DUB LINKS: Dublin and social

3327293399_7874c95926_oThere’s something hugely inspiring about seeing other people who are passionate about what they do.

This month I got to go to Dublin to talk to some great people from Dublin City Council who are looking, like we all are, to better understand how the internet is changing what they do.

There I got to meet The Studio a kind of crack team of people enabling change with skills from different parts of local government.

I also got to hear how Carmel McCartney, a community worker for the council has built and nurtured a Facebook page to serve the Crumlin community in the north of the city . There’s also Pauline Sargent who runs a hyperlocal blog in the community of Drimnagh who has met and connected with Carmel.

Carmel, although she doesn’t know it, is doing things that in years to come with be second nature to community workers. She set-up a Facebook page for one of the community she serves. She’s savvy enough to know that the 83 likes she has on her page isn’t the measure of what she’s doing. What is is that when she posts other neighbourhood Facebook pages pick up on this and share her content which allows her to reach thousands.

At the heart of it is a simple thing. It’s basically the council talks to it’s residents at the place where they’re gathering.

There should be more people like Carmel and in truth there are. But they’re often the people and in places you’d least expect.

Similarly, hyperlocal blogger Pauline Sargent is another glimpse of what things should look like. Her hyperlocal site Drimnagh is Good seeks to better tell people about what is going on in the community and sites like hers should be welcomed as part of the news landscape. They won’t always say great things about the council. But then newspapers don’t either but we think nothing about engaging with them where we can.

The whole relationship between blogger and local government is something that will become more important. Just because we never have is no reason to never will. I’ve written about what the blogger – press officer relationship should look like before.

But as Pauline and Carmel show it all just boils down to building good, human relationships. Offline as well as online.

Creative commons credit

Pub http://www.flickr.com/photos/jyryk/3327293399/sizes/o/


LAST POST: My Reggie Kray story and the future of local news

Okay, so should we start to think of a world without local newspapers?

Or at any rate a place where local newspapers are no longer the only show in town?

Go to Cannock in Staffordshire and you’re closer than you think.

Gone or retreated in the past four years are the Rugeley Post, Cannock Mercury and the Rugeley Mercury.

Another of them, The Chase Post, closed this week as 45 jobs were cut from Midlands titles.

As a young man I spent some time on work experience on the Post learning the ropes.

Mike Lockley, its editor on closure,  was in charge when I was there and recently celebrated 25-years at the helm.

A dynamo of a man powered by his love of a news story he was capable of a generosity of spirit to those looking to find a start in the industry. A generation of staff and work experience people have him to thank. Me included.

So do the school children who saw pink custard back on the menu after some Mike Lockley-fired Chase Post campaigning.

I have him to thank for my first front page by-line. A piece on a Cannock musician whose speculative letter to Reggie Kray resulted in an offer of money from the gangland kingpin and an offer of unspecified ‘help.’

“I was a bit worried when Reggie Kray wrote to me and offered me money,” the musician told me.

“What if he wanted a favour doing? And have you seen his writing?”

He was right. The note handed me  looked like it had been written by a left handed 10-year-old and was signed chillingly ‘Your friend, Reggie Kray.’

Of course, Reggie only became ‘gangland kingpin’ in the stumbling copy that Mike re-wrote. My version was far more boring. But the cutting helped get me a job.

Mike was also an award winning columnist. His piece announcing closure is typical. Wry, amusing and self depracating.

In a piece written a few days before closure was announced Mike celebrated 25 years in charge by writing that ‘a town without a newspaper is a town without a heart.’

So what of the future of news?

The excellent Dave Briggs, who does things with the web in local government, once rolled his eyes at me on this subject.

“The thing is Dan,” he said. “There really is nothing in life as boring as the future of news debate.”

In a sense he’s right.

Because out in the real world it’s not really an issue.

Why?

Because people are finding their own ways of getting news whether its from across the web, Facebook, Twitter or a hyperlocal blog.

Think of the now dead Football Final. As a kid the paper shop was full of blokes at 5.30pm waiting for the Pink to be delivered because they’d missed James Alexander Gordon read the final scores on Grandstand on BBC1.

If football scores have been sorted then what of news?

I’m not sure there is a golden bullet answer. As Alastair Campbell told the Express & Star which still circulates in Cannock, the news agenda today is far more fractured.

Hyperlocal blogs like Connect Cannock are part of the future, there’s no doubt about that.

So are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn streams targeted at micro audiences around a library, a piece of open space or a service area.

So, what does this mean for local government comms teams?

Once again, the need to think about what you are doing and how much resource you point at the web.

