Posts Tagged ‘Sunderland Echo’

I’m usually pretty good at helping people. I go out of my way to, say, direct readers to a relevant contact or to get a hold of past issues of the Sunderland Echo. It’s nice to be nice, and one more reader on our side in an era of dwindling print sales and an uncertain digital future doesn’t go amiss.
But sometimes – as I was reminded this morning – being nice isn’t always appreciated…

1. Reader email:

I would like to vote on the Internet Poll but where and how do I find it please?

2. My polite response:

Dear Mrs Xxxxxx,
 
Our internet vote is quite tricky to find as it does not appear on the main page of our website.
 
However, if you visit www.sunderlandecho.com and click on any of the individual articles it appears in the bottom right of the page.
 
All the best,
 
Lee

3. Reader’s delightful comeback

I’m afraid I do not have time to spend hunting the internet poll all day.
 
Who in the hell designed this awful web site–a drunk????
Xxxxxx X

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I’m always nagging students, colleagues and random people in bars about the fact the web is not just a publishing platform, it’s a tool that can make you a better journalist irrespective of how your content reaches an audience.

It’s a hard sell when you’re giving examples involving the BBC or a Guardian tech reporter.

But I had a simple win today when I tweeted out a call via www.twitter.com/sunderlandecho asking for anyone planning to buy the iPad to drop me a line for a feature I’m writing. Two people duly did and as a result I have case studies with local relevance for my piece. Plus, a relevant local government body got back to me offering their input.

The alternative would have involved digging out some rent-a-quote or – worse still – just asking around the office to see if someone knew anyone who might be the type…

With authorative quotes, background and info, this extra source will lift the piece. Had I ignored Twitter, or shunned the web as some folk seem to, my output in Friday’s newspaper would have been weaker. Simple as that.

>> Newsdesk also tell me that one of the reporters was stuck for fillers at the weekend and put out a call for community events of Facebook. She got a pile of responses from local people. Everyone’s a winner.

Big news. All Northeast Press titles will switch production systems to a new content management system at the end of April. The Atex and Polopoly-powered CMS is theoretically capable of delivering content to the web with greater ease.

A new centrally-imposed template, which is frankly in its infancy (as you can see at www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk), will accompany the new backend.

An end to the time-consuming cut-and-paste uploading which drags some of my working day into the dark ages? I certainly hope so…

Evidence emerged yesterday that local advertisers are starting to care about Twitter, oft-lambasted as a waste of time by those who think crowd-sourcing is something to do with spraying Lea & Perrins at a football terrace.

A campaign outline for the Sunderland Echo that included a suite of print and online ads, sponsorship and advertorial also included requests for retweets and other social media activity.

That’s a first as far as a client requesting such action is concerned, in my experience. And I’m taking it as a good sign.

I’ll consider any ethical dilemmas about tweeting the merits of a certain brand of hamburger when The Scottish Restaurant offer money for twitter plugs. Could depend on whether they throw in free breakfast bagels, of course…

The transfer deadline day coverage I put together with sports journalism students at the Sunderland Uni was very well-received.  I make no apologies for performing a brief celebratory jig on behalf of the team, who did a fantastic job on the day.

We syndicated the content across the Johnston Press network and the user experience was really good, which is obviously the key win.

>> Sunderland Echo transfer deadline day live

However here are some facts, figures and quotes from those involved and those who took the coverage. Please note the page views are for www.sunderlandecho.com only as I don’t yet have stats from the many sites who took this content.

Numbers

Visits to blog page – 10,000

Comments from users – 4,200

Clicks on articles produced by students 50,000+ 

What the students said

“It gave me a great insight into how these things actually work, and made me want to be a journalist more than ever!” Anthony Gair

“It was a great experience and I’d love to be involved again if you do a similar event in August.” Chris Fryatt

“Really enjoyed the day. Would be keen to get involved in another transfer day or similar projects” Dave Preddie

“Got loads out of it! Great Day!” Hamish Blackstock (via Facebook group)

What the pros said

“The deadline day live blog was a great piece of work. Congratulations on a job well done.” Alan Greenwood, Editor, Scotsman.com
“Thanks for the transfer deadline coverage, it was first class.” Kevin McLaughlin, Sports Editor Londonderry Sentinel

“Superb platform yesterday!” Jon Peake, Digital Editor, Lancashire Publications Ltd, http://www.wigantoday.net

“Congratulations on the blog yesterday, thought it was really good.” Matthew Brown, Digital editor Portsmouth News
 

 

Transfer deadline team in action.

I’m still here. I survived. The digital adventures continue, for now at least.

Yesterday’s live transfer deadline day event was a great success thanks in large part on the day to the contribution of around 40 University of Sunderland journalism students – many of whom pitched up at 7.45am and earlier, then stayed for a marathon shift.

The numbers certainly stack up – with over 4,000 user comments on the blog and getting on for 10,000 views of the page – as well as over 50,000 more views on the articles penned by the students and shared to a specially-created section at sunderlandecho.com. And I’m sure those numbers will climb significantly thanks to the coverage’s syndication across the Johnston Press network.

More importantly, we delivered an interactive, up-to-the-minute, sustained piece of coverage which was lapped up by our users. The quality of the writing and levels of professionalism shown by the students were truly commendable.

Many thanks to David Allison, John Price, James Ronson and Mark Woodward for their help, support and patience too.

