Tag Archives: wordpress

Hyperlocal Voices: Richard Jones, Saddleworth News

Hyperlocal voices: Saddleworth News

Richard Jones, an experienced broadcast journalist, set up Saddleworth News just nine months ago. He hoped to combine his journalistic ambitions with a demanding routine as a stay-at home-father whilst providing more online information about an area which he claims “was relatively under-served by the traditional media”. Although not an easy task, Jones has successfully used social media as well as local news stories in order to secure an expanding fan base. This post is part of the Hyperlocal Voices series of interviews.

Who were the people behind the blog,  and what were their backgrounds?

I set it up myself. I used to be a full-time professional journalist. I graduated from the Broadcast Journalism course in Leeds in 2002, then spent six years at Sky News working in TV and radio.

After we relocated to Manchester because of my wife’s career, I freelanced at various radio stations until we had our first child in September 2009 and I gave up work to become a stay-at-home dad.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

Lots of reasons really, but two main themes. I’ll admit the first was selfishness. I couldn’t really combine irregular hours as a radio journalist with being a full-time dad, but I knew that I wanted to return to full-time work one day, so I needed to do something to keep my hand in.

I was also worried about how I’d fill my days, even with a small baby to look after, so was keen to take on a project to help keep me occupied.

The other reasons were more altruistic. When we were thinking of moving to Saddleworth we realised that there wasn’t actually that much information about the place online. I also noticed that, for an area with such a distinctive character, it was relatively under-served by the traditional media. So I thought I could use my journalism skills to do something positive for the community we were about to move into.

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

We moved to Saddleworth in January 2010 and I started the blog the following month. It’s a self-hosted WordPress site.

I’ve written other blogs before (and continue to write about being a stay-at-home dad at www.likefatherlikedaughter.blogspot.com) using Blogger so I had some very basic experience of running a site and tinkering with HTML a little.

I knew in my head how I felt it should look, so it was just a case of picking a free WordPress theme and after an evening playing around I had it more or less as I wanted. I’ve been very impressed with how user-friendly and reliable WordPress is.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

The main one was Kate Feld’s Manchizzle [interviewed previously in the Hyperlocal Voices series]. When I lived in Manchester I used to go to her blog meet-ups, then got into going to the Social Media Cafe Manchester evenings. When I had the idea of doing a hyperlocal site I got lots of encouragement and ideas from people there.

I think the first hyperlocal site I saw was Linda Preston’s Darwen Reporter, now sadly no longer running. I definitely copied the blog format from her.

I wanted to get away from the typical information-heavy newspaper websites, partly because I think they’re often a bit confusing, but mostly because I didn’t want to feel under pressure to update it more than once a day.  And if you do one story a day on a blog, there’s always something new on top of the site to keep it fresh for regular readers.

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

The similarities are to do with the basic skills of journalism. I still research stories, make phone calls, do interviews, write copy, take pictures, nurture contacts, take editorial decisions, just as I did when I worked in a newsroom. Although I have to compress all that into an hour or two each day during my daughter’s lunchtime nap!

There are plenty of differences, but one main one is that I don’t have to run my story ideas by an editor. So instead of hearing excuses like “I’m interested in that” or “Nobody cares” or “We did that last week/month/year” I can just do whatever I like.

For example, during the election campaign I decided to interview all the candidates standing in the general and local elections, so I went and did it. A local newspaper journalist told me he’d suggested the same thing, but his editor had said there “wasn’t space” in the paper for it. That’s the kind of public service a site like mine can provide.

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

By far the biggest story of the year has been the local political situation. We had a bitterly-fought general election, a legal challenge, then the local MP Phil Woolas got found guilty of cheating and was thrown out of parliament.

I covered the campaign in much greater detail than anyone else at the time, and I’ve now built up a huge archive of articles about every aspect of the saga. It’s helped raise the profile and credibility of the site locally, and I’ve also given interviews and help to national journalists who have come to cover the story, which has hopefully given the site a bit of a wider reputation too.

The day of the Woolas verdict was the busiest ever for the site, with 1500 unique visits and a great amount of attention on Twitter. I have to take my daughter out with me on stories, and to their credit Oldham Council’s press team who were controlling the media let me into an ante-room so I could follow the verdict (I was doing Twitter updates with one hand, and trying to entertain her with a toy car in the other) and then into the news conference later.

