A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged local newspapers

David Higgerson, quoted on Hold The Front Page:

Lincolnshire Live and Cornwall Live follow the same model of hyperlocal news on a county-wide platform as the recently launched Essex Live, Kent Live, Gloucestershire Live and Somerset Live.

David, I don’t think hyperlocal means what you think it means. Sites for entire counties are pretty much the opposite of hyperlocal – even if stories are “hyperlocal”. Or, in this case, “local”. It’s missing the point of a niche site for a niche community.

The problem with local newspapers:

John Robinson notes that his local paper is much slower than Facebook and Twitter, often reporting local stories two days after it appeared on social media. What’s the solution? Not sure there needs to be one. The news is getting where it needs to go. Maybe what’s needed is a purpose for a professional news organization.

There is no point in me buying my local newspaper. Given that the journalists actually lift stories from the local Facebook groups, it’s just a printed archive of days-old news at this point. And their website sucks.

Johnston Press has clearly mastered the art of buzzwording more than it has the art of social media:

“Twitter users are much more engaged with news brands,” he said, so the network’s place in Johnston Press’ social strategy is “to get the virality started”.

That sound you can hear is me banging my head repeatedly against my desk.

Kevin Anderson:

For too long we’ve been trying to find a market for the same products that we used to deliver in print, and that just won’t work. We can’t simply write that local council story the same way that we used to and hope that social media will be enough to market it. I’m really not sure that those incremental, process-based stories actually engage audiences. Instead, we need thematic stories and engagement opportunities that tackle big issues in sticky ways.

This is written in the context of local journalism, but I think it pretty much applies to all journalism. The era of just doing what we used to do, published digitally and marketed on social media is drawing to an end.

The interesting stuff now is figuring our the new forms of journalism that really take advantage of digital tools.

Schrödingers Cat Lite

There’s a weird triumphalism is the air this morning, as Hold The Front Page points out that Claire Enders’ famous prediction five years ago that half of the UK’s local newspapers would be dead by now:

Obtaining a precise figure for the number of local newspapers that have closed since the start of the recession in 2008 is not easy, but whatever the exact number, it is clear that her initial estimate of 650 has proved way off-beam.

Our own estimate, based on the stories we have covered on this site, is that there have been just over 100.

That’s not to say that we haven’t lost a lot more local newspaper journalists, as the survivors have brutally cut back… But the core argument is correct: the number of closure has not been as high as predicted.

The thing about predictions, though, is that they have something rather Schrödinger’s Cat about them. One of the points of that thought experiment is to explain that, in quantum physics, when you measure something, you change it. And to some extent, that’s what’s at work here. Enders’ predictions were based on the prevailing situation. Essentially: “if things stay the way they are, then we’ll lose half of our local newspapers”. Of course, things didn’t stay the way they were. As Paul Linford’s piece acknowledges:

Her comments, which were taken at face value by many in the business world, set the agenda for a prolonged period of introspection within the newspaper industry during which the defining media narrative about the local press became one of irreversible decline.

And so… people changed things. So, while her predictions didn’t come to pass, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t incredibly useful.

Image by Kent Wang and used under a Creative Commons licence

Fascinating insight into Kevin Anderson’s first few months back in a newsroom:

When I landed in my new job as executive editor of two newspapers in Wisconsin, I had to prioritise what I would do, and to be honest, I didn’t think I would really be able to start my community platform strategy for months, possibly not until the autumn. But then my communities surprised me. Many people I met said they wanted more from the newspaper. I was honest with them and told them that they wanted the same thing I wanted, a vibrant newspaper. To achieve that, I told them I would need their help, and I was concrete on how they could help.

Kevin is a smart chap (and a friend), and what he realises very clearly is that the solution to the problems afflicting local media is not to “do more with less” as so many journalists characterise it, but to do different things.

And doing different things requires letting go of some of the old things you used to do. Many journalists seem to find that hard, so what you really need is strong, intelligent leadership from the top. Looks like Kevin’s providing that. It’s good to see a genuine digital innovator like him leading a newsroom again.


