Tag Archives: ed walker

Hyperlocal Voices: Ed Walker and Ryan Gibson, Blog Preston

For the third in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices we head North to the city of Preston in Lancashire, UK. Damian Radcliffe spoke to Blog Preston‘s Ed Walker and Ryan Gibson about some of the lessons they have learned over the last three and a half years.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Ed: There’s me, Ed, who used to live in Preston but now lives in London – studied and lived in Preston for five years. Plus Ryan Owen Gibson who is Preston born and bred, he’s co-editor. James Duffell a local web developer and designer is the technical brains behind the site. We’ve recently said goodbye to co-editor Joseph Stashko who was studying at the University of Central Lancashire but will be departing Preston soon after joining Blog Preston in April 2010. We also had co-editor Andy Halls on board from April 2010 to May 2011 before he joined The Sun. We also have some excellent guest contributors including Holly Sutton, Paul Swarbrick, Lisa McManus Paul Melling and many others!

2. What made you decide to set up the blog?

It was a cold January afternoon in 2009, the Preston Citizen (weekly free newspaper for the city) had recently shut down and there was a chance to create something new.

3. When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

Ed: Sunday 11th January 2009, started out as a wordpress.com blog to test the water and after a couple of months I recruited the help of James Duffell and he made an ace site and helped me move it to a proper domain. Just started posting local news and events, and build it up from there – lots of Freedom of Information requests, local photos, events coverage and nostalgia.

4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Ed: I saw the St Albans Blog, and thought, hey, this could happen here.

5. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Ryan: I don’t think Blog Preston can compete with a traditional news operation, and I don’t think we would want to. What makes a hyperlocal blog such as ours so great is that we have the freedom, both editorially and strategically, to change our course very quickly. This means we that can adapt to our readership much faster than a traditional news operation can. I also like to think we listen to our readers more, and we try to engage with them through social media channels and on the blog itself.

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Ed: May 2010 – we covered the general election and we’ll touch on why that was so important. July 2009 was a big moment, we moved to a hosted solution with a proper domain and really started to accelerate the amount of content going on the site. 2011 was big as we teamed up with NESTA to train community reporters and we recruited a lot of guest contributors, plus Ryan came onboard and has really excelled at live event coverage.

7. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

Ed: We now average around 10,000 unique visitors a month, with 24,000 page impressions. In October 2010 the site was averaging 10,000 page impressions a month and 4,000 unique visitors.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Ed: Just keeping the momentum going, it’s easy to set a site up but when you move away from an area it’s a tough decision, do you shut the site or down to try to keep it going? Fortuntely there’s a great team of people who have stuck their hand up and got involved, and well, we’re still producing great community news for Preston.

9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of?

Ryan: Blog Preston has been lucky enough to break a number of stories that weren’t being picked up by the mainstream media at the time, such as an announcement that the BBC would be coming to Preston to film a series of short dramas, dubbed the Preston Passion, as part of its Easter output.

…I think the live coverage of the May 2010 electionsreally defines what we are about. The mechanics of that series was very simple – it was just a team of guys with a laptop and a mobile phone each, but the level of coverage they managed to achieve went above and beyond what any of the other news operations were doing at the time.

We were the first to interview Preston MP Mark Hendrick after his re-election.

Perhaps this was the moment that people began to take us seriously.

10. What are your plans for the future?

Ryan: 2012 is very important for Preston due to its unique significance as a Guild year, which is only celebrated once every twenty years. So editorially, we are being kept busy covering local events and breaking new stories.

We are also working closely with a number of organisations to collaborate and increase our readership through joint ventures. We are in talks with lots of important people, which is exciting. Our main aim going forward is to grow the editorial team, to put us in a position where we can call on some of the best local writers and reporters to deliver the best content for Blog Preston readers.

