Category Archives: Articles

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.

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.

The BBC’s Hyperlocal Consultation

The BBC consultation.

The BBC consultation.

There’s lots of consulting going on this week. Two extremely interesting ones began yesterday, with the government asking for views not only on the future of the BBC, but also on plans to further reduce the number of court buildings across the country, with magistrates courts in Oldham and Halifax among those marked for closure.

But I’m going to save both of those for another day. Earlier this month, the BBC announced a consultation of its own, on how it could work more closely with hyperlocal publishers. You can read the proposals here. But to sum them up in a sentence, it’s better linking to hyperlocal sites, training for hyperlocal practitioners, having the sector represented on various working groups, making sure local BBC journalists know what hyperlocals are, and compiling an updated list of active hyperlocal sites.

All very sensible and achievable. In fact, many of these proposals have been kicking around in one form or another for some years. I’m not as on the inside of the hyperlocal world as I used to be when I ran Saddleworth News, so I’m not clear why issues such as more linking have never actually come to pass. But anyway, in my brief response to the consultation, I made a couple of extra suggestions.

One would be to appoint a named individual within the BBC responsible for driving forward this agenda (this being the BBC, it would have to be a ‘hyperlocal lead’). It seems to have been done informally in the past with the result that when an individual moves on or leaves, any momentum behind the partnerships is lost.

My other suggestion is to get hyperlocal practitioners involved in BBC local radio. Stations are always desperate for lively contributors, and if they can add a little journalism alongside local colour, so much the better. A regular slot with a modest tip fee of a fiver or a tenner would be mutually agreeable, I’d have thought.

The consultation ends on 30 September, with a summary due to be published in November.

Saddleworth News Is Five

The first post on Saddleworth News, 16th February 2010.

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.

Coding For Social Change Conference In Cardiff

Alan Rusbridger (centre) was among those taking part.

Alan Rusbridger (centre) was among those taking part.

I was in Cardiff on Friday, and apart from continuing the early stages of my PhD I was there to attend an event called Coding For Social Change, which served as the launch of the department’s two new MAs.

There were three panels during the afternoon, and the keynote session featured outgoing Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and freedom of expression campaigner Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. On the screen behind them, as they chewed over the various rights and restrictions of the post-Edward Snowden era, was an image showing a whiteboard Rusbridger has scrawled all over with all sorts of headings and buzzwords, in an attempt to show just how complicated all this stuff really is.

Rather dryly (and Rusbridger gives the impression of rarely being anything other than dry), he noted that the government committee nominally charged with oversight of all this only meets on Thursday afternoons and is under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Rifkind. The former Foreign Secretary may be a “fine man” as Rusbridger conceded, but he’s not perhaps the best person to have such a job. Even if he was, the framework that exists isn’t really up to that particular task.

Rusbridger sprang a surprise by admitting he’d consider moving his paper’s HQ from London to New York if it became harder legally to do more Snowden-style stories in the UK. He doesn’t have long left in the editor’s chair so he won’t be doing this personally, but that remark does at least offer another example of The Guardian’s international focus. It will never again be the Manchester Guardian, but it might not always be the London Guardian either.