Write-Publish-Read at Leeds Digital Festival

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.

My thoughts

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.

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22 Responses to Write-Publish-Read at Leeds Digital Festival

  1. eleanorsnare says:

    Excellent write up John, and I completely agree with the ‘journo-bashing’ that may have accidentally (or not) occurred last night.

    We need to all work together to pool skills and resources, respect each others’ strengths, and maintain civil relationships between writers or generators of any news-based content, whether it’s online or in print. I don’t like calling myself a blogger and I would never call myself a journalist.

    Journalism (not ‘churnalism’) is still as aspirational goal for me and to hear it decried is bloody annoying. Journalists can be bloggers can be journalists, anyone can be PR- or marketing-led, everyone has some agenda, we are not somehow immune just because we can plonk ourselves down in front of Blogger or WordPress for half an hour every night.

    Will keep this rant short: great post, more journalist/bloggers like you are needed in the world, and more of us involved in digital need to stop believing we’re somehow ‘independent’ accept our bias as much as any print journalist.

  2. Mike Chitty says:

    Are bloggers more trusted than journalists? No, of course not. But few ask, or claim, to be trusted. Most offer a personal perspective on a kind of caveat emptor basis (or whatever that becomes when the buyer does not pay). People make their own judgements on a post by post basis. We know that what we get from the blogosphere has to be critically filtered and evaluated, perhaps more so than mainstream journalism.

    But, as consumers we also know that ‘mainstream’ reporting is subject to all sorts of lobbying and commercial pressures from other institutions in the city. It is hard to run a piece that might ruffle the feather of a major advertiser for example, or a major source of news stories…those of us that run our blogs and twitter accounts in general have much greater freedom to ‘speak as we find’.

    I remember having dinner several years back with a former YP editor and a former local authority Chief Exec and a senior chamber official talking about how critical mainstream reporting was to ‘getting the right messages out’ and how between them they shaped public opinion. These days public opinion can be shaped by all of us and it is not so easy to influence it by controlling a few editorial channels. The conversation is rich, diverse and dynamic.

    And I agree, the sooner we join in the conversation and learn from each other rather than point the finger while hissing and booing the better….

    So who is going to host the conversation? Anyone for an innovation lab?

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  4. Lee Hicken says:

    Great write up Mr Baron.

    Glad you enjoyed our presentations and like we said last night again we have so much love for you covering the UK Observing Diary for the Guardian back in the day and being a big part of the explosion of the project.

    I have similar feelings to you about last night. The ‘print bashing’ is a bit lame. Even though here at Hebe we all work digitally and have our blogs / platforms etc, we totally dig print. UK Observing Diary has signed a book deal and we are so excited about seeing our work in print! We are featuring Mick McCann’s book (print) on our LOL! platform, it can work both ways 🙂

    There is room for everything, just not how it has been in the past, things will change and right now there is an evolution taking place and every person / brand will find their right spot if they are smart enough.

    I thought last night showed we have some ace talent and cool projects here, I am really excited about the future and collaboration between projects will benefit everyone.

    Also I have big respect for the YEP for sponsoring the Digital Festival and great to see Mr Napier there at the event last night checking out what is going on with some of the cities digital projects.

  5. I thought the same and tweeted to that extent at the event – if anything to try and stick-up for journalists. I was sitting behind Mr Napier and really wanted him to contest some of what was being said.

    I work with bloggers, some are great and some aren’t (I work in PR). The same can be said for journalists. Even James Brown pulled out the cliché of journalists just rewriting press releases. Of course this happens, sometimes it’s because the press release is excellently written, other times its because of the constraints put on the journalist.

    I’m not directing this at anyone specific but if you blog for fun (you’re not paid or taking money from advertising or partnerships) then you have the kind of freedom that most journalists would kill for. I’ve only worked for one outlet (The Leeds Guide) and can say that having that as a job involved working to tight deadlines and keeping PRs happy as well as commercial partners.

    If you’ve not been to the news room of a regional paper or magazine I suggest you do. Sure you might see many names inside the paper but few of these are staff and sometimes the names are made up so the paper seems bigger. I don’t think I’ve ever met a journalist who is bound to their desk out of choice – they would love to be roving reporter – but in this day and age that freedom is rare.