I also had with me a crew of teenage media students from Oldham College who have been making some video reports for the site. I overheard someone say rather sniffily “Who are they covering it for, CBeebies?” but the fact people in this area are prepared to accept the site as legitimate journalism, no matter how unconventional some aspects of it are, I think says a lot about how far it’s come in such a short time.

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

I was amazed when the site got more than 6,000 unique visits in the first full month. It’s increased steadily since, and last month there were 12,000.

The Woolas verdict means there have already been more than that during November, so it’ll be another new record.

I haven’t spent anything on promotion apart from getting a few business cards printed, but Facebook has been a great way of growing awareness and building a regular audience. There are almost 700 fans on there now.

The Human Journalism project in Spain

periodismo humano

The journalist and photographer Javier Bauluz is the only Spanish winner of the Pullitzer. He has published a preview of his next project, focused on journalism and human rights, at periodismohumano.com.

“The responsibility of the crisis: the greed of a few and the lack of controls from whom should control them, the representatives of the people and the toxic journalism that reports the reality only in terms of the media corporations’ political and economic interest”.

Such is Bauluz’s view of the current media crisis.

He then describes a picture well-known to anyone who has ever worked in big media: “There are more and more tired journalists, many hostages in their newsrooms, doing and saying what they’re told”.

With this perspective in mind, Bauluz thinks that the only solution to reconstruct journalism is for groups of colleagues to get together and organise online, supported by citizens, foundations and philanthropists. So we can say that non-profit journalism is not only an American or English idea.

“First it was an option, now it’s a need,” argues the Pulitzer prizewinner.

Using the WordPress platform (and its open source benefits), periodismohumano.com will see daylight in the following weeks with the Universal Declaration of Human Right as their only flag and with all content available in all possible formats:

“If you want to save whales, you’re a member of Greenpeace; if you want doctors in Somalia, you’re a member of Doctors Without Borders; if you want quality information, you’re a member of Periodismo Humano (Human Journalism)”.

Child Themes: The efficient way to modify WordPress themes

Ever had to modify a WordPress theme, and struggled to find your way around the CSS or template files? Or, have you ever had to update a theme, just to lose all you modifications? Use child themes to modify your blog design.

OJ blog redesign

For the recent redesign of the theme used here on the Online Journalism blog, a child theme was developed. I thought I would talk a little bit about why, I think child themes should be your preferred way to modify themes for your blog.

Continue reading

85 wordpress plugins for blogging journalists

Having reached a potential plateau in my addiction to WordPress plugins* I thought I should blog about the plugins I use, those I’ve installed in preparation for potential use, and those I may install at some point in the future. Of the 85 or so plugins installed on my blog I ‘only’ have around 30-40 that are active – the rest have either been used in the past or are ready in case I need them at some point in future. Some are one-click installs; others you need to put PHP in your templates; instructions are generally given on the plugin page. I’d love to know what plugins you find useful on your own blog.

Content plugins

Add Sig allows you to add a custom signature to the bottom of posts – particularly useful if you have a multi-author blog.

Embed iFrames allows you to do just that – useful for embedding any content that uses iFrames, e.g. maps, spreadsheets, widgets etc.

Exec PHP allows you to execute PHP in blog posts. I’ve not had to yet, but you never know…

FeedWordPress is an aggregation plugin that pulls any RSS feeds you specify and publishes them on your blog. Any user clicking on a particular post will be taken to the original. This is very useful if you blog elsewhere or want to aggregate coverage of an event for an eventblog (although there are more specific packages for that now). Previously I’ve used it to pull posts from my Posterous blog so I can blog via email.

In Series is a great plugin if you’re writing a series – this creates a new box when you start writing a post that allows you to assign it to a ‘series’. Sadly the plugin site reports “There have been reports of minor breakage in WordPress 2.6, and complete failure in WordPress 2.7.” So I’m now trying out Organize Series and Series, which claim to do something similar.

Microkid’s Related Posts allows you to manually add related posts.

Postalicious will automatically publish your bookmarks (from deliciousma.gnoliaGoogle ReaderReddit, or Yahoo Pipes) to your blog. You can specify a particular tag, frequency etc.

