The Scottish referendum will live long in the memory of the journalists who covered it. But as the dust settles and the devolution negotiations kick on, I’ve pulled together a list of things the referendum can teach us about political journalism and where it’s heading….
At 6.43am yesterday I checked my alarm clock and hurtled downstairs to turn on Cbeebies. My three-year-old wasn’t even up at this point – the normal trigger for Cbeebies being allowed to beam into our house. Yesterday, however, was her birthday and my hurry to watch Cbeebies was less about not missing one of the new episodes of Pingu, and much more about seeing if her birthday card would appear on TV.
I was just in time. As the telly warmed up, the first thing I saw was my daughter’s face in the middle of our carefully stuck-together Octonauts card with a birthday message being read out by Cat (on the right of the picture above, obviously).
Hit Sky+, dash upstairs, grab my now-awake daughter, plonk her in front of the TV, repeat same pattern with my wife carrying our two-week-old youngest daughter, press play on TV and watch everyone smile, not least my three-year-old as it dawned on her that it was her the people on the TV were saying happy birthday to. She even stopped talking about her current favourite TV cartoon, the dreadful ‘Little Princess’ over on Channel 5’s Milkshake.
Tame.it since become one of those tools which is part of daily life without even thinking about it, largely because of this:
There are some journalists who believe the digital revolution has killed the art of headline writing.
You won’t be surprised to read that I disagree (especially if you read this post I wrote back in 2009 and this one a tad more recently) with that theory – although there’s no doubt it’s changed what makes a good headline for good.
Great digital headlines are ones which tell enough of the story to make you want to read more, mix in search engine optimisation where possible and, preferably, prompt a reaction in someone so that they can’t resist visiting.
And the best digital headlines are probably the ones you’ll only ever get to write once in your career. For that, you need a story which generates the same reaction once shared online that it did when it first arrived in the newsroom.
And this is perhaps the best example I’ve seen:
New social media tools come, and some go again. Some gain traction and then fall by the wayside when Twitter changes its API, others struggle to make ends meet and introduce subscription service, while others just get forgotten about.
For me, Twazzup falls into the last category, but having rediscovered it a couple of weeks ago, am finding that it’s still remarkably useful. There are a myriad of Twitter monitoring tools out there, some of which look very sleek, some of which are excellent. But here are six things which I think are behind my persistent return to Twazzup:
Holdthefrontpage used to have a interesting, and updated daily, section called ‘story ideas.‘ The idea was simple – you have slow news days, and these were ideas to see you through.
A rainy day in Bury, obviously, isn’t news. However, hopefully these 10 websites could be of use. Yes, some of them are obvious, but I thought I’d list them all the same.
An interesting article based on quotes from a former regional newspaper editor appeared on Hold the Front Page last week. Former Leicester Mercury editor Keith Perch, now a freelance consultant and part-time journalism lecturer had come to the conclusion that readers will ultimately have to pay for journalism.
The article was based on a post Keith had put on his blog. I’m grateful HTFP wrote about it – I’ve now discovered his blog and, while not always agreeing with what he says, I think there’s a lot many journalism experts could learn about how to blog in an inclusive, multimedia way.
The post which prompted the HTFP article also stated that for news organisations to get people to pay for news, they’d have to offer up something which people valued. And there’s the big challenge.
Sadly, when articles like this are written, all too often the debate becomes about how the internet has killed the regional press, and how the regional press has inflicted most of the damage itself by giving the online content away for free.
Keith suggests that Johnston Press is losing £21 in print revenue for every £1 it is making in digital. I see that as a dangerous way of framing a discussion – it invites the ‘turn off the website’ devotees to argue the two are interlinked. Few other industries compare one revenue stream against another in the same way, instead focusing on the need to make the most out of the growing revenue stream while trying to protect the other for as long as possible.
The secret is to ensure that while protecting the one, you don’t restrict the other. Recently, a friend at another newspaper publisher told me they were considering keeping copy off the main website to ‘make people buy the e-edition.’ That’s one way to stick up a paywall – and a good way to ignore the mistakes of 2006.
I took a fair bit of stick the other week when I wrote a post saying that I felt Trinity Mirror’s decision to require Facebook log in for people wishing to comment could be good news for journalists.
I still believe that’s the case – but that’s not why I’m writing about commenting again today, even though it involves a comment posted to the MEN site, and subsequently published in the newspaper.
Opening up comments on an article can lead to many positive things – if they are handled correctly. It can lead to people providing more information on a story, or maybe people taking a title to task for getting a story wrong (although when it’s your piece of work, it can be hard to take that as a positive!)
It can also help hold those in authority to account – in an environment they can’t control. A bit like the letters page, only instant.
Take this comment from the MEN for example:
Using Twitter to provide live coverage from an event is so popular largely because it’s so simple. You don’t even need a web-enabled phone to do it, so long as the phone you’re texting from is connected to your Twitter account.
However, that means you have a rather one-way conversation – you’re broadcasting, in a way the media always has. But simply using the an app or mobile internet to access Twitter to live tweet from an event doesn’t guarantee a two-way conversation.
Often, newsrooms encourage reporters to live tweet from an event because it’s a simply and effective way to get the updates back into a liveblog powered by the likes of Coveritlive and Scribblelive, or one of the increasingly common purpose-built live-blogging solutions publishers have.
That’s fine as far as it goes – but it’s still missing a trick. We can report live, or we can go a step further and make the audience part of the event we’re covering. As a rule, we can’t feed back what they’re saying to the event – if it’s council meeting, football match, court case and so on – but we can make our coverage the centre of a discussion.
The best way to describe what I’m talking about is to show a great example I followed last week. In Greater Manchester, the local NHS is putting itself through yet another wave of reform, under the banner Healthier Together. Type the phrase into Google and you’ll see similar things going on across the country.
If a picture can speak a thousands words, then I reckon the first one this picture on the front page of the Manchester Evening News would say is ‘ouch.’
A still from a video posted on YouTube, it shows the moment a suspected thief is hit by a car as he fled from a local Asda.
The MEN carried the story in the following spread (click the image to see an enlarged version):
This story proves two things to me:
1. Stories involving user generated content (which essentially this is) work much better when you don’t make a fuss about how it surfaced. The story is the content, not the fact it’s on Youtube.
2. YouTube stories aren’t old hat – just stories which make a fuss about the fact it was on YouTube (which this doesn’t). That makes YouTube a must-check source for journalists. Two ways of doing this: Either search Youtube every day for the keywords you’d look for, or set up RSS searches like this:
Where word Oldham is, replace this for your search term. If you have more than one search term, put a + between the two words. So if you only wanted video involving Oldham and Rochdale, you’d go:
Of course, this relies on the person uploading actually using the words Oldham or Rochdale in their uploads.
You can create your own personal newswire using Google Reader – click here for a guide - although Reader is increasingly flaky. My favourite alternative, which wipes the floor with Reader, is Spundge – a guide on how to use that is here.
(I’ve added these pages to a collection of great newspaper pages on Pinterest – click here)