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:


London attacks: How the regional press reported the tragedy in print

Yesterday’s terror attack in London was one of those events which falls into the ‘you’ll always remember where you were when you heard about it’ category.

This morning brought with it local newspapers up and down the country clearing space on their front pages to report on a unique national story – unique in that it’s perhaps the first national news story I can remember which was guaranteed to have a local angle for every newsroom in the country, given where it took place.

I’ll look at covering national news on local news websites in a future post, but for now, and offered without commentary, these are the front pages of papers whose editors felt today was a day to give local readers a regional take on a national story which will dominate the news agenda for weeks to come:


Life is local: When football makes the front page too


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:

4 derby


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.


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:

4 accrington

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


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:


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?


Life is Local: It’s all about council tax, then (but so much more too)


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

With councils up and down the country setting their council tax for the forthcoming year, it’s hardly a surprise to see the results of their decisions – against a backdrop of spending cuts at the same time – making the front pages.

In South Wales this week, neighbouring (sort of ) papers had very different takes on the goings on at their councils:


Social: How the bravery of readers can stun journalists


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:


What makes the regional Press stand out? We never leave


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.