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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).

Promoting Communities with Local People (but not journalists)

I've written before about my hope that newspapers will make more effort to build communities on their websites.

In a nutshell, I think local and regional papers should introduce an element of social networking on their websites, to complement (not replace) existing social networks that people may be part of. In other words, the local newspaper should the community website for Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and so on.

Northcliffe are now doing pretty much what I suggested (I'm not claiming they got the idea from me).

I think their "Local People" sites are worth a look. They key point is that they allow readers to create an identity which goes beyond just having their name next to a comment. This is crucial - if you give people tools to express themselves, present a face to the world and connect with others, that's half the battle. It almost doesn't matter what those tools are.

The Local People sites allow people to create a profile and connect with others. They can start a group (eg to promote their local Sunday league team, or a charity) and invite others to join.

They can take part in discussions, or begin new ones. They can advertise their business for free (and then get a better advert if they pay)

And as well as commenting on stories, they can write their own.

The big difference with what I suggested is that instead of using these ideas to improve existing news websites (such as Northcliffe's Express & Echo), the business has created an entirely new and separate chain of sites - without the involvement of journalists.

Read more: Promoting Communities with Local People (but not journalists)

Reforming Political Reporting (You Can Lead a Horse to Water)

There's a bit of a debate on Tom Watson's site about reforming the way Parliament is reported, to make it easier for bloggers and others to cover the stories the Lobby has missed.

If you're interested in this, you might consider giving Tom the benefit of your advice, as he's the guy that's going to stick up for you in the Commons (I'm sure he'll thank me).

They Work for You

I don't disagree with his basic thesis - which is, I think, that there's a lot of important stuff going on in British politics that the traditional media, and particularly the national media, never cover.

As he's good enough to say in a comment, local and regional media do pay more attention to some of the issues (eg, NHS provision in Cornwall, or wherever) which he has in mind.

But I'm not sure what sort of reforms he is calling for to correct this.

As I have said before, the Lobby is nothing more than the reporters employed by media organisations to report on politics.

The reason other journalists don't come to Lobby briefings isn't because some arcane rules ban them - it's because they are transport or football correspondents, not political correspondents.

When politicians or special advisers give anonymous briefings to journalists, they are not giving them to the Lobby - just to the particular journalists they choose to talk to.

Inviting bloggers to Lobby briefings, or streaming them on a website, won't have any effect at all on anonymous briefings, which are something separate.

Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent bloggers, or anyone else, from reporting on Parliament right now.

It's streamed live on, which also has an archive of previous debates and select committee meetings, it's available on Hansard and a mashed-up version of Hansard is available on

Some people are making good use of that - Tom has highlighted Maybe more bloggers will do so in future. And if it can be made even easier than at the moment, that's a good thing.

But if only a few are reporting on Parliament at the moment, it's not because there's anything stopping them.

Video Online of Newspaper Publishers Talking to Commons Inquiry

The first session of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee's inquiry into the future of local and regional media is online, here:

Representatives of DC Thomson, Johnston Press, Guardian Media Group and my employer Trinity Mirror took part.

I'd like to put the video up here - it wouldn't be hard. However the Commons video website states that "live and archive video broadcasts . . . may not be directly linked to, reproduced, copied or downloaded without formal agreement from PARBUL (Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited) or the Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting."

Perhaps as part of the new spirit of openness dominating the elections for a new Commons Speaker, this restriction could be lifted?

Hackwatch: Don't Cross Paul Staines

I'm one of those people who think it doesn't matter very much whether journalists work for someone else, or are self employed. And it doesn't matter whether their stuff appears in print, on the web, or both.

In other words, in the "are bloggers journalists?" debate, I say yes.

So as one hack to another hack, I look at Paul Staines' decision to out one of his sources - apparently as revenge for the source giving him a story that turned out to be wrong - and say: "What the hell?"

(This is the polite version of this post).

Scraping a Living From Other News Sites

Another local news-site which caught my eye is, a bit of an odd beast.

It offers précis of stories from other sources - mostly traditional media, with the odd blog thrown in - and links to the original article. As far as I can tell, there is no original content on the site itself.

