The first post on Saddleworth News, 16th February 2010.
It’s happy birthday to Saddleworth News. Five years to the day after I hit publish on the first post, and more than three since I last had any day-to-day involvement with it, I’m pleased to say it’s still going strongly under editor Stuart Littleford.
I’ve always said I started the site for two reasons: one to keep me involved in journalism while I stayed at home looking after my baby daughter (who is now also five, and has a little sister), and the other to provide a news and information resource that would be useful to the community in an era of declining traditional local media.
The first part of it worked out better than I’d imagined, and the attention I got from Saddleworth News turned into freelance work at BBC Radio 5 live, guest talks at universities and colleges across the north, and now a full-time job as a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield.
Much more importantly, Stuart and his regular readers, advertisers, contributors and commenters, have made sure the second part has been a much greater success than I could ever have imagined. Congratulations are due to everyone involved.
Hyperlocal isn’t the buzzword it was five years ago, but these sites have become an established part of the local media mix in the hundreds of places where they exist. The process of cutbacks and closures in the mainstream local media – which I wrote about in that first post five years ago – has continued in that time, and the sector as a whole still faces an uncertain future. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from five years of Saddleworth News, it’s that the public’s interest in local news remains strong.
I gave a lecture to second years at the University of Huddersfield on games culture today. It’s part of a module called Digital Cultures, and I spoke to the same group about trolling last term. The presentation I gave this time, complete with inevitable retro Prezi backdrop, can be found here.
Covering gaming and games culture in a single lecture is an impossible task, so by way of introduction I thought I’d give the students a quick overview of four separate areas among the many I could have chosen: games in culture (including the almost inevitable and rather tedious moral panics and stereotyping which still surround gamers in much of the mainstream media), the economy of gaming, gaming communities and games as art.
During the section on communities I got onto the subject of e-sports, and in particular Twitch, the platform bought by Amazon for almost $1bn last year. Only a couple of the students said they’d heard of the site, which was interesting, because when I did a session with some 12 and 13-year-olds last year most said they’d not only seen it but actually used it to watch gamers in action.
In her 2012 book Raising The Stakes, sociologist TL Taylor looks at the increasing professionalisation of gaming. She concludes it’s been a way for hardcore gamers to reclaim their niche, in a world now increasingly dominated by gaming on smartphones and Facebook. As more people than ever play casually, Twitch is the latest and biggest example of some gamers going further to turn their passions into something more serious. It’ll be very interesting to see how this whole area of games culture evolves, and whether more positive coverage for gaming and gamers in the mainstream media will be one result.
Just before last night’s performance.
I was at the University of Salford’s Robert Powell Theatre last night for the latest performance of Handles, a play about the impact of social media on our lives from Tom Mason. This is the second play of its kind by Tom, and after the original Handles made its debut at The Lowry last year, this was a bigger, longer and more ambitious effort altogether.
The story took place in a near-future world in which a new social network called Handles has come to dominate the lives of a group of connected twentysomethings, all glued to their phones in an attempt to become the UK’s first “platinum user” of the service. Trolling, sex assault rumours, hacked celebrity nude pictures, scurrilous showbiz journalists and the ethics of reviewing products on vlogs were among the themes, while the whole play kicked off with a spoof Steve Jobs-style keynote address, reminiscent of a similar scene in Grand Theft Auto V (only without the explosive conclusion).
As before, the audience was encouraged to tweet along, with tweets appearing on a wall behind the performers. Evidently, I was doing something right.
This territory is quite reminiscent of both Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed Channel 4 series Black Mirror, and the various allegations made about the widely-rumoured VIP paedophile ring of the 1980s. The play’s theme of the damage done to an individual’s good name by claims of sexual assault seemed particularly timely in the week that former Home Secretary Leon Brittan died, his reputation shattered by as-yet-unsubstantiated claims of his knowledge or involvement in historic abuse.
Warm congratulations to Tom and the team behind Handles for another enjoyable show. I’m already looking forward to a part three.
Having exposed a troll in ultimately tragic circumstances, Sky’s Martin Brunt is now himself being trolled.
I gave today’s lecture in the second year Digital Cultures module here at the University of Huddersfield. The presentation I gave can be found here.
I showed the students some of the most recent high-profile examples of trolling and related behaviour, from the ultimately tragic case of Brenda Leyland to the row involving Dapper Laughs and what happened after he was called out by UsVsTh3m. I then discussed some of the academic research into the motivations that lie behind trolling, before considering the various ways in which government, the police and others have responded to trolling.
I took as the starting point of the lecture a definition of trolling outlined in a paper published this year by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, called Trolls Just Want To Have Fun. It suggests: “Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”
It’s not bad as definitions go. Some have suggested that Brenda Leyland wasn’t really a troll, because as the parents of Madeleine McCann aren’t on Twitter themselves, her tweets about them weren’t aimed at them personally. However, I’d say her tweets could probably be considered “deceptive, destructive, or disruptive” – and possibly all three – and certainly existed in a social setting online, so would fall under that definition.
