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I have thoroughly enjoyed writing my niche blog, and am eager to keep it up over the coming months. I had never written a blog before I started this course, and I have most certainly been converted.

Wordle: Blog

My blog was intended to be an informative breakdown of political news. I hoped to write an easy-to-understand blog, which was accessible to those who didn’t know much about or particularly enjoy politics. I feel I have partly achieved this, since my blog posts have given a bit of background information, and tied in other relevant news to help the reader to better understand the issue. For example, in my post about Scotland gaining new financial powers I explained to readers when the Scottish Parliament was set up, and gave an overview of the powers it holds.

My blog was originally intended to cover worldwide politics, but I soon discovered this was too wide a remit. I found myself struggling to decide on a topic, and quickly realised it would make my blog too broad and thin on the ground. I therefore decided to limit myself to UK politics, focusing primarily on political news affecting England and Wales. On reflection I should have narrowed my niche even further – for example, I could have focused on local government. I thoroughly enjoyed the few posts I did which related to this topic. (Please see links 2 and 3 at the bottom of the report).

The biggest number of hits I achieved was 91 on December 17. This was sparked by my Capture Cardiff project about Welsh speakers in Cardiff, but I was pleased to see that just under half of those readers were checking out my home page as well as the article. I believe this post attracted more readers because it included footage and audio, making it more interesting. Similarly, I posted a video about Cardiff at Christmas onto my course blog, and saw my hits increase dramatically that day. (Please see link 1).

I feel I did not fully utilise the tools I intended to support my work and my community. I went ahead with setting up a Twitter account for the Corridors of Power, but I rarely used it because the majority of my followers follow me, not the blog, and it was difficult to get them to follow both. I intended to set up a Facebook page also, but decided against this as I wasn’t sure it would be of much use.

I also intended to make use of forums. I joined four, and posted on most of them for a time. However, I soon realised I would only get readers if I regularly and properly engaged in the forums outside of posting – people will only read your work if they feel you are reading theirs. I found this quite difficult to achieve given our timetable. I did find it an interesting tool however, and would have used it far more if I had the time. I feel I could have linked to more content in my blog posts also. I found Twitter and Facebook were the best ways of pulling in readers.

2 of 2: People are the network (duh)

Photo: Flickr

I planned to post four times a week, and soon realised this was over-ambitious. I tended to post over the weekend when I had more time, and some weeks I posted more than others. Political news and analysis is an extremely saturated subject area, and although I loved writing my blog, on reflection I might have been better choosing more specific topic area, to make my blog stand out.

My supporting social media strategy changed as the blog developed. I actually ended up viewing blogs I hadn’t discovered or thought of at the time of writing my strategy. For example, I recently discovered syniadau – building an independent wales. The author of this blog was kind enough to put me on their blogroll, and they even wrote a post recommending my blog. I have also enjoyed the blog of the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny, and have drawn some of my inspiration from the Guardian’s politics blog. In reality, however, I got most of my ideas from the news, and wrote about what most interested me. As I expected, Twitter proved to be a great tool for promoting the Corridors of Power.

Overall, I found this an extremely fun and interesting learning curve. I enjoyed having a public forum in which to write about a topic I am passionate about. It is a great way to put the things you learn on the course into action, and it is exciting to see that some people are actually reading what you write! I hope to continue my blog, even if I can only post once a week, and to remedy the issues I have raised in this report.

Cardiff at Christmas

Councils face central government funding cuts of up to 10% next year, says Pickles

Councils lobby to charge £120 parking fines

With all this talk of paywalls, I was fascinated to discover just how few people are willing to pay for content online.

A survey carried out by paidContent:UK revealed that, when asked what they would do if their favourite news site began charging, 74% said they would find another, free, site. Only 5% would continue reading.

With this in mind, Robert Andrews, the editor of paidContent:UK, spoke to students about the plurality of news sources, and how newspapers are exploring different ways of generating revenue.

He spoke of the advertising boom online; how companies began “trading analogue dollars for digital pennies” as they moved into digital media.

“Online adverts are cheaper, and there is no shortage of pages on which to advertise, so there is not so high a premium on them,” he said.

Advertising in print and online are totally different worlds, and online ads boast greater efficiency. Google has cashed in on this, and Andrews explained how paid search is set to increase. “Newspapers are finding that their ad revenue has been migrating to the web because they see more return for their money there,” he said.

It is clearly an interesting time for newspapers – UK advertising dropped dramatically after the recession, to the extent that news publishers lost  third of their advertising income.

£509.7 billion was wiped off the top five regional publishers’ revenue, forcing them to cut costs and, unfortunately, staff. Andrews described a “media meltdown”, pointing to the fact there are 33% less journalists nowadays.

Consequently, media outlets are experimenting with new models, trying to carve out a sustainable way of operating. Interestingly, Andrews suggested that while people are generally reluctant to pay for their content, they are more willing to pay for apps on their iPhones, and on tablets.

94.365 - WHOO HOO IPAD!

“The tablet allows publishers to envisage a post-print world, they can squash a paper into a tablet,” he said. Andrews even suggested the tablet could represent a “post-web world”, as people move to “editions” on the tablets instead of websites.

