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: Front pages containing stories to make you laugh, cry and wonder why…

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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

Five days ago the South Wales Argus reported on how Marjorie Ovens would soon turn 100 but had no family – and expected not to get any birthday cards either.

The Argus had a simple request of its readers: Could you send Marjorie a card? The answer, from hundreds, was ‘yes.’ Five days later and this was a front page to make even the most cynical of journos smile:

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The real stories of local people, carefully told, is what the regional press is surely all about. And it wasn’t just the Argus demonstrating that this week.

Several regional newspapers led their Wednesday editions with coverage of the Tunisia terror attack inquests.  The verdict, that they were unlawfully killed, came as no surprise, and for the families, the details of the cowardice of those who were meant to look after their loved ones was not a shock either, even if it was for the rest of us.

Beyond the global headlines lie many local stories, sensitively told by several regional papers:

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The police force that thinks it would be unfair to name escaped prisoners … unfair on the prisoners, that is

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A great FOI story here from the Blackpool Gazette, which asked Lancashire Police for details of any prisoners who had absconded from their local jail.

It was more than just a speculative fishing trip – not that there’s anything wrong with those by the way – by the Gazette, as a quick search of Google News shows.

Highlights from the FOI included the fact 12 men had successfully escaped from the prison, and that one had managed to evade a return capture for 17 years.

Offences those who had escaped had committed included assault, firearms offences, drug dealing dealing and robbery. So serious then.

With this interest from the Blackpool Gazette, how did Lancashire Police ensure it made the most of the chance to galvanise public support behind getting these men back behind bars?

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Social: The local news stories which got people talking

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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:

Like the regional press, cinemas and the film industry regularly get written off. But, if the popularity of this post from the Sheffield Star is anything to go by, neither have too much to worry about:

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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.

 

Beat fake news? Time for us to sit on the buddy bench then

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Journalism’s response to the rise of fake news has been to go down one of two paths (generally).

One path involves lamenting, criticising or lambasting organisations such as Facebook for a) creating the problem of fake news by providing the algorithmic bubbles which allow confirmation bias to be confused with popularity and b) then providing a very clever way to make money from that audience.

The other path involves doubling down on our commitment to facts. “How should journalism respond to fake news? Report the facts!” is a phrase I’ve seen frequently on social media. The rise of ‘fact checking’ services has also been heralded as a way to fight back against fake news.

The latter makes us feel all warm and cuddly as journalists, as it plays to our core beliefs: That facts are sacred, and we’re the people to share the facts. The former plays to a common belief in journalism – that when people aren’t listening to us, it’s not our fault.

Fighting fake news with fact checking is a little like giving someone with a serious illness porridge and telling them it will make them better. It’s highly unlikely it will make them better for good. It might make them feel a little less unwell for a little bit, and it’ll make the person serving the porridge feel good too. But it won’t cure the underlying problem – the serious illness.

Fake news may well be the product of clever minds who spotted how to game the popularity of content = lots of revenue model created by social networks and search engines. But our ability to deliver a solution is a symptom of the fact journalism still has a long way to go to be relevant enough in the lives of readers to combat fake news.

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Done right, digital first is good for print – and great for audiences

What’s in a name? Enough to dominate a full page feature in a trade mag when it comes to talking about the future of regional journalism, apparently.

In the most recent edition of inpublishing, former Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson interviews Matt Kelly, chief content officer at Archant, about the work he is doing to transform Archant into a digital content operation.

It was a fascinating article and one in which I found myself agreeing with much of what Matt is doing, turning newsrooms which have moved to a print production rhythm with digital added in where it can be into places where newsrooms put the reader at the centre.

It’s an incredibly tough ask, and not helped by the volume of people on hand to say you’re getting it wrong. The starting point is to show the scale of the change required – which is why I especially like Matt’s decision to rename newsrooms ‘content rooms’.

Much is made in Dyson’s article of the difference between ‘digital first’ and ‘audience first’ – the latter being the phrase Matt is building his reinvention of Archant’s newsrooms around.

Dyson uses the phrases to construct some sort of conflict between Trinity Mirror’s approach and Archant’s approach:

He [Matt] referred to media companies who “relegate their printed products to the margins of their business in so-called ‘digital-first’ strategies”, saying they “often pay a price in accelerated circulation declines” and “a worrying decline in the standards of journalism”.

To many observers, this was an open dig at Trinity Mirror.

Ah, those anonymous observers! I can see why some observers might think that. But that’s because they spend too much time observing, and not enough time seeing. Having spent a fair bit of time with Matt over the years discussing how regional newsrooms need to change, I don’t think it was a dig.  What Archant is doing is similar, but also different, to the work Trinity Mirror (my employer) is continuing to do.

My main frustration about the article is that there’s so much more about what Archant is doing that could and should have been shared, but instead an article about Archant references Archant just five times, but Trinity Mirror 10 – only twice in quotes from Matt.

Both approaches boil down to this: Unless we put attracting and engaging with readers at the heart of what we do, we’ll have not future. Journalism for journalism’s sake will only succeed in ensuring the demise of local journalism. 

Of course, ‘digital first’ can mean abandoning print, and its readers. But that’s not what ‘Newsroom 3.1’ – the digital first project Dyson is trying to draw a battle with here – was about, nor was the follow up ‘The Connected Newsroom’ which sought back in 2015 to place a greater emphasis on engagement with local readers having achieved a growth in absolute scale required to be relevant in the digital world.

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Why Cornwall isn’t the Capital of Clickbait…

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It’s quite common to hear people denounce the work my colleagues do as ‘clickbait.’ Too common, in fact.

The sensible option, some would argue, would be to ignore it. After all, the facts tell a different story. And I’m going to give sharing the facts another go.

Why? Two reasons.

The first is that what started off as an unfounded criticism by those who disagreed with the approach to growing digital audience the company I’m digital publishing director at, Trinity Mirror, had decided to take appears to have become a received wisdom.

Take, for example, a sentence in a blog post written by an academic called Dan Evans on the OpenDemocracy blog. Having read the blog several times, I’m still not sure of the point it’s trying to make, but this sentence stood out:

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