manchester evening news

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

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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.


April Fools Day, as told by the regional press

According to Martha Gill, writing in The Guardian, Twitter has killed April Fools Day. Why? According to Gill, the fact that you see hundreds of brilliant jokes on Twitter, day in, day out, means the idea of a once-a-year occasion to make up funny stories is no longer required.

Bobbins. If anything, social media has made April Fools’ Day all the more important, while ‘the internet’ in general has made it more important for news brands to take on human traits – not least the ability to try and make the audience smile, and laugh with them.

April Fools’ Day is a bond between reader and news provider – the one day of the year the reader will tolerate something completely made up, so long as it’s done for the right reasons. On any other day, that story would be just be made-up fiction, risking the credibility and trust the audience has with that brand.

On April Fools’ Day, however, there’s a licence to be as creative as you want. For regional media, creating an online presence which people want to engage with involves joining in the things the readers are doing online. I think April Fools’ Day will get bigger online for the regional press in the years to come, not least because it removes the dilemma of whether the regional press should indulge in April Fools’ Day at all.


Why emotional reaction should help decide the news stories you write

Did you read the story about the woman who gained hearing for the first time in 40 years thanks medical advances at a hospital in Birmingham?

It’s a story which was made or the more memorable because it came with video, provided by the patient’s family, and broadcast first on the website of the Birmingham Mail:

It was posted on YouTube by the Mail on Thursday and at time of writing (Saturday, two days later), it had clocked up over two million streams, plus hundreds of thousands on the Birmingham Mail’s own player.  It’s been picked up globally, shared

So, apart from showing off at a story on one of the website’s I work with doing so well, why am I writing about it?

Here’s why: The reason this story worked so well is because it triggered an emotional response. It’s one thing to read a story about a medical miracle, which is surely what it is for the lady concerned, it’s quite another to witness it.  And when you have an emotional response to something, you’re more likely to talk about it and share it.

And when half the traffic to that article on the Mail site came from social  media – and the vast majority of that from Facebook – factoring in emotional reaction to a story becomes very important.


FOI Friday: The cost of murder, shoplifting hotspots, firefighter complaints and the return of wrong fuel in cop cars


The cost of Murder – Birmingham Mail

West Mercia Police spend fortune in bid to track down killers and see justice done

A Midland police force has spent more than £2.5 million on just FIVE murder investigations in the last five years.

The cases were the most expensive investigated by West Mercia Police, according to figures obtained by the Sunday Mercury.

The most money spent was £900,000 on bringing three Birmingham killers to justice for the brutal killing of a sub-postmaster in January 2009.

The investigation led to the successful prosecution of the killers of Craig Hodson-Walker, murdered during a botched armed raid.

Top of the shop … lifting hotspots < Manchester Evening News

Primark’s flagship Market Street store has topped a league of shame of Greater Manchester’s shoplifting hotspots.

The Manchester city centre shop called police more than three times a week to report shoplifting offences during 2013.

Figures released to the M.E.N by Greater Manchester Police under Freedom of Information laws detail the locations for more than 14,500 shoplifting offences last year.

Market Street – the city centre’s main shopping hub – was home to three of the region’s top four hotspots for police call-outs for reports of theft.

The crimes being committed on Facebook < Cambridge News

Facebook users have been reported by ‘friends’ to Cambridgeshire police for blackmail, child rape and grooming, as well as death threats.

Users of the social networking site have flagged up 169 possible crimes to officers since 2011.

They range from blackmail to bike theft and harassment to rape, data released by the force has showed.

Also on the Facebook crime list was harassment, intimidating or intending to instil fear in a witness to a crime, fraud, racial hatred, rape of children and threats to kill.


FOI Friday: Air bag thefts, obese toddlers, asbestos in schools and the £26,000 chairs

FOIFRIDAYLOGOHow much is a broken arm worth? < Eastern Daily Press

Victims of crime in Norfolk have been awarded compensation payments of up to £370,000 for injuries including a broken arm, collapsed lung, and even serious brain damage, new figures have revealed.

Data from the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority (CICA) show that in the past three years it has awarded payouts totalling £5.8 million to victims of crime in the county.

The list of more than 850 payouts, obtained by a Freedom of Information request, includes compensation for injuries including £370,000 for moderate brain damage, £43,500 for the loss of an eye and £93,000 for a permanent back injury.

The obese toddlers who are treated in hospital for being fat < WalesOnline

Obses toddlers are among almost 100 Welsh children deemed so fat they have been taken into HOSPITAL for treatment, WalesOnline can today reveal.

Dozens of kids – some just pre-school age – have been admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity in recent years, according to the nation’s health boards, with some treated for ‘extreme obesity’ so serious it could lead to heart failure.

At least 97 children aged under 15 have been diagnosed as so overweight that they needed round-the-clock care from doctors and nurses – a statistic branded “repugnant” by chair of the Child Growth Foundation Tam Fry.


How Vincent Kompany, and a train of stranded passengers, demonstrated the need to be first, fast and accurate

I’m currently sat on a train on the way back from Birmingham. What should have been a 90 minute journey is coming in at just under three hours thanks to the gales currently battering Britain.

My train appears to be the last one running into Manchester tonight, with none coming out the other way, at least according to the very apologetic train manager on board our train.

There are lots of frustrated Manchester City fans on the train, having got on at Stoke and Macclesfield only to sit and wait, worrying they’ll miss the game.

Miss it, that is, until the rumour swept around the train that City’s game against Sunderland was being called off.


The 12 days of Local Pressmasness 12: Great front pages

pressmanessAnd it was all going so well. 11 days, 11 numerically-themed pieces which look at different aspects of the regional and local press. And then I get to day 12 – it should be the easiest of the lot, 12 great front pages.

I didn’t want to do just 12 front pages I liked – I’d probably be biased towards titles I work with, which maybe I am in the list below anyway – because that would too subjective. Instead, I wanted to do 12 front pages which showed the regional Press off at its best, but which also told stories about the way the regional Press is going, or where it’s come from.

And so I end up with 20 (more if you include the others I’ve referenced here too). That’s the beauty of grammar I guess – I’ve just moved the colon in the headline a bit so it’s still correct – it is the 12th post, it’s just far more than 12 front pages.

I’ll try and explain the whole thinking of the 12 days of local Pressmasness tomorrow.


The 12 days of Local Pressmasness: 10 great FOIs

pressmanessAny news editor will tell you the Christmas is a time to fear and dread. The dirty looks when the rotas don’t go someone’s way. The knowledge that behind the smiles, reporters still aren’t any further on with their Christmas specials a week before Christmas than they were six weeks before. And the lack of news between Christmas and New Year.

So thank goodness for FOI. Searching Google News for ‘Freedom of Information’ shows that when it comes to finding strong Christmas stories, FOI is one of the best tools around. So seeing as it’s Friday, here’s a festive FOI Friday … 10 great FOIs seen in the Press over Christmas:


The 12 Days of Local Pressmasness: 8 New Year celebrations


Photographers will go to remarkable lengths – or many will – to get a great picture. There are many who said that the art of photography in newsrooms was dead when newspapers began appealing for User Generated Content images. I take a different view.

Like all parts of the newsroom, there are fewer staff photographers than in years gone by, but they are probably more important than ever. Why? Because ‘the internet’ loves nothing more than a great image.

That image can just as easily come from an iphone carried by a teenager who just happens to be in the right place at the right time as it can a photographer with £7k of kits with them, but that’s not to demean the work of a photographer. It’s just that like everything else in publishing, the audience is more empowered to share what they see.

The pixel-sharp quality of ipads and other Tablets makes strong images all the more compelling, while the thirst for image galleries – carefully curated ones, not ones where 30 images are thrown at the internet under a theme – means that all of a sudden, two hours on a photographic job feels less of a luxury than when all that was needed was a great shot for page 5.


The 12 days of Local Pressmasness: Seven Foodbank campaigns


One of the biggest political scandals of the year, for me, has been foodbanks. Not the fact they exist – that, it should go without saying, is indeed a scandal – but the way that politicians from all sides have tried to use them for political ends.

The Tories claim the growth of foodbanks is a sign of Big Society working, with communities coming together to clear up the mess caused by Labour/the global financial meltdown. Labour, in turn, claim it’s all down to the Tories and their commitment to reduce the welfare bill. The Lib Dems – well, who knows.

And this is where the local and regional press, be it print or online, play a pivotal role in cutting through the rhetoric and telling the stories on the ground – and doing something about it.

So, while not in the tongue-in-cheek style of previous 12 days posts, this post is meant to be one of the ones which makes us proud about what we do – and why we have to continue to do it. Imagine if we were ruled by statutory regulation and a government determined to ignore the injustices which cause the need for foodbanks…

1. If it’s good enough for them

Norwich Evening News foodbank

Norwich Evening News

Congratulations to the Norwich Evening News and Eastern Daily Press which collected more than 10 tonnes of food supplies for local foodbanks.

One of the challenges of a campaign can be sustaining it day in, day out without a) going mad and b) driving readers mad.

A highlight of the coverage was an interview with 90s band Dodgy, who released a single to raise money for foodbanks.

The band, who had five top-20 singles in the mid-90s, including the No.4 hit Good Enough in 1996, are donating all the proceeds from ‘Christmas at the Foodbank’ to the Trussell Trust, the charity behind Norfolk’s network of foodbanks.

2. Tons Of Tins

In Nottingham, a foodbank campaign is nothing new. The Nottingham Post launched the Tons of Tins campaign in October 2012 with a plan to get 5 tons of tins for foodbanks in time for Christmas. It ended up with 11 tons, or 26,000 tins.

A quick trawl through Google searching for ‘Nottingham Post tons of tins’ shows just how deep the appeal went within the community. And in September, the title revisited those it helped to see what the situation was 9 months on . It has stayed loyal to the issue throughout, which this piece on Christmas Eve which made the point that while the politicians row, the food continues to be donated.

3. 4,000 tins from just one school


In Sheffield, the Sheffield Star worked with Maureen Greaves, whose husband Alan was murdered last Christmas as he made his way to church in the city – a story which dominated the national news for days afterwards.

