Posts Tagged 'blogs'

Who wags who?

Martin Moore’s discussion around the death of Ian Tomlinson and the subsequent investigation and unearthing of footage by the Guardian raises some interesting points about the place ‘old media (for want of a better phrase) have today:

“Would the ‘truth’ surrounding Mr Tomlinson’s death have come to light had it not been sought out by journalists, and then published as the lead story in the Guardian? Perhaps, but I don’t think so.”

Then there’s the Damian McBride email scandal that may have broken in the blogosphere but still needed the traditional media to completely take it into the scandal it has now become. Would McBride have resigned if the accusations had just appeared on Guido Fawkes’ blog and nowhere else [1]?

But, by the same token, these stories wouldn’t have become as big had it not been for the work of social media, with videos of Tomlinson and alleged police brutality at the G20 protests circulating around the internet. And in the midst of this, the Guardian showed how a mainstream media’s website spread this using social media tactics.

Then, on a lighter news story, Pete Cashmore muses at Mashable on Ashton Kutcher’s passing of the 1 million Twitter followers mark:

“And yet this assumes that social media needs mainstream media to justify its existence: that without its blessing social media is not confirmed. But mainstream media is increasingly becoming an echo of social media, allowing YouTube’s masses to define what matters (Susan Boyle, the Domino’s Pizza scandal) and mirroring that public sentiment.

For now, Twitter needs mainstream media more than mainstream media needs Twitter. But Ashton has an audience of 1 million at his fingertips: how much longer will the talent need its mainstream middleman?”

Is this a case of the tail wagging the dog or the dog wagging the tail? Or just a case of having a double-headed, double-tailed canine?

Chris Applegate makes an interesting comparion between the coverage of Hillsborough twenty years ago and the coverage of the G20.

Back in the 1980s, it was much easier for the police (with a little help from The Sun) to get out their version, deflecting blame and smearing the innocent. Today, the police’s account of the G20 was quickly contradicted by the wealth of material available. One wonders if the families of the 96 would still be campaigning for justice if Hillsborough had happened today.

At the moment, both social media and traditional media are probably wagging each other. The footage of Ian Tomlinson would probably have gained traction without the Guardian, but the newspaper’s work meant it was disseminated much quicker. McBride’s emails may well have just stuck to the Westminster gossip blogs  if the papers hadn’t run with it [2].

Certainly with significant news stories that originate in niche communities, then it probably does require a helping hand from the traditional press to take it that step further. But the lines are getting increasingly narrow between the two.

If you have an interest in an area, mainstream or niche, you’ll probably hear the news before it makes it to the mainstream media, but it’s also never been easier for journalists to keep tabs on what’s getting the internet buzzing – and if that’s beyond the usual geek or early adopter buzz, there’s a good chance it’s a story that more people will be interested in.

And then you’ve got somebody like Susan Boyle, who was on a primetime show like Britain’s Got Talent and got the traditional media and the social media talking, and social media helped turn Susan Boyle into a global superstar, which, in turn, became a story for traditional media.

My brain hurts.

Both sides still need each other still, but it remains to be seen for how much longer. Journalists are still gatekeepers, sorting the wheat from the chaff in the internet world, albeit with no small amount of help from places like Twitter. And when they do manage to come together, like the Guardian’s excellent work with the Ian Tomlinson story, then it can really take off.

And one final note that’s probably significant in some small way. When news broke that Tomlinson didn’t die of a heart attack, as was originally though, thenews was all over Twitter. But the most retweeted user on this was Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the Channel 4 News anchor.

Like I say, both sides still need each other.

[1] Ok, this is being very simplistic. No blog is an island and that’s one of the joys of the web. If people like what’s blogged or Tweeted, it soon finds its way onto other blogs.

[2] It’s worth remembering that while the likes of Gudio and Iain Dale are seen as influential within Westminster, once you leave this behind, recognition of their names probably diminishes. You can be interested in politics without having heard of either, especially if you don’t spend a great deal of time reading blogs. There is a world beyond the blogs.

