Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

November 20 2010

11:11

From journalist to blogger: the experience of The Lichfield Blog’s Ross Hawkes

Although I’ve already published an interview with The Lichfield Blog’s Philip John (as part of the Hyperlocal Voices series) I recently returned to ask the site’s editor, Ross Hawkes, about how his own approach as a professional journalist has been changed through running the site. I thought it worth publishing his response in full – here it is:

My background has been in regional journalism in Staffordshire and the West Midlands. I began at the Lichfield Post as a fresh-faced 16-year-old, so it’s quite ironic that I’ve pretty much gone full circle in the space of 12 or 13 years, yet have never been happier. I started off as a sports reporter, then branched out into page design, edited a weekly paper in Coventry before making the move to the dailies at the Birmingham Mail as a page planner and sub-editor. So I’ve had a fairly varied career even though it hasn’t taken me a million miles from my own doorstep. It also skilled me for The Lichfield Blog because I got to see some patch reporters in the greatest sense of the word – people who lived and breathed a community. My integration into the online landscape came after the opportunity arose to take on their web operation.

My time in this role saw me eventually become Senior Multimedia Editor for the Midlands. I’ve been lucky as a journalist in changing times – I’ve been able to spend time learning about the positives and negatives of online work, what works and what doesn’t etc, while many of my colleagues in the industry have had a timescale imposed on them.

But for a variety of reasons the chance to teach online journalism at Staffordshire University came up and here I am today. One of the things I’m keen to stress to students is that I’m not a geek (I leave that to Phil!) but a journalist who has found practical uses for technology etc. During my time at Trinity Mirror I saw plenty of great things, but in a busy newsroom only so much of it could really be of benefit. So that’s what I try to get across to my guys and girls here.

Anyway, back to journalism. Coming to Staffordshire I was really keen that I didn’t want to become rusty – but at the same time I didn’t want to burden myself with freelance concerns, especially in a market which didn’t offer many opportunities anyway. I was also mindful that there were plenty of out-of-work journalists who needed paid employment more than I did. So I decided that I’d write about what I know – basically, where I live. It astonished me to discover that for a city (albeit a small one) there was nowhere to get a regular taste of life here online. Even the newspapers were struggling to fill the void for anyone interested in ye olde city. Although the early versions of The Lichfield Blog were crap, with nothing more than me trying to provoke a response, I soon found that there was a desire for somewhere to discuss Lichfield. Crucially, there was an audience.

Admission time – I never got the value of Twitter as a full-time journalist. But in wanting to grow an audience for TLB I learned how to use it to my benefit. In effect it has been the driving force behind the site. It was at a Tweetup in the early days that I discovered the appetite for the site. It was also where I was able to hook up with my professional other-half – Phil. And herein lies the first journalistic lesson I picked up from The Lichfield Blog. I quickly acknowledged that I wasn’t an expert in everything and that other people held the key to the success of TLB. By working with people like Phil I’ve been able to pull ideas and take suggestions and feedback from a non-journalistic source. I suppose it was collaboration in its rawest form. And we’ve worked like that ever since. Phil has been invaluable and anyone thinking of going hyperlocal needs to find a Phil. With his expertise in the technical side of it, it has allowed me to concentrate on my strengths. So what did Phil get in return? Well, I recommended a good hairdresser once…

So what have I learned from my hyperlocal experience? The Lichfield Blog allows me to enjoy what I do. I’m my own boss, I can try random things, if it doesn’t work I don’t have a news editor kicking my backside. It’s allowed me to be experimental and enjoy the career I’ve got. I like to think I’ve gone back to the future in terms of how I operate. Yes, it’s a new platform and it’s new media, but the basic skills are more needed than ever. It’s about knowing your patch inside out, it’s about attending community meetings and knowing local decision-makers, it’s about getting away from deadline and target driven writing – it’s about being a journalist. I’ve always loved local journalism deep down, that ability to know what makes a community tick. The Lichfield Blog has allowed me to do that and more. It’s given me the opportunity to see that partnerships are the way forward. I’ve also re-evaluated what I think (and that’s the crucial bit – my thoughts) media should be doing. We try to combine news and info. We try and make advertising affordable to local businesses. We try to do exactly the sort of things local newspapers did once upon a time. It’s perhaps not the formula to get me rich, but I never got into journalism for the money, so why should I change that now?

