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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).

And We Also Need News

When I read this letter from a Daily Telegraph journalist lamenting the state of the newspaper industry (following a link from Jo Geary), I suspected they'd receive a pretty negative response.

Their complaint was that newspapers weren't interested in recruiting quality staff - and paying them accordingly - or giving them the time they needed to do a decent job of finding out what's going on and telling people what's going on.

An uncharitable interpretation of their comments would be that they were asking for more money and less work, which rarely endears you to anyone.

But they had also criticised the focus on "social media", ie blogs and stuff, and the general emphasis on the internet.

For example, they wrote:

... it's becoming all too clear at the Telegraph, whose online business plan seems to be centred on chasing hits through Google by rehashing and rewriting stories that people are already interested in. Facts are no longer the currency they used to be.

This is a bit of a no-no in the industry at the moment (far better to say you are wildly enthusiastic about social media and complain that nobody else is).

But I was still a bit surprised by this response from Justin Williams, Assistant Editor at the Telegraph Media Group, who said:

Funny thing that - writing about things that people are interested in. It would be a ... er ... radical editor who went to his bosses and said that his reporters would, henceforth, only write about things that people weren't interested in.

Well, yes, news should be interesting. I think the point being made, however, was that newspapers were basing their strategy on search engine optimisation and getting into the most-read clusters on Google News "by rehashing and rewriting stories" that are already out there.

Read more: And We Also Need News

Chasing A Fake Story

Strange day at the office. A colleague on another local paper was tasked with verifying a report their newspaper had received, from someone claiming to be a Downing Street press officer, that a Minister had resigned.

The MP in question (not David Cairns, the Scottish Office Minister who actually has resigned) was overseas and unavailable, so my colleague was reduced to phoning Downing Street and the relevant Government department to try to find out what was going on.

She collared the MP's researcher on the House of Commons terrace. I'm told the researcher was frantic, because she had been contacted by numerous journalists but had no idea what was happening.

My poor colleague was under extra pressure from journalists like me, who had not only started making our own inquires but were trying to get her to tell us what she knew (as she worked for the MP's local paper, she probably had the best chance of finding out).

Eventually, she managed to track down the press officer who had phoned her paper - except that he denied making the call, and actually now worked in the Cabinet Office, not Downing Street.

My colleague got the press officer to phone her newsdesk, so the news editor could confirm the voice was different.

The original tip-off had been a fake, but it clearly came from someone who knew the names of Downing Street press officers (or at least, of people who worked there recently), which takes a bit of inside knowledge or digging.

I'm not sure what the moral of the tale is, except that nobody knows what's going to happen next at Westminster.

Apologies for not giving names, but I don't want to repeat false rumours about Ministers even with the words "it wasn't true" in big letters.

Preparing for the Conservative Party Conference

The Birmingham Post is planning to go all out when the Tories hold their annual event in Birmingham later this month. I usually cover the party conferences alone with wire copy filling in the gaps, but as it is happening in our city this year the paper has arranged for a number of other staff to get passes and attend events.

As I understand it, the conference will also see more co-operation between the Post and the Mail than in the past, as part of the move towards an intergrated newsroom.

I have put together a memo for my newsdesk on events taking place. It covers a very small proprtion of the various meetings happening - I picked out the ones I thought were most interesting to us.

I thought I would publish it here, as it may be of interest to anyone who wants to know how journalists work, as well as people attending the conference. The Tories are making efforts to get bloggers to attend the conference, so Birmingham bloggers may find it useful.

Couple of notes:

i) I don't know if we will cover all of this, or any of this. It's not entirely up to me, and other things I don't know about are certain to come up. This is a memo I wrote, not the Post and Mail's plans.

ii) I'm assuming business desk will cover some events, which is why I am not planning to go to one or two important business-themed fringe meetings, but I could be wrong.

iii) I forgot about the "public" debates the Tories are doing, one of which I think one of my editors is actually speaking at! So I guess we will want to cover them.

iv) If by any chance Andrew Mitchell or Caroline Spelman see this - yes I know I haven't actually asked for interviews yet, but I am hoping you won't turn me away!

I wrote:

I have put together a list of the things happening at the conference which I think will be interesting.

I’m obviously not personally planning to cover anything like all this myself. If we have staff with passes who are able to cover things, we could send them. I am not certain exactly where the security zone extends, but anything at the ICC or Hyatt will certainly need a pass.

I have put JW next to the things I am planning to do myself. If someone else particularly wants to do them instead, that’s fine. If we have enough staff to take stuff off my hands then that’s fine too.

Note that things will change a great deal during the conference itself. Eg we will get interview opportunities, speeches which didn’t seem interesting will turn out to be interesting, stories will emerge from talking to people etc.

Other things I plan to do which are not on the list:

Interviews with Andrew Mitchell (Shadow Cabinet), Caroline Spelman (Party Chair) and David Cameron.

Preview of DC speech Tuesday for Wednesday, if I can get it.

