Posts Tagged 'birminghamUK'



Blogs on the brain

I have been bad! Twelve whole days without a single post!

Would it surprise you that I can blame my lack of blogging entirely on… well… blogging?

Over the last two weeks I have been immersed in the creation and organisation of http://blogs.birminghampost.net. It has been a fantastic thing to get stuck into – if not a little hair-raising given the time schedule!

The brief has been to create a blog section for The Post that links into the sectors that we hope to cover. But, within that brief, there was quite a bit of flexibility. Would we just have staff writers? Would we ask for volunteers from outside of The Post? Would we have one blogger per sector, or more?

I had one big aim for the blogs – to get a bigger blogging presence in the West Midlands. My attention has been drawn to the BBC Manchester Blogs Project (thanks Craig and Francois), which includes guest bloggers (some who blog already, some who do not).

It’s an interesting and innovative approach and I like the way it draws people in and allows them to test the water. But, when some only post once and do not have their own blog, it seems to limit the conversation that can build up.

I also looked at some of the approaches that other newspapers have taken to blogging.

Many seem to have labelled blogs as online columns, choosing one or two people to be their “voices of authority”and sticking to them. It has always been an approach that has annoyed me, there’s something quite dictatorial about it.

Newspaper blogs that take this approach also often end up covering rather predictable topics which are probably more interesting to journalists than their readers: an editor spouting forth his wisdom in a “I know better than you” kind of way, a grumpy old man talking about how things aren’t as good as the old days… of course, I’m generalising here, but I think it’s a pattern others might recognise.

Another approach newspapers seem to take to blogs is to open them up to all their staff as an ultra-niche publishing platform for their interests. While many hobby blogs can be great, you can often end up with a collection of blogs that have nothing to do with anything else that appears on the newspaper’s website

So, I’ve been spending the last two weeks putting together a plan and doing a spot of recruiting both inside and outside of the paper. I wanted us to have a mix of experienced bloggers and complete beginners and I wanted them to be covering issues that loosely made sense within the context of The Post. Those who are completely new to the platform will be given help and guidance when and where they want it.

The response has been great… actually better than great. We have a mix of young and old from journalism, business, academia and the creative and cultural sectors. We’ve even had to start a waiting list!

I am under no illusions, however, that everyone who launches a blog with us will stick with it. Blogging is not for everyone, but I’d rather people had a go to see what worked for them. Because we want to keep things flexible for our first wave of Post bloggers, we’ve (hopefully) designed the blogs in a way that factors this in. If they post once or twice and never again, so be it, although I will be working very hard to get them as hooked as I am!

I hope too it’s something that can grow and change as it develops. If we have a demand for niche hobby bloggers, then we can cater for that, or if our site gains a substantial following for a particular topic, we can deal with that too.

Obviously I’ll be relying on you all to tell me what you think when we launch!

Birmingham Mail relaunch

So, one of the rather major things that happened last week was that our sister paper, The Birmingham Mail, launched its new website.

Snazzy, eh? A big improvement, certainly. The coverage so far from the Press Gazette, journalism.co.uk and holdthefrontpage seems pretty good too.

Bounder has also provided some fantastic constructive criticism. This made me smile:

One problem that illustrates the peculiarity and the difference about content online is the journalists/subs use of “today”, “tomorrow” etc. in headlines – we don’t have the context online that we have with the physical copies “is that today’s Mail?”. Use of airy times online, where content can stay on a page for longer, means that “FOUR unsigned Midland bands are battling it out in Birmingham tonight” can’t work.

Sometimes it is the most simple of things that can elude us.

Now it is no secret, and in fact is announced in the above articles, that the new Birmingham Post website is due to launch this month. As part of the preparations, I’m going to move off of editorial for a few weeks and help with the website project.

It’s also no secret that the basic template that The Post site will use will be the same as The Mail, although we do have a certain amount of room for manoeuvre.

So, with the Mail doing the hard part and launching first, I’d be interested in what, if anything, we could do better?

Obviously, I can’t promise that it’ll be possible to implement it (we are already working from the suggestions that were given here previously). But, well, in the spirit of friendly rivalry it would be nice if we could do a little better than them!

Mobile phone woe

I ran out of time to post anything more from my time in Preston, but I doubt it will be the last time I refer to it as it has had quite an impact. At the moment I think I’m suffering from brain burn. I can’t remember the last time I used the old grey matter so intensely for so long.

One thing that came out is that I am in serious need of upgrading my mobile package. Playing with the Nokia N95 made me realise I need to find out how mobile Internet is working and how that might effect people who use The Post website (and how I might do my job as a journalist).

I don’t get a work mobile and my current personal mobile is talk and text only. I will have to change it but the thing is, I’m on a really good tariff. I signed up to it with BT Genie back in the day when I was a student and BT was experimenting with selling online. Because I never moved O2 keeps me on it to stop me going elsewhere.

It includes:

  • £10 a month contract
  • 50 free off-peak minutes every day (1400 a month).
  • unlimited free texts a month

Good, huh? If I try not to use it for work calls during the day too much then it’s a very good package. So, relunctant to lose the contract I phoned O2 today to see what they could offer me. I have two options.

