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‘It’s gone viral': How a student’s riot liveblog brought a million views in a day

When the riots broke out in London and beyond last weekend, the press worked hard to keep up with the latest accounts and rumours circulating. And it was not just the national press and local papers bidding to bring audiences the latest from the heart of the action, the riots also proved an extraordinary experience for student journalists keen to flex their online reporting muscles.

On the fourth night of riots in the city and beyond, Journalism.co.uk caught up with MA journalism student at Brunel University Gaz Corfield, editor of hyperlocal site the West Londoner. Corfield and his team of contributors produced a live-blog of the events on the WordPress blog which, according to Corfield, enjoyed a tremendous 1 million views in just 24 hours (see graph below).


Below Corfield explains how the team approached coverage of the events, why he thinks the live blogging formula worked so well, and how him and his team of contributors helped verify and check reports.

Why a live-blog?

From the feedback we’ve had it seems that speed and accuracy of coverage is what makes the liveblog format popular. Full length news stories are great for catching up on events when you’re having a leisurely read about them the day afterwards. However, when the situation is fluid and still developing, readers want immediate updates. It takes time even to write up a NIB and you may not have enough information to pad out a story. Devoting a separate page on your website to four and a half lines with a break in the middle isn’t very informative. Some of our readers were interested in the earlier reports and with the liveblog format those are easily accessible just by scrolling down the page.

What challenges did you face while covering the riots, both in terms of safety and technological?

Our people on the ground have mainly been friends and volunteers who got in touch and offered their services. The vast majority of what we’re doing is curating reports from Twitter but having our own people on location has helped. One of our contributors, Sarah Henry, was in Hackey on Tuesday and was briefly caught up the violence there but got away unscathed – she tells me that the BBC reporter next to her was hit by a bottle.

Twitter, Twitpic and Yfrog have all been essential to our services and I really cannot recommend TweetDeck enough; the ability to set up live-updating searches was a true godsend. The biggest challenge, though, has been keeping the updates going out onto the site. You can have all the people and apps in the world bringing you information but at the end of the day, someone’s got to type them up!

What made your coverage stand out from others?

Speed, accuracy and collation of information from the ground, sifting between rumours and facts. Debunking false rumours, where we felt confident enough to do so, also built up our readers’ trust quickly. We weren’t afraid to categorise our reports – if we had sketchy information about something, we’d tell our readers “this report is unconfirmed” and work as quickly as we could to either confirm or deny it.
We also made a conscious choice not to label the people we were reporting on, even though our sources mentioned vigilantes, ethnic groups and political groups. Given the already heightened situation I felt it would be irresponsible to put out sensitive information we couldn’t directly check ourselves, so we stuck to just reporting movements of people. I think our readers appreciated that; our coverage was seen as being purely factual without any speculation, and therefore more valuable than other sources. I refused to report rumours about intended targets, which I think reassured a lot of people.

Rapid and relevant updates are what seems to be driving the traffic – at the end of Tuesday night/Wednesday morning the traffic was dropping off as there simply wasn’t anything new to report on. We also had the huge advantage of being the first liveblog to have up-to-the-minute reports. At the beginning of the riots there were repeated rumours that there was a news blackout, and many people were expressing frustration at their usual go-to news outlets being behind the curve.

How were you verifying breaking news/images/video etc?

We put a lot of trust in images. Provided they were tweeted alongside a location-specific hashtag we took them seriously – although this did go slightly awry when someone produced fake pictures of the London Eye on fire! Videos more or less spoke for themselves – either you can recognise local landmarks, or you can’t. Google Street View was useful for verifying images and videos in less frantic moments.
Sorting through tweets was harder – although we had our trusted sources out on the ground at the beginning, as the night progressed we had to read through public Tweets and decide what was real and what was just rumour. If we had a lot of similar (but not identical) reports of activity in a given area, we tended to treat that as reliable. However, that did get confusing towards the small hours of Wednesday morning because our own information was immediately being picked up and distributed by Twitter users in the areas we were trying to learn more about. Our biggest challenge was filtering out retweets because they clogged our information flow.