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10 liveblogging ideas (and 31 liveblogging tips)

Liveblogging image by Dustin Diaz on Flickr

Liveblogging image by Dustin Diaz on Flickr

Following my previous post about the rise of liveblogging, I wanted to provide a simple list of ideas for student journalists wanting to get some liveblogging experience. Some people assume that you need to wait for a big news event to start a liveblog, but the format has proved particularly flexible in serving a whole range of editorial demands. Here are just a few:

1. A protest or demonstration

Let’s start with the obvious one. Protests and demonstrations are normally planned and announced in advance, so use a tool like Google Alerts to receive emails when the terms are mentioned, as well as following local campaigning groups and local branches of national campaigns. Issues to consider:

  • There will be conflicting versions of events so seek to verify as much as possible – from both demonstrators and police, and any other parties, such as counter-demonstrations.
  • Know as many key facts ahead of time as possible to be able to contextualise any claims from any side. Have links to hand – Delicious is particularly useful as a way of organising these.
  • Make contacts ahead of the event to find out who will be recording it and how those records will be published (e.g. livestream, YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps etc). Make sure you have mobile phone numbers in your contacts book and are following those people on the relevant social network. Try to anticipate where you will be needed most – where will the gaps in coverage be?
  • Don’t just cover the event on the day – build up to it and plan for the aftermath. Walk round the route to plan for the event – and post a photoblog while you’re at it. Interview key participants for profiles while you make contact. Join online forums and Facebook groups and engage with discussions on key issues.
  • Summarise regularly to help those just joining find their feet (thanks to Ed Walker in the comments for this one – more tips in his blog post on liveblogging)

2. An industry conference

Whether you’re reporting on a particular location or a shared interest there will be industries that play a key role in that. And industries have conferences. Use a quick Google search or some of the specialist events listing and organisation services like Exhibitions.co.uk to find them.

Issues to consider:

  • Industries have jargon. Try to familiarise yourself with that ahead of time (follow the specialist press and key figures on social media) or you’ll mis-hear key words and phrases.
  • There are often different events happening at the same time. Plan your schedule so you know where your priorities are.
  • Don’t follow the crowd. Often you will add more value by missing a session in order to conduct an interview or post some deeper analysis. This will also require preparation: organise to meet key individuals ahead of time; read up on the key issues.
  • As above, you’ll also need to know what’s going to be covered well and who’s going to be publishing online at the event. Build-ups will also be useful.

3. A meeting

Council or board meetings, hearings, committees and other public and semi-public meetings often have significant implications for local communities, sections of society or particular industries. They are also often poorly covered. This provides a real opportunity for enterprising individuals to add value to their readership.

In addition, there are more informal meetings of small groups which you can find on sites such as Upcoming and Eventbrite.

Issues to consider:

  • These meetings can easily pass under the radar so make sure you know when they’re taking place. For council meetings, Openly Local’s listings are particularly useful.
  • Many meetings have to publish their minutes – keep up to date with these (ask for them if you have to – use the Freedom of Information Act if you cannot get them any other way) so you know the background.
  • Know who’s who – and make sure you know which is which. Write down their names and where they’re sitting so you can attribute quotes correctly.
  • Prepare for nothing much to happen, most of the time. Concentration is key: newsworthy nuggets will be hidden in dull proceedings – and they won’t be clearly signposted. One advantage of liveblogging is that others can bring your attention to issues you might miss in the flow of reporting.

4. The build up to an event

Anticipation of an event can be an event in itself. The Birmingham Mail’s Friday afternoon liveblogs previewing the weekend’s football fixture are a particularly successful example of this. Really, this is a live chat, with the liveblog format providing the editorial urgency to give it a news twist.

Issues to consider:

  • Have prompts ready to get things started and inject new momentum when conversation dries up – prepare as you would for an interview, only with 100 possible interviewees.
  • Anticipate the main questions and have key facts and links to hand.
  • Get the tone right: can you have a bit of banter? It might be worth preparing a joke or two, or looking for opportunities to make them.

5. Breaking news

While you cannot plan for the exact timing of breaking news, you can prepare for some news events. At the most basic level, you should know how to quickly launch a liveblog once you know you need to do so. Other issues to consider:

6. Your own journey

You don’t need someone else to organise something for you to start a liveblog: you can do something yourself, and liveblog your progress. Considerations:

  • Ideally it should be something with a beginning, a middle and an end over a limited period of time: running a marathon, for example (if you can hold the mobile phone), or collecting 1,000 signatures for a campaign.
  • It should also involve others: the liveblog format lends itself to outside contributions.
  • You’ll have to work harder to make it interesting, so don’t update unless something has changed, and prepare material so you have interesting things to fill the gaps with.

7. A press conference

A familiar sight on 24 hour news channels, press conferences are an obvious candidate for liveblog treatment. You can also add to this similar political events such as the Budget, debates, or Prime Minister’s Questions. The main consideration is that you will be covering the conference alongside other journalists, so your coverage needs to be distinctive. Here are some things to consider:

  • Controlled as they are, press conferences don’t often generate a constant supply of newsworthy quotes, so when a spokesperson is trotting out platitudes or steering questions back to the particular angle she wants to sell, tell us about other things going on in the room: how is the journalist reacting? What is the PR rep doing?
  • If the situation is likely to be tightly controlled, you have a better chance of predicting what will be said, and to prepare for that. In particular, if a person is going to try to ‘spin’ facts in a particular direction, have the facts and evidence ready to ‘unspin’ them – as always, including links.
  • If you want to use one of your question opportunities to give your audience a voice, do so.
  • Likewise, tap into the wit and intelligence of users to liveblog their reactions outside the room to the questions and answers being exchanged inside.

8. A staged event

A liveblog is an obvious choice for a live event, and there are plenty of sporting and cultural events to cover. The obvious candidates – football matches, popular Olympic events – should be avoided, as existing and live coverage will be more than sufficient, so look to less well-covered sports, concerts, performances, fashion shows, exhibitions and other events. Think about:

  • Be aware of rights deals and other restrictions. Live coverages of certain popular sports, such as Premiership football, may be limited. There may be restrictions on taking photographs of cultural events, or recording audio or video at a music event.
  • As with meetings (above) it’s crucial to know who’s who and have a crib sheet of related facts.
  • Be descriptive and engage the senses. Tell us about the atmosphere, smells, sounds, and other elements that make people feel like they’re there.

9. A launch or opening

Product launches and store opening can be very dull affairs, but occasionally generate significant interest – particularly among technology and fashion fans. The interest doesn’t generally make for a sustained news event, so your liveblog is likely to be use that interest as the basis for some broader editorial angles. The tips on a ‘build up to an event’ above, apply again here, as that is essentially what this is, with the following differences:

  • Launches and openings are social gatherings, so try focusing on the people there: interview them, paint a picture of how diverse or similar they are. Tap into their expertise or enthusiasm; work with them.
  • Think about what people might want to know after the launch/opening: tips and tricks on using new technology? The items that are flying off the shelves? Have experts and inside sources on call.

10. Add your own here

Like blogging generally, liveblogs are just a platform, with the flexibility to adapt to a range of circumstances. If Popjustice can liveblog “Things we can learn from Greg James’ interview with Lady Gaga” then you can liveblog anything. If you’ve used them for a purpose not listed here, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Likewise, if you have any tips to add from your own experiences of covering events, please add them in the comments.

UPDATE (November 2014): The Birmingham Mail used liveblogging to commemorate an anniversary:

“From the morning of Friday November 21, the Mail will be live blogging and live tweeting in ‘real time’ the events of the day, from the stories of those preparing for a night out on the town, to the moment the bomb warning was phoned through to the Post and Mail, to the reaction of the emergency services.”

The New Online Journalists #8: Ed Walker

As part of an ongoing series on recent graduates who have gone into online journalism, online communities editor Ed Walker talks about what got him the job, what it involves, and what skills he feels online journalists need today.

I graduated from the University of Central Lancashire School of Journalism in 2007 with a BA (Hons) first-class in Journalism. I specialised in online journalism in my final year and was taught by the digital yoda that is Andy Dickinson.

As part of my degree I was taught how to do HTML/CSS, built websites from scratch, shot video, chopped up audio, used RSS feeds for newsgathering, wrote stories, blogged using WordPress, used content management systems and all that lovely stuff.

During the course it was obvious that you needed real experience – not just Microsoft Word-submitted stories to a lecturer – to get on in the industry. I started writing for my student paper, Pluto, as soon as I arrived – it was then in a monthly magazine format – and was part of the team that turned it into a fortnightly newspaper.

In 2005 we took the paper online for the first time with Pluto Online and I moved up to Assistant Editor before winning the election to become editor for a year.

We had some good splashes, with two stories going national, and we picked up two awards at the Press Gazette Student Journalism Awards 2008: the Scoop of the Year for an undercover investigation into an essay writing company run by a UCLan student; and one of our reporters picked up Student Reporter of the Year. Continue reading