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Josh Halliday at #bfong blogging to success

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Josh started out on an NCTJ accredited course at Sunderland University, Graduated in June and two weeks later started working at the Guardian.

He was looking for new ideas in journalism when he found the Tomorrows News Tomorrows Journalists forum on, it was all full of American students talking about branding, rather daunting to a lad from Bradford.

“It was a brave new world. Something that wouldn’t be discussed on my degree, so local news focused.”

Josh was reading about personal branding and found “it was more about your name”.

“When you think about how many people graduate a year you have to do something to get ahead.
“From there I flung myself into it. I wasn’t an early adopter. Went on Twitter in December 2008, found myself blogging about journalism education.”

Josh set up a European-wide chat about journalism education, only interesting to “five geeky people” in the US and Europe.
He started blogging from there, ingratiating into the right circles and finding people in the realm of media and technology.

“From there you get talking to people who wouldn’t usually give an undergraduate the time of day.
“To talk to someone like Matt Wells from The Guardian, it was unbelievable. As a foot on the ladder it was like nothing else you’ll come across.
” I was lucky to graduate at a time when Twitter was adopted by people working in newspapers.”

Towards the end of his degree Josh set up a hyperlocal website SR2 blog, as his final project.
Going out and meeting people Josh learned more than he did in the classroom.

“Meeting people, having conversations with people was so much more interesting.”

Through the SR2 blog he found people weren’t getting the local coverage from their local paper.
However, Josh had to print out copies of stories and take them to meetings as many people weren’t online.

Josh didn’t know what he was going to do after university, but was invited down to The Guardian and took part in a student podcast. Then he was invited on a tour. Then he was invited down again and was told it would be more formal.
When he arrived he found he was in a job interview and didn’t know what the job was.

He was asked what two questions he would ask Steve Jobs, and ended up being offered a job.
Was so flustered he can’t remember what the question was.
Josh said The Guardian had cut back too much and hired half a reporter in him.

The secret is:

“Work hard, have no friends and do as much extra curricular stuff you can do, particularly your own journalism.
“Anyone can work for the university paper, but setting up on your own, writing news for people who matter is so much better.
“University news is so Teflon-wrapped there’s so much more from real news.”

Josh Halliday at Brighton Future of News Group

Assange live blog

Josh had been up working since 7.30am and was shaking, but the buzz of running the live blog, hearing the news breaking and putting it out was amazing.

Wikileaks Cables

Searching through the cables can lead to great stories.

” It’s a goldmine, there are stories at every turn.”

“The way the news has covered them there are stories which would have terrible ramifications for countries which would have been back in the paper were dominating the news agenda for the first 12 pages of the paper.”

How does doing a live blog differ from normal news stories? Is there a weakness?

“It’s captivating. It doesn’t take any stories away from the paper. The live blog is done by someone who isn’t writing the story.

“It’s a genuine snapshot of a moment in time. It shows when something came out to the rest of the world. Now you know the time.

“If we didn’t do it everyone else would do it. Can’t be seen to be a step behind on a story.”

Is there a downside with people expecting stories to be broken by Twitter and live blogs. There’s a competition to break it, it’s so intense.

“There is room for it to develop, but it won’t calm down yet. Can see with the Yeates story, it may have ruined the landlord’s life. That didn’t happen because of the internet but it’s the demand of the newsdesk.
It will reach a tipping point that went too far, where no one considers the laws of libel or contempt.”

Legal and live blog

“First thing I asked was where’s the McNaes? Always run something past a senior. It’s hard when the Twitter stream is on one side and the CMS is on the other.

“Screen grabs are a worry.

How do you pick up a live blog when there’s so much information around?

“The Guardian loves its live blogs, but investigations are close to the knuckle. Even broadsheets can be full of innuendo.”

Live blog in house software or do you prefer off the shelf like Scribblelive or CIL?

“Don’t think off the shelf with community would work with investigations.

“For G20 or student protest? Can be just noise, but you could be letting in one in every 50. The way it works now, particularly with the football live blogs there’s a great deal of reader interaction.”

How did he set up his own blog?

No advertising just social media. Sunderland page on Facebook with 70,000 fans. It out-performed the local paper every day. Got into the group and that helped spread the word. Just set up in WordPress.
Have to be patient.
SR2 blog was about 900 unique user a month for quite a small patch. Quite a few uus from the Sunderland Echo building.”

How did you define your patch? Why 1 1/2 square miles and not the county or town?

Looked to see “what is SR2?” Made it quite difficult for elections, but that was a good thing. It was four or five council wards and ended up being split between two parliamentary constituencies. It was a bit slap dash start up, just jumped into it one day in two hours.
Came up with the name and then SR2 blog became the brand, the concept and the audience.
Tried to do as much off-diary stuff as possible. Used council RSS feeds, used advanced Google search to find the background and history. Information the Echo reporters didn’t have time to find.