Update: I've noticed the site does have the odd original story. This may be a new development. But they make up a miniscule proprtion of the stories listed on the site.

Basically, someone has done some work making a very nice-looking site which takes news from elsewhere, and added some Google ads in what I guess is an attempt to make a little cash, or at least pay their hosting fees.

Some of the stories come from BPM Media, the company which employs me.

As the YamYam offers only a couple of sentences from the original story and a link (without a nofollow tag), I guess it's a bit of free advertising for businesses like mine.

Of course, any website which offers RSS feeds, such as BPM's Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and Sunday Mercury sites, is inviting others to re-use the content.

Having said that, the YamYam does grab a little bit more than the rather miserly headline + one sentence we offer on RSS.

What do I think of it? I think it's a good idea, and mainstream media organisations shouldn't be afraid of aggregating content - providing links to stories by competitors - either.

The BBC does it. One of my favourite sites, Politics Home, does it. I kind of do it on this blog, in the small "national news" block in the right hand column.

As well as offering our own original reports, there's no reason a website like The Birmingham Post couldn't become a one-stop-shop with summaries of and links to news from the Express and Star, blogs and semi-professional sites such as The Stirrer.

It would be a service to readers, it would drive traffic to the site (just as I check out Politics Home on a regular basis), and we could stick some Google ads around the links as well.

Playing with pictures

I've decided to play around with methods of visualising data. To get me started, here's an image which shows what I've been talking about on this blog lately, created using Wordle.

Wordle text cloud

Local Newspaper Executives Tell MPs About the State of the Industry

Local newspaper publishers will be giving evidence to a Commons inquiry into the state of the industry next week.

Managers from Trinity-Mirror and Johnson Press will speak to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

I'm not sure at this stage exactly who will be representing the newspaper companies.

The proceedings, beginning at 10.30 am on Tuesday 16 June, will be streamed live at

The inquiry, titled The Future for Local and Regional Media, is considering issues including:

  • The impact on local media of recent and future developments in digital convergence, media technology and changing consumer behaviour
  • The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information
  • How to fund quality local journalism
  • The appropriateness and effectiveness of print and electronic publishing initiatives undertaken directly by public sector bodies at the local level
  • The role and effects of search engines and online content aggregators on local media
  • The future of local radio and television news
  • The desirability of changes to the regulatory framework for print and electronic local media, including cross-media ownership and merger regulations
  • The opportunities and implications of BBC partnerships with local media
  • The extent of plurality required in local media markets
  • Incentives for investment in local content
  • Opportunities for "ultra-local" media services

Does The Lichfield Blog Herald The Future of Local Journalism?

A 12 -year-old girl was airlifted to hospital after being involved in a traffic accident in Lichfield on Sunday.

It's a story the people of Lichfield and the surrounding area might be interested in. And to its credit, local paper the Lichfield Mercury has the tale up on the front page of its website.

But search in Google News for "girl airlifted Lichfield" and the sites that come up are the BBC and the Lichfield Blog (at least for me, as I write this). The Mercury is nowhere to be seen. Sammy J
The Lichfield Blog claims to be edited by "Sammy J" - better known as Lichfield's statue of Samuel Johnson.
Image by Tim Ellis, published under Creative Commons License.

That seems to me like a good example of the challenge facing existing newspaper websites.

The issue is not so much, despite the claims of some "social media" enthusiasts, that established newspapers don't "get it" when it comes to the Internet.

Both the Lichfield Blog and the Lichfield Mercury's site - clumsily named thisislichfield - have social media elements.

They both invite readers to comment on stories. The blog also invites ratings, while the Mercury doesn't. The Mercury has icons for sharing stories (on Facebook, Digg etc), while the Blog doesn't.

Bizarrely, the Mercury doesn't seem to offer an RSS feed, which is a big minus. But they are basically doing the same thing.

Despite using Wordpress, a platform usually associated with blogging, the Lichfield Blog even looks like a newspaper website rather than a traditional blog (not a criticism - it looks better than most websites for small newspapers, in fact).

If it was named The Lichfield News it could happily describe itself as a news website rather than a Blog.

What the Lichfield Blog does demonstrate, however, is how easy it is to set up a news website, and one that looks professional, if there are people who have the time to do so.

