Friday, 26 December 2008


This is an early start to my New Year's resolution to restart this blog.

It's Boxing Day, and we've just had the annual chat about the funny stories my mum and late grandpa (who died in April last year) dug up in their family history delvings. But this year, with predictions of the end of local newspapers looking decreasingly doom-mongerish and increasingly prescient, I'm more conscious than normal about the role they've had in giving families like mine an insight into their forebears.

Some are grimly amusing - for instance the ancestress who told an inquest into her late husband's suicide by hanging that "he'd always been a bit odd". But the local rag's role in an investigation into our family's most darkest and thrilling secrets is nothing if not crucial.

I won't give names, as there are living relatives who would be aghast if I did (and who have sworn us to secrecy on even more scandalous aspects of the story spilled in a moment of indiscretion to this day . . .). But it's only through a local newspaper's thorough report of an inquest that we know quite how many people lied about how one of my male ancestors "died" about 20 years before the date on his death certificate - a delicately constructed web of lies which even included erecting a fake headstone in the local church's graveyard. And it's a tradition that reporters I have worked with were maintaining as little as 40 years ago, i.e. taking down the names of everyone who has attended a funeral as they leave the church, which has given us the scandalous detail that the "dead" husband attended his widow's funeral under an unmistakably fake name - truly the stuff of Wilkie Collins novels.

Since I last posted, the BBC's talk of extending its local coverage has come to nothing, and there's been grand talk of public subsidy of local newspapers in the future. I'm not remotely convinced this would be workable when it comes to day to day reporting of hard news - the conflict of interest between estates one to three and four is too big a stumbling block. But perhaps there is a case for a separated subsidy for this kind of reporting - the stuff of public record which nobody else is recording. If only so Christmas family myth-making sessions can draw on more of the truth - and therefore more scandal!

Monday, 22 September 2008

More moggies

More feline fun at Advertiser Towers today.

A few weeks ago we discovered the unintentional power of the press when a story about a local cat sanctuary being overrun with unwanted pussies attracted more dumped cats than new homes. It didn't do much for Croydon's cat-loving reputation.

But today, we saw the flip-side after we published a story about some drug-dealers being evicted from their home. Buried at the bottom of the story was a reference to a black cat they left behind. As you can see, there are two comments about it, we also had phonecalls and this afternoon someone actually came to the office to enquire about the poor pussy. So my faith in the town's animal altruism has been restored.

I just hope we can find out what has happened to it . . .

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Bringing up baby

I'm coming to the conclusion managing a news website is like raising a child. Here's why:

1. At the beginning, it needs almost constant attention. Learning the ways of dealing with its needs is a very steep learning curve.

2. No matter how much others might coo over yours, they probably think theirs is much more beautiful and clever.

3. The first time it talks back to you is a truly special moment.

4. The first time it swears at you is a truly terrible one. But you'd better get used to it - it will happen a lot.

5. No matter how well prepared you are, you can never truly predict the disruption it will bring to your family.

6. Sibling rivalry with its older (print) brother is something you should ignore at your peril. Getting the two to play happily together takes time and patience.

7. The first time you're away, and it's left in the hands of baby-sitters, you can't help but check up on its progress. This is daft - don't.

8. You are always trying to broaden its horizons it by bringing it thought-provoking and informative material. This is good.

9. But no matter how well this works, it will often be more interested in the lighter side of life.

10. It might sometimes be led astray by mixing with the wrong crowd.

11. But when it meets and starts to play with more suitable new friends, you know it's on the right tracks.

12. Although you will never stop caring, it soon starts caring back, and helping you with your job.

That's it from me for now - anyone got any more to add?

Monday, 15 September 2008

Time out

I've got a week off, but for various reasons I won't bore you with, I'm not jetting off anywhere exciting, but staying in sodden Streatham. But while it means I'm not able to go cold-turkey on Croydon, it will be quite interesting watching our site from as much of an outsider's point of view as I'm likely to get.

And it's been a pretty eventful weekend to have been listening in on - a promising footballer was stabbed to death outside a nightclub on Friday night. As with the tram crash the previous weekend, it would be a bit tasteless to discuss coverage of someone's death to make a point about online news. But I will say I am sure the speed with which the team were able to reveal the victim was a talented kid with a bright future helped challenge assumptions he was a gang member and accusations he therefore had it coming. Although judging by the comments, it hasn't stopped this, sadly.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Am I a spammer?

I was a bit taken aback when a self-proclaimed Social Media Genius (wannabe) sent out a prickly tweet yesterday evening which I'm fairly sure was aimed at me. It was complaining about journalists following him. He only has 11 followers, and as far as I can see, I'm the only hack there - other than his friend @charlesarthur. I sent back a reply asking if he'd rather I unfollowed, but haven't heard anything back yet.

Given his social media proclamations, I'm of the opinion he should know better. But it got me to thinking - this isn't the first time people have been a bit taken aback at my signing up to follow them. There's nothing sinister in it - if people say they're from Croydon, or my summize search feed picks up mentions of it, I'll follow them - both to see what they're up to, but in the hope they'll follow me and I can make the website seem interesting enough to visit.

So far, only two people have blocked me. For the record, one was a girl who was into hip-hop videos. The other was someone pretending to be Dr Who's assistant Sarah Jane.

I'd hate people to think I was intruding on their innermost thoughts - but ferchrissakes, this is Twitter! Protect your updates if you want privacy, people. But another possiblity is newspapers are seen as another variety of spam - that would be pretty depressing.

I wanted to know if there's any kind of emerging etiquette on this for newspapers. I'd found this compilation of general Twitter guidelines, but they don't really cover this. But a post about an American company Zappos' experiences of doing pretty much the same as me, albeit for more purely commercial reasons, made me think twice. We may have genuine, if lofty ambitions of just wanting people to engage with their community via the paper/website - but if people aren't interested, maybe this is just another hard sell of something they'd rather not be confronted with? Ultimately, I have to ask - am I a spammer?

P. S. It's only taken one day for the editor to get the hint and start blogging again - I'll ignore the slightly grumpy start and say I'm glad he's back. And I guess I'll have to start thinking of embarassing things to do to give him enough material to keep it going . . .

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

News for sale

I've just come back from a chat with a hacky friend tonight, who reminded me of one way the web has changed things for reporters which I don't think is often considered when looking at newsroom management and workflows. And that's that great perk of the job, selling your story.

