Online Journalism

10 useful websites for ‘rainy day’ stories

A rainy day in Bury

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.

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The cornflake conundrum for newspapers – or why pitting print v digital is doing no-one any favours

Variety Packs … Like Newspapers?

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.
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How online comments make politicians instantly more accountable – whether they like it or not

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:

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How to make your live tweeting of an event indispensible for readers

heartmonitorUsing 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.

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Here’s a picture which speaks just one word – but shows the value of social media search

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:

http://www.youtube.com/rss/search/oldham.rss

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:

http://www.youtube.com/rss/search/oldham+rochdale.rss

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)

How the #theafghanistanyouneversee hashtag proves the worth of crowdsourcing

It started as a hashtag attached to several photos by a journalist. By the weekend, it had become a huge sharing of images from people who had been to Afghanistan, and showed us another side to a country rarely away from the headlines.

The idea behind #theAfghanistanYouNeverSee came from journalist Antony Loveless, who specialises in defence for the London Press Service. The first hashtag appeared late last week, and by the bank holiday weekend had become a steady flow of images:

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accyweb

Back to the Future: A reminder why journalists shouldn’t forget about forums

back-to-the-future-car-2012A report by pollsters YouGov last week gave some insights into the use of social media in the UK. The headline figure was that two in five people are getting bored of social media and want sites to do more – ie be useful.

Whether that’s a surprise or not, I’m not sure. Certainly many of the other stats, including the pecking order of popularity of sites – 1) Facebook, 2) Twitter), 3) Windows Live, 4) LikedIn, 5) Google +, 6) Spotify – won’t be a shock.

But the fact that moneysavingexpert.com now has as many active users in the UK as Twitter, did generate a lot of attention, and seemed to back up the point that people want their social media experience to be a useful one.

This feels like a Back to the Future moment. I would probably argue that it’s not a case of moneysavingexpert.com having as many active users as Twitter so much as Twitter catching up with MSE – it has been around for much longer.

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Top 10 most read journalism posts of 2011 on this blog

When I first started this blog, I was determined that it wouldn’t just be my opinion on stuff, or rants about stuff, either. I’m not sure how well I’ve done in achieving that aim – but going through the most read posts of 2011 (I’ve done a separate list of FOI posts here):

Manchester Evening News front page1. Is this the most jaw-dropping CCTV still ever?

Do you remember the days when a police call which involved a promise of CCTV was pretty much always guaranteed to end up with a long battle with technology or a trip to the cop shop to pick up a grainy image which had more in common with Magic Eye pictures than it did with 20:20 sharp focus?

Friday’s first edition front page of the Manchester Evening News carries what I think is probably the most striking, and shocking CCTV still I’ve ever seen on a newspaper.

2. 10 Social Network search engines for journalists

Google Realtime, the search engine which was intended to integrate social network updates into Google, has been suspended, the company announced at the weekend.

Whether it returns at all remains to be seen – in my opinion, it’s the sort of tool Google can’t afford to be without.

It was a very useful tool for journalists too, especially as the ‘say what you see’ culture on Twitter exploded, providing excellent first-hand accounts and sources for reporters, especially local ones.

But there are plenty of other social network search engines worth checking out. Here are 10 of the best.

3. Council spending data: 10 tips for journalists looking for stories

Today marks the deadline for councils to start publishing details of all spending over £500. Local government minister Eric Pickles says he expects all councils to be as open as possible. Some, such as Liverpool, have admitted they’ll miss that deadline, and final details of exactly how all councils should produce the information has yet to be issued.

So how should journalists deal with the data? Here are ten points which I hope might help…

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socia-network-3

10 Social Network search engines for journalists

Google Realtime, the search engine which was intended to integrate social network updates into Google, has been suspended, the company announced at the weekend.

Whether it returns at all remains to be seen – in my opinion, it’s the sort of tool Google can’t afford to be without.

It was a very useful tool for journalists too, especially as the ‘say what you see’ culture on Twitter exploded, providing excellent first-hand accounts and sources for reporters, especially local ones.

But there are plenty of other social network search engines worth checking out. Here are 10 of the best.

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#walsall24: How a council overcame the ‘no-one understands what we do’ dilemma

Just a quick mention for #walsall24, a 24-hour tweeting project from Walsall Council.

A bit like Greater Manchester Police’s tweetathon last year, the 24 hour tweeting operation from Walsall Council aimed to show people just what the council does.

Unlike the GMP live tweet, Walsall Council appears to have encouraged staff to use their own Twitter accounts to send updates, using the hashtag of #walsall24. This removes the risk of one account being suspended for issuing too many tweets at one time.

The array of things the council deals with during the course of 24 hours is fascinating, and the tweets can be viewed on the Express and Star site’s widget here.

One of the complaints I’ve often heard from council officers is that the complaining public ‘don’t realise everything we do.’

That’s certainly probably the case when it comes to discussing council cuts – the impact is likely to be felt in places way beyond what most people would consider the reach of councils.

As it is, it’s good to see  a council do something to act on the complaint that the public don’t know what they do – so hats off to Walsall for doing this so well.

A Storify wrap of key tweets from the day has been put together by Sarah Hartley of The Guardian. It makes the point that some have asked just how many people in Walsall will have seen the tweets.

To me, that’s where the mainstream media comes into its own. As with GMP’s 24-hour tweetathon, while those of us on Twitter will have watched it live, many more will have seen it through the coverage of the Manchester Evening News and the BBC. If the council can provide the material, then the media should be able to do a lot with it.