10 actionable takeaways on beat reporting from John Baron

On Wednesday my Reporting II class at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) had the good fortune to enjoy a 30 minute Skype call with the UK journalist John Baron.

With more than 20 years’ experience in journalism, John has worked for a number of regional and national press publications including Leeds Weekly News, Wharfedale Newspapers, Wakefield Express and The Guardian. More recently he has been involved in online start-ups The City Talking and The Leeds Guardian.

As a Guardian beatblogger in Leeds as part of the experimental Guardian Local pilot project, he spent time exploring council activities, citizenship, dialogue with communities, curation, interactivity and innovative online storytelling techniques.

Here are ten key lessons we took away from our conversation:

  1. Despite all of the digital tools, in-person contacts and being physically visible in your community matters.
  2. Spend as little time as you can in your office.
  3. You probably need to attend 2-3 meetings a week across your community to understand what’s happening and to make contacts.
  4. There’s a risk of a democratic deficit due to cuts in journalists and titles, especially at a local level. Yet local public affairs stories, in particular, matter. And risk being unreported.
  5. Identify audience patterns online – Twitter, Facebook etc. are all different – and reflect this in your own social media usage.
  6. Don’t just usage social media to broadcast. Harness it for two way communication and as a newsfeed.
  7. You can create your own hashtags to encourage participation about the issues your community would like to see