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Online Marketing and Media ’08: What I did on my day at the conference

If there was one overarching theme from the first day of the Online Marketing and Media ’08 Conference it was creativity. Creativity and engagement. Creativity, engagement and communities. Creativity, engagement, communities and conversation. And nice red uniforms. I’ll start again shall I?

Ok, there wasn’t one underlying theme but the Spanish Inquisition aside, the four elements listed above were repeated regularly throughout all sessions I was at and some of the workshops. The message is clear. The level of conversation has changed and if you’re not engaging with communities who connect with your brand on whatever level then you’re at best losing out and, at worst, leaving the door open to some serious damage online.

Respond. Engage. Listen

New Media Age’s editor-in-chief Michael Nutley set the tone with his keynote overview of the industry. In many respects much of what was said shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody in the room, yet it pulled many different strands together neatly. For traditional media it was both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because of the possibilities and terrifying because it was clear how easy it would be to get left behind.

Trends, said Nutley, were here to stay. Nobody wants to go back to 56k after experiencing broadband. And while Facebook et al may be slightly less indispensible than broadband, the social media landscape and conversation has cemented itself into far enough into our culture to have profoundly changed how we get our information and engage with brands.

But it wasn’t just Facebook, MySpace and Bebo that were regularly brought up as social media conversation-enablers. YouTube, lastfm, Flickr, del.icio.us, WAYN, moneysupermarket.com, Top Table, Lego enthusiast communities and many more even more niche sites were mentioned throughout the day.

The message here is clear. These conversation about lego, travel, food, pictures, video, music and brands are happening online and if PR and marketing professionals want to be part of this they need to be prepared to enter the conversation and, occasionally, get their fingers burnt.

The dialogue is never ending either. Nutwell gave the example of Nike, who’d built such a successful social social community for runners surrounding the launch of their new trainer that when the marketers wanted to move onto focus on a different area they found the community had grown organically to such a stage that it couldn’t realistically be abandoned. But Nike also had a valuable commodity on their hands  a direct line to consumers who were prepared to enthusiastically engage with the brand.

Then there was the example of the wine company who did their research on forums and blogs and sent out cases of wine to the most influential of these. They were rewarded with a large spike in sales, but when other companies tried to copy the tactic, the success was a lot more muted.

Yet engaging with the online community – especially leading opinion makers, with samples of good occasionally – is necessary. Sally Cowdry from O2 told the audience of a similar success with the Cocoon handset, again by offering free samples.

Yet their were notes of caution here. One aspect which will terrify some CEOs, marketeers and PR professionals is once the brand or product is thrown out into the wilds of the internet there’s no control of what may come back.

As Cowdry emphasised, you’ve got to be prepared to offer yourself up to criticism, so if you’re engaging with the communities you’ve got to really believe in whatever issue or product you’re having the conversation around. Because if you get it wrong, then one of the first things anybody could see if they type the keywords into Google is a long post or forum thread tearing strips off the product you were hoping to promote.

To that end, any engagement has to be done transparently. All communities, be it clubbers, students, people discussing travel arrangements, or Lego enthusiasts, will react badly if they discover you’re covertly setting up ‘clean’ blogs or user profiles to promote a product or defend a brand without making it clear it’s affiliated to whatever the brand, product or topic is. Again, that’s likely to have a seriously negative impact on your Google rankings.

But starting the conversation is very different and if you hit the right note with the right campaign, piece of PR, or just the right post on the right community, then that conversation will organically grow with your brand at the centre of it.

To that end, Leo Ryan from Ryan MacMillian produced some fascinating data from the London Elections. Using various social media analyzing tools – like Technorati, Facebook Leixcon, Google Trends, Clusty, del.icio.us tagclouds and others – for the London Mayor election, the stats showed Boris had better buzzmetrics than Ken on just about everything bar blogs, where Ken was slightly more talked about it. In particular, the Boris-related chatter on Facebook was nearly three times that of Ken.

