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Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

It's The Sun wot lost the plot

Will Sturgeon's post in The Media Blog (The Sun's sympathy for a grieving mother... or simple exploitation?) on The Sun's treatment of the story of a young dead soldier's mother, who received a handwritten letter of condolence from Gordon Brown, struck a chord with me.

Blind bereavement
As I have blogged before, my husband's 24-year-old nephew was also killed in Helmand only a couple of months ago. I was witness to the devastation of his family and friends as he was buried by the Black Watch in Dundee. I understand what grief can do to people and feel nothing but empathy towards Mrs Janes' outrage. She has every right to be finding any spelling mistakes in Brown's letter annoying. She'd have been forgiven if she had complained about the colour of the ink he'd used. As a grieving mum, who just lost a 20-year-old son in a horrific manner, who can blame her for needing an outlet for the anger that is eating her from within.

Brown may have had the best intention in the world, but nothing he could have done would have been able to soothe this woman's pain.

Vested interest speaks louder than decency
What is not right is for The Sun to exploit Janes' anger to a) humiliate Brown and make him look like a dunce; b) magnify the story of a mum in mourning into scandalous proportions, with a political agenda behind it.

I am NOT pro-Brown's policies on the war. Quite on the contrary. My husband's family and I want the UK troops out of Afghanistan as much as any other family who lost their next of kin there. But promoting a hate wave against an already defeated Prime Minister by attacking his handwriting and spelling mistakes, is as displaced a criticism as Ms Janes' anger is.

Mr Brown's letter, handwritten or not, did not kill James Janes. A perfectly spelled letter in beautiful calligraphy would still not stop the war, nor save lives...and it would certainly not bring young James back from the dead.

I am not saying don't write about it. If you're press, you will, and you should. Of course if you are a red top who has turned its back on New Labour you may also have a strong interest in demoralising anyone in government.

Not the BBC too...
But what is the BBC's excuse for running a tabloid-like piece, by employing a graphologist to analyse Brown's handwriting (with the knowledge that it was Brown's), along with Tony Blair's and Margaret Thatcher's, and conclude:
"The right-hand-side of the letters signify one's connections with other people and the future. The way they are cut off suggests he can't empathise because it's not part of his make-up."
No bias of course.... It made me wonder how much of my licence fee to the BBC goes into paying for graphologist to tell the public exactly what they want to hear about the handwriting analysis of well-known politicians.

Lack of equipment or not, the fact is every war is futile and senseless. Every soldier knows when they go to war, they go to kill people. They also know they risk getting killed. Why don't papers run more stories with headlines screaming "Stop the killing!" "Bring the troops back", instead of counting how many Es or Ss a partially sighted PM dropped in his letter? Or is a politician's spelling more important than lives?

Petty and small
In order to see lasting change we need to start thinking big, acting big.

The Sun's article reminds me of small talk of petty people round the office's water cooler because they are unhappy with the boss but no one has the courage to confront him. Instead of tackling issues that really matter by creating dialogue, by building a progressive, coordinated campaign for the end of Britain's involvement in the war, it chooses to use a mother's moment of extreme grief to sell more papers, bully Brown and incite its 3m readers to also behave like small-minded people.

The Sun has definitely set for me.

Related links:

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Sunday, 8 November 2009

Hyperlocal is here to stay (Help Me Investigate)

As an enthusiast for investigative journalism and a believer in the power of crowdsourcing, I volunteered as an investigator on Paul Bradshaw's Help Me Investigate platform.

The topic I chose to investigate was "How much local council news coverage is there in your local newspaper?", led by The Guardian's local launch editor Sarah Hartley.

I picked one daily, The Argus, and one weekly, the Sussex Express, and analysed their coverage of local council news.

The instructions were to:
a) count the total number of news pages (excluding ad pages, sports, property section, etc)
b) count the space occupied by local council stories (1/4, 1/2 or 1 page)
c) divide b by c to arrive at a percentage

The two papers returned very similar results. In four weeks, Sussex Express produced an average of 4.15% of council news in its news pages and The Argus, an average of 4.46% over five days.

If you are interested in helping the investigation, go to the Help Me Investigate
site, read the guidelines and let Sarah (sarah.hartley AT or @foodiesarah on Twitter) know which papers you are covering from this list.

The outcomes were in line with my expectations. Since regional papers started shedding staff as ad revenues fell, the resulting understaffing in local papers' newsrooms meant the remaining reporters had to stretch themselves to tackle the increased workload and cover their patches.

When editors are under pressure to publish stories that sell papers (i.e. gore, crime, deaths, scandals) and move circulation figures upwards, stories about local government decisions, which are not controversial enough to stir a strong response from the reader, are likely to be given lower priority, or, might, at most, end up as a nib (news in brief) in a spare corner of the page.

