social media

2016: Some of the people who helped shape regional journalism

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If there’s one thing journalism doesn’t need going into 2017, it’s another clutch of gongs. For an industry which is constantly facing negative headlines (often understandable, of course), we still do a great job of celebrating our achievements.

And if you cut beyond the headlines and the punditry, there is a lot to celebrate despite the massive challenges the industry faces, challenges many in the industry are tackling head on.

So it’s for that reason that I’ve come up with a list of the people or teams or brands I believe deserve acknowledgement for things done for the industry in 2016. Of course, it’s not exhaustive, there are people who I’ve bound to have missed out (sorry!), and I could just list all the great people I work with every day, but hopefully it paints a picture of some of the great things going on in the industry.

Over on holdthefrontpage, Steve Dyson listed his seven ‘regional heroes’ (for transparency purposes, I should probably point out I made his list in 2015), and this list is inspired by that idea. For me, the heroes of our industry are those fighting to make a difference within the industry through their own actions, attempting to inspire those around them, regardless of their role or seniority, at a time of great uncertainty. To that end, Alison Gow’s list of women to celebrate in 2016 makes for a great read. 

Some thoughts from me…

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Maybe the solution to fake news lives on our sports desks

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Many millions of words have been written about the scourge of fake news, and I’ve some bad news: I’m about to offer a few hundred more. But hopefully they will convey a point which hasn’t been discussed up until now.

Fake News isn’t new. The impact Fake News has had (if it can be proven) has maybe taken a new turn, but the scale of the problem isn’t new. Or at least it isn’t if you’re a sports reporter.

While many rightly lament the apparent inability of the public to separate fact from fiction (and certainly on my Facebook feed, those doing the lamenting were also in some cases also sharing some of the bogus Donald Trump stories just a few days earlier), few have offered realistic answers beyond ‘Blame Facebook’ and ‘Do something Facebook.’

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The currency of endorsement (or why Facebook likes matter)

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Every month, brands within the company I work for, Trinity Mirror, publish the number of followers they have on Facebook and Twitter, along with unique browser data.

Every month, the data is picked up by the trade press, including sites such as Hold the Front Page, and reported in a straight-down-the-middle sort of way.

And every month, the same conversation begins in the comments section. “What’s the point of counting your Twitter followers” or “Where’s the money in Facebook likes?”

It’s a discussion which happens in newsrooms too, and the idea of counting followers and likes only really makes sense if you buy into the fact readers have a new sort of currency to bestow on you: Their endorsement.

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Digital Journalism Trends in 2016: Why audience engagement holds the key to a thriving future

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100k people read articles about how to cook a turkey on Trinity Mirror’s regional news sites. Listening to what readers want and then delivering it will define strong newsrooms in 2016

Audience engagement is one of those phrases which makes a lot of eyes roll. ‘Just let us get on with the journalism’ is one response I’ve heard a few times.

It’s an understandable response, but if there is one thing which is going to determine the winners from the losers in the brand race to be relevant online in 2016, it’s the ability to engage with audiences.

Journalism needs to take its cue from how audiences react and respond to what we do – and find ways to get the audience to engage with what we know they need to know.

It isn’t going to be enough to say ‘look, we’ve been here for 150 years, you know you can trust us.’ In many ways, digital pushed the reset button on the ability of publishers to call on their heritage as a reason for being, offering new publishers the chance to compete on an equal footing for the attention of readers.

But what does audience engagement mean?

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Digital journalism trends in 2016: From social newsgathering to social journalism

This is the first in a series of posts between now and the end of the year looking at key themes I think will emerge during the course of 2016.

It takes a foolhardy journalist not to be familiar with Twitter or Facebook these days. There are probably very few journalists who haven’t written a story which contains at least some material gathered and gleaned from a social network.

As in other companies, the newsrooms I work with have invested a lot of time in training reporters on the tips to make sure they don’t miss a big, breaking story tip on social media. And there are few better introductions to Tweetdeck that Joanna Geary’s brilliant presentation. For journalists who take the time and trouble to pay attention to such presentations, they find themselves having a significant advantage when it comes to spotting stories on social.

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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:

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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.

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Try it Tuesday: Loci

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. 

13. Loci

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No, the 2015 general election was not the social media election

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One of the many predications given ahead of the 2015 general election was that it was going to be ‘the social media election.’

Similar predictions were made in 2010, but in hindsight it really wasn’t. But what about 2015?

I suppose it depends how you define what it would it would take to remember a general election by the impact social media had on it. So my conclusion is that no, rather like 2010, social media did not define the general election. Therefore 2015 was not the social media election.

