Social: Why speed cameras are more interesting than politicans

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If the news agenda is to be believed this week, we’ve been talking about nothing but the general election in our day to day lives. Not for the first time, the stories getting reaction on social media from the local press perhaps challenge our sense of what readers want and expect.

But some good news (Holdthefrontpage commenters look away now!) One of the best-performing regional Press posts of the week was this one from The National – the pro-independence title based in Glasgow:

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If you read just one food and drink review this weekend…

One of my pet hates in local newspapers is bad restaurant and pub reviews. Bad as in ‘not good for the reader.’ These tend to be the ones where the reviewer ‘is too full for pudding’ (imagine saying ‘I missed the verdict because the legal argument was boring’ in a court story) or remarking on the ‘wide range of beers on tap’ in a pub (not dis-similar to commenting on the fact there were 22 players on the pitch at a football match).

Obviously, reviewing things is a tad more fraught at a local level than, say, at a national newspaper. Jay Rayner’s recent take-down of one of Paris’s best-known eateries – another word which normally hints to a rubbish restaurant review – was brilliant and presumably without significant comeback for the author.

Locally, however, a bad restaurant review – as in, not enjoying the meal and saying so, or commenting on the poor service – can have all sorts of ramifications. Threats to pull advertising are the most obvious one, but campaigns in response on social media can be another, not to mention awkward moments when you bump into the owner of the restaurant. Life is local, sometimes a little too local.

That doesn’t excuse bland reviews, of course. So full credit to the author of the Pub Spy column in the Brighton Argus this week, who reported exactly what s/he felt when they visited the County Oak pub recently.

The social headline – asking if this is surely Brighton’s worst pub – gives you a sense of what is to follow.

I won’t give the column away here  – you can help support local journalism in Brighton by clicking the link, but here’s a taste:

I’d already fought my way through the scaffolding yard masquerading as a car park by the time a huge beast lurched out of The County Oak and threw up over my feet.

By the time the fully track-suited barmaid, with a bandage on her right hand, served me a pint of Kronenbourg I realised this was Shameless meets Celebrity Juice – but without the class of either of these programmes.\

And that’s just for starters. Like any good review, it then delivers a main course and ‘afters’ … and brilliant honesty. If a review is worth doing, surely it’s worth doing well – just like this one!

Social: Why good news is often the best news for readers

 

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In Hartlepool, a new weekly newspaper has launched, Prolific North reported this week. Hartlepool Life, with a run of 25,000 a week, is focused on the positive things in life.

The anti-digital message from the journalists behind it is nothing new when reading about start-up news organisations, with former Hartlepool Mail picture editor Dirk Van Der Werff stating:

“Our newspaper is only posted online the day before the next issue so we can refer people to it. Putting news online has killed so many newspapers, including the one we all loved so dearly, so we’re not making the same mistake.”

That simply isn’t true – as anyone who explores the question of “What would have happened if newspapers hadn’t put news online?” knows. The challenge for local journalism is much more profound, as illustrated by the fact Hartlepool Life is a free publication. But of Hartlepool Life’s ‘unique selling point’ Dirk, I think, is on to something:

Facebook and online forums do anger and darkness and negativity so much better nowadays, so we’re a newspaper without any of those things – and our readers love it.”

While it would be wrong to suggest that ‘bad’ news stories aren’t working online for local journalists – indeed, a look through the most-read articles across the network of websites I work with shows they are generally the most popular with casual and loyal readers alike, and tend to be posted as reference points to the forums and social networks being mentioned above – there’s no doubt the digital age has brought about a change in thinking about positive news.

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Jeremy Corbyn and a very misleading portrayal of local news

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took to Twitter yesterday to make this statement:

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An April Fool delivered a little too late? Sadly not – it’s a stat which has been doing the rounds all week since the NUJ published its ‘Mapping Changes in Local News Report‘ as part of its Local News Matters campaign.

At best, the statistical conclusion the NUJ has reached through this piece of work is at best misguided, and as such presents a misleading picture of the challenges faced by local journalism, making it harder to determine any useful actions for the future. Here’s why:

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Social: Stories which brought out the social in social media

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What do we learn about regional journalism and its readers when we look at the stories most-shared on social media this week?

Journalists are often taught to avoid cliches at all costs, but every now and again, a cliche just happens to be the best form of words to describe what’s happening.

Take the story of Bradley Lowery, the brave little boy whose fight against neuroblastoma really has ‘touched the hearts of a nation.’ Rarely a week goes by when an update about the five-year-old, who has been taken to the heart of his local football club Sunderland in recent months, isn’t widely shared on social media.