Star Rating for Reviews allows you to give star ratings in any blog post – ideal for reviews.

Tagaroo will suggest tags based on the content of the post you’re writing, and related Flickr images you could use.

User Photo displays an image of the author next to the post (this takes some tweaking with the template code) – particularly useful for multi-author blogs.

XML Google Maps allows you to easily insert Google Map or Google Earth Plugin Maps into your blog.

Comment plugins

Spam filter plugin Akismet is an absolute must for any blog, filtering out obvious spam and holding back the dubious stuff for moderation.

BackType Connect publishes comments about your blog on other social media sites – so if someone comments on your post on Twitter, Digg, FriendFeed, Hacker News or Reddit and links to it this will pull it onto your site. This sounds like a great solution to a modern problem, but in practice it generally means lots of tweets saying the same thing – ‘here’s a blog post’, so I’ve disabled it until that is addressed.

Capture the Conversation is a similar plugin which uses your post tags to look for related tweets. This gives you more control but means the more tags you add the less likely it is to work, which obviously has implications for search engine optimisation – although you can change the settings to only look for the first tag. It appears to be particularly useful for ‘breaking news’ posts where people are talking about the issue on Twitter and you can see this from the post itself. Presentation could be better – you can customise this a little in settings too.

cForms II allows you to create multiple and customisable contact forms across your blog, including multiple forms on the same page. I’ve never had cause to use it yet, but it’s worth having just in case.

coComment simple integration (direct download) integrates your comments system with the coComment system so users can log in, tag and share comments and keep track of them via coComment.

Intense Debate Comments does the same for the comment management service Intense Debate. I seem to remember this was created for me by Intense Debate so I don’t have a download link, but I disabled the plugin when I realised it had accessibility issues, and made comments invisible from search engines.

DoFollow is a plugin which disables the default ‘nofollow’ setting on WordPress blogs (which tells search engines to disregard any links in comments). This means that links posted in comments benefit from ‘Google juice’. You can set the plugin to only remove ‘nofollow’ after a certain period of time so you can delete spam comments before then. I found that announcing the plugin attracted too many spammers, so I disabled it.

WP-FacebookConnect allows users to login and comment with their Facebook account and publish comments into their Facebook newsfeed. There’s some fiddling required.

outbrain allows users to rank blog posts – WP-postratings did something similar, as did WP-StarRateBox.

Seesmic WordPress plugin allows people to record video comments. I seem to remember this was the plugin that forced me to move to self-hosted WordPress and, amusingly, I’ve only ever had one video comment since.

Subscribe To Comments allows users to receive email updates when an individual post receives a new comment. Simple but extremely useful, and so far used by hundreds of visitors to the blog.

Top Commentators Widget shows which users comment the most on your blog. Sadly it only starts counting once installed, and the presentation needs some attention, so I disabled it, but it’s a nice plugin which showcases the biggest contributors.

WP-Forum creates a forum on your blog – instructions on the plugin page.

Blog management plugins

BackUpWordpress allows you to easily backup your WordPress database – a useful habit to get into in case something goes wrong with your blog hosting or you want to move your blog to another host. The plugin also allows you to schedule regular backups.

Cronless Postie allows you to publish blog posts via email. There are other ways to do this – for example, emailing your post to Posterous and then pulling the RSS feed from there using a syndication plugin like FeedWordPress (see above).

mobileadmin makes it easier to manage your blog via mobile phone as it “gives a mobile-friendly admin UI to browsers by user agent. Includes support for iPhone/iPod-Touch”. However, this is currently disabled as activating it triggers a fatal error (who died?)

Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu changes the admin view on WordPress so that it uses drop-down menus, making it easier to manage.

Plugin Manager “lets you to view, download and install plugins from wordpress.org from an AJAX’ed interface, instead of manually downloading, extracting and uploading each plugin.” It’s really very very good.

podPress is a plugin to use WordPress for Podcasting. I’ve never particularly used this, but useful to have if I ever need it.

Post Template allows you to create templates for posts with the same structure – perfect for reviews and series, and also useful to keep a multi-author blog consistent.

Role Manager allows you to assign different levels of access to different contributors to your blog – for example, only allowing a user to contribute to a particular category.

Textplace is “a plugin to include commonly used text across multiple posts, pages and templates”.

