Author: davidhiggerson

Infographic: How to create great journalism online

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?

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FOI Friday: 34 years on the run, social media at councils, snooping councils and overtime for detectives

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The burglar on the run for 34 years < Belfast Telegraph

Thousands of suspected criminals are dodging justice after disappearing while on bail in Northern Ireland, it can be revealed.

Some of them are still on the run more than three decades after they vanished.

The suspects are linked to almost 13,000 crimes, including dozens of sex offences.

Nearly 1,500 individuals have been at large for at least a decade.

The figures have been branded “embarrassing”, with justice officials accused of allowing people to vanish into thin air.

Social media leads to demotion < Daily Post

Public service workers in North Wales have landed themselves in hot water over inappropriate use of the internet and posts on social media.

A Freedom of Information request by the Daily Post reveals nearly 60 council employees, health workers and fire service staff have either been sacked, suspended, disciplined or demoted since 2013.

Thousands of local authority, police, fire, health and university employees have access to the internet at work, with varying levels of personal use allowed.

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Try it Tuesday: Recenttraintimes

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. 

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12. Recenttraintimes.co.uk

Where? www.recenttraintimes.co.uk

What? Recenttraintimes makes use of the Network Rail API to record details of how reliable train services across the country are.

Why? Stories about train cancellations and associated problems are always talking points for readers, but freely-available data is often only available at operator level, making it almost useless for any publication not covering an entire region.

This tool lets you pick the train journeys you are interested in and see, amongst other things, what % are more than five minutes late, the average arrival time of the service in relation to when it was due to arrive, and how late it has run recently. It will also tell you how often services are cancelled and, for real data geeks, give you the choice of averages to focus on.

A great example of what open data can achieve – and a mine of stories waiting to be discovered.

General Election 2015: Learning from hyperlocal sites across the UK

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Last week, I blogged that the General Election seemed to be the moment the regional press came of age online, such was the confidence, ability and familiarity demonstrated by many newsrooms online.

And if a five-year gap between elections creates a good check point for the regional press, the same too can be said for hyperlocal journalism.

There are many reasons why people embark on hyperlocal websites, with many relying on volunteers propelled by a sense of social and community commitment to keep going. Damian Radcliffe, writing on the Online Journalism Blog, made the point that there remains a degree of snobbery in ‘mainstream journalism’ towards hyperlocal journalism. If that is the case (and I suspect there continues to be an element of that), then hopefully this post might help towards conquering that.

Because many hyperlocal websites had a very good general election, and here are 10 ideas for journalists elsewhere to consider:

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No, the 2015 general election was not the social media election

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One of the many predications given ahead of the 2015 general election was that it was going to be ‘the social media election.’

Similar predictions were made in 2010, but in hindsight it really wasn’t. But what about 2015?

I suppose it depends how you define what it would it would take to remember a general election by the impact social media had on it. So my conclusion is that no, rather like 2010, social media did not define the general election. Therefore 2015 was not the social media election.

That’s not to say it didn’t have a much bigger impact on the journalism surrounding the 2015 general election than ever before. It certainly did. In 2010, Twitter was still treated with suspicion or outright contempt by many journalists. Facebook was still, for the majority of journalists, a personal, rather than professional, space.

In 2015, social media sat at the centre of media coverage of the general election. Sky News built a whole part of its election website around social discussion, breaking out sentiment by age and sex, for example. 

The Press Association ran a UK politics page for Facebook, Tweets were referenced in content everywhere, and politicians and political parties were alert to the fact any post from them on social media was likely to attract mainstream media attention quickly.

But that’s where I think it fell down somewhat. Social media, for many politicians, remains a broadcast tool. It might have sat at the heart of election strategies – the Tories are rumoured to have spent fortunes on Facebook advertising – but the communication was very much one way.

And until that changes, I struggle to see how we can ever have a social media election – because until politicians realise that they need to have individual conversations on social media in the same way they do on the doorstep, they won’t be harnessing the power of social media properly.

To say social media is a powerful tool for change is rather like remarking that water is wet. Campaigns are won within days. The Manchester Evening News raised £1.4m in 24 hours for a burning dogs homes, thanks largely to people sharing on social media. Petitions, such as the one for a parliamentary debate on Hillsborough, reach their 100,000 target in days thanks to sharing on Twitter. Yet faced with the potential to connect with a large number of people, politicians seem determined to keep just shouting at them.

Indeed, at times Twitter’s best attribute to politicians has seemed to be the 140-character limit, providing politicians with a way to say as little as possible, but still get their message across. It’s not supposed to be like that.

There are exceptions, of course. Nicola Sturgeon has been widely acclaimed for her use of Twitter. She’s far from the first to be good on social. Ed Balls used to be active too, once giving me directions to a football ground. So to was John Prescott, once balling me out for disagreeing with him. But for every great political Twitter account i mention to someone, I invariably get back the question: “Ah, but do you know if s/he writes it themselves?”

The answer is that I don’t know. But what I do know is that the big political parties treat social media the same way they do every other form of communication: The more people you can reach for the least amount of effort, the better.

And while that approach works when determining the merit of a wrap in a local newspaper, or buying Facebook advertising, it misses the point of social media entirely. And as a result, the likes of Sturgeon are few and far between.

