Local news FAIL

Sometimes I fear I give the Express and Echo – the newspaper for my home city of Exeter – somewhat of a rough ride. Given I know the area better than most papers, their site is one I tend to visit on a more regular basis than others, hence my worry that any criticisms are probably no more than nitpicking on my part.

And then I get days like today, where the criticism is checked least it becomes too cutting.

Why? Like many others, I’ve been somewhat glued to the ongoing news around the economic crisis, and yesterday came the news that local authorities across the country had significant sums of money tied up in the Icelandic banking system. Devon’s council’s, at first, didn’t appear among them.

I was out last night, so didn’t get time to check again until this morning when the first place I read about it was on Exeter City matchday programme editor Mike Blackstone’s football blog (yes, I check my football feeds before anything else. Force of habit).

Seeing Exeter City Council’s name on the list made me search for more. Naturally, the first place I headed was the Echo’s site, only to forget they don’t post their full articles online immediately, so instead I found this:

COUNCIL leaders are battling to recover millions of pounds invested in Iceland’s troubled banks.

But they are attempting to ease fears public services could be affected, claiming there is “no short-term risk” despite the crisis.

The reassurance comes amid the news South West councils have hefty cash deposits in several financial institutions, including high street banks.

Despite initial reports that Devon’s councils did not have investments in collapsed Icelandic banks, it has now emerged that Exeter City Council has £5m invested, including £3m with Landsbanki and a £2m on deposit with Glitnir.

For the full story see Friday’s paper.

Which told me absolutely nothing whatsoever that I didn’t already know. 

Incidentally, in between starting this blog post ten minutes ago (11.10pm) and now, the full text has become available. A bit too late, really as I’d already found what I needed to know elsewhere.

A quick Google News search found much better articles on the Exmouth Herald’s site (which is a much smaller paper) and the sister site of Devon-wide paper, the Western Morning News. The latter was understandably Devon-centric but also told me, for the first time, that Mid Devon District Council – which covers where my family live – also had a lesser sum of money tied up in an Icelandic bank.

Had the full Echo article been online at that point in time, I wouldn’t have needed to go elsewhere to find this out. Nor try and fill in the Exeter-specific gaps that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

A cursory search of del.icio.us and Digg didn’t turn up anything, not was there anything more specific on the blog searches. None of these were a massive surprise (although possibly says something about social media, or lack of takeup, and Devon). Had I had time, I’d have searched WordPress tags.

As it is, I sent off a couple of emails to friends I was fairly sure would be in the know, and got most of the information through that. I did briefly consider ringing up the press office at the council to find out more, and then blog it [1] (which raises another interesting point about blogs and citizen journalism, but I’ll leave that for another time).

[In case you’re asking why I’m so interested, it’s because this used to be my reporting patch and was home for around 21 years, so I tend to take a strong interest, even if I don’t live there any more].

So, you may say, what does this matter. In some respects, it doesn’t. I’m just one person writing on a probably not very widely read blog about something that irks me. Hell, it’s not as if there aren’t enough of *those* around.

But, on the other hand, it’s still a potential eyeball that they’re losing elsewhere. As soon as I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I wet elsewhere. Now they’ve actually stuck the article up, I clicked around the site without ever really thinking.

And, what really gets to me, is they have the news, but I have to spend a bit longer searching elsewhere to find it. As a result, I’ve now pulled together several Devon-related news feeds from assorted sources meaning I don’t have to go back to the site unless there’s something of burning interest.

I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only person with ties to Exeter who checks all their news online each morning rather than in the paper, and has a decent set of RSS news feeds relevant to their interests.

The world’s a global place. People have moved around. Yet I suspect I’m also not alone in being a person who keeps tabs on the news ‘back home’ even though I no longer live there. To be unable to access this news on the basis that you don’t live within the paper’s sales area is crazy. We’re global citizens, but we’d still like hyperlocal news for areas we’re connected to m’kaaay?

[Again, another question here – in this current economic climate would it be worth the site offering the paper online on a subscription basis? I’ll leave that one dangling.]

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a little moan about this particular pet peeve, and it probably won’t be the last.

It’s a shame because, as I often point out, there’s a lot I like and respect about the Echo – both in the paper and on the website.