Now, what’s next?

>> Transfer Deadline Day as it happened

This blog has suffered of late. Blame the football transfer window.

I’ve devoted a pile of time in and outside work to pulling together a transfer deadline day service which will provide great experience for students and great coverage for sunderlandecho.com and many other Johnston Press sites – if it all goes off as planned.

Sessions with students to brief them on Coveritlive and the brand values of JP, meetings with lecturers to sort out turning part of the Media Centre at the University of Sunderland into a live newsroom, hours on Facebook and email enthusing students and sorting out incentives to contribute – right down to the sausage sandwiches we’ll take delivery of at noon… It’s been hectic.

Add to that the more onerous task of selling the project to my colleagues at JP and providing them with an affiliate pack including everything from web buttons to print ads, animated skyscrapers for their site to editorial penned by my excellent intern David Allison. Thankfully my pitch has worked – with the likes of the Yorkshire Evening pst, Yorkshire Post, Lancashire Evening Post, Portsmouth News, Belfast Newsletter and many more taking our content.

As a result all eyes are on us. JP’s head of digital content will be there, Sunderland Echo editor Rob Lawson is popping in… All of which ups the stakes and reinforces what a good opportunity this is for the students, I hope.

To be honest, it’s all a bit nerve-wracking. The pressure is largely self-imposed as the groundwork has been done and we did a great job last year when it was just David and I sweating in a room with 2,700 user comments pinging at us.  But we’re on the eve of d-day now and things are pretty much out of my hands. It’s now down to how many students turn up tomorrow at 7.45am for what could be an incredibly busy, and incredibly rewarding, day. And, no, I’m not just talking about the sausage sarnies.

What can possibly go wrong?

>> Transfer deadline day live

There’s nothing wrong with the two-blokes-and-a-mic raw feel of some podcasts, especially if your resources are limited. But in looking for quick wins to spice up our Box 19 Sunderland football show we’ve nicked a simple technique to make our recording as interactive as possible.

As well as using forum and email comments to bring the listeners’ voice into the conversation, for episode 13 of the podcast we tweeted live from the recording using Tweetdeck on iPhone. A PC with a net connection would do the same job if you’re based in the office or have WiFi capabilities.

>> Box 19, episode 13 (First tweet is about 6m30secs in)

We flagged the experiment by setting up a box19 twitter account and  contacted competition entrants and other emailers from around the world to tell them when we’d be recording the show. We even included a handy timezone guide so our pals in North America and Down Under could set their alarm clocks or take a break from watching their version of the X Factor respectively.

As a result we had a handful of fans following the show ‘live’ and throwing in questions for our panelists. Definitely a great way to break up the chat and engage the audience.

Post-moderation of user comments is now the accepted safest practice for journalists. Pre-moderation opens us up to the risk of letting through an offensive or libelous comment in error, effectively endorsing it through our approval process.

But there’s still confusion and differing opinions about how we should treat comments we don’t like once they go live.

This week a story about a Congolese woman facing deportation sparked an interesting debate in the Sunderland Echo newsroom.

>> Battle for mum and son to stay in Britain

A comment suggesting the subject of the article should ‘go back to the Congo’ as she was a ‘parasite’ was posted by a user. It was an uncomfortable read with worrying racial undertones.

But how do you handle such a comment? Removing it ourselves would set a precedent of moderation which would be difficult to maintain in terms of resource. More importantly, perhaps, it would show that we were hands-on with moderation thereby raising the notion to readers that comments we don’t remove are implicitly approved.

On the other hand, the comment does not sit with the inclusive values of our newspaper and journalists, and would almost certainly cause offence to the subject of the article or some readers.

In the end we opted to leave the comment and trust our readers to contextualise it with responses of their own.

Even by the time our debate had ended the decision had become a moot point – one poster had taken the original commentator to task and another had reported the comment as unsuitable, thereby hiding it from view.

But what would you have done?

transfer deadline dayLast transfer deadline day digital intern David Allison and I ran a CoverItLive blog from 8am through to 6.30pm. Hardly original, but we used several techniques to make it an engaging read for users and a fun (if stressful) day for us. For the next deadline we’re scaling up the operation and asking student journos to get involved.

>> Sunderland Echo transfer deadline day Summer 2009 coverage

The response in the summer – thanks to intense work, solid preparation and some support from our sport team – was phenomenal. 7,000 visitors viewed the coverage and left 2,400 comments. It was a hectic day, but it paid off spectacularly with hugely positive feedback from those who took part.

For February we’ll step up the coverage on two counts. Firstly, we’re working with John Price in the Media department at the University of Sunderland. We’re setting up a live transfer deadline day HQ with a suite of computers, TV coverage from other outlets piped in and hotlines to other football journalists. We’re taking over the newsroom at the David Puttnam Media Centre for a day. No news yet on what biscuits we’ll be laying on…

Once again the blog will be hosted at www.sunderlandecho.com. But part two of our plan to ramp up the operation is inviting digital editors and editors from all across the Johnston Press network of 300+ sites – from The Scotsman in the north down to the Portsmouth News in the south – to take our coverage. It’s likely several smaller titles, including some dailies, will be delighted to do so.

As a result of this two-pronged approach we’ll be competing with similar services from national news outlets. Exciting stuff…

Any media students who want to know more or who wish to take part should email me or comment on this post.