Feature Sunday for Monday if we want it.

Here are some of the things happening at the Tory conference:

Sunday Sept 28

11.10 to 12.30 main hall – presentation and debate about Birmingham , including a presentation on the “social action project” in Edgbaston  JW

2pm-3pm main hall – Debate on Tory election successes, which I imagine will include some mention of the wins in the West Mids in this year’s council elections. Main hall  JW

3pm-3.15 – Boris speaks. No local relevance but will be fun. Main hall

5.30 fringe, Broad Street , Dame Neville Jones, Tory security spokesperson, takes part in discussion on political Islamism.

5.45 fringe ICC David Willets, skills spokesman (Birm link) takes part in event on skills.

6pm Fringe Hyatt Coun Les Lawrence, Birmingham Education Cabinet Member, in event on preventing youth crime

6-30 Church service in the Town Hall with Bishop of Birmingham speaking, Caroline Spelman as host and a rapper(!)

7.30 Baskerville House – Whitby hosts reception on cities and launches “urban hub” JW

Read more: Preparing for the Conservative Party Conference

I Go Jobhunting

Off work for a few days, which means I no longer have any excuse for failing to fill in forms for the party conferences later this month.

The pass for Labour's event has already arrived and the Tory equivalent should be in the post, but I won't have anywhere to sit unless I book myself desks at both events.

It also means I will get round to filling in my response to Trinity Mirror Midlands' consultation document and confirming that yes, on reflection I would like to apply for a position in the new structure.

Specifically, I'll be applying for the job I am currently doing, which still exists. In principle (actually, in practice) anyone else in the company can apply for it too, although I guess I am at a slight advantage over any rivals out there. We'll see.

There's been a lot of comment on local interweb sites about the changes, including a bit of stick aimed at journalists who aren't happy.

Of course, the issue people aren't happy about is the prospect of 70 positions being made redundant. That's the figure over all the affected papers - Coventry and weeklies as well as the Post, Mail and Mercury.

It leaves us with 230 people covering news, features and sport, as well as photographers, various editor types and production staff.

I have as much as idea as any other blogger whether that's the optimum number of people for four papers + weeklies or not, ie very little (with two obvious exceptions).

What I am sure of, and what I imagine most commentators are really most interested in, is the decision wholeheartedly to embrace new ways of delivering the news.

Of course we should be trying to reach readers any way we can, or, perhaps a better way of putting it, any way they want to be reached.

That includes using web sites and other internet applications, mobile phones and anything else that comes around in the future.

It's a pity in some ways that the job cuts and the multimedia strategy have had to be packaged together like this. When you hear disgruntled hacks or NUJ reps complain, remember that they're not "resisting change" except for the specific change of potentially losing their jobs, which people tend to resist in any industry.

Big Changes At Mail, Post and Mercury

Details of the radical changes at the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and Sunday Mercury (which tends to be overlooked by commentators for some reason) have been published by The Guardian (and the BBC has a surprisingly inaccurate version up too. Edit - Which it has now corrected).

Four main points stand out for me:

  • The newspapers will have an “integrated newsroom” – in other words, the majority of journalists will no longer work for just one paper, but for all three.
  • Almost all writers will now become multimedia journalists.
  • The internet versions of the papers are as important as the paper versions. News will go on the website when it is ready, rather than waiting for the paper version to come out. We do this to some extent already, but much less so than the nationals, most of which already seem to have a web-first strategy.
  • There will be 65 redundancies (not all at the Post, as the BBC says).

Jo Geary has a round-up of reaction. Mail Editor Steve Dyson and Post Editor Marc Reeves have both blogged about it, and I'm sure they'd be keen to read your comments if you fancy heading to their blogs and leaving any.

I Begged A Spin Doctor For A Comment

Back at work after a fortnight off, and one of the first people I speak to is Mike Flower, the ever-cheerful Tory press officer for the West Midlands who looks frighteningly young.

The employment of a dedicated West Midlands spokesman is a fairly new development for the Conservatives, and one of many things the party has done to improve the way it gets its message across under David Cameron.

Much of the conversation revolved around me telling him to post a comment on this blog "so it looks like someone reads it", but he tells me the comment system is buggy.

Is it buggy? Give me your thoughts below . . . oh, wait.

The parties have different set-ups for dealing with the media. As well as Mike in the West Midlands, the Tories have a dedicated person in London for the regional lobby correspondents at Westminster.

Labour have had West Midlands press officers for as long as I have been in journalism, starting in 1997 with Ian Austin, now an MP and one of Gordon Brown's close allies.

Their current spokesperson, Caroline Badley, is heading off to start her own consultancy, apparently alongside a former Downing Street advisor (I'm being cagey because I haven't confirmed it - I'd rather be vague than precise and wrong).

There's nobody representing the Lib Dems in the West Midlands, or not that I know of. If they exist, they can call me on 0207 219 3765 in office hours and say hello.

I should point out that I don't get most of my stories from PR people (or the wire either, thanks).