It's a time-honoured tradition on local newspapers that if you've got a great scoop, you spend the evening before the issue hits the stands phoning the newsdesks of the nationals, trying to interest them in running your fantastic exclusive in return for hard cash. Sometimes the editor encourages this, sometimes it's done surreptitiously - but it always goes on. And it's not just the money - for a reporter wanting to jump onto the nationals, it's also a great way to get yourself noticed.

Now, when you're increasingly in the business of putting those scoops straight up online, this window of opportunity can disappear. Most of our reporters' sellable stories are still held over until the moment they've appeared in print, but not always.

It might not be an officially acknowledged perk, but I think it's definitely something which should be taken into consideration when considering the impact the web has on the reporting team.

I also wonder how it's going to impact on news agencies, which from where we stand seem to make a big chunk of their living from selling our stories when we don't get in quick enough. Will the fact it's getting so much easier for the nationals to check what gems the locals have thrown up from their London HQs via the web make any dents in their business model?

On an entirely separate note . . . I'm going to briefly touch on the editor's second appearance in the Guardian's Media Monkey column, which follows his stated intention to take a vow of silence after a blog post which attracted some unanticipated intention from the monkey last month. Even though I'm the news editor (almost) named and shamed in the original post (and he's spilled some of my more embarassing beans in the past ), I'm also sorry it's stopped for the moment. But I'm assured it is temporary (and probably something to do with other projects he's been busy with). I'll let you know when it's back up and running.

Monday, 8 September 2008


I did briefly think about writing about lessons learnt from our coverage of the Croydon tram crash, but I think it's still a bit too soon - both for reasons of taste, and because the story is still very much developing. So I'll come back to it another day.

Instead I'll write about the second biggest story we had on the site this weekend - the Purley Cross UFO:

Now, at the risk of attracting the ire of alien spotters, this story is clearly a load of bollocks. And although these stories always boost your stats, it's a spike made mainly from non-local readers (a significant chunk of our readership started to come from the States after we published this on Saturday).

So it's important to minimise the risk of alienating (sorry, sorry!) your regular readers - but not killing the story entirely, or making your site a target for the global I Believe community, angered by your dismissing their latest spot.

I think the reporter, Maheesha Kottegoda, did a great job at doing this here. It's clearly tongue in cheek, but doesn't jeer at the alien spotter either. And, while trying not to sound too self-congratulatory, it seems to have worked - most of the comments are in the same gentle fun-poking spirit - and from local readers.

It would be interesting to hear of anyone else's experiences of reporting aliens - do you think we should stop doing it altogether, and stick to reporting real news? Or is a bit of harmless fun just that - harmless?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The fear of crime

This post isn't directly about online journalism, but it's inspired by a Twitter conversation with Martin Stabe about the Met's new crime maps, so I'm going to let it sneak in anyhow.

Yes, today the Met officially launched their new crime maps. We've been on deadline today, so I've not had a chance to look in depth at how they've changed from the beta version, so I will reserve full judgement. But as they only plot burglary, robbery and vehicle crime, I doubt they will be of huge use to us. As Martin's former colleague Patrick Smith pointed out when they were released in beta, there's a huge discrepancy between the actual crime figures, and what appears here. In Croydon in July, the Met's stats say there were 2,916 total crimes. The map's narrow criteria only highlights 656. A big difference - and interestingly, my calculations say the map is still out, as those crimes total 779 according to the "detailed" figures.

As someone who's twice reported crime in the past few weeks (a bag snatch in Streatham, and a road rage attack which was classified as an RTA in Croydon), I'm not sure how useful I find this personally. I'm more interested in violence against the person and sex crimes.

There's loads more you can say about this (see this conversation on a local forum), but I'm particularly interested in how this ties in with the police's management of fear of crime.

In recent years, police have become increasingly obsessed with fear of crime. And the solution seems to be cut off the media's access to accurately report it.

My first work experience placements, at local radio stations, featured daily trips to the police station to talk to the duty sergeant about all the notable crime from the last 24 hours. By the time I was a trainee on a local newspaper, this had been replaced with weekly meetings - then weekly meetings with a press liaison officer who had no formal training or, incredibly, access to the crime logs (she relied on posters in the loos asking officers to tip her off, which they generally didn't) - and in Croydon, even those were recently cancelled.

We have been asking for weeks for statistics about stabbings in Croydon - and nothing comes back. But last night, a garbled version of those very stats was given by a senior copper at a Croydon Council knife conference. We're fuming!

That same copper also trotted out the same argument we've been hearing lots lately - reporting knife crime makes youths more likely to carry knives to defend themselves, which makes them more likely to commit, or fall victim to stabbings themselves.

Where to start? For starters, the police have provided no evidence of this at all. This also assumes kids won't hear exaggerated and inaccurate accounts on the rumour mill (which I imagine has a much wider and quicker reach amongst teens than the local paper). And, most Croydon stabbings are gang related - I sincerely doubt a news story about a stabbing is going to push kids into joining gangs - the opposite, if anything. I could go on, but it's well trodden ground.

As I've been writing this, BBC London has aired a report about the maps which interviewed people in Croydon. It didn't say much about Croydon crime, but it did make the point about limited stats, and about there being no clear-up rate included either. Maybe the day's other crime data announcement, the push to get court results put online, will help. But I can't help but fear all the information will be neutered and managed to fall in with the fear of crime agenda until it's next to useless.

I really hope I'm proved wrong on this.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Football - it ruins lives

Some days you've just got to take it on the chin.

A gremlin crept into our site today, and played havoc with our PA national football feeds (I've always maintained football is the root of all evil, and this just goes to prove my theory). The upshot was, we ended up with several month-old stories about Premiership teams. They weren't linked to the site, but fans from all over the world were finding them, through Google I guess, and they weren't impressed. And not impressed in such large numbers they were soon at the top of our Most Read and Most Commented tabs.

Here's the story which inspired the most comments.
I knew there was no hiding from it when the comment about Noah and the storm went up. By the end of the day, and the advent of the bubonic plague and the man on the moon, I'd started laughing too - but it took a while.

Funnily enough, reporter Judith Townend tweeted about another story where the comments about a burnt chair in Kendal took off in even more inventive ways, even as our little debate was unfolding - although my personal favourite is one a bit closer to us, at the Surrey Comet, about a pigeon cull.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


Thanks to Andy Dickinson, who blogged today about my colleague David Berman's parrot video. It's always great to see your friends' work appreciated.

I think this is my favourite of David's videos. We're still very much in video infancy, and this one probably appeals particularly to journalists - but I hope it makes readers (viewers?) laugh as much as it did us.