But what was interesting was this conversation was taking place around Boris’s announcements and NOT the debate between Ken and Boris. When Boris put out a new release or a new policy, traffic and chatter would spike, unlike when Ken tried to debate Boris’s policies. In some respects, it’s not unreasonable to assume that part of Ken’s strategy was blunted because he was simply repeating the online conversation rather than starting it.

Whether the chatter for Boris was positive or negative isn’t so easy to ascertain and, unlike using the free services, more powerful paid-for tools were needed here.

But Leo Ryan’s talk, the most illuminating of the lot, showed it was easy to track your social media footprint (in the above case, Boris and Ken’s footprint) using readily available free tools. The results wouldn’t produce perfect results every time and would have to go through several levels of cleaning or analysing.

So that means checking results against each other, finding the key phrases, refining them and playing the results of the tools off against each other, rinsing out aspects that may skew the results (for example, an unrelated term cropping up on a regular basis in the tools).

Taken together the tools – Technorati, Summize, Clusty, Google’s assorted services, Twing, Blogpulse and others – offer a way to spot who’s talking about you, what they’re saying and, perhaps just as important, what they’re not saying. It’s a great way to gauge the level of feedback and can be done in a morning.

Conclusions (but by no means the end of it all)

In truth, most of the conclusions that I drew from the day were already mentioned in the first paragraph, bar the nice red uniforms (and I’d prefer white stripes with mine anyway).

Firsty, this social media malarky isn’t difficult. Yes, some of today may have, in my case, been preaching to the converted but it really does emphasise how easy it is to start engaging with communities and track results. Anybody who gets scared by these tools shouldn’t be. They’re not necessarily the be all or end all but neither are they like a piece of tricky technology that only a select few can master. Anybody can get involved and engage if they want to. And chances are they already do, be it fan forums, review sites and research before purchasing a product, exchanging travel tips, sharing YouTube videos and the like.

And it’s never been easier to find and share this content, be it through social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us and Digg, music sites like Lastfm, networking places like Facebook and LinkedIn, even the reviews section of Amazon. It’s all out there.

Secondly, the nature of the conversation has changed significantly from a few years ago and will continue to evolve. Traditional advertising models still have a place but are no longer as effective. Given the controversy over Facebook’s Beacon project, and the fact that it’s becoming easier than even to skip adverts on TV, be it watching online, using Sky+ or other recorders, communities don’t want people talking at them. They want to be engaged with, to have their say, to get responses. Conversation is a two-way process, but many companies treat it as if there’s only one person with anything to say or worth saying. That attitude’s a surefire way to the deadpool.

But, above all, it’s worth trying new things. It’s worth being creative. Not every potential viral will be shared around offices by bored workers on a Thursday afternoon. Not every attempt to engage with bloggers, forums and other sites will be a success. But it still doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Starting the conversation in an open, transparent and prepared-to-engage way stands a good chance of getting whatever is being promoted talked about online. It’s not the same or in place of traditional media outlets but its still just as valuable.

Hey, journalists, I’ve not forgotten you!

While the above all sounds very marketeer-like, the journalist in me can easily see how these tools and insights into the social media conversation (sorry, I’m doing it again. I’ll try and stop that) could be useful. Using the right tools – again Technorati, Google Alerts, del.icio.us, Digg, Summize, etc – it should be possible for the modern Web 2.0-literate journalist to have a handle on a story or their patch either through an hour’s work online or, better still, waiting for them in their inbox each morning.

I’ve already shown how useful tools like Twitter, Google, Technorati and forums are when you’re tracking a breaking news story, and that’s only going to increase as more users adopt assorted social media.

If the conversation is happening online, then that, in a way, is no different from the conversation down the pub. In my time I’ve been taught by assorted journalists that firstly the pub is a great source of news stories and, secondly, is a good benchmark of if your story is relevant to your audience – ie can you imagine people talking about it down the pub.

Well, now you’ve got your virtual ‘pub’ in so many locations Blogs, Facebook Groups, Google Groups, Twitter, feedback sites, the lot. Not only are these a great way of getting stories, but also to build contacts for the future by listening and engaging in the conversation with communities.

