Archive for January, 2008

Breaking news stories online for local media

Breaking news stories are curious beasts. Not only do they often see the national media descend on somewhere most people would be hard pressed to find on a map, it also provides an excellent chance for local media to excel themselves, be it breaking news in hourly bulletins for the local radio station, or in-depth coverage and analysis by the local paper, often built on the strengths of intimate local knowledge and contacts.

As somebody who, on more than one occasion, has been part of that slightly smaller feral pack, I’ve never yet seen a paper or radio station disgrace themselves with their coverage in print or on air.

But, as we’re now in 2008 and on whatever version of Web 2.0.1.7.3 we’re on now, how do our local media shape up online?

Across the pond Rob Curley (via Martin Stabe) has a detailed account of how one local paper nailed their online coverage for a major event, including liveblogging, photos, video, and in-depth history, all before the event was anywhere near a close.

Curley also poses the question: how would have most local papers reacted? He then sets out five options, which are worth repeating here (although I’d recommend you click through and read the whole post):

“It seems to me that in 2008, there are probably about five ways a local newspaper might cover a breaking local news event like this:

  • No. 1 — Throw some resources at it in real-time, becoming the definitive source online for the story as it is happening. Constant news updates. Great background info. Multimedia that is worth looking at — at the very least, some decent photo galleries if you’re not going to do video. I’m talking about web reports that combine speed, accuracy and compelling visuals with overwhelming comprehensive coverage in a way that creates something that shows your readers that your newspaper’s website is the only place to go for information on this story.
  • No. 2 — At the very least, keep the web site updated. Even if in kind of a half-assed way.
  • No. 3 — Run a big story in print with a big photo. The next day. After the story is over. Treat it like your print predecessors would have back in 1978, pretending that no one knows about the story until you tell them about it in print. The next day.
  • No. 4 — Go apesh*t in print. The next day. But in the midst of the overkill print coverage, there are thoughtful analysis pieces that treat the story like a Day Two story. Which in 2008, it is.
  • No. 5 — Do a mixture of No. 1 and No. 4. Treat the web and print like they’re both important, with print coverage that acknowledges that we live in a world where both CNN and the Internet have been around for at least a few years. Or maybe even a few decades.


So, the question is simple: How do you think your newspaper would cover a big-time, local breaking news story in 2008?

Would it be 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5?

If it’s 2 or 3 (and possibly even 4), I’d be thinking about getting that resume ready if I were you.”

Although Curley’s dealing with America and newspapers here, his points are equally valid for local British print and broadcast media.

If you’ve got a story of national interest, it’s reasonable to assume that a large number of people both inside and outside the audience area will go to the websites of local media as the first or second choice to get information. If the online coverage is poor (and for radio remember that not everybody can listen at work, but chances are they’ll be able to do a bit of surfing) then not only will potential readers go back to BBC and Sky, there’s also a good possibility they simply won’t bother next time something similar happens, be it of national interest or, as is more likely, a big story for the local patch but of limited or no interest to the national media.

I recognise I’m making a lot of assumptions here, as I’ve not had the chance to surf around every local media site during a breaking story, but even at this period of time the current prognosis falls short of Curley’s recommendations [1]

Firstly, print. I’ve seen some newspapers that will ‘break’ stories online. There are a couple that include the whole story, although they’re few and far between and most sites I’ve seen still say something along the lines of “for more on this story see tomorrow’s paper”. Others just reproduce the day’s content, while some barely even get that far. As for any potential to include liveblogs and photos… well, I’m not entirely sure how they’d fit in or on. Given that most local papers are only slowly waking up to the idea of blogging, and many hide their blogs away in different-to-find areas of the website, I’m not confident.

Still, at least the majority of them are streets ahead of many local radio station websites, some of whom don’t even bother sticking local news up online. For an interesting comparison, have a browse around the respective sites of Oxford’s local paper and radio station [2].