To me this only underlines the importance of hyperlocal news bloggers, as addressed in this blog by Dan Slee, a former journalist who now works in local government
. Slee thinks local bloggers should be respected and treated as journalists by council press officers whereas bloggers should behave like journalists, checking facts and studying basic media law.

He refers to another ex-journalist, Ross Hawkes, who decided to found the Lichfield Blog, currently with 16,000 users, when he heard a fire engine run past his house one day and his wife wondered where it was going. He told Slee about his a-ha moment:
“I realised that there was no way of finding out anymore because local papers just aren’t there.”
Case studies
Only a few days ago, the Press Gazette
reported that The Argus would be using journalism students from the Brighton Journalist Works as community reporters for the newspaper's website. Web editor Jo Wadsworth will also be training PCSOs to upload news and appeals to the community, virtually turning them into beat bloggers.

This hyperlocal initiative of
transforming local contacts into community correspondents was also picked up by Sarah Hartley in her blog. It will have the dual benefit of providing students with valuable experience and multi-media training, while expanding the scope of news covered by The Argus.

Another Newsquest paper, The Northern Echo, responds to ultra-local news content needs by regularly recruiting members of the public – ranging from teenagers to pensioners – as contributors to their website.

Assistant editor Nigel Burton explains here that their community correspondents do not replace staff journalists, but rather supplement their work by covering ultra-local stories they would normally miss. Or give a miss to.

Changing landscape
With resources thin on the ground and space on print paper so precious, is training community correspondents to become hyperlocal journalists groundwork for a more interactive and a less recession-vulnerable type of journalism?

A decision at a local council meeting, which may not make headlines, might still generate debate and mobilise people at grassroots level. So, even assuming there is no harm in limiting coverage of unexciting council stories to 4% of a local paper's content, having a team of community correspondents further scrutinise that 4%under the magnifying glass of citizen journalism might be a step in the right direction towards empowering their communities – as both news generators and news receptors.

How that will eventually change the future definition of news and journalism is a hot discussion topic for another rainy day.

Watch this slide presentation given on hyperlocal by Sarah at the Digital Editors Network event in Preston in October:

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Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Are journalists who tweet value for money?

So are journalists among the British workers losing businesses £1.38bn a year in wasted time through using Twitter and Facebook at work?

Not likely.

ABCe vs. Twitter stats
The Guardian
, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail's websites topped 30 million unique users for the first time in September, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic (ABCe) figures.

In an attempt to establish a correlation between them and Twitter, digital marketing specialist Dan Thornton (@badgergravling)looked into which newspapers were mentioning Twitter the most and published the results in the microblogging news blog 140 Char. The Guardian and Telegraph topped the list while the Daily Mail was fifth, though Martin Belam from the Guardian’s website development team explained, if the use of the word ‘Twitter’ in “Follow us on...” was counted as one, stats may be skewed.

In the meantime online communications consultant Stephen Davies (@stedevies) updated a list of UK journalists with Twitter accounts, which can now be viewed on Listorious or divided by their corporate affiliation on PR

The top two slots by number of journalists in Davies' list are, again, occupied by the Telegraph (32) and the Guardian (31), followed by MSN UK (27). The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday combined produced only four tweeting journalists.

The list of course may contain outdated data on journalists who no longer work for the paper and some, who didn’t identify their affiliation on their profiles, may have been missed.

Nevertheless, the possibility of some correlation between ABCe figures and the number of journalists from each paper who are active on social media sites cannot be dismissed. Every tweeted and retweeted link attracts new hits to their newspaper’s sites.

Even looking exclusively at accounts without a named journalist, UK newspapers had 1,665,202 followers on Twitter at the beginning of October, a growth of 13.1% over the previous month, although 78% of the increase was down to one account – GuardianTech, as Malcolm Coles (also of reported on Online Journalism Blog.

Dual function
What about the Mail’s ABCe success then, when their journalists do not seem to be the ‘tweeting types’? Even taking into account the established readership of the tabloid, a significant amount of extra traffic is likely to be
from users posting links to the Mail’s polls, or to their often highly controversial articles, such as Jan Moir’s recent column on Stephen Gately’s death.

Media people are using Twitter as an instrument for sharing and crowdsourcing, for networking and live-reporting. A journalist with a popular blog or social media presence can only be positive for the publication’s brand. If Twitter is a waste of work time, time has never been so well wasted. Furthermore, if a journalist is creating content while simultaneously publicising the content carrier, isn’t that doing two jobs for the price of one?

Time to rethink the value of (Twitter) time.

(This blog is also published in The Media Blog)

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