The power of digital journalism: The appeal for information solved in just 30 minutes

Here’s a story to warm the cockles of any journalist worried that digital journalism means losing many of the things we hold dear as regional journalists.

Shortly after lunchtime on Thursday, the Birmingham Mail published an appeal from National Express, which runs the buses across Birmingham, for information about a man wanted in connection with an assault which left a ticket inspector unconscious.

Using a variety of tools available to the newsroom, not least Facebook and Twitter, the Birmingham Mail got the appeal out to a wide audience very quickly:

What happened next was quite remarkable – and shows the strength of reaction regional news brands can enjoy in a digital world.

Within 30 minutes, according to the Mail, National Express knew the name of the man they wanted to speak to – and hundreds of people rang in with information.

Of course, the Mail won’t have been the only outlet publishing the appeal, and the fact the CCTV quality is so sharp will have helped massively.

National Express were quick to follow up with the Mail and others, thanking the public for their quick response.


And it’s the speed of the response which journalists worried about what digital journalism means for local journalism should take heart from.

Done well, with the right focus on building an audience and understanding what that audience wants – including the audience’s desire to make a difference – the tools which comes with digital platforms have the power to make our local journalism a more potent force than ever before.

As I discussed in my blog post on Friday, building a loyal digital audience make newsrooms more powerful than they’ve been in a long time – able to start and win campaigns at a stroke, hold those in power to account more effectively than ever and make a difference when it really matters within minutes.

For those who fear digital journalism is underpinned by clickbait articles ‘which aren’t real journalism,’ here’s the proof that nothing could be further from the truth.

Using FOI to revisit fire stories

I was impressed by this use of FOI. Like many things with FOI, it’s all about the right application of the tool.

The Teesside Gazette covered, as you would expect, a fire at a school in its area late last year.

School fires, as any journalist who has worked in a local newsroom will tell you, remain big news in the community long after the event.

The Gazette has since reported that FOI was used to find out the fire service’s conclusion to their investigation – it was arson.

Obviously, it’d always be preferable for this information to come via the fire service without using FOI, although FOI does have the benefit of being able to seek access to the full investigation file.

As I said at the start, sometimes the smartest use of FOI is the most obvious use too.

FOI Friday: Bouncing babies, sex offence tickings off and pensioners on drugs

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

Some very bouncing babies < Huddersfield Examiner

Hundreds of Huddersfield’s bouncing babies are tipping the scales more than 2lbs above the national average.

Figures reveal about 100 babies per year are born at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust weighing in excess of 9lb 9oz.

The national averages are 7lb 8oz for a boy and 7lb 4oz for a girl.

Hospital records show that from 2012 to 2014 there were 314 newborns recorded as weighing 9lb 9oz or more.

Sex offences which just result in a telling off < Whitby Gazette

Police are letting paedophiles and sex offenders escape without a criminal record – meaning they could still work with children.

That’s the finding of a Yorkshire Regional Newspapers investigation which has revealed Community Resolution Disposals (CRD), designed to punish minor, first time offenders, have been handed out to people who had admitted possessing child porn or committing a sexual assault.

Angry campaigners fear that it could allow potentially dangerous sex offenders to “slip under the net” – and that North Yorkshire Police are letting serious offenders “off the hook”


Seven advertising department influences which can help make a digital newsroom great

ONE of our newsrooms was described to me this week as being run ‘like a finely-tuned advertising department.’

Now, there was a time when that would have been seen by journalists as some sort of insult. Those who can see where the future is going won’t see it as an insult – just proof that being digital first just means being closer to audiences than ever before.

When we set out to build what became ‘Newsroom 3.1’ at Trinity Mirror, we didn’t set out to replicate a sales floor within editorial. We set out to become truly ‘digital first’ while at the same time maintaining quality in print. I believe we have achieved both, and data – such as last week’s ABCe figures – back that up.

In the process, we have become more like our colleagues on the advertising floor. Instead of chasing revenue, our job is to chase audience. Within that, there are subtle but significant differences, but several common themes do jump out.


Using the crowd to hold those in power to account

My first experience of life as a daily newspaper reporter was in Accrington, the town best-known for being referenced by the very Scouse lads in the milk advert of the 1980s.

That was in 2000. Back then, one of the big issues facing the town was the decline of retail in the town centre. From the Accrington office of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, where two reporters were based in a tiny first-floor room with cracked plaster on the walls and a chain-link ladder to throw out of the window in lieu of a fire escape, it certainly felt like a town in decline.


