Hyperlocal war breaks out in Manchester

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.” ”

Also still awaiting comment approval are @Journopig, @philipjohn and @JosephStash (for the 2nd time).

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.

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13 thoughts on “Hyperlocal war breaks out in Manchester”

  1. I’d just like to add too, that if the MEN wants to accuse hyperlocals of ripping off content, they should beware that old adage about people who live in glass houses.

    MEN has adopted using Cover It Live software for instant reportage. It’s a useful app for live-blogging as you can embed it into a webpage and then use it to aggregate content. A good example of this is the way MEN keeps readers informed of rolling traffic news – if you tweet using a particular hashtag on Twitter, MEN can pull in your traffic comments and add them to the general information on the current state of the roads.

    However, it’s considered polite when live-blogging events to ask other tweeters for permission to include their Twitter feed in a Cover It Live blog. Not so long ago, my colleague Nigel Barlow covered a council meeting on Twitter and was rather shocked to see his tweets being aggregated on MEN’s live-blog, especially as their own reporters wasn’t tweeting very much and it made Nigel look as though he was covering the meeting for MEN rather than Inside the M60. Needless to say, they hadn’t asked Nigel for permission to aggregate his tweets.

    While it’s true that tweets are in the public domain, in the sense that anyone can read them unless you lock your Twitter page, copyright still rests with the tweeter and permission ought to be sought before repurposing them.

    At Inside the M60, we’d probably be pleased if the MEN wanted to use our tweets when aggregating coverage, but we would like to be asked first and we’d like credit to be given where it’s due. A simple line of thanks on a live-blog costs nothing but generates goodwill ap0lenty.

    And, for the record, Inside the M60 has never ripped off a story from the MEN.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Hyperlocal war breaks out in Manchester | Here's the Kicker -- Topsy.com

  3. Pingback: links for 2010-06-18 « Sarah Hartley

  4. And, at risk of sounding completely unhinged, David Higgerson also blogged today with some interesting commentary here

    I’d swear in a court of law that the comments in the middle about my Twitter response were not in the original version, although I can’t prove it. Just that when I first posted a comment to Higgerson’s blog, it was a general one about the timeline of unfolding events. And when I returned later to see if if my comment had been approved, I then noticed the insertion about my apparently “thoughtless” assumptions…

  5. Pingback: What Twitter can often lack is a sense of proportion | David Higgerson

  6. Hi Louise,
    Just to be clear, I didn’t describe your comments as thoughtless, I described Sarah’s as thoughtful.
    A lot of assumptions were made about why the comments weren’t being published and there were two areas I wanted to cover in my blog post:
    1. That it’s totally unrealistic to expect a blogger to moderate comments around the clock, so a delay has to be expected (and we should be able to cope with that)
    2. A bit of fact checking could have prevented some of the assumptions which were made that there was something more sinister at play than someone simply having more to do than check comments all the time.

    Hopefully, the fact the comments have been published in full, replied to and even blogged about by David show that, regardless of what people think about his thoughts, he’s an excellent blogger.

  7. David, sorry but there was a clear implication in your blog that I’d been rash and thoughtless. It may have appeared that way but believe me, I had given it a great deal of thought, in between writing up a couple of stories for Inside the M60, finishing the editing of a book on investment banking and invoicing a client. I was busy and exercised but as my previous comments on David’s blog had been approved more or less in seconds I genuinely couldn’t help but wonder if something else was afoot – my 3rd comment flagged up that the MEN had behaved a tad unethically in using our tweets on their site without permission (and it’s not escaped our attention that no one at MEN has yet answered this) and it did rather look as if I might possibly be being censored.

    Then it began to emerge on Twitter that others were also waiting for comments to be approved. Was this a case of David or the MEN deciding not to publish any more comments or was it just, as turned out to be the case, that David had stepped away for a bit? And when someone’s said they’re on a day off (and so might well have time to be at the PC) and has previously approved comments instantly it’s no surprise that people began to ask questions.

    As I’ve already said, I did tweet @MENnewsdesk to ask what was going on. I got no reply. I certainly didn’t have the time to phone up and be passed around from one desk to another in the hope someone could answer my question, as I have no idea who’s in charge of issues like comment moderation at MEN.

    That aside (and I agree that generally one shouldn’t expect bloggers to be moderating around the clock), the bigger issue of concern to me is the constant sniping from some quarters of Greater Manchester’s media community at hyperlocals. In particular, Inside the M60. This is not the first time a journalist has blogged about Manchester hyperlocals and refused to name their target(s). Frankly, it’s really tiresome for us, especially as the detractors are not generally covering the same territory as us. Tweeting as @InsidetheM60, we asked one of those people to let us get on with our job as we were letting them.Their reply? “Disgraceful!”, as if we had no right to even respond to the barrage of borderline abuse we have had.