How did you use social media to further your reporting?

We used Twitter and Facebook. One person dedicated to running each, plus myself on the liveblog. It did get quite tricky deconflicting information going out from both sources. When I first built the site I set our Facebook page’s updates to autopost on Twitter, which later made us wonder where some of our own tweets were coming from! Close co-ordination kept the feeds unique and interesting, though.
We established a conversation with our readers on Facebook, using our page there to respond to queries about riots in peoples’ local areas. Our Twitter feed was pushing out shortened versions of the liveblog updates, with regular links to the liveblog page. In quieter periods we also published our Twitter username and asked for tip-offs to be directed at that, which worked well. Surprisingly, we also received a large volume of tip-offs through the email contact form on our website; you don’t really think of email as being a form of social media but clearly it has its place.

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#su2011: Forget hyperlocal, the future’s ‘hyperpersonal’

June 28th, 2011 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Events, Hyperlocal

A new era of online publishing where readers are served ‘hyperpersonal’ news directly linked to their interests is taking shape, according to a consultant for world publishing body WAN-IFRA.

Stephan Minard told the organisation’s summer university in Paris, that personalisation would be the key element that will make modern news websites successful in the coming years.

Publishers needed to learn more about their readers, build up data on them and then serve an experience that is unique to them. Algorithms, not editors, were the new gatekeepers, he said.

Minard said news organisations could learn a lot from the world of marketing and e-commerce: “Personalisation is not science-fiction. It’s everywhere on the web – Google, Facebook, Amazon.”

Combining subscriber data, behavioural research and other data on a reader’s interests and habits, sites should be able to build a reliable picture of a user and serve content that is personalised to them.

Minard gave the example of the Washington Post, which launched personalised social news site Trove in April, which relies on a user’s Facebook interests to define their profile.

However, he issued a warning about offering content that was too personalised. There was a risk of isolating users in a “web of one” by only serving them material about a very tightly defined subject and cutting them off from the wider world.

Related content:

#su2011: iPad creates new demand for evening news

#su11: Swedish newspaper has massive hit with online open newsroom

City University research shows rapid grown of personalised news services

#mobilemedia11: Over 55s with iPads are sweet spot for the Telegraph

 

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‘Having blog in our name was causing problems': Lichfield Blog renamed

Hyperlocal news and community site the Lichfield Blog has been renamed Lichfield Live.

Writing on the Lichfield Community Media blog today, director Philip John says that he had previously blocked the name change, concerned that it was “too risky, potentially losing the reputation we had built up”.

But it became “hard to escape the fact that having ‘blog’ in our name was causing problems with how we were perceived”, he says.

Philip explains some of the other reasons behind the name change:

“Lichfield Live” is more suitable for several reasons;

  • It sounds new. We’re very much a “new media” operation.
  • It sounds timely. We’ve built a reputation for being first to have the news about what’s going on in Lichfield.
  • It fits with what’s on. Our most popular section is “What’s On” and nicely ties into events.

The Lichfield Blog isn’t dead though, it’ll carry on as a place for comment and opinion pieces from columnists “who live in, work in or represent Lichfield”. A new site is also due, which will cover the Burntwood & Chasetown region.

See the new Lichfield Live site at this link.

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Jeff Jarvis: ‘Journalism has a model built on entitlement and emotion, not economics’

Jeff Jarvis keeping an eye on City professor George Brock. Image: Wannabe Hacks

Journalism is labouring under a business model based on entitlement and emotion, not economic reality, said leading media commentator Jeff Jarvis today at City Unversity’s Sustaining Local Journalism conference.

We need to understand the business model. I’m tired of the argument that journalists ‘should’ be paid, what successful business model was ever built on the word ‘should’?

Virtue is not a business model, just because we are doing good things that doesn’t mean we should be paid.

He said it was a model in need of disruption.