Option 1: Internet bolt-on

  • 2MB a month for £3
  • 4MB a month for £5
  • Unlimited access for £25

Option 2: Change of package to Online 35:

  • £35 a month contract
  • 600 free mins a month
  • 1000 free texts a month
  • Unlimited internet access for £7.50 a month extra

I think it’s probably going to end up with me taking the bolt on, but boosting my outgoing on a mobile from at least £10 to at least £30 is still a pain in the arse. The other thing is that it would not allow we the handset upgrade. If I wanted an 8GB N95, for example, I would have the pleasure of paying £249.

So, is there a better contract out there?

Preston: Day 1

Phew! The first day of the residential is over. So, before a large glass of wine helps me to forget everything we’ve learnt today, I thought I better write a few quick notes.

The biggest thing for me was how much technology is out there that journalists should and could be using right now.

I remember being very impressed when playing with Google Earth on a friend’s iPhone – the GPS functions was stunning (Any rich person got an iPhone going spare btw? I’d love one, but can’t afford it!). It was brought home to us today that in just a few months everyone will have mobile GPS on their phones and will start expecting information to be geotagged. We should be doing that now!

Another one was mobile video. Here is another view of Preston (can’t get it to embed) and our lecturer Mark streaming video from his Nokia N95, which is now part of the mobile kit for all Reuters journalists.

Mark’s using Bambuser, which streams driectly to the web. It is still in alpha so, as with Seesmic, I’m going to have to put it on the list to play with later. But it made my head spin to think how easy it is to capture breaking news on mobile video and have it online instantly.

Other good sites to play with: Jaiku and ShoZu.

Right, off to the bar…

Preston

PrestonWell, I’m here at the Holiday Inn, Preston. Just thought I’d share the view from my room. Great, huh?

To be fair, I’ve seen some very lovely buildings while getting lost in the one-way systems coming into the city. I don’t know much about Preston, but it seems ok.

I think the view from the hotel is just…well…unfortunate.

Trust and UGC

Ever since the coversation about Flickr, there has been an niggle in the back of my mind about some of the arguments out there that newspapers will cut staff to start to rely more heavily on blogs and other user-generated content [edit user-generated content = UGC].

It’s certainly a fear expressed by the NUJ, and by others. I can see their point and have said that, if profit-driven newspapers groups thought they could increase margins by relying more heavily on UGC, then it would probably happen.

But I’ve started to revise those thoughts of late. If the Flickr question taught me one thing it was that while journalists are debating how UGC will be used in the future, we are not at all sure about how the future content generators might feel about it.

Whilst the value of blogs as sources is, I think, beyond doubt, it doesn’t mean that the Internet is an orchard of social networks for newspapers to cherry-pick content at will… even if there is no legal reason why they shouldn’t.

For example, Flickr is designed for photo sharing. From the comments I’ve recieved, there should be nothing legally wrong with a newspaper providing a Flickr feed on its website. BUT just because it can, doesn’t mean it should or that people will like it if it does.

One of the problems is that we live in suspicious times. The media is badly mistrusted and, whilst people are happy to read about others in the newspaper, they are fearful about getting involved with it themselves. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the lines: “Oh you’re a journalist, so what lies are you going to make up today?” or I’ve had to spend considerable time convincing people that I am, in fact, not going to stitch them up. Personally, it’s insulting, but then that’s the regard our industry is held in.

I suppose, once upon a time, with an army of dedicated readers and no Internet, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference to sales if one reader was upset. Now they are a potential content generator, the situation is different. Not only will a lack of trust make it difficult to obtain content, it could also mean that if a paper appears to be doing something else that fits the untrustworthy stereotype, the news and damage will spread.

For example: A paper develops a Flickr feed without building trust in the Flickr community. It has done nothing legally wrong, but it is tapping into a community that will not all be fully paid up subscribers to that newspaper. Therefore, the default position of mistrust is likely to stand and the assumption may be that the newspaper is trying to profit at the expense of unpaid photogrpahers.

The understandable result is that Flickr members get angry and start pulling their photos from the group. They then replace these with offensive photoshopped versions telling that paper exactly were to stuff its feed. Angry blog posts sprout up all over the place and, within days, you’ve alienated a community and, I imagine, the feed would have been taken down.

I don’t have an example of where that has yet happened, but its seems pretty plausible possiblity.

So if newspapers are serious about UCG, then they might have their work cut out. Unless they start getting out into local social netwoks and communities and start building up trust, they may find their UGC dream backfires.

The Davos Question

Just a few hours left to post a video to the Davos site on YouTube. The point of The Davos Question is to get people offering up ideas of what would make the world a better place in 2008.

I think it’s a fantastic idea, although I’m slightly flummoxed by the execution. The videos are rated by YouTube users (I think that’s where the plan starts to fall down slightly) and the highest ranked will be screened at the World Economic Forum AGM in Davos this coming week.

The downside to this worthy idea is that the software is a bit confusing and, instead of hearing every submission, I find I’m picking and choosing based on video quality. It also, as you would expect, attracts some utter tosh and madness.

But there are some good videos tackling issues such as climate change and poverty. One interesting one talked about using social networking to re-engage people with the democratic process.


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