Greenwich Council has finally come clean and admitted its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, is signed off by leader Chris Roberts… “to ensure political neutrality and to protect the borough’s reputation”.

Council-run newspapers and magazines are not journalism, they’re propaganda. They will not fill the gap left by failing local publisher business models. This is why the hyperlocal movement — for all its struggles and false starts — is so important.

Four visions of data journalism, moderated by Kathryn Corrick, digital media consultant

Bella Hurrell, specials editor on the BBC News website
Bella HurrellThe BBC specials team produces a whole range of added-value content for the BBC website. They’re becoming part of a visual journalism team at the BBC. Data journalism can be long slow projects, but not all of them. You should pick subjects that have a shelf life – road traffic accidents, unemployment, that sort of thing, Update the data and people will keep coming back. Make tools they will want to keep using.  Build sharing into it.

They did a project plotting road traffic fatalities through FOI requests – the map was the most popular element, because it allowed people to understand what the situation is where they lived. They also visualised some of the most interesting data – for example, bikers are 21% of fatalities, compare to 1% of traffic. They liveblogged every accident on one day to bring publicity to it, to help amplify the data and give it more life. It was really popular and followed nationally. Their military deaths in Afghanistan gets traffic every time there’s a new death. Their unemployment tracker gets updated monthly and gets s ready stream of traffic. 

Visualisation helped bring a dry subject like the Eurozone debt web to life. They had comments open, and responded to the issues raised. “People really appreciated it”. They key seems to be a double-whammy of personally applicable information that is also globally relevant. 

Claire Miller, senior reporter and data journalist, Media Wales
claire millerFrom global to very, very local… The bread and butter of what Media Wales do is government data. The focus is still stories for the paper, so they’re reacting to what is released by government, and finding stories in that. Beyond the day to day, it’s a lot of FOI data used to create stories. With FOI you can get the data you want at the level you want. For example, she asked exactly when and where all the parking tickets where handed out in Wales. They visualised it using Tableau. A&E visits by location, not surprisingly, increased nearer the hospital you lived, and that showed up well on a map. Mapping empty homes allows quick identification of hotspots.

With open data, more and more stuff is being published, so there’s lots of potential.  

People look for specific things, as uses of the data store show – local elections, the Olympic torch relay and sport. Education bubbles along all the time… They ended up making their own Olympic Torch map, because they couldn’t embed the official one easily. It went crazy. It was the most popular thing on the site. Wales lacks the same easy access information on school performance in the UK. Media Wales gathered everything they could find, gathered it into one app, and let people access it. 

And anything with rugby in it is popular…

Damian Kimmelman, CEO, Duedil
Damian-Kimmelman.jpgEverything that consumes electricity will inevitably be connected to the internet. And that means it will leave a data trail. And they are, in his words, “data whores”. 

Duedil is a site for examine the state of companies using available data (Martin did an excellent write-up of their Hacks/Hackers talk). They’ve had acquisition offers for £20m –  and they’ve turned it down. They’re still seed funded. And they’re still finding new ways of making data more interesting and useful. They’re planning on launching a facility called lists. Create your lists of types of companies, and use the data to find new ways of tagging, categorising and analysing the companies. But they need more information. Mapping the companies around your social graph – will that show whose companies have changed dramatically over the last few years? 

Heirecrchy of needs for data: it needs to be clean – deduced and usable. It needs to be findable – and linked. 

Users need to know the provenance of data – who touched it, who keyed it in? Did the accountant make a mistake? The more people touch data, the more imperfect it. It’s important to understand the authority of a dataset. 

James Ball, data journalist working for the Guardian investigations team
james ballHe’s a reporter, dammit Jim, not a designer. Whatever you’re trying to do – there’s a dataset you can buy, open, assemble or FoI. But that’s a bit like saying there’s someone who knows the key to your story – how do you find them? He wants to challenge the idea of “from data to story”. 

