Category Archives: Articles

IMPRESS, Regulation and Hyperlocal News


Saddleworth News.

Should we be impressed by IMPRESS? Four years after the Leveson Report into press standards, a new regulator has finally won formal recognition by the independent body established to do the recognising. But there is some derision from Fleet Street for a body which is, after all, funded by sex scandal ex-motorsport boss Max Mosley.

Most newspapers and magazines around the UK have thrown in their lot with a different body, IPSO, while others including The Guardian and Financial Times continue with their own arrangements. Those publishers aren’t happy with running anything past a recognition panel, and would prefer their own forms of self-regulation.

In a past life I set up Saddleworth News, now at nearly seven years old one of the country’s best-established hyperlocal news sites. Even though I’ve long since moved away, I keep an interest in the site and the sector more generally. This is relevant because of the 50 or so publishers currently associated with IMPRESS (either being regulated by them, or having applied to be), most are hyperlocal.

The original idea was that being part of an approved regulator would offer publishers a carrot: quick and easy resolution of libel disputes, settled cheaply before anything got to court. Along with this, a stick: if you don’t join up, you’ll have to pay the costs, even if you win. This latter sanction is included in section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, but has yet to be invoked because of the lack of a formally validated regulator. Now IMPRESS has been recognised, the prospect of section 40 has risen back up the political agenda. Although a story in Tuesday’s Times hinted that the government may now back down.

So, confusion for a bit longer. But it’s hyperlocal publishers who have much to lose here. The News Media Association, which represents the newspaper and magazine industry, has claimed that the hyperlocals who have thrown in their lot with IMPRESS have done so unnecessarily, because they don’t meet the government’s own definition of ‘relevant publisher’ which includes a requirement of at least 10 members of staff. But those criteria also feature being subject to editorial control, publishing news content, engaging in commercial activity and having different authors – all of which apply to, say, Saddleworth News, the sort of organisation which could theoretically be wiped out by a vexatious litigant angry at coverage of a contentious local matter. Having the institutional support of an official regulator could offer welcome and much-needed back-up.

As the-then Culture Secretary Maria Miller put it in the Commons in 2013: “Those exempted by virtue of the fact that they are a micro-business can choose to gain the benefits of the costs clauses by joining the regulator, providing an incentive for them to join if they so wish and a choice to small organisations, perhaps before they grow in size and inevitably become a relevant publisher.” For all its faults, IMPRESS is probably even more appealing for a hyperlocal now than it was then.

There’s more on this from Matt Abbott over at C4CJ.

#TAL16: Talk About Local’s Latest Hyperlocal Unconference

Will Perrin and Dave Harte kick off the day's proceedings.

Will Perrin and Dave Harte kick off the day’s proceedings.

To Birmingham last Saturday for the latest in Talk About Local’s successful run of hyperlocal unconferences. In a past life I set up and ran one of the UK’s better known local independent sites, Saddleworth News, and even though I’ve long since passed the site on to a new editor, I’m still very interested in the sector.

The event was hosted in Birmingham City University and lecturer, hyperlocal blogger and researcher Dave Harte got us going, along with co-organiser Will Perrin of Talk About Local. Along with a handful of academics, journalism students and others, sites from across the UK were represented by their editors, ranging from the well-established such as On The Wight to newer entrants including Alt Blackpool.

The agenda.

The agenda.

I facilitated a small session on covering the local courts, which is the subject of my ongoing PhD research. It was a good opportunity to share a key test case from earlier in the year, when the High Court ruled that note-taking from the public gallery is permissable (full judgment here). Often, court staff, journalists and others have held to the traditional view that only reporters sitting at the press table may do so, but the Ewing case firmly established otherwise.

Other interesting sessions that I caught included Will demonstrating the Local News Engine, which has recently won funding under Google’s Digital News Initiative. Also, local MA student Sandro Sorrentino gave a great presentation on the nuts and bolts of getting hyperlocal sites onto Apple News, which given its higher profile in iOS10 is likely to become a bigger driver to traffic to news sites than has so far been the case.

Matt Abbott from Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism managed to get round a bit more than me, and has comprehensively written up the day on the C4CJ site.

