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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

Let readers choose their own news

As a rule, most newspaper websites replicate the print product in the way that they present content to readers.

The top stories or features are picked out by the website editor and given the greatest prominence, with the remainder placed on the page according to their category.

For example, the Times website has the biggest stories of the moment at the top, followed by "more news" (the best general news stories), then business news, then sport, then comment, etc.

This echoes the print format, in which the top story or splash goes on the front, with other stories presented in an order chosen by the editor, often divided into categories. Of course, print products have to do this.

But many successful websites outside newspapers take a different approach, customising their pages for readers and presenting them with content they are likely to be interested in.

For example, YouTube offers me videos based, as far as I can tell, on what I am subscribed to and what I have watched in the past.

Here is part of the page is it appears to me:

It seems to me that newspapers could learn from this approach. Using cookies or, even better, by persuading people to register on our sites, we could use the stories they have looked at before, those they have rated highly and those they have commented on or e-mailed to friends to take a guess at what kind of stuff they are interested in.

If it's sport, then give them the sports stories at the top of the page rather than at the bottom, for example.

And when readers do register, we could also simply let them tell us what they want through a simple interface, in the same way that Yahoo lets people personalise their splash page, for example. I wouldn't depend entirely on this though, as what people say they are interested in may not be exactly the same as what they actually spend their time looking at.

I imagine we'd still want to push the top stories of the day in a prominent position (or maybe not?). But there's no reason newspaper websites should be static, and if we don't take the initiative in giving readers what they want then someone else will. Indeed, they already are.

Should the government, or the BBC, help local newspapers?

Should the Government intervene to help local newspapers survive the recession?

This was the suggestion put forward in a House of Commons debate earlier this week.

Two things struck me about the debate. First, as we've reported in the Birmingham Post and Mail, Cabinet Office Minister Ian Pearson hinted that some kind of help for the industry may be announced in a Government policy paper due out on Monday January 26.

Mr Pearson, who also happens to be a local MP representing Dudley South, told a backbencher: "The final issue that I want to mention is financial support. My hon. Friend raised this issue, as did other hon. Members, and it is a complex one, given the requirement that freedom of editorial control must not be threatened by state intervention.

"I want to reassure him that such support is being considered within the Digital Britain initiative."

Digital Britain is a green paper - an early policy document - which will be (according to a government press release) "an action plan to secure the UK's place at the forefront of innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications industries."

Those of you with interests in blogging, the internet and the future of media big and small might find it interesting, it seems to me.

The second thing that struck me was the pessimism MPs taking part in the debate all seemed to have about the future of local papers.

Solihull MP Lorely Burt, a Lib Dem, suggested the BBC should step in and set up some kind of "joint venture website" with local journalists.

She said: "It would keep local journalism alive and kicking, it would be attractive to advertisers and more interesting, varied and local, and it would create a synergy beneficial to both."

The problem with this idea is that local papers already have their own local websites, of varying quality, and believe they have an important role in helping them stay afloat.

Sharing their advertising revenue with the BBC would hardly help. Having said that, the BBC has clearly invested in the technology and expertise to create high quality websites, so perhaps this could help smaller publishers.

I'm not sure, however, whether Ms Burt was worried about helping media businesses at all - or if she simply wants to help local journalists continue to perform what she believes is an important role.

Read more: Should the government, or the BBC, help local newspapers?

Evening Standard bribes readers to "buy" two copies

Every so often I buy two copies of the Evening Standard. Not different editions, with different stories, but identical copies of the same paper.

This is because the Standard has gone one better than offering free copies. It actually bribes potential readers to take the paper away.

In some branches of WH Smith (and elsewhere, for all I know) you get £1 off a magazine if you also buy the Standard for 50p, effectively giving you a free copy of the paper and 50p off the magazine.

Now, I always get a copy of the Standard while I am at the office in Westminster. It's as much a national paper as a local London paper, and even though most of the stories I write are focused on the West Midlands, it makes sense for me to know what the national papers are saying.

Having skimmed through it at work, I might take it on the Tube with me to Waterloo, where I catch the train home. And sometimes I'll stop in Waterloo's WH Smith to pick up something to read for the train journey.

I know I can save money on magazines by grabbing a second copy of the newspaper here, but I don't. I'm not a great environmentalist, but I can still see how wasteful this is, even if I stand to save 50p.

But there are assistants roaming the shop (employed I suspect by the Standard rather than WH Smith) who look out for people buying magazines, and thrust a copy of the paper into your hands before you reach the till. They do this even if they can see that you already have a copy of the Standard under your arm - and even if you point this out to them, and explain that you don't need two newspapers.

