Digital Journalism trends in 2016: The battle for public information at the heart of all reporting, regardless of platform

This is the second in a series of posts between now and the end of the year looking at key themes I think will emerge during the course of 2016. The first, about social journalism, can be found here.

The danger in writing posts predicting trends for 2016 is that it can become a wish list rather than a look at things which evidence suggests are going to happen. To that end, there’s no doubt I’m passionate about Freedom of Information, and angry at the threat it currently faces from the Government’s rather one-sided (sorry, open-minded) review in the 10-year-old Act.

And there’s also a danger that I could try and crow-bar an issue into a digital trends blog post just because it means a lot to me. But as print, TV, radio and internet news providers all find themselves converging in the same digital space, it should be abundantly clear that our old challenges are as relevant as ever – and never more important than now.

I can predict with some confidence that a good chunk of 2016 will be spent fighting off further threats to the access journalists enjoy – and indeed, would take for granted if they weren’t always under threat – from various government initiatives.

(more…)

How the regional press covered the Paris terrorism attacks in print

paris mail222

Front pages around the world were cleared as news of the terror attacks in Paris broke. For many regional newsrooms, it was too late to get the story into Saturday’s papers as they had already gone to press. I’ll cover off how regional papers can serve their readers online when an international story breaks in a later post.

But there were a handful of titles who were still ahead of deadline, or able to call their titles back off the presses, to deliver overnight reports on one of the worst attacks on the public in recent times.

Sunday’s regional papers also, generally, led with events in Paris, with Sunday Life the only one to opt for a splash headline in French, while the Sunday edition of the Western Morning News also carried a headline written in French as its second lead.

I’ve gathered those I could find here, not as a beauty parade of any sort, but to simply record some very powerful front pages. If your title isn’t here but should be, feel free to get in contact.

(more…)

Taking video to a new level in the regional press (or do you want start 2016 with a new challenge?)

I try not to use this blog too often explicitly for work purposes, but when given the chance to recruit 12 new digital journalists, I wanted to make sure anyone who might be interested got to hear about what we’re planning.

It’s hardly news that video is becoming far more important to publishers. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that video is an area we’re going to focus on – an unavoidable pun – during 2016.

Job adverts for six news and sport video editors, based in our newsrooms around the country, and six news and sport video producers, are currently online.

(more…)

Digital journalism trends in 2016: From social newsgathering to social journalism

This is the first in a series of posts between now and the end of the year looking at key themes I think will emerge during the course of 2016.

It takes a foolhardy journalist not to be familiar with Twitter or Facebook these days. There are probably very few journalists who haven’t written a story which contains at least some material gathered and gleaned from a social network.

As in other companies, the newsrooms I work with have invested a lot of time in training reporters on the tips to make sure they don’t miss a big, breaking story tip on social media. And there are few better introductions to Tweetdeck that Joanna Geary’s brilliant presentation. For journalists who take the time and trouble to pay attention to such presentations, they find themselves having a significant advantage when it comes to spotting stories on social.

(more…)

FOI Friday: The Tories who clearly love the Freedom of Information Act – and 9 other stories made possible by FOI this week

spruce-image (3)

You don’t need Freedom of Information to expose a politician as a hypocrite. The Daily Mail proved that when it took a matter of hours to call out Chris Grayling after he attempted to ‘shame’ the media for using FOI to get stories!

Grayling, it turns out, was a serial user of FOI when in opposition, using FOI for perhaps the grubbiest purpose of all: Not to get information into the public domain, but to throw bricks at Labour. But who am I to call into question the motives that lie behind an FOI request? Exactly – no-one. Motive shouldn’t matter when it comes to FOI, it’s just about the right of any member of the public to ask any question of authority and having a reasonable expectation that they’ll get an answer.

But while the Tories in Westminster may loathe FOI as they continue to plot their stitch-up to effectively close the Act down, it continues to be a very useful tool to Conservative campaigners elsewhere in the country.

Take the Welsh Tories for example. A quick search of the Conservatives Wales website shows as recently as last month the Tories were pushing FOI-based stories at the Press, such as their outrage at NHS redundancy payouts. They also had no qualms providing attention-grabbing quotes to WalesOnline to support an FOI-based story on redundancies pay outs in councils – the irony of the Tories locally blaming councils for cuts foisted on them by a Conservative government clearly lost on them.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the Scottish Tories remain huge fans of FOI – although it’s worth noting the current review in Westminster wouldn’t impact the FOI Act in Scotland. Only last week, the Tartan Tories used FOI to claim the gulf in educational attainment between children from wealthy families and children from poorer families was now wider than ever. And to reveal the number of homes 999 crews won’t visit. It doesn’t take long to find many more.

So while it’s clear the Tories at the top in Westminster loathe FOI, there are many within the party who continue to make the most of it. Which rather begs the question: Who is driving the plan to axe the act?

(more…)

FOI Friday: Why FOI beats open data and 9 other stories made possible this week thanks to FOI

The FOI request about theft of petrol from petrol stations is hardly a new one, but that doesn’t alter the fact it sums up why FOI trumps the principle of open data, from a journalistic perspective at least.

The St Helen’s Reporter used FOI to find out how many petrol drive-offs there had been. Answer (see below): lots.

One of the government’s current arguments against FOI is that it can be far more transparent if it just makes departments and public bodies release more data.

