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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).

The website of Jonathan Walker, Political Editor for the Birmingham Post and Mail

Calling All Gurus - You Don't Know What The Future Holds

None of us know what the future holds. Speculation about the way the internet is going to develop, how people will behave online or where they will get their information from, is little more than guesswork.

Let me give some examples:

Software

As a middle aged man who started using the internet a long time ago (mainly to play Ultima Online rather than do anything useful), I remember when an amazing new piece of software appeared. ICQ was the first popular instant messaging service to run on Windows.

All of a sudden, e-mail seemed slow and cumbersome. Everybody had to have ICQ.

Where is it now? My ICQ buddy list has dwindled over the years, while my Windows Live list has grown.

I'm sure people still use ICQ. According to Digital Trends, it has an estimated 15 million active users.

According to Microsoft, Windows Live is used by 330 million people a month (I'd guess many hundreds of millions more have it installed and never use it).

I don't know where Digital Trends gets its figures from, but I doubt anyone who uses instant messaging much is going to disagree that ICQ has been overshadowed.

So, will this happen to Twitter? I doubt it, but I don't know. Neither do you. Let's see what happens when Twitter is sold to AOL while Microsoft and Google launch their joint-venture micro-blogging service.

Read more: Calling All Gurus - You Don't Know What The Future Holds

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.

Council-run Newspapers Undermine Local Press, Claim MPs

MPs debated the future of national and local newspapers in Westminster Hall, in the Commons, this week.

A common theme among many of the contributors was the damaging role they felt subsidised council newspapers play in undermining privately-owned newspapers which need to make a profit. Birmingham City Council suspended publication of its own paper, Forward, in June this year.

The minister responding to the debate was culture minster Sion Simon, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington.

I won't publish his comments here as he was responding to speeches made by other MPs, and his remarks don't make sense without reading the original speeches. However, you can see the whole thing for yourself at Hansard.

The other West Midlands MP to take part in the debate was Lorely Burt, MP for Solihull and a Lib Dem spokeswoman on business issues. I don't think I'll comment on what she said. Here is her speech:

"The news has been defined as something that people do not want us to see. All who have spoken in the debate have been at the difficult end of that. The Birmingham Post required all local MPs to pre-publish their expenses. One or two MPs were rather reticent to do so, but we nevertheless complied. That shows the power of the local press. Local papers, such as the Solihull News and the Solihull Times, publish what our MPs in my area have been up to, but many are not totally comfortable with that.

Read more: Council-run Newspapers Undermine Local Press, Claim MPs

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 parliamentlive.tv, 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 theyworkforyou.com.

Some people are making good use of that - Tom has highlighted Ispystrangers.org. 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.

Tweetminster

I was looking at David Higgerson's blog and saw he had a nifty gadget on it from Tweetminster, the website that keeps tabs on politicians who use the Twitter messaging service.

It provides a stream of "tweets" (Twitter messages) from MPs, candidates, major parties, Parliament and the Government.

This seemed cool, so I stole the idea and added the feed to this page, on the right and down the bottom.

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:

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=4314

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).

Using Sproutbuilder to make gadgets

I was trying to explain how the "Birmingham and West Midlands Politics News" gadget works to Andy Mabbett on Twitter, and did such a poor job of it I thought I'd try again here.

The gadget was created using Sproutbuilder. It takes an RSS feed of political news from the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail, and displays it as you can see. Clicking on a headline will take you to the web page where the story originally appeared.

You can add it to pretty much any website or blog, or Facebook/Myspace/etc page, for free, by clicking the "share" button and following the instructions.

The RSS feed it uses is one I created in Yahoo Pipes. This amalgamates four different RSS feeds from the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail, namely: every news story in the Post's politics section, my Birmingham Post blog, my Birmingham Mail column and most of my Birmingham Post columns.

There is, as you can tell, an element of self-promotion involved.

But the key point - and this is where I am afraid I made little sense when I spoke to Andy - is that anyone can make one of these. So if you want a gadget on your site which has sports news from the Birmingham Mail and the Express and Star, for example, you can just go ahead and make one.

All you need to do is sign up at Sproutbuilder. And if you can find the right RSS feeds, or know how to filter stuff in Yahoo Pipes, it's easy enough to make a specialised widget - for example, which only included football stories, or which pulled in any story from a dozen different websites which mentioned Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Sproutbuilder switched fairly recently from being free to charging. But it does offer basic free accounts, allowing you to make three gadgets with up to 10gb a month of bandwidth - probably enough for most needs?

So if anyone wants to add my gadget to their website, just go ahead. But if it's not what you want, you could make one yourself easily, and they are fun to do.

Scraping a Living From Other News Sites

Another local news-site which caught my eye is theYamYam.com, 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

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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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