As I've said before, both David and I have been on a steep learning curve (self-taught, too) over the past few months - David particularly has been working incredibly hard to get his multimedia skills at top-notch level. It's really beginning to come together now, and I hope that will be showing in the site increasingly more over the coming weeks.

Please hold us to that!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Purley Mail

I've been doing a round-up of Croydon community sites lately, and it's reminded me quite how good the Purley Mail is. It's a weekly email newsletter and basic website run by a former journalist, and member of the Purley Business Association Ken Trench.

It's a very niche product - and not just because it's so hyperlocal. It's obviously slanted towards business, but also deliberately avoids grimy crime - Ken told me his wife cannot bear to pick up the hard-nosed Croydon Advertiser because it depresses her too much.

It's a formula which, knowing his circulation, works very well. Even though we often have more Purley news, Ken's strength is his readers know he's focusing his sole attention on them.

This is something we can replicate with our hyperlocal sites, like the dedicated Purley section - but it's got me to thinking about how much you need to differentiate between how you treat each site to make each area feel special, not cloned. For instance, would you put stricter rules in place for commenters on the posh Purley site than the downmarket Thornton Heath one? Are there some areas in which you would take the view separating the site out far more is of more benefit than providing links to some of the more general parts of the site?

I think one answer could be to get our beat reporters to take more responsibility for their sites, making those judgement calls. It's something I hope we can work towards.

Meanwhile, in a cheerful article called Echoes of Dispair in the Guardian yesterday, Peter Wilby speaks about the pothole paradox - how potholes in your road are the most interesting thing in the world, but a mile away mind-numbingly boring.

He says hyperlocal sites are one answer, but they tread a fine line. I assume he means if you attempt to feed back mundane user generated content to the general newspaper, you will bore most other readers.

That's a problem which arises if you try and shoehorn that kind of content which, I think, only really works online into print. (It's undoubtedly a temptation for suits wanting to cut costs, and I hope one which won't make it into our newsroom.) But the technology which allows you to create endless variations on your content means it should be much easier to solve online.

Well, here's hoping . . .

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Third Man

It's completely been a day of two halves. The morning was spent at Northcliffe HQ in Derry Street, meeting our web developers and discussing priorities for the next batch of upgrades and fixes to our sites. It was a really useful meeting, not least because it's always good to actually meet people you're working with. Now, when our web support bod Martin says "it's on the development list", instead of visualising a big list of tasks which need doing, I will think of a busy team of developers working on them.

Then, back to the office, to put the finishing touches to our big ambitious multimedia project, which goes live tomorrow. In the unlikely event anyone's reading this before 7am tomorrow, here's the preview page (I'll update tomorrow morning with the live page).

The one thing I'm most annoyed at is that I can't for the life of me get the Dipity timeline embedded - weirdly the CMS just keeps deleting all the code whenever I press save. Which, after this morning - and coming hot on the heels of Twittergeddon - has got me thinking about the value of third party software vs in-house solutions.

Now, chief photographer and videographer David Berman has been having all kinds of problems with our video hosting service, so much so that we've ended up using vimeo instead. Not an ideal solution in terms of branding (although but you could argue we've ended up with better looking videos as a result). However, we will need to get them onto our official one eventually, so they stay in our burgeoning video archive.

For me, there's no in-house solution available for interactive timelines and maps, so it was third-party or nothing. But having met our web developers today, I'm confident that one day we will have. Maybe not in the near future though, looking at that list . . .

It's also striking the two biggest headaches we have - video hosting and comments - are both outsourced.

So, where does that leave us? While we'll definitely keep using free services like Dipity and vimeo, it would obviously be better to have our own solutions. Otherwise, there's always the sense you're trying to force a square peg into a round hole - and of course, there's always the threat they suddenly cease to be.

But then, there's so much going on out there. Will our web team, however good, ever be able to keep up with the explosion of creative solutions to web publishing that's out there? And should they even try? Where do you draw the line on providing services yourself, and finding them elsewhere?

Dipity and Darnation

This is a test to see whether I can get my Dipity timeline to embed in my blog, as it doesnt' seem to be working on the Croydon Advertiser website:

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Exciting times

It's meant to be silly season, but this is one of the most challenging news weeks I can remember at the Advertiser - and not for lack of stories.

I can't go into too much detail at the moment, but we have a story (and no, it's not the murder) which has made everyone in the senior editorial team determined to do their very best to make it fly.

I should start by saying the story is all down to reporter Aline Nassif - and it's all credit to her drive and inspiration that we're all pulling together in the most effective way I think we have ever done.

I've said before it's no secret there are quite significant differences in our attitude to web-first in the newsroom. And there's no doubt the fact there was no question of this ever being broken first online (it's not that kind of story) has meant we've been able to concentrate on how to do it the most justice we can once it does get there.

The skills both I and chief photographer David Berman have been busy building up over the past weeks and months are now going to be tested pretty much to their full. I really hope we rise to the challenge.

Even if we only manage to pull off what we've planned so far, it will easily be the most impressive multimedia project we've done. But in the afternoon breather we have after Thursday lunchtime's print deadline, I'm determined to make it even better (by which I mean more interactive).

It's almost undoubtedly going to be one of the Advertiser's biggest stories of the year in print. Until now, we've not had the skills, the technology or the time to cover those big stories in the same way online. This is our chance to change that - and prove our website can eventually overtake the paper in terms of presenting Croydon's stories in all their complexity.

Oh, and if anyone has any examples of ways papers have presented multimedia packages we could aspire to (especially ones with lots of interactivity), I'd really appreciate it if you could post them below.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Unchartered territory

Two or three weeks ago, I announced my intentions of getting our users to help me draw up a Commenters' Charter. I had grand plans of inviting regular commenters to our offices and asking them what boundaries and guidelines we should set.

I said I wasn't sure whether anyone would respond, but if they didn't, I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

Well, I'm now preparing to cross it. Two or three bloggers said they would try and make it, but no commenters, so I called the meeting off.

So, our online community isn't quite as committed as I had (perhaps naively) hoped. But I'm determined not to take that the wrong way. After all, we've still only had comments now for six months, so it's not that surprising. And a few people did respond with suggestions, so all is not lost.

And after the beginnings of a useful debate kicked off on my last post, I think I am ready to get stuck in once more. Once we've got the charter in place, hopefully that will be our Magna Carta, the framework which our disparate users can engage more confidently within.

Of course, it will a lot easier to police once the technology is in place . . .