Read more: Does The Lichfield Blog Herald The Future of Local Journalism?

Local newspapers still make money, says Birmingham Mail editor

My boss, Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson, has posted his thoughts on the state of the local newspaper industry on the messageboard of The Stirrer, a local news website.

What I thought was particularly interesting was his point that newspapers are still making money (even during this recession).

It's a point I've made on this blog before, but a lot of discussion about the state of the industry seems to be based on the assumption - sometimes explicitly stated - that local papers are not profitable.

That's just factually wrong. Of course, one might still predict that they won't be profitable in the future, but anyone who claims they're not making money now is mistaken.

As Steve also says, the profits are lower than they used to be. Trinity Mirror recorded a profit margin of 17.2 per cent for its regionals in 2008, which is down from 24.5 per cent a year earlier (although still a good profit margin compared to most other industries).

He suggests that the newspaper industry will have to accept that the days of 30 per cent margins are gone for good.

I Was The Only Person to Turn Up to the Press Conference

An embarrassing situation earlier this week, when I attended a press conference - and was the only person to turn up.

There was a Cabinet Minister, a podium, coffee and about a dozen press officers and officials.

It was awkward because the event had been organised especially for regional political editors - and we frequently push the Government PR machine to pay more attention to the needs of local papers (in fairness, that doesn't mean they do a bad job already).

The Cabinet Minister, Harriet Harman, scarpered and left me to talk to a more junior minister, but I can't get too upset about that.

But I can also explain why nobody else went. The topic was the Government's new equality Bill - which had already been reported in great detail before the press conference even took place, due both to official announcements and "leaks" (stories placed with selected papers).

I still thought it was worth going, because the diversity of the West Midlands arguably makes equality laws even more important and because one of my papers, the Birmingham Post, has a business slant. The Bill is very relevant to employers.

But I can understand why other local journalists felt it was a waste of time.

So press officers, please remember that the local press do want to work with you, but we have the same criteria as the nationals - something has to be true, interesting and new to be considered a story.

And if you tip me off in advance of the official statement, I'm very discreet.

Don't Blame the Lobby - It Doesn't Really Exist

William Perrin has written a very insightful piece on local newspapers and the future of local news on his newish website.

One point which caught my eye, although he only mentions it in passing, is his reference to "the curious complicity of the Lobby", which I suspect is inspired by the Damian McBride affair and Guido Fawkes' complaints about the Telegraph supposedly colluding with Downing Street.

Nobody should get too hung up on the lobby. It doesn't really exist in the way people imagine.

The Lobby is the name given to the journalists who report on politics at Westminster. That's basically it. It no more has strange working practices or a special hold over the way news is reported than the education correspondents or crime correspondents. The only difference with the Lobby is that it has a weird name, while there's no collective noun to describe the nation's transport correspondents, for example.

This was illustrated when Alastair Campbell hatched a plan to end the power of the Lobby by ending briefings for them in Downing Street and, instead, having the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman hold press conferences which any journalist could attend.

The result was that exactly the same UK journalists attended the press conferences as before, behaving in exactly the same way as before. Because the people who attended were simply the journalists hired by editors to report on politics.

The one thing that did change is that some foreign news organisations, who did not have full-time Westminster correspondents, sent their staff along to these briefings. But I don't think that lasted long. Frankly, Lobby briefings (or whatever they're being called) are rarely very interesting.

Some organisations like the Press Association may have staff at Westminster who are not considered to be Lobby correspondents, but this reflects the role given to them by PA. They are Parliamentary reporters who report strictly on what is said in the Chamber of the Commons.

It's perfectly true that the Lobby tends to collude, discussing story ideas and angles to take. So do other journalists - education reporters may well get together in a huddle after a press conference to discuss what they've just heard.

It's also true that they can, perhaps, get too close to the people they write about. But again, that can happen with any other reporter.

Damian McBride did not send poison text messages to "the Lobby". He sent them to trusted journalists he was close to. Or at least, so I am told. I never got one, despite being a member of the magic circle.

The criticisms made of political reporting may or may not be valid, but to blame them on the Lobby is missing the point. The Lobby is just a name.

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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.

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