I’ll hold up my hands here and say that, as somebody with a background largely in local radio, I can come up with various mitigations. Many radio newsrooms just don’t have the staffing to be able to deal with both online and on-air during a breaking news story [3]. Also, there’s the argument that as they’re breaking immediate developments at least every hour they’ve covered that angle.

To a certain extent there is a point there. They’ll certainly have covered plenty of different angles before the local paper has even gone to press. But if you get an on-the-ball local paper who follows Curley’s suggestions, that suddenly becomes a very different matter indeed. Also, in this age where the boundaries between media types are ever thinner, to stubbornly stick to what you do best (and many radio stations produce excellent coverage) is storing trouble up for the long term. Neglect these at your peril.

Technology should make it easier for journalists from both mediums to send back pictures and video from the scene asap. Having a journalist liveblogging and tying together news strands keeps the story running and is definitely a valid form of journalist. Radio stations could upload extended interviews from clips that make it on-air. To be fair to radio, there are some stations who are very proactive to uploading audio and keeping their news sections updated. From a brief surf around, they don’t appear to be in the majority, sadly.

We’ve not even touched on photo and video submissions from the readers and listeners here, and if the journalist is being really proactive, they should hit Flickr, Technorati, Twitter, Facebook and Myspace and get searching for what those closest to the scene are saying. Of course there’s the ethical considerations about contacting the users, but the point here is the sites mentioned should be par for the course for any journalist these days.

I’m well aware I’ve over-generalised here, and have tarred all local media with the same brush. But from what I’ve seen, both in the past and current day, I don’t think there’s many traditional local news sites ready to do as good a job online as they do with their traditional media outlets. If you know of any really good examples of the local media embracing online, please do leave them in the comments as I’d be interested to see them.

[1] Note: for the purposes of this blog post, I’m not including BBC local radio for a variety of reasons, although some of the criticisms could be applied to these stations, albeit in a slightly different way.

[2] Yes, I know the latter has a ‘blog’ on the front page, but by my book, that barely qualifies as one. Where’s the interaction, the comment, the trackback, the separate pages? It’s a blog Jim, but not as we know it.

[3] Hopefully I’ll get round to writing a long piece hitherto only semi-formed in my head on online radio presence and staffing, among other things.

Britblog Roundup 154

At Philobiblon.

It’s a mark of how busy I’ve been recently that I’ve not actually had time to read it (and when I did try to blog something yesterday my computer created a space-time vortex and folded in on itself, losing the blog to the realms of space and time. In other words, everything crashed briefly, and all was lost).

If you see me in the next few days, please tell me to get some sleep at some point soon.

Lock ‘Em All Up (Coffee and PC: The Best Bits 4)

I can’t remember when or why I wrote this, but it worrying seems just as apt today. Names have been changed below to bring us up to date with changes in government personal. Oddly, it makes no difference to the piece. Make of that what you will.

*****

The Sun: FURY AS POTENTIAL CRIMINALS WALK OUR STREETS

Victims of crime were OUTRAGED yesterday after new research revealed there are people walking the streets who COULD commit crimes.

New police statistics show a quarter of the population are likely to commit a crime at some point in their lives – and the government has done NOTHING to stop this.

A police source told us: “We know that people have the potential to commit crimes and these figures confirm it.

“We’ve been trying to tell the government for ages the should take action and lock up these would-be monsters before it’s too late.

“We’ll have to build new prisons to lock up a quarter of the population before they can commit these crimes – but it’s a small price to pay for our safety.”

Nikki Nikkison, 21 (32DD), from Croydon had her mobile phone stolen last month and is FURIOUS at the news.

“I’m furious,” the buxom blonde told The Sun. “I’d only had twenty double vodkas and left my bag on the bar when I went to the loo – and next thing I know it’d gone.

“It’s really frightening to think that there are people out there who could commit crimes.”

Well today the Sun vows to make the streets safer for people like Nikki as we launch our ‘Lock ’em all up’ campaign.

