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I am an experienced online journalist and political editor working for Trinity Mirror papers in the West Midlands and the North East, based in the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Westminster.

I understand how government, Parliament and political parties work. I am equally at home digging out stories from data, social media or interviews as I am covering major set-piece events or explaining how things work to readers.

I produce content which is shareable and promote my work on social media.

My experience with content management systems and knowledge of HTML allows me to include charts, embedded content from third parties and formatting in my work, to create content which encourages interaction and keeps readers on the page.

Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (but please send press releases to my work email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as this is the email I monitor during working hours).

Farewell to The Stirrer as pioneer Adrian Goldberg heads back to the BBC

Farewell then The Stirrer, an independent news website which is closing after four years.

The Stirrer covered Birmingham and the Black Country, reporting mainly on politics.

It's been a huge success in generating original stories, becoming required reading among the West Midlands' political and media classes and developing a loyal community, which hangs out at the site's active forum.

Editor Adrian Goldberg was less successful in achieving what I understand was his original aim, which was to earn a living from the site and, eventually, to employ others.

Read more: Farewell to The Stirrer as pioneer Adrian Goldberg heads back to the BBC

Johnston results show newspapers still enjoy healthy profit margins

Johnston Press recently published its interim results for the first six months of the year, showing an increased profit and operating profit of 19.5 per cent.

Operating profit was £40.05 million, up from £38.2 million compared to the previous year, on a turnover of £207.3 million.

As I've pointed out before, newspaper revenues may be falling but profit margins continue to be much higher than in most other industries.

Print advertising revenues fell by £8.4 million while digital revenues rose by £1 million, but it's important to note that digital revenues, at £10 million, are still much lower than print advertising revenues at £124.1 million. Johnston also raised £49.1 million from newspaper sales.

Johnston publishes 18 daily papers, including the Yorkshire Post, and 253 weeklies.

A demonstration "social newspaper"

Some time ago, I wrote a post called promoting communities on newspaper websites, which suggested local newspapers could do more to help communities develop on their sites.

To try to illustrate what I meant, I have now created a dummy newspaper website which does four things:

  • Allows readers to create an online profile on the website, or to use an existing Facebook profile
  • Provides ways for readers to interact with each other on the site
  • Provides ways for readers to interact with journalists and bloggers on the site, on an equal basis
  • Allows readers to share things, such as links, articles, videos and photos, to create content on forums and to advertise events

It's still clear what's been written by the paper's journalists and news is presented in a traditional manner (perhaps something else that deserves consideration in the future) but it is integrated with the "community" features of the site rather than separated.

Each journalist has a profile containing all sorts of information designed to help readers and hacks interact, and the profiles are presented alongside those of readers.

The features of the dummy site are fully functional. It does not, however, contain any real news or advertising - the news stories, blog posts, forum posts etc either contain information about the features of the site, or are placeholders.

It's not meant to be the "best" or perfect way of designing a news website, and it certainly doesn't have the perfect design. It may have a few bugs.

But it is designed to illustrate the sort of thing I think local newspapers could and should be doing more of. Or maybe I'm wrong - take a look and tell me what you think.

How sick are local newspapers?

Trinity Mirror's regional division had an operating profit margin of 18.2 per cent excluding the recently-acquired Manchester titles in the first six months of this year, or 17.8 per cent including them.

That's £26.2 million and £28.9 million respectively.

Full details are available here: http://www.trinitymirror.com/2010/07/trinity-mirror-plc-interim-results-2010.html

For comparison, Tesco's operating profit margin in recent years has been around six per cent.

Let's talk about the future of journalism

I've been catching up with David Higgerson's fine blog, which includes an interesting post about the news:rewired event in London on June 25, and his thoughts on a speech delivered by Marc Reeves, former editor of The Birmingham Post.

Marc argued, among other things, that journalists should be willing to boost their employer's turnover by passing on potential sales leads to the advertising department.

But, he laments:

"That artificial divide we created when we put the noisy people in a room marked ‘advertising' and the studious types in another labelled ‘editorial' was the biggest mistake newspapers and other media ever made.

"It allowed journalists to insulate themselves from the business they were in to the point of revelling in their detachment. I've worked with generations of hacks to whom the very idea of passing on a sales lead was regarded as a murderous betrayal of the memory of CP Scott."

He may be right. I'm not going to comment here on the divide between editorial and advertising departments, but reading both Marc and David's blogs did remind me of one of my personal bugbears, which is the divide between the debates taking place about the changing nature of the news industry and most of those who work in it.