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Angry, Purley

I actually woke up in the early hours last night worrying about the havoc just one commenter is wreaking on our site.

He used to be called Angry from Purley, and we managed to ban him for a while - but he seems to have got a new IP address, and is back, under a range of pseudonyms.

Unfortunately, at the moment, we can't ban him. Our last message management system gave us his IP address, but you couldn't ban him using it - our new one has an effective banning system, but generates the same IP address for every unregistered commenter (which led to editor Ian Carter accidentally banning everyone from commenting the other day - oops). It's something we are asking IT to look into urgently.

Fortunately, I don't think he's worked this out yet. Unfortunately, he's steadily building back up to his worst self, and yesterday posted a whole load of highly racist messages under the name of our troll-magnet.

I am really not sure he intends to be such a site-wrecker. He seems desperate to get an apology for banning him in the first place (while not wanting to admit it's him in case he's banned again), which seems to indicate he wants to be part of the community.

There's no way we're going to registered comments only though. There's far too much value from people visiting the site for the first time about an incident they've got info on, then commenting with that insider knowledge - they wouldn't do that if they had to spend 5 minutes filling in a form.

I just hope our IT bods can pull their fingers out and get this fixed fast.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Save Our Subs

A subbing colleague of mine drew my attention to this Facebook group, Save Our Subs, today.

I'm feeling more than usually acidic tonight, so apologies to my subberly comrades - but I can't help but note the contradiction of a group for whom social networking is such a huge threat trying to use the means of their downfall to protect them.

But good luck to them all the same.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


How much of an overlap is there between our print and online audience? I would really love to know.

I suspect there isn't much - and whenever I win an argument to web-first a non-breaking story, that's usually the crux of my argument - i.e. it won't impact on the print sale because most paper readers won't know it's online. But I wonder whether I am shooting myself in the foot in the long term with that line.

We are unlucky (or lucky, depending on your outlook) to have a strong, freebie competitor which bites round our ankles and keeps us on our toes. If it scoops us in print, we very rarely splash the same story. But if they get there first online, we are not nearly so bothered - they're different audiences, aren't they?

But as more and more readers find us online (we now have more than half as many readers online as in print, and it's still rapidly growing), maybe we should stop thinking about different audiences and just concentrate on being the first to break news, in whichever medium allows us to get there first, i.e. online.

It's much more difficult for a weekly. If you get a sniff of a great story a couple of hours after deadline, taking the chance it won't get out for more than a week in your next issue is immense.

I've blogged before about how not reporting the stuff happening on the streets is suicide for your reputation. But as you move towards the bulk of your audience coming to you online, not being first is just as risky.

I'm not talking about rushing to tell half-baked stories - but to hold onto stories once you've got them stacked up with nothing more than crossed fingers to stop the competition sniffing them out, or stumbing on them - well, that's just stupid. Isn't it?

(Not to mention how online audiences are unforgiving of being fed week-old stories . . .)

I'm going to risk the wrath of my most print-loyal colleague now by saying this is based on current newsroom events. We did indeed get a tip-off of a cracking story at 3pm this afternoon - three hours after we went off stone. Story is now pretty much confirmed, but we are currently just hoping nobody else gets the nod.

I'll let you know how it pans out.

testing Widgenie

Here's a test of an A Level results table made in Widgenie:

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Courting publicity

There was a really interesting debate on Twitter today, about whether you should put court reports straight online or not, kicked off by this tweet from the Liverpool Post's deputy editor Alison Gow.

It reminded me of many debates we've had in our newsroom - I'm glad to say, the policy is now we pretty much put all court stuff up straight away, unless it's extra special, and we are sure we have it to ourselves.

A good example would be this inquest - the tragic story of a young woman who died because she took dodgy diet pills - we decided to hold off on that because it was so unusual, and that also allowed us to get better and more thoughtful reaction from family, etc. than the bare bones of the court report.

So, where do you draw the line? I think for us, it's the human interest factor which is key. For maximum impact, these need to be kept back for a bit of development first. And I don't think this is manipulating the news agenda, or patronising our audience - I really think this is doing the best we can to tell our community's stories. I don't think opening that diet pill story to online debate would have added nearly as much as allowing the mother space to collect her thoughts.

So yes, I think we still have a long way to go in using our website to develop stories - but equally, I think there are still certain stories where you have to hold back.

And ultimately, I think we would be doing our readers a disservice by publishing bare bones first, then fleshing out. After all, the joy of news - certainly for me - is the "guess what!" factor - and in these deeply personal cases, a fully fledged story does that so much better.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats . . .

A funny story came up in the news meeting today, which the editor, Ian Carter, then blogged (I hereby distance myself from decidedly dodgy headline). It was about how we ran a story about a cat-dumping crisis in Croydon, appealing for people to rehome them - but unfortunately, it backfired when we just alerted heartless non-deserving cat owners to the fact they could dump them at Croydon Animal Samaritans. Net gain = 4 cats.

Sorry, should clarify: funny for heartless news types like us. Not for the cats.

Anyhoo, I tweeted it (partly because Ian's readership has sharply declined since we started publishing more news and other blogs, and he's threatening to quit unless it increases) and it prompted suggestions as to how I could cover it online.

The consensus was a timeline-generating software package called Dipity. And so, here's my work in progress:

It's lacking proper dates and cat tally figures, and I'm sure there's more I can add to it once I've had more of a fiddle, but I think it's beginning to take shape.

So, lessons learnt from today:

1) Dipity is going to be used a LOT on the Croydon Ad site from now on in. For starters, it has solved one of our "how can we put this breakout online?" questions.

2) Twitter - and more to the point, the people who follow me - is truly amazing. Every week, it proves itself in a fantastic new way.

3) I really should seriously think about adopting a cat. I wonder if Violet is still homeless?

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Green Gadgetry

Today is a bit of a milestone for me - I have finally got my laptop to go wireless, so I will be writing this post not just from my front room, but also from my kitchen and the bedroom - but not the bathroom, I promise.

(Starting off in the front room, in front of the Olympics on the telly)

I'm soooo behind when it comes to gadgetry. Years ago, I was a relatively early adopter - although this is as much down to my gadget-mad dad (and the radio station I worked as a breakfast weather and traffic girl which gave me a mobile phone when nobody rang in to enter the competition I'd organised - the BBC had nothing on us!). But then, I got a job as staff writer at a desperately dull trade journal for the microchip manufacture industry, and it really changed my mind about things.

