Comment

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!

Jeremy Corbyn and a very misleading portrayal of local news

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took to Twitter yesterday to make this statement:

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An April Fool delivered a little too late? Sadly not – it’s a stat which has been doing the rounds all week since the NUJ published its ‘Mapping Changes in Local News Report‘ as part of its Local News Matters campaign.

At best, the statistical conclusion the NUJ has reached through this piece of work is at best misguided, and as such presents a misleading picture of the challenges faced by local journalism, making it harder to determine any useful actions for the future. Here’s why:

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Swapping local news for Kim Kardashian? Why the NUJ’s latest claim doesn’t add up

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This week, the National Union of Journalists is running a campaign called ‘Local News Matters.’ As a journalist, it’s hard not to agree with its principle aim: To remind people of the importance of local journalism.

Their method, however, appears to leave a lot to be desired. The showpiece of their campaign was a Parliamentary launch for a piece of research called ‘Mapping News in Local Democracy’. A large piece of the research appears to update a previous piece of work about how well local councils are covered, which I’ll cover in a later post.

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Holding the powerful to account in real time

On Monday, the deadline passed for Northern Ireland’s political parties to form a coalition government. For news outlets in Northern Ireland, this outcome probably wasn’t a surprise – relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein entered the deep freeze a while ago and nothing much has changed.

Ahead of the elections, BelfastLive ran a poll seeking views of thousands of readers about the election. Of the results, the one which stood out the most for me was just how disappointed people in Northern Ireland were about the prospect of another election so soon after the last one. Just 7.2% of people retained faith in MLAs as a result of recent goings on at Stormont.

On Monday, Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire delivered a press conference outlining what the deadlock meant. BelfastLive streamed it live on Facebook.

If ever there was an example of journalism bringing politics to the people instantly, and the public mood being summed up instantly and in real-time, then I think this Facebook Live is it.

It’s easy to criticise journalism for not being the same as it once was. Not so many reporters in council meetings, fewer political stories in the papers and so on. But surely this approach shows that with the right digital tools, used in the right way, journalism can be as powerful as ever when holding those in authority to account? A real-time debate around real-time political events?

 

 

Saturday Social: A week in which we learnt much about what people want from local news

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It’s been one of those weeks when it’s hard to remember what was making the news prior to the one big thing which made every stop, stare and wonder ‘why’. This feature on the blog was set up with the intention of digging around into what people share and engage with from local media.

The theory – I guess a bit like The Guardian’s Northerner newsletter in its heyday – was that the best reflection of real-life UK comes from the regional press, and by looking at what was most likely to be engaged with on social media from the regional press, you can get a sense of what local people are most likely thinking about.

And, as I blogged on Thursday (I think), if looking at engagement with social media posts this week teaches us anything about local journalism, it’s that when a ‘national’ news story breaks, local journalists are relied upon by many to share reliable information.

Take, for example this post from the Scotsman on Wednesday afternoon, which was one of the regional Press Facebook posts to achieve the most interactions with readers:

 

For two newsrooms at least, the actions of MP Tobias Ellwood were particularly local:

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London Attacks: Constant conversation with readers drives newsroom decisions

Why should local news outlets be reporting on events in London in real-time? That was the question posed by some on Twitter yesterday. What value does it add to live blog in Blackpool when events are happening 300 miles away?

One post given prominence by industry website Holdthefrontpage suggested local newsrooms were ‘milking a tragedy’ while another suggested ‘clicks were being put before the truth.’

The reality is far less sinister than that. Put simply, newsrooms responded to what their audiences were talking about. Just because we, as journalists, mark out our work between national news organisations and local ones doesn’t mean our readers do.

That is perhaps best evidenced by looking at some of the social media posts shared by local news organisations over the past 24 hours. They show that what some dismiss as ‘spurious local angles’ are actually of interest to local readers, while others demonstrate that local people are perfectly happy to get national news from a local news site, because they trust it as a news source.

The posts below have been selected because the were flagged up by Crowdtangle as either ‘overperforming’ (in relation to the posting page’s normal posts) or just being engaged with by a lot of people:

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Life is local: When football makes the front page too

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Every week, millions of people rely on their local newspapers and websites to keep them informed of what is happening in their area. When seen together, they can paint a picture of life in the UK in a way no other collection of stories can. Life is local – and this is a look at the front pages which stood out over the last seven days

It’s been one of those weeks when editors up and down the country have been clearing away the news from their front pages in favour of sport. Maybe it’s just that time of the season, but there has been a rash of managerial changes at football clubs.

Perhaps it tells you something about local opinion towards Derby manager Steve McClaren that when his sacking was announced, it only made the blurb on the front of the Derby Telegraph – but the arrival of his successor, Gary Rowett, took the splash:

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As Westminster becomes more self-absorbed, the local press is becoming the unofficial opposition on behalf of readers

For anyone who believes politics is actually a serious business, and worthy of something better than the Punch and Judy show we get every week at Prime Minister’s Questions, the current state of affairs is pretty depressing.

A prime minister who rarely answers the questions put to her (nothing new there) but who fails to deliver pre-planned soundbites with any flair, and who struggles to present any logical thinking behind government policies.

A leader of the opposition who seems incapable of being able to turn the many, many issues affecting normal people into meaningful political ammunition against the lacklustre PM, and who, as was pointed out last week, sometimes even fails to ask questions.

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