We have to act now and lock up 25% of our population to safeguard our childrens’ FUTURE.

It makes no sense to leave these beasts free to roam our streets – and the police should be allowed to LOCK UP whichever 25% they like.

Another police source told us: “If we act now and remove people we may just make our streets safe.

“We’ve already identified groups of people we think pose a risk.

“Primarily we’d aim to lock up all asylum seekers, blacks, poofs, people with funny sounding names, everybody who opposed the Iraq War, pro-Europeans and Liberal Democrats.

“After all, would you want your children to be alive in the knowledge French people and Mark Oaten could speak to them?”

But amazingly the government is still DITHERING when it comes to locking the population up.

When pressed Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “There is some merit in the idea, but we’ve got to look at the facts carefully and see if we could lock up, say, one fifth arbitrarily instead and see if that would suffice.”

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith also refused to commit to our campaign, but promised tough new measures.

“There are people who should be locked up,” he told The Sun. “But we’re still working out which ones those are.”

“But if I – or any other minister – sees a criminal, potential or otherwise, new legislation will enable us to punch the f*****s in the face very hard.”

But while the government DILLY-DALLIES, David Cameron signed up for our campaign and promised to END the OUTRAGE.

“When I’m Prime Minister my first act will be to lock up a quarter of the population,” the Tory leader pledged.

“Everyone knows the police and statistics don’t lie and when you put the two together you get a double non-lie.

“Sadly the government shows no sign of taking a hard line on this and somebody, somewhere could be committing a crime right now because of it.

“If you’re not in the twenty-five per cent we’d lock up then you have nothing to fear.

And before leaving to catch his ultra-green bandwagon, Cameron proved he was HARDER than the Prime Minister on crime by personally disemboweling a five-year-old immigrant caught STEALING a lemon.

Had we not stopped this monster today there’s no doubt he would have grown up to be a SMACK-ADDLED PAEDOPHILE.

Take part in our exclusive Sun Poll and tell us what YOU think. Are you happy that people who haven’t yet committed a crime are free to walk the streets?
1. They should be all locked up
2. We should bring them to justice as quickly as possible.

Matthew is an author

Some of the best news the literary world could have heard today: my friend and old colleague Matt Hill has only gone and got himself a book deal.

Now there are times when a friend can come up to you and go: “Lookie here. I dun me a story,” and you read it and nod sagely and try to find the least unpleasant words you can to gently give them the news that what you have in front of you isn’t very good, and then resolve to be somewhere, anywhere else when they next approach, paper-in-hand.

Matthew is not one of those people I’ve ever had to do that to.

If you’re a regular reader of his blog, you’ll know he’s got a wonderful way with words and a unique voice. A few years ago I offered to proof an early draft of his book. I had to give up because I was enjoying it to much.

At risk of sounding way too sycophantic, he’s one of the most original writers I’ve come across in a long time. Sure, there’s traces of Ian M. Banks, a bit of Douglas Adams, and even a touch of Pratchett. But to compare him to these implies he’s perhaps imitating them. He’s not. The few chapters I saw were part of a very early version and he’s told me the whole thing has changed a lot, but even so, what I read was wonderfully unique and gloriously daft, yet also compelling.

At risk of having bigged Matthew up too much, I can’t wait to finally read his book. And I’d be saying that even if I didn’t know him, and we hadn’t spent evenings down the pub discussing Murray Walker.

Webbsfleet revisited

It’s official – Ebbsfleet are now in fantasy land. Earlier today nearly 96% of myfootballclub.co.uk members who voted to purchase a 75% stake in the club, while a similar number of members who logged onto vote also gave their go-ahead to allow manager Liam Daish to strengthen his squad during the rest of the transfer window.