(Right, now typing as I sit on the bed, can hear the pigeons roosting in the eaves outside the window gently coo-ing, aaah)

The turning point was a conference in San Francisco I was lucky enough to go to. This was a couple of months before 9/11, after which everything collapsed, and the industry was still convinced it could keep the massive production lines going - if only it could generate demand for chips by coming up with ideas for gadgets nobody needed. One speaker was questioning whether anyone would want a video phone watch, a la Dick Tracey - and concluded no, but people would still probably buy it.

Also, the biggest story I covered there was over some scandal about Chinese factory workers' health being put at risk by the nasty chemicals used in the production process. And we also covered stories about the pollution aspects. So, the impression I took away was of an industry desperately trying to push useless gadgets to make money while destroying the environment and its employees' health. Nice.

(Now in the kitchen, have just put a chicken in to roast, but have thoroughly washed my hands, I promise)

For the next seven years, I eschewed all gadgetry. I only upgraded my phone when it broke. I laboured away with the laptop, modem and printer my dad had given me in 1996 as an undergraduate (and even then they were about three years old). I refused ipods, DVD players, Sky boxes, Sat Nav, the lot.

So, what's changed? Well, finally having to get a new laptop when the old one died was a big eye-opener. But I think more than that, there's many more gadgets out there which aren't gimmicky, and which are genuinely transforming everyday life - mobile internet, for instance, could well transform my profession, for starters, in the same way downloading has transformed the music industry.

But I'm still uneasy - is it possible to reconcile a green lifestyle with cutting edge technology?

It's even up for debate whether replacing newpapers with websites is greener or not. So I think I will be very careful when selecting which gadgets to betray my green credentials for. But if anyone can recommend one it's worth ruining the environment for, please let me know

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Farewell, troll magnet

One of my first posts was about my bemusement at one of our commenters becoming a target on our messageboards. I said then I thought it was because she stuck up for authority.

Since then, we invited her to blog, and I've changed my mind about what really annoyed people about her (while still thinking the scale of the response was unjustified).

It was, I think, also because she posted too much about the mundanities of her own life, relating every story to her own personal experience. I think this was in the back of my mind when I invited her to blog - the hope she would use that platform to talk about personal stuff, so diffusing the annoyance on the messageboards.

Unfortunately, this spectacularly backfired.

Firstly, she began alluding to the fact we were taking down abusive comments about her, which was like a red rag to a bull. We are now regularly accused of taking our orders from her. The fact she's blogging for us adds ammunition to the claim. (It's not true, of course - but it's got so bad I feel I have to make that clear.)

Secondly, she started upping the personal content of her messages on stories - which really inflamed the situation. So yesterday, she finally threw in the towel. I don't blame her. But I have to admit I am also a bit relieved.

In retrospect, I think inviting her to blog was one of the worst calls I've made at the Advertiser - as much for her as for the site. But that's what a learning curve is all about.

Meanwhile, and still on the subject of looking after your communities, digital journalism blogger Andy Dickinson is promising rambling posts about community, audience and journalism.

He's struck a chord. Before he's even started, Guardian chief blogger Kevin Anderson has pitched in, talking about how mainstream journalists are sometimes guilty of arrogance, and exploiting the communities they're writing for.

I'm bristling, as I think here at the Advertiser we look after our best community contacts - but also because I recognise what they - well, at this point, Kevin - are talking about. I won't pitch in yet, but I'm going to be interested to follow the conversation.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Commenters' Charter

This afternoon, I issued a summons to our bloggers and most prolific commenters, asking for their help in drawing up a Commenters' Charter. Tomorrow, I also want to put up a promo box asking people if they want to join in too.

The time is right, as helping out with community management will definitely one of the key roles our new web bod will have. We do our best at the moment, but too many dodgy comments are slipping through the net. And with Googleisation, we've lots of people coming to us for the first time, and we really don't want to scare them off.

While the guidelines and advice in the charter will ultimately be up to us, I think it's important our burgeoning online community we have has some input into it. Firstly, this should make them more likely to abide by what's agreed, and possibly help police it too. But I also want to increase our users' feeling they have a stake in the site, which of course they do.

So how am I getting them together? Commenting on one of our stories? Tweeting through a hashtagged stream? Inviting them to join a Facebook group? No, I'm going right back to basics and inviting them to Advertiser Towers.

Is this going against the whole ethos of a local paper's online community? I don't think so. After all, what defines our community is geography - so it's important to know those taking part do live in and around Croydon.

Also, our anonymous messageboards can be a bit hostile at the moment, so I want to diffuse any viciousness right from the start by making the discussion face to face. I'm hoping this may also help stop some of the bullying we've been seeing directed towards one commenter in particular too.

Of course, none of them may even want to turn up. Not sure where that would leave me. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

If I do get a decent turnout though, I may see if we can cover the debate on the web in some way. Hmmm, that's one to think about.

As ever, any ideas gratefully received.

My first mash-up - fingers crossed it works

I'm absurdly proud of this - it's my first mash-up. It's an aggregation of news about Crystal Palace - from everywhere except the Croydon Advertiser (because it will eventually end up on our site) and the Croydon Guardian (because yes, links out = links in, but I don't think we're quite at that stage yet).

Monday, 4 August 2008

And forward again

At last! After weeks and weeks and weeks of scratching our heads, we finally seem to have agreed on what kind of role our long-awaited extra web person will have. That's as far as we've got - and I don't want to go into too much detail, as it would be unfair to whoever ends up filling the boots whose design we're probably still going to end up tweaking.

It's a relief in two ways - firstly, it should mean an end to the sometimes excessive hours the newsdesk have been putting in. But more excitingly, it means the ever-growing to do list I have for our site will actually become a reality.

I've spent a lot of time on this blog bitching about what's holding us back. Now, I'm a natural moaner, so that's probably not going to stop. But now I'm about to get a whole world of help, I can concentrate more on what can move us forward.

And with that in mind, I'm off to create my first Yahoo pipes mash-up - with some help from Paul Bradshaw. I'll let you know how I get on.

Friday, 1 August 2008


After last night's post, and two days out of the office in a training course, I've been taking stock of things. And I've decided I need to start looking back a little rather than just racing forward.

Which is why I was delighted to come across this eulogy for the newspaperman, written by Spokesman Review editor Steve Smith. He writes eloquently and compellingly about the joy of working in the ink-stained newsrooms of decades past - times which will never again be seen. It's powerful stuff.

