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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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And the award for most unusual piece of crime prevention advice goes to…

When I saw the front page of the Accrington Observer this week, it was the subdeck which made me stop in my tracks:

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17 years into the 21st century, is it really too much to expect that the only way to ensure someone doesn’t flash at you through your front window at night is by closing your curtains?

Apparently not – and this story surely wins the most surreal piece of crime prevention advice prize for 2017 – with this police quote:

“While these offences are concerning and distressing for the victims, the man has always run away once he has been seen and has never made any attempt to speak with or make contact with the victims.

“We would take this opportunity to advise local residents to remain vigilant and ensure their curtains or blinds are closed at night time.”

According to the article, he strikes at night … and has been getting away with it since 2011. 

 

 

Social: From nostalgia to nationalism, nothing will be the same again

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Every week, millions – yes, millions – of people get news and information from the local Press via social media. And that makes the local Press every bit as important to local life as it ever was. But social media also puts the reader in charge, with their reactions determining the popularity and relevance of what we do. Using various data tools, he’s a round-up of some of the stories which  made an impact this week:

Nostalgia, the joke in some newsrooms goes, isn’t as good as it used to be. Ho ho ho. On social media, however, it’s often the sort of content which generates the most traction amongst readers.

Looking through the most engaging posts on social media last week from the regional press, this footage from yesteryear proved a hit for the Yorkshire Post:

Online, nostalgia doesn’t have to be that, well, old. And I’m determined for personal reasons not to consider anything from the 1990s as old. The Yorkshire Evening Post’s video of a nightclub in Leeds from the 1990s to probably the nostalgic Ying to the YP’s nostalgic Yang above, but it was very popular all the same:

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Journalism’s biggest challenge: Objectivity really is subjective

As journalists, we’re used to being told we’re less popular than estate agents. But we’re also quick to shout that in an age of ‘fake news’ and ‘post fact politics’ the role of the impartial, objective journalist has never been more important.

But what if fake news and the ability of the likes of UKIP and Donald Trump to thrive in a ‘post fact’ world is less to do so-called ‘news literacy’ amongst the population and more to do with the fact that, well, the rules of journalism don’t wash well with many people any more.

Jeff Jarvis, speaking at the Guardian’s Changing Media event this week, hit the nail on the head when he said:

“There is a lot of talk about news literacy – I think that is a fairly patronising and condescending view, in that ‘you must be literate to our news’, but I think the media as a whole needs to become more public-literate. The public now creates media and informs itself with every click and share.”

As journalists, we’re very good at justifying what we do and why we do it. We believe in what we do. But what if our rules aren’t the rules the people who matter most, our readers, care to appreciate?

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Social: How the bravery of readers can stun journalists

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Every week, millions – yes, millions – of people get news and information from the local Press via social media. And that makes the local Press every bit as important to local life as it ever was. But what were the stories that really got people talking? Using various data tools, this list looks at the stories which really captured people’s attention over the past seven days, thanks to the hard work of those working in the regional press

Sometimes, stories stun newsrooms. Sometimes, the bravery of readers leaves journalists silent. This week, the Birmingham Mail reported on a woman whose actions can only be described as incredibly brave.

The Mail reported:

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What makes the regional Press stand out? We never leave

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I have a well-worn – some would say now boring – story about one of the unexpected consequences of digital journalism at a local level.

It goes a bit like this: Ten years ago, if someone was murdered in Huddersfield, the Examiner would ‘own’ the story. The Yorkshire Post might do a bit on it, BBC Radio Leeds would report on it, and it might make the local TV news. But the Examiner would be the place to get the most in-depth coverage.

It would need to be a particularly newsworthy murder to trouble the pages of a national newspaper, let alone result in a reporter being sent to the scene by a national news organisation.

Then along came ‘the internet’ and, more recently, social media, and all of a sudden, any significant local crime story is instantly homepage news for any media organisation keen to catch a few clicks from people on search, or page views from their followers on social media.

You can substitute the Examiner and Huddersfield for the name of any newspaper and the town it serves for the purpose of this story.

I’ve no problem with that approach. We’re in the business of getting audiences wherever we can find them. It’s how the free-to-air journalism model works, and stuff which catches people in the moment is stuff which helps pays for the stuff which might be less popular, but all the same essential.

Making sure we get eyeballs on that essential content is, well, essential. Using popular content – sometimes derided as clickbait by some ultra-purists – to fund mission journalism isn’t a sustainable way to preserve mission journalism. Audience in its own right is.

