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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

Talk About Missing A Great Story

San Francisco in peril.

{currenttv}89204971{/currenttv}

But is that Death Star fully operational?

Wikipedia - Don't Trust It

Birmingham is currently winning the battle to be named Britain's Second City on Wikipedia, probably the most influential source of information on the interweb today.

Wikipedia is the encyclopaedia anyone can edit, making it useless as a source to be relied on. The problem isn't so much straight factual inaccuracies as bias and point-of-view pushing.

It is, however, immensely popular, with around seven billion page views (not unique visits) a month.

In theory, editors are bound by a strict set of rules, such as the requirement to cite authoritative sources and to achieve consensus before making major changes.

In practice, sources are frequently used to push a particular point of view. You simply start out knowing what you want to say and then search for a source to back it up, ignoring the ones that don't support your position.

As for consensus, this tends to apply to individual pages, not the encyclopedia as a whole.

Hence, the Birmingham entry tells us that "Birmingham is the largest of England's core cities, and is the second city of the United Kingdom".

The Manchester entry, however, states that it is "often described as the second city of the UK."

While they don't quite contradict each other, Manchester's entry suggests that Birmingham is often not considered to be the second city.

The reason for this discrepancy is obvious - Manchester's entry is edited mainly by Mancs, while Birmingham's entry is edited by Brummies.

Read more: Wikipedia - Don't Trust It

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.

The Public and Private Faces of Journalism

Nunchuckles – laughing in the face of nuns.

Who would devote a blog to such a terrible pastime? A friend of mine in the reporting trade who stuck to internet traditions and blogs anonymously.

As far as I can tell, one of the blog’s main purposes is to let him get his true feelings on the things he writes about out of his system.

But in public . . . we’re all meant to be strictly neutral.

Downing Street Sexes Up Website

Obama Girl was on the telly recently. She told Newsnight: "Doing that video sparked a lot of interest in him early on in his campaign. It definitely sparked the youth vote, so it definitely helped."

Obama GirlWith her {rokbox text=|Spinal Tap|}http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8JiQCIzCZA{/rokbox}-style lyrics, Amber Lee Ettinger may have shown how the interweb can change political campaigning, but is it a change for the better? Of course, she didn't write the lyrics, or even support Barack Obama when she was chosen to make the video.

It's great that young people have become enthused about politics, but I think we're still waiting for someone to find a way to enthuse them about, um, politics.

Downing Street has re-vamped its website and it looks pretty cool. Lots of YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and press releases which look like blog posts. I don't see Brown Girl popping up in the near future, and even Digital Dave might blanche at Cameron Girl (although David Davis gave it a shot when he stood for the party leadership with his "Double D" girls).

Maybe I'm just old fashioned. Sing along!

Universal healthcare reform
It makes me warm
You tell the truth unlike the right
You can love but you can fight
You can Barack me tonight

{youtubejw}wKsoXHYICqU{/youtubejw}

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.

{youtubejw}Vy1ueZf1WMQ{/youtubejw}

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.

{!jomcomment}

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 everyblock.com 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.

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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