Editor’s tribute to local journalism’s unsung heroes

John Wilson with members of the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard Community Correspondents Club at South Cerney Village Hall

John Wilson with members of the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard Community Correspondents Club at South Cerney Village Hall

This is my homage to newspapers’ often undervalued network of neighbourhood correspondents. It was written for publication in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard.

WILTS and Gloucestershire Standard editor John Wilson has paid tribute to the newspaper’s team of community correspondents.

He said they were the “unsung heroes of local journalism”, and praised their role in keeping people accurately informed about local life.

He was speaking at the first meeting of the Standard’s new Community Correspondents Club, which was held at South Cerney Village Hall, near Cirencester.

The club aims to bring the correspondents together regularly to share tips and experiences over lunch. There will be occasional guest speakers and practical help with writing and photography.

Community correspondents, whose work is voluntary, fill the gaps left by full-time professional journalists.

They typically report on news and events in villages away from the Standard’s biggest circulation area in Cirencester.

John told them: “You are the unsung heroes of local journalism.

“And in an age when so much unsubstantiated and downright untrue news is spread on social media, your trusted contributions to your communities are more important and relevant than ever.”

The Standard is keen to expand its network of correspondents. If you are interested in joining the team please email Standard editor John Wilson.

  • The correspondents who attended the meeting were: Chris Roberts, Fairford; Mike Stuart, South Cerney; Pat Ayres, Kemble, Poole Keynes and Somerford Keyns, and Margaret Hing, Lechlade.
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The three most effective things to tweet

Twitter is a formidable tool, but even so I find it astonishing how quickly it has become an indispensable part of the newsroom.

Who would have thought a few years ago that conservative organisations like the police and fire service would use it as a key way of communicating with both the Press and public?

But despite its ubiquity, the use of Twitter in some newsrooms lacks focus. This is why you should use it, and some tips to help you make the most of it.

Five good reasons to use Twitter

There are at least five good reasons why we should use Twitter (former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger compiled this list of even more):

  1. Finding news. Organisations break their news on it first, and people with the same instinct as us (to be first) use it to share pictures and information of remarkable things they have seen or heard about. Sarah Marshall has written this very good guide to newsgathering using Twitter.
  2. Gathering information about topics you are interested in (you need to understand how to use lists to make the most of this).
  3. Listening to what people are saying on topics they are interested in.
  4. Communicating with people and asking them for information or their opinions, which can then inform your reporting.
  5. Distributing news stories from your website.

I have deliberately placed ‘distribution’ last on the list.

Tweeting links to stories drives only a small percentage of visitors to regional newspaper websites (apart from breaking news, see below). The figures will differ from site to site, but I would say Twitter will account on average for fewer than five per cent of referrals, against between 30 per cent 50 per cent for Facebook.

Now, I’m not saying don’t tweet links. Just be aware of the small returns you are likely to receive for certain tweets and ask yourself if your time on Twitter can be better spent.

The three most effective things to tweet

Use a hashtag if you think a story is going to run and develop over time (stories with hashtags are more widely shared). Use one already in circulation if it applies to your story, if not come up with your own and use it on all subsequent tweets about the story. Beware, though, of trying to hitch a ride on a trending hashtag if your content is not truly relevant.

Tweets that get you the most engagement (retweets, profile clicks, link clicks, mentions, followers and so forth) are, overwhelmingly, those that contain original content.

Not surprisingly, people will only invest their time, even if it is a few seconds, in something new that interests, entertains, informs or challenges them.

