Directors' blog

Links, thoughts and updates from the directors of Dim Sum Digital.

Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Local news and the BBC’s local democracy reporting – an update

leave a comment

For the first trip out of the office this year, I went along to the latest of the BBC’s ‘hyperlocal forum’ events today. It was the latest in the series of get togethers looking at how what’s being called a Local Democracy Reporting scheme, funded by the BBC licence fee, will operate across mainland UK.

A total of 150 reporters will be released into the world to report on decision making at top-tier councils in selected areas. Their reporting will be shared out (for free) to all participating news organisations in a move that’s intended to plug the democratic deficit that’s been left by local newspaper closures and constrictions.

The plans have evolved quite considerably since the event I attended last year – there’s even been ‘editorial trials’ in some areas – and the recruitment of the reporters is imminent (first half of this year).

If I go back to the earlier mentions of this scheme, there was some optimism that this would finally unleash a revenue source for those hard-working independents who have been plugging away reporting from their local authorities, often for no financial reward. But the way the scheme has been shaped is unlikely to deliver on that.

In order to effectively manage the contracts that will be needed to run the scheme, the BBC has divided the country into patches which reflect their own local news operations. Within those, they have then ‘bundled’ the local councils which need covering and assigned a suggested number of reporters to each of the contracts to be awarded.

As an example, in my home area, the North East, there will be money for 8 reporters (£34k per contract) across a huge geography of Tyneside, Wearside, Durham and Teesside.

Digging into the ‘bundle’ that covers my area (defined by the Beeb as Teesside) there will be just 2 reporters to cover the (vastly different and distant from each other) local authorities in Durham, Darlington and North Yorkshire.

I can’t think of a single independent news service which strives to cover such a large patch, so the only potential bidder would seem to be the established local Newsquest-owned paper. New entrants are considered ineligible – only news providers already up and running will be considered.

Given that similar situations will apply to many (possibly all) places as most independent publishers generally cover a small geography in a deep way), it’s hard to see where the opportunity to bid for these contracts will occur.

There was some disappointment about that situation expressed in the room today, alongside an understanding for the BBC’s position in attempting to find a way forward in managing this scheme in a reasonable, cost-effective way.

One possibility is that, in areas where there is a hyperlocal already operating, there could be some sort of joint bid with the local newspaper to cover these large patches.

The consultation is still running with the BBC continuing to talk with people about different ways of running the scheme and it will soon be put out to the industry with invitations to bid for the contracts.

Written by sarahhartley

January 9th, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Journos in Turkey start new English service from Istanbul

leave a comment

Sometimes social media can give you a bit of a jolt. And so it was this morning when Facebook memories offered this picture in my stream.


MADE class of 2012

A standard class lineup shot it maybe, but behind the smiles to camera is a moment in time which is also a poignant reminder in these days of ‘post truth’ media, Brexit and Trumpism of the dangers that still face journalists around the world.

The picture was taken to mark the end of a course for entrepreneurial journalists in Istanbul as part of the Media and Digital Enterprise* team led by Dr Francois Nel from UCLan.

Earlier that week some of us had gone down to the street below our rented apartment to see the crowds of thousands take part in a peace march (on a route which included going past the Russian Embassy) to protest about Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.


One of the reasons the course took place in the Turkish city was due to the fact that journalists in that country faced so many difficulties and, even then, unhappily earned recognition for having the most jailed journalists in the developed world. None of us could have imagined how much worse that situation was actually going to get……..

Against this backdrop it was heartening to discover this morning that some of those journalists we were lucky to meet there (along with others from across the city) are determinedly carrying on their important work and getting the news out to a wider audience in the world by publishing this regular Twitter stream in English.

Called JournosInTurkey (follow @JournosInTurkey) it offers English tweets by @Ben_Gazeteciyim, a group of journalists from Turkey for solidarity. They only started a month ago.

Well worth a follow if you are interested in news reporting from that part of the world by journalists on the ground.