Some of my colleagues don’t like it when I use that term, disrupt. But welcome to the jungle.

We are a business that has to add value to the community in order to extract value back.

Jarvis set out three ways he thought that hyperlocal sites could make money in a difficult market space:

Developing new products and services to sell
Events (he cited US blogs running flea markets and buying club events)
The creation of sales networks

He only elaborated properly on the last of these, saying that individual bloggers are usually too small to interest city-wide advertisers but grouping together in a network can make them much more of a force to be reckoned with. “When it comes to journalism, he said, “we are better off doing things together”.

Philip John, director of the Lichfield Blog, blogged in March about the need for hyperlocal sites to build networks, writing that they bring about “a sort of collective consciousness whereby an improvement to one site is an improvement to all”.

With the likes of Addiply founder Rick Waghorn and Talk about Local’s Will Perrin acknowledging earlier in the day that just turning a profit as a local or hyperlocal blogger in the UK was rare, it was surprising to hear Jarvis talking about local blogs in US cities of 50,000–60,000 turning over $200,000 a year.

Jarvis admitted that is was a hard slog for hyperlocal sites to bring in ad money, but argued that there was a return in building networks. Giving AOL’s huge hyperlocal network Patch as an example, he said Patch was hiring a journalist for each of it 150 sites and paying them $40,000 a year. AOL wouldn’t be doing that if it didn’t think there was ad money there.

Asked whether journalists should be concerned about conflating journalism and sales – a recurring theme of the conference – Jarvis cited the example of Rafat Ali, founder of paidContent, who he said “had to go out and sell the ads at first, but retained his own moral compass”.

“It is probably our job as educators to guide students in these things”, he said, adding that in the end it is all down to credibility, which can be maintained even if a journalist is pitching in with the business side of things. Maintaining credibility is vital, he warned.

“If you lose credibility you lose your value.”

Also from today’s #citylocal conference: Hyperlocal ad sales and ‘the age of participation’

You can see a Chirpstory of some of the best tweets of the day at this link.

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#citylocal: Hyperlocal ad sales and the ‘age of participation’

Community participation is key to selling ads around local and hyperlocal content, Rick Waghorn told the audience at today’s Sustaining Local Journalism conference.

Waghorn, who founded local ad sales platform Addiply, cited the example of Howard Owens, publisher of New York hyperlocal site the Batavian.

Owens, he said, was a “hyperlocal superman” for turning a profit from ads on his site. The reason for Owens’ success? P2P. That’s “person-to-person”. Waghorn praised Owen for participating in the community that he covers, knowing the people, and knocking on doors to get ads.

It’s P2P that will make hyperlocal ad sales profitable, said Waghorn, not algorithms.

Borrowing a term from Emily Bell, he said that we are in “the age of participation”.

Editorial is participative and local, why shouldn’t advertising be?

But Owens’ is a rare case, said Waghorn, stressing that hyperlocal publishers in the UK need to get more comfortable with participating in the community for ad sales.

We can’t all be Howard Owens. You look around the hyperlocal scene in the UK and the art of selling is lost on most people. Is is a different, different trade craft to finding a story.

It strikes me as odd that most people would be more comfortable doing a death knock than going into a local pizza parlour and asking for a 10 quid ad. Why? That seems odd to me. I know what I’d rather do.

Waghorn’s said his own ad platform, Addiply, could help publishers reach out to their communities to make ad sales.

It’s a bottom-up ad solution that, in our tiny, tiny way goes into battle with the adsenses and all the big betworks.

And bottom up solutions are what works, he said, “the world is turning upside down”. Citing Howard Owens again, Waghorn claimed that the door-to-door salesman is the missing link for hyperlocal ad sales. He contrased Owens’ approach with that of the big hyperlocal networks like AOL’s Patch.

I’m not Patch, descending down to you from on high, I am the one knocking on your door. Knocking on your door seven or eight times before you give me an ad.

Waghorn’s message? Journalists will knock on doors to ask about deaths, and will knock on doors looking for stories, and if they want to make hyperlocal pay they will have to start thinking about ad sales the same way.