Ex-journalists have often been hired in local government press offices because they know how to write and package information for newspapers.

Many of them are changing with the changing landscape.

But as the social web grows how long is it before a blogger gets hired by a local government comms team for their ability to communicate using WordPress, Facebook and Cover It Live?

Picture credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Krays.jpg


SLIDESHARE: Case studies on connecting people using social media


Once upon a time clip art was once cutting edge.

No, really. It was.

Back in 1997, the first Walsall Council website sported a dancing light bulb.

No, really. It did.

There’s also a notice telling people that the website was under construction (it’s slide number two on the presentation embedded in this post.) If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not be showing. If that’s the case the link is here.

We need to evolve, learn and innovate. Nothing demonstrates that better than the late 90s webpage frozen in time showing Billy the Bulb and one giant leap for a council website. Time has moved on and we need to too.

At the Socitm Learning from Better Connected event at Manchester there was plenty of examples of innovation.

Not least the forward-thinking webteam who ripped up the rule book and re-designed the liverpool.gov.uk website based on what people want rather than what officers think people want.

Here’s my preasentation that I’ve posted to Slideshare.

Included on it are:

Some stats on internet use.

Some stats on the mobile web.

A quick map of the Walsall media landscape 2011 and 2005.

A quick case study on engaging with the community through Flickr.

A quick case study on two hyperlocal sites: WV11.co.uk and Pelsall Common People.

How a countryside ranger can tweet from the sharp end.

Some stats on Walsall 24 which saw us live tweet for 24 hours in real time.

All good stuff for 2011, but you can bet your bottom dollar in 13 years time when we’ll All have robot butlers it’ll seem a bit tame and dancing lightbulbesque.

Quite right, too.


OPEN FLOODGATES: What publishing Whitehall data means for local government

As one wag said: “A Prime Minister addressing a room full of geeks about open data? I’ve waited years for this.”

At the Wellcome Trust in London more than 200 people gathered for the International Open Data conference.

David Cameron delivered a recorded message and Minister Francis Maude was there in person. So was uber-geek Tim Berners-Lee.

Arranged by the Open Knowledge Foundation This was a chance to launch the UK Government’s data set of its department’s spend over £25,000.

That’s 194,000 lines of text and £80 billion of spending. The link to it is here.

What’s the point in that? The aim is to open the Government’s books to allow residents, journalists and business a chance to have a look.

Pithily one newspaper commentator posed the question: ‘A great leap forward or masochistic folly?’

It is madness isn’t it?

Tim Berners-Lee.

Tim Berners-Lee.

Actually, no. It’s a movement supported by left and right alike which has the aim of cutting waste, allowing entrepreneurs to flourish and a fairer society.

The event may have been Whitehall focussed but there are powerful golden strands that run through all government. Local and national.

Local government has already been asked to publish items of spend over £500 under the label ‘spending transparency.’

They have until January 1 to do it and as Cameron and Maude 100 of more than 300 odd councils had published.

There is a feeling within Whitehall that some will quietly choose not to publish calculating the flak they get for not completing a slightly arcane process is less than the grief a particular financial skeleton may pose.

It’s unlikely Whitehall will allow this to pass without prompting closer inspection.

Walsall Council House.

It’s also unlikely local government will not be asked to publish more as open data. There is more to come. Much more.

Here are some broad messages from the day for local government:

SO, WHAT’S THE BIG PICTURE?

Open data won’t be an easy ride for people in authority. As Francis Maude said: “It’s going to be very uncomfortable for government and local government. Media outlets will find things that will cause embarrassment.”

It’s not going to go away. It’s easy to like open data in opposition, says Maude. You can shine a light at others’ decisions. However, he pledged there were two key advocates – him and the Prime Minister.

The aim is to move influence away from the traditional centres – “information is power. This is a power shift,” says Maude, “to move the decision making away from Westminister.

Expect better decision making on spending – “Once you know you are being scrutinised you’ll be more careful. MP knows this all to well,” Maude says.

It’s FOI turbo charged – It would have taken journalists years of submitting FOI requests to build up the picture revealed in the £25k data sets, the Guardian say.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE PRIVATE SECTOR?

Contracts should allow for open data to be released – The presumption for contracts is transparency, says Maude.

It’ll create wealth – Open government data will create a £6 billion industry, says the Minister.

A website to point the spotlight on the private sector too – Chris Taggart has built opencorporates to shine the light at which big companies are doing well from public sector contracts.

HOW WILL ALL THIS BENEFIT GOVERNMENT – CENTRAL AND LOCAL?