    What I am glad for is that we have such a rich mix of talent, here in the UK and Leeds, providing great copy whether it’s printed in a daily paper or sent to smart phones. Congrats to EVERYONE involved.

  6. Stacey says:

    Great blog post John, it was an interesting evening indeed! I agree with eleanorsnare, working together is the key to moving forward and being successful, there is definitely still room for everything(Uk Observing Diary is a great example, it began on a Facebook page and has led to an offline book deal, reverse cycle) and the people who will truly benefit and move forward will be the ones who concentrate on working together and learning from each other, this is key. I must, from a personal point of view, also add that being positive is very important! Don’t bring people down, help them up 🙂 Loved being part of the event!

  7. I’m really short on time, but on a personal note I’d hope you’d not find me making them/us divisions about bloggers/journalists. The role of a journalist is one that’s worth interrogating further, and what I find increasingly interesting is my role in a city where I am held in trust to observe secrets sensitively and not act upon them at times. My sense of responsibility overides a desire to make a good headline.

    My gut feeling is the stronger the blogging community, the better for everyone, a slightly competitive media is good for everyone. We can keep each other on our toes, compliment each other, find our niches, light warm or hot fires. This does not have to be at the expense of anybody. We will find our audiences, or they us. Why does this have to come down to an old v new, print v digital?

    As for our blog and the people who write for us, we aim to create a flexible framework for everyone to share their passions, ask questions, be cheeky, but with a firm overtone of critical friendship, not diminishing the work or efforts of others.

    Maybe I’m naive but you get out of stuff what you put into it. Whether you are a blogger or journalist. It is in our interests to work together. I don’t put journalists on a pedestal, they are fellow human beings.

  8. Darren says:

    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.

    Firstly John, thanks for writing up the review of Write Publish Read, unfortunately, I missed the event because I am down in London for World Travel Market and last night was Travel BlogCamp which I organise — the topic of Journalists Vs Bloggers has gone on for as long as I have been blogging (over 6 years) and it has ALWAYS baffled me.

    It was a discussion that came up in 2008 at the first blogging event I organised and four year later it still seems to be something that comes up at various blogging events. I think Journalists and Bloggers have a lot of skills and experience that they can share and learn off each other. I have never understand the issues people have with journalists – if anything over the years they have helped me raise the profile of the content I publish.. (Thanks John!).

    I will tell you why I think there’s this ‘rift’ between newspapers/magazines, what I would call traditional media. The problem isn’t with journalists OR the publishers it is with the ADVERTISERS. Why? Because businesses still want to see their brand and pay lots of money for a full-page spread in a national newspaper or magazine (sorry, that is fish&chip newspaper tomorrow!) than spend their money on platforms like blogs, where they can much easily analyse how effective that ad has been, and judge that all important return on investment.

    I hope you do not mind me linking to this (remove if you do, I won’t mind!!) but this is some of the points that came out of the BlogCamp (specific to travel) and I bet some of the issues came up at the event in Leeds (more local).

    Sorry I’ve babbled on, but my advice to bloggers would be to WORK with journalists, not against them. As for the YEP, hopefully one day they will mention My Life in Leeds and how we are trying to promote Leeds to locals and tourists on a minimal marketing budget 😉

    I love what Beyond Gdn Leeds is doing locally, and how they have helped promote my writers conent, so thank you to you too 🙂

  9. Darren says:

    Sorry that first paragraph was supposed to come through as a quote from John’s piece 🙂

  10. Anita Morris says:

    This event was really interesting, mostly because each speaker’s case study was an illustration of the huge changes and everyday decisions that are being taken by everyone with a foot in the media. Many issues were raised but there wasn’t time last night to take them any further. The ‘mainstream’ media create paid employment and have a responsibility to their employees, yet this business aspect of the media was overlooked. Mike rightly points out that there is a relationship between advertiser and media organisation, yet the best journalists, working for quality media, don’t give a hoot about that – they care about the integrity of their story. It will be interesting to see how digital media writers deal with retaining independence, which was considered to be important to the integrity of several of last night’s speakers, at the same time as generating income through association with brands, which was suggested as a future revenue stream – editorial and advertising departments, all in one person. There’s no point trying to defend PR; anyone involved in the media understands the role of good PR workers and even the PR industry can’t run a campaign to change perceptions. One thing’s for sure, this is an exciting time to be working in the media – and that includes PR – and thanks to some ace collaborators behind the scenes, Leeds last night was at the heart of it.

  11. eleanorsnare says:

    Interesting point about advertising Darren, and glad that more people think it would be good for bloggers/journalists/the spectrum of writers to work together more concretely!

  12. bronchia says:

    There are also plenty of bloggers who feel bad about criticising things fully when they have got something for free, and plenty more who effectively regurgitate press releases and PR blurb. I can think of quite a few food and fashion blogs I have read recently (mostly not local blogs) that do one or both of these. Perhaps there is not that much difference between bad/compromised bloggers and bad/compromised print journalists? I certainly don’t see that much difference between the best print journalists and the best bloggers, and the very best examples engage in both.

  13. Mick McCann says:

    I think you’ve all missed the most important element of this blog. I’VE WRITTEN ANOTHER BOOK, woo-hooo. Where can I get a copy of ‘When Leeds Ruled The World’?

    Just messing, although as Leeds’s greatest ever author….ever, calling How Leeds Changed The World, ‘When Leeds Ruled The World’ seems akin to calling Da Vinci’s most famous work Moaning Rita but I won’t sulk for a week and a half with those of you who could have spotted it……you know who you are.

    Sorry to sully a genuinly fascinating discussion. Ooh but just to add, every single element of my books are done digitally, from the first word to cover design and most payments I get. I can print 1 book or a thousand at a time and the people who do it for me are planning it so books in shops are printed as you wait and therefore never out of stock.

    Anyway, sorry again, back to the discussion.

  14. Ian Briggs says:

    Hi all, just wanted to point out a couple of thoughts on back of last night and these comments.
    I realise the posts have been aimed at bloggers criticising print media, but I also wanted to stress the points I made in my talk comparing our growth in readers to papers’ decline wasn’t meant as a criticism, merely a fact.
    I actually believe papers and printed media have a huge role to play but it’s clear their future is one of evolution. Does this mean dailies going weekly, merging editorial teams etc? who knows? And my point was that papers need to clock onto the advantages of digital quickly as audiences are growing and there is money to be made.
    I felt it was important to talk about papers for background to give an idea of our growth. But I certainly agree with John B that to slag off print too readily is easy as they’re a soft target. Look at jimmy savile coverage in YEP this week for a paper at the heart of it’s community and one that knows what makes it’s readership tick and has great journalists getting to heart of the matter.
    Very briefly on journos, I did listen with interest to the comments about our profession. Just to put our skills in context, most of us gave undertaken at least three years taxing training which taught us many skills. It is frustrating when people seem to think it’s simply a case of slapping 500 words down on any old subject. There is a skill to writing a story, interviewing, note taking etc.
    Additionally I think we would all love to do loads of in-depth features and investigations but if we did that all the time at TBD.COM readers would never receive what they have signed up for- relevant business news. However, we do set the agenda, use our contacts to get exclusives etc. But one can’t ignore the important role PR industry plays for helping us get the key info out.
    Advertising v editorial is another issue but suffice it to say we will run a negative tale, even if that company is advertising with us. However, we do work closely with businesses to help promote them but make sure editorial integrity is distinguished from blatant adverts.
    I could go on but won’t. Thanks for listening and I’ll sign off by saying there is space for us all!

  15. Thank you for your comments and thoughts – keep them coming. Found last night to be a really interesting event with some great speakers.

    Also, just wanted to congratulate all the bloggers who’ve made the shortlist for the Digitally Leeds awards http://www.digitallyleeds.com/awards/awards.html

  16. TQS says:

    I didn’t attend this event but after reading this blog post and the comments I wish I did. I’m fascinated by the relationship between journos and bloggers (and also PRs).

    I am not a good a writer as 95% of journalists, I admit that and so should a great deal of other bloggers. I get incredibly frustrated by bloggers who can barely string a sentence together and then cry murder when they’re criticized. However, I’m equally frustrated by journos who dismiss bloggers as utter morons.

    I look up to and respect journalists, their tool is the written word and all bloggers should at least to some extent aspire to that. I’m saddened by the amount of blogs that are clearly set up to ‘get free stuff’. That’s not what blogging’s about.