WordPress Automatic Upgrade allows you to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress with a few clicks. Essential.

WP Security scans for security vulnerabilities in your WordPress installation.

Presentation and widgets

Bunny’s Print CSS creates a stylesheet for printing so users printing pages from your blog can avoid endless pages of widgets, comments or other page furniture (including design elements).

Easy Popular Posts shows you your most popular posts – useful to install in a sidebar (you’ll need to put a line of PHP in the sidebar template for this).

Get Recent Comments provides extra customisation of the comments widget.

Global Translator “translates a blog in 34 different languages (English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Greek, Dutch, Norwegian,…) by wrapping four different online translation engines (Google Translation Engine, Babelfish Translation Engine, FreeTranslations.com, Promt).” The results are as patchy as you’d imagine, but take a stage out for users who may use Google Translate to read your blog.

Hot Friends creates a blogroll/friends widget based on the number of comments a blog owner makes. I’ve never had the time to set this up properly and it may not suit the nature of the OJB, but it sounds interesting.

KB Advanced RSS Widget gives you additional control over the RSS widget, e.g. which fields of the feed to display and how to format them.

KB Countdown Widget counts “the years/months/days since, until, or between events. Optional bar graph for tracking progress between two dates.” Useful if you’re blogging up to an event, or setting yourself a challenge, or launching something.

Random Redirect allows users to be taken to a random post from your blog.

Related Ways to Take Action “makes it super easy to connect your readers to ways to take action based on the content of your posts. The Plugin identifies the top three keywords for each post and then searches for related campaigns from from Change.org, GlobalGiving.com, Idealist.org, DonorsChoose.org, Kiva, Care2 and over twenty other social change websites. It then automatically loads the top three campaigns for those keywords at the bottom of each of your posts.” In reality the guesses the plugin makes can be a bit hit-and-miss, but on a more campaign-based blog they may be more accurate.

Sort by Comments “Changes the order of posts so that the most recently commented posts show up first. Also displays last comment with the posts.”

Theme Switcher allows users to switch themes. You need to put a line of code in your sidebar to create the dropdown (instructions buried here) – remember you’ll have to do this in every theme you have installed so that users can switch back. You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve deleted any themes that don’t work or you don’t like, as this will pull them all up by default.

WordPress Mobile Edition shows mobile visitors a mobile version of the site. You have to install the theme as well.

WP Web Scraper is “an easy to implement web scraper for WordPress. Display realtime data from any websites directly into your posts, pages or sidebar.” I’ve not had cause to use it yet, but could be very interesting.


FeedBurner FeedSmith makes sure that users subscribing to your RSS feed are redirected to your Feedburner feed, allowing you to keep track of numbers of subscribers, etc.

RSScloud is a plugin that allows users to be more quickly updated when you post something. Only one RSS reader supports it, but the technology appears to be gathering speed.

RSS Feed Signature allows you to add a customised signature to the end of your RSS feed. Sadly, the developer link appears to be dead. This is the only alternative I can find.

SMS Text Message allows users to receive text updates from your site – presumably in the US only, where the receiver pays for texts. It creates a widget where users can enter their phone number to subscribe. I’ve just installed this so let me know if it works.

Analytics, SEO and Social Media Marketing

All In One SEO Pack is another top-of-the-list plugin that ensures your blog content is optimised for search engines. In addition to the general settings page this adds a box below your draft posts where you can customise the title, description and metatags on individual posts.

Digg This detects if the user has come from Digg and displays a Digg This badge for them to Digg the story. You’ll have to add a line of PHP in your post template.

Google Analyticator makes it easy to enable Google Analytics on your blog and measure where visitors are coming from, what terms they are searching for, etc.

Google News Sitemap creates a sitemap to help Google News better index your site.

Google XML Sitemaps does the same: generates “a sitemaps.org compatible sitemap of your WordPress blog which is supported by Ask.com, Google, MSN Search and YAHOO”

Landing Sites shows the user posts related to the search they’ve made that brought them to your site.

Permalink Redirect ensures that only one URL is used for each post and users (including search engines) arriving at others are redirected accordingly.

ShareThis creates a button at the bottom of posts for users to bookmark that post on sites like Delicious, Digg, Stumbleupon, Facebook etc. as well as email it to a friend. For me this replaced similar plugins: SociableWP-Email and wp-notable.