Book Review: All The Truth Is Out, by Matt Bai

Gary Hart speaks at Cornell University, late 1987. (picture: K. Zirkel/Wikipedia)

Gary Hart speaks at Cornell University, late 1987. (picture: K. Zirkel/Wikipedia)

I’ve had a book review published in Journalism Education, the journal of the Association of Journalism Education.

It’s a look at one of my favourite politics books of recent times, All The Truth Is Out by Matt Bai. It examines the scandal which ended the US presidential hopes of Democratic Senator Gary Hart, and the lasting impact which Bai believes it has had on American public life.

I’ve uploaded my review to my page on

The Sun Sets On The New Day

Not much more than two months after it first appeared, Trinity’s Mirror’s The New Day is coming to an end. It’s closing tomorrow after circulation fell to a reported 40,000, making it the shortest-lived national paper in almost three decades.

I blogged about it here on the University of Huddersfield’s View from the North.

I was also asked on to the Andrew Edwards show on BBC Radio Leeds this lunchtime to discuss the story:

Me For The Conversation: Six Ways Twitter Has Changed The World

I'm at the bottom of the list of academics on the right, which seems reasonable enough.

I’m at the bottom of the list of academics on the right, which seems reasonable enough.

I’m back on The Conversation, as one of six academics offering a short bit of insight on how Twitter has changed the world, on the occasion of the little blue bird’s 10th birthday.

As I’ve previously written, Twitter is in some trouble these days with flat user growth and an apparent lack of clarity over what to do with the product. On the other hand, Donald Trump’s unlikely bid for the US presidency, fuelled by much free media coverage generated by his remarkable tweets, suggests that Twitter’s power to shape the news agenda remains undimmed.

Me For The Conversation: Tech Companies Are Eating Journalists’ Lunch. Shouldn’t They At Least Pay For It?

Look, I did a hot take.

Look, I did a hot take.

I’ve had my first piece for The Conversation published today. It’s about whether the giants of Silicon Valley should share some of their wealth with struggling news companies to help support journalism (my conclusion: not really). The piece is part of a series at The Conversation on business models for the news media.

I’m sure it won’t be the last thing I write for them. The Conversation, which gets academics to write stuff about their areas of interest, is a start-up I’ve admired for a long time. There’s usually something good on there to read, and besides, getting lecturers to publish outside the opaque world of academic journals is the sort of thing I generally approve of.

Me For BuzzFeed: 61 Thoughts All Aberdonians Have Had On Union Street

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I’m on BuzzFeed today, doing my first proper post as an official contributor. Yes, it’s a listicle, and it’s called 61 Thoughts All Aberdonians Have Had On Union Street.

I’ve done the odd piece for them before using their community feature, mainly as a way of trying out the content management system so I could then use it for classroom exercises. One of mine in particular about Aberdeen did pretty well, so I was asked to do another. Hopefully I’ll do some more, too, and I’ll post them here when I do.

James Naughtie And The Enduring Power Of Radio

I’m in today’s Yorkshire Post, discussing why radio still matters. The paper’s Chris Bond gave me a ring yesterday for a feature off the back of James Naughtie’s last broadcast on the Today programme.

The general thrust of what I said was that radio has been remarkably resilient over the years. Predictions of its demise have been around since the early days of television, but the latest RAJAR figures show that almost 90% of us still tune in once a week. The quality that allowed Today’s millions of listeners to feel as though Naughtie was talking directly to them, is something that TV has never matched. Perhaps more surprisingly, in an era when we reveal much more of all our lives on social media than ever before, the intimacy of radio still has a special power, at least sometimes.

But on the other hand, there’s trouble ahead for traditional radio. While 41% of 15-24 year olds say they listen to the radio on a tablet or mobile once a month, it’s not immediately clear how many tune into linear radio in the way their parents and grandparents do. Certainly, the days of sitting poised over the cassette player during the Top 40 are over. Young people I teach at the University of Huddersfield are still interested in radio, and love podcasts, but even as it seems outwardly to be in rude health, I suspect traditional radio is also at the beginning of a gentle decline.

Streaming and social media won’t kill linear radio any more than TV did, but it will cannibalise its audience, and in time Naughtie’s successors will be a less significant part of our national conversation.

What Next For Community Journalism? Cardiff Conference 2015


Cardiff. It was a nice day.