He did, however, argue the optimism about tablets is misplaced. Only 2% of people have a tablet, thus the market for them is still extremely small.

I was interested to learn that despite loving his iPad, Andrews still works and writes on his laptop. The iPad, it seems, is associated with leisure and consumption, a “sofa computer”, and it is largely for this reason Andrews believes it will not replace the laptop any time soon.

The media landscape is rapidly changing, and no news source has got the definitive, right answer. The paywall is just one component of the experiment, as newspapers explore different avenues. What is fascinating is the way in which people’s news consumption habits are changing, and new tools like the iPad will undoubtedly shape them.

Social media dataflows

Whether people will start paying for content remains to be seen, but clearly the traditional dependence on advertising is changing. As Andrews pointed out, “the web is wide open”, and we are starting to see attempts to develop sustainable business models within digital media.

Have your say: would you pay for online news?

Gary Marshall: Paying for news is doomed. Isn’t it?

As I looked through my lecture notes this morning, and wondered what my next blog entry would consist of, I saw I had taken note of a particular website.

So, slouched in pjamas and with a coffee in hand, I took a gander, and without wanting to sound like a PR rep, mySociety is unbelievable!

In minutes I had discovered what my local MP has been up to, the sort of FOI requests people near me have made, the problems that need fixing on my street, and even a Cardiff social media cafe I can scope out!

Exploring this site, I realised the importance of Mottershead’s comments. “People are getting fed up of not having things that matter to them in the paper,” he said. “Websites cover things happening in your street. Hyperlocal is about the participation of the author, participation of the audience, passion and linking. “

Community

Indeed, the projects launched by mySociety embody all these things. PledgeBank is based on the idea “I’ll do something, but only IF other people will too.” Eion, from Cardiff, writes: “I pledge to reduce my carbon footprint by no longer flying between any two points in the UK linked by the national rail network but only if 100 other people concerned by global warming will do the same.” This is a prime example of people working together and building communities – it fully embodies “hyperlocal”.

FixMyStreet enables unprecedented communication, by allowing people to report any problems directly to the council. I now know that people in my area are unhappy about potholes, flytipping and litter from rubbish bags – things I have noticed myself. I can even find out if and when these problems were dealt with.

As a training journalist willing to take a job anywhere in the country, I’m excited by what another of mySociety’s projects has to offer. When Mapumental is up and running I will be able to find accommodation in my price range, the best place to grab a curry, and even the quickest route to my new workplace.

Being a big fan of politics, I’m completely infatuated with TheyWorkForYou.
theworkforyou

Thanks to the site I now know what Jenny Willott has claimed on expenses, that she was discussing  HIV on Wednesday, and that she has received written responses to 135 of her questions to the government in the last year. Never before have I come across a site which compiles all this information in one place.

So how does all this relate to us journos? Well firstly, it provides a treasure trove of stories. I could find a splash by looking into how many Commons meetings my local MP has been absent from, the unsolved problems of flytipping in my area, or a new petition signed by people across Cardiff.

Secondly, it gives me both access to and a line of communication with real people, helping me to understand what they really care about. As Joanna Geary said in her lecture recently, it is crucial that journalists understand what matters to their readers. Chasing glamorous scoops is good journalism, but great journalism comes from being in tune with your readers, and giving them what they want to know. The South Wales Argus got the most hits on its website earlier this year not by writing about murders or scandal, but by putting out detailed coverage of the schools that had closed because of the snow. This proves the point that understanding what your readers need to know is key.
2 of 2: People are the network (duh)

Guardian Cardiff is an excellent example of hyperlocal, and how what that phrase means is changing. Hannah Waldram has built up a community in Cardiff,  and responds to their feedback in an unprecedented way. She invites contributors to write for the site, uses local content as well as her own, and encourages an exciting discussion. Guardian Cardiff is completely in tune with its readers, and involves the participation of both the author and the audience in ways previously unseen. 

We can see that “hyperlocal” has evolved to describe more of an attitude than a place. It is about community, building a network, and encouraging dialogue. For the first time users can genuinely interact with the news around them, and hopefully we can expect to see the proliferation of more great sites like mySociety.

I doubt a lecture on data would push many people’s buttons, and it certainly does little for me.

“Boring, mathematical, confusing!” I thought, as I prepared myself for a very long 90 minutes.

”Groups of information that represent the qualitative and quantitative attributes of a variable or set of variables” (Wikipedia)….yawn.

“A collection of facts from which conclusions may be drawn” (Wordnetweb)….double yawn.

The definitions go on and on, and this is about as exciting as they get.

But we see data brought to life every day, without even noticing. The MPs expenses scandal, school league tables, the latest WikiLeaks crisis…. they’re all sets of data, combed through and analysed in a way us laymen can understand.

Data is really just another way of telling a story. Pictures, text and a whole range of other information can be analysed, and put into an exciting format.

The Freedom of Information Act of 2000 introduced  the “right to know”, and aimed to create a culture of openess and accountability.