Read more: Let's talk about the future of journalism

Tories Warn Regional Media Not To Join Government Consortia

I've reported previously that the Conservatives are opposed to the Government's plans for regional news consortia. These are the partnerships which will bring together newspapers, regional television and blogs, with a little Government subsidy.

But they went a little further last week, making it clear they would do their best to scrap the consortia even if they have been created before the next election. Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Tories would "do all we can to legally unpick them".

My former boss Marc Reeves, former editor of The Birmingham Post, is part of the panel that will choose the winning bid for the first three consortia.

Here are some extracts from Jeremy Hunt's speech:

"The Digital Economy Bill sets in stone the Government policy of using public subsidy to prop up regional news on ITV. My opposition to such a measure is hopefully, well known. Using the licence fee to prop up regional news simply casts a failed regional TV model in aspic. It would actively prevent the emergence of new, local media models, making broadcasters focus their energies on satisfying politicians not reaching viewers.

"I know that many organisations in this room are involved in bidding for the pilot schemes that this Bill would make permanent. And I don't blame you: faced with the terrifying situation many of you are in, it is understandable you want to follow the money wherever it is, public or private.

"So let me be clear. We do not support these provisions in the Digital Economy Bill. And we do not support the pilot schemes. The contracts are not due to be signed until May. Anyone looking to sign one should understand that we'll do all we can to legally unpick them if David Cameron enters Number 10. And if they haven't been signed, we won't be doing so.

"This is because we want to see the emergence of a radically different, improved and forward-looking local media sector. Not just local TV, where we are about the only major developed country not to have proper city-based TV franchises. But profitable, hungry and ambitious local radio, local newspapers and local websites as well."

Tories Reject Labour's Plans to Subsidise Local News

Government subsidies for regional news will stifle innovation and lead to demands for more public money, according to the Tories.

The Conservative stance means there is a very sharp division between the two major parties over how Government can support the local and regional news industry.

As I reported previously, Labour plans to support regional news consortia bringing together newspapers, local TV news and bloggers.

Three pilot schemes will be announced soon. Word in the industry (I can't verify this) is that they will be in Scotland, Wales and north west England.

The projects will get some public cash, probably from the licence fee, although this is only supposed to be temporary.

Jeremy Hunt, the Tory shadow culture secretary, made it clear the Conservatives oppose this idea, in a speech last week.

He said: "Let's look, for example, at what the government is proposing on local news. Essentially it wants to prop up the failed regional news model with licence fee cash.

"Why is this so flawed?

"Firstly, because it will set in stone the current failed model and stifle any possibility of better local news models emerging.

"Once the licence fee is paying for regional news, then all the efforts of those people receiving the subsidy will be put into lobbying ministers and Ofcom as to why it should continue. What they will not be doing is developing the new business models for local media that are being opened up by the internet.

"Secondly it will undermine one of the most successful elements of British broadcasting, namely the fact that our broadcasters compete on their ability to attract viewers not subsidy."

Read more: Tories Reject Labour's Plans to Subsidise Local News

Journalists and Bloggers to Work Together with Government Funding - Can it Succeed?

Government legislation will create subsidised news consortia bringing together blogs, newspapers and independent regional television news.

This was the plan set out by Creative Industries Minister Sion Simon (Lab Erdington) when he spoke to me during Labour's annual conference. A Bill will be bought in this autumn, he said.

While there's been a lot of discussion about the future of regional and local news, I'm not sure there's been a great deal of debate about this. The plan, as set out by Sion, is for the Government initially to subsidise the scheme, but in the hope that a business model will eventually emerge which does not require public funding.

How exactly local bloggers will feed into it remains to be seen. I wonder whether they will be happy for their work to be included in a commercial operation if they are not being paid themselves? Or maybe the plan is to pay bloggers too.

Ministers are apparently planning three pilot schemes, in Scotland, Wales and an English region which has not yet been named.

Sion spoke to me about the policy when I interviewed him in partnership with Yoosk, a web-based service which allows members of the public to pose questions to politicians, with journalists sometimes acting as middlemen. Apparently I was the first newspaper journalist to set up an interview like this with Yoosk.

The question he is answering, as you will hear, is actually about the Birmingham Mail. As I said, all the questions I put to Sion that day were chosen by users of the Yoosk website.

Here is what Sion said:

 

 

In Defence of TheYamYam

Mark Blackstock, editor of TheYamYam, has contributed this reply to my earlier post about his website. JW

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Hey Jonathan. Thanks for commenting on the YamYam.

The simple reason why the YamYam sometimes scans stories from newspapers and posts them on its own website is because the stories are not to be found anywhere online.