* Thanks as ever due to the International Press Institute and Google for their support of the work we were able to carry out there.

Written by sarahhartley

October 14th, 2016 at 9:43 am

The BBC and more on those 150 public service reporters

leave a comment

Deliberately piggy-backing on the hyperlocal consultation, the BBC also used yesterday’s event to update people on its post-Charter Review progress on how the corporation might better interact with local news providers of all shapes and flavours.

The discussion picked up in many of the subjects raised at the first hyperlocal forum held in Birmingham last year and Matthew Barraclough was able to update the attendees on the draft consultation plans currently under construction.

Much has been written about the plans – eg. this and this - but generally from the viewpoint of the mainstream news groups and so this event provided an opportunity for the independent sector to feed in their comments and questions.

Sadly the one hour allocated to the update probably wasn’t sufficient as just about everyone in the room wanted more detail but Matthew said he is open to hearing from people via his Twitter @M_R_Barra or by email. The plans have to be firmed up by the end of this year and the hope is to start work early in 2017 – although that intention maybe set back until Ofcom are fully in place in the spring.

Notes taken during the Q and A are below and I’ll update this blog with more as detail and discussion update.

150 reporters scheme

Will be focussed on top tier of local authorities ie. metropolitan and maybe county councils.

Unitary bodies and not down to district/parish level.

Intention is to demonstrate more value no intention to cover courts now – reason; BBC doesn’t carry much low level court reporting at present and so wouldn’t intend to expand into that area

primarily text based but with some provision for mobile phone footage

resulting coverage would be basic and publishable but more of a foundation story than a finished product (think PA wire)

being made freely available to ‘qualifying’ local news organisations

bbc will fund it partner news orgs will employ the reporters NOT the BBC

hard deadline of news years eve for plan in place. would then depend on whether consultation was required as OFCOM coming on board

contracts to employ a named individual only, via a company. NOT a contract for an organisation who then assigns individiual reporters eg. rota

might not be entirely just the councils, could be other elements of council activity or event quagos and leps

licensing issues unclear


Giving away content for re-use
gobe to BBC research people to
managed access
online only
searchable and downloadable
identified as coming from the bbc
hoping to be tagged to where/when for useage
control access on where and when from area

Data Hub

Idea to work with partners in industry or maybe academics
Create central data hub
where and how big it is still tbd
Waiting for some of the consultation over BBC new data consultation

Written by sarahhartley

July 27th, 2016 at 7:20 am

Has the time come for a hyperlocal representative body?

leave a comment

Should the hyperlocal sector have a representative body? If so, what would it do?

Discussions for the day…

That’s the crux of the issue which saw representatives from independent news publish, academics, the BBC and others gather today at a Centre for Community Journalism event held at Cardiff University.

The consultation follows on from various discussions, online debates and a survey carried out by the Centre to tease out the issues.

On the face of it, there would seem to be strong support for the idea of such an organisation – afterall, 94.6% of those who were surveyed thought it would be a good idea. However, there were only 56 respondents in the survey so, in a vast ‘sector’ which ranges from people who publish parish newsletters to those who make a living and employ staff in professional publishing, there are undoubtedly many voices as yet unheard.

On a personal level I remain open-minded about the proposal. Only last week, I was asked by someone starting out with a publishing venture if there was such a group, and it’s a question I often heard when working at Talk About Local. It would appear on that anecdotal evidence alone there’s a desire, at some level, for some sort of collective action.

On the other hand, many have come at this question before and nothing has stuck despite good intentions and technological savvy – remember the Hyperlocal Alliance anyone? In a world of self-organising forces, it seems somewhat counter-intuitive and therefore the ultimate purpose of any such group would have to be carefully framed in order to be both inclusive while also being credible enough to bring weight to bear in a very disparate environment across the entire UK. Is that a feasible ambition? Love to hear your thoughts on that below……………..

Those convening today’s event were at pains to ensure that any move isn’t an attempt to force its way out from under the auspices of the Community Journalism Centre, but, they urge, the exact structure, governance and make-up should be drawn from, and run by, practitioners.