Weak-willed as I am, I'm afraid that in these circumstances I just accept the paper and the 50p saving. It saves me money, and presumably boosts the Standard's circulation, but it can't do much for the environment.

Should employers avoid recruiting internet gamers?

You may have seen the story about Barack Obama appointing Kevin Werbach, an academic who plays World of Warcraft, to advise him on Internet and telecoms policies.

This led to an in-depth analysis of his gaming habits - you can tell a lot by looking at the character he plays, apparently, and he plays a giant cow - which concluded among other things that he enjoys helping people and is open-minded.

I was reminded of this by another story that is doing the rounds on the interweb, about recruiters avoiding applicants who play World of Warcraft, because their minds are on other things and they have weird sleeping patterns.

World of Warcraft

Cynical and evil people might suggest the same is true of many other potential employees, including anyone with young children, but definitely not me. I'm scared you'd throw things at me.

Is it true that people who play video games make bad workers? On the positive side, they know a little about the interweb.

And if you think internet communities are, or might become, an important part of your business, it arguably makes sense to recruit people who are already part of one.

But this story, which is appearing on professional websites which are at least half-way to being "big media", is also a warning to journalists, in my view.

It's a fun little story. But where does it come from?

A guy calling himself "Tale" wrote the following on an internet forum:

I met with a recruiter recently (online media industry) and in conversation I happened to mention I'd spent way too much time in the early 2000s playing online games, which I described as "the ones before World of Warcraft" (I went nuts for EQ1, SWG and the start of WoW, but since 2006 I have only put a handful of days into MMOG playing - as opposed to discussing them - I've obsessed over bicycles and cycling instead).

He replied that employers specifically instruct him not to send them World of Warcraft players. He said there is a belief that WoW players cannot give 100% because their focus is elsewhere, their sleeping patterns are often not great, etc. I mentioned that some people have written about MMOG leadership experience as a career positive or a way to learn project management skills, and he shook his head. He has been specifically asked to avoid WoW players.

« Last Edit: December 12, 2008, 03:08:13 PM by Tale »

"Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live." - Mark Twain

And that's it. So it's the equivalent of the man down the pub, always a great source of copy but perhaps best not to depend on without checking elsewhere.

Liam Byrne Interview

I recently spoke to Birmingham MP Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill), the Cabinet Office Minister.

The report and a film of the conversation is here, on the Birmingham Post site.

For those who want to see the full 30 minute interview, it is below. This is the full unedited film, including a little goofing around at the start.


Promoting Communities on Newspaper Websites

Newspapers have always been about communities, particularly local papers. We claim to represent communities and interact with them, and the internet provides new ways of doing that.

But how many newspapers are actually taking advantage of what the internet offers? As a general rule, we offer readers the chance to comment on stories and, um, that's it.

I believe we should be using our websites as places where readers can communicate with us and with each other. This is particularly important for local newspapers. People still care about their local communities. There are plenty of blogs about Birmingham (and no doubt about Liverpool and Newcastle too) - people have ideas and information they want to share. We should be presenting ourselves as the platform to do it.

And there's another reason for creating a community on our websites. People like establishing an identity online, for better or for worse. This is one of the reasons they create blogs. It's one of the reasons you get flame warriors on forums or among people who comment on blogs, and one of the reasons others try to establish a reputation for thoughtful, constructive posts.

It's possible for newspapers to go much further than they do in allowing communities to develop.

I have been playing with JomSocial, which is an application for websites using the Joomla CMS (like this one). It's inspired by sites like Facebook, and allows people to establish an identity online.

It costs around £100 and is very easy to use. Of course, our newspapers may not be using Joomla, but a major media company could surely develop their own app?

We shouldn't try to compete with Facebook, but I believe that readers of local newspapers would be interested in taking part in a specifically local community as well as, or in some cases instead of, the national or global communities they are also part of.

JomSocial allows people to create a profile, connect with friends, create groups, share RSS feeds (eg to promote their blog), share photos, share videos, add events to a community calendar, share their Twitter feed and share mini-blog posts (ie on a "wall").

It also interacts with the comments system produced by the same company (the one I use on this site) and with a blog platform they have developed. In other words, when people comment on a story, that comment also shows up in their profile. And we could allow people to blog on our own websites - keeping the "community blogs" separate from our "official" blogs.

One thing it does not do, but which I believe would be key for a newspaper website, is allow people to bookmark news stories - allowing them to share stories from our websites that they think others would be interested in, as well as rating them and commenting on them.

Although I point out that this particular application is dirt cheap in the context of a one-off investment by a major regional newspaper, I appreciate that developing something like it for ourselves might not be so easy.

But isn't it the type of thing newspaper businesses who want to adapt for the changing marketplace should be doing?


Edit: I have created a demonstration site to illustrate what I mean. For more information, take a look at this post: A demonstration "social newspaper".