That message was echoed by Will Perrin of Talk About Local, who called the Guardian’s sales approach to advertising on its recently-closed Guardian local sites “very odd”.

If you want to sell ads around local content you have to have a team there on the ground.

Tweets tagged with the #citylocal hashtag can be seen in this Chirpstory.

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Finding the value in Guardian local ‘experiment’

Yesterday the Guardian announced it was winding down its local blogging “experiment” Guardian Local.

The platform, which ran three blogs for Cardiff, Leeds and Edinburgh, was first launched in March 2010, described at the time by Guardian editor in chief Alan Rusbridger as a “tiny toe in local web water”.

Guardian Leeds

But – continuing with the metaphor – it seems the waters may have been too cold, as the Guardian decided to start winding down the sites this week. The decision drew much disappointment from readers, expressed in both the comments section on this Guardian article, and across social media.

Editor of the project Sarah Hartley used Storify to bring together some of the reaction on Twitter. And speaking of Twitter there is already a hashtag campaign gathering pace on the site in particular reference to the Cardiff service.

On his blog Andy Dickinson contributes his thoughts, turning the debate onto understanding the value of the “beatbloggers” behind each site.

No, I’m sure that the Guardian has learned loads and will see the benefit. I’m sure they understand how to run a crowd now.

I’m sure they see the value in having someone on the ground. They must see the potential of new technology in having faster, targeted and responsive journalism. It even strengthened their brand – albeit in a passive way.

So a lot for the Guardian to be proud of. But the failure of any experiment comes from how you use the results not the experiment itself. And they’ll fail if they take the results and don’t keep the hyperlocal team.

… The truth is that the value of the Guardian local communities rests with them; their work and their relationship building. The unique nature of each area can’t be homogenised in to a broad model. The people who are upset to see the sites go didn’t have a relationship with the Guardian – the Guardian is the bastard that broke their realtionship up!

You can’t just transplant the Guardian Cardiff model anywhere. You could put Hannah or John or Michael anywhere and they’d use that experience. But you might also lose some of their passion and, with the best will in the world, there would be little or no reason for their Guardian Local audiences to follow them.

And so, Dickinson goes on to say, hyperlocal is not a model that large media organisations “can ever get right”. The impact of the closure of Guardian Local on the perceived future of hyperlocal journalism also formed part of paidContent’s reaction to the news:

Despite years of talk, hyperbole and failed experiments in “hyperlocal” journalism, which has been championed by many including the Guardian Local staff, there remain few concrete examples of formalised such efforts becoming commercially sustainable.

In the latest re-emergence of the hyperlocal hype curve, some pundits have even been pitching the paradigm to journalism students as the rock-star, enterprise-journalism career to seek out, in an industry where graduate job vacancies have dried up.

GNM’s decision may be one more indication that there is no future for industrialised “hyperlocal” journalism. At least its staff were salaried, trained professionals.

But the publisher says it will “integrate communities and topics into our wider site coverage wherever possible” and versions of the idea live on through sites like Northcliffe Media’s LocalPeople, networks like AOL’s Patch, Scotland’s good-looking STV Local and the imminent new UK government-sanctioned local TV network.

Some consolation to the faithful – GNM is also aiming to secure its future at the international, not local, level, by courting a US audience to sell as advertiser scale. Meanwhile, the many independent, volunteer-run hyperlocal blogs which had already existed prior to each of these exponents will go on publishing, perhaps buoyed by the qualitative, if not commercial, success of Guardian Local.

But there could still be a future for hyperlocal and the Guardian in the areas reached by its local project, in one form or another. Writing in the comments section of her own article on the Guardian, head of digital engagement Meg Pickard said one potential way forward could be for communities in the affected areas to raise funds to keep the project going, or carry on with the blogs themselves and keep the legacy going.

