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City news site hits back at claims over off-patch news

Jess BrammarA city news website has won national praise after hitting back at accusations that its coverage of off-patch stories does not constitute “real news.”

Birmingham Live has begun publishing an explainer box accompanying ‘trending stories’ it runs, which includes topics such as showbiz, television and celebrities.

The sister website of the Birmingham Mail says it has received some “common negative responses” about such stories, with examples including “this is nothing to do with Birmingham” and “nobody cares”.

The decision to run the explainer has already won praise from one national editor, HuffPost UK’s Jess Brammar, pictured.

The explainer box reads: “Every day, Birmingham Live’s award-winning journalists write a variety of articles – on everything from HS2 and city schools, to Aston Villa and Birmingham City FC, breaking crime incidents and live traffic and travel updates.

“But over the course of each of these days, Birmingham Live also writes stories on showbiz and television, well-known personalities, celebrities and popular figures.

“These stories – ‘trending’ stories – are often the sorts of articles which get social media talking, eliciting reaction across social media platforms, sparking debate and drawing response.

“Birmingham Live uses analytics to decide which stories we produce – and, while these articles are among the most popular among our most loyal readers, they can often receive negative feedback from social media.

“Among the most common negative responses we receive are ‘this is not real news’ or ‘this is not real journalism’. Another complaint might be ‘this is nothing to do with Birmingham’ or, ‘nobody cares’.

“In response to this, it is worth re-iterating Birmingham Live uses data to decide what we write about and where to place our resources. Trending stories are not just popular among social media users, but also massively popular in terms of our most regular visitors (users who spend 15 days a month visiting the Birmingham Live website).

“Trending news is different to other subjects we cover – be it crime, education, health, sport – but no less important to some readers, whose passions may lie in anything from Love Island and money-saving, to the latest Netflix true crime series or The Masked Singer (seriously, give it a chance, it may change your life).

“And while a story may not have geographically taken place in Birmingham, that absolutely does not mean the story does not resonate with our readers.

“Our stories are written by trained and experienced journalists, responding quickly to events. Since the very first edition of the Birmingham Mail, UK and World News has been a prominent feature.

“We will never stop doing so – and we’ll never apologise for serving our readers. We’ve got lots of local content in Midlands News, local food and drink in What’s On, news for families in Brummie Mummies and information tailored to your postcode through In Your Area.”

Birmingham Live’s decision to run the explainer has won praise from HuffPost UK editor-in-chief Jess Brammar.

Posting on Twitter, she wrote: “This is really interesting – Birmingham Live have inserted a box in their ‘trending stories’ (when they write up viral, social stuff) explaining why they do them, and answering the ‘it’s not news’ criticism.

“I think it’s a really sensible approach, explaining ourselves more to readers is a good thing.”

HTFP has approached Birmingham Live for further comment on the move.


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  • February 5, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    “Consider a quality Regional newspaper that becomes obsessed with optimisation targets. The executives receive data showing that shouty headlines and salacious stories lead to greater click-throughs and adverting, so start to push out more and more of these stories.

    Revenues rise and the market responds positively.Underneath however something else is going on.

    The website is losing credibility. The commitment to quality journalism is sidelined. This isn’t visible in the click-through data at least at first.

    Slowly the website is heading toward a tipping point.”

    Although used out of context, anyone who has spent any time on the Birmingham Live website will recognise the sentiment of Matthew Syed’s quote above.

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  • February 5, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Recently sat in on a uni lecture on using analytics by someone with a lot of experience of working on websites for the nationals – he gave the impression that a lot of time and effort in modern newsrooms is spent monitoring real-time charts and graphs of social media data and responding to it. Nothing like old school newsgathering – he made the job sound tedious and cut off from human contact.
    There is the problem that if every newsroom uses the same tools, they all end up chasing the same non-local stories. Also, ‘Log was not Loch Ness monster’ was one website’s most clicked story one year – not an achievement to be proud of.

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  • February 6, 2020 at 11:42 am

    I’m sure it is a great product with no reference to Greggs or Love Island or Celebrity Big Brother…
    Oh wait.
    But that’s not the point, you say. We can do both, it’s what the public want! Meanwhile over at the Huddersfield Examiner.

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  • February 6, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    This is exactly what’s happened with the daily paper where I am in the east.
    The editor and those responsible for content are only interested in click throughs even though they’re not being converted into revenue by the digital ad sales team.
    This short term gain might impress the number counters but the long term damage caused by this will have longer lasting implications.

    The public are picking up on the state of online posts often commenting on irrelevance,’non news stories’, inaccuracies, or the fact it’s clearly Click Bait, the result being the site loses all credibility as a local news provider and therefore becomes even less appealing to any potential advertiser.

    The lack of high quality truly local content will also ensure any future paywall plans are destined to fail as has already been seen in Huddersfield earlier this week.

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