Social: 10 of the most shared stories of the week from the Regional Press

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Sometimes, looking at what gets shared most frequently on social media gives you an insight into life you perhaps weren’t expecting. For all the rolling of eyes you get from ex-journalists, academics and keyboard warriors about using audience data, that data is often very revealing.

Take Kodi boxes. Kodi what? A set-top streaming box which, if not used properly, can actually be illegal to use. Stories about these boxes have become the cat nip of local journalism in recent months – and before the shriek of ‘clickbait’ goes up, the stories tend to be read by predominantly local audiences, who spend a long time on the pages with the articles.

This week, the most ‘viral’ story from the regional Press (viral defined as most over-performing posts from news brands) came from the Yorkshire Evening Post, with news on possible 10-year jail sentences if caught using a Kodi box the wrong way. It’s a great example of taking a national news story (about a new Act becoming law) and putting into relevant terms for local readers:

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Why it’s time for politicians to take the local media more seriously

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Politicians like to speak warmly of the regional Press. Part of the community, essential for democracy, a trusted source of local news – the platitudes are as varied as they are oft-repeated.

But elections – especially general elections – seem to bring out the worst in our national politicians, and they seem to be getting worse. Bearing in mind that prime minister Theresa May’s main reason for not doing televised debates was that she wanted to spend more time actually going around the country, this election should, in theory, be one where the local Press is treated with the respect it deserves.

Is that the case? Not in all cases. One of the websites I work with, Cornwall Live, today reported that a request to film the PM while in the county had been rejected because, apparently, ‘Cornwall Live’ is ‘print.’  Is that how the PR community in Westminster still see the media, split up into different camps based on what we used to do maybe 20 years ago?

It would be unfair to say the Tories have failed to do anything for the local media. The Manchester Evening News got an interview this week, while she wrote for the Coventry Telegraph at the weekend. And Labour’s record with the local media is far from impressive this time out.

But isn’t it time for the local media to get a better deal generally? Of course, I would say yes. 

There’s been some suggestion today that journalists faced with restrictions on what they can do when reporting a political royal visit should just refuse to report on it. To me, that’s the worst thing you can do. It might reduce the impact of the visit – but if press officers are prepared to treat the local media with such contempt, do they really care about local coverage? – but the real loser is the reader.

Ah yes, the reader/voter

And it’s the reader – or rather, volume of readers – which should really be forcing a rethink amongst those trying to get any political leader’s message across during this election. If you look at the media through the lens of how the industry was shaped 20 years ago, you’d probably argue the local Press was in a sorry state. Fewer newspapers, fewer journalists, fewer readers.

But look at what the newsrooms which still produce the Cornish Guardian, West Briton et al do now and it’s a very different picture. These are newsrooms working live across a seven-day week producing one of the country’s fastest-growing news sites. It’s a picture mirrored across the UK.

Most of the newsrooms I work with now reach more local people every day than at any point since the 1970s. The loyal, local readers – as in those returning most days – dwarf the print readerships over which those disconnected with our industry still obsess.

The growth isn’t driven by clickbait, or by publishing hit-and-run copy designed to drag people in and then, ultimately, disappoint. It’s been driven – in the case of the 80-odd websites I work with – by becoming reader-centric at every turn, building a relationship with readers which seeks to inform rather than tell, share rather than shout.

As a result, for any political party seeking to turn a swing seat to its advantage, speaking to the local Press shouldn’t be an awkward afterthought, or something to negotiate two questions around, it should be the first thing on the planning list. I would say this, of course, as I work in the regional Press. But in this case I don’t say this out of pride for my sector of the media, but because it makes sense when you look at what it is politicians are trying to achieve on their royal visits.

Senior politicians visit places which they think they can win, or which they are keen to keep hold of. The 2015 general election was sadly characterised by David Cameron using various places in the UK as little more than backdrops to make his points in the hope of getting on to the 10pm news. The local Press got just one minute with him when he went to Yorkshire, for example:

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Of course, a strategy of saying as little as possible to the local Press is one which increases the chances of not being tripped up. But as the Examiner front page above shows, and the open reporting on the challenges faced by Cornwall Live today proved, it has the ability to backfire.

Are local voters really going to be converted by a closed-shop public appearance in which the local Press are excluded from all but the odd question? Or would a more sensible approach be to actually spend time with the local Press, and make sure the views of the political party becomes part of that day’s conversation between the journalists and their readers?

It’s worth saying the Tories aren’t alone in this strategy of treating the local Press – and its readers – with something approaching contempt. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was happy to pose for selfies at his campaign launch in Croydon, but said no to questions from the Croydon Advertiser.

