I was in local government communications and we had started to post gritting updates in real time on Twitter. We were talking with our residents directly without going through the Priesthood of journalists.
“The thing is,” the reporter said, “When you post your updates to Twitter, newsdesk want you to give us a call as well, so we know.”
I declined. I pointed out that they needed to be on Twitter themselves. I shook my head in despair.
I started in newspapers in the early 1990s and spent 12 years as a journalist. I still love them despite themselves and despite a further eight years in a local government communications team.
There was a time when I despaired of local newspapers utterly. Declining newsrooms, re-locating to ‘hubs’ far away and shedding staff still make me shake my head.
But just recently, I’ve had cause to think that maybe the penny is dropping and that newspapers really can use the social web and create journalism that will be relevant to the channels of the future.
Telling a story with the web
Making brilliant use of the web are the Evening Mail in Birmingham. They are telling the story of the Birmingham pub bombings which killed 21 people 40 years ago today. They are doing so with imagination and passion. The incident remains an unhealed wound in the city. Nobody has been brought to justice for it. Six people were imprisoned wrongly.
They are using thunderclap to gather support for the case to be re-opened. You sign-up using a social channel and agree to share a message.
For audio, they recreated the IRA telephone call to the Evening Mail offices which came minutes before the explosion.
For images, they created a gallery of news images from the time from their archive.
On Twitter, they used the hashtag #justiceforthe21 and #BirminghamPubBombings to promote the call to bring people to justice.
On the web, the posted the news story in which they name the man, now dead, they allege is responsible for the attack.
On Facebook, they shared content and drew scores of responses.
Also on the web, they hosted as as if real time recreation of the 24-hours leading up to the incident. Anecdotes and snaps of life from those who were living their last day. It is a docudrama told in realtime and you can see it here.
This is what future journalism looks like. Story telling on a range of platforms. It’s sharable and commentable and has a purpose. But above all it is human. I just can’t tell you how much I like this.
They still make me shake my head do newspapers. The public subsidy they get through the government insisting local government pay them for print small ads for public notices at a time of 85 per cent internet connectivity is plain wrong.
But the Evening Mail have shown peerlessly how to tell powerful stories on the web. This really does tower over anything else I’ve seen in the 21 years I’ve been involved with local journalism. Sincere congratulations to them. Buy shoe polish and make sure your suits are pressed. You’ll need them for the awards.
Brilliant work and the lessons to take
This is brilliant work. Genuinely brilliant. This is using the social web to tell a very human story. It’s powerful. It’s moving. But it has a sense of purpose. The purpose is to mobilise public support for a specific aim. It is is to press for justice.
Yet there are lessons here for the public sector where I now work. Just recently the #housingday initiative saw a 24-hour campaign which saw housing people talk about the jobs they do and the people they serve. Very soon #ourday will do a similar task for local government. I’m an advocate for them. They tell hundreds of stories that tell a bigger story. They empower people. They connect people too.
But wouldn’t it be something if that wall of noise was made easier to follow with a live blog? And wouldn’t it be something if there was one single call to action, whatever that was? What is the biggest issue facing housing? Or local government?
What would that campaign be?
Wouldn’t it be something if that energy was pointed at something?