Waste detection – By spotting where the waste is money will be spent better, Francis Maude says.

Procurement needs to get its act together – know what is in the contract before you sign a deal since the detail what it will purchase will be closely monitored, the Minister says.

WHAT IS NEXT?

Historical data will be released – There will be open data from previous administrations. This will help to compare and contrast with the current era.

More public agencies will follow – There are 100,000 public bodies. There’s no timescale for these just yet.

There will be a right to data – David Cameron has pledged that people will ask and receive data for a personal and business use. This is massive for local democracy.

Open data will move from spending into crime – Expect interactive crime maps in the New Year, Maude says.

SO, WHO WILL BE LOOKING THROUGH THIS DATA?

Journalists – the media needs to be data savvy. Data journalism will become more and more important, says Tim Berners-Lee.

“Chatting people up in pubs was one part of your job,” he told journalists in the room. “Poring over data and equiping yourself with the tools to look for the juicy bits will be important.

“Data journalism will be part of the future.”

Right now, local newspapers haven’t grasped what data journalism is. Don’t hold your breath just yet either.

Traditional news is emergency services calls, court and council agendas. It’s not data mining with csv files.

What may put it on the agenda are national stories re-written with a local.

Hyperlocal bloggers – many bloggers have geek tendancies that will happily work with online tools. Stories from all this will be broken by an 18-year-old rather than a laptop. That’s quite exciting. Tools such as timetric.com where graphs can be built using data and embedded in blogs can help with this.

Geeks – an inexhaustable army of geeks will pore over the data – “what happens when the flashflood of geeks go away?” mused Tim Berners-Lee. “It’s perennial.”

Industry – Data company Spikes Cavell have released spotlightonspend.org to interpret local government data. This hasn’t been without criticism from the opendata community who argue against councils dealing solely with the company and not releasing open data too.

Social entrepreneurs – Chris Taggart has built openlylocal.com as a platform for local government data and has been a pioneer in the field.

Real people – Fascinatingly, The Guardian had a team of four working for four days on the data before it was published. They didn’t think they could glean everything themselves. What they did do was make it possible for the public to use the tools to search for stories. This is the wisdom of the crowd as an extra pair of hands in the newsroom. You can download their app here.

BUT IT’S NOT ALL GOOD NEWS….

There’s no funding for people to cross check the data - As one questioner pointed out the tools that held government to account – journalists – have historically been cross subsidised by other sources such as small ads.

There’s no funding for these resources. There’s a question mark against the sustainability and effectiveness of tools.

Creative commons credits:

Tim Berners-Lee: Paul Clarke via wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

Hand: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davedugdale/5099605109/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Parliament: http://www.flickr.com/photos/olastuen/3784184031/sizes/o/in/photostream/


TWO TRIBES: What should the blogger – press officer relationship look like?

Jerry Springer built a TV career by making people in dysfunctional relationships sit down and talk to each other.

With burly minders flanking the stage Billie-Jo and her ex-lover Seth from an Arkansas trailer park would set-to in front of a studio audience.

Gripping stuff it was too, but you had this feeling nothing would change.

Two parties in a sometimes strained relationship came together at Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

The session ‘What does a good blogger – press officer relationship look like?’ saw bloggers sit down with press officers.

For some, it was the first time they’d ever spoke to the other side.

Like a parish pump Relate, there were sometimes a few choice words. But unlike the warring couples on TV there was a growing appreciation of the points of view.

It’s a session that has been extensively covered.

Local government officer Simon Gray, who is not from communications, blogged brilliantly about the session here. When he said neither side appeared with full credit, he’s right.

He’s also dead right in calling on both sides to cut the other some slack.

Paul Bradshaw writing a guest post for Podnosh made some excellent points in how local government should make information easier to access.

Mike Rawlins, of Talk About Local, who also contributes to Pits N Pots in Stoke-on-Trent has written an excellent post from his perspective on this and dead badgers and does, as Simon suggests, cut some slack.

Paul Bradshaw wrote a good post from the session focussing on the call from bloggers to make information more easy to access.

Sasha Taylor has also blogged from the session from a police perspective.

Twelve months ago I wrote a blog post on how the blogger – press office relationship was a source of conflict.

The 10 points I wrote then I still stand by. The full post is here. The edited highlights are boiled down to this

FIVE THINGS A PRESS OFFICE CAN DO:

  1. Treat them as journalists.
  2. Put them on press release mailing lists.
  3. Use blog comment boxes as a press officer.
  4. Accept not everything bloggers write is going to be favourable. Complain politely – and constructively – if things are wrong.
  5. Respect what bloggers do.

FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR BLOGGERS:

  1. If you have courage of your conviction put your name to what you do you’ll find your voice getting heard far better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to check stories.
  3. Respect press officers. They have a job to do too.
  4. Be accurate. The same rules for newspapers apply to blogs.
  5. Buy a copy of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists to save your life and potentially your house.

But listening to the both sides talk at the session, there’s also a few things a bright press officer can do.

1.  Create blog friendly content – A conventional press release is tailored for the print media. That’s not necessarily blog-friendly. A short film posted to YouTube or Vimeo is. A two minute film to explain with an interview the points made in the release would work.

2. Add pics as a matter of course – Even if it’s a stock pic. Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local made the point that there is a demand for images. They’re going to source a pic from Google images anyway. Why not provide a good one?

3. Judge when to respond – the excellent Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation re-purposed the US military’s flowchart of engagement with bloggers. It’s good advice when to engage and when to ignore the internet troll.

4. Build relationships – In print media you know you’ll get a better story about countryside placing it with a reporter who is passionate about green issues. So why not do it online too?

5. Put talking to bloggers in black and white. Make it a policy decision. Here’s one from Wolverhampton Homes to show you how.

6. Learn about open data. It’s not a geek topic anymore. It’s come into the mainstream and bloggers are at the forefront. Local data advisor and hyperlocal blogger Will Perrin has pointed out that press officers will need excel skills. Why? Because you’ll need to interrogate data sets just as you’ll need to leaf through council minutes.

Creative commons credits:

No papers today – Katmere http://www.flickr.com/photos/katmere/51065495/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Antique clippings – D Sharon Pruitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4799271086/



BE BASIC: A digital lesson from business to hyperlocals and local government

“We are the news supertanker,” an editor who shall remain nameless recently said. “And these bloggers will be swept aside.”

It’s not a view of hyperlocal sites shared by Marc Reeves who quit as Birmingham Post editor last November.

After more than 20 years in print journalism he moved firmly to digital launching the West Midlands version of thebusinessdesk.com – a site laser targeted at busy business people.

Sitting in Urban Coffee in the heart of Brum’s financial district he cuts a relaxed figure suited but tieless with a healthy tan.

Without the weight of a print works to keep warm and a 200 year old pension fund to service? No wonder he is relaxed.

To the National Union of Journalists Marc in the past has been a figure of suspicion. To the digital community an inspiration.

He’s here at a Jeecamp fringe event to talk to hyperlocal bloggers and students about his experience with his new start-up.

There are only a handful of news people who really understand the new digital landscape. Jeff Jarvis is one. So is the Bristol Editor. Marc Reeves is another.

This event Marc is talking at could just be an exercise of grousing at how journalism is going to the dogs. It doesn’t pan out that way.

Marc carefully explains the thinking behind the site. There’s a few surprises. And some lessons that can be learned by the local government, hyperlocals looking to monetise what they do.

The event was brilliantly summarised by organiser Philip John. No, I didn’t agree with all of it. But there were  a few lessons that can be learned by the public sector as well as hyperlocal bloggers.

How does the Business Desk work?

Business people are busy people. They’re at their desk early planning their day. A targeted email with 15 relevant news headlines is sent before 9am. The email links back to the website.

MORAL: They’d looked into their audience. Who it was and how they could best be communicated with. Then they tailored it. They DIDN’T build it Field of Dreams style and hope they’d come.

How do they know what stories are popular?

Google analytics help tell the journalist what stories are popular and which are not. Extra time and effort is then spent on ones which are popular.

MORAL: Don’t work blind. Listen to see what is popular.

Where does content come from?

Refreshingly, it’s fresh copy. Stories emerge from networking, talking to contacts as well as through standard press releases and announcements.  They started as a two man team and have increased to six in the West Midlands. With similar sites in Yorkshire and the North West as well as the West Midlands they have a turn-over of around £1 milion. That’s a serious figure.

MORAL: Well written content updated daily can work. Traditional journalism CAN work.

What about paywalls?

What are paywalls? They are barriers to content you need a subscription to get past. They won’t work, Marc says. But they’ll work beautifully to push traffic towards sites like The Business Desk. They won’t work for hyperlocals.

MORAL: Information is free on the web. Think of other ways to be self-sustaining.

So how does the thing pay for itself?

Site advertising pays but increasingly events do too. Niche events that 40 people will pay money for insights on work, for example. They also become ways to built the online community offline too.

MORAL: Don’t look at one way to generate funds.

What about the site traffic?

Unlike newspapers, Marc was hugely free with insights into his site traffic. There’s about 1,200 visitors every day with 2.5 to three page impressions per visit.

