Lessons learned from editing below the line

I really quite like comments on news stories and on Facebook too. We live in a world filled with trolls, haters and the like. Yes there are some despicable people out there who see using the Internet to sound off with vile comments directed at individuals as having no consequence – see the Malicious Communications Act for how those people are clearly on the wrong side of the law.

But online comments can regularly be an indicator of the strength of feeling about a local issue, raise a smile at a witty quip or reveal there is more to an issue than previously thought.

One of the things I wanted to do at getreading was increase the number of comments we were seeing on news stories. To me this shows our readers care about what we are producing and getting a chance to have their say. I am pleased to say since January the number of comments has seen a strong increases both on the site and on Facebook and Twitter.

How did we do this and what are the lessons from skirmishing below the line?

Asking a question generally gets a response. It’s like when you ask a question in a text message, the person on the other end feels more compelled to reply. We try where possible to ask at the end of a story what people think, but not in a bland catch all way. These have to be bespoke to each article as each topic demands a nuance to seeing what line is going to trigger that debate. The same with Facebook status, adding the question mark seems like a trigger a greater response. But don’t do it with everything or your readers will think an Australian has taken over their news feed.

Haters gonna hate. When the newspaper associated with the website has recently closed there are going to be people unhappy about this. Unhappy about story choices and all sorts of things. Reply to the ones which are well thought out and demanding of a debate. Ignoring others for the hate-filled rants that they are sends its own message.

Questions. If your audience ask questions of your journalism, take the time to respond. How did you…. Why did you… These kind of queries I reply to regularly.

Use the comments. When we get a lot of comments about an issue we publish them. We’ve taken the listicle format and applied X things you said about (insert issue) to see a really encouraging response. People like seeing their comments featured and other readers like us plucking out a selection so they don’t have to wade through a 132 comment long thread.

Could a commenter be your next blogger? We had someone who was a keen letter writer and commented about certain issues regularly. After he emailed a complaint about the lack of a letters page we asked him what topic he wanted to write about. A guest article about whether Wokingham’s road network needs to look to Europe for inspiration

Go where the debate is. There’s a strong local forum in Reading which is well moderated and has a committed and passionate group of users. I try to keep an eye on debates here and like many local media outlets we see our stories used as the catalyst for discussions. Sometimes there are queries about our stories or our journalism is called into question. I regularly respond to these. Not ashamed to admit we often pick up story tips through here too.

Beware the screengrab. I often think about how would this response look if I screengrabbed it and presented it out of context. You will be surprised what you decide to say with this in your thoughts. Asking a reader to email or call you to discuss something can regularly defuse a situation.

Shouldn’t you have someone to do this for you? I won’t name who asked me this but there was an implication I should be too busy (in meetings?) to be responding to comments. As publisher of a local news website to not be sleeves rolled up and responding to the people who read the content me and the team work tirelessly to produce would feel like letting them down. If someone cares enough to comment even if I can just take a second to thumbs up them on a Facebook comment or up vote them in the comments lets them know we are listening.

And isn’t that one of the most important things local media should be doing, listening?

Seven things I would have told my 20 year old student journalist self

I’ve spent today being a guest at the University of Central Lancashire’s CJAM event. I graduated from UCLan, which is in Preston, in 2007 and it was a pleasure to be invited back. The event featured a number of talks from alumni of decades gone by, and more recent young upstarts like myself. We also had students pitch stories and ideas at us during a speed-dating style session.

I was asked to give a 10-minute talk as part of the event, so I thought I’d focus on things young journalists, or journalists in training, should be thinking about AKA what I’d wish I’d known when I was 20!

1) Know your phone as intimately as your girlfriend/boyfriend. Know every trick in the book for getting content using it, editing on it and filing on it. And always have it fully charged, with a spare battery/USB cable in your bag. Alongside your shorthand it is the primary tool for capturing content. Don’t sit and wait for training, youtube or Google it and learn by doing. It’s also becoming the primary place people read your content, for the majority of the hours every day on Trinity Mirrors regional websites more than 50% of readers are on a smartphone, the Mirror, Guardian and BBC have also released similar figures. But don’t just gawp. Think about what that means for how your story should be presented.