Since then, anyone can make a written request for information, and the public body has up to 20 working days to reply.

This data is available in a completely unprecedented way, becoming a treasure-trove of stories for any journalist.

If we understand the tools available to decipher this data, an overwhelming amount of information is at our fingertips.

Many Eyes, Swivel, Widgenie and iCharts bring data to life in a visual way.

My personal favourite is Worlde – a quick, exciting way of making swathes of information accessible.

This is a quick way of getting across the importance of recycling.

Hey presto, a weighty subject made easy!

Wordle: The benefits of recycling

The most important message I took from this lecture was to stop thinking of data as numbers. It is something which lives and breathes, and provides a wealth of opportunities for us journos.

“Too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers. Too often, the question we ask is ‘Do we have the story?’ rather than ‘Does anyone want the story?'”

I was surprised to learn this comment was made by Rupert Murdoch. In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005, he spoke about the need to be more in tune with the people “we rely on to come back to us each day”, and warned of the “distastrous” consequences of being out of tune with readers’ needs.

Joanna Geary, Community and Web Developer Editor of The Times, echoed this when she came to talk to Cardiff journalism students last week. She spoke about the need to learn what readers are looking for and what they care about, even if the stories are not the ‘glamerous’, front-page splashes journalists so often go for.

Alan and Joanna

Unlike many of the lectures we have heard until now, Geary took the view that while the barriers between journalists and the audience have dropped, things have not panned out as optimistically as people had hoped.

Speaking realistically, Geary reminded students “people are busy! They don’t have the time or privilege to investigate the things that are important to them”. For this reason, the idea of ‘the people’ taking the reigns and writing their own content has not quite taken off. Undoubtedly the audience has become more empowered, by developments like the internet, but there is still a gaping hole where readers’ needs are not being met.

This very much struck a chord with me. As journalists we are so eager to get the biggest, most exciting, most dramatic stories, that we overlook what is most important to our audiences. What we as writers deem to be of great significance might be largely irrelevant to our readers. By the same token, parking problems might not get a journalist’s juices flowing, but may be vitally important to members of the local community.

Geary reminded students that the merits of a story should be judged on whether the readers want and need it, not just the number of visits or comments. Are the readers engaged? Are they getting the information they want? Do they care about what you’re writing about? “What’s important is what our readers want”, she said.

Times Online

It is for this reason collaborative work is often the best, said Geary. Perhaps “the people formerly known as the audience” ought to be replaced with “the community formerly known as the audience”, she said. We need to start listening to what our readers really want, then use our time and resources to give it to them. As Adam Tinworth reminded students some weeks ago, journalists serve their audiences, so understanding their needs is vital.

Cardiff at Christmas

A little flavour of Cardiff in the run-up to Christmas!

At first glance, the media landscape in 2010 seems vastly different from years gone by. The internet has transformed the way journalists create and deliver news, while blogging and social networking have blurred the distinction between the “amateur” and the “professional” writer.

But, in reality, the fundamentals of journalism have not changed at all. The classic journalistic skills of storytelling, accuracy and knowledge are still of paramount importance, it is simply that the media outlets in which these skills are used have multiplied.

In his lecture on 21st century journalism, Adam Tinworth explained how the media landscape looks very much like the “beat days,” when journalists would nurse their patch. The areas in which we cultivate our knowledge and contacts have become modern-day “beats,” so in many ways the journalistic fundamentals remain unchanged.

Tinworth also explained how the way people interact with media has changed. While content was once delivered to an audience in a one-way fashion, now there is an increasing dialogue. 

Thanks to the internet the audience can now talk back, and the line between the amateur and the professional is blurred. Our writing must therefore be honest and accurate, or else we risk having our mistakes highlighted by a fellow blogger, for all the world to see.

The audience has been empowered by their ability to create content as we do, thus we now have access to an abundance of information. It is for this reason, Tinworth said, that we must write with passion. If thousands of people are able to write about the same things as you, you must have something which sets your writing apart. This will determine the failure or success of paywall, said Tinworth.

“The question about the paywall will be whether [The Times] can create someting unique, something people cannot get anywhere else,”  he said. Unique, quality content will be born out of a love of the subject, said Tinworth.

He also reminded students to value bloggs as a conversation, not simply a place to air opinions. As editorial development manager of Europe’s biggest B2B media company, Tinworth is an expert in combining the internet with journalism. He explained how dialogue and interaction lie at the heart of blogging, and urged us to strive to stimulate discussion.

Opinion, while being of interest and value, is superseded by links between the journalist and the reader. Photos, videos, lively discussion and context are the most important elements of a blog.

Equally, we might like to think of journalism as an ‘art’, but it is crucial to understand it as a business. We serve our audience, giving them what they both need and want to know. Being aware of what the audience wants is crucial, and blogging and social networking are two of the most useful ways of staying tuned in.

Tinworth’s lecture was both stimulating and enlightening. He urged us to re-connect with the audience, and reminded us we will be solving the question of how journalism operates in the future. Perhaps the most inspiring message to take from the lecture is this: “You as journalists are the eyes and ears of the world. Always have them open.”

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