I can't look back to the same world Steve Smith does - many years and many more miles separate our experiences. But even in my brief career, things have radically changed, and it's time I remembered how things were for me and most of my peers were when we first entered the industry.

But I'm definitely going to share this with my team. And one of the reasons is that instead of raging against the dying of the light, it is forward-looking too. And the comments add so much more too - this one by Ken Paulman particularly struck a chord with me - the importance of harnessing the new online audience rather than trying to save a dying print product. Because although we can stem its demise, print is never going to grow again.

Speaking of debate, and as I said yesterday, discussing ideas and perspectives like this one is something I need to be doing more of with my team, so high on my to do list for next week will also be setting up some kind of forum for sharing the conversation - delicious or Google Reader are likely candidates. Any advice gratefully received.

Thursday, 31 July 2008


I've been blogging for a couple of weeks now, and one of my wisest friends has pointed out I haven't really explained why I'm doing it in the first place. So here's an attempt to address that.

The lack of explanation to begin with was purely because I wasn't quite sure myself. I guess it was something I felt I should do - and it would be a good way to collect my own thoughts on web-related stuff.

As I explained in one of the first posts, we were on the verge of launching our new site, and also creating a team to work out how to manage a multimedia newsroom, so I had started reading a lot of online journalism blogs (which reminds me, must update my blogroll). So, the timing seemed right.

I'm not a particularly deep or original thinker, so I know what will make this worth reading will be the tales I can tell from the coalface. So, while wanting to tread carefully, I also want to be as frank as possible about how and why we are adapting to the brave new world of online. Otherwise, what's the point?

I'm also hoping it will help explain to any of my colleagues reading this why I'm so passionate about online. In a busy newsroom, there's not much time for reflection and discussion (and yes, we should make more time for that). Which brings me full-circle to one of the original reasons for starting the blog - collecting my thoughts.

The blog is advertised as charting my online learning curve. I'm very aware it's in its infancy, but hopefully this will let me back and see how far I - and more importantly, the Advertiser - has come since I started. And then it will be worth it.

Anyway, that's enough navel gazing for one night. It's been one of those days. My wise friend Maria also said I should be joining in the discussion. So in future, I promise more of that, and less of this. Goodnight.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


Okay, it's confession time - I was bitchy earlier, and now I regret it.

After weeks of being the queen of Croydon news on Twitter (not difficult when it's just you), our competition has decided to decamp there en masse (well, three of them). And instead of welcoming them, I had a dig. (Given our comment feature is STILL down, maybe I should have thought about our own glass house before throwing stones.)

There, I've admitted it. I'm ashamed, because it's against the spirit of Twitter, which is to share - everything.

All the same, I can't help feeling like they're piggybacking, just a little. I've spent a while building up a network, and all they have to do is come along, and click to follow everyone who's following me.

But begone, resentful thoughts! After all, social networking is more than just signing up to the services, you have to maintain them too. And if they have the initiative to do that, then good luck to them. I'll just have to be a little bit more careful when discussing stories we have in the pipeline, that's all.

Monday, 28 July 2008


So the comments feature on our site has been down all weekend - and is still down as I type, on Monday night.

On the one hand, I have got a lot more done today without having had to keep one eye on what people are posting. On the other, I actually feel a bit lonely without our burgeoning online community nattering away in my ear. Yes, I've got Twitter, but that's very different.

I really hope things are up and running again soon. No comments over the weekend wasn't great, but things tend to pick up on Monday, and I know from our launch experience how angry our guys get when they can't make their own contribution.

Maybe it's just karma for my post on Thursday, perhaps?

I guess the silver lining is that they can't make their feelings heard by commenting . . .

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Reputations - more thoughts

Going back to how expectations of local papers are shifting, I found this story from another local's site, the south east London News Shopper, very interesting.

It's a run-of-the-mill story about a car crash - but the comments reveal the driver allegedly tried to flee the scene of the crash, and police found huge amounts of cash when they searched the car. A very different story.

To put it in context, it was linked to in the comments on Hackney blogger Dave Hill's (justified) rant against his local paper, the Hackney Gazette, for failing to credit him as the source of a story. The commenter, thylacosmilus, made the point the comments on the bland story really fleshed it out, and hailed it as example of how new media is coming into its own.

And yes, he's right. But that's not what I find interesting about it - it's the sheer venom directed against the paper for not getting all the details - and getting some details wrong.

The second comment is telling - joe says: "well done lee see they only tell us want they want to." I'm sure that isn't the case, but that doesn't matter - that's the perception, and the way it's phrased suggests it's an opinion long held.

Later comments criticise the paper's research - but also question publishing the story as it is in the first place. This certainly isn't a readership willing to be passively fed their news any more.

Of course, a lot of what is posted there is legally dodgy - certainly the way the commenters have put it. But a careful news editor could certainly take most of the facts from the comments, and make a much better story - and then explain why the comment feature was having to be taken down. But instead, they've published another bare bones follow up -and one commenter has simply posted the whole debate from the previous story underneath!

I don't know much about how the News Shopper works. If it's like its sister title, the South London Guardian, for which I once worked, then the reporters will be short on the ground and work extremely hard. I don't want to knock what they are doing for a moment. The point I want to make is how easy it is to lose your readers' respect when you hand them the means to add to the report themselves - then not act on the information they tell you.

There is still hope here - the commenters are angry the paper itself isn't reporting the true facts. Simply letting it stand in the messageboard isn't enough, so the story itself is seen as having more value than the messages.

So where forward? Do you close your messageboards, as New York news site Gawker suggests, sick to the teeth of the inane "debate" found there (apparently only blogs are allowed that privilege). Or do you bite the bullet and really embrace the massive news resource they offer? It's not a difficult call to make from where I'm standing.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


The crux of the debate in our newsroom, as I'm sure is the case in newsrooms across the world, is what our core product is.

At the moment, of course, the printed product is what our whole operation is geared around, and so this is seen as the core. And I'm sure it often comes across that I'm trying to push towards the web being our core instead, but that really isn't the case. Instead, my notion of what our core is, and what I am trying to protect, is reputation.

Despite carpings from our critics, I believe the our paper enjoys the best reputation in our area for newsgathering. Yes, people sometimes get starry-eyed when our stories get picked up by the nationals or the Beeb - but they get angry when we DON'T pick them up.

But to maintain this reputation, you have to move with expectations. For years, our readership has respected our print deadlines, and understood why we don't report something which happens on a Thursday night until the following Friday. But that's changed.