There’s all sorts of caveats when you’re using data from surveys and censuses. Investigating the stat used as the basis of a Diane Abbot comment piece lead to exposure of a biger story – one disproportionate rise in young black male unemployment – which hit the front page. Sometimes readers will simulate investigations – people claiming in comment threads that the vacancies claimed in jobs centres are not real, or zero hours contracts, or the like. They tried to scrape the relevant data from a government site – but it had protections in place. So he had to FOI it – and got the data, albeit heavily encrypted (but the phoned the password over). It was very messy, inconsistent data. 

This wasn’t a story from digging around in data. This was questions from the readers and a comment piece which they could answer with data. Do you ring around your sources and ask them for a story? If you’re doing that, you’re doing something wrong. Don’t do that to data, either. Talk to humans, look at news, and then ask the right questions of your data. This argues for not having data journalisms in silos. Don’t just keep them in offices looking at spreadsheets… 

mediapanel3.jpgA panel discussion the changes in media wrought by the latest technology, moderated by Thomas Crampton. Not surprisingly, Paul-François Fournier, Executive Vice President, Orange Technocentre defines media as, essentially, businesses that produce content, which is a pretty broad definition. Brad Garlinghouse, President, Consumer Applications & Commerce Group, AOL thinks that keeping traditional media away from the innovative, digital media is vital to stop new efforts being crushed.

Is Techmeme media? Gabe Rivera, Founder & CEO, thinks it is, even though they don’t write any of the content. The term “media” is overused, he suggests. When people say “media” they almost always think of broadcast media of various sorts. Bruno Patino, Senior Executive Vice President, Strategy Digital Director, France Télévisions Group & France 5 talks about the evolution of television and people start constructing social conversations online around TV shows as they watch them. This represents a loss of control for the media; they’re still in the game, they just don’t control it any more. And that’s not a bad thing. It maximises the experience.

Rivera suggests that most social media isn’t really integrated with existing media, just sort of bolted on the end. Very often tweets are just amplification or repetition. Fournier points out that media is changing on multiple fronts. TV is evolving into the multi-screen experience. Other media is now being published through social networks. There is lots of experimentation, and there will be failures and successes we learn from.

Patino argues that people don’t “deliver” the news any more, you give up control of your news when you publish it, and people will absurd it into their networks. The context in which we are telling stories is changing.
mediapanel1.jpgCrampton moves on the conversation from social to local. Social is about scale; local is the response. Garlinghouse reminds us that traditional media has struggled to fund local coverage for decades. Patch is AOL’s attempt to reverse that – targeted at areas of around 50,000 to 80,000 people. But he thinks Twitter is garbage – or at least he says as much before he starts back-peddling, throwing out the world platform instead. He thinks there’s a huge opportunity at the intersection of the social graph, the interest graph and the local graph. Crampton challenges the sustainability of the Patch model, and Garlinghouse says that the experiment will play out over the next few years. Some Patch sites are already profitable.

Scaleability is the key question, says Patino. We used to call local 500k to 600k. That’s not local on the web. The ground is changing everywhere, so the old volume business model just breaks.

Alexia Tsotsis from Techcrunch challenges the relevancy of local media. Patch is at about 10m uniques in 18 months – but it’s clearly a challenge, says Garlinghouse. But to say that local community is irrelevant is short-sighted at the very least. Patino thinks that we have to find a solution, so that local powers continue to be monitored. But Rivera wouldn’t do a local site. There are plenty already – and by definition, there isn’t much to aggregate and filter. The abundance just isn’t there. Garlinghouse points out that stories of national importance can start in local areas – it’s something like citizen journalism curated. The question is: are local merchants interested enough to advertise on the platform?

Is mobile passing the desktop for media yet Probably not, says Rivera. However Twitter says that over 50% of its activity is on mobile, and it’s over 30% for Facebook. Garlinghouse would like to see more customisation of news experience based on your social, mobile and interest graphs. Patino certainly thinks mobile is the new frontier for TV and very important. They’re looking at iPhone and iPad appellations that allow you to catch up with, and share, TV. And Fournier suggests their DailyMotion deal was driven by similar considerations.


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