Now begins the interesting part in what could be a make-or-break 19 months for the Kent club. If, and it’s a big if, things go well Ebbsfleet could become more than just a curious footnote in football ownership. Daish strengthens his squad, Fleet make a charge towards the play-offs (they’re too far behind to take the Blue Square Premier title this season) and the momentum they build up this season, plus a rash of new members enamoured by the concept, but who were holding off to see what could be achieved sign up, and Ebbsfleet continue their push towards league football. That, at least, is the best case scenario.

But there are still a number of questions and issues that still need to be overcome if MyFc is to become a success. The concerns I had over the transfer dealings when the deal was first announced still stand, so I won’t revisit them, bar a few quick notes.

Firstly Liam Daish sounded a note of caution earlier this month when he said he was still unsure what his role would be. Reading between the lines, it seems like a polite if firm message to MyFC members not to do anything too daft too quickly and to clarify uncertainties. I’d imagine there’s also a note of frustration here about being hamstrung in the transfer market while the takeover was approved, although in that respect the situation is no different to any other manager at a club in the midst of a takeover. But it would have helped the club if MyFC had completed the process sooner.

Secondly, given the current climate and penchant for manager sacking, Daish has every right to be nervous over his position. What if Ebbsfleet go through a mini-slump, fall short of fan expectations or simply commit the crime of playing unattractive football?At what point through lean, or not so lean times, will the members lose patience?

Finally on this front, there was a rather unhappy letter in this month’s issue of When Saturday Comes (sorry, no link) from a MyFC member in response to their article on the (then) proposed takeover, which made the point that while you’ll get a few muppets supporting every club, the majority would be taking an active interest and balance out the more irrational decisions. Wisdom of the crowd, if you will.

But it’s worth repeating that not every fan (and this includes long-time Ebbsfleet fans) will have knowledge of the transfer market or the state of the team. If Liam Daish wants to sign a promising unknown, who’s to say the members won’t reject this in favour of an aging journeyman because said journeyman is more of a name with a proven track record? As for team picking, well, go back and read my original post on this. In football, given an experienced manager with a good track record or a huge collective of football fans with varying degrees of experience and opinions, I know which one I’d trust every time.

For me, there’s fresh questions over the long-term viability of the MyFC vision. In the short term, as excitement grows there’s bound to be an upsurge in membership (and that’s happened today), but the real question is how long the members are signing up for. If Ebbsfleet wants to be sure of a stable financial footing, they need to be tying existing members into two or three year subscriptions minimum and get them to extend those subscriptions at the earliest possible opportunity.

The danger, as I’ve stated before, with this type of model is members getting bored or going elsewhere. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Ebbsfleet supporter, then of course you’ll be there for the long haul, just as the majority of supporters’ trust members will carry on saying their subs no matter how lean the times are on the field. But take ‘casual’ fans, those viewing it as a novelty, an interesting experiment, or who just fancy having a second team. It’s a lot easier for them to walk away from this. Who’s to say that after a couple of years they’re not going to decide the £35 could be better spent elsewhere?

Or perhaps they get frustrated with how MyFC is run. Already we’ve now got thepeoplesclub.co.uk, which appears to be the Talksport to MyFC’s 6-0-6 and run by an even more demanding and hysterical bunch (and say what you like about MyFC, at least they’ve sounded reasonably balanced and grounded throughout, even if the ideas may not be). The People’s Club were turned down after they approached to buy Kidderminster Harriers, but suppose they pick a more attractive team than Ebbsfleet, or their team starts getting better results than Fleet. It’s not inconceivable the more fickle MyFCer will take their membership elsewhere. After all, both businesses are targeting similar types of fans.

What is concerning for MyFC, though, is the number of people who simply didn’t take part in today’s vote. This was the big, important vote that would determine the course of the organisation and out of 27,278 members, only 18,112 actually bothered to cast their vote. That’s just under a third of paid-up members. If they can’t be bothered to vote either yes or no to actually buying Ebbsfleet, are they really going to be on the terraces week-in week-out?