Today, we got an angry email from someone demanding to know why we weren't covering a serious incident which had happened last Thursday. The reason was, she was the first to let us know, and I'm very grateful she did.

But because of the way we work at the moment, I still can't tell you, or her, or anyone else what it is, even though that goes against almost every instinct I have. So, we are in the ridiculous position that we have been tipped off because someone has upbraided us for failing her expectations - but we are doing nothing to meet those of every other person who witnessed something of the incident and wants to know more. Chances are they don't know about our print deadlines - and why should they care? But the more we do this, the more potential readers are going to give up on us.

Now, of course, we are doing this to protect the "core" print product, and if that is the main priority, it makes sense. But in the long term, with circulations falling at nearly every title in the country, plus a near-certain recession on the cards, it's time to examine closely at what we try to make sure we've still got once we're out the other side.

Web evangelists are often accused of trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater, by cannabilising print or sacrificing in-depth analysis for speed. I think, with a bit of thought, it's definitely possible to avoid the latter. But the way I see it, not throwing everything you have online is truly infanticide - and the baby, or core, in question is reputation - not paper.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

We're there!

Our new site is well and truly launched, and aside from a few outstanding technical issues preventing uploads to a couple of sections, I reckon it's looking good.

We're already getting the anticipated backlash from regular readers, but despite expecting relentlessly negative "I hate change" comments, a reassuring number are saying they like it. And our most vocal critic has changed their mind too - after I re-posted a load of comments from the old site.

That's the most interesting part of the backlash for me - the number of people howling in protest that their comments have gone. It's reassuring too - they obviously feel they own the site.

It's also got me wondering whether their comments qualify them as citizen reporters, according to US journalism professor Jay Rosen's definition?

"When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism."

He's talking more about bloggers, but I'm sure this can be extended to our commenters too. We certainly pick up enough stories from their posts. And so, by extension, if their comments are journalism, I'm not surprised they feel aggrieved they've been taken down. One reader said they felt they had wasted a week posting comments which had now disappeared.

It will be interesting to see what happens when we launch a forum in a few weeks, and they truly have control of threads from the very start. I'm hoping it will be a bit more lively than this other Croydon forum . . .

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Are you being served? No

After wading through an internet connection slower than treacle all day, I've not been able to make the tweaks I wanted to the site. Grrr. In fact, the first of the comments saying how much people hate the new layout started trickling in half an hour ago, and our server is yet to even realise the new site is up.

And after my crowing about how great our news team is, and my hopes to get a daily service up and runnign, I guess I've only karma to blame for someone pointing out our current top story dates from Friday. And there's nothing I can do about it until tomorrow morning. Sigh.

Off home to see if it's any better there. Will keep you posted.

Monday, 14 July 2008


So it's less than 24 hours now before the new site goes live, and I think we're going to make it. Just. I've hardly had time to think about anything, so this post won't be one of my best.

A couple of passing thoughts though. Firstly, after reading this post about people searches, from slewfootsnoop, I'm quite impressed by the amount of stuff people search engines can pick up about me online. Bit freaked out by a professional networking site which has set up my profile without my knowledge - but very amused that it has confused me with my first editor, Joe Wadsworth (then of Semiconductor Fabtech, an achingly dull b2b technology mag). For the record, I was then called Jo Bowring, so it wasn't as odd as it could have been. He's now married with two kids, selling wooden garden toys, I believe.

Secondly, Birmingham Post blogger Jo Geary's exasperation at the state of her Google reader made me laugh. It also reminded me of Paul Bradshaw's tweets about how he's using Tweetdeck to cope with the ocean of twittering coming his way. Mainly I'm just full of admiration at having so many people to follow (694 Birmingham bloggers! I can hardly find 60 in Croydon, although I'm probably not looking hard enough). But it also reinforced the notion that one role of journalists will be to filter the online information overload. And I like to think it's going to take more than new folders or Twitter applications.

Finally, big thanks should go to my long-suffering husband, who has been working much harder than me, painting windows all day, and still sorted out dinner and has only made one pointed comment about me coming home at gone 9pm and jumping straight onto the computer. Thanks Nick, I owe you one.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Moving (slowly) towards web-first

We reached what felt like a huge milestone for me in our weekly news meeting yesterday. For the first time, we started discussing web coverage of some stories in depth - and more importantly, when they would be published. We're lucky in Croydon that there's usually enough breaking news around to keep the site moving through the week. But if you rely on just that, your readers end up with a fairly repetitive diet of court, council and calls.

Because the new site goes live on Tuesday night, I've managed to get the green light to break a really strong story we would usually hold on Wednesday morning. It involves two or three elements which really push our readers' buttons, so I'm predicting it will do really well.

But without wanting to seem ungrateful, it still really goes against the grain to be holding off until Wednesday a story we've pretty much got in the bag already. Ho hum.

P.S. For anyone coming to this from the link Ian Carter posted in his blog yesterday, be warned: I'm unlikely to discuss many Croydon issues here. But to make up for that, and as he did kind-of promise to post the link to the preview of our new site and then not do that before going off on holiday, here it is (ta-da!). Please bear in mind there's still quite a lot of work to do at the mo.

Thursday, 10 July 2008


Just about to sit in on an interview for a new reporter, which reminds me of a conversation we had during a recent bout of "creative tensions" - that old chestnut about why reporters become reporters.

I once stood up in public and said whatever reporters might claim to the contrary, part of it was the glamour, and I still think that's true, to a point. But since then, I've come to think the sheer adrenaline rush of getting that story out first plays much more of a part in why I love my job.

Which is why I find it odd when reporters don't rush to embrace the internet more. Obviously nobody's the same, but my compulsion once I find out about a story is to run and tell as many people as possible, which the web is perfect for. Why wait for Friday, when you can tell thousands of people right now?

During the row I'm remembering, someone said the big incentive was seeing your name in print above a cracking exclusive, which I guess is part of the glamour I talked about. And I can still appreciate that, but the more I work online, the more I'm appreciating not just the rush, but also the conversation that comes afterwards. And to truly embrace that, you really do have to leave your ego at the door, and accept you no longer own the story. And that's where it gets really interesting.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Changing deadlines to livelines

I'm working on the deadline for the print paper - and amazingly, all but one of my pages are done hours ahead of when they usually get sent down. Which has got me pondering again on one of my favourite obsessions at the moment - how do you adapt deadlines for a weekly paper to a daily website?

