CAMPAIGN JUSTICE: What Journalism 2.0 Looks Like and What You Can Learn

(5) Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 110418It was around 2010 and as depressing conversations with a reporter go this one took quite some beating.

I was in local government communications and we had started to post gritting updates in real time on Twitter. We were talking with our residents directly without going through the Priesthood of journalists.

“The thing is,” the reporter said, “When you post your updates to Twitter, newsdesk want you to give us a call as well, so we know.”

I declined. I pointed out that they needed to be on Twitter themselves. I shook my head in despair.

Despair

I started in newspapers in the early 1990s and spent 12 years as a journalist. I still love them despite themselves and despite a further eight years in a local government communications team.

There was a time when I despaired of local newspapers utterly. Declining newsrooms, re-locating to ‘hubs’ far away and shedding staff still make me shake my head.

But just recently, I’ve had cause to think that maybe the penny is dropping and that newspapers really can use the social web and create journalism that will be relevant to the channels of the future.

Telling a story with the web

Making brilliant use of the web are the Evening Mail in Birmingham. They are telling the story of the Birmingham pub bombings which killed 21 people 40 years ago today. They are doing so with imagination and passion. The incident remains an unhealed wound in the city. Nobody has been brought to justice for it. Six people were imprisoned wrongly.

They are using thunderclap to gather support for the case to be re-opened. You sign-up using a social channel and agree to share a message.

For audio, they recreated the IRA telephone call to the Evening Mail offices which came minutes before the explosion.

Birmingham pub bombings We name the man who masterminded the atrocity - Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 102057

For images, they created a gallery of news images from the time from their archive.

On Twitter, they used the hashtag #justiceforthe21 and #BirminghamPubBombings to promote the call to bring people to justice.

On the web, the posted the news story in which they name the man, now dead, they allege is responsible for the attack.

On Facebook, they shared content and drew scores of responses.

Also on the web, they hosted as as if real time recreation of the 24-hours leading up to the incident. Anecdotes and snaps of life from those who were living their last day. It is a docudrama told in realtime and you can see it here.   

Birmingham pub bombings Minute by minute - 24 hours that changed our city forever - Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 103025

This is what future journalism looks like. Story telling on a range of platforms. It’s sharable and commentable and has a purpose. But above all it is human. I just can’t tell you how much I like this.

They still make me shake my head do newspapers. The public subsidy they get through the government insisting local government pay them for print small ads for public notices at a time of 85 per cent internet connectivity is plain wrong.

But the Evening Mail have shown peerlessly how to tell powerful stories on the web. This really does tower over anything else I’ve seen in the 21 years I’ve been involved with local journalism. Sincere congratulations to them. Buy shoe polish and make sure your suits are pressed. You’ll need them for the awards.

Brilliant work and the lessons to take

This is brilliant work. Genuinely brilliant. This is using the social web to tell a very human story. It’s powerful. It’s moving. But it has a sense of purpose. The purpose is to mobilise public support for a specific aim. It is is to press for justice.

Yet there are lessons here for the public sector where I now work. Just recently the #housingday initiative saw a 24-hour campaign which saw housing people talk about the jobs they do and the people they serve. Very soon #ourday will do a similar task for local government. I’m an advocate for them. They tell hundreds of stories that tell a bigger story. They empower people. They connect people too.

But wouldn’t it be something if that wall of noise was made easier to follow with a live blog? And wouldn’t it be something if there was one single call to action, whatever that was? What is the biggest issue facing housing? Or local government?

What would that campaign be?

Wouldn’t it be something if that energy was pointed at something?


FUTURE CODE: Are web developers today’s news photographer?

359759173_9c5939d67f_bA major US newspaper announced plans to fire its entire picture desk a week or two back. All 28 of them. To go.

As someone who has worked on newspapers and now deals with them as part of their job that’s a significant step.

It also underlines in it’s own small way this whole ‘the landscape is changing and pr people need to develop new skills’ thing that I’ve been writing about for the past four years.

Of course, it’s really tempting to dismiss this as the death twitch of an industry that is on it’s knees and move on. What really stopped me in my tracks was a blog by Andy Ihnatko an occasional contributor to the newspaper in question the Chicago Sun-Times.

In it he recognised the pain this step was causing but rejected the idea that newspapers just deserve to die.

He makes an excellent observation that newspapers need to get new skills and as the web and mobile web get more important. What struck me was the observation that perhaps the web developer is now doing what the photographer used to do. Their ability to produce eye-catching content that brings pages alive are now playing the role the snapper and picture editor used to.

Newspapers are a machine, he writes, adding:

“The machine was fantastic at manufacturing what readers wanted from 1850 to 1999. But it now needs to be retooled to manufacture what readers want in 2013.

“What if it fired photographers, but hired more web developers, and gave that department extra resources? Photographs aren’t than just pretty pictures; they serve many practical functions for an edition of a newspaper. They allow for a more attractive page design, they make the newspaper easier to visually navigate, and they offer the reader an alternative method of engaging with the stories.

