Proof the BBC just doesn’t understand the regional Press – but so easily could make a difference if it did

It’s easy to write a blog post bashing the BBC, especially when writing about the relationship the BBC has had with large parts of the regional press for a long time.

There’s no doubt that there has been a change in thinking and approach within parts of the BBC over the last year, perhaps triggered by the Revival of Local Journalism Conference, spearheaded by the Beeb and held at MediaCity.

I’ve sat on the regional journalism working group which was one of the results of that event for over a year now, working with colleagues from elsewhere within the regional Press, and from other sectors, such as local radio, the hyperlocal community, academia and, of course, a fair few BBC folk.

And I’ve enjoyed working with them. I think progress has been made. The BBC has listened and responded to concerns about lack of linking to original sources of content. It has tried to ensure credit is given where it is due – although national radio and TV remains a law unto itself, seemingly destined to disguise sources of material.

And there has been collaboration too, including a data journalism workshop, another workshop in the planning, support for Trinity Mirror’s Real Schools Guide across the BBC News website and early access to BBC projects which make new headlines for the regional press.

So the BBC’s new collaborative approach – a long time in the coming – is welcome. What I find incredibly frustrating is the insistence of the very top brass at the BBC to try and create a justifiable future for itself by diminishing the work of the local press in 2015.

Ever since James Harding, the head of news at the BBC, published his Future of News report last year – an excellent document in many respects, apart from the analysis of local newspapers – there has been an absolute failing to acknowledge that their view of the local press as articulated in that report is wide of the mark.

It marked a departure from his plaudits about the regional Press aired ahead of his revival of local journalism conference:

“Budgetary pressures have been brought to bear on regional newsrooms in recent years and there is a concern about the impact this is having on our society and our democracy. But is the pessimism overdone? Local newspapers are reinventing themselves for the age of mobile and social media; new forms of local journalism are emerging online; local and hyperlocal radio is proving to be commercially resilient, not to mention very popular; mobile phone operators are experimenting in the area; new television operators are starting out; and, from local radio to the nightly regional news on TV, we at the BBC see that nothing matters more to our audiences than what’s happening where they live.”

Is the pessimism overdone? Yes – and largely due to the BBC. Indeed, last week’s News Media Association report about the BBC was spot on when it said the BBC “misreads and overplays the imminent demise of other news media”.


Perhaps the most startling UGC photos to ever be submitted to a newspaper?

Stories involving people complaining about the state of public toilets have long been bread-and-butter content for newsrooms up and down the country.

But here’s a case of the cleaners striking back.

Faced with moans about the state of toilets in Alnwick, the cleaners responsible for keeping the loos spick and span decided to respond to the local newspaper, the Northumberland Gazette, with evidence of their own.

Evidence, they said, which showed the state some people were leaving the ladies’ loos in, in the first place:


How do you put the reader at the heart of every newsroom decision? Share the data, and love the data

A whole bunch of articles have been written in recent weeks about the plan the company I work for, Trinity Mirror, has to introduce individual audience goals for reporters at the Birmingham Mail. It’s been a project I’ve been heavily involved in and one, which as I said in a post the other week, believe will be good for getting closer to the audience that matters the most: Loyal, local readers.

To many on the outside – particularly those in academia – it feels like a big change, and many have jumped to the conclusion that it can only be a bad thing because it will result in the Birmingham Mail prioritising Kim Kardashian stories over Birmingham City Council stories.

Anyone who knows anything about local digital journalism knows that such an approach is simply a recipe for disaster. But, ironically maybe for those who set themselves up as the watchers of the watchers, few of those who have written about the plans have made much effort to source information for themselves.

That point to one side, many of the critical posts – most of which have a ‘I need to be seen to be writing about the journalism topic du jour’ tone to them – inadvertently make points which support the importance of giving individual journalists access to the audience metrics which tell them the impact their stories are having.

Journalism has changed. It can’t just be about shouting for attention. Readers expect to be listened to, and their views taken into account. The right use of audience data enables that to happen every day.


FOI Friday: Prisoner complaints, police redundancies, thefts from bars, dangerous dogs and ‘kebab crimes’

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

‘Kebab crimes’ in Scarborough < Scarborough News

There’s a saying that a pint and a fight are the ingredients to a great British night out, but an investigation has unearthed the shocking crimes committed in Scarborough’s pizza shops and curry houses by rowdy revellers after they’ve sank one too many.

Scarborough’s ‘kebab crimes’ include bloody beatings, callous charity box thefts and staff being racially abused.

