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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

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 http://www.parliamentlive.tv.

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.

Birmingham MPs talk about their expenses

I don't usually do this, but I am crossposting from my Birmingham Post blog.

This is a video blog post showing some of the work I have been doing as Political Editor of the Birmingham Mail and Birmingham Post over the past week, and how MPs have responded to the expenses controversy.

"This was all set up to give people a little bit of extra cash and hide it from the taxpayer, and that was very wrong." John Hemming MP.

You may also be interested in my Post column.

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.

Sion Simon Teaches Us We're Always Representing

A moderator on one of the forums I take part in once threatened to "out" a poster who had annoyed him - by revealing which children's entertainment company the poster worked for.

He could do this because he saw the IP addresses of forum users, and this poster was using their office computer.

(If you know someone's IP address, you can go to a website like this one and possibly get some idea who they are. For domestic users, you'll probably just learn their ISP, such as Virgin, BT etc. If they are at work, and work for a large organisation, you might learn their employer).

Many forum posters protested that this was unfair, an abuse of mod powers etc. I agree, but the mod in question made a good point in reply - that you are always representing your employer. It may not be nice, but it's a good answer because it's true.

I was reminded of this when Birmingham MP Sion Simon made headlines today by making a joke about swine flu on Twitter. He doesn't hide his identity, so it's not an exact parallel. But the lesson is that he can never be just Sion, talking to his mates, on Twitter or any other part of the Internet.

He's always going to be MP Sion Simon (Lab Erdington). Which probably has a moral for us all, hidden there somewhere.

This is what he said (actually re-tweeting someone else)

I'm not saying Susan Boyle caused swine flu. I'm just saying that nobody had swine flu, she sang on TV, people got swine flu.

I did speak to one Tory MP to see if they wanted to be outraged, but they burst out laughing and insisted they didn't want to comment . . .

Here's my take on swine flu.

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.

Frantic day, and it gets busier tomorrow

Frantic day today, as I chased reaction to LDV directors filing for administration, reported on Gordon Brown announcing a case of swine flu in Birmingham (although it turned out to be in Redditch) and covered the Gurkha vote.

I also wrote my column, with a slightly sarcastic look at the hysteria surrounding the aporkalypse.

Tomorrow will be busier, as MPs vote on expenses reforms. . .

Be the First to Read Government Spin

Nick Booth has highlighted the Government's PR Twitter feeds.

Checking out the West Midlands feed - which provides links to press releases from our local government office - I was surprised it only has three followers, two of whom are Nick and I.

Government press releases aren't always fascinating reads, but they're definitely worth watching for local political anoraks and West Midlands journalists covering health, education, transport or just about any other area of public policy.

The News Sandwich

Bloomberg's hatchet job on Gordon Brown has raised some eyebrows, as the New York-based news agency is usually known for its strict impartiality.

Guido is ecstatic - the PM's spokesman told lobby journalists he "didn't recognise" the claims it made about Brown's behaviour, which is Westminster-speak for saying they're wrong.

I was teasing one of the authors this morning by telling her she was now the story, but she didn't rise to the bait.

Whatever you make of the Bloomberg feature, we should all be grateful to the writers for introducing us to the concept of the news sandwich. Supposedly, when Brown's PR people are telling him what the papers have been saying, they downplay the negative coverage by first telling him about a positive story, then describing the negative one before swiftly moving on to another positive item.

It's like something out of The Thick of It, which, by the way, I heartily recommend.

Sometimes just the facts will do

It's hard to believe, but the Government is trying to feed us information and we're turning them down.

The Office of Public Sector Information is busy making all sorts of facts and figures available for people to access using an application process interface (API) which allows them to get information from a Government database and re-present the facts on their own website, in their own way.

For example, you could let someone enter their postcode in a box on a website and present them with their local school results, crime figures, roadworks etc.

I'm not sure what's currently available, but the Government is actually asking people what they want and trying to give it to them. It's had plenty of responses, but how many of them have come from newspapers?

The average journalist doesn't have the technical skills to make use of this data (it takes some programming to grab the right info and present it well). But major newspaper companies should have people who can do this.

There are many other sources of information too. TheyWorkForYou.com allows people to access its database (it might charge a commercial business for this) and if local councils aren't doing it, we should ask them to.

For an example of what I'm talking about, take a look at US website everyblock.com.

Here's a small sample of information everyblock.com offers about the Midtown South neighbourhood in New York.

everyblock.com

Someone one day will do something similar in the UK. I think it's an obvious one for local newspapers. We should be adding a service similar to what EveryBlock provides to our websites.

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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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