“ A well-designed, responsive web page does the same things…with the added modern benefit that it allows a story to look great on any device. “Your photos aren’t anything special” is an aesthetic complaint. “Your site goes all screwy when I access it from my iPhone” is a report about a bug that prevents the user from reading the content.

“The point is that if a newspaper really wants to double-down on the value of their content, having a great team of web developers on staff is critical. I’d be less concerned about the sub-par photography of a site than I would about a site that’s hard to read on the device of my choice.”

So in summary, web developers are critical.

When you consider how mobile-first my own life is that has a ring of truth. My holiday frustration at the webpage that doesn’t show on my mobile to tell me the swimming pool opening times, for example.

What are the lessons for local government comms people?

It’s the importance of knowing that to present your story on the web you’ll need to present it well and in a way that people can read it. It’s getting more important that you’ll need a good web developers in your team to help you tell your story.

It also means that submitted pictures to newspapers in times of cut picture desks have real value. For now.

So, it’s back to that changing landscape stuff again really, isn’t it?


ROUGH JUSTICE: Jo Smith is clearing her name

20130421_083127So, it all started with a whimper and ended with a bit of a bang. 

Jo Smith has taken a massive step towards clearing her name and accepted an out-of-court compensation payment from Argyll & Bute Council rather than press ahead with her claim for unfair dismissal. You can read all about it in the Dunoon Observer.

Okay, isn’t this just a backwater story? Actually, no. If you work in local government, are a  comms person or speak or have ever learned something at a conference this all is pretty significant. Had Jo lost there may have been a chilling effect on all three.

It’s an attractive story on the face of it. Council spin doctor accused by an anonymous source in the Glasgow Herald of saying at a conference she’s been spying using social media. Uproar at conference. Politicians get angry. She gets sacked.

Only thing was it was not true. There was no uproar at the conference. The story emerged four months after it took place. The comments some people attributed to her at the event were not made. People at the conference confirmed this. There were no spy accounts despite a thorough and expensive internal investigation. Jo even topped the feedback as being the most popular speaker with attendees. Some uproar.

Disclaimer: I was at the uproar-less conference and confirmed this less exciting version of events to the Glasgow Herald journalist who first wrote the non-story and failed to quote me. Or organiser Nick Hill. As a former journalist that’s, how shall we say, somewhat disappointing. I also contributed to the internal inquiry along with others who were at or spoke at the event.

You may have heard of Argyll & Bute Council before. They gave the world a world case study in how not to do social media. You may recall they picked a fight with an eight-year-old who was blogging on the Never Seconds blog about her school meals. Jamie Oliver and others came in on the child’s side and they were forced to climb-down. You just know you are on a loser when even a sock puppet makes up a song about you…

You can read BBC technology correspondant Rory Celland-Jones’s take on the Argyll & Bute Never Seconds debacle here.

By the looks of things there are enough people in Argyll & Bute asking questions that now need asking and I think that’s best left to people there.

Jo hasn’t commented on the matter but as organiser Nick Hill this week told Scottish media:

““I organised the conference where the allegations stemmed from and I told both the newspaper involved and the council’s investigation at the outset that Jo didn’t say any of the things she was accused of.

“This has been an extremely trying time for Jo, and I know she wants to thank everyone who has supported her: family, friends, the National Union of Journalists, colleagues and fellow communications professionals. This episode would have been much more difficult to weather without their efforts.

“I know Jo wishes Argyll and Bute Council all the success it deserves.”

Here are seven thoughts…

1. Would the Never Seconds blog debacle have happened with Jo Smith in her post? It was clear that there was no handle on how to respond to bloggers. Or how to respond when things started to go wrong. A Twitter account that was silent but being bombarded with angry tweets is a case study in how not to. It shows the value in having a digital communications-savvy comms person on the bridge.

2.  This shows why it’s a good idea to be in a union. The National Union of Journalism stepped in to offer advice and legal representation. Not everyone knows it covers PR people too. I’m in it because you just never know when you’ll be in a situation that Jo found herself in.

3. Jo Smith is made out of stronger stuff than you or me. Weaker people could have gone under. Heaven knows there must have been some dark times but she battled through and can now hold her head up again.

4. It begs the question of what Jo now does about a sometimes digital foot print. In which some pretty vile stuff remains. She’d be entirely forgiven for taking a long hard think about that with her legal team.

5. There could have been a chilling effect on the sharing of knowledge across local government comms had Jo have lost. Many would have re-thought the benefits of speaking at conferences or even attending when the penalty for mis-quoting is the sack and potential career ruin.

6. Jo is an excellent and engaging writer. We were fortunate enough to take a guest post from her on comms2point0 last year based on her experience as a London 2012 games maker. You can read it here.

7. She now deserves to make a success of her life as she puts her experience behind her. With the determination she’s shown she will. Vindicat PR is her new venture and I hope she’ll continue as a contributor to comms2point0.