See, I’m doing it again. Journalists, publicists and marketeers may be after different ends but the means can be the same.

Exeter bomb blast: a case study in online coverage and social media

It terms of the unexpected, getting several tweets and rss notifications of a bomb blast of my home city of Exeter had to be pretty high on the list of things I never quite thought I’d see [1]. As, until just under eight months ago, it was also my reporting patch, it also gave the opportunity to follow the story from a variety of sources, analyse coverage, and see what, if any opportunities had been taken or missed online, and with social media.

It also made me a teeny bit jealous and nostalgic that I wasn’t down there reporting.

Breaking news: the sources

While the story was continually breaking I was hitting Twitter, Digg, technorati, Google and the local media’s online site, chiefly the Express and Echo and Gemini Radio. Anything that follows certainly isn’t a criticism of them (in terms of Gemini, my old employer, they sounded fantastic on-air from the hour I listened in on, and given how few people there were in the newsroom, they were stretched as hell. I’ve no idea on the echo, but I’d imagine they were also juggling plenty of balls with not enough hands).

How web 2.0 savvy were the journalists on the case? I have no idea, but through a cursory glance of various social media sites I dug up a few bits and pieces, which would have been a good addition to any story, and maybe worth storing for another angle or another good voice to the story.

Digg didn’t yield anything [2] while delicious didn’t immediately have anything either and technorati only really came alive between leaving work at six and logging on again at 10pm, although a lot of the posts were from the usual anti-Muslim brigade. It did, however, yield this lovely and rather sweet piece of user-generated content:

“I contacted Gemini radio to tell them about the Exeter City Council webcam, and they put the link on their website!”

The tool that really proved it’s worth, though, was Twitter. Not only was this the first place I heard about the story itself, but there were rich pickings, with a quick search within Twitter for ‘Exeter’ bringing several users Tweeting about their experiences, as well as a couple of interesting blog posts. John Hood, who was one of them, also noted Twitter’s worth:

“This afternoon, Twitter, yet again, proved its intrinsic value with regards ‘breaking news’, when a nail bomb exploded at Exeter’s Princesshay Shopping Centre! I had, literally, only driven by Princesshay minutes prior to the explosion. Wondering if Peter Lacey, an eye witness interviewed by the BBC at Princesshay, is the same Peter I knew at primary school? Small world if it is!”

And in more proof, if any were needed, of the high proportion of the social media enthusiasts on Twitter, the search also uncovered The Daily Ack’s brief unfolding timeline of his personal experiences, plus another piece of wood for the traditional media coffin [3] notes:

“I’d expect that over the next few hours, just like the 2005 blasts, I’ll also be getting most of my news from non-mainstream sources. However unlike the 2005 bombing this, unless it turns out that the initial information is very wrong, is a local story and that means that, unlike a story of national interest, any follow up by the main stream press will be sporadic at best. They’ll probably not just be the best news source, they might be the only news source available.”

But, perhaps surprisingly (or not – I wasn’t), the first place I looked was the best. Exeter City’s fan forum, Exeweb, has a very strong Exeter-based community and, to my mind, it was inevitable that somebody would start a thread about it.

Many of the posters worked nearby the city centre, and some were close to the main scene – the thread actually turned out to be the best way to follow the news, with any unsubstantianed rumours quickly quashed and the news hitting Exeweb before anywhere else, even Twitter.

Now, before you think I spent the whole afternoon scouring the web for sources, the above all took me just half an hour to set up. Once I’d found the right areas to look in, the rest was done with Google and Technorati alerts and refreshing the other pages when I got a spare moment. That, to me, is the exciting part. The web has moved journalism on to such a point that with just 30 minutes I felt as informed as if I’d been living in Exeter.

The traditional media, online

Now, putting aside social media for a moment and onto the local media, specifically the Express and Echo [4], the fascinating area was to see firstly how their website covered the event, and secondly, what opportunities could have been used to link into social media and enhance the user experience.