So the challenge for local newsrooms when a big story breaks is to own it in a way which makes us stand out from all those who might drop in to cover the story. Doing that presents a way to build a relationship with local readers, which lasts long after the cameras, liveblogs and attention of national media have moved on elsewhere.

A great example of this was shared with me by the Oxford Mail last week after I did the first ‘life is local’ collection of front pages. Remember the Didcot Power Station explosion? It was a year ago last week. It went largely undocumented, but here’s the Oxford Mail’s coverage:

It’s this sort of stuff which makes local journalism so special – and should safeguard its future in a distributed media world where every headline has to fight for attention in its own right.

Local newsrooms need to know how to reach an audience of scale to survive, but engage with significant parts of that audience in a way which ensures their work becomes as indispensable a part of a reader’s local life as the local supermarket.

Can it happen? Yes – so long as local journalism stays true to its community and is prepared to keep responding to what local readers show they want.

 

 

 

Life is local: Why regional press front pages are so special

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

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The strongest stories are surely those which involve a remarkable level of bravery from those involved. This story stood out from the Bolton News – a mum sharing her personal agony, and presumably one of her most private photos, to warn other parents of the risk of meningitis


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Sometimes, it’s the clarity only journalism can bring to a human being’s plight to make it clear just how out of control a government policy, ruling or process can be. Normally, that clarity comes from focusing on the individuals involved.


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Sticking with a story is something special to the regional Press in many ways. This example from the Croydon Advertiser shows why it is so important newsrooms treasure their collective memory


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A story to frighten any parent – from the Swindon Advertiser this week

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A council gagging its own councillors? No match for digitally-savvy journalists

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Politicians, should they wish, have more means than perhaps ever before with which to communicate their thoughts to those they represent. There’s blogging, social media, Youtube even. Community newsletters. And, of course, good old local media – be it newspapers, websites, TV or radio.

Unless you happen to be a councillor in Birmingham, in which case you’ve been told to stay silent – on an issue which should be a talking point for every single politician in the city.

Birmingham City Council is, in many respects, a council in crisis. Under monitoring by the government, facing millions of pounds of cut backs on top of the hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of jobs it’s lost, the city council could well be the first in the country to have to hold its hands up and say: “We can’t do this with the money you give us anymore.” It could well be the council which proves that no council is too big to fail.

So to that end, the announcement that the council’s chief executive is departing is big news. The fact it’s happened while the council’s Labour leader is on holiday only serves to create a further sense of crisis.

But according to the Birmingham Mail:

“Birmingham’s councillors have been GAGGED from commenting on the crisis enveloping Britain’s largest local authority following the shock departure of city council chief executive Mark Rogers.

As Mr Rogers is locked in talks about the terms of his exit, the council’s chief lawyer has written to councillors, warning them against social media posts and public statements on the issue.”

And then:

Labour group bosses are already believed to have told Moseley and Kings Heath councillor Claire Spencer to delete a blog post in which she speculated about government interference in the running of the council.

As Tory councillor Matt Bennett said:

“The leader is on holiday and has not responded to our emails, we have no chief executive and we need to know what happens next, how we are going to get through this.

“Then we get this email warning us not to discuss it. How can we when we haven’t been told what’s going on. It’s a farce.”

The argument in favour of not speaking out would be that there are legal negotiations on going at the moment over the chief executive’s exit. But to ban elected representatives from speaking out suggests little, if any, faith in the ability of elected representatives to say sensible things, and near contempt for the people who pay the council’s wages: voters.

The Birmingham Mail has ensured people in Birmingham know of the ban:

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And if ever there was an example of how working hard to embrace readers wherever they are – print, digital, social etc – enables newsrooms to do what they’ve always done more effectively than ever, it’s this story.

It made the front page, and that front page provided a compelling image for use on social media, where the link to the story was widely shared and commented upon – not just by journalists, but by councillors, politicians from elsewhere in the country and community groups in the city. The list of people and organisations sharing it was pleasingly diverse.

It became a story read by tens of thousands of people in Birmingham, and a talking point in local government and Whitehall circles quickly. It demonstrated very clearly the power of the local Press to hold councils to account through the oxygen of publicity.

For a council to believe it could control the commentary on an issue like this is, at best, very niave. Journalism has the tools to have the audience to do its job like never before – we just need to do that job in way the Birmingham Mail has over the past few days.