Why weren’t people on your course interested in local news?

“Quite a few people wanted to be entertainment writers, sports, the next Charlie Brooker. No one wanted to be a local news reporter.
Most people on the course were from the north east, thought they would be interested in the local area.
No one wanted to be involved in the uni mag. Most don’t have jobs now. Most don’t want to start at the bottom of the ladder.”

How did you find out how popular stories were?

Just used Google analytics. Saw enough to see what was going on each day.

Frank Le Duc: “Google analytic now shows you right down to the stories.”
Richard Gurner also has a wordpress plug in with Google analytics and WordPress stats.

Is hyperlocal the future of news for regional reporting?

“I would love to think so. It’s the best option for the punter on the street, but there should be more working together between the regional BBC, universities and local newspapers.”
Never seen any fruit from talk of local media coming together.
The future is networked journalism, but who knows.”

Wanted to work more closely with Sunderland Echo, had a great relationship with Lee Hall working on maps etc. but it didn’t happen higher up.

Paula O’Shea, Brighton Journalists Works, “All trainees have a patch and will be reporting for The Argus, where should they start”?

Sunderland Police had neighbourhood areas. It’s a goldmine for stories. Everything there is reportable. When Josh went there were half a dozen pensioners in a church hall and a couple of coppers, “brilliant stories with tips and leads you can chase up.”

Build a reputation with chief of police for the area. In Sunderland the chief would do crime breakdown to street level and Josh would pinpoint on a map. Police are a wealth of information.

How did police press office feel about the map?

Boss knew Josh was doing it. Wasn’t being revolutionary, police knew he was going along to meetings as a person/journalism. Did it for months without complaints.

When police crackdowns didn’t work officers would talk about it. It was down to personal relationships. One thing you don’t get taught is how to have a conversation and get on with them without seeming to be trying to get a story out of them.

RG – Pressures meant couldn’t get out and felt didn’t go enough getting out and about and meeting people. It is a key reason to be a journalist to meet people. A priviledge to enter peoples lives during stressful or funny times.

Rich Waghorn asked via Twitter about keeping SR2 blog going

Changes in personnel at the university, a new job and a multitude of pressures meant it hasn’t survived.

Changing style for audience?

Now he writes about gadgets he, his friends and people he used to write for could never afford.

“To do good technology reporting is to know how it impacts peoples lives not how it influences other tech companies. Write for people.”

Compare to SR2 blog, Hendon is an area of deprivation, former shipyards. Terrible live expectancy, unemployment and crime. On the other side was a middle class Conservative area.
Didn’t see Echo reporters because they weren’t working on a patch, cut back so much just too much.
Sunderland Echo has a massive patch up to Durham and Northumberland.

Reporters want to do the best they can. How often do they get out of the office?

Tips for blog

Search for area and find questions about dry cleaners. If you can answer that question then they come back.

Just talk to people, get to know people. Follow up stories in the paper by adding something new.

How did he get into the election count?

Made friends with candidates and got an invitation from the local Labour Party. Sunderland Central is the first place to declare and Josh was desperate to be the first to report it. BBC with big cameras, Josh with his little Flip cam. He could see the lead and was Tweeting the information.

Greg Hadfield, admires Josh for joining The Guardian having followed his career and asks Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Would love to be a local reporter, working in an area he loves reporting about an area.

Greg Hadfield: “One of the most interesting time of my life was on local newspapers. Leading campaign for Brighton and Hove to become an open data city in the UK.

“If Brighton and Hove can become an open data city then we would have the bedrock of information and data to lead local journalism.
“Leave My Society and get journalism built around the data with the police, council, buses etc. ”

Have the energy of local journalism “the most satisfying journalism in the world”, but lead the active citizens.

“Brighton is the grooviest place in the UK.” Greg Hadfield

Future of papers and digital?

Papers stay around but the digital develops. Habits are shifting.

People still enjoy reading a paper. Can read more widely.

RSS Reader?

Josh uses Google Reader, follows a range of tech, media, What Do They Know and Leeds United.

Guardian still shows the whole story on RSS feeds.

Agreed by the working journalists use Google Alerts and RSS feeds.

Get asked how to get into journalism. Would you have got your job without your degree?

“I knew what I wanted to do. Enjoyed English and sociology and wanted to be a journalist. It was the bedrock but didn’t prepare you for the full-on experience of working in a newspaper.”

People can get in without but not sure how.
Would you have been doing what you were doing without the degree or were your credentials needed|?

“Guardian needed me to be as much of a reporter as possible. Needed me to be able to write a story and ring people up, not something a music graduate would be able to do.”

Blogs have grabbed Alan Rusbridger’s attention such as Dan Sabbagh’s Beehive City.


Written by Sarah Booker Lewis

January 17, 2011 at 8:25 pm

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