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.


The chilling impact the Government’s FOI Commission looks set to have on our right to know

If a picture tells a thousand words, then a screen grab of an article on the Guardian’s website is perhaps a bit of a con, but it sums up neatly the grave threat currently facing the Freedom of Information Act:

IMG_1959 (1)

The post-election review set up to look into the working of the Freedom Of Information Act has felt like a foregone conclusion. Its terms of reference were originally as follows:


Why reader comments matter if local journalism is to thrive online

Reader comments have been getting a bad press of late. As Roy Greenslade noted last week, a number of publishers have decided to dispense with them altogether.

PostMedia in Canada has put a pause on comments due to the vitriolic nature of many of the comments. I can understand that reaction – we’ve all seen stories which have involved many hours of hard work, only for the first two or three comments to set off a stream of racist bile which has little to do with the subject matter.

Other websites, reports the MediaBriefing, are ditching comments for other reasons, including to allow journalists to spend time on social media where, it is argued, readers would rather be sharing and discussing stories anyway.

Meanwhile, over the summer, the editor of the South Wales Argus, Kevin Ward, took to his blog to criticise the tone of comments appearing on his own website. “When did Britain become such an ugly country?” he asked, referring to comments which encouraging a suicidal man to to jump from a bridge, and backed an MP’s calls for water cannons to be used on refugees at Calais. Comments remain open and active on the Argus website.


When you look at the dictionary definition of clickbait, critics of popular content suddenly look like journalistic snobs

Not so many years ago, the worst slur a journalist could hit another journalist with, particularly in regional newspapers, was the accusation of being ‘too tabloid.’

These days, it’s to lob the claim that you’re writing ‘clickbait.’ Both insults have the same message: It’s not *real* journalism, it’s not what we’re here to do. It’s not what the public expect of us. And writing content which proves to be popular is not what we’re here for.

The problem with the clickbait challenge is that it means many things to many people. I’ve heard the clickbait accusation a lot since we first talked about audience goals for reporters at Trinity Mirror, where I’m digital publishing director for our regional titles.

Most of the people lobbing the word clickbait around are people who haven’t taken the time or trouble to understand what we’re actually doing. But one thing is very clear: Most people define clickbait differently, with only a notion of negativity links their definitions.

My definition of clickbait is a negative one: It’s content where the headline doesn’t reflect the content. Content which is destined to disappoint.

The Oxford dictionary, however, is more upbeat:


Proof the BBC just doesn’t understand the regional Press – but so easily could make a difference if it did

It’s easy to write a blog post bashing the BBC, especially when writing about the relationship the BBC has had with large parts of the regional press for a long time.

There’s no doubt that there has been a change in thinking and approach within parts of the BBC over the last year, perhaps triggered by the Revival of Local Journalism Conference, spearheaded by the Beeb and held at MediaCity.

I’ve sat on the regional journalism working group which was one of the results of that event for over a year now, working with colleagues from elsewhere within the regional Press, and from other sectors, such as local radio, the hyperlocal community, academia and, of course, a fair few BBC folk.

And I’ve enjoyed working with them. I think progress has been made. The BBC has listened and responded to concerns about lack of linking to original sources of content. It has tried to ensure credit is given where it is due – although national radio and TV remains a law unto itself, seemingly destined to disguise sources of material.

And there has been collaboration too, including a data journalism workshop, another workshop in the planning, support for Trinity Mirror’s Real Schools Guide across the BBC News website and early access to BBC projects which make new headlines for the regional press.

So the BBC’s new collaborative approach – a long time in the coming – is welcome. What I find incredibly frustrating is the insistence of the very top brass at the BBC to try and create a justifiable future for itself by diminishing the work of the local press in 2015.

Ever since James Harding, the head of news at the BBC, published his Future of News report last year – an excellent document in many respects, apart from the analysis of local newspapers – there has been an absolute failing to acknowledge that their view of the local press as articulated in that report is wide of the mark.

It marked a departure from his plaudits about the regional Press aired ahead of his revival of local journalism conference:

“Budgetary pressures have been brought to bear on regional newsrooms in recent years and there is a concern about the impact this is having on our society and our democracy. But is the pessimism overdone? Local newspapers are reinventing themselves for the age of mobile and social media; new forms of local journalism are emerging online; local and hyperlocal radio is proving to be commercially resilient, not to mention very popular; mobile phone operators are experimenting in the area; new television operators are starting out; and, from local radio to the nightly regional news on TV, we at the BBC see that nothing matters more to our audiences than what’s happening where they live.”

Is the pessimism overdone? Yes – and largely due to the BBC. Indeed, last week’s News Media Association report about the BBC was spot on when it said the BBC “misreads and overplays the imminent demise of other news media”.


For all the wisdom of how to do ‘social media’, surely only 4 rules are needed to keep out of trouble

This post popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, shared by a friend:

GMP Salford

As social media posts go on behalf of an organisation, it probably deserves a place in presentations about how to get it right.

It makes a serious point, is written in a friendly, engaging manner and achieves the right balance of humour with an underlying message: Fly tipping isn’t on.

In theory, such posts should be easy for anyone to do, regardless of their role in the organisation: Think like a human, talk like a human.


Jumping for joy: And why there’s more to A Level coverage than airborne teenagers

A Level results day brings back various memories for many reporters. Late-night inputting of every result in East Lancashire with fellow reporters at the Lancashire Evening Telegraph after someone had deemed we didn’t need extra copytakers to get them into the system is the first one which springs to mind.

But in the mind of many – particularly those who enjoy to parody the regional Press – it’s little more than lots of pictures of teenagers jumping in the air. Are they right? Well, sort of (and we’ll come to those picture in a bit).

A quick scan through today’s newspapers – most newsrooms were covering results day live via websites, m-sites and apps yesterday – shows a wide variety of takes on A Level results.

Triumph after tragedy – the relative of a Tunisia massacre victim celebrates his grades (Derby Telegraph)


Making the global local: Applying data journalism to bring stories closer to home

There has been a lot of coverage of the anniversary of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Long argued to have been the event which brought about the end for the Second World War, but also an event which killed tens of thousands of innocent people.

The Guardian’s look back at how the ‘Manchester Guardian’ as it was then covered the event provided a useful reminder that hindsight often packages up events in a way it isn’t possible to when details are still emerging. 

But the article which stood out to me was this one from the Indianapolis Star:


Why football writers shouldn’t fear being banned by football clubs

One of my favourite new phrases is ‘in-house journalist.’ As in: “We’re Swindon Town, we have an in-house journalist so we don’t need to talk to the local paper anymore.”

I like it because it is such an outrageous nonsense. If being a journalist really is just the ability to string a sentence together and making a shorthand note of what the manager wants to say, then something is very, very wrong.

Journalism should be, in my opinion, be defined as the pursuit of informing the reader in accurate, unrestricted way. Is it a craft, a professional or a trade? I don’t know, but hopefully the definition I’ve just outlined transcends that argument anyway.

So in that sense, anyone in the employ of a football club may have a journalism qualification, they may even have had many years working in a newsroom, and they may well still be using the same skills as journalists, but they aren’t committing acts of journalism. I know many fine journalists who have moved into PR – be it football clubs or other parts of that industry – but none would openly say they are now replacing the role of the local journalist.

Put simply, their role is to be club first. A sports journalist’s role is to be fan first. Not in the sense of being told what to do by fans, but always putting fans first in their work. Informing fans, debating with fans, reporting all sides for fans. The same argument should apply when the National Union of Journalists next decides to speak out in favour of council newspapers. That’s not journalism either – it’s PR on behalf of a public body, and not journalism.