The Star appealed for donations of food and household goods for the food bank and shop set up by Mr and Mrs Greaves for the needy in High Green, where they lived, in the weeks before his death.

The donations came in thick and fast – including from local MP and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, with one school donating 4,000 tins alone!

Maureen Greaves, aged 64, said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed at the generosity shown by so many – we were absolutely inundated with food, toys and gifts.

“It meant we were able to provide everyone with a Christmas meal, a gift and goodies like boxes of chocolates – everyone was really appreciative.”

 4. Sorted for Winter

Like many newspapers, the Medway Messenger prides itself on having a Christmas appeal every year. This year, it chose to support a local foodbank, run by the Trussell Trust.

Launched at the start of December, by the end of last week, readers of the weekly newspaper had donated over two tonnes of tins to help people through Christmas.

Medway Foodbank coordinator Helen Gallagher said they have enough food in their warehouse to help families through the winter.

Since launching in December 2011, Medway Foodbank has fed more than 4,000 people including more than 1,000 children. And the number is steadily growing. Last month, it helped just over 200 adults and 91 children. Sometimes, the local numbers, knowing the person could live next door, are the most frightening.

5. Simple … but effective

waste notOne of the best – in my opinion – campaigns about foodbanks comes from my local newspaper, the Lancashire Telegraph. It launched a ‘Back our Foodbanks’ campaign in the summer after a local foodbank reported concerns that children might not get enough to eat over the school holidays.

The campaign didn’t set targets in terms of collections, or specify one foodbank over another – a potentially politically sensitive issue in some areas as many are run independently – it just set out to raise awareness of a very important issue, and how it was having an impact throughout an area which is home to some of the country’s most desirable rural addresses and also some of the most deprived urban wards in the country.

Stories like this stand out: Diane Mason, who works at Royal Preston Hospital, said she found herself needing emergency food from the Blackburn Foodbank after she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. She was off sick for two months with half pay but found that this was not enough to cover the cost of mortgage payments and heating bills. The foodbank was there to help. In other words, it could happen to anyone.

Last week, the paper reported on a family who walked five miles to get to the foodbank to get food. This feels to me like the might of the pen used to maximum effect.

6. Making a voice heard

Regardless of what the doom-mongers say – and some of the most vocal are the ones we should consider our allies – the regional press still has a powerful voice. The Manchester Evening News has used this to great effect with a campaign to make sure action was being taken on food poverty.

The title began campaigning after research suggested almost half of youngsters in Manchester live in food poverty – ie don’t get enough meals a day. Like the Lancashire Telegraph this year, it hasn’t been about arranging collections and donations, but focused on using its voice, weight and authority in the region to make things happen.

It has spurred local authorities into life to come up with solutions, rather than lamenting the cuts from government. It’s used its connections in the city’s restaurant and bar sector to make sure food doesn’t go to waste and is donated to charities such as Fareshare, which distributes spare food to all sorts of charities.

It has held a summit with partners – including food organisations – looking for solutions and encouraging more thought in how to help. At the food and drink festival, time was set aside to ensure support was pledged to helping organisations doing their bit. And, of course, it has relentlessly told the stories of those seeking to improve things – including Food banks. This story sums up the ongoing wealth of research, which the MEN is ensuring is seen by as wider audience as possible.

7. A foodbank appeal isn’t just for Christmas…

bank on us

In Preston, the Lancashire Evening Post backed a Salvation Army appeal to ensure hundreds of families in the region would get a good Christmas meal thanks to generous donations. LEP readers helped provide 600 food parcels and hundreds of Christmas presents for children in and around the city.

Like so many of the other campaigns listed here, it was one launched in isolation, reflecting an urgent need within the community. The fact so many areas are doing it – I could also have included a North Wales Weekly newspaper campaign from last year, or one run by four titles in the south west, and others – shows just how the regional Press, in serving local audiences, also holds up a mirror to the country as a whole.

Talking of mirrors, The Mirror is the only national newspaper to have taken the foodbank campaign beyond the political rhetoric and delivered real action on the back of it. Its ‘Give a Child a Christmas’ campaign has raised over £70,000 to help the Trussell Trust. 

And it’s also an issue which has a huge impact on social media – again, another mirror to the world we live in.

Birmingham Updates – a Facebook Page run by a man called Luke Addis – has almost 150,000 Facebook fans, and posts, as the name suggests, updates about Birmingham.

Among the day-to-day updates, Luke found space for this one, an appeal from the local fire station to fill a fire engine with enough tins to take to the local foodbank:

Look at the number of shares. And then look at the results in Perry Barr the next day:

That’s the power of the public, right there, in one day, and highlighted in two Facebook updates.

The fact so many – be it the regional press, a social media blogger, or community groups and schools, are prepared to do so much to help foodbanks works perfectly for the political rhetoric of all sides. It’s an issue which shouldn’t exist in 21st century Britain. The fact it does, and the fact so much is being done on a local basis, is a testament to the power communities, and an example of the important role local media plays in reflecting local lives.

I feel I’ve rather taken the jollity out of the 12 Days of Local Pressmasness with this post. I’m sorry about that. Normal service will resume tomorrow.