There was some good stuff too – regular half hour updates, and a gallery that was uploaded pretty quickly and continually added to. The video that was posted later tied all the ends together nicely and was one of the most informative pieces available anywhere on the web all day [5].

On a basic level, very good. As a user, I have a reason to visit their site throughout the day. However, there’s aspects that are far from perfect. The bitty nature of the articles is quite frustrating. Also, every piece is finished with a plug for tomorrow’s echo, where the full story will appear.

Now, as a regular user of the paper’s online service to keep up to date with events back home, I’m willing to bet tomorrow will see what the Echo do every day – a brief summary, followed by a quick line about full story in the paper, before the full piece is posted up a day later. As somebody who can’t get hold of the paper on that day, it drives me nuts [6] and is really poor practice, plus puts them 24 hours behind when it comes to social bookmarking, and that will lose them hits in the long term.

It’s easy to understand why they do this – to maximise print sales – but is a very Web 1.0 way of doing things and with no sharing buttons, it’s very frustrating to ‘do’ anything with the articles. It’s still possible to hold back the really good stuff for the paper while filling the the essentials in a good, non-bitty article online as it breaks. If they could open up and make all their articles available on the day, it would help web goodwill towards them no end.

Going Web 2.0 and combining traditional and new media

Now, let’s bring together a few strands from both here. The Echo’s online coverage was ok to good in places but could have enhanced the user experience far more. The most obvious idea here would be rather than posting the bitty updates, would be to have a reporter liveblogging and bringing all the strands together. The Guardian are particularly good at this, and its an easy and coherent read, and this could apply equally the Gemini’s site.

The same reporter would be able to scour the web for any decent links, blogs, or Tweets and link to them as appropriate, plus there would be the chance to work from any tip-offs that might arise in the comments [6]. The question will always arise here at what level do you credit blogs as sources, and how reliable are they, which is something Robin Hamman has written about many times [7].

It’s a toughie, but blogs do add and enhance, and are part of the liveblogging experience. Best practice would suggest that if, as a journalist, the information isn’t immediately verifiable, but worth linking too, then flag up this fact in the liveblog before you link. That should cover it all. Perhaps another option would be to save it to delicious and publish all the saved delicious links on the blog at the end of the day.

Local papers are usually the first, and best place, to turn to when there’s an event on their patch that’s of national interest, due to good local knowledge and contacts, and the really savvy local media (papers and radio) would already have a Twitter feed in place – it’s at times like this that Twitter really can release its potential (and generate more traffic for your site).

It goes without saying that any good reporter should be setting up technorati and Google alerts relevant to a story like this, while also checking for information on Facebook, and the more Web 2.0 of them will have thoughts about putting the videos on YouTube and working the links and tags on Digg and delicious, even if it means bookmarking the paper’s own liveblog as a start.

How much the newspaper or radio’s site wants to share with users, or keep for themselves, is another matter, but both visible or just used by the journalist, they all combine to enhance the user experience, without a great deal of effort from the person sat in front of the keyboard.

Conclusion

The more events like this occur, the more opportunities and tools your average reader will have to hunt down information. Twitter is becoming more useful as a journalistic tool by the day, and once again showed its worth here.

What this also shows, is that any traditional media that ignores these social media tools and neglects the user experience throughout breaking news, risks losing them elsewhere, possibly for good. After all, if there up to date information on forums and blogs that’s seemingly no less reliable than the mainstream media, why bother? But if the paper or radio in question starts bringing together these tools on their website – ah, now that’s a different story.

One place they could do a lot worse than take a lead from is the Birmingham Post (even if they do have one of my least favourite journalist-only words – slammed- in their front page headline), who’ve done some excellent work across the site (thanks, in no small part, I suspect, to Joanna Geary). I’d wager if the same event happened in Birmingham, the Post’s online coverage would exceed my suggestions.

The Echo haven’t done a bad job online, that’s for sure – with a little bit of tweaking they could really take their Web 1.5 site to Web 2.0. The same goes for Gemini, who do offer extras, but (and this is largely because all GCap sites are the same and not great for anything unique to one specific station) really need to add in lots more Web 2.0 features (hell, why not do a special news podcast?).

