think that the families’ battle for justice seemed as far from won as at any point during the previous 20 years of snubs, slurs and accusations from those in authority.

The Hillsborough disaster had returned to the front of the general public outside Liverpool in the previous couple of years partly due to the shameful ability of former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie, the man who had delivered the appalling ‘The Truth’ slur days after the 1989 disaster, to add further insult to the families by failing to apologise on Question Time for his actions back then, and seeking to blame others for the front page and slur. Indeed, he claimed he only apologised at the time because Rupert Murdoch told him to.

But justice – be that a public inquiry, the re-opening of inquests or just an apology from government for the handling of the aftermath of Hillsborough  - still felt a long way away.

On the day this Liverpool Echo front page was published, thousands packed in Anfield for the annual memorial service. As an occasion, it alway warrants a place in the day’s news, but the fans in the Kop lifted it to the top of the news agenda with their vocal demands for Justice for the 96:

For two minutes, then sports minister Andy Burnham stopped his speech at the service as fans chanted ‘justice for the 96.’ Burnham this week was candid in revealing that it was that moment which gave him the political courage to do something. Since then there has been an independent review panel which in turn has led to the new inquests which began earlier this month.

A lot has happened since 2009 – and that’s why I think this front page passes the ‘iconic’ test when so few others don’t. It instantly reminds you the unimaginable human tragedy at the centre of the Hillsborough disaster, and shameful fact that, as recently as 2009, the battle for justice was far from won.

It’s a front page which re-appears on my Facebook timeline every April 15 as someone, somewhere, uses it to remember those who died on April 15, 1989. It is still linked to on countless web forums and discussion boards. And yesterday, the Liverpool Echo returned to that front page for the 25th anniversary front page:



The Liverpool Echo has rightly won many plaudits for its support of the Hillsborough families, at times the lone voice supporting them. For me, it’s the Echo’s close connection to those who felt the tragedy the most – the people of Liverpool – which enabled it to produce perhaps the only regional newspaper front page of a generation which you can actually call 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.


Tools for journalists: Using Yatterbox for a different view on Twitter

One of the best things about Twitter – and there are many – is that it can give anyone a voice. That’s huge for journalists, turning Tweetdeck into a modern-day radio scanner, only tailored to just the bits you’re interested in, and involving many more people.

However, the downside to that approach is that it can make verification very hard. If you’ve got a Tweetdeck column, then you know you can see every Tweet which includes an important phrase to you, eg a place, but you need to be looking at it all the time.

To conquer that, you might  use a tool like Twilert ($9 a month to have every tweet involving a keyword which is important to you feels like a bargain) which will ping you an email whenever a Tweet containing an important word or phrase crops up. That solves one problem, to a point, but what about verification?

That’s where Yatterbox comes in. Aimed at people who spend their lives managing the reputations of brands, Yatterbox works on the principle that the Tweets some people write about a brand or issue have more impact that those written by others.

So it set about creating comprehensive lists of the people it feels have the greatest impact with their Tweets, and created three lists: Journalists, UK policy and EU policy. I suspect more are on the way. The help video which launches when you first sign up makes it very clear the aim is to help PRs keep track of what people PRs probably consider important are saying.