What can the regional press take from the New York Times’ ‘digital first’ editorial meetings? More than you might think…

Warning: UK regional press journalist writing about one of the big beasts in global journalism is packed with risks. But here goes.

The news that the New York Times intends to change its legendary ‘page one meeting’ to focus more on digital has become big news in media circles.

The weekend interest stems from a report on the Poynter Institute last week, based on an internal memo sent out by Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the NYT. Instead of pitching stories for A1 – aka the front page – departments will instead pitch to get on “Dean’s list” – the handful of stories which will “get the very best play on all our digital platforms.”

The idea appears to have been kicking around for some time. Nieman Lab reported last summer that changes were on the way, after picking up on details from an Insider blog available only to New York Times subscribers. The seminal NYT innovations report, leaked last summer and widely disseminated across the media industry, also suggested too much print emphasis was placed on the front page of the print edition.

There are three themes which come out of this news which I think are relevant to newsrooms across the world, regardless of their shape or size.

The first is perhaps the most obvious:


FOI: The council boss who threatened to sue a hospital

Good work from the Chester Chronicle in uncovering a remarkable spat between a local council and a local hospital.

The Chronicle used FOI to obtain letters between Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Countess of Chester Hospital following a spat between the two bodies.

As Chester West and Cheshire has long been one of the cheerleaders for reducing the strength of FOI legislation, it won’t come as any surprise to hear it was the NHS Trust which has been revealing the information.

The row broke out after the hospital lost a sexual health contract to a neighbouring NHS Trust. Councils are responsible for public health these days, so Cheshire West was the body doing the awarding of this contract.


FOI FRIDAY: Clown crimes, daily A&E visitors, attacks on buses and pauper funerals


Sexual exploitation within a police force < Birmingham Mail

Three West Midlands Police officers abused their position of authority by sexually exploiting underage children in the last two years.

The predators in uniform were sacked or resigned after being convicted at court for targeting a 15-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

Meanwhile, other officers from the force have been dismissed or disciplined for a range of offences or conduct relating to sexual exploitation of members of the public.

The shocking details were revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Mail to the force.

The problem with clowns < Liverpool Echo

Disguised with colourful wigs and white face paint, the Echo today reveals how crooks dressed as clowns carried out bogus charity collections, vandalised property and even armed robbery.

Police on Merseyside dealt with 14 incidents involving people posing as clowns in the past two years – and most were no laughing matter.

One of the red-nosed crimes was caught on camera, when a robber dressed as a clown walked into a Walton shop in July to demand cash.

Attacks on buses < Cambridge News

sleeping girl was groped on a Cambridge school bus and is among victims of sex attacks and violent abuse while travelling on public transport.

Hair pulling, throat grabbing, torrents of verbal abuse, racist onslaughts using the ‘n-word’ and sex attacks have been reported to Cambridgeshire police after the incidents happened on buses in the county, new data has revealed.

There has been a total of just 21 such incidents reported to the force since 2012 but documents obtained by the News detailing what happened make for disturbing reading. And police have issued advice on what to do in a dangerous situation on a bus.

Visiting hospital every other day < Liverpool Echo

A 45-YEAR-OLD man went to A&E at the Royal Liverpool Hospital more than 150 times last year.

The patient racked up a total of 164 casualty attendances between January and December 4, according to records obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

This means he was attending A&E once every two days on average.

A second patient – an 84-year-old woman – visited A&E at the hospital 140 times over the same period, while a third patient – a 55-year-old man – clocked up 102 visits.


Seeing a football club ban as a challenge, not a restriction

I’m sure I’m not the only person who was party to a conversation debating how long it would take Rangers to start banning dissenting voices in the media once Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United, effectively took over the club.

The answer, as it turns out, is not very long. The Daily Record is currently banned from Ibrox for, as the Record rightly puts it, telling the truth.

In the article breaking news about the ban, the Record made it clear it saw the ban as a challenge:

UNPOPULAR Light Blues chief executive Derek Llambias tries to stop us getting the big stories. Good luck with that, Del.


The day a newsroom showed a strong opinion and an understanding of social media can carry just as much weight as a campaigning front page

Until today, it could have been argued that a newspaper’s most powerful tool when seeking to make a point which grabbed attention was the the printed front page. Indeed, I suggested as much last October.

And while it will remain a powerful weapon for newsrooms to deploy when they stand up and fight for their readers, the Birmingham Mail did something rather remarkable today.

It’s best summed up in this tweet from the Press Association: