At first glance, there’s little to connect last week’s gas explosion in Irlam and the remarkable election court which led to the dismissal of Oldham MP Phil Woolas on Friday – other than the fact they took place within 30 miles of each other.
But if you take the coverage of each from two very different publications – the Irlam blast from the Manchester Evening News – and the Woolas story as handled by hyperlocal site Saddleworth News – there is one obvious link.
And it’s one which should cheer every local journalist: That sticking with a story pays dividends.
Starting first with the Irlam blast last Tuesday. It dominated the national news agenda from the moment it was first reported. The satellite trucks turned up, the live links from the scene were endless and there were plenty of reporters on the scene. But by 10pm, it was deemed to be worth little more than 15 seconds on the BBC National news.
I guess that’s a sign of how national and rolling news works sometimes – the exaggerated importance of breaking news, regardless of how few facts, can come at the expense of sticking with a story for more than a few hours.
But the M.E.N was there long after the cameras had been turned off, as demonstrated by its front pages on Wednesday and Thursday and the fact the stories relating to the blast continued to draw people in to the website in their 10s of thousands throughout the week. (Having access to the M.E.N’s web figures is what got me thinking about this in the first place).
Skip to the other side of Greater Manchester and you find Saddleworth News, a hyperlocal site run by ex-Sky journalist Richard Jones. It’s an excellent site and has covered the election court in great depth. Indeed, along with other local media, it was covering it long before it really caught the eye of the national media. There was a flurry of national interest as it kicked off, and then mass interest on Friday, when the shock result came in.
Obviously, I don’t have access to Richard’s web stats, but I suspect he’s enjoying healthy traffic on the back of it. It’s just a shame that when the BBC, so keen to show it is linking out at the foot of stories now, wasn’t linking to a local site ahead of those running wire copy.
Richard’s stories, like those elsewhere in the local media, are clearly written for a local audience. They have more than just official spokesmen in the them, and the same can be said for the Irlam blast coverage.
Proof that no matter how instant news coverage can be, or how much national interest a story can generate, there’s still nothing to beat local knowledge and sticking with a story for as long as your audience is interested?