David Ottewell, chief reporter of the Manchester Evening News, used his day off today to launch an attack on hyperlocal news websites on his MEN blog. He singled out Salford Star Online but didn’t mention any of the other half-dozen or so hyperlocal ventures currently publishing in Manchester. One wonders why not, given his claim that “they end up simply regurgitating press releases, or ripping off stories from local newspapers, because they are one-man bands run by amateurs”. If he believes this, then why not name and shame?
Unsurprisingly, fairly soon after he posted his blog, critical comments from hyperlocal journalists, including two by me, began to appear below Ottewell’s blog. Many hyperlocal news operations work hard. I know of none that rip off stories from local papers, although no doubt many use press releases where appropriate as a starting point for a story. We certainly do at Inside the M60, the hyperlocal venture I co-founded with my colleague Nigel Barlow earlier this year.
Surely Ottewell is not suggesting that the MEN never uses press releases? Pretty much all newspapers rely heavily on press releases for content these days, now that they are understaffed and experiencing severe financial pressures. Indeed, while the MEN has a good track record in digging out exclusives, a glance at the paper any day of the weeks shows that a lot of content does derive from press releases.
Ottewell also suggests hyperlocal sites shouldn’t commentate or editorialise. Why ever not? Every newspaper in the land has an editorial column and employs commenters to write opinion columns. Yet, for some absurd reason, he believes hyperlocals should not. Indeed, at Inside the M60 when we ran a comment piece on city council leader Sir Richard Leese accepting a police caution for assaulting his teenage step-daughter, we came under extraordinary attack on Twitter for commenting publicly on this and reminding readers that Leese had launched a zero-tolerance campaign against domestic violence three years earlier. We felt it was fair comment, sad as the situation was for Leese.
In fact, since even before we launched Inside the M60 officially at Easter, we have come under sustained attack from other local journalists who have used Twitter to call us names and question our fitness to find and publish local news. Many of those attacking us are not even direct rivals but working in quite different sectors of journalism. Do we really scare them so much?
But I digress – let’s go back to Ottewell. He had approved nine comments on his blog post by 3pm, including two from me. I replied a third time but my comment is, at time of writing (5pm), still awaiting approval.
In the interim, conversations on Twitter revealed at least seven other people had posted critical comments and were awaiting approval. David Ottewell appears, however, to have gone to ground.
Sarah Hartley, the Guardian’s Local Editor, got fed up waiting for her comment to appear, so blogged it on her own blog. So did my Inside the M60 partner, Nigel Barlow – you can read his reply to Ottewell on his own blog.
Journalism tutor and hyperlocal champion Paul Bradshaw, highly respected in the journalism sphere, tweeted his as yet unpublished comment: “I said “Don’t throw around vague generalisations to which the Salford Star is an exception. Name names.” ”
Just why has the MEN gone so silent? Surely it can handle a bit of criticism?
I shall, of course, update this blog post if the MEN ever does approve its backlog of comments on this…
*Edited to add that just as I posted, a rash of previously unpublished comments appeared on Ottewell’s blog.