In one sense, it’s a reminder of the ‘social’ side of social media. It can be a place of hateful trolls, of bullying and abuse, but it can also be a place where people come together to support others.

This week, the most popular regional press story was of Bradley running out as one of the England mascots in when England played Lithuania at Wembley on Sunday:

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Swapping local news for Kim Kardashian? Why the NUJ’s latest claim doesn’t add up

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This week, the National Union of Journalists is running a campaign called ‘Local News Matters.’ As a journalist, it’s hard not to agree with its principle aim: To remind people of the importance of local journalism.

Their method, however, appears to leave a lot to be desired. The showpiece of their campaign was a Parliamentary launch for a piece of research called ‘Mapping News in Local Democracy’. A large piece of the research appears to update a previous piece of work about how well local councils are covered, which I’ll cover in a later post.

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Holding the powerful to account in real time

On Monday, the deadline passed for Northern Ireland’s political parties to form a coalition government. For news outlets in Northern Ireland, this outcome probably wasn’t a surprise – relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein entered the deep freeze a while ago and nothing much has changed.

Ahead of the elections, BelfastLive ran a poll seeking views of thousands of readers about the election. Of the results, the one which stood out the most for me was just how disappointed people in Northern Ireland were about the prospect of another election so soon after the last one. Just 7.2% of people retained faith in MLAs as a result of recent goings on at Stormont.

On Monday, Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire delivered a press conference outlining what the deadlock meant. BelfastLive streamed it live on Facebook.

If ever there was an example of journalism bringing politics to the people instantly, and the public mood being summed up instantly and in real-time, then I think this Facebook Live is it.

It’s easy to criticise journalism for not being the same as it once was. Not so many reporters in council meetings, fewer political stories in the papers and so on. But surely this approach shows that with the right digital tools, used in the right way, journalism can be as powerful as ever when holding those in authority to account? A real-time debate around real-time political events?

 

 

Life is local: The councillor who won an election then declared himself null and void

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We’ve all been there, well, most local government reporters have been. A by-election vote count is rarely going to trouble the front page of the paper or the upper echelons of Chartbeat Big Screen, but it’s something we attend because we feel we must.

For the Lancashire Telegraph, a bog-standard by-election count delivered a brilliant front page – the bizarre scenario of a Labour candidate being declared the winner, only for the vote to declared null and void because the winning candidate had declared himself disqualified from standing earlier in the day.

It turned out the Labour candidate worked for a firm owned by the council so was never eligible to stand in the first place, something you would have assumed the local Labour party (which runs the council) might have double checked first.

It led to this front page – and the prospect of another by-election in the same ward. Maybe more people than the 14% who bothered to turn out and vote will make an effort next time. Maybe:

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Saturday Social: A week in which we learnt much about what people want from local news

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It’s been one of those weeks when it’s hard to remember what was making the news prior to the one big thing which made every stop, stare and wonder ‘why’. This feature on the blog was set up with the intention of digging around into what people share and engage with from local media.

The theory – I guess a bit like The Guardian’s Northerner newsletter in its heyday – was that the best reflection of real-life UK comes from the regional press, and by looking at what was most likely to be engaged with on social media from the regional press, you can get a sense of what local people are most likely thinking about.

And, as I blogged on Thursday (I think), if looking at engagement with social media posts this week teaches us anything about local journalism, it’s that when a ‘national’ news story breaks, local journalists are relied upon by many to share reliable information.

Take, for example this post from the Scotsman on Wednesday afternoon, which was one of the regional Press Facebook posts to achieve the most interactions with readers:

 

For two newsrooms at least, the actions of MP Tobias Ellwood were particularly local:

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London Attacks: Constant conversation with readers drives newsroom decisions

Why should local news outlets be reporting on events in London in real-time? That was the question posed by some on Twitter yesterday. What value does it add to live blog in Blackpool when events are happening 300 miles away?

One post given prominence by industry website Holdthefrontpage suggested local newsrooms were ‘milking a tragedy’ while another suggested ‘clicks were being put before the truth.’

The reality is far less sinister than that. Put simply, newsrooms responded to what their audiences were talking about. Just because we, as journalists, mark out our work between national news organisations and local ones doesn’t mean our readers do.

That is perhaps best evidenced by looking at some of the social media posts shared by local news organisations over the past 24 hours. They show that what some dismiss as ‘spurious local angles’ are actually of interest to local readers, while others demonstrate that local people are perfectly happy to get national news from a local news site, because they trust it as a news source.

The posts below have been selected because the were flagged up by Crowdtangle as either ‘overperforming’ (in relation to the posting page’s normal posts) or just being engaged with by a lot of people:

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