PRINT TRUTH: ‘Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.’

3377807208_20a6bc04b9_b

Fail to understand the changing landscape and very soon you won’t have a job.

It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now and It’s true whether you are a journalist, comms person or a fifth generation pit prop maker in 1983.

A bright person a few weeks ago told me that there would always be newspapers because they’d always be there.

I disagree.

People thought that about coal mines once too.

There’ll always be news but there’ll always be print newspapers? Really?

As the rise of Twitter as a breaking news medium and sites like BBC that’s just not the case.

Here’s an interesting few quotes from John Paton, CEO of Digital First Ventures who own, as their website says, more than 800 print and digital products that reach 57 million customers a month.

If you aren’t taking it from me take it from a news organisation that has a $1.3 billion turnover.

They are quotes that comms people need to know about because they represent more evidence of the seismic change in the media landscape.

But why switch to Digital First as a company name?

“Digital First is my name. I’ve been saying it long before I got here. The name originally was to say very loudly — in a headline kind of way — that what we thought we did in newspapers, we had to change 308550289_b8a4be2d44_odramatically. And that, of course, meant digital first.

“And actually “digital first, print last.” I wanted to hammer home that this idea about the Web as something else we do was ridiculous.”

“The Web was and it should be what we do. Print is something else that we do, which happens — at this moment in time — to have almost all the revenue. But that’s not going to be our future. It was something that I named to try to hammer home that message. It’s kind of funny — I don’t think they have a “digital first” strategy at Google. They have a strategy. The name, hopefully, if we’re successful, becomes very dated.”

On paywalls and digital dimes…

“I don’t think paywalls are the answer to anything. If we’re swapping out print dollars for digital dimes, I think paywalls are a stack of pennies. We might use the pennies in transition to get where we’re going.”

On newspapers going away…

“Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.

3588867138_ec00e587e3_o“I don’t think that news organizations are dying but are newspapers going to stop running in print? Yeah. Absolutely.”

On making the shift…

“I think we still are too afraid to take the kinds of risks we need to take because there’s so much money tied up in print. We have $1.3 billion in revenue. And of $1.3 billion, $900 million is advertising and $165 million of the advertising is digital advertising. Four years ago, that was almost nothing. That $165 [million] is going to have to more than double in three years. To do that, we’re going to have to take some risks on the print side. That’s the one thing that scares the [expletive] out of everybody.

“I love newspapers. I’m a newspaperman. My father was a printer. I started off as a copyboy. I love newspapers. But they don’t love me anymore.”

You can read the whole interview here.

That’s something worth reflecting on.

Creative commons credit 

News stand http://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagogeek/3377807208/sizes/l/

Reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/maong/3588867138/sizes/o/


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.


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.


STOP PRESS: Are seven income streams the future of hyperlocal news?

 Unless there are six or seven income streams a hyperlocal site won’t pay for itself.

That’s the verdict from the excellent Future of News West Midlands event in Birmingham.

Depressing? Not really. Realistic? Absolutely. And there’s a surprising amount in common between hyperlocals and local government web experimentors like me.

This rather excellent event at Birmingham City University drew web entrepreneurs, hyperlocals and newspaper people.

Forward looking rather than finger pointing it looked for solutions and answers rather than blame.

The seven income streams idea for hyperlocals prompted debate about what those streams could be. Straight forward banner ads emerge from the print model. But then what?

Actually, a whole myriad of ideas that the show web as a vibrant place for entrepreneurs.

Picture framing, listings, ad features, hyperlocal t-shirts bigging up an estate or area and PR services all emerged as potential solutions. There was even a natty idea to maximise dead air time on pub TVs.

However, the danger is the cash cow you chance upon replaces the hyperlocal reason for doing it in the first place. Besides, what works in one town may not work in a different estate.

But surely this lack of sure funding means hyperlocals are doomed? If you were an accountant, yes. You could be right. And if you were looking at these sites to make piles of cash.

But then balance sheets don’t count the enthusiasm, community spirit and zeal many people are powered by.

So, wearing my local government what what does all this mean?

First, there’s still demand for local news, for one. And a passion for an area.

But if something really did become crystal clear it’s this: there are barriers to hyperlocals as we’ll as local government. They just have different labels.

For hyperlocals it’s lack of time and the prized extra time seven income streams can bring.

For local government, who can have a degree of funding, it’s lack of time and the barriers a chain of command – and IT departments – can bring. We may want to deploy leftfield ideas. It’s just not always possible.

Both sides can be forgiven for looking enviously at the other.

Yet, for all these obstacles there are some brilliant ideas taking shape in all corners of the web in the public and private sectors.

There’s no golden bullet for the future of news but I’m convinced the answers will be found through pioneering spirit plus a passion for an area.

That’s not unlike how good web ideas will succeed in local government.

 

Creative commons credits.

Abstract image www.imageabstraction.com.

Corrected journal Judge Mental


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