This is often the case with the Express and Star, where many excellent stories about Walsall, of interest and importance to local people, appear in newsprint but never find their way onto the E&S website. Believe me, I would much prefer not to have to take the trouble and time to scan stories but simply link to the original content online - scans also look rather ugly.

I have raised this issue with the Walsall editor of the E&S. Unfortunately, it has been explained to me that publishing all of the E&S content online is beyond the capacity of the newspaper's small internet team. I suspect this is as frustrating for the Walsall journalists who write these stories as it is for me, and for you who may perceive this as ‘theft'.

A story scanned and published in the YamYam is always credited, it is always reproduced as an image file, the article is not OCRd and stored as text in a database. So unfortunately, it is not possible to provide a link to an original article if the article does not exist online in the first place.

Readers appreciate articles being scanned, not just for their news value but also for the record. Much of the value added by a site like the YamYam is it's attention to links. Obviously links to specialist websites are a useful resource for someone researching or wishing to find out more about a particular subject, company or institution etc. But a story published in newsprint can often be isolated and read out of context.

Historical links can add meaning and tell their own story on a subject. So scanning an article is also important historically for telling the full story in links for when the subject appears next time. This is of particular use to people and groups campaigning around local issues.

As for your reference to using RSS feeds in your previous comment, I do wish it was so simple. Unfortunately many newspaper RSS feeds are unreliable and I spend many hours in search engines hunting down and selecting content. And for the record, there are no computer automated feeds going into the YamYam website - it is all human activity.

Many of the headlines and intro paragraphs (not all) are rewritten, for reasons of space or clarity on the page design or RSS feed, since what makes sense on a printed page often doesn't translate into a different web context.

Read more: In Defence of TheYamYam

TheYamYam - Simple Theft or Sophisticated Theft?

Edit: Mark Blackstock, editor of TheYamYam, has replied to this post, and you can find his comments here.

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One of the clichés you hear thrown around on the interweb is that "nobody owns the news".

I've never heard anyone claim that they do own the news, and I wouldn't understand what they meant if they did.

You can't own "the news" in general, any more than you can own fiction or music as a concept, but if you write a novel, song or article - however good or bad - you own that. Or, if you have sold your labour to someone else, they own it.

Frankly, I suspect the phrase is sometimes used simply to justify ripping people off. Which brings me to theyamyam.com.

I wrote about theyamyam before, in fairly positive terms. I did note at the time that the site was taking more from newspaper websites than they had chosen to syndicate via RSS (it seems to me that if you put something in an RSS feed you are tacitly giving people permission to use it), but didn't make much of it.

Their latest angle, however, is to scan in full stories from local newspapers and stick them up on their website, with a handy Google ad placed next to the scanned image.

Here's one example, ripping off the Express and Star (for some reason the Birmingham Post, Mail and Mercury don't seem to be getting the same treatment yet).

theyamyam

The Express and Star is credited - but believe it or not, there is no link to the E&S website. The name of the paper is there, but that's not a link.

In any case, once the entire original story has been posted on the YamYam, why would anyone want to click through and read the original?

To those who say local newspapers simply cut and paste press releases anyway, I ask why the YamYam doesn't just do that? (Answer - because that's not what local papers do. But any website is welcome to do it).

This is just theft, in the same way as downloading a pirated copy of a film or CD is theft. I regret saying nice things about this website, as it's become nothing more than the digital equivalent of the guy down the pub trying to flog dodgy DVDs.

Using Google Fusion to Illustrate Stories

I mentioned a while ago that I was playing with ways of visualising data.

Neil Houston's description of how he used Google Fusion to make sense of a mass of data about parking tickets has provided some inspiration.

I used it to create some graphs from the latest unemployment figures issued by the Office of National Statistics.

This graph shows the increase in the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in each local authority area over the past year. The figures are for June 2009 compared to June 2008 (these are the latest figures as June's stats are published in July). If you want to see the exact figures, click on the blue bars.

However, you need to be careful interpreting the above data, as some local authorities are much larger than others, and simply counting the number of people can therefore be misleading.

This second graph shows the increase in claimants in each local authority area, as a percentage. Eg, if unemployment was two per cent last year and four per cent now, that is an increase of two per cent.

It seems reasonable to me to say that this second graph illustrates which areas have been hit hardest by the recession.

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About me

Jonathan Walker Political Editor of the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail, Sunday Mercury, Coventry Telegraph, Newcastle Journal, Newcastle Chronicle and Sunday Sun.

Contact me:

Email jonathan@walkerjon.com (but please send press releases to my work email which is
jon.walker@trinitymirror.com, as this is the email I monitor during working hours).

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