But the encouraging thing is they’re getting there. Even is social media is still hurtling forward at a faster pace.

UPDATE: And proof, if any were needed, about the importance of good tagging and titling. This post alone has seen nearly 200% more hits and counting than an average post on this blog. And this blog is now also on the front page of Google if you search for ‘Exeter bomb’. Now how many media organisations would love to see their coverage listed on the first set of results on Google?

UPDATE 2: With wonderful gallows humour the British do so well, there’s now a Facebook Group, I survived the 22/05/08 Exeter bombing.

[1] And even so, the general consensus from friends and online sources seems to be one nutter who’d probably have done more damage with a baseball bat than a bomb, and doesn’t seem to have affected people that much. But that’s by the by.

[2] And I’m still not really au fait with getting the best out of Digg so if anybody has found anything that I’ve missed feel free to tell me I’m rubbish.

[3] Ok, I’m not a total subscriber to the “I come not to praise newspapers but bury them” crowd but it does show that users are getting more savvy and much of traditional media needs to shake up PDQ.

[4] I’m going to put Gemini very much to one side here – partly because they would have been working towards regular on-air updates, and also I know what their online CMS is like – an absolute inflexible dog that doesn’t offer a great deal of scope for experimentation, and that’s really not their fault. There’s plenty of extra audio for you to get their teeth into though, which is good, and they’re updating regularly (in between me starting this post and writing this. I can guess which poor sod it is who won’t be sleeping tonight, and will buy him a pint when I’m next in Exeter).

[5] And I’ll even put aside my usual quibbles about editing and other TV techniques here as it was a very decent video and, given the time they had to do it in, well put together – certainly better in content than a lot of the sensationalist crap on the national bulletins.

[6] The Echo do have a note on their site that comments are disabled due to abuse, which is fair enough if they’re stretched – comment moderation takes up a bit of time and in events like this you do get a fair share of nutters leaving comments. I’ve no idea what caused them to switch it off though, as it was already disabled by the time I logged onto their site.

[7] If he’s reading this, Robin, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Newspapers 2.0.1

As I was having a lazy Sunday and am still officially killing off the lurgy that took hold earlier in the week, I briefly ventured outside to get a Sunday paper to pass the time with.

Then it struck me. I can’t remember the last time I deliberately ventured outside in search of the daily paper. I occasionally buy the Guardian if I want to do the crossword on the tube, but that’s more of an impulse purchase. But by and large I now view most of my news online. Is, like Ben, my love affair with the humble newspaper over?

Well, not quite. At least I don’t think so. If there’s something news-wise I’m interested in reading more, I’ll pick up a paper. I still visit the Guardian’s site first thing. But its no longer a thing of habit; more of an occasional distraction.

No, by no means setting myself out as the be all and end all harbinger of daily print media, but when a previously religious daily newspaper reader eventually starts to migrate online, newspapers have some serious thinking to do.

Largely, I think the majority of the nationals are heading in the right direction online: most daily online sites are a very good extension of the brand. You go there for the news, but there’s plenty you can read and do that you won’t be able to do in the paper.

By the same token, local newspapers have cottoned onto this and seem to largely have decided video clips are the way forward, especially since things went very quiet on the BBC’s ultra-local news service.

But using this as a tool to draw in new readers and drive traffic to their sites aren’t without problems. Firstly, if the paper is just offering a video clip of a story already in the paper, there are two potential pitfalls. Firstly, its unlikely to hook in new readers from elsewhere, or readers who are unaware of the paper or its website. Secondly, the video needs to be of a very high quality and worth viewing, and it needs to be of this quality on a consistent level if the website’s going to get users returning (more on that in a bit).

In this respect I was quite interested to see some papers, like the Reading Evening Post, are embedding their clips into YouTube. It’s definitely a start if they’re going to try and attract new audiences (although quite why anybody would want to watch one of their reporters reading the weather, when you could just as easily log onto the BBC’s behemoth, get your local weather and make a cuppa in the time it takes for the video to finish, is beyond me).