I can get Exeter City news elsewhere (and did a long time before I moved). Big national stories of interest occurring in Exeter I can also get elsewhere (although recognise the nationals probably will have a more general overview than the excellent local reporting you often get in these situations).

But this is the first time there’s been a specific local story I’ve been keen to read. I suspect that it won’t be too long before I can get most information on any further local stories I want to find out more about without having to wait until 11pm to read the full article.

A quick plea to finish: please, please, please, any local papers who partake in this habit – open your articles up. It really will help your brand and paper in the long run.

[1] Technically, although I work full-time in a non-journalism job, I can classify myself as freelance, even if it’s football and media writing and not reporting.


5 Responses to “Local news FAIL”

  1. 1 Gary Andrews October 10, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    And, as I’d rather not tinker with the article, I’d just like to reiterate that this really isn’t a pop at the paper in question, which I’ve got a fair amount of time for. And I’m really trying to back up or state a decent case for whatever ill-thought out points I’ve made above.

    I guess it’s just born of frustration that they’re turning away people who *want* to read their content. Which, to me, sounds crackers. But then what do I know?

    I could understand it if the majority of the papers did this. Which they once did, but that was… ooh, probably over five years ago.

    Hopefully you (and they) will understand why I’m a tad frustrated.

  2. 2 Richard Kendall October 13, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    There is still a concern at local newspaper level that giving the full story – particularly any sort of big local issue/exclusive (not that this was one) – online before the print edition has had time to sell will damage potential sales, as everyone will go online, no one buys the paper, paper dies, website dies…it’s not that simple, but from my position, in the current climate, I can see why it happens.

  3. 3 Gary Andrews October 13, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I can definitely understand that point of view, and if I was writing just a few years ago, it would have probably been the default.

    But, as information gets more available and opened up online, to me shutting out a potential set of eyeballs just doesn’t make sense. Especially if they can set up RSS feeds that bypasses their need to even go anywhere near the site.

    What’s more, it hardly encourages those who’ve already brought the paper to keep going back online, and hardly encourages potential new readers either.

    I seriously think the time can’t be too far away when somebody, probably retired and with time on their hands, sets up a local news blog that can get local news stories up quicker than the paper. Then they’re in trouble.

    At the moment, I’d accept a compromise of 9am, possibly 10am. Ok, 2pm if we’re really pushing it. But making the content available around midnight… I’ll have forgotten by then, and will probably know all I need to know on that topic anyway.

  4. 4 Dina October 17, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    It is interesting what you write about the problems of the internet and journalism.
    As a reporter on a local newspaper I know for a fact that the news revealed on all the websites mentioned was limiting.
    This however was not through lack of trying but rather thanks to council’s closing ranks behind their PR team, a press release was issued but not a word on any other facts, such as what are the long term problems behind this crisis.
    Also, with the story moving so unbelievably fast it was hard to write a story for the website, which would not be “old news”, incorrect, or even libelous.
    I do, however, agree with your blog.
    There is a problem with most journalists and their papers right now, although newspaper websites are not new local papers are having a rough time in deciding what should go up and when, (problems with lible/defamation, sales, editing etc).
    I see a lot of potential with the internet and online reporting, however the benefits are slow to come about, and although there is a need for better integration of news stories and websites, it is still not enough.
    I am working hard on providing good and fast content for our news website, so dont despair, one of those sites will be very good very soon.

  5. 5 Gary Andrews October 17, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Having worked in local journalism a lot, I can definitely relate to that Council PR story! It’s all too believable and I don’t think anybody would blame you for playing safe and not constantly updating the website. My old editor always used to say ‘it’s better to be right than first’, which tended to win us a lot more respect, both from our audience and the people we regularly dealt with.

    But to leave it the best part of the day before putting a story that’s already in print up online… in my book, that’s just not good enough. It drives away potential eyeballs and a potential audience. And for people who’ve moved away from the area but want to keep in touch, it’s a nightmare.

    There’s so much local papers can (and could, and do) do online – and if I’m honest, I think you may see a few local papers go online only in the next few years.

    Robert Peston’s really shown in the last few weeks how important blogs can be to a story and there’s so much potential that could be tapped into, if the papers were prepared to commit to it.

    But it’s really encouraging that people in your position are working on stuff like this – look forward to see what comes out of it 🙂

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