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…

4. Riots in the UK: Thursday’s regional newspaper front pages

Thursday’s front pages revealed just how far the riots – or the fear of the riots – had spread.

Thursday is publication day for many weekly newspapers, and in London in particular, many weeklies sought to find a way to tell the story of what happened in their area. Papers including the Bexley Times, the East London Advertiser and the Islington Gazette had first-hand accounts of how communities were turned into war zones.

The Kilburn Times carried a different line, telling how traders fought off ‘copy-cat looters’ while the Hornsey Journal opted for a more upbeat approach, revealing how clothes and toys had been donated to those left homeless by the riots. The Ham and High newspaper also took an upbeat tones, focusing on the hard work of those trying to clean the area after the riots. Perhaps the most surreal was the Romford Post, which reported how would-be looters couldn’t work out how to smash a Debenham’s window, so gave up.

5. DATA: Without adding context, a journalist with data can be dangerous

If you believe the predictions, 2011 will be the year when journalists have more access to data than ever before. Of course, much of the data will also be accessible to the public in general but I suspect more people will be exposed to data via journalism than will actively seek it themselves.

And with that comes a responsibility to make sure that journalists present the full picture with a set of data. In other words, add some context. The old phrase about lies, lies and statistics can be true if one set of data is taken in isolation.

Paul Bradshaw touched on this when looking at a story in November which ‘revealed’ that Birmingham had more CCTV cameras than any other council area. Does that mean Birmingham residents are more-watched than people living elsewhere? Paul suggested that if you divide the population of each council area by the number of CCTV cameras, the answer is no.

So the challenge for 2011 isn’t just making use of all the data that’s available, it’s making use of it responsibly, linking data together to come up with a true picture.

6. Hyperlocal websites: 10 ideas

Over the past few months, I’ve been researching ways that hyperlocal sites and local newspapers/websites could work together. In my opinion, in many cases the relationship between the two is improving although most would probably suggest there’s a way to go yet.

The idea for this list came out of a few of those conversations. While few, if any, hyperlocal sites seek to replace the local newspaper, I think there are a fair few principles hyperlocal sites could take from local newspapers to attract a wider audience.

To anyone who works in newsrooms, the list below won’t come as a surprise. It’s not intended to be the musing of an arrogant journalist seeking to tell those with hyperlocal sites how to do things – it’s really just ideas from local newspapers which have evolved to serve their communities for over 100 years and, in most cases, continue to do so very well.

7. Journalists: We know we care, but do our readers?

At the news:rewired conference in London, there was a panel discussion about data at a local level. Philip John, one of the brains behind the Lichfield Blog was among those on the panel.

When the panel was asked how to get local journalists interested in data, Philip launched into what he almost instantly told Twitter was a ‘rant.’

He suggested that a problem for local journalists was that they often don’t care about local issues. He cited as an example a recent protest he’d attended in Lichfield against plans to stick the High Speed 2 rail track through the area. Ross Hawkes, the journalist who co-runs the Lichfield Blog, was covering the event for the site.

8. Riots in the UK: Friday’s regional newspaper front pages – telling the story far and wide

A LOOK through Friday’s regional newspapers demonstrates just how far the impact of the rioting in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Gloucester was felt, with papers often hundreds of miles away from looting finding local angles on the story.

In Gwent, South Wales, the South Wales Argus led with a police warning that they were monitoring people on Facebook and Twitter ahead of the weekend, while down the road in Swansea (ok, so my Welsh geography isn’t great), the South Wales Evening Post had news of two arrests in what it called a ‘copycat riot probe.’ There was news of similar arrests on the front pages of the Shropshire Star, the Northampton Chronicle, the Shields Gazette and the Daily Gazette in Colchester.

9. Five search engines (other than Google) for journalists

Warning: This isn’t a knocking post about Google. Google is great for the vast amount of searches we do, but it’s always dangerous as a journalist to fall into the trap of only ever using one search.

If Google does have a problem, it’s the fact that with so many different organisations competing to be on the first page of results, it’s quite possible that the search results for a given term won’t change from one month to the next.

There are an abundance of other search engines around – some good, some bad, some just a little different – but there are a number which I’ve found useful for journalistic purposes over the past few months.

Here’s five – and how they could be used.

10. The rise and rise of journalistic churlishism

We all know about churnalism, but I’m getting a little fed up of churlishism. What’s that, then? Well, to me it’s the so-called ‘analysis’ and ‘opinion’ of other journalists passing judgement on aspects of the news media.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against people having their say on what we do. In fact, over the last 48 hours, there have been several occasions when readers, or people we connect with on social media, have made it possible to improve our coverage of one of the biggest stories of recent times – the riots.

So what makes a piece of journalistic analysis churlishism? The first tell-tale sign is that some of the key basic aspects of journalism have been missed – such as seeking all sides to an argument.

If it becomes clear that obvious facts have been missed – or the chance to garner obvious facts – in favour of reaching what appears to be pre-determined conclusion, then that’s probably churlishism. And an eye-grabbing headline which makes much of their opinion is probably another sign too.

Another example, and perhaps the best I’ve seen, came from journalism.co.uk. In a piece it labelled as ‘opinion’, journalist Sarah Marshall sets out to prove that students working on the Redbrick student newspaper have ‘outshined’ the Birmingham Post and Mail websites in the coverage of the riots in the city.

Having spent the last two nights working with colleagues on the coverage on several of our websites, including the Mail site, it won’t surprise you to learn I disagree with the conclusion. That’s not a criticism of what Redbrick has produced over the last two days – although it’s a bit patronising that only way Marshall can seek to priase Redbrick is by comparing it favourably to the Post and Mail. It’s worthy of praise anyway.

As for the Post and Mail coverage, Marshall’s argument basically appears to be this: It’s a huge story but it’s not dominating the whole of the home page on either the Post or Mail site. Therefore, she concludes, it’s an example of an organisation which news to focus on its online content more.

So a bit of a sour note to end the list for 2011 on, and perhaps proof of the fact I do rant from here from time to time – but hopefully there’s more to this blog than that!

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