What a difference a week makes. In the last seven days, I have launched my first news website and created my first blog. An insignificant achievement, I’m sure, for all those who’ve been in the trenches of online journalism for many years but for me it’s a milestone.
I’m a few months shy of my 30th anniversary in the business and have spent my entire career until now in mainstream media working as a radio anchor, TV reporter, TV producer, network executive, documentary series producer and TV news instructor.
While I’ve been toiling away in television, the internet has slowly revolutionized the world of journalism and although I’m joining the party late, I figure it’s better than not showing up at all. It’s not my intent to abandon television altogether, but rather to grow my skill set to ensure survival on the multi-platform planet. I’m expanding my vocabulary, if you will, from OC, VO and natsot to include RSS, delicious, CMS and SEO.
To this end, I’ve relocated to England to pursue an MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University under Paul Bradshaw, who’s named one of journalism.co.uk’s leading innovators in journalism and media in 2010 and also made the Poynter Institute’s list of 35 influential people in social media. In addition to poring over Paul’s Online Journalism Blog, I’m absorbing revolutionary concepts for an msm journalist such as “news is a conversation, not a lecture”, “The End of Fortress Journalism” (Peter Horrocks), “ The People Formerly Known As The Audience” (Jay Rosen) and “The users know more than you do” (Dan Gillmor).
I came to England to learn to cover stories in a different way, and boy did I walk into a story. After years of profligate government spending, the new coalition led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has slashed expenditures to bring Britain ”back from the brink of bankruptcy”. Departmental budgets have been cut 20% and the public sector is bleeding jobs, with some estimates that 500,000 civil servants will find themselves out of work when all is said and done. In Birmingham, City Council plans to cut £330 million from its budget by 2013 and a staggering 26,000 public servants have been served warning that their jobs may become redundant.
Cuts across the board in so many jurisdictions are difficult to cover and so my classmate Andy Watt and I decided to create a news website birminghambudgetcuts.blogspot.com to aggregate information about the cuts in Birmingham and try to assess their impact on jobs and services. It’s hyperlocal in the sense that it’s a geographical community and a community of circumstance. We had to work quickly because we were determined that the site would be up and running with original content on Oct. 19th, the day before Chancellor George Osborne unveiled details of the spending review in the House of Commons. The date coincided with a large protest organized by the trade unions and we wanted to follow a bus load of Birmingham workers who were travelling to London for the event.
Choosing a name for the site was an ongoing discussion for days and, in the end, we decided to forego clever and simply name it Birmingham Budget Cuts. This is mostly for search engine optimization but we also didn’t think a witty play on words was appropriate given that people’s livelihoods were at stake.
We created the blog using Google’s publishing tool “Blogger” and Andy found a newspaper style template which he customized with various category headings to suit our needs. A key feature of our site is a customized Google map which pinpoints all of the cuts in jobs and services in Birmingham. It was our original intent that the map would link to raw data in a spreadsheet, but there simply wasn’t enough lead time, and so we plan to tinker with it in the future. Mapping the cuts is a difficult task because not all of the job losses are being publicly announced, and so we’re asking users to notify us when they hear of cuts in jobs and services.
We’ve also created accounts and are linking to the following:
- Twitter: @brumbudgetcuts
- Facebook: Birmingham Budget Cuts
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- YouTube: BirminghamBudgetCuts
My ultimate goal is for Birmingham Budget Cuts to become a valuable source of information, and a forum, for a community going through an extremely difficult period. Richard Exell, a TUC senior policy analyst who blogs for TouCHstone has noted that if you search the internet for an overview of budget cuts made during the Thatcher era you’ll find bits and pieces but no comprehensive record. It is my hope that 20 years from now, they won’t be able to say the same for Birmingham.