On that note, in conversation with editors here earlier, an interesting idea was mooted: would any of the local communities or individuals affected be interested in carrying on the Cardiff/Leeds/Edinburgh blogs? Or fundraising a sum to enable us to continue?

If we could find an alternative – community-supported? – funding model, that could extend the local project…. Worth pondering? Any thoughts?

Stumping up a bit of cash by way of pledging support (rather than full-on funding) to the Guardian Local site is not out of the question for Matt Edgar in Leeds, who writes on his blog that he’d be happy to commit the value of his print subscription to a citizen-run news service in the area “that offers quality writing with a determinedly local focus” – if 35 other local people will do the same, he says.

The Guardian is “winding down” its Guardian Local pilot including the successful Leeds blog. I think this is a mistake.

In just a short time John Baron and Sarah Hartley have created a service that gives a new and authentic voice to the UK’s sixth largest city. They’ve proven the value of a professional beatblogger who nurtures and complements the wider network of local bloggers.

… And as I wondered what to do, it struck me that I already pay the Guardian £23.32 per month to subscribe to the print edition of the (London-based) paper. What if that money went directly to supporting, in Mike’s words, “quality writing with a determinedly local focus”? And how many (or how few) committed subscribers would it take to make a service sustainable?

Back of an envelope, 36 print subscribers pay the Guardian £10,000 per year. It wouldn’t fund a whole beatblogger but it’s certainly enough to get the ball rolling. If you subscribe to the Guardian (or indeed any other daily paper) in Leeds would you consider switching that spend to a citizen-run news service? I would, and so far seven other people have joined me on Pledgebank.

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#ijf11: ‘Innovation is about about throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks’

April 18th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Business, Events, Hyperlocal, Local media

Journalism conferences, as with all conferences I suspect, are always vulnerable to least a bit of tiresome industry navel-gazing, if not a lot. Even when they’re good, which the International Journalism Festival was, there is inevitably a lot of talking.

But on the last day of #ijf11 there was a welcome antidote in amongst the talk to round things off, a coherent message from several of the panelists: go out and do things, try things, find out what works. This particular session looked innovation in news, specifically at what it takes to go from having a good idea for a news site, to getting off the ground, to staying solvent.

Nigel Barlow trained as an accountant. He worked in small businesses for 20 years before he decided it was enough, and packed it in for a journalism course at UCLan.

Shortly after graduating Barlow co-founded Inside the M60, a local news site for the Manchester area. He told the #ijf11 panel that people need to start worrying less about the traditional journalism routes and start trying new things.

It’s a difficult time for journalism, but difficult times tends to bring out the best innovation. Don’t just look at the traditional routes, if you’ve got an idea just get on and do it. It’s abut throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.

A model example of getting on with it, Nigel was covering news for Inside the M60 before it even had a website.

Before the site was even there, we started to report on news in the area using Twitter, and created momentum for the site a few months before it launched.

We actively made connections with what I would call the local movers and shakers, MPs and businessmen for example.

We got a couple of big interviews with local MPs as well, which helped a lot at the beginning, and we were the first on the scene to cover a large gas explosion in Newham and were covering it live from the scene, after which we put about 1,500 followers in a couple of days.

We didn’t have a lot of money and we still don’t, so we have to make the most of free tools. But we got started by using social media and basically making a big noise on Twitter.

Using Barlow’s site as one example, Google News executive Madhav Chinnappa said the important thing was “the barriers to starting a news organisation have fallen”.

Fifteen years ago, starting a news organisation from scratch would have been impossible, but we have three people on this panel who have done exactly that.

And Chinnappa echoed Barlow’s sentiments on just getting on with it.

Google’s take on this is experimentation and interaction. Go out, try it, try it again, see what works.

He acknowledged it was difficult for smaller sites like Inside the M60 to get a decent ranking on Google news, and they would inevitably be dwarfed by the big global stories.

We know that if you’ve got a local news story that no one else has that it can be difficult to get out there. If you go to Google News and you don’t see an Inside the M60 story, that’s because they are getting outweighed by the likes of Fukushima and Libya.