So far, we have been doing this on a pretty ad hoc basis, and to be honest, it shows with the site. I raised eyebrows the other day by saying most of our stories don't develop over the course of the week. I think I was misunderstood, so I should clarify: they usually don't develop of themselves over the week, but we do a hell of a lot of development to them. But - it should be possible to do that development to each story over a shorter amount of time, concentrate our energies on them one at a time, surely?

Of course, that bugbear of all newspaper offices, the press office, has to shoulder a large part of the blame for holding back when stories can be filed. They know our deadlines better than we do! When I moved from a weekly to a daily a few years ago, it amazed me how quickly press officers came back to queries. It can be done. So one of the biggest tasks in moving to a more daily mindset is convincing our regular press contacts to do the same. Quite a steep task.

There's no doubt that convincing those who Jay Rosen so charmingly calls curmudgeons is about changing mindsets. But on a more practical point, I think it's also about changing habits - and not just within the newsroom.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

New site kittens

In less than half an hour, it will be exactly a week before we launch the new site, and I'm beginning to get more kittens than Wanda Gag.

There are sooo many things I would still like to do on the site - and the more I look at other sites, the more I see missed opportunities. And yet, I'm still petrified we're going to launch without even having done the things we do have properly.

That's the problem with online - it's such a limitless bucket of opportunity, where do you stop?

But, I think with a bit of tweaking how the newsroom deadlines work, we are already set up to be a fantastic online news service - in fact I'll go out on a limb and say the best weekly newspaper team's online offering I've seen in the UK (more another day on how in a year's time I want to be dropping the weekly from that sentence . . .)

And in terms of building up the community and social side of the site, most of what we can't do is down to the technology, which I think Northcliffe is pretty committed to fixing. Well, it has to be, doesn't it?

So, I'm going to go home, pour myself a big glass of wine, and try to calm down a bit. Wish me luck.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Seb Rochford

Oh, and another thing. Just got back from a festival - and guess who opened it? Yep, jazz drummer Seb Rochford and his band Polar Bear (see Google Alert voyeurism post below). It was like a little piece of my virtual Google reality had landed in a Kent field. And the music was just as noodly as I had imagined. Magical.

Twitter comes home to roost

Thrilling times on Twitter for me today. Just checked in, and saw one of the people I've followed has tweeted about a national news story - and linked to our site! Now, she obviously wasn't getting there through Google (our site is impregnable to its spiders right now), and it was a link to one of the updates which I hadn't sent out a tweet about myself - so that's at least one person I've converted to our website with my Twitter project.

Now, how to boost my followers from 29 to 290? Especially as I only want to attract people who live in our patch? Hopefully that tipping point is only just around the corner, but there must be another way . . .

Friday, 4 July 2008

The voice of experience

This posting from a journalist working on the US Spokesman newspaper, Nick Easton, has really struck a chord with me.

His project is to reinvent the way his newsroom works, starting from a blank sheet of paper - a daunting project.

And similar to one which a small group of us have been given on the paper I work - to find a way to make our paper the trailblazer in how to develop our online offering for the company.

Although we haven't been given the remit of tearing everything up and starting again, the huge difference in mindset between online and print means we are frequently coming close to that - which as you can imagine has led to what the editor likes to call "creative tensions", where what he really means are barnstorming rows - inevitable when everyone is passionate about what we do.

But what really interested me about Nick Easton's post was his emphasis on the youth of the team tasked to do this at the Spokesman.

Does youth mean being more receptive to change? I'm not sure - the member of our working group most resistant to change is also the youngest. And conversely, some of the most enthusiastic noises from our reporting team have been coming from the older generation - especially when they see the benefits of publishing their stories online can bring.

So I'm not convinced you should write off the experience of the fathers and mothers of the newsroom. After all, they've seen plenty enough changes in the industry to have learnt to roll with the punches so far. And I'm far more willing to listen to voices of caution when they've the experience to back them up.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Google alert voyeurism

Forget about spam - the emails which clog up my inbox the most are my indispensable Google news alerts. I don't know of any jobbing local journalists who aren't signed up to their own customised clutch. They've undoubtedly transformed our jobs - for a start, scanning the nationals every morning is no longer the essential job it once was (although in case my boss is reading this, that's not to say the odd story doesn't slip through Google's net . . .)

But another side effect is the stories you pick up which would have passed completely under your radar before. For example, my last patch included the Essex town of Rochford, and so for months I followed with vague interest the career of jazz drummer Seb Rochford - gosh, he plays in a lot of bands! And my current batch of alerts includes an alert for Sutton - a salicious side effect of which was getting to follow the macabre ins and outs of the Joyce Sutton murder trial in Wales (her partner, pensioner Dai Banjo, was eventually acquitted despite allegedly confessing to his pet Persian cats, then died weeks later).

More annoyingly though, I am now far too familiar with the details of Shirley Bassey's stomach complaints, after being inundated with alerts set up to catch all the news from Shirley - Croydon, that is. Ho hum.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

troll magnets

Why is it some people attract so much hate online? We have one reader who comments regularly, usually with fairly innocuous remarks. I'll admit, I sometimes find her point of view baffling, and occasionally exasperating, but it's nothing compared to some of the stuff we get. But for some reason, whenever she comments on a story, it's like a red rag to a bull.

One theory I have is as to why she gets so much stick because she stands up for authority - and at the moment, our message boards have something of the feeling of the Wild West about them. It's not as bad as it was - we knew the point had come to tighten up our moderation methods when the a certain right-wing party (who shall remain nameless for fear of their Google searches picking up this post and persecuting me . . .) started commending us on how much freedom of speech we allowed people. But it's still far from perfect - not least because the IP banning function seems a little haphazard.

So something I'm looking forward to experimenting with is trying to be a bit more proactive on the messageboards, taking some tips from this blog by Howard Owens: - and I'm especially looking forward to the picnic

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Er, hello there . . .

So, this is my first blog. A brief taste of microblogging on Twitter has made me realise I'm far too much of a bigmouth to restrict myself to 140 characters, so here I am.

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to be using this space for yet, hence the tentative start. But I think it's going to be based on my experiences working for a weekly UK newspaper, the Croydon Advertiser, and its website, which I hope is about to really spread its wings and fly.

Thrillingly, I've been given the challenge of helping relaunch the site and I'm getting really excited about what online has to offer. It's come a looong way since I first worked on websites, back when I first graduated and the noughties had scarcely begun. And although the changes it's making to my trade, journalism, are bewildering and often scary, they're also thrilling.

Anyway, that's enough waffling for now. I promise I'll be a bit more prepared for my second post. At least I've got the first one out of the way . . .