Newspapers and radio used to rule the day and form opinion, but now online rules the waves – that was the general gist of the latest event at the excellent Leeds Digital Festival, writes John Baron.
A wide array of speakers at Write-Publish-Read spoke on some of the latest digital initiatives coming out of Leeds. My, we’re a clever city with a lot of talent!
The Hebe Media brother and sister team of Lee and Stacey Hicken were first up, talking about Leeds Online (LOL), which started out two years ago as a Facebook page featuring issues that weren’t discussed elsewhere, such as the merits or otherwise of the German Christmas Market, or the need for a KFC in the city centre.
LOL now has a network of 50,000 people, 750,000 visits and 3,500 interactions a month – staggering figures by anyone’s standards. Stacey said photo albums were also popular. Looking to the future, LOL is looking to link up with media partners such as Leeds Guide, Armley writer Mick McCann will take parts of his When Leeds Ruled The World book and use it on LOL and there are plans for more video. Read more about LOL here.
Next up was enchanting Shang Ting Peng, also of Hebe Media, speaking about the rise of her UK Observing Diary project.
A couple of years Shang Ting Peng arrived in England after studying in Barcelona and began to photograph and document interesting places, products or projects in Leeds. This led to her creating the Facebook page: England Observing Diary. A friend in London also contributes to the page giving a unique insight into both the North and South of England. The page now focuses on two cities: Leeds and London.
It soon rose to 5,700 followers from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, and an article on Guardian Leeds (*blushes*) helped raise its profile and get worldwide exposure:
It now has 90,000 fans on Facebook and its success in bringing the latest in fashion and raising the profile of cooll things in Leeds has led to a book deal. Check it out at www.facebook.com/ukobservingdiary.
Next up was Ian Briggs from The Business Desk, an online business news website. Ian explained how he came from a traditional print background, working for the T&A and YP, and helped establish this online-only operation.
In the early days he said it was difficult to get established, but positive word of mouth and email updates had helped get 100,000 (free) subscribers to the site, which now employs 15 full time staff – impressive for a start-up that doesn’t have the benefit (?) of a print model to work alongside it.
Leeds-based fashion blogger Jen Holmes spoke about the rise and rise of blogs, looking at her own blog, and blogging in general. There are apparently 163 million blogs in the world today, 69,000 new ones are created each day and are seen as an increasingly popular alternative to mainstream media.
Bloggers create engaging copy and have loyal and engaged audiences as they’re seen as reliable and honest. More trustworthy than journalists, apparently. She spoke about partnering with brands, how mainstream media was cherrypicking some of the best bloggers to come work for them or write about their products.
Next up was the Culture Vulture crew of Emma, Elly, Mark and Phil spoke about the multi-author collaborative culture blog – which, personally, I believe to be one of the most important blogging achievements in the country. It’s based on a £70 wordpress theme/platform. It’s brought people together online and off, helped forge conversations and relationships and debates. Even the chief exec of the council and local councillors have engaged with it.
Mark said it offered a voice to new and different people, covered things mainstream media wasn’t interested in and was more genuine than the voice of PR/journalists.
Last, but certainly not least, was the ever entertaining James Brown, of digital magazine SabotageTimes.com and the creator Loaded magazine. He said that the opportunities for young writers with talent to be published has never been greater thanks to websites like Sabotage.
Sabotage is written by people all over the world, includes seven to 15 stories a day, often written by some very talented and passionate writers. He said:
“Sabotage is a magnet for some good stuff, although some think it’s a magnet for shit.”
In many ways similar to Culture Vulture, it’s a multi-author blog with a genuine voice that people can relate to, it thrives on comments and interaction (one article currently has more than 1,600 comments) and James said often the comments were more interesting than the actual post and added greatly to the story or debate.
Ultimately, it’s not that dissimilar to an old-style printed fanzine you used to get in the 80s and 90s, it’s just online.
I’ve whizzed through the speakers above and tried to cover the main points. My personal opinion was that this was a terrific showcase of some of Leeds’ finest pioneering online talent. You couldn’t fail to be impressed or proud.
The one thing that grated with me was the bashing mainstream press and particularly print media got. YEP editor Paul Napier was in the audience – I must admit to feeling a bit sorry for him as there was some misinformed and frankly ignorant criticism of journalists and print media.
I know I’m a journalist (and hence very untrustworthy, judging by last night’s comments) but it seems to be fashionable to give print a good kicking at these sort of events – a kind of blogging snobbery, perhaps even arrogance.
It’s true, many bloggers lead publications like the YEP in terms of interaction and community and depth of coverage on topics. Bloggers are often at the cutting edge online and let’s face it regional press is struggling to really grasp the nettle of online working.
But those citing the YEP’s declining print circulation conveniently forget to mention its growing online audience, which needs to be taken into account before you prepare its obituary. I strongly believe that there’s a future for some kind of quality print journalism, probably not a paid-for daily newspaper, but perhaps something offering in-depth focus, which is the way the Guardian’s going.
Are bloggers really more trusted than journalists? I might have concerns about some of the tabloid national journos, but do people really grasp what a tiny proportion they make out of the number of overall journos in this country? Look it up. I know a lot of very good and very well trusted reporters who have the respect and trust of their communities and contacts. It’s superficial and cheap to suggest otherwise.
There seems to be antagonism between mainstream media and bloggers and vice versa, each decrying their faults.
My strong belief is that it’s not so black and white either way. The more enlightened on both sides will see that collaboration is the future. Journalists should recognise that their role in the future won’t just be as a narrator, it’ll be as a curator and aggregator. The web as a medium isn’t about taking what you do in print and sticking it all online – TV doesn’t work for radio, why should print for online?
Online’s all about collaboration, working together and sharing, newspapers need to learn to take down the drawbridge to the castle they’ve been working for years, yes take guest bloggers and so called ‘citizen journalism’ and embrace the best of what it can offer. It doesn’t undermine the profession – it also shows you understand the medium.
Paul Napier once said at another lecture ‘If I put a stethoscope around my neck it doesn’t make me a doctor’. True, but that doesn’t stop ordinary Joe Bloggs diagnosing and treating their own cold, or stiff muscles or relatively minor ailments. My point is most people can do some form of story telling on some level – take the work of People’s Voice Media and Talk About Local as examples.
Some bloggers equally need to get off their high horses and be aware there are some things only a skilled journalist can do – cover court, inquests, council meetings, do death knocks etc etc. They require training and specialist skills to be done properly.
Digital’s changing everything. We can’t afford to work is silos or see things in such black and white terms. We all ought to site down together and see how we can all work together in the future.
Follow the twitter hashtag #ldfwrite for tweets from the event.