I was at JOMEC in Cardiff yesterday for the What Next For Community Journalism? conference, being held as something of a warm up for the Future of Journalism event taking place there today and tomorrow. Although to describe it as a warm up is doing the conference a real disservice. It was packed with interesting speakers from the UK community media scene and further afield, and huge credit must go to the team at Cardiff’s Centre for Community Journalism for organising such a successful day.

The centrepiece of the occasion was the launch of the latest report on hyperlocal by Damian Radcliffe, called Where Are We Now? (yes, another question – there were more questions than answers at this conference but, as a veteran of quite a few of these things, it was ever thus). He noted that many of the issues facing the sector remain similar to those which have existed for some years, back to when I set up Saddleworth News in 2010 and even earlier – including money, sustainability, relationships with the BBC, newspaper publishers, Facebook and others, potential legal and regulatory threats and more. Damian called for more academic research in the area, building on that already done by Andy Williams, Dave Harte, Jerome Turner and others, and I’ll certainly be contributing to that as part of my PhD on local court reporting.

Will Perrin of Talk About Local picked up on one key theme touched on by many speakers, which is that Facebook isn’t what it used to be for hyperlocal publishers. I well remember it as something of a gusher of views to Saddleworth News in 2010 and 2011, which allowed the site’s audience to grow quite quickly. But algorithms can and do change, and these days organic reach from Facebook posts can be as low as 1-2% of your ‘likers’ on Facebook. So, for a hyperlocal with, say, a Facebook community of 2,000, each post may initially only be seen by as few as 20 of those.

Will and his colleague Mike Rawlins also revealed an updated version of the old Openly Local map of UK hyperlocal sites. They’re currently populating the Local Web List, and estimate the number of local sites offering civic information, news and other things, may actually be a lot higher than previously thought – perhaps in the 1,500 to 2,000 range. They need help finding all the sites, and more details are at the Local Web List site.

Dan Gillmor giving the keynote address.

Dan Gillmor giving the keynote address.

The outsider’s view came from Dan Gillmor, over from Silicon Valley. He also discussed Facebook, describing it as the biggest competitor to independent local publishers. This part of his argument really came back to the idea that whenever someone else has a significant control over the way in which the audience sees your stuff, you’re putting yourself at some risk. The slightest tweak to a line of code in Menlo Park, even if it’s aimed at solving some entirely unrelated problem, can have a potentially disastrous impact on a hyperlocal.

Gillmor was sceptical about Google and Facebook but conceded he didn’t believe the current leadership of those companies was necessarily “evil”, although he did reserve some harsher words for Apple. After explaining he tries to avoid products from those companies as far as possible, he admitted he still uses Google Maps because there’s nothing else nearly as good. He closed by saying “I try to manage my hypocrisy”, which I thought was quite a nice way of putting it.

Jonestown Cables Revealed In Wikileaks Public Library Of US Diplomacy

A trove of US government cables from the immediate aftermath of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre has been published quietly, tucked away as part of the much larger Wikileaks Public Library of US Diplomacy. The cables seem to have been approved for release last year by the US State Department and form part of Wikileaks’ Carter Cables series, but I can’t find any record of them elsewhere online (apart from on this website, which is no longer active and features only broken links). So I’m posting a few links here.

Perhaps the most interesting cables are those sent by the US Embassy in Georgetown back to the State Department in Washington, as the very first reports start to come in of the shooting of Congressman Leo Ryan and others on a runway near the Jonestown site. Shortly after that incident, more than 900 residents of Jonestown under Rev Jim Jones would begin a mass suicide.

In this cable, US Ambassador John Burke files an initial memo following a meeting with the Guyanese Prime Minister and others. Although he is by then aware of the murder/suicide of four Temple members who had stayed behind in Georgetown, there are no reports yet of the start of the mass suicide at the remote Jonestown compound. That story unfolds in a series of Situation Reports sent over the coming days.

The earliest I can find in the archive is Situation Report 3, sent the following day, but still before any Guyanese soldiers have been able to reach Jonestown. The scale of the tragedy begins to become clear in Situation Report 5, with the widely-quoted figure of 400 dead (a significant under-estimated, for which the Guyanese and US governments would be widely criticised, as families of the dead were given false hope their relatives may have escaped into the jungle).

There is a wide range of other documents in the library, which is easily searchable. Probably the best online resource about Jonestown is this website maintained by San Diego State University. This 2006 documentary film about Jonestown, which prompted my own interest in the subject, is excellent.