The argument, to some extent, has merit. Being more open with data is very welcome, but the problem comes when you only want part of the data, or a level of detail that isn’t available in the data.

The reporters at the St Helen’s Reporter wouldn’t have been able to get this data using police.uk, the crime stats which website which is a huge leap forward on what we had before (ie nothing) but still very limited in the data it shares.

The main point of FOI is to give people the right to know – even journalists, despite Chris Grayling’s obtuse outburst this week. Open data alone puts the decision on what we get to know back with the people who hold the data. FOI is the opposite. The two need to co-exist. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why the notion of open data is much more popular with those who hold the information.

So, to the petrol story:

(more…)

The two Tories showing it’s the Freedom in FOI – and the press in general – they really can’t stand

If ever there was any doubt about the motives behind the Conservatives’ review of Freedom Of Information, leader of the Commons Chris Grayling has surely set the record straight.

Speaking in the Commons this week, he said:

The irony is that the person who said that he regretted the Freedom of Information Act 2000 most was the former Member of Parliament Jack Straw, who introduced it. He said that he looked back on it as one of the things that he had got wrong. This Government are committed to the Act, but we want to ensure that it works well and fairly, and cannot be abused or misused. It is, on occasion, misused by those who use it as, effectively, a research tool to generate stories for the media, and that is not acceptable. It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how Governments make decisions, and this Government do not intend to change that.

His comments have been widely reported. The fact his comments are recorded in Hansard mean Grayling – who previously fell out of favour after announcing that he felt hotel owners had the right to turn gay couples away – can’t complain about being misquoted this time.

You can only speculate as to why he’s said what he has said. Being charitable, maybe he was just being honest. More likely, however, is the fact that the fervour in Whitehall to reign in the the FOI Act means it’s all but a given in many minds that it will be.

(more…)

FOI Friday: Using FOI to see how dangerous a street is – and 9 other stories made possible thanks to FOI

Tip of the week: Using FOI to find out just how dangerous specific streets are (from the Lincolnshire Echo using data sourced by BBC Lincolnshire)

Scores of ambulances have been called out to people who have collapsed on Steep Hill in Lincoln.

In a Freedom of Information request made by BBC Radio Lincolnshire it was revealed that 29 ambulances were dispatched to incidents on the street last year.

Ambulances are often called out to help people who have fallen, fainted, are unconscious or experiencing breathing difficulties.

Andy Hill, from East Midlands Ambulance Service, told BBC Radio Lincolnshire they are urging anyone who is attempting to climb Steep Hill should take care and take their time.

Investigations into fraudulent school admissions requests treble < Schools Week

The number of investigations into suspected school admission frauds has nearly trebled in the past three years with almost 700 offers of places withdrawn after cheating parents were caught out.

A Schools Week investigation shows that the number of admission investigations launched by local education authorities soared from 470 in 2012-13 to 1,257 last year.

Offers of places to 696 pupils were withdrawn, with some councils pulling youngsters out of school after they had started. (more…)

A Powerpoint slide to knock the ‘old v new’ journalism argument down for good? I hope so.

How do you sum up where local journalism needs to go to thrive in a digital age?

For a long time, the debate has often been pitched as old vs new. New ways of storytelling vs ‘traditional’ journalism, for example.

But the reality is surely that to thrive, journalism needs to a bit of both – remembering the things which gave it credibility in the first place, while combining the new skills and techniques needed to catch the attention of readers

A bit like the old wedding saying, surely journalism needs to apply the mantra something old, something new, something borrowed …. and if you cover Everton, Birmingham City or Cardiff City, then something blue is also essential (sorry).

That’s why I loved this slide from a presentation the Manchester Evening News’s Beth Ashton gave at the Google News Labs/Trinity Mirror journalism workshop in Manchester on Friday, which was shared by my colleague Alison Gow on Twitter:

It sums up exactly where local journalism has to go, and quickly, while at the same time sharing the excitement the future could hold if we get it right. And I suspect getting it right doesn’t involve endless debates about whether ‘the new’ can co-exist with ‘the old.’ They simply have to.

I know some football journalists who bemoan ‘five things we learnt’ articles after football games. They struggle to articulate why they don’t like them, but here’s the thing: They are far more popular with readers than traditional match reports. Surely that’s the important thing?

It’s not doing away with what the football writer does. S/he is just sharing their insight in a different way. A way the readers seem to prefer.

And that’s why I love that slide so much.

How audience metrics dispel the myth that readers don’t want to get involved with serious stories

Does focusing on audience metrics damage journalism? Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to read that I don’t think it does – but there are important caveats.

If you use multiple metrics – such as unique browsers, page views, time spent on article and bounce-rate – you quickly develop a quick, yet broad, picture of what appeals to people. Knowing what sort of audience is your priority is critical.

Focus on just one metric, be it just unique browsers or page views, and the risk is that you end up hitting a number but don’t build loyalty, and, in effect, are having to run very hard to effectively stand still. Focus too much on just engagement metrics such as time spent on article and you can end up super-serving a loyal, but very small, audience.

In other words, journalists and newsrooms need to produce content – and by that, I really mean stories, regardless of how it is told – which both attracts readers but also doesn’t disappoint. In an ideal world, that first story or piece of content needs to make a mark on the reader’s memory so when they find the brand in search or social in the future they are more inclined to click.

(more…)