But, if local print media is serious about using video clips as a core part of their online brand growth strategy, then they’ve got to get a lot more serious about the content and the quality of their content.

Without a doubt, there is a gap in the market. Regional TV news serves its purpose, but often covers a large geographic area. Local papers have the contacts, the rapport with their audience, and the potential to become the number one destination for broadcast news as well as print. How good would it be if Local Rag gave you the news in video as well, so hurried office worker could download onto their desktop, mobile, or iPod and watch at their own convenience? The potential is massive.

But there’s one issue that needs to be tackled if local newspapers are serious about video news: essentially the majority, if not all, of their journalists will be trained in print techniques.

This isn’t to be condescending to print journalists, and there will undoubtedly be those who’ll pick up broadcasting techniques reasonably quickly. But even those journalists (and print to broadcast is a reasonably well-trodden path) will need training if they’re to become an online VJ-cum-print reporter, and lots of it.

If local papers are to exploit the video gap in the market then the product has to be good enough to compete with local TV news. At the moment, although the quality of editing, shot selection, and the rest has improved immeasurably (no doubt as the journalists get more confident) it still has a long way to go. There’s no reason why they can’t produce broadcast-quality packages but they need time and training – two things local media isn’t exactly renowned for.

The best thing any print journalism course could do now is to offer basics in broadcasting. Any aspiring print journalist who also has a cursory knowledge about how to shoot and put together a TV package will be an asset to a local paper. Ideally local papers should start to look employing a journalist with broadcast experience just to bring their online video up to scratch. It just goes to show that there’s no such thing as diversifying into a discipline anymore.

There is one other small point, which is worth mentioning (if only because it leads neatly into another large point). Video is not the easiest thing browse while at your work desk. Flipping between reading an article and work is easy, video less so. Video may put off your average reader who’s logging on at work, while those who have the luxury of not having to spend their lives in an office, are probably going to be more loyal to the print edition.

But both of these very crudely-drawn demographics on my part (crudely) highlight the need for newspapers, especially local ones, to start thinking about doing much much more. There’s only so far video will take you, even if it does plug a gap in the market, and comes with jazzy graphics, bells, and whistles attached.

They key here is retention. Assuming your reader has read the news, watched the video, then what else is there to stop them surfing elsewhere?

These sites have a ready-made audience and should be exploiting it to the full. If there’s video, why no effort to attempt podcasts, which are much simpler than video for both the journalist to produce and the reader to consume at their leisure. It wouldn’t take much effort to produce an hour’s worth of chat around local sport ready for download.

Most local newspapers now have a comment section after the news story, which is all well and good, but where’s the effort to truly engage their readers? Most local papers have a blog, of sorts, but they’re often hidden away as an afterthought. Why are these not given more prominence? Comment Is Free may be, at its worst, a rabid bear pit of bad manners and utter lunacy, but it also ‘gets’ blogging and does it very well and, more to the point, has an ever growing community. Why haven’t local papers embraced blogging, and attempted to build similar online communities of their own?

Lastly, local papers are different beasts to their bigger national counterparts, so have more of an opportunity to build a proper social networking site based around the area. Journalists are now positively encouraged to use the likes of Facebook to track down stories or contacts. With a dedicated social net, they could get their finger on the pulse have a returning community spending time on their site, and ultimately use this to build their online brand beyond just their core readership. With the rise of sites like Ning, they don’t even have the argument that such things are difficult or costly to build.

I can envisage a point, not too far in the future, when the majority of people use a more advanced, less cumbersome Kindle-style reader to swipe, Oyster-style, their morning paper to read on the way into work, or on their coffee break. It’s also not too much of a leap of the imagination to combine this with a direct link to a paper’s dedicated blog or social net site. Suddenly, your local paper has become a vital part of your life that you pick up in the morning, engage on the social net during the day, and read the blog on the bus home in the evening.

So, the question is, who’s brave enough to make the first leap into the digital not-so-unknown?


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Throw letters together and send them to me

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