Feeling inspired (and not a little hungry) as a I left the Regional Press Awards last Friday, I did what any sane person in that situation would do: Head to Upper Crust at Euston for a sandwich, before turning my thoughts into a Venn Diagram.
The result of a two-hour train journey on a packed Virgin Train was this: A recipe for great digital journalism?
It was prompted by the success the Birmingham Mail enjoyed (note: I work with the Birmingham Mail and editor in chief, Marc Reeves, is someone I have thoroughly enjoyed working with during two spells over the last eight years) at the awards, picking up both website of the year and the digital award.
It’s the latter which I want to focus on. The Mail won the award for its remarkable work covering the 40th anniversary of the Birmingham Pub Bombings and in particular, the moment-by-moment recreation it ran through the medium of a live blog. Now ‘live’ recreations online of traumatic events can go right and they can go wrong, as the Guardian learnt with its live tweeting of 911 10 years on.
But get it right, and the results can be amazing. And its the Mail’s success which prompted the Venn diagram above. The live blog sits at the centre of that Venn Diagram, benefitting from the following:
Technology: Having great tools is the start, knowing how to use them well is the next. Live blogs are used in many different ways, and having confidence to use a tool differently to make an impact is critical to great journalism.
Audience awareness: I blogged a while ago about journalism becoming a science as well as an art and the two combine under the banner of audience awareness. Great digital journalism emerges when you know your audience through both data and getting to know them personally. The pub bombings coverage was an example of this – it’s an issue anyone who knows Birmingham knows is held close by many, and audience data backs up that knowledge by showing how people share the issue online, and engage with different aspects of the coverage.
Digital storytelling: One of the biggest challenges facing any news organisation with a long history in any one format of journalism is how to adapt to the many options digital journalism offers. TV channels often revert to video online when text would be better, likewise print legacy organisations often drift back into 300 words and a picture. And often, that’s fine. But great digital journalism happens when the right style of digital storytelling is used.
So it was knowing how to use a live blog differently, having the right technology to make it work and being aware of how much the subject matter means to the reader that made the Birmingham Mail’s pub bombings coverage so special.
And that’s where great journalism is found.
For the Birmingham Mail, the result of getting that right was lots of positive feedback from the audience, and the subsequent awards win last week – that’s the reference to the sweet taste of success.
And part of that success is the closer connection you have with the reader, who returns more often, reads more content and, as a result, helps secure the future of that journalism through the adverts served up the reader.
As recipes for the future of journalism go, the Birmingham Mail’s awards win isn’t a bad place to start.