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.


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…)

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. 



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.


Try it Tuesday: Nutshellmail

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. 

11. NutshellMail


What? NutshellMail is an email alert service which sends you an update of all the activity on Facebook pages you manage.

Why? Keeping on top of Facebook accounts, especially large ones, can be a challenge. It’s easy for interactions to be missed.

NutshellMail plugs into your Facebook account and sends you emails as often as you want letting you know what is being said and where, and by who.

Why not just log into Facebook to check? Well, in an ideal world you would, but NutshellMail makes it possible to see everything in one place.

Try It Tuesday: Ground Signal


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. 

10. Ground Signal


What? Ground Signal is a mapping tool which allows you track all social media activity which is geo-located within an area you define

Why? There are a variety of tools on the market which allow you to do this, but some come at significant cost. Ground Signal stands out because  it has a free option, and a pro option which is a matter of dollars a month.

Once you’ve set out the area you want to monitor, you can watch it live – so great for a breaking news story – or you can receive updates daily or weekly on email, making it very handy for beat reporters, for example, council reporters wanting to keep an eye on anything around the local town hall.

Local media election diary: Holding power to account, putting sex in politics, an election without candidates and a bizarre endorsement

So how can the local press find a voice during elections while remaining neutral? At Trinity Mirror, the company I work for, we turned to readers and asked them to help shape local manifestos which have run in 24 of our titles.

The idea was simple: Get issues which matter to local readers heard. And while in this diary I’ve been rather critical of the efforts of Prime Minister David Cameron to engage with the local press, there’s no denying that’s exactly what he did when he visited Teesside earlier this week.

The local title there, the Teesside Gazette, co-opted both Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband into supporting their call for people to take part in the manifesto survey – and got the PM to answer each manifesto demand point by point on his trip to the southern end of the North East earlier this week.


The would-be MP who puts every other candidate to shame

If elections were won and lost based on the quality of the pitch a candidate made to the electorate, then Will Straw, a Labour candidate in Lancashire, would probably be home and dry by now.

Will, son of former foreign secretary Jack (probably the most famous person* in my contacts book thanks to a spell at the Lancashire Telegraph), is standing in the Rossendale and Darwen constituency, which is where I live.

It’s a swing seat of sorts. In previous general elections, it was flagged up as the one the Tories needed to win to get into Number 10. They won it off Labour in 2010, but still didn’t make it into Number 10. And as a result, it’s had less attention this time – until this week.

Thanks to Lord Ashcroft and his independent polling, Rossendale and Darwen appears to be one of the closest to call seats going:

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Clearly Will’s presence for the last 18 months is doing something – he’s closed a 2010 gap from 10% to nothing, largely at the expense of the Lib Dems.

Will he win? I have no idea – but he’s certainly trying harder than the local Labour Party on the council, who (in my ward at least) have failed to deliver any sort of presence on the ground for the last three elections).


But what makes Will stand out for me is this: his manifesto. Not just one manifesto, but two – one for Darwen, a small mill town which sits in the shadow of Blackburn in a different borough to a large part of Rossendale, a largely rural collection of towns which, in parts, look far more towards Manchester than they do into Lancashire.

In my experience, politicians tend to deliver top-line messages very well. They’ll do this, they’ll do that. But rarely do their share their workings out in such detail as Will has done here.

Elections might be won and lost on national issues, but putting them in local context is something many politicians fails to do other than in the ‘insert name of town here and smile’ sort of way.

The manifesto, running to almost 40 pages, draws on ONS data to show how issues are affecting Rossendale, such as how pay has dropped far more dramatically in the constituency than it has nationally. It reflects on what he has heard on the doorstep and puts it into context. It doesn’t constantly wave an angry fist at other parties, but does highlight where things aren’t working, and produces evidence to back that up.


Local Media election diary: The shy PM, peculiar headlines and the candidates living 150 miles away

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More tales of David Cameron’s determination emerge from the regional press – and it’s hard not to see his behaviour in Belfast as anything other than an insulting snub to local journalists.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, Cameron found less than five minutes to speak to the press during a whistle-stop visit to Northern Ireland … but did find time to do a Game of Thrones tour: