You don’t get clicks without good words


Be passionate about words… they’re as important online as they are on paper

It was inspiring to hear Sun editor Tony Gallagher talk so passionately about the job.

Describing his paper’s ethos, he said: “We want to take no prisoners every day, no friends, no fear or favour.”

But I was most taken by his thoughts about the perception some journalists had about their role.

He said they see themselves as part of a profession or academic discipline.

“I think that’s wrong. It’s a trade and you learn it by practising it,” he said.

He went on to bemoan the trend for the industry to recruit people with degrees and post-graduate qualifications, and that the route for eager 18-year-olds into newspapers appeared to have been cut off.

His comments reminded me of my stint working shifts for the Scottish Sun in Glasgow.

I was deeply impressed by the subs there, in particular a couple of lads who were not much older than me but vastly more able.

They were the type Tony Gallagher might have had in his mind when he was outlining his thoughts on the industry.

They could have had degrees, but I doubt it. They struck me more as craftsmen, intensely serious about their trade.

Both spent ages polishing their work until it achieved that unique Sun blend of wit and assertive brevity.

“It’s all about the words. The words are everything,” I remember one of them saying.

He was so right. Not even the internet (which came along much later) has changed that.

Only through a mastery of the language can a journalist conjure that magical link between the words on a page or screen and a spark of emotion or curiosity in someone’s mind that makes them want to read on… or click on a link.

Even in an industry moving from page to screen, it is a craft that should be cherished.

Read my earlier post about the craft of headline writing.




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Secrets to growing your readership through Facebook and Twitter



Secrets of growing your Facebook audience

The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) has for the first time published six-monthly figures for regional press social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

Topping the league for the biggest year-on-year increase for Facebook likes and Twitter followers is the Norwich-based Eastern Daily Press.

Its total social media audiences, though, are overshadowed by the likes of Trinity Mirror’s Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo.

So where does your paper stand in the social media standings?

If you want to do better on Facebook you might find these stats from Mari Smith and Buzzsumo (click on the link for a graphic) helpful:

  1. Posts published between 10pm and 11pm get 88 per cent more interactions (likes, shares and comments) than the average Facebook post.
  2. Picture posts get 179 per cent more interactions than the average Facebook post.
  3. Posts ending with a question get 162 per cent more interactions than the average post.
  4. Videos are the most shared post type, with 89.5 average Facebook shares.
  5. Posts published on Sunday get 52.9 per cent more interactions than the average Facebook post.
  6. Excluding pictures, posts with 150-200 characters performed the best, averaging 238.75 shares.
  7. Posting with a third-party tool results in 89.5 per cent less engagement than directly posting to Facebook.
  8. Posts that link to long-form content (2,000-plus words) get 40 per cent more interactions than linking to short form content.

Arthur Habrial (with another graphic) has chewed the data and produced something similar for Twitter.

  1. He suggests the best times to tweet are Saturday and Sunday, when your engagement rate is likely to be 17 per cent higher than weekdays.
  2. Tweets published between 8am and 7pm will have 30 per cent more engagement (clicks, retweets, replies) than tweets published outside that timeframe (including Saturday and Sunday).
  3. Tweets of fewer than 100 characters will result in a 17 per cent higher rate of engagement than longer tweets.
  4. Tweets with hashtags have twice the engagement of tweets without them.
  5. But don’t overdo the hashtags! There is a 17 per cent decrease in engagement when using two or more hashtags.
  6. A tweet’s retweet rate increases 12 times when you ask your followers to either ‘retweet’ or ‘RT’.

Such tips are, however, will only get you so far. The foundations of sustainable audience growth are built on compelling, well-targeted content and a close, two-way relationship with your readers. Get that right and you may find yourself soaring up the ABC’s newest chart.


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Why the closure of The Independent hurts journalists so much

IT is not just the fact that a national newspaper is closing that hurts so much (though that is bad enough, not least for the 150 full-time staff who face losing their jobs).

The pain is particularly acute because it is The Independent, which was a pioneer in so many ways when it was first published in 1986.

It was the same year that Eddie Shah launched Today, whose colour presses started a technological revolution in Fleet Street.

In those early days, however, The Indie (has a nickname of such affection ever been bestowed on another national newspaper?) was resolutely black and white.

In fact, it revelled in its monochrome, publishing huge, crisp, high-contrast photographs by the likes of Don McCullin that were extraordinarily informative and emotive.

Writers, too, were given the space and freedom to express themselves.

I still have somewhere a yellowing clipping of Robert Fisk’s deeply moving and searingly honest interview with a tank commander on the eve of the first Gulf War in 1991. I remember cutting it out and hoping that I would one day be able to write like that. I fear I may wait even longer for that wish to come true.

But it wasn’t just The Indie’s news coverage that was ground-breaking. It also introduced the Alex cartoon strip to a mass audience. Alex a snobbish, money-obsessed banker, the sort of character who came to typify the Eighties. He was unmissable.

But those glory days are long gone. The Indie launched in a decade when the future for the newspaper business seemed dazzling. Rupert Murdoch had bought the Times and Sunday Times, and there were the launches of The Mail on Sunday, London Daily News, News on Sunday, Scotland on Sunday, Wales on Sunday and Sunday Correspondent.

Today the internet is posing a huge challenge for newspaper publishers, though the survival of The Independent as a digital brand has to be seen as an expression of optimism.

It had, however, better get its act together. When I was researching this post news The Indie failed to get a single entry about its own demise on the first page of a Google search: “Closure of The Independent”.



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We’re a big lottery winner too!

A Champagne Cheers!

We’re winners too!

AND so, at last, we have our £33 million a winner – a real winner.

Camelot, operator of the National Lottery, has confirmed that it has verified the winning ticket bought earlier this month in Worcester.

Its owner is remaining anonymous, which while understandable is frustrating for those of us who would love to know more about the lucky person whose life has been transformed forever by riches beyond their wildest dreams.

What is the first thing they will buy? Will they keep all their winnings or give some away to family, friends and charity? Will they move, and if so where? How many rooms: five, twenty-five, or one-hundred-and-five?

There are so many questions, but for the moment no answers.

Where I work at the Worcester News we have thoroughly enjoyed reporting on Worcester’s lottery win.

It has been nice to see our city at the centre of national media attention. I was even interviewed about the story on the BBC News Channel!

We were, though, troubled that so many apparently spurious claims for the fortune were being made.

It risked making the people of Worcester appear a bunch of grasping chancers.

Fortunately, now that the frenzied speculation is over, the true nature of city folk has shone through.

Dozens of warm congratulatory comments have been addressed to the winner on our website and Facebook page.

We are also winners in a way. It is too early to say exactly how the story, which has run for a week and featured on our front page four times, has boosted newspaper sales. But we do know our website page impressions have soared!

Now if only the winner decides to speak to us…



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Journalists, like everyone else, should not be guaranteed anonymity until they are charged

THE acquittal of two more Sun journalists on charges relating to misconduct in a public office has prompted blogging lawyers Adam Tudor and Isabella Piasecka to come perilously close to suggesting crime suspects be given the right to anonymity before any charges are brought.

While I admire their defence of the journalists’ treatment under the Metropolitan Police’s discredited Operation Elveden, I fear they are adding fuel to the fire of those seeking further curbs on the Press.

The freedom to name arrested people is an important one, though it is actually quite rarely exercised. Newspapers recognise the damage it can do (and the legal recourse a wronged person has) and will usually only name suspects on sound public interest grounds.

The police believe they should be the ones who make the call on public interest rather than the media, and their stance is that names should be withheld in normal circumstances. Publishers remain able to identify suspects without police co-operation if they are confident in their facts.

It is an arrangement that rests uneasily with many editors, but I can live with it as long as the naming of suspects is not restricted by law.

The prospect of the police being free to make arrests in secret is chilling, and risks undermining one of the most important principles of English law: clause 39 of the Magna Carta, which established that no one should be arrested or imprisoned except by the judgement of their equals and according to the law of the land.

If you do not know a friend or relative has been arrested how do you, or the media on your behalf, protest about the rights or wrongs of it, including the length of time they are put on bail?

I have blogged on this subject previously here. Former chief constable Andy Trotter explains the police stance on the issue here. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s support of naming suspects is here.






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Why the craft of headline writing is as important as ever

THE DIGITAL transformation of the regional newspaper business has cost many sub-editors their jobs, yet in some respects their skills are needed more than ever.

Subs (read Charlotte Baxter’s wry job description here) were once the beating heart of the newsroom. Usually journalists of experience (and sometimes of prodigious talent), they were the guardians of the paper’s soul.

The subs policed its style, established its character, and watched obsessively for errors in fact, spelling and grammar.

But by far their most important role was to write headlines, the words that caught the eye and made browsing readers stop and pay attention, so that when they put the paper away they felt satisfied and eager to read the next issue.

Such skills are just as vital online, where there is more competition than ever for readers’ attention.

One of the most successful digital news operations of the age understands this.

BuzzFeed was only launched in 2006 but now draws 200 million people to its site every month. Even more impressively, it gets 18.5 billion impressions from social media.

Its huge audience growth has been achieved largely on the back of its famously irresistible headlines.

The site concluded some time ago that the way to build its audience was through social rather than search (Facebook now accounts for more traffic to news websites than Google).

And the way to get stories noticed and shared is with skilfully crafted, intriguing headings written by journalists who understand what makes people tick.

Those new to the craft could do worse than reading Sarah Snow’s superb guide (based on an infographic by QuickSprout) to Buzzfeed-style headings.




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Has the regional press got its mojo back?

COULD it be that at long last the regional newspaper industry has got its mojo back?

The pessimists have enjoyed a field day during our years of cutbacks and closures.

With our confidence shaken our response to the headline-chasing analysts and prophets of doom from our own ranks has been uninspiring.

But I sense a change in the air, an acceptance that although there are still great challenges ahead there are many reasons to be positive about the future.

Industry leaders are rediscovering their voice and delivering a long-overdue message of hope.

Crucially, their vision of the future lies both online and in print, a resilient business that has been written off far too soon in some quarters.

Last month Ashley Highfield, Johnston Press chief executive, told BBC Radio’s Today programme that the local press will be printing newspapers “for decades to come” because many consumers prefer to read a paper in print rather than online.

He said those who have written off the industry have overlooked the fact that it is approaching a tipping point at which digital revenues cancel out print declines.

Meanwhile, Sir Martin Sorrell, boss of the world’s biggest advertising agency WPP, said newspapers had been disproportionally hit by advertisers moving spending online, but that the effectiveness of print advertising was now being reappraised.

He said: “I think actually we are starting to see with traditional media, particularly newspapers, a little bit of the pendulum swinging back because people will realise they are more powerful than people give them credit for.”

Sir Martin’s view was endorsed by Pablo Del Compo, worldwide creative director of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, who said the shift by advertisers online and on to social media had gone too far, and that print is a more powerful medium than people realise.

Further evidence of this energising new outlook came when Johnston Press, a 250-year-old publishing business, snapped up a start-up run by a 21-year-old entrepreneur in Brighton.

The fledgling Brighton and Hove Independent was seen as a weekly newspaper and website that harnessed print and digital in an exciting new way.

And this, surely, is where our future prosperity lies: in innovative products and services that consolidate our print-online-social command of local markets.

We are not an industry in decline, we are an industry that is changing. We stand not at the edge of an abyss, but at the beginning of a renaissance.

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