    So perhaps you can try to understand why we are utterly fed up with this whole debate. The media landscape has changed, as you are well aware, yet there still seem to be many who don’t want to accept this and come to terms with it. Like the person who commented on your blog post about “bolshy bloggers” – it’s pathetic to resort to such playground retorts. That commenter has already blogged an attack on Inside the M60, again without naming, and continues to pick on us. Why I have no idea, it’s not as if we are rivals to each other. I have no problem with being called bolshy but being called a bolshy blogger when I’ve been in the trade for 32 years and was probably earning a living writing long before they were is insulting to say the least. I may not have much local reporting experience, having worked largely in features or subbing during my career, but that doesn’t mean I or my colleague shouldn’t set up a hyperlocal venture, or defend hyperlocal news when it comes under attack.

    I’m never going to agree with David, or you either probably, even though I agree he’s a good writer.

    But I really do think it’s time all journalists moved on from this kind of childish insult and accusation hurling. Hyperlocal is not going to go away – papers like the MEN would do well to accept and learn to work with hyperlocal reporters to mutual advantage.

  8. There’s probably a lot we agree on regards local media and hyperlocals. But I still think if you’re going to suggest that comments are being withheld as some form of censorship, or that someone has gone to ground, the responsibility is with the writer to make sure you’ve done all you can to check your facts.

    Your point here I also agree with:
    “But I really do think it’s time all journalists moved on from this kind of childish insult and accusation hurling.’

    That’s a two way street, I believe – and the allegations about press releases, while true in some quarters, don’t help the relationship building that a growing number of journalists want to happen.

    It’s a shame you’ve been on the receiving end of the abuse you have had – but as you said to me on my blog, it hasn’t come from the MEN, so it does feel that someone who was simply expressing an opinion (and speaking in support of the Salford Star) got a kicking on behalf of previously-made comments.

    From discussions like this, a lot of common ground often emerges, and I think we’re seeing that already.

  9. David, I think it was pretty clear soon after that I’d corrected my initial impression as to why David O had not published later comments on his blog. I updated within about three minutes of posting to say so. The alternative would have been to go back and redact my post, which then would have no doubt brought out all the conspiracy theorists saying “She’s gone back and altered it” and probably waved around screenshots to boot.

    I’d like to finish this discussion on here by saying I’m glad you agree that the insult hurling has to stop, and just add that mainstream media probably shouldn’t start it. It bothers me a lot that David O thinks it fine to accuse hyperlocals of ripping off stories or using press releases but refuses to name offenders (and may I just remind that a number of people said he should). As others have pointed out, it tars many hyperlocals with a brush that is unfair on them.

    Press release use is so widespread in mainstream media, it has its own noun, “churnalism”, books have been written about it and there are media blogs devoted to it. When the papers stop churning, then and only then can they point to hyperlocals and say “stop using press releases”…

    If the relationship building we’ve both mentioned is going to happen then journalists blogging on their newspaper website should be much more careful about how they describe their impressions.

  10. Surely the whole point of the discussion started by Sarah Hartley is that the person who posts a blog can’t control the flow of the debate. You sought to create a conspiracy on Twitter, then wrote a blog post with a sensationalist headline (it’s not hyperlocal wars, it’s a blog post about the personal experience of one person), and then refuse to correct your claims that someone had gone to ground rather than post comments. As has been said elsewhere, you could have tried harder to find out what was happening. There’s no point telling mainstream media to behave if you’re not prepared to play by the rules yourself. It’s a wonder they’ve given you so much time as it is. And it’s a shame that in the comment piece on Leese, you didn’t report on who broke the story. Never mind, the sensible debate moves on elsewhere.

  11. I did NOT seek to “create a conspiracy”, as you put it. I was expressing my frustration in the heat of the moment and, as I have already said in my comments here, I did wonder if I had been censored because I criticised the MEN for repurposing our tweets without permission when they live-blogged a council meeting, something no one there has still replied to even though Ottewell thought it was acceptab;e to accuse hyperlocals of ripping off content.

    My claim IS corrected – it’s there at the bottom of my post and as I’ve said several times, here and elsewhere, the correction was posted within three minutes of publishing my blog.

    As for the Leese story, it was a comment piece on our view of his situation. It would have been irrelevant to mention who broke the story, that’s not how comment pieces usually work. In news stories, we do give credit where due if we refer to other media’s work – see our recent story on Piccadilly, for example, where we reference comments given by Richard Leese to the BBC.

    I’m closing comments on here now, as David Higgerson has done on his blog and for the same reason. It’s no longer a constructive discussion – David Ottewell sought to open up a debate on hyperlocal news, which I absolutely welcome even though I largely disagree with him. Unfortunately, it’s descended into lurid accusations about conspiracy theories and “he said, she said”, which is not helpful to anyone.

  12. Pingback: Whatever you think hyperlocal is, you’re wrong — Journal Local

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