That’s not to say it didn’t have a much bigger impact on the journalism surrounding the 2015 general election than ever before. It certainly did. In 2010, Twitter was still treated with suspicion or outright contempt by many journalists. Facebook was still, for the majority of journalists, a personal, rather than professional, space.

In 2015, social media sat at the centre of media coverage of the general election. Sky News built a whole part of its election website around social discussion, breaking out sentiment by age and sex, for example. 

The Press Association ran a UK politics page for Facebook, Tweets were referenced in content everywhere, and politicians and political parties were alert to the fact any post from them on social media was likely to attract mainstream media attention quickly.

But that’s where I think it fell down somewhat. Social media, for many politicians, remains a broadcast tool. It might have sat at the heart of election strategies – the Tories are rumoured to have spent fortunes on Facebook advertising – but the communication was very much one way.

And until that changes, I struggle to see how we can ever have a social media election – because until politicians realise that they need to have individual conversations on social media in the same way they do on the doorstep, they won’t be harnessing the power of social media properly.

To say social media is a powerful tool for change is rather like remarking that water is wet. Campaigns are won within days. The Manchester Evening News raised £1.4m in 24 hours for a burning dogs homes, thanks largely to people sharing on social media. Petitions, such as the one for a parliamentary debate on Hillsborough, reach their 100,000 target in days thanks to sharing on Twitter. Yet faced with the potential to connect with a large number of people, politicians seem determined to keep just shouting at them.

Indeed, at times Twitter’s best attribute to politicians has seemed to be the 140-character limit, providing politicians with a way to say as little as possible, but still get their message across. It’s not supposed to be like that.

There are exceptions, of course. Nicola Sturgeon has been widely acclaimed for her use of Twitter. She’s far from the first to be good on social. Ed Balls used to be active too, once giving me directions to a football ground. So to was John Prescott, once balling me out for disagreeing with him. But for every great political Twitter account i mention to someone, I invariably get back the question: “Ah, but do you know if s/he writes it themselves?”

The answer is that I don’t know. But what I do know is that the big political parties treat social media the same way they do every other form of communication: The more people you can reach for the least amount of effort, the better.

And while that approach works when determining the merit of a wrap in a local newspaper, or buying Facebook advertising, it misses the point of social media entirely. And as a result, the likes of Sturgeon are few and far between.

This isn’t a ‘let’s bash social media’ blog. It’s hopefully a ‘let’s get real’ blog post. Social media works so well because it fits into people’s lives, and reflects the real world too. Treat Twitter like you would going into the pub is a common piece of advice. Reply to people, and listen to them, is another. Be useful is another. The political parties miss all of these points but probably pat themselves on the back for the reach of a Tweet or Facebook post.

An MP last autumn boasted to me: “My local newspaper only sells 10,000 copies a week but a post on my Facebook people can be seen by 40,000 people. What do you think of that?”

In hindsight, my reply should have been: “I think you should focus on talking to people locally, rather than getting carried away by meaningless global numbers, you nugget.” Sadly, it wasn’t.

Social media does have the power to determine an election in the future, in a far more democratic way than any traditional media outlet could ever claim to do (and let’s be frank, has The Sun really ever won an election, or has it just always ensured it’s backing the winning horse?)

The right party, with the right message, could do exactly what Barack Obama did a decade ago and bring together many people and secure a victory against the odds. But do so requires people to buy into the message, and buy into the person presenting that message. For that to happen requires personal relationships and engagement on social media.

As any newsroom social media editor will tell you, social media isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work to maintain relationships. But if you get it right, the rewards are there.

The social media election can happen – but only once politicians start treating networks as more than just an extra channel for an off-the-shelf party political broadcast.

So succeed at social, you need to succeed at being human. That’s where I fear our mainstream parties go wrong.

Try It Tuesday: Find My Seat and other useful election tools

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. 

try it tuesday

7. Find My Seat

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Try It Tuesday: Streetlife.com

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. 

6. Streetlife.com

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What? Streetlife.com is social networking at its most hyperlocal. Those behind it have been busy writing to millions of homes across the UK urging people to sign up and share local information. Those receiving a letter get a code which automatically selects an area for them to be added to, with the option to opt in to some nearby ones too.

Why? For journalists, especially those with a district beat or patch, Streetlife has the potential to be a great source of stories. I’ve tried it for a few areas and the quality of comment and debate does vary, but in some cases is exceptional. I know of editors in London active on it in their communities, with the most successful ones being the journalists who add to conversations in a way which helps people, rather than just using it to source stories.

The daily update email has become something I read every day. If I’m doing that as a local resident, surely it’s useful to journalists?

Other Try It Tuesday ideas can be found here