And in one incident, a woman was attacked with a doner kebab.

Our probe found out that 19 crimes were committed in takeaways, restaurants and chippys over the past 12 months.
CCTV and a heavy late-night police presence have helped officers nab the majority of offenders, but North Yorkshire Police have now revealed details of the takeaway offenders still on the loose.


When it comes to accountability, politicians are proving that actions speak louder than words


Politicians always talk fine words when it comes to accountability. They want to be accountable. They want a strong, free Press to hold them to account. They want to be accountable to their electorate. But be it nationally or locally, when it comes to politicians and accountability, actions speak louder than words.

I wrote the other week about the police and crime commissioner in Humberside who, when challenged by the Grimsby Telegraph about a decline in the number of officers on duty based on information provided by a police source, chose to threaten the Official Secrets Act rather than deal with the issue at hand.

And today the Birmingham Mail reports that investigations editor Jeanette Oldham has been banned from asking questions of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Birmingham, and must now submit all her questions via the Freedom of Information Act.


Why audience targets can be good for journalism

Journalists want people to read what we’ve written. Audience targets can help make sure we’re reaching as many people as possible

The issue of audience targets became a hot potato this week – and I can see why. But the reaction that seeking to write content which will be popular means we at the same time have to throw away our journalistic principles is one I think is wide of the mark.

I’ve written before that journalism is a combination of art and science in the digital age – and the correct use of audience data to drive decision making is surely part of that. So do targets damage the quality of local journalism? I don’t think so. I think they can actually make journalism better for the local community.

However, Roy Greenslade and The Times have reached their conclusions, as have many on Holdthefrontpage. But lets look at what makes a local news brand relevant in the 21st century. Greenslade calls audience targets clickbait payments. And if all you said was ‘here, hit this number, we don’t care how’ then he might be right.

But at the risk of letting the facts get in the way of a good headline, there are a number of aspects being overlooked here: (more…)

Covering stories about dog poo in a new way…

It’s an eternal truth known to local journalists throughout the UK and, indeed, through the decades: Few stories attract as much interest as ones about dog poo.

Indeed, a quick search of ‘dog fouling’ in Google News – and I would hope that’s a search which has only been conducted once today on Google News – yielded many local news stories about the issue.

In Bourne, Lincolnshire, the local council is supporting one man’s crusade against mucky dog owners (because we all know it’s not the dogs to blame). In the Shetlands, the local council has described fouling as ‘absolutely disgusting’ and launched new patrols to ‘clamp down’ on it. In Portsmouth, a new dog fouling ‘hot spot’ has been identified. In East Anglia, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils have come under fire for not issue a single dog fouling penalty notice in recent years.

The Ipswich Star even launched a campaign on the issue, which resulted in the number of reports of dog fouling tripling (one assumes this is just because more people are reporting the problem, not that the paper’s campaign has led to the council) while the Cornishman reported on an ex-policeman risking court after refusing to pay his fouling fine.  In Edinburgh, the council is considering offering lottery tickets to people seen picking up after their pooches – because clearly it being the right thing to do simply isn’t enough of an incentive. 

And that’s just going back a few days on Google News.

But if there was to be an award for the best attempt to breathe new life into coverage of dog fouling in a local paper (and lets be honest, if clearing up after your pup gets you a lottery ticket, surely this is worth an award), then surely it should go the Dover Express:


Why journalists everywhere should be paying attention to #tellali

Monday morning brought with it one of the most interesting newspaper front pages of recent times:


A blank front page, save for hashtag which was explained inside. Editor in chief (and colleague) Alastair Machray is leading a project to revamp the Echo, which, perhaps more than many other regional news brands, has an audience never backward in coming forward to tell him what they think of the Echo.

It’s prompted a lot of debate – including two radio phone ins and hundreds of Tweets discussing it. And, in a sure sign that it’s a good idea, the grumpy brigade on Holdthefrontpage have been quick to condemn it.

But it’s not because I work with Ali that I think it’s a good idea. Or rather not just because I work with Ali. The front page, and the ethos behind it, sums up the change journalism is undergoing, a change every journalist needs to understand and adapt to if they are to enjoy the attention of an audience in the future.

Readers, viewers, listeners, commenters … they expect to be heard these days. In many ways, it’s remarkable that for so many years the audience was content with just receiving their news, selected by journalists, and restricted to joining in via a call to the newsdesk, or a letter to the editor which might be considered for publication.


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.