November 15 2010

13:02

Lichfield Hacks and Hackers: PFIs, plotting future care needs, what’s on in Lichfield and mapping flood warnings

The winners with judges Lizzie and Rita. Pic: Nick Brickett

By Philip John, Journal LocalThis has been cross-posted on the Journal Local blog.

It may be a tiny city but Lichfield has shown that it has some great talent at the Hacks and Hackers Hack Day.

Sponsored by Lichfield District Council and Lichfield-based Journal Local, the day was held at the George Hotel and attended by a good selection of local developers and journalists – some coming from much further afield.

Once the introductions were done and we’d all contributed a few ideas the work got started and five teams quickly formed around those initial thoughts.

The first two teams decided to look into Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) and Information Asset Registers (IARs). The first of these scraped information from 470 councils to show which of these published information about PFIs. The results showed that only 10% of councils actually put out any details of PFIs, highlighting a lack of openness in that area.

Also focused on PFIs was the ‘PFI wiki’ project which scraped the Partnerships UK database of PFIs and re-purposed it to allow deeper interrogation, such as by region and companies. It clearly paves the way for an OpenCharities style site for PFIs.

Future care needs was the focus of the third team who mapped care homes along with information on ownership, public vs private status and location. The next step, they said, is to add the number of beds and match that to the needs of the population based on demographic data, giving a clearer view of whether the facilities exist to cater for the future care needs in the area.

A Lichfield-related project was the focus of the fourth group who aimed to create a comprehensive guide to events going on in Lichfield District. Using about four or five scrapers, they produced a site that collated all the events listing sites serving Lichfield into one central site with a search facility. The group also spawned a new Hacks/Hackers group to continue their work.

Last but not least, the fifth group worked on flood warning information. By scraping the Environment Agency web site they were able to display on a map, the river level gauges and the flood warning level so that at a glance it’s possible to see the water level in relation to the flood warning limit.

So after a long day Lizzie Thatcher and Rita Wilson from Lichfield District Council joined us to judge the projects. They came up with a clever matrix of key points to rate the projects by and decided to choose the ‘what’s on’ and ‘flood warning’ projects as joint winners, who each share a prize of £75 in Amazon vouchers.

The coveted ScraperWiki mug also went to the ‘what’s on’ project for their proper use of ScraperWiki to create good quality scrapers.

Pictures from the event by Nick Brickett:

 

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

October 06 2010

14:51

Event: Hacks and Hackers Hack Day Lichfield (#hhhlich)

We have another event to announce, as part of Scraperwiki’s UK & Ireland tour. We’re going to Lichfield, Staffordshire! In partnership with Lichfield District Council, we’re holding a hacks and hackers hack day at Venture House on Monday 11th November.

“Lichfield District Council have been publishing open data for a while now, and it seems a good fit to put on a day where we can showcase the data we have published, as well as encourage people to do something with it,” said council webmaster Stuart Harrison.

“We’re not precious though, and if something is built using other public data, we’ll be just as happy!”

The details:

What? Scraperwiki, the award-winning new screen scraper and data mining tool, funded by 4iP and Lichfield District Council are putting on a one day practical hack day* in Lichfield, Staffordshire at which web developers and designers (hackers) will pair up with journalists and bloggers or anyone with an interest in media and communications (hacks) to produce a number of projects and stories based on public data. It’s all part of the ScraperWiki UK & Ireland Hacks and Hackers tour.

Who’s it for? We hope to attract ‘hacks’ and ‘hackers’ from all different types of backgrounds – across programming, media and communications.

What will I get out of it?
The aim is to show journalists how to use programming and design techniques to create online news stories and features; and vice versa, to show programmers how to find, develop, and polish stories and features. To see what happened at our past events in Liverpool and Birmingham visit the ScraperWiki blog.