Indeed, you’d have thought that given all the hype and press coverage surrounding MyFC’s takeover, and you’ve got over 27 thousand members, that Fleet’s attendances would have swelled. In reality, they’ve remained firmly entrenched in the high 900s, which is about par for a club of their level. Again, this should set alarm bells ringing, and goes back to the point of picking the team. If just a small percentage are watching the game each week, how the hell can they make an informed opinion on the team. Ok, so MyFC will make prozone stats available for all members. That’s still a poor substitute for watching a game.

[And as an interesting aside, the statement on their website about the takeover is timed at 11.15am, when voting was meant to finish at midday. A small point, perhaps, but a curious one nonetheless].

Finally, onto the statement they released ahead of the vote, which is a curious mixture of legalese likely to go over the average fan’s head, promotional puff and the odd nugget that is useful for making an informed decision. Tom Dunmore at Pitch Invasion found it baffling and cast a ‘no’ vote on the basis of it, while 200 per cent had many concerns, which I share. Rather than repeat them here, go and read his whole post, although I’d like to emphasise the part where MyFC claim their new stadium could be built free of charge. I’d be really curious as to how exactly they aim to achieve that.

As with when MyFC first made their announcement, there’s as many questions as there are answers, and many of those answers spawn new questions. Maybe these concerns are being dealt with, but it’s difficult to tell.

As before, I maintain MyFC will probably be a success for MyFC in the short-term, and no doubt the site’s evangelists will take delight in pointing this out. But will it still be a success 36 months down the line? If MyFC do succeed, I’ll happily doff my hat to them and admit some of my concerns were ill-founded. But for the time being the nagging suspicion remains that this odd, if worthy, project won’t last the course and it’ll be the real long-term Ebbsfleet (sorry, Gravesend and Northfleet) supporters, who’ve followed the club through the best and worst of times, who will be the losers.

For once, not a half-boiled idea

It’s only taken them God knows how long, but finally we have what appears to be a decent education initiative: putting cookery classes on the school curriculum.

I would have loved to have cookery classes at school. I remember at primary school cooking a delicious treacle tart I’ve never been able to replicate since, as soon after that I changed schools and didn’t pick up so much as a frying pan in anger or otherwise until aged 20 at university where, on my first night in halls of residence, I attempted to fry a cheese and pickle sandwich.

Needless to say my culinary skills have picked up a bit since then, but it’s all self-taught and I would have loved to at least have a basic understanding of what I was doing when I actually started attempting something a little more complex than pasta twirls and pesto.

There’s the obvious caveats here: please God don’t drone on for hours about the technology and science behind cooking. Fascinating as I find Heston Blumenthal, he’s not somebody I can watch a lot of. Different dietary needs also need to be thought through.

Cooking can be great fun and almost approaches art, of sort. It’s got a great mixture of practicality and creativity and if you’ve got a good teacher (as with any subject) there’s no limits to what an inspired young cook could achieve.

A couple of things I’d like to see on any food course: learning a bit as to where the food comes from. This is something which can really enhance your understanding of what you’re eating. Ok, so perhaps I’m a little bit too interested in the way different cheeses are made, but you get the idea. I’d also like to see a bit on balancing flavours. It’s not a difficult thing to achieve, if you know what you’re doing.

As for recipes, I’d try and teach something simple like spag bol. That said, even grilling salmon or whipping up a quick stuffed mushroom aren’t exactly difficult.

There’s definitely some fun to be had with exams though. Get them to go out and shoot a couple of wood pigeons or strangle a chicken for exam number one. For part two, put them in the F Word kitchen with Gordon Ramsey giving it both barrels, before finally giving them a couple of hours to put together a three-course gourmet diner, with examiners John Torode and Greg Wallace from Masterchef to shout enthusiastically at their creations before retiring to the sofa to give them a grade.

Hell, somebody could even make a TV programme out of it.

Quick note to self

In order to continue to displace some semblance of normality, do not attempt air guitar while on the exercise bike at the gym. People may think you’re strange, or something.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com