Why we need to tell readers about how we report the news

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If you were to list the changes digital media has ushers into newsrooms across the UK, the list would quickly become long.

The one I want to focus on today is the change in audience expectation and behaviour. Gone are the days when post-publication interaction with readers was confined to conversations with those who had the motivation to ring the newsdesk, visit ‘front counter’ or get their pen and paper out.

Since the victory by Donald Trump in the American elections, many millions of words online have been devoted to how the media Stateside got it so wrong, and what that means for the future of journalism.

I feel that’s coming at the problem from the wrong end. Digital platforms have given everyone a voice. Personalisation on those platforms – primarily through algorithms – has created a bubble-like experience for many people. I’m convinced the shock of the ‘exit’ vote in Brexit for many was worsened by that platforms like Facebook so effectively target what you see that Brexit-supporters were all but banished from Remainers timelines, and vice versa.

That bubble-like environment, and the ease with which people can now publish a view, puts a new spotlight on what people are thinking about what they are reading. This isn’t a Facebook thing. Any football writer whose club is also served by a fans forum where every story is analysed, reacted to and commented upon will know what I’m talking about. Everyone has a voice, and many are critics.

Overall, this is a positive thing. At least people care enough about what we’re writing to talk about it. Irrelevance-induced silence must be worse.

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EU referendum: What does the social media reaction tell us about coming out in favour of Remain?

Several titles I work with have, over the past week, urged readers to vote ‘remain’ in Thursday’s EU referendum.

Contrary to the popular myth being shared on some parts of social media by Brexiteers, each editor has been free to decide whether their titles should back either side, or remain neutral.

I think the titles which have taken a side – including the Newcastle Journal, Birmingham Mail, Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News – are proof that you can take a position on something while still providing balanced coverage.

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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.

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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”

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FOI Friday: Roadworks hell, hidden art, naughty nurses and bedblocking patients

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Plagues of roadworks < Get Surrey

Dismay has been expressed over a ‘plague’ of roadworks on a stretch between Bramley and Guildford in the past three years.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that more than 860 individual projects were carried out on the A281 from 2012 to 2014 – an average of 1.3 per day.

The majority of work was carried out in Bramley, with 477 roadworks in the village, with the remainder, 388, on the road through Shalford.

Broken down by year, there was disruption on the Shalford stretch for 160 days in 2012, a drop to 68 days in 2013 and rising to 160 last year.

Hidden Art < South Wales Argus

JUST two per cent of the almost 5,000 pieces in the fine art collection at Newport Museum and Art Gallery is on display, an Argus Freedom of Information Act request reveals.

The museum and art gallery building, which is at risk of closure in Newport City Council’s 2015/16 budget proposals, has 98 works of fine art on display compared to around 4,800 pieces in storage.

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FOI Friday: School places, child exploitation, serial criminals and council home waits

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How likely are you to get your child into a school? < Teesside Gazette

Hundreds of schoolchildren in Middlesbrough are missing out on a place at their school of preference.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request show that while places are in high demand, non of the town’s secondary schools were able to cater to every single applicant who requested a place at their school of choice.

Macmillan Academy, on Stockton Road, was by far the most popular school of choice, with 1030 applications for 220 places.

But, less than half the number of children, 44.4%, who put it down as their first choice, got to go to the academy.

Children at risk of sexual exploitation < Slough Observer

AT LEAST 28 children as young as 13 have been deemed at risk of sexual exploitation this year, The Observer can reveal.

The Observer submitted a freedom of information request asking Slough Borough Council how many children this year had been referred, or became known, to the council amid concerns that they are, or at some stage have been, at risk of sexual exploitation.

The youngest child referred was 13 years and nine months old. The figures also showed at least 23 children have been identified in previous years.

More details of the suspected exploitation could not be provided because it would have taken too long to search through records, the council said.

The 1,000 crimes committed by 50 criminals < Rossendale Free Press

Nearly 1,000 crimes have been committed by the top 50 worst in Rossendale, the Free Press can reveal.

The most habitual yob is a 37-year-old man from Bacup who has committed 87 offences – including 74 thefts from vehicles – and has been charged 20 times.

Also making the top 10 list of shame is a 19-year-old man from Rossendale who has already committed 40 offences including 18 thefts from vehicles and has been charged by police 13 times.

Campaigners and MPs have branded the figures ‘appalling’ and said the system of justice is ‘not working’, calling on the courts to impose harsher sentences for repeat offenders.

Figures released by Lancashire Police under a Freedom of Information request show that 972 offences have been committed in the Valley by the top 50 offenders.

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FOI Friday: Nightmare roadwork roads, self service checkout crimes, cost of PFI and student disciplinary offences

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The roads dug up more than 600 times in a year < Birmingham Mail

Road repairs in Birmingham are causing traffic chaos with some routes being dug up almost every day for the past FIVE years, the Birmingham Mail can reveal.

Workmen have had to carry out maintenance on Birmingham’s Broad Street three times a week since 2009. The entertainment district – known as the Golden Mile – has been dug up an astonishing 684 times.

Yet it is not the most repaired road in the city.

Crime caused by self-service checkouts < Sunderland Echo

FORGETFUL shoppers are turning other wise law-abiding citizens into criminals after it was revealed that cash-back worth £1,260 was stolen from self-service tills in Sunderland in the last three years.

Figures obtained by the Echo via a freedom of information request to Northumbria Police, show thefts are going up year-on-year in line with the increase of popularity of automated systems in supermarkets.

But police say many people do not realise that pocketing cash accidentally left behind at self-service checkouts is theft and will be treated as such. And those caught on CCTV can often find themselves appearing in newspapers and online as part of crime appeals.

Forty-seven thefts of cashback were reported between April 2011 and March this year within Sunderland Area Command, after being left at self-service tills. Thirteen thefts were recorded in 2011/12, increasing to 16, in 2012/13 and 18 in the last financial year.

Youngest fire-arm offenders < Cambridge Evening News

A boy aged just 11 is now the youngest person in Cambridgeshire to be arrested over a firearms offences, shock data has revealed.

Information released by the Cambridgeshire force has also uncovered the youngest children arrested over drugs and sex crimes.

The youngest children arrested over sex offences are two boys aged just 10 years old.

One boy was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman and another was arrested over the rape of another boy aged under 13 years old. Both were given a reprimand and no further action was taken.

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