Making It Easy

Media organisations could encourage journalists to embrace new ways of working by making it easy for them.

For example, articles can frequently benefit from the inclusion of related links. One method of getting those links to readers would be to create a account and direct readers to it.

But a simpler method would be simply to input them with the story itself. This would also allow the business to make better use of them, as the links would be associated both with an individual journalist and with a specific story, as well as being stored on the organisation's own servers. (Links from a journalist's account can be accessed as an RSS feed but I think it would be technically difficult to associate the right links with the right stories this way).

One of the obstacles to journalists doing this is frequently the content management system they use, which may not be designed to accomplish what the media organisation is trying to do.

Media businesses should take the initiative and develop systems designed to make it easy for staff to achieve what they want them to achieve.

I also believe that, while it makes sense to use whatever applications and web services are out there for the taking, it would be a mistake to rely on them. We should deciding what we want to do and then doing it - inspired by what other people are doing, rather than depending on them.

Below is a dummy front end (for authors) of a content management system which I think would be easy to use and accomplish some of what a multimedia news organisation should be trying to accomplish.

The front end is a vital part of any CMS, but a small one. And what is below is only for illustration - it doesn't work. And it is probably missing things. It's simply an attempt to illustrate what I mean when I talk about making it easy.

Bloggers Put Up Our Taxes!

Okay, it's a bit of a naughty headline. But they have increased the number of press officers employed by the civil service.

Sir Gus O'Donnell, cabinet secretary and head of the Home Civil Service, today defended an increase in the number of press officers in government and said the increase was a response to the 1,600 political bloggers in the UK.


Bloggers - you are creating jobs for hacks, or former hacks at least. Keep it up.

Metaplace Beats Second Life

Move over Second Life. Metaplace is better in every way.

A Scene from Second Life
I've never understood why businesses got so excited about Second Life (pictured, left). If you've never played it, it's a 3D graphical application - kind of like a game, except without the actual game - which allows you to create a character and fly around a virtual world full of things other people have created.

These creations can be buildings, vehicles, clothes other characters are wearing, or just about anything you can imagine.

It's like World of Warcraft without the elves. What it does have is lots and lots of porn, as people use the freedom it offers to make pornography and sell it for real cash.

There was a period, which hasn't quite gone away, of organisations creating Second Life material to promote themselves, such as an "office" in the Second Life virtual world.

It's also used for virtual conferences. Microsoft and the Social Market Foundation think-tank roped West Bromwich MP and Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson into taking part in a fringe event set in the Second Life world during Labour's conference in September.

Online gaming guru Raph Koster is developing something better.

His Metaplace project will allow people to develop their own virtual world and stick it on their website (by embedding some flash on the page).

It is better than Second Life because:

  • There is no need for visitors to download a client. You just need flash on your machine, and 99 per cent of us already have that, even if we don't know it.
  • People can access your world directly from any website you choose.
  • There's no need to share your virtual showroom or conference hall with a thousand badly-textured penises. Worlds are self-contained, but you can link to others if you wish.

The only downside I can see is the cartoony default graphics, but you can create your own graphics if you wish.

Here is a video about the internet and porn (don't play it at work):

Government Unlikely to Intervene In Row Over BBC Local Websites

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham gave regional journalists the strong impression he doesn't plan to intervene in the row over the BBC's planned local news websites.

Trinity Mirror CEO (and therefore my ultimate boss) Sly Bailey told an industry conference earlier this month that commercial news organisations were investing in digital platforms.

But she said: "If online audiences are diverted away to BBC sites though unfair competition, using public money and the BBC's unparalleled promotional machine, there will be an impact on the commercial sector's ability to develop these digital businesses, to grow these digital revenues and to invest."

The BBC's strategy "is anti-competitive, it is unnecessary, and it will waste public money," she said.

Mr Burnham talked about the importance of local newspapers and his admiration for the work they were doing developing digital media.

But he said it was not his role to tell the BBC what to do, and pointed out that the BBC Trust (chaired by former Birmingham Council Chief Executive Sir Michael Lyons) was already considering these issues.

He also said the BBC deserved some credit for developing its website ten years ago, when it got some stick for doing so.

The BBC is planning 60 local video websites.

Birmingham Bloggers On The New-Look Birmingham Post

I've added a new page to this blog with a round up of posts from Birmingham and West Midlands-based bloggers, with the highly original name Blogroll (on the menu up top).

As I write, three of the posts listed focus on the new-look Birmingham Post.

Jon Bounds at Birmingham: It's Not Shit seems to like it.

Paul Groves at Groves Media gives it "a tentative thumbs up for now".

Nick Booth at Podnosh says Birmingham should be proud!

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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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