How much? NOTHING! It’s free, thanks to our sponsors

What should I bring? We would encourage people to come along with ideas for local ‘datasets’ that are of interest. In addition we will create a list of suggested data sets at the introduction on the morning of the event but flexibility is key for this event. If you have a laptop, please bring this too.

So what exactly will happen on the day? Armed
with their laptops and WIFI, journalists and developers will be put
into teams of around four to develop their ideas, with the aim of
finishing final projects that can be published and shared publicly. Each team will then present their project to the whole group. Overall winners will receive a prize at the end of the day.

*Not sure what a hack day is? Let’s go with the Wikipedia definition: It “an event where developers, designers and people with ideas gather to build ‘cool stuff’”…

September 21 2010

06:00

Hyperlocal Voices: Philip John (The Lichfield Blog)

Hyperlocal voices - Lichfield Blog

In another Hyperlocal Voices post, Philip John talks about how The Lichfield Blog was launched to address a gap in local news reporting. In less than 2 years it has taken on a less opinionated tone and more “proper reporting”, picking up national recognition and covering its costs along the way.

Who were the people behind Lichfield Blog, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?

Ross Hawkes founded the blog in January. Ross is a senior lecturer in journalism at Staffs Uni and previously worked at BPM. He started his journalistic career at the now defunct Lichfield Post. There’s also Nick, a semi-professional photographer who helps out with the creative side of things and I look after the techy side of the web site as looking after WordPress is where I specialise. We also have a good group of contributors and a couple of advisors, many of whom are either current or former journalists at local newspapers.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

Ross’ wife heard sirens going past their house one day and was curious as to where they were going. Ross realised no-one was reporting those kind of low-level goings on and that with the beat reporter disappearing there was a gap for community-focused news.

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

Ross started the blog on 19th January 2009 on Blogspot (which you can still see here). I got involved while it was there and persuaded Ross to move to WordPress.com which he did on 24th Feb 2009 (also still there). At first the blog was very blog like, where Ross had a bit of a moan but also asked some good questions of the local authorities and certain attitudes to issues in Lichfield. It was quickly picked up by the Twitter community in Lichfield, including myself and after a tweetup it just sky-rocketed and more people got involved.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Probably the Mercury’s website, thisislichfield.co.uk because they only publish stories on Thursday when they come out in print as well. It was created more out of need than being based upon anything else that was going on. Of course, we later realised just how many people had done exactly the same!

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

I’d say we both have the same aim really – to report what’s going on. But that’s where the similarity ends. We’re not constrained by space – we have a sort of motto that we’ll print anything so long as it’s relevant to Lichfield; it’s why we can have 13 articles in 5 months about lost dogs.

We’re actually in the community too, which means we’re close to the action and can respond quicker, and because we do that we have a following that will gladly provide us with stories. There’s two examples I always use – the story of a fire at a local pub which was on the blog just 3 hours after the call to the emergency services (who were impressed we were on it so quickly), and the story of a body found in Beacon Park which was reported hours later because my house mate alerted me to the Police presence on his way to work enabling me to go and get a photo while Ross phone the Police for details.

We’ve become actively involved in some local events too so we’re not just observing and reporting what’s going on but taking part and people seem to really respond to that. I think it shows are commitment to Lichfield, not just to the success of the site.

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

The first was the move from a blog style to the more straight-laced independent, impartial stance we have now. Without much discussion it was obvious there was a gap for proper reporting and so the blog took a more serious style – we believed that we should provide the info and let the community decide what they think about it, rather than us putting a slant on. That and the acceptance as a news source by the local authorities including the City and District Councils, Staffs Police and our MP.

We’ve also been taken aback by the willingness of local businesses to advertise – we’ve consistently paid our costs through that without having to put any effort into selling the slots.

And we’re starting to generate revenue in other ways now, too, which is helping to make continuing the work worthwhile.

The recognition we’ve had both locally and nationally has been astounding. We’ve been in the national press, on Radio 4 and mentioned in the House of Commons a couple of times as well as being asked to talk about our story at various events and in interviews. It really validates the effort we’re putting in because it shows we’re making some sort of difference to the local media landscape.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl