There is a risk that this post may be a little self-serving, given my job at one of the largest regional news publishers.
But it struck me over the weekend that, while the general election will be remembered by many people for many things, for the regional press it should probably go down as the event which demonstrated the industry has come of age online.
Of course, you’d expect a lot to have changed in five years, but it’s worth bearing in mind that in 2010 the prevailing opinion within the industry was that it was on borrowed time, with many seeing the internet as something to fear, rather than embrace.
Fast forward five years and my big takeaway from election night coverage – and I looked at many regional news websites during election night – was that the regional press did online what it has done in print for decades: Provided the best, most up-to-date coverage of events from a local perspective.
Articulating proof for something which is little more than a sense I have is a challenge, but I’ll try and show some evidence.
First off is the clear investment in digital. In 2010, election night coverage was largely channelled through third-party liveblogging software, or via social media embedded on sites. Fast forward five years, and you had examples such as Johnston Press with its standalone election video website What Matters To Me, or Trinity Mirror (who I work for) which spent months planning product enhancements which made election night a slick experience for users – and something many journalists took pride of being part of.
There was also clear evidence of how many newsrooms understand the opportunities digital offers journalists, as well as what audiences expect on there. Live blogs such as this one on the Birmingham Mail were informative, engaging and witty, providing a level of service which no other media can. For reasons of previous jobs, I still follow what happens in Blackburn when I can, and enjoyed the Lancashire Telegraph’s live blogging via Twitter using the #LTelection hashtag.
Yeah, so everyone tweets, I’m sure some people are saying at this point. And it’s true, anyone can. But getting a newsroom to follow a set of rules around tweeting and getting a common tone throughout those tweets is still a challenge – and that’s why I’m flagging up the Lancashire Telegraph here.
Social media in general stood out at many newsrooms. Facebook, in particular, was around in 2010 but fully loved in 2015. The use of Twitter, perhaps adopted sooner in many newsrooms than Facebook, has evolved from a source of stories to a place to share information. The Oxford Mail – best known for its use of WhatsApp to share headlines – is typical of many newsrooms in getting the mix of breaking news updates and links to content just right on Facebook:
While the Chronicle in Newcastle showed Facebook works best when asking people what they think as well as sharing stories:
And the Gazette in Teesside was one of many making the most of graphics which shared the story on Twitter instantly:
Socially, time is of the essence, but so is factual accuracy. Standing out through graphics is a tradition bred in print but being reinvented online, as the above example – using a template built by the Trinity Mirror data unit – shows.
There were also multiple examples of getting people involved in the election campaign through digital. There was liveblogging of election hustings, and I particularly liked the Eastern Daily Press’s use of live blog tools to offer a digital hustings in several constituencies.
When we decided to ask people to help shape a manifesto for each of the areas we serve, we didn’t expect to get so many responses. Likewise, people at JP tell me they were delighted with the response to their video project. Hustings were frequently relayed digitally at titles across the country and reported in great depth – a depth which 300 words a picture on a page never allowed us to do before.
In many ways, the 2015 general election made the regional press more local than ever. Digital uncouples regional newsrooms from the need to cover big areas in a confined space – content about each area can breathe more, as demonstrated by the Manchester Evening News’s liveblogging of hustings across its area.
Local World’s ‘who should I vote for’ tool is a great of a one-to-one service served up to hundreds of thousands of people. Likewise, the Trinity Mirror Find Your Seat tool enabled news sites across the UK to offer up detailed information, based on data sets, about how their area was faring against the national average.
But being local didn’t just mean more hyperlocal than ever. The art of cover national politics from a local angle has been given a new lease of life online by regional reporters offering more than just the news – but an insight into how they got the news.
Among my favourites were various sketch articles appearing in the Yorkshire Post while Graeme Demianyk, London Editor for the Western Morning News, wrote of his experiences trying to speak to senior Tories and Jennifer Williams of the Manchester Evening News told of the struggle to get near to George Osborne. Fun diary stuff like this from Bill Jacobs at the Lancashire Telegraph also got a new lease of life online. WalesOnline was also superb here.
And then there was a creative flair online which we perhaps have seen so much of in recent years. This ranged from tapping into new tools – such as the Birmingham Mail and Lancaster Guardian using Periscope to live broadcast hustings – through to the North West Evening Mail in Barrow deploying snails to try and depict the result:
Who would have guessed a snail race would be about as reliable as a pre-election poll? The irreverent tone carried through to the North West Evening Snails Twitter account:
The Liverpool Echo’s ‘election told through lego‘ was another example which stood out for me as proof that, as the part of the industry often criticised for taking itself far too seriously, we’re embracing the digital world’s desire to be a little more light-hearted at times.
Elections come and go, but I do think 2015 is the one the regional press proved it’s not only embracing online, but doing a very good job of doing what it always did best in a whole new way, and being rewarded with more readers than ever before as a result.
And barely a ‘see next week’s paper for the full story’ in sight. Now that’s progress!