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.


Can one christening cake (and the absurd reaction to it) change the way we think about local journalism?

bolton news 2

Can a story about a christening cake encapsulate one of the biggest challenges digital journalism has delivered to the regional press? I think so, and here’s why.

You probably saw the story about the woman who complained about a christening caked including bears with ‘naughty bits.’ For what it’s worth, I thought she was talking bunkum. Many others did too, but I’ll come back to that.


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.


It’s all about mobile … but that’s much easier said than done for journalism

Journalism faces many challenges (that’s a cheery way to start a post isn’t it?) Many are beyond the control of journalists, but one of the biggest, however, isn’t.

The challenge I’m talking about is making sure that the content (as opposed to *just* stories) we’re producing is done in a way which really suits the reader the way they are reading it.

In other words, making sure everything works for mobile. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And in many ways, it is, but it’s also fiendishly difficult to make happen at times, largely because of the way journalism is produced.

It’s a challenge which has been spotted, and addressed, by the New York Times in the last few days:


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…)

How to handle a mistake after it has gone viral

Few journalists like it when they see they’ve made a mistake in public. Mistakes, obviously, vary in significance – from a typo which might get people grumbling in the pub through to the sort of errors which land the editor-in-chief in court.

Focusing on the lower end of the spectrum, digital publishing has made the squirm-for-a-bit-and-take-a-ribbing-from-your-rivals-and-colleagues type mistakes a lot more public. It takes just one photo to be uploaded to Twitter and before you know it, it’s everywhere.

As the East Oregonian newspaper found this week with this, well, howler:


Try It Tuesday: Riddle

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. 





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:


FOI Friday: Full cemeteries, unsolved crimes, snooping coppers and accidents at theme parks


The social care crisis for councils < The Herald

Councils face a mounting crisis with thousands of disabled people unable to meet their bills for social and personal care.

According to figures obtained by The Herald, more than 14,000 people facing bills for personal and social care are in arrears.

Campaigners say the levels struggling to pay now rival those when the organised campaign of Poll Tax non-payment was at its height.

The problem for councils is how they can begin to claw back money from some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The police warnings to people who could be at risk of death < Daily Record

POLICE warned 439 people in Scotland that they were at risk of murder over the last two years.

Figures obtained under freedom of information laws revealed the number of Threat to Life Warning Notices – known as Osman letters.

The warnings are issued to potential targets when police officers discover that someone wants to harm them but do not have enough evidence to make an arrest.

Accidents at theme parks < Burton Mail

A TOTAL of 32 accidents have been logged at Alton Towers in the last three years.

A woman was taken to hospital for checks after hearing her “neck crack” while riding the 60mph Rita ride in May 2013.

Other incidents saw a 13-year-old taken to hospital after hitting her head in the ‘scare maze’ when she was surprised by a performer.

She was “pushed into a wall by friends” after the shock, which resulted in her being taken to hospital with a cut in April 2013.

The Health and Safety Executive released details of 32 incidents logged over the three years, covering accidents and “dangerous occurrences”.

Animals used in experiments < Evening Times, Glasgow

MORE than 55,000 animals have been used in experiments at universities in Glasgow in a year, according to new figures.

The details were revealed in a Freedom of Information request this month which showed the vast proportion were used at Glasgow University in medical testing and research.

The university stressed the animals – including 50,488 rodents, 3,272 fish and 763 birds – were used only when there was no other alternative.

Children in care moved miles away from their communities < Manchester Evening News (via Children’s Society)

Hundreds of children in care in Greater Manchester are being moved to new homes up to 30 miles away from their local communities.

In a report, the Children’s Society, says young people have been left isolated, with some forced to switch schools after being uprooted from family and friends.

More than a fifth of those moved were only told the day before, according to the charity.

Some are moved for their own safety, as they are at risk of abuse or neglect, but in other cases their local councils are unable to find places closer to home.

Out of 5,122 children in care in the region in September 2014, almost 2,000 – nearly four in ten – had been placed outside their local authority area, according to figures released to the charity under Freedom of Information requests.