So, use tweets like this to both drive traffic and build your personal brand, which will help you develop relationships with your audience:

  1. Breaking news: If you can get a good story on the website within minutes (or better still, seconds) of it breaking, then tweet it out you will be rewarded with lots of clicks on your link. Remember to get something on your website first, then tweet a link to it. Breaking news stories on Twitter means people are not then obliged to visit your website for information, which is the ultimate goal of our digital activity!
  2. Pictures: Take them on your phone of interesting things you see, or on camera if you enjoy taking higher-quality photographs. You can also tweet photos contributed by readers, though make sure you always credit the contributor. Beware of stripping out pictures from other tweets and reusing them in your own timeline, even if you credit the originator. Some people don’t like it. Remember, tweets containing pictures triple the rate of retweets and nearly double the rate of likes.
  3. Opinion: People are interested in what journalists have to say, particularly if you have a specialist subject such as sport, politics or education. So instead of just retweeting things that catch your eye, add your expert view or local slant. People will enjoy reading what you have to say, and you may get a debate going. Be responsible in expressing your opinions. Claiming in your Twitter bio that “all views are your own” does not mean your audience will readily disassociate you from the newspaper for which you work. You cannot clock off from being a journalist, in the same way that a politician cannot clock off from being a politician.

How to work effectively on Twitter

To use Twitter effectively you cannot rely solely on your basic Twitter timeline. You need to use a desktop tool such as Tweetdeck. It helps you sift through the vast amount of content being produced by organising tweets into lists, which are more practicable to monitor.

Tweetdeck also lets you schedule tweets for key times, and set up alerts when a certain user tweets, or when a defined word or phrase appears.

You can also build complex search queries incorporating filters. So, for instance, you can create a search query seeking flood OR flooding OR downpour that will produce results with tweets featuring any of those words.

You can then add a filter to improve the quality of your results.

You might want to specify that you only want to see tweets that include pictures, or set a threshold for engagement.

If, for instance, you say you only want to see tweets that have been retweeted 10 times you can filter out some of the more random mentions.

You can also filter results geographically, although the effectiveness depends on whether the sender has location services enabled when they tweet.

There is some good information about Twitter advanced searches here.

It can also be useful to search users’ Twitter profiles for keywords (this function is not available in Twitter advanced search). A free version of a tool called Followerwonk allows you to add a key word and refine it by location and number of followers and/or tweets, thereby allowing you to zero-in on the most influential users in your area of interest.

Devise your strategy for Twitter

Think about what you want to achieve, and how you will do it. Make your goals measurable, and write them down so you can refer back to them.

Your strategy might be: Use Twitter to find more stories about my patch, build a network of contacts and grow the online audience for stories about my patch.

Your tactics for achieving it might be: Gain 30 new followers a month (tips on how to do that here), develop contacts by responding to 10 tweets relevant to my patch every month, update my Twitter bio to make it relevant to my goals, and post 10 tweets this month that earn at least 1,000 impressions.

To make sure you are reaching your goals you need to understand your followers better and measure how well you are doing against the goals you have set yourself. You can do this using Twitter Analytics, which is free and simple to use.

What are you top tips for using Twitter in the newsroom? Let me know.

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The three biggest newspaper myths of 2016 debunked

newspaper myths debunked

DEBUNKED: The three biggest myths about newspapers in 2016

These early days of 2017 are worrying ones for newspapers.

Dangerous myths have grown up in the wake of the Leveson Report into the “culture, practices and ethics” of the Press.

Now, as part two of Leveson looms, it is time to debunk them.

Myth 1: Newspapers should not be biased

Yes, they should… if they want to be! Newspapers that take a strictly neutral view of the world risk being tedious. Readers enjoy publications that arouse their passions, challenge them to see the world differently, and stand up for what they believe in.

A free press can publish what it wants within (in the UK’s case) a strict legal and ethical framework (see below).

This freedom dates to when it was won from the Stuart monarch in the 17th century.

News of domestic political events before then was banned.

King James did not want his subjects discussing or debating politics.

He thought some matters of state were beyond the understanding of ordinary people (some things never change).

The end of censorship 300 years ago brought an explosion of news writing that was often partisan and boisterous, and this wonderfully raucous chorus of competing voices has endured to this day.

The only mainstream news organisation barred from taking sides is the BBC, which as a State-run organisation is bound to be impartial under the terms of its charter.

Regardless of this, groups such as the misguided and hypocritical #StopFundingHate, seek a country in which newspapers whose views it finds disagreeable are closed down.

It is angered by headlines about child refugees and last year’s ruling by High Court judges that Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered to begin negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Its assertive approach includes pressurising businesses into withdrawing advertising and promotional activities from those papers whose views it finds offensive.

If such monstrous tactics were successful it could mean the closure of newspapers and the loss of livelihoods for hundreds of people.

As I have argued here before, the necessity to listen to voices we object to is the price we pay for being able to have our own say. And that is what underpins all our freedoms.

Myth 2: Newspapers answer to no one

Yes, they do! They are already subject to strict legal restrictions that include the libel laws, official secrets and anti-terrorism legislation, the law of contempt and other legal restrictions on court reporting, the law of confidence and the development of privacy actions, intellectual property laws, legislation regulating public order, trespass, harassment, anti-discrimination and obscenity.

Some believe these laws inhibit free speech far more than is healthy in a democratic society.

In addition, there are regulatory restraints on newspapers.

The Independent Newspaper Standards Organisation is the toughest regulator in the developed world. It holds newspapers to account for their actions, protects individual rights, and upholds standards of journalism. It has the power to issue fines of up to £1million.

This bundle of restrictions places the UK a shameful 38th in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, behind the likes of Surinam, Belize and Ghana. An unlikely position for an industry that answers to no one!

Myth 3: The phone hacking and bribery trials proved you cannot trust journalists

No, they didn’t! Phone hacking, which involved listening in to private voice messages on people’s phones, was an illegal activity.

Only a small number of journalists on national newspapers were involved, and they have been dealt with by the criminal courts in the same way as members of any other industry found guilty of breaking the law.

The practice was widely condemned in the rest of the Press as soon as it was exposed.

Oh, and who exposed it? Not the politicians, the police, or the regulators. It was the Press, namely journalists at The Guardian.

Public outrage over the scandal, and in particular the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler’s voice messages, gave enemies of the tabloids such as pressure group Hacked Off the excuse they had long craved to muzzle the Press for their own purposes.

The Leveson Inquiry, which investigated not just phone hacking but the “culture, practices and ethics” of the Press, was a politically motivated show trial.

One wonders why the ethics of the banking industry, which has brought misery to millions through its dodgy practices, have not been subject to an investigation of the same breadth.

Things will get even worse for the Press if Leveson part two is imposed.

A pernicious piece of legislation (Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013) would make newspapers liable to pay complainants’ costs, whether they won the case or not!

Campaigner Mick Hume describes it as a “DIY censors’ charter”.

Everyone who cares about freedom of expression should register their opposition to it at www.freethepress.co.uk before January 10.

Hot on the heels of Leveson came Operation Elvedon, an investigation in which News of the World publisher News Corp, seeking to atone for the hacking scandal, shared confidential emails between journalists and their sources with the Metropolitan Police.

Police used the obscure offence of misconduct in public office against journalists who paid state employees for stories.

Juries did not agree that journalists pursuing stories they thought the public should know about were being treated like criminals and they acquitted those accused.

Of 34 journalists arrested and/or charged in the operation none were convicted at trial and the operation was wound up. It was a saga superbly chronicled by newspaper industry website Press Gazette.

All this this political and legal manoeuvring has helped create a false perception of an industry that does so much good for this country.

It is time to send newspaper bashing the way of 2016 and demand a freer future for us all.










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Why free speech would be the victim of Stop Funding Hate’s righteous march

Lego stormtroopers

On the march: Campaigners are seeking to silent newspapers they judge to be publishing offensive and inaccurate stories

THE hypocrisy of some supporters of the Stop Funding Hate campaign is startling.

Do they not see that the biliousness of their own attacks on tabloid newspapers undermine their claims to be champions of a fairer society?

Are they not as guilty of fomenting hatred as the subjects of their ire?

Stop Funding Hate objects to newspapers it accuses of “promoting hatred, discrimination and demonisation”.

Chiefly, it is angered by headlines about child refugees and the recent ruling by High Court judges that Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered to begin negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Its assertive approach includes pressurising businesses such as Lego, John Lewis and Lidl into withdrawing advertising and promotional activities from those papers whose views it finds offensive.

To be clear, I am not attempting here to defend the opinions of newspapers. But I do defend their right to hold and express them.

The necessity to listen to voices we object to is the price we pay for being able to have our own say. And that is what underpins all our freedoms.

Stop Funding Hate should expose what it sees as the absurdities, inaccuracies or injustices of some newspaper stories with passionate but reasoned debate.

Instead, it is whipping up hysteria (a tactic it accuses newspapers of using) in an attempt to put them out of business, to shut them up forever, with its call for an advertisers’ boycott.

It is a chilling response.

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Why it’s unwise to compare journalists of yesterday and today

I am not immune to indulging in nostalgia, as my recent lament to regional newspapers’ vanishing printing presses shows.

So I will cut Pat Prentice a little slack for his tribute to his friend and colleague David Watts.

It is comforting to wallow in the past, especially when remembering an old pal.

Unfortunately, Pat’s eulogy strayed from fondly remembered times into a bit of a dig at today’s journalists. It received an indignant riposte from my fellow blogger Paul Wiltshire.

Young reporters, in particular, do not deserve unfavourable comparisons with those of a generation ago.

I marvel at their ability to report live for an online audience while also taking notes for a print version of the same story, all the while shooting stills and video and distributing their work via social media.

Back at the office they are required to caption their photos,  write headlines, upload to the web, add links, galleries, social media embeds and maps.

It is a formidable job spec, and by and large it is handled with skill, enthusiasm and good humour.

I do, though, share Pat’s admiration for the craft of sub-editors (I was, ahem, one myself).

Regional newspapers are dispensing with them, and their precious skills.

I do hope some of them find roles in the institutions involved in the training of journalists. They have much to offer.

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Why KFC is worth a front-page splash

worcester news kfc front page

FINGER LICKIN’ GOOD: Yesterday’s Worcester News front page

Yet again, the Worcester News’s choice of story for its front page has riled the Twitterati.

Yesterday’s paper revealed that another KFC takeaway, the city’s second, is to open.

But our decision to splash on the story drew derision from some, who felt the story was too trivial to merit its prominent position.

Jon Card (@joncard) said: “Who says local papers are dead? Anybody who reads @worcesternews”, later adding, “Is a new takeaway really the biggest story in Worcester this week?”

Sam Box (@samjbox) said: “Whereas this is good news, I’m not sure it’s worthy of the full front page compared to the story above [a tease for a rape trial that was outside our core circulation area]”.

Tom Guest (@tomguest_), himself a former Worcester News journalist now working in a different industry, tweeted me. He said: “How come this page 7 nib accidentally got used as the front page splash, John?!”

Later he added: “I don’t mean to be critical, I just find this click-bait led era of journalism a bit soulless and depressing.”

But was this story really trivial? Not to our readers, some of whom launched a social media campaign to bring the first branch of KFC to Worcester in 2008.

It is too early for information about how well yesterday’s edition sold, but we do know about the online version of the story.

It was one of the top 10 most popular stories on Newsquest’s network of regional newspaper websites for most of the day, and had almost six times more views than the next most popular story on the Worcester News website.

The story has also been widely shared on the Worcester News Facebook page.

Saying we are getting things wrong in these circumstances is like telling a shop to take its most popular item out of the window because it is selling too well!

What our critics find difficult to accept is that newspapers like the Worcester News are now much more likely to use stories their readers want to read, rather than stories some commentators think they should read.

This does not as a consequence entail dumbing down the news.

Those who see little worth in our KFC story should take time to read some of the comments people are posting, both on our website and Facebook page.

It is a worthy community story in the best traditions of local newspapers, and some interesting points have been raised.

Some question society’s attachment to junk food, despite warnings about its effect on our health.

Others are worried about the litter the new takeaway may bring.

There are concerns, too, about the boy racers who may be tempted to use its car park when darkness falls.

If your life is affected by these issues they are far from trivial, and in less sanctimonious circles our treatment of this story is more likely to be welcomed than sneered at.

This is, incidentally, not the first time the paper has been criticised for giving a prominent showing to a story about the opening of a business (we have not, by the way, received any financial ‘inducement’ from KFC).

Our live report about the opening of a new Adli supermarket drew similar disparaging remarks, and I blogged about it here.

But these stories are relevant to people. Shopping and dining are leisure pursuits that occupy a great deal of their time and interest.

I made the point in my early post, and it is worth repeating, that we do not run stories like these at the expense of more ‘traditional’ news.

The KFC story was, in fact, part of a report from Worcester City Council’s planning committee. In addition to the local authorities, we continue to cover courts, inquests, crime, schools and all the other staples of the regional press.

Far from abandoning serious reporting, we are doing our utmost to ensure it remains relevant.




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After 300 proud years, the presses fall silent in Worcester

printing press in action

Me inspecting a copy of the Berrow’s Worcester Journal, which used to be printed on the now closed Worcester News press in Hylton Road

For the first time in 30 years I am working for a daily newspaper that is not printed in the building where it is written and edited.

The last copy of the Worcester News rolled off its ageing press in Hylton Road this summer, and more than 300 years of newspaper printing history in the city came to an end.

Production has been moved to Oxford, where there is a more modern press and room to take on more work.

It was inevitable. Not as many newspapers are printed now than in their heyday, so fewer presses are needed. Those that remain are the biggest and most technologically advanced. They take in their stride the workload once handled by a dozen smaller presses.

The move makes the Worcester News more efficient, and that is a vital quality in an industry grappling with the tumultuous changes unleashed by the internet.

But I am terribly sad.

I am so sorry to see the men who worked on the press, some of them for many years, lose their jobs.

I regret, too, the end of newspaper printing in Worcester. I have worked for several of the country’s great regional dailies, among them the Chronicle and Journal in Newcastle upon Tyne, the Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent, the Post and Press in Bristol and the Derby Evening Telegraph. None are now printed on the premises.

The loss of this press, though, feels worse. It’s about history.

Berrow’s Worcester Journal, the sister paper of the Worcester News, was first published here in the city in 1690, though it was then called the Worcester Post-man, and is the world’s oldest continuously published newspaper (it is also now printed in Oxford, and has been for some time).

I treasured that connection with the past, with the pioneering successors of William Caxton who raced to bring news to the people once the freedom of the Press had been won from the Stuart monarchy.

That link is broken now. The sound of the press at full speed no longer rumbles through our building. A pulse has been stilled.

I have peered for the last time into that press hall to marvel at a daily publishing miracle and smell air warmed by electric motors and thick with the aromas of newsprint, oil and ink.

Even after so long in the business it retained the power to enthral me. I was not alone. Over the years I have watched parties of visitors being led through our building and told the secrets of how newspapers are made.

They listened politely, of course, but what they were really here for was to see that mighty press; to hear the noise and be thrilled witnesses to the birth of tomorrow’s headlines.

It was there that the spell of newspapers was strongest, and the reason why so many of us who work on them have been bewitched forever.

But I must wrest myself from this sentimental gloom. The Worcester News is so much more than a press, and it remains in rude health.

Although print is still vitally important, our news is increasingly distributed via our website http://www.worcesternews.co.uk and social media. As a result, our combined print and online readership is more than 43,000 every day and growing, making us by far the biggest professional news provider in Worcestershire.

Like those early print pioneers, we are seeing opportunities in a changing world. A future as exhilarating as our past beckons.

1960s printing press

State of the art. The Hylton Road printing press when it was installed in the late Sixties. Picture: Newsquest (Midlands South)







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