But is talking to PR people a terrible thing? Nick Davies' book Flat Earth News talks about stories which were "initiated by a PR and/or contained material supplied by PR", or which "carried clear signs of PR activity", as if this was inherently bad.

When the Government launched its White Paper on local government reform last month, I covered it by phoning Government press officers and asking for an interview with the Secretary of State.

After the interview, I wrote these stories. They resulted partly from "PR activity". Is that a bad thing?

PS Mike Flower is no relation to Mike Flowers, or so he claims.


Is The Birmingham Post's Coverage of Politics Lousy?

My post about the Sprout widget-builder, and the demo widget I have created for this site, received an interesting response from Clifford, who said:
Not directly on the point but looking through the news items in the widget I was struck by how few of them really relate to Birmingham. I think that there is an interesting discussion to be had around why the Birmingham Post's coverage of Birmingham Politics is so poor. For example - is every significant committee meeting covered? Is there regular use of the FOIA? Paul Dale can't do everything.

I don't know how to answer that, to be honest. Is the Post's coverage of politics poor? What do you think?

If you have any thoughts, please feel free to post them to the discussion already in progress.


Learning From The (Dungeon) Masters

Isaac Newton said he had "seen a little further" by standing on the shoulders of giants - the scientists who came before him.

Most of us using the Internet today are standing on the shoulders of giant geeks - the early adopters who were building communities ten years ago.

Although their audiences were different, as they were not running newspapers and dealt mostly with other early adopters, I think it makes sense to look at the lessons they learned rather than starting from scratch.

For example, these are some of the points Richard Bartle, co-author of the first MUD, makes in a chapter on promoting communities in his book Designing Virtual Worlds.

The more people communicate, the more they will develop relationships. The more relationships that develop, the stronger the community becomes.
Members of communities act and interact in community space. If they own some of that community space, it can help them feel like they're a permanent part of that community.
Some things are generally good for communities and some things are generally bad . . . the main [bad] ones to watch out for are xenophobia, prejudice and oppression.

Bartle is talking about MUDs but I think his points apply to any community space, such as newspaper presences on the internet if we want to create communities around them. This (and I know I am doing things backwards) is what inspired my earlier post about the importance of letting people create identities, to communicate with each other and to add content.

In general, I think we need to look beyond "what other newspapers/media organisations are doing" when considering what we ought to be doing.

Inspect Your Gadget

Sprout lets you make widgets. It's free and easy. I made a demonstration, which should be visible on the menu on the left.

Edit: However, their gadgets seem to crash this site when using Internet Explorer on some occasions. It may well be an issue with the scripts on this site rather than Sprout's fault - I just don't know. But for now, the widget is gone.

What Newspapers Can Learn From YouTube (It's Not Video)

Would YouTube be successful if users could only post videos anonymously, with nothing to identify the creator?

What if they were also unable to create their own userpage, listing their films and all the people who subscribed to them? If there was no way of knowing how many people had watched the videos, and no way of rating them or leaving comments?

YouTube is not a hit because it has videos. Of course, it wouldn't work without them, or something else to replace them. But it's successful because it provides an opportunity for people to create an identity, and use that identity to say something and to be creative in front of audience. To show off.

In my Seesmic talk about the future of newspapers, I said that our websites should allow people to post or bookmark videos and photos, create their own blogs, create personal profiles and all sorts of other stuff, all on, for example, the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail websites.

I then said that some people might not think reader-submitted videos and pictures were the way forward for newspapers, but, I added, this wasn't the point.

The point is to allow them to create an identity. To express themselves. To communicate with - and show off to - other people, however exactly they do it.

This is one of the reasons people take part in (rather than passively consume) internet media. It allows them to make their mark, and we should do everything we can to allow them to make their mark on our "newspaper", whatever form that newspaper takes.

After all, we are already established as a key part of our local communities. Our brands are still strong - and prestigious. Let's give readers the chance to be a part of them.

(By the way, I have added an example of a video bookmarking component to this website, to illustrate what it means. Hit the "videos" page from the top menu to try it).

Let's All Get Mashed Together

Tom Watson has proved why he is so loved by his colleagues by making good on his promise to revolutionise the way the Government makes information available to the public.

What he and has team have really done is to make it more accessible to people who want to nick it and re-present it in their own way (sometimes called a mash-up). So, for example, it should be possible to get hold of information about crime levels, poverty, unemployment, and educational achievement, create a handy widget for your website and invite people to find out what's going on in their neighbourhood, perhaps by entering a postcode or clicking on a map.

He's even gone as far as inviting people to tell him which information they want, and how they want it delivered.

This is an invitation for newspapers to work out what sort of things they want to present to their readers - and then ask the Government to give it to them, to package and pass on.

Too good to pass up, surely?

Sadly, my computer kung fu is not quite good enough to let me create my own version of but there are plenty of enterprising people who could, so let's hope the newspaper industry gets there first.

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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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