This is from a base of 4,282 and 2,400 email subscribers. Small numbers? Maybe. But this is a start-up. And remember, the Birmingham Post used to sell around 10,000 a week.

MORAL: Build a community around a niche.

Email? Isn’t that boring?

It generates 90 per cent of site traffic. That’s big figures. I’ll say that again. It generates 90 per cent of site traffic. That’s not boring. It’s brilliant. It’s not something unique to thebusinessdesk.com. The IDeA Communities of Practice site does something with a daily email update.

MORAL: E-mail is the overlooked communication tool of web 2.0. As late 90s as it is you can reach big numbers through it. It also acts as a tap on the shoulder to remind you that site you signed up to is there.

So, what’s to learn?

I’m convinced there are lessons here, not just for news websites but for web users in general and yes, that does mean the public sector.

1. Think basic. Email may not be sexy. But people use it. In large numbers. Get an email subscription going. Don’t be afraid to be web1.0.

2. Think sustainable (content). Think about how the site will last. Make sure there’s a team not one overworked individual.

3. Think sustainable (finance). Think through how it can last and if not be a not-for-profit at least be a not-for-loss.

4. Research. Put some thought into your audience. Think who you are writing for. Think how and when they’d like content delivered. Be niche.

5. Wear different hats. Be a journalist. Be a marketeer. Be an advertising sales person.

6. Write your own content and develop a voice.


BROADCASTING CHANGE – Seven skills the BBC can teach social media

Pic credit:
Official_BBC_Logo
Originally uploaded by nguyenht_hk
 
 
 
 “Citizen journalists,” the sneer goes, “Whatever next? Citizen surgeons?”
 

It’s a glib, throwaway, catch-all comment designed to dismiss social media sites which spread news without the aid of shorthand, a spiralbound notepad and an NUJ card.

The argument goes that like a surgeon’s scalpel only someone trained can handle news properly.

But with the quiet opening up of the BBC College of Journalism website another brick in the ever shaky argument comes toppling down.

The website http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/ has been run internally for the corporation for three years. It is a treasure trove of skills refined from more than 60 years of award winning peerless journalism.

BBC economics correspondant Robert Peston recently warned that: “the traditional distinctions between television journalists, radio journalists and print journalists are quite close to being obsolete.”

To survive a 21st century journalist must blog, podcast, film, edit and interview and write.

In the era of multi-skilling the press officer will also do well to take a look at the array of skills the site offers coaching in. There is plenty there for them.

But where the BBC training site’s hidden strength really lies is in the trasure trove of skills it offers to the hyperlocal blogger.

Recently, there has been a fierce debate in the UK digital community about defamation and media law. The Talk About Local project to encourage hyperlocals has started to debate it. Bloggers such as The Lichfield Blog’s Philip John have come up with some hyperlocal friendly resources.

But what the BBC site offers is a more extensive, professional insight into what will and won’t get you into trouble.

I’m tempted to call the opening up of the BBC training site as their greatest contribution to digital since the BBC Acorn computer pushed home computing out of the science fiction pages into the spare room in 1981.

This website starts to put quality journalism within the grasp of anyone  who can operate both a WordPress site and the BBC’s training pages.

For a qualified journalist looking to embrace change this is a welcome resource.

To the press officer it is a reference point. But also another signal that the 21st century landscape is changing.

To a blogger it should be bookmarked and memorised.

SEVEN TOP TIPS FROM THE BBC THAT COULD PROVE USEFUL IN SOCIAL MEDIA….

1. A guide to defamation These tips will be especially useful to bloggers. But also with the ever changing media landscape handy for press officers and journalists a long time out of NCTJ college.

2. Contempt of court You don’t have to be in the dock to get on the wrong side of a court of law. The rights and restrictions that govern news – and yes, blogs – are complex and can be devastating if you get it wrong.

3. Using submitted content A great insight into how the BBC uses it. For hyperlocals where photography may rely heavily on submitted pics this could be of use.

4. Original journalism There are news rooms across the country drained of experience and talent that could benefit from this. High standards are never a bad thing.

5. Bloggers and the law A contribution from Birmingham City University leacturer Paul Bradshaw – @paulbradshaw on Twitter. Nice to know the BBC are listening to someone like Paul who has a foot in the blogosphere as well as journalism.

6. Making short news films With YouTube in the driving seat high production values are not needed. But a few tips that could transfer into making something watchable can’t be a bad idea.

7. Filming interviews A few minutes with a Flip video and you’ll know it’s a tricky business balancing the questioning with the filming.


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