This isn’t a ‘let’s bash social media’ blog. It’s hopefully a ‘let’s get real’ blog post. Social media works so well because it fits into people’s lives, and reflects the real world too. Treat Twitter like you would going into the pub is a common piece of advice. Reply to people, and listen to them, is another. Be useful is another. The political parties miss all of these points but probably pat themselves on the back for the reach of a Tweet or Facebook post.

An MP last autumn boasted to me: “My local newspaper only sells 10,000 copies a week but a post on my Facebook people can be seen by 40,000 people. What do you think of that?”

In hindsight, my reply should have been: “I think you should focus on talking to people locally, rather than getting carried away by meaningless global numbers, you nugget.” Sadly, it wasn’t.

Social media does have the power to determine an election in the future, in a far more democratic way than any traditional media outlet could ever claim to do (and let’s be frank, has The Sun really ever won an election, or has it just always ensured it’s backing the winning horse?)

The right party, with the right message, could do exactly what Barack Obama did a decade ago and bring together many people and secure a victory against the odds. But do so requires people to buy into the message, and buy into the person presenting that message. For that to happen requires personal relationships and engagement on social media.

As any newsroom social media editor will tell you, social media isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work to maintain relationships. But if you get it right, the rewards are there.

The social media election can happen – but only once politicians start treating networks as more than just an extra channel for an off-the-shelf party political broadcast.

So succeed at social, you need to succeed at being human. That’s where I fear our mainstream parties go wrong.

General Election 2015: How the regional press came of age online

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.

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Election 2015: How regional newspapers showed they are as relevant as ever in print

The 2015 general election was probably the first where the vast majority of local newspapers no longer printed on day.

While the assumption many made when papers switched to overnight printing was that the papers suffered as a result, I think the last 48 hours have shown this is wrong on two counts.

The first point to make is that a constantly changing pattern and picture on election night, and the morning after, means that trying to sell a local newspaper as the up-to-the-minute source of information in a world of Twitter, Facebook and rolling TV news is bonkers.

That’s what a newsroom’s digital service is for and across the country, regional newsrooms demonstrated that they were second to none when it comes to covering the elections from a local perspective (more on that tomorrow).

The second point to make is that newsrooms across the country rose to the challenge of ensuring their newspapers remained relevant by coming up with a multitude of of creative ways of telling the stories of the election, and the issues emerging from the ballots. Highlights for me included: (more…)

FOI Friday: Jollies in Cannes, guilty police, empty homes, naughty soldiers and road rage incidents

So does a trip to MIPIM pay off? < Brixton Buzz

£20,000 was taken by Lambeth Council from four property developers to help fund the trip to Cannes by four council employees. A Freedom of Information Request shows that although “conversations took place” at MIPIM World back in March, no actual deals were reached following the local authority jolly.

Which must have been disappointing for all involved…

MIPIM World is the international property fair for corporate developers. It is the Cannes Film Festival equivalent for folk who believe in gentrification. Lambeth Council wanted a piece of the action, but understandably felt slightly nervous about spending £20,000 of local authority money on a trip to the South of France.

Police found guilty of crimes in last five years < Belfast Live

Forty-six police officers in Northern Ireland have been found guilty of committing crimes in the past five years.

According to figures released to Belfast Live by PSNI, the law-keepers have turned lawbreakers by committing a variety of crimes including tampering with a motor vehicle and death by dangerous driving.

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Local media election diary: The light and dark of social media, advice from Eric Pickles and the ‘MP’ who has already won

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A fascinating story from the Belfast Telegraph, involving a candidate called John Doyle who was subjected to online taunts after a poor performance in a TV debate:

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Mr Doyle is quoted as saying:

“I broke down in tears. I didn’t get into politics to be abused,” he said. “I was bullied at school and this is the exact same thing.

“It was abusive bullying – it was just to belittle me.

“I got into politics to make a bright future for the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone.”

Much as anyone would say a politician has to have a thick skin to get on, this story is a fascinating insight to the impact social media is having.

We’re all familiar with the stories of journalists being trolled for their coverage – particularly those covering SNP affairs in Scotland too.

If 2015 really is the social media election, then it’s perhaps also the election at which a sinister side to the political debate became an unintended norm.

You can read the full Bel Tel article here. 

Parents…

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Why work experience isn’t enough to stand out in journalism…

Once upon a time, the best way into journalism was to do work experience. It worked for me, and for many others before me. At around the time I became a journalist, the work experience route was rapidly being replaced with the higher education one.

I know many great journalists who completed post-graduate or one-year higher education courses before entering journalism. I know great ones who did three years of a journalism degree before arriving in newsrooms. Some regret spending three years studying journalism when they realise it doesn’t really give them much of a head start.

I wince when I see universities, particularly some of those who’ve only been offering journalism courses in recent years, suggesting that spending up to £9,000 a year is the best way to get a grounding for a job in journalism. In his column, reported by Holdthefrontpage, Derby Telegraph editor Neil White revealed he tells students he’d go with a journalist with a lower-standard degree but a great CV over one with first-class degree but little on the CV.

I agree – to a point.

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