And he acknowledged Google News was not giving proper due to certain types of content.

We’re not as good as we should be around video, or image galleries. And we’re almost playing catch up with the news organisations as they innovate, whether that’s graphics or slideshows.

But he also said there isn’t a magic formula to cracking Google, and argued that original, creative content was still important.

I think there is this myth about getting the technical aspect just right, and hitting on a formula and then you will suddenly be great on Google.

I don’t want to sound cheesy, but having good original content is still very important.

I spoke to Nigel Barlow after the session about making money as a local news startup:

Listen!

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Sport goes hyperlocal with a web streamed cricket match

An Easter Monday cricket match on a village green in rural England is to be web streamed as a possible world first.

Social media consultant John Popham came up with the idea to film the match in Wray, the first wifi hotspot village in Lancashire, after being inspire by two tweets, he explains on his website.

There were two tweets which really inspired this. The first was from Dan Slee expressing his hopes for keeping up with a local village cricket team via twitter, the other was from Chris Conder (@cyberdoyle) as she tested the 30Mbps symmetrical internet connection her village now has access to, courtesy of Lancaster University.

“I started this off as a demonstration to show what can be done cheaply and easily,” Popham told Journalism.co.uk.

But despite plans to use technology such as Livestream‘s free web streaming service to broadcast the match, the idea has now gathered pace.

With the help of a retweet from Stephen Fry it has now attracted attention and Birmingham-based Aquila TV has offered to take over the filming and web streaming, which will be embeddable so can be displayed on the Wray village website and by anyone else interested in broadcasting the match.

Popham explained he is trying to demonstrate the importance of strong and reliable broadband and upload connections in rural areas and explained “there are hardly any other rural areas where this would be possible apart from Wray”.

The attention has also resulted in interest from across the pond.

“I’ve been contacted by Americans over the moon to be able to watch cricket on a village green,” Popham said.

Is Wray’s cricket web stream the first of its kind, or do you know of another wired village transmitting to the world? Tell us in the comments area.

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Preston hyperlocal site bids for funding for 2012 community project

Preston hyperlocal news and community site Blog Preston is competing for £5,000 in funding to help it cover 2012’s Preston Guild, a historic city celebration held once every 20 years.

The funding is on offer from the Co-operative’s Start a Revolution competition, which aims to help community groups and charities with projects that will benefit the community, inspire young people, or combat climate change or global poverty.

The competition is split into different regions, with Blog Preston up against a wide variety of bids in the Northern England group. Competition ranges from other media initiatives, including the 7 Waves Community Radio project, which offers training in radio production, script writing, interviewing, sound production and other skills, to projects based on angling, boxing, the arts, and more.

According to Blog Preston founder Ed Walker, the site intends to use the money to “capture the Guild stories, research the history, film events and speak to people who saw the last Guild (or four) and make sure those memories are not lost”.

Our site has a track record of great community coverage, from meetings about saving swimming polls to covering when the EDL came to town to up-to-the-minute updates on the general election. We know how to cover events, and we want to make sure the Preston Guild is covered to the full extent. And who knows, it might inspire those involved in covering it to find out more about their city and the Guild itself.

The competition is open to a public vote until the 29 May. You see more about the Blog Preston bid at this link, or visit the Co-operative competition site for more information and the opportunity to vote.

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Journal Local: Chance for hyperlocals to win £5000

The Co-operative is offering £5,000 prize money for community-focused projects doing something “revolutionary”, reports Journal Local.

As the Lichfield Blog’s Philip John points out, it’s a great opportunity for hyperlocal sites up and down the country.

As many hyperlocal sites are volunteer-run, not-for-profit groups who are really making a difference in their community this is a great opportunity to really push things forward.

I’ll be applying. Will you?

The Co-operative’s website has full details of how to apply.

Philip will be speaking about hyperlocal and data journalism at Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired conference. See the news:rewired site for more info about Philip’s session, plus the full list of confirmed speakers and full agenda.

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