get some social media

by David Grindlay

I have always been a supporter of the local press.

‘Life is Local’ as it appears on a masthead of one of our local newspapers and so it should be (mostly).

But times are changing and the population at large is becoming a bit more sophisticated in terms of what it expects and how it gets its news.

My main concern as we head into new worlds of mobile news, hyperlocal content and paywall sites is that some hacks are not really picking up on how they can access new content from real life local people and the potential news stories they can bring.

I am not quite sure why – it is free and easy to use, a great way of building new contacts and is happening now.

One observation from around 18 months ago saw a local journalist call me and ask that I download a 20 or so page report from our website, print it out and fax it to him.

Hmmm – was this just an individual who didn’t grasp what online meant or a shocking failure on the part of newspapers to invest in their reporters and train them in the ways of ‘new’ technologies and what the real world was doing?

Last month the same reporter asked me to find a planning application from our website even though it was explained to him that if he typed in a reference it would pull up all the related documents for him in a couple of clicks.

Some journalists do get it – the wealth of content, leads and information that can freely flow to your desk via Tweetdeck that arrives throughout the day.

Naturally they can still obtain their stories by the traditional methods such as the press release or good old fashioned sleuthing but compared to what Twitter can potentially deliver for them, it doesn’t really compare.

Two examples of journalists (though there are dozens more) who really get it are @brianjaffa and @victoriaraimes – both have huge following built up across their particular community – Edinburgh.

Their combined Twitter following of nearly 7000 equates to the circulation of a small local newspaper but is far more full of diverse content that is willingly supplied.

Of course, you have to be able to pick out the out the real gems of stories from the influx of material but that is a talent that any good journalist should have regardless.

These two engage with their followers, asking what is happening on their patch and can rapidly check trending stories if something is moving in real time locally.

Correspondingly, they can file copy in a very short time online so they can readily reflect what people want to read now and not in a few days time in print.

I believe it is a really useful skill to be able to embrace digital news fully – though I do see a failing on the part of many publishers to get their act in gear when it comes to this.

Either there is no culture to try and drive digital content and diversify the core product (against a background of falling circulations and severe financial cutbacks) or the lip-service paid by many to their brave new world of digital platforms that spectacularly fail to deliver.

Nope, I really haven’t seen any local newspaper group that successfully delivers this and truth (without naming) there are some utter horrors out there.

Little or no engagement of readers; little dynamic content that only changes weekly, far less daily and; a lack of usability or appeal to readers.

The degree of sophistication that readers expect has changed significantly – and local sites have not mirrored this and frequently I find myself reading more the equivalent of Exchange and Mart rather than good, local journalism (stressing that this is not the fault of journalists but that of the lack of forward thinking shown by proprietors).

To the future and I have often been asked by relations and friends if their son or daughter should follow a career in journalism – my standard reply is a pained expression that gives away my true feelings.

But one source of optimism I can offer – I tell them that if they can be digitally savvy, build up contacts and despite the poor conditions, low wages and limited career opportunities, they might just find their niche in this very difficult market and embrace future journalism and not the stoic old style.

So go, the tools are all there along with the content – be brave souls and share that social media groove.

David Grindlay is a Senior Press Officer at Falkirk Council

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