It’s not often bloggers are offered the opportunity to have a look round a modern newsroom at a major regional paper, so when the Manchester Evening News announced it would host the latest meeting for Manchester’s blogging community it didn’t take long for the limited number of spaces available to be filled. The MEN recently moved into new premises in central Manchester and the newsroom is probably as up to date as can be.
Head of online editorial, Sarah Hartley, was our guide along with her colleague Helen Read – between them, they introduced the 15 or so of us to design chief Peter Devine, chief sub Paul Coates and assistant news editor Paul Gallagher, who each explained their role and showed us some practical stuff. The bloggers were a mixed bunch, with about half having a media background of some sort – the tour was a great opportunity to get up to speed on the latest newsroom developments – and half not, so for them it was probably a bit of an eye opener. I’ve not worked in a newsroom of any sort for the best part of two decades so it was interesting to see how things have changed.
MEN has become completely multimedia and the newsroom reflects that. The paper now has a TV channel called Channel M, which broadcasts from Manchester’s Urbis centre but also boasts a full-blown TV camera lurking among the desks for those urgent on-the-spot interviews with key staff journalists. Under Sarah Hartley’s guidance, MEN has incorporated plenty of Web 2.0 tools – the website boasts a healthy dedicated blog section, video and audio clips plus reader comments on top stories and other user-generated content such as photographs. Paul Gallagher stressed that Manchester’s bloggers often were useful sources for breaking news stories and it was clear that a strong two-way relationship was already developing between the newspaper and the city’s citizen journalists. Stories may, depending on the level of exclusivity, go in the print edition first or straight to web or TV.
Helen Read also showed us the cuttings library, a vital resource for any paper. The MEN is 140 years old so a majority of the older clippings have been transferred to microfilm (new ones of course being available digitally on the paper’s intranet) and complete back issues in storage off the premises. We saw a selection of front pages from across the decades. Those of us old enough to remember had a giggle at a 1980s budget cartoon of former Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe, above a headline that read “Tough times lie ahead”. No change there, then, with the newsroom’s TV screens blaring the latest BBC updates on the current global financial crisis.
Following the tour, we took over a meeting room and deputy editor Maria McGeoghan kicked off an informal discussion about the role of Web 2.0 in today’s press. MEN seems to have taken on board some of the harsh lessons learned by some national newspapers – The Guardian’s Comment is Free section is renowned for its bear-pit inhabited by lay commenters so MEN keeps a carefully moderated check on user comments at the foot of stories, while the Daily Mail’s recent experience of being Google-bombed by someone whose comments correcting a factual inaccuracy on a technology story were repeatedly blocked highlights the dangers of a newspaper refusing to engage in a dialogue with its readership. We had a lively debate about the pros and cons of moderating comments or not on blogs and the experience of a blogger who had been trolled for some time before blocking their harasser.
Sarah Hartley also gave us a preview of the MEN’s plans for covering the Labour Party conference in Manchester this weekend. MEN will not only be live-blogging the proceedings, but also be live-tweeting them on a dedicated Twitter channel, having learned from others’ experiences of live-casting that clogging up the Twittersphere on a personal feed can quickly annoy your followers if they are not interested in the topic (for the record, MEN has already experimented with a Twitter feed for its green news coverage). Ground-breaking stuff for politicos who want minute-by-minute coverage.
Afterwards, we retired to a nearby pub to network among ourselves and continue the discussions. This was not the first Manchester bloggers meet-up, but it was the first I’ve actually managed to attend. It’s great to be able to chat face-to-face with the people behind the blogs you follow, but MEN’s decision to throw its doors open and take that engagement a step further was a brave and exciting one – a great example of “old” media actively embracing the new and looking at ways to keep moving forward together in cyberspace. Congratulations and thanks are in order.