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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

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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.

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“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.

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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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Spin is at the heart of what politicians, and to an extent journalists, do.

While MPs sugar coat and try to put a good slant on an issue, journalists seek to make their stories that little bit more entertaining. But has spin gone too far?

An Ipsos MORI poll carried out in 2009 would suggest as much. The survey revealed journalists are one of the most distrusted groups in society. Ranking just above government ministers, only 22% of people think we can be trusted to tell the truth. 

What can we do about this? Charles Reiss gave his thoughts in a lecture to journalism students today.

Political Editor of the Evening Standard for twenty years, and chairman of the Lobby from 1995-1996, Reiss has become one of the UK’s most experienced journalists. In his lecture on spin, Reiss urged students to be honest in their reporting, explaining how “truth breeds trust”.

While probing questions are a must for any journalist, we must try to give an accurate portrayal of politicians and the people we encounter.

“Too often the politician comes off looking like a liar,” said Reiss. “Journalists represent the world and politicians in a certain way – laser journalism, in a sense. Of course journalism should not become tame, but we need an intelligent response, not just a knee jerk response.”

Indeed, a Standards Committee survey taken in 2008 revealed only 26% trust MPs in general,  but 46% trust their local MP. This, says Reiss, suggests people’s perceptions of MPs in general are corrupted by the media.

This struck a chord with me, and I wonder: are we as journalists so eager to get a story that our judgement becomes clouded? Does the quest for an ‘angle’ diminish the extent to which we can tell the truth? Indeed, can we ever be wholly objective, given what we write will always be biased by what our readers and employers want? Reiss acknowledged bringing about this change in attitude could be considered “naive at best and impossible at worst,” but assured students it is obtainable if we are as balanced as possible.

The lack of trusts in journalists raises uncomfortable questions about our profession. Newspapers fare particularly badly – while 70% of people trust TV news, making it the most trusted media platform, only 6% trust what they read in newspapers. One possible explanation for this is that television news stations are obliged by law to be ‘impartial’, while newspapers are not bound by any such regulation. Each newspaper has its own political orientation, which shapes the stories which appear in them.

As one student argued during the lecture, can there ever be one ‘truth’? Just as five reporters writing about a car crash will come up five quite different reports, surely there are a number of different ‘truths’?

Overall, this was a stimulating and revealing lecture.

Reiss made it clear governments will always want to rig the news agenda, but it is our job as journalists to use our judgement to assess whether a story is going too far. We should never be so eager to break a story that we overlook transparency, and we must regularly assess whether we have become too ‘cosy’ with a source. We must only push stories as far as they will legitimately go. Reiss hopes events will force a change in the media, but in the mean time, writing truthfully is the best way to breed trust in what we do.

Ipsos MORI: “Doctors Remain Most Trusted Profession”

The Independent: “You can trust me – I’m a journalist”

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The stories of people’s lives are often the most fascinating tales of all, and by listening to the audience we unveil a collection of stories quite different to those emanating from our newsrooms.

Storytelling was once controlled by those with power – large corporations such as the BBC dominated, and regular people were but passive consumers of media. Thankfully, the landscape in 2010 is quite different. Media is becoming democratised, and in his lecture, Dr Daniel Meadows explained how Digital Storytelling is one of the fastest-growing ways of empowering the individual.

Storytelling here

Digital Storytelling allows the audience to tell their stories, and embraces a patchwork of their memories, anecdotes and emotions. It opens a window into people’s lives, often in an incredibly moving way. Digital Storytelling allows an age-old practice to be conducted through new and exciting methods.

We ought to consider the words of storyteller and therapist, Nancy Mellon, who said: “Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results.” Dr Meadows echoed this when he explained how a photo or a childhood toy can trigger a wealth of memories and anecdotes, thus creating a story to be told. Digital Storytelling is about listening; it empowers the individual, and gives him or her ownership of their tale.

In this world of flourishing media it is easy to forget that over 10 million people haven’t even been online yet. Furthermore, one in ten adults have literacy difficulties, so not everyone is able to explore the wonders media has to offer. However, by telling stories through the use of photographs, video and audio, narrative becomes accessible to all. In this sense, social inclusion and digital inclusion are linked. As journalists we must try to make our content available to as many people as possible, and understand how stories are best told through a variety of mediums.

Find out more: “Telling Lives: your digital stories” – http://bbc.in/aNhmdv

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The way we consume news is changing, and it is the duty of journalists to be transparent, to collaborate with their readers, and respect that people are the experts. These are the key points Dr Claire Wardle made in her lecture this week.

Media used to be consumed in a fairly passive, “top-down” manner, but it is now becoming an interactive, two-way dialogue between those who read the news and those who write it.

In her gripping lecture, Dr Wardle explained how Social Media facilitates this dialogue, by allowing “the people formerly known as the audience” to comment on, share and even create content. As Peter Barron, Google’s Director of Communications, said at the Tomorrow’s Journalists Conference, social networking and collaborative news sites such as Newsvine mean “everyone can be a news-gatherer, everyone can be a publisher.” However, Dr Wardle warned that while many journalists are using Social Media, they are not fully engaging with their readers – greater collaboration is vital.

We must also recognise that the audience often has greater knowledge of a subject than we, the journalists, do. By asking people what they know, and encouraging a continuous dialogue with them, journalists can bring more depth to their stories.

Transparency is also vital –  by making content out of processes, and showing the audience how you have built your story, your work will be more credible.

Perhaps the most important message to take away from Dr Wardle’s lecture is that people are the news, so journalists must take every step to listen to them.

Further reading:

“Don’t be afraid to share”

“10 ways social media will change in 2010”

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