TweetMeme Button creates a badge at the top of each post showing how many times it has been tweeted and allowing the user to retweet it themselves.

WordPress.com Stats tells you how many people are reading, what they’re reading, and what searches brought them here.

WP Greet Box shows a different message to visitors “depending on which site they are coming from. For example, you can ask Digg visitors to Digg your post, Google visitors to subscribe to your RSS feed”

WP Super Cache makes your site faster. “If your site is struggling to cope with the daily number of visitors, or if your site appears on Digg.com, Slashdot or any other popular site then this plugin is for you.”

WP_DeliciousPost submits your posts and pages to Delicious, allowing you to include tagging and private links. WP_LinkTools does much the same.

Plugins to make money

Amazon Widgets Shortcodes adds a button to your post editor that allows you to easily insert an Amazon carousel, slideshow, or link to an Amazon product through your affiliate store – very useful if you’re reviewing products.

Buy Me A Beer places a widget at the bottom of every post and in the sidebar allowing users to donate to your PayPal account if they liked your post (there is also a ‘coffee’ option).

Paypal Widget does much the same, but without the rather more affable beer element. I’ve never had cause to enable this, but again, useful to have.

Register Plus creates an enhanced registration page for users to log on to your blog – this opens up opportunities for restricting access if that’s what you want. I never have, so I’ve never used it. The same developers have also made Donate Plus, which has similar potential. And SponsorMe is worth looking at too.

wpLicense-reloaded allows you to select a Creative Commons license for each blog post individually.

*When I started writing this post, it was 61. Some ‘plateau’. And if 85 isn’t enough for you, see my plugin bookmarks on Delicious.

Do blogs make reporting restrictions pointless?

The leaked DNA test on 13-year-old alleged dad Alfie Patten has revealed a big problem with court-ordered reporting restrictions in the internet age. (NB This is a cut down version of a much longer original post on blogging and reporting restrictions that was featured on the Guardian).

Court orders forbidding publication of certain facts apply only to people or companies who have been sent them. But this means there is nothing to stop bloggers publishing material that mainstream news organisations would risk fines and prison for publishing.

Even if a blogger knows that there is an order, and so could be considered bound by it, an absurd catch 22 means they can’t found out the details of the order – and so they risk contempt of court and prison.

Despite the obvious problem the Ministry of Justice have told me they have no plans to address the issue. Continue reading

The services of the ‘semantic web’

Many of the services that are being developed as part of the ‘semantic web’ are necessarily works in progress, but they all contribute to extending the success of this burgeoning area of technology. There are plenty more popping up all the time, but for the purposes of this post I have loosely grouped some prominent sites into specialities – social networking, search and browsing – before briefly explaining their uses.

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Removing Nofollow on blog links and meta – and invisible comments

A couple months ago I installed a plugin on the blog that meant search engines would index links in comments: by default WordPress uses ‘nofollow‘ on comments to stop spammers abusing them to boost search engine rankings, but that prevents genuine commenters getting credit for their contributions.

One problem: as one commenter pointed out, the blog as a whole was set to ‘noindex-nofollow’ “which equals a no trespasing sign for search engines for ALL of the site’s links. It’s Google suicide.” Continue reading

Writer’s Residence et al: just how stupid do you think journalism students are?

Writer’s Residence is a web service which thinks journalism students are stupid.

“Student journalists worldwide can register for a free, one-year membership to an online writing portfolio Web site that they can use to show off their writing and demonstrate their web savvy to potential employers.”

After that? “Membership costs only $8.29 US Dollars per month.” Continue reading

1000 things I’ve learned about blogging

To mark 1000 posts on this blog, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learned since post #1.

UPDATE: Now available in German, Spanish, Hebrew, and Portuguese.

UPDATE 2: I’ll be posting further ‘1000 things’ via Twitter – you can find them with this search or this RSS feed. Continue reading

Will you be at WordCamp UK next weekend?

WordCamp UK* is being hosted in Birmingham this year. I’ll be there, mostly ignoring the rather too formal conference-style structure and instead using it as an excuse to meet people I should really meet more often.

If you’re around that weekend (19th/20th July), let me know (direct or @message on Twitter is best, or comment below). It would be great to have a beer or a coffee. Continue reading