I’ve pasted my random notes from the session in full below covering the main headings discussed.

The next stage for this consultation is for the Centre for Community Journalism to produce a two page brief for circulation and comment. That could well result in a funding bid being submitted to a body eg. Lottery in order to scope out the exact structure and remit for the organisation going forward.

I will update this blog with any further information as it emerges and would recommend keeping tabs on the @c4cj Twitterstream too.

56 hyperlocals responded

94.6% wanted body of representation

Few of the findings (full slide deck below)
11% interested in collective ad selling
advocacy 11%
press agency 9.8%
expert advice call centre 7.5%

#C4CJconsultation from C4CJ
Primary purpose for organisation
Is ‘hyperlocal’ the correct term? Maybe independent community news network would be better?
Centre for Community Journalism in a position to help as has funding until 2018 including office premises and staff.
Big Lottery funding?
Could include a network of academics who regularly submit to gov calls and white papers but don’t forsee a paid lobbyist in Westminster
Instead, a lower level of lobbying. national assemblies, bbc etc.
“unless it comes from the industry, it’s on shaky ground to start with” – wise words from Simon Perry (@OntheWight)
University has some experience of not-for-profits as well

Membership criteria
Should there be two tiers/columns? – everyone with an interest and then commercially motivated organisations
A supporter tier? Supporter or practitioner? practitioner members would get extras eg. access to forum where topics can be discussed
Looking at retrieving funding to undertake scoping work into suitable constitutions
2 page scoping document to be produced for people to react to
Free-to-join membership
Needs to be clear it’s uk wide
Funding to come from other sources
Training for professionalisation
News and information includes features/soft
Advertising – scoping work needed to establish metrics, whether human or technical solutions, quality issues.
Mentoring scheme/buddy system?

smaller/regional events and big national conferences

Primary function
creating more jobs for journalists and better journalism
statement of intent for sector – what is the sector?

What could it achieve?
sense of belonging/community
changes in law and processes eg. commissioning of statutory notices
bring in more money to the sector
showcase for innovation and experimental business models
seed funding which could help both business and society

How would it operate?
steering group of practitioners?
time-limited terms eg. 2 years?
directors travel expenses funded?
similar to Community Media Association?
will go to look at other orgs, including those outside of media, for the scoping

Written by sarahhartley

July 26th, 2016 at 7:26 pm

World Radio Day and South Africa’s first high school radio station

leave a comment

Feb 13 is World Radio Day, a day set aside ‘to raise greater awareness among the public and the media of the importance of radio; to encourage decision makers to establish and provide access to information through radio; as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters.’

Ahead of the day, a high school in Khayelitsha has been speaking about the launch its own radio station with a team of 11 youth reporters who have been developing their skills in the areas of research, interviewing and content production.

But if you’re reading this thinking, ‘so far, so ordinary’ for High School radio, think again.

This is a place where almost half of the population live in shacks.

Where the average ANNUAL household income is just 14,600 Rands (£633.48).

Against that backdrop these young people, calling themselves the Optimistic Youth Reporters started work two and a half years ago with the Children’s Radio Foundation (CRF) at the public high school Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT).

Principal at COSAT, Mrs Phadiela Cooper said the students had grown in confience: “It has just been such a wonderful eye opener for me, to see how these kids have grown.”

CRF executive director Mike Rahfaldt, said: “High school radio gets young people speaking about the issues that affect them, and reflects their own experiences and those of their communities. We are hoping that COSAT will be the first of many high school radio schools across South Africa to launch their own station.”

* Find out more about the initiative and hear examples of the students’ work by clicking on the links in the interactive image above.

Written by sarahhartley

February 13th, 2016 at 7:38 am

Data journalism academy sets to work

leave a comment

Journalist Raymond Joseph addresses some of the first fellows at the data journalism academy

The doors opened, and the first Fellows came along. The data journalism academy at Code 4 South Africa is now up and running.

Day one saw participants explore some of the data tools available including the impressive Wazimap which takes census data to a new level and provides journalists with embeddable graphics as well as new insights into geographies and demographics.

Likewise, People’s Assembly which allows for in-depth connections to data about elected representatives.

The activity at the Academy is now also being detailed via social media with a dedicated Twitter stream
@Code4SAJourn and on the Facebook page:

* This is a School of Data initiative kindly sponsored by Omidyar Network, Code for Africa, Knight Foundation and the Indigo Trust.

Written by sarahhartley

February 2nd, 2016 at 7:45 am

Launching a data journalism newsroom in South Africa

leave a comment

Yes it’s an empty room with an odd assortment of chairs. But not for long. This unassuming space is about to be transformed into a fully functioning newsroom.

Journalists from multiple news organisations will soon be at work here, digging, delving and mining for some of the most important stories to come out of South Africa.

The location is Code 4 South Africa‘s base in Cape Town where we’re working with the soon-to-launch Data Journalism Academy – Africa’s first bricks and mortar school.

There’s so much going on behind the scenes here it’s dizzying – building a new online presence, compiling training materials, bringing in tutors and participants from around the globe, setting up social media channels and more.

I’ll blog here some more over the next couple of weeks as everything gets up and running.

* This is a School of Data initiative kindly sponsored by Omidyar Network, Code for Africa, Knight Foundation and the Indigo Trust.


Written by sarahhartley

January 27th, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Getting access to art treasures kept for the nation in private homes

leave a comment


Example of a local treasure by the artist Zoffany: Sir Lawrence Dundas and his Grandson Lawrence (circa 1775). Picture shared via creative commons on Wikipedia.

Tax relief for national heritage assets is a little known HMRC scheme, a system which means wealthy art collectors to gain tax relief in return for allowing the public access to their treasures.

So if you’ve ever wondered what paintings lie behind the gates of the imposing halls and grand houses across the North of England, our lords and ladies continue to enjoy their treasured possessions thanks to this provision and it also means you and I have the right to take a look inside and enjoy our shared cultural heritage.

It’s a topic I’ve written about in more depth for thee latest issue of The Northern Correspondent, the home of long-form journalism for the North East.

Now in its sixth issue, the magazine is available by subscription and at a limited number of outlets.

As editor Ian Wylie explains, the magazine is an important publication for the region in face of diminishing quality coverage of northern concerns.

It’s a region that deserves and need its stories to be told and heard in depth, but the opportunities to tell and hear these stories are fast diminishing. In the past decade, 20% of the UK’s local newspapers have closed. Cuts in the numbers of journalists and the production of local newspapers or regional programmes many miles from the communities they serve, added to our growing use of social media means that we’re more likely to know what’s going on in New York or New Zealand than in Newcastle.

The Northern Correspondent

You can read more about my look at the tax exempt artworks in the magazine or find out further information via a searchable map of the country’s available objects here.

The HMRC rules state:

  • You should normally be allowed access:
  • as soon as is reasonably practical
  • on the day you want, from a choice of at least 3 weekdays and 2 Saturdays or Sundays within 4 weeks of your request
  • at a time between 10am and 4pm


Written by sarahhartley

December 22nd, 2015 at 7:18 pm

New local and global work getting underway here

leave a comment

Trainees at work in Codebridge earlier this year

A new month – and the beginning of some new contracts which we’re very excited to be getting started on here.

Alongside ongoing work at Talk About Local, we’re very pleased to be starting work in the UK with Nesta, the national innovation charity, and internationally with The Indigo Trust.

Nesta has selected our hyperlocal publication, The Richmond Noticeboard, to be one of ten such outfits in the UK to take part in its Action Research in Audience Analytics programme for the next four months.

We’ve written more about that here.

Overseas, we’re starting on a year long project back in South Africa. Building on our previous training work in that country, we’ll be working alongside the Gates Foundation-backed data journalism initiative and setting up a new newsroom.