    On the flip side, whilst they have technical training, we tend to have a better grasp of online communication which is ultimately where things are going (as John points out, just look at the Guardian’s fantastic web presence). So some sort of symbiotic relationship needs to develop before the chasm grows and divides us irrevocably. This wont happen overnight and requires effort from parties but hey, I’m optimistic.


  17. Mark O'Brien says:

    As one of the elephants in the room (not a joke about my size!) who is guilty of some of that perceived “print bashing” and more besides last night, I ought to raise my head. I spoke poorly last night, I’m the first to admit – I have a habit of thinking of a thousand things to say, writing them down, and then trying to spout them all out without much more brainwork in the process.

    I teased when I characterised most journalism as ‘crap’ (having explained how I’ve spent my formative years eager to be one, I’m sure that’s appreciated). Just as James Brown himself was teasing when he said much the same about journalism today being advertising copy rehashed and regurgitated.

    But I do believe we face serious risks by bringing journalists and PRs (and of course bloggers) into the same tight network of people. Voices in the media have to be much more diverse, not merely belonging to a clique of interested people who read and talk about each other’s work at the expense of so many more other people with a story worth telling. Many reporters and many bloggers do a great job at telling these stories too, but if media or digital or PR or any other group of people in Leeds become a “scene”, then there’s a risk we start to become mere back-slappers writing about ourselves and our own lifestyles, getting the same stories from the same well-connected sources, and failing to bring other voices into the fold. I have a lot of respect for all the people who’ve commented on this post and the writer himself, despite only knowing some of them by name and vocation. Yet only a dozen or so committed people in the same network have commented. My question is, where are the 700,000 others in Leeds? Where are their voices?

    The journo-blogger dichotomy in the discussion on this thread is just as frustrating to me (and I should bear some of the blame for fostering that with the tone of my comments last night). I don’t see it as a match-up between bloggers and journalists, amateurs and professionals, or in any other such convenient terms. The online space to me is not a place to try and be better than or do one over on journalists. Perhaps this is just as pretentious, but I see it as a platform not only for a different kind of journalism but for a different kind of literature entirely.

    The blogosphere presents an entirely different form of literature, and probably the most democratic we’ve ever come up with. That’s not print-bashing; that’s recognising the incredible potential in our hands. That’s exactly what I mean when I say the online space gives us the chance to tell different stories. It’s not snobbery, it’s not print-bashing in the slightest – it’s realising our potential.

    But again, whether or not you agree with any part of this, many thanks for your time.

  18. Andy says:

    I too didn’t attend this event and wish I had now. It’s easy for bloggers to bash print journalists. I think the problem is the bad journalists (mainly in the tabloid press) unfortunately tar the whole profession with their brush. I’ve read a lot of good well researched journalism in the past. The top of the pile has to be John Simpson of the BBC. His books and articles are engaging, factual and although dice with opinion a bit still present the facts in a reasonably balanced way. Another excellent read is Gavin Hewitt. The Guardian is good for offering comments on articles, so people can point out any factual inaccuracies. In my view that encourages Guardian journalists to properly research their facts, as rebuttal is that much easier on the comments. The tabloids don’t seem to care if their articles are accurate or not as long as copies sell.

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  20. Hello

    Thank you for the informative write up and comment!

    When I started my business in May 2011, I didn’t have a Twitter account, knew no ‘bloggers’ or their sites (or what they actually did) and thought that the way to get the company name ‘out there’ was in print. I was told and read that newspapers and magazines – not blogspots – were the best way to go to get publicity, reviews, etc. as they were more ‘trusted’ and ‘reliable’. I have certainly learned more since then! I have met both journalists and ‘bloggers’, have a Twitter account, participate in on line formums, read both print and on line and generally am much more aware and ‘enlightened’ as to what is happening (or has happened) in Leeds.

    In today’s world people now have a choice as to how they want to obtain their information and news. Not all forms work for one person (i.e. some people digest info on the phone or via a web better than a sitting down and reading a newspaper). It is no longer a single media world; we are fortunate to be able to access all forms. I do belive that those who take an active role in providing that information – be it a journalist or blogger – should convey it in a responsible way. Information is powerful, even more so if you are providing/’pushing it out’ than just reading/’pulling it in’.

    Many thanks to Beyond Guardian Leeds for providing this information and the ability to comment on it!

    Alleyne Oman
    Fayre by Alley

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