2) Keep an ideas book. Both online and offline. Have a place to save interesting stories, documents, social links and what could become a story. And have a notepad for those times you don’t have online access

3) Every story could now be the splash and lead the website (and the papers) because audience analytics/trends now sit alongside old-school editorial judgement. Make sure you’re ready for the ask to add something to your story, anticipate the need for pics, video, extra quotes, fact boxes, stats. Your idea on your way to work can be leading the web/social/TV by lunchtime.

4) Follow up. Keep a good diary. The launch will take place on? The next step in the plans is an appeal on June 20? The family said he would be out of hospital by x date. You’ll always have a follow up and therefore another story. What’s the next action from your story? Invite comments, should readers send you their pics?

5) Don’t be afraid. There are no rules anymore. No one has the perfect answer. All major media organisations are pursuing different strategies. Digital levels the playing field for all sectors. It is creativity, focus and speed which win out. Learn from those around you, learn to work as part of a team because a newsroom that succeeds together is one of the best places you can ever be.

6) Think about the reader and work with them. The best journalists I know have authority and empathy in equal amounts. Do not talk down to your readers, they are people. It is easy to dismiss them as commenters, trolls, unique users, busy bodies but they have a right to express an often passionate view. It’s what journalism boils down to, the people. They make the stories, you are a way to get them out there through whatever means you have.

7) Write every day. And never stop. I write 2-3 pieces of content a day for either Blog Preston or getreading. Why? It keeps you on your toes, it gives you discipline. No matter how high up the food chain you end up, it keeps you in touch. Do you have a blog? When did you last update it? Are you consistent? Can you keep readers coming back day in, day out? You’re in a city, a great one, there are stories to be found around every corner. Make use of your time here and don’t leave with regrets about what you might have done.

The return of the evening publication?

I was recently looking through the Blog Preston stats – the hyperlocal site I run in the North of England – and noticed something.

Everything we posted of an evening tended to do a bit better. Looking then through Facebook, there was a trend. Evenings, anytime at weekends + Facebook equalled our best performing stories.

We had a directors meeting on Sunday and we are giving something a try, based around this premise…

If our audience according to social media analytics tools is most active in the evening and weekends why publish our content during the day?

If the bulk of your audience is coming to you via social media and search, with very little direct traffic to the site, why not model your behaviour around them? Continue reading

Ten things learned from five years running a hyperlocal site

In January the hyperlocal site I run for the city of Preston, Lancashire turned five years old. Starting the site has definitely been one of the defining moments of my life to date and a few months into our fifth year I thought I would reflect on what I have learned after five years of keeping Blog Preston alive.

It is now a Community Interest Company which has a stated aim of covering community news in Preston. Paid up, registered and got a company number. What started as a Sunday afternoon New Years resolution is an actual real existing thing. Not just virtual. We have three directors, including me, and about ten regular contributors plus a few more who contribute as hoc. Plus a friend of mine doing ad sales on commission.

Establish your reason
Setting out to post once or twice a day it soon became clear this wasn’t going to be enough. The demands of running a local site will eat into your time, there is no escaping it. To ensure you don’t get sucked into a hamster wheel content cycle you need to have a clear idea of where your site covers and what it covers.

Know your mantra and keep to it, if you set out to be providing breaking news then stick to it and if you only said you’d cover a certain area of the city then keep to that.

Continue reading

Why email is a force not to be ignored for regional news publishers

Gotta stay relevant. Right? In these times of mounting audiences, mobile consumption and a young savvy internet audience really finding their groove – how do you ensure you can still reach these audiences and get them coming back to your content time and time again?

I am speaking on Wednesday at the Technology for Marketers and Advertisers (sounds terrifying doesn’t it, will they brainwash me? Is the future of advertising some kind of microchip inside your shoe telling Tesco what your little toe is thinking about buying next…) event about what Trinity Mirror Regionals have been doing (that is who I work for in case you are wondering) with email newsletters. EMAIL!? But Ed, I hear you cry, email is about as sexy as, well, it isn’t very sexy.

Let me remind you of something. What do you need to be able to have an account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+? That’s right, an email address. Email is a shockingly bad form of my communication, just ask anyone who works for or with me when they try and second guess what I mean by a one word response of Yes to an email at 11.45pm on a Friday. BUT, one thing I have learned since Spring 2012 when we started on an email newsletter sort them out journey is that a heck of a lot of people still use it, like using it and it isn’t going anywhere quickly.

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Video: Appearance on the Power of Modern Community

My fellow Connected authors (Hannah, Marc) and I took part in a Google Hangout this morning as part of Community Manager Appreciation Day.

It was a discussion about how a combination of online/offline can be used to connect communities – with plenty of examples and chunks from the e-book we wrote on the topic.

It’s a surreal experience chatting to people from the East Coast of the States and South Africa from your living room, but then again that’s the power of technology. Continue reading

Why Google Real Time is super useful for hyperlocal sites

In my day job with Trinity Mirror I am lucky to have access to real-time analytics software Chartbeat. It allows us to see who is reading what on our regional sites, where they have come from and how long they spend on it. And also if they then read something else. It’s a great way of focusing the newsrooms on popular content and putting it on a massive screen in the newsroom is always cool.

But, if you’re a one-man band hyperlocal publisher or a smaller site – and can’t shell out for Chartbeat, what options do you have?

Recently for Blog Preston, the hyperlocal site I run for Preston in Lancashire, we turned on Google Analytics Real Time.

It isn’t a patch on Chartbeat but it is super useful. Here’s five reasons why: Continue reading

Five digital journalism predictions for 2014: Videos, lists, hyperlocal, geotargeting and mobile

I got asked to appear on Journalism.co.uk’s weekly podcast last week, it was about predictions for digital journalism in 2014.

I’m not Mystic Meg, but it did make me pause and think about what we might be doing over the next 12 months. It’s very easy to get stuck in the next 24-48 hours news cycle and not consider what’s going to happen next.

One thing is for sure, digital storytelling is evolving as the device we’re telling the story on expands and evolves rapidly.

Here’s my two pennies worth for what I see as what might be big in 2014: Continue reading

Twitter lists: Hyperlocal sites and people who run them or are involved in hyperlocal stuff in the UK in some roundabout way

Finally getting round to finishing some Twitter lists I started a while ago (although, can you ever finish a Twitter list?), they languished with not many members and at the Trinity Mirror editorial conference over the last two days in Manchester it reminded me I needed to sort them. Inspired mainly by Peachesanscream who did a great presentation on how to use Twitter I need your help to put together. She’s been using Twitter to help grow UsvsTh3m, which has rocketed to 7m unique users in November. They made that Northerner game you’ve probably played.

A list of people who run, started, or are involved in hyperlocal sites or hyperlocal news sites in the UK.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+”://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

A list of the Twitter accounts of hyperlocal or hyperlocal news sites in the UK.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+”://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

Hope you can help! Tweet me @ed_walker86 with suggestions or leave a comment below

Not sure what all this hyperlocal stuff is? I co-wrote an ebook called Connected which has a chapter all about hyperlocal sites in the UK.

Notes and thoughts from #tal13: Keeping the hyperlocal mojo, hyperlocal social media usage and loving where you live

So I braved the Travelodge in Middlesbrough (once again) for the latest round of debate with hyperlocal site owners and local community sites at the Talk About Local event #tal13.

The day ranged from trying to rediscover your blogging mojo, to best tips for using Facebook and Twitter, how traditional media can work with hyperlocal sites and finally what does the growing usage of mobile internet and mobile consumption mean for hyperlocal sites?

Held in the impressive surroundings of MIMA, the beauty of unconferences (you pitch sessions and stick them on a big board which the organisers then shuffle about so inevitably all the ones you want to see happen at the same time ;) is the range of speakers/sessions is always so varied. Continue reading