Working with Indigo Trust grantees, the newsroom will operate to highlight their important issues to the wider news media space and produce content, ideas, inspiration and, of course, data for media organisations in country and elsewhere.

The newsroom will dovetail into the cadet school being run by Raymond Joseph to give students real, hands-on newsroom experience at the Code4SouthAfrica base in Cape Town.

Through this innovation, we aim to address what we see as a dilemma facing many NGOs, organisations, independent journalists and activists in getting attention for their concerns. We are developing a process which concentrates on the way those issues might distribute through local and global news flows. In our commitment to an ethics of openness, it is intended that content produced during the program will be licensed for re-use and allow for other publishers’ own creativity to come to the fore in determining the final presentation of the journalism.

How this innovative project develops will also be the subject of upcoming blog posts here as well as being updated via my semi-regular newsletter too. (You can sign up for that here).

The approach we’re developing here at Dim Sum Digital, which is intended to help both media and cultural organisations interact with new audiences, is moving into a new phase with these projects and we look forward to sharing and reflecting on our experiences here.

Written by sarahhartley

October 1st, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Journalism,Open data

Dear BBC…..

leave a comment

As the minutes tick by before the deadline (why do journalists always leave things to the last minute?) I’ve submitted a few thoughts to the BBC consultation about partnerships with hyperlocal operators. This is what I’ve said – if you’re reading it today (30 Sept) there’s still just about time to get a response in.

Please find below my thoughts on the BBC hyperlocal consultation but firstly can I express my appreciation that this consultation is taking place at all. For too long the hyperlocal and independent media sector has been sidelined and been operating on a very uneven playing field where the so the consultation is a welcome intervention. I hope it proves fruitful.

I’ve addressed some the points which resonated most with me as a journalist and hyperlocal publisher as follows.

1. External linking.
Being credited for work produced and having the exposure to BBC audiences would be a very welcome (long overdue) development. It raises an interesting point in my locality which may also arise for other parts of the country. In terms of radio and online, my local site The RichmondNoticeboard, is served by BBC Tees and BBC York. For television it’s BBC Look North. Where would the links appear – and how would cross linking be achieved?

2. Being able to utilise BBC video or audio content.
Having licensed BBC clips could be a useful enhancement although is likely to be fairly rare in my area in reality as BBC don’t actually cover the area very often. Where material is produced I would prefer the actual footage – rushes would be fine – ahead of any ‘talking heads’ type of content in order to be able re-make and re-package the content. However if producer ownership would prevent that happening, ‘locked down’ completed clips would be an acceptable starting point for testing out content sharing.

3. Including hyperlocal providers in training and events.
If the BBC is to fulfil its public remit in developing its media partnership work then this would be essential. The training element could be extremely useful as it can be expensive for hard-pressed independents to access the latest knowledge. The wider benefits generated from creating links and professional connections across the different media operators in a given locality could also reap far bigger rewards.

4. Promotion.
I hope that all local BBC teams can be made aware of hyperlocals operating in their area and that they will help to promote the updated register of hyperlocal sites which we at Talk About Local are helping Carnegie UK to publish.

5. The 100 local court and council reporters proposal.
I know this wasn’t strictly within the scope of the hyperlocal consultation but I’d like you to consider it within the developments. It wasn’t clear in the recent Charter Review announcement of this aspect whether hyperlocal operators will benefit from this scheme alongside the (reluctant) mainstream media. I would urge you to ensure this is the case. As well as being recipients of the material produced by this new pool of journalists, I would also hope that hyperlocal operators could pitch for the contracts where appropriate. I was also concerned that rural areas might miss out on the new service with it being limited to just 100 journalists. It would be useful to see how the locations will be selected for coverage with safeguards built in to avoid a purely metropolitan service.

Thanks again for engaging in the hyperlocal sector and I look forward to seeing the outcome in November.

Written by sarahhartley

September 30th, 2015 at 4:10 pm