However, the case of Dapper Laughs and the apparent trolling of UsVsTh3m journalist Abi Wilkinson and others by his fans which took place on Snapchat, pushes this definition to its limit. Snapchat is more of a private than a social setting, and you although you access it using the internet, any trolling on Snapchat is done in the form of direct messaging not open to the general public. I suppose the same would go for Twitter DMs or anything sent by Facebook Messenger. It’s not even a year old, but perhaps it’s already time to stretch that definition a bit.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Abi Wilkinson, BBC Sport, Chris Grayling, Communications Act 2003, Dapper Laughs, Digital Cultures, Facebook, Jonathan Agnew, Kevin Pietersen, Martin Brunt, Sky News, Snapchat, Stan Collymore, Stella Creasy, talkSPORT, trolling, Twitter, University of Huddersfield, UsVsTh3m
Oh ok, I suppose I can squeeze one more use out of this photo.
I was back at MediaCity on Thursday afternoon, to give a talk on hyperlocal to MA International Journalism students at the University of Salford. It was good to catch up with Kate “Manchizzle” Feld, who is a tutor there and invited me to come over from Huddersfield and speak. And it was also good to revisit a subject that I’ve still got a great interest in, even though it’s more than three years since I handed on Saddleworth News.
I told the students that although hyperlocal is no longer the fashionable media buzzword it was in, say, 2010, the sector is proving pretty resilient. Dave Harte’s latest snapshot of the UK scene shows more than 400 active websites, and that doesn’t take into account the many hyperlocal-style offerings available elsewhere, from social networks to old-style forums.
My expectation is that hyperlocal is here to stay for the same reasons it appeared in the first place. People are interested in very local news about their areas, the mainstream media is generally less able to provide that news, more information than ever about our communities is publicly available online, and it’s easy to set up a website of your own and get publishing some of it. It’s not the moneyspinning saviour of local journalism that some hoped it might be, but that always seemed more than a little optimistic.
The presentation I gave is here. Embarrassingly enough, I was wearing the same t-shirt I had on when the picture at the top of this post was taken. Given my eldest daughter is now five, it’s probably time to retire it. The picture that is, not the t-shirt. Plenty of wear in that yet.
I’m a student again. So if you need 10% off in Topshop let me know.
I was in Cardiff on Tuesday to formally start my PhD. I’ll be doing it part-time, while continuing to work full-time at the University of Huddersfield. I’ve got one research day a week to work on it, with a bit of extra time over the summer, and my target is to complete within five years.
I’m fortunate to have Huddersfield’s financial backing, so I’ve had quite a free hand with what to study. I’ve chosen something I’ve been interested in since my hyperlocal experiences with Saddleworth News, the coverage of courts and councils by local newspapers and other media. By focusing on some towns in the north of England, I aim to assess the current level of coverage, how that compares with the past and the extent to which it’s under pressure from cutbacks in the local press. I want to produce some practical recommendations which will hopefully help make sure proper coverage of local public affairs continues, even if certain newspapers are forced to print only weekly or not at all in future.
Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies is a natural home for my research, not least because it has a particular interest in community and hyperlocal media. Prof Stuart Allan will be my supervisor, with Prof Richard Sambrook as second supervisor. I’ll be updating this blog occasionally with bits and bobs from my studies as I go along.
Look, I printed off the internet.
Here’s something you wouldn’t expect someone like me, a serial pisser-about-on-the-internet, to get excited about. It’s PaperLater, a new thing from The Newspaper Club which lets you make your own little newspaper of stuff you’ve found online.
You select the articles, either by clicking a desktop shortcut or by emailing the link from your mobile or tablet. They print it out and deliver it to your door, with a paper of 24 pages costing you £4.99.
On the face of it, paying someone a fiver to print out the internet seems like a borderline insane thing to do. And there’s no doubt, this is basically what is happening here.
The PaperLater folks suggest you might do this as a way of catching up on things you haven’t got round to reading, such as longform articles. And the number of fascinating-looking but sadly unread pieces from the New Yorker and suchlike in my Pocket folder certainly suggests that there can be too many distractions to consume quality writing in a satisfying way on a smartphone. I’ve found the Kindle app for iPad to be a much better bet.
I actually ordered a PaperLater full of longreads as a present for a friend I visited last week. I enjoyed the process of picking and choosing the articles to fill up by 24-page allowance, and the paper itself when it arrived was a decent quality object. I don’t know if I’d make one purely for myself – I’m probably more likely to continue with not only the Kindle but also the Longform apps on my iPad – but I reckon it’s not a bad gift idea.
If you want to have a go yourself, you’ll need to go to the PaperLater website and request an invitation, because it’s still in beta.