Turn back time

Contrast that with 2005, the last elections I worked on as a reporter. Tony Blair had few concerns about being re-elected, but his office still agreed to a request from the regional party to take questions from readers of the paper I worked at then, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph based in Blackburn. Those questions were submitted in advance, with a photocall and interview arranged in Downing Street. The LET maybe sold 30,000 copies back then.

On the day before the election, Labour were getting nervous about the Rossendale and Darwen seat in the paper’s patch. Sky TV were treating it as their bellwether seat and had based presenter Kay Burley there for the duration of the campaign. Blair swept in on the even of the election, and his PR people hunted the regional Press out. We got 10 minutes with a man who was in the final hours of his third election campaign as leader. Nothing was off limit.

The current approach of ignoring, or barely tolerating, the local media ignores the relevance the local media has in the lives of far more people than we did in 2005, and the live, instant relationship we now have with our readers. Snubbing our journalists, or restricting their activities, is to treat our readers with contempt.

In defence, the Tories said: “Theresa May has so far taken four times as many questions from journalists as floundering Jeremy Corbyn while his cabinet can’t even answer basic questions about how they would pay for his nonsensical policies.”

A sentence which sums up the problem neatly.

The best thing we can do is report what’s happening and let readers decide. As so many readers of Cornwall Live will have been doing today.

FOI Friday: 10 stories waiting to be uncovered near you

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An increasingly infrequent look at stories being made possible thanks to FOI

£120,000 of fines for parking in disabled bays < Shropshire Star

Drivers have been fined more than £120,000 by Shropshire Council in the last three years for parking in disabled spaces without a blue badge.

Falling numbers of retained firefighters < BBC

The number of retained firefighters across Wales has hit a nine-year low, figures have shown.

The costs for staff of parking at hospitals < Coventry Telegraph

Staff at University Hospital are are having to pay almost £500 a year just to park at work, new figures have revealed.

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Life is local: Don’t they know there’s a local election on first?

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For all the talk of the general election (still over a month away), for many local newsrooms, the more immediate focus is on the elections which take place next week.

Normally, this would be the quietest election year in the local government cycle. Generally speaking, in England it’s only county councils which should be holding elections this year (there are also council elections in Wales and Scotland). However, the machinations of Tory policy have rather turned that on its head.

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Social: Behind every national story lies a strong local one

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It was the moment which captured the nation’s imagination during the London Marathon – when one man gave up a potential personal best to help another runner over the line. It turned out to be the most talked-about story of the week on social media from the regional Press too – with WalesOnline the title which had the strongest local line to follow. They captured the mood brilliantly:

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Social: Why speed cameras are more interesting than politicans

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If the news agenda is to be believed this week, we’ve been talking about nothing but the general election in our day to day lives. Not for the first time, the stories getting reaction on social media from the local press perhaps challenge our sense of what readers want and expect.

But some good news (Holdthefrontpage commenters look away now!) One of the best-performing regional Press posts of the week was this one from The National – the pro-independence title based in Glasgow:

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If you read just one food and drink review this weekend…

One of my pet hates in local newspapers is bad restaurant and pub reviews. Bad as in ‘not good for the reader.’ These tend to be the ones where the reviewer ‘is too full for pudding’ (imagine saying ‘I missed the verdict because the legal argument was boring’ in a court story) or remarking on the ‘wide range of beers on tap’ in a pub (not dis-similar to commenting on the fact there were 22 players on the pitch at a football match).

Obviously, reviewing things is a tad more fraught at a local level than, say, at a national newspaper. Jay Rayner’s recent take-down of one of Paris’s best-known eateries – another word which normally hints to a rubbish restaurant review – was brilliant and presumably without significant comeback for the author.

Locally, however, a bad restaurant review – as in, not enjoying the meal and saying so, or commenting on the poor service – can have all sorts of ramifications. Threats to pull advertising are the most obvious one, but campaigns in response on social media can be another, not to mention awkward moments when you bump into the owner of the restaurant. Life is local, sometimes a little too local.

That doesn’t excuse bland reviews, of course. So full credit to the author of the Pub Spy column in the Brighton Argus this week, who reported exactly what s/he felt when they visited the County Oak pub recently.

The social headline – asking if this is surely Brighton’s worst pub – gives you a sense of what is to follow.

I won’t give the column away here  – you can help support local journalism in Brighton by clicking the link, but here’s a taste:

I’d already fought my way through the scaffolding yard masquerading as a car park by the time a huge beast lurched out of The County Oak and threw up over my feet.

By the time the fully track-suited barmaid, with a bandage on her right hand, served me a pint of Kronenbourg I realised this was Shameless meets Celebrity Juice – but without the class of either of these programmes.\

And that’s just for starters. Like any good review, it then delivers a main course and ‘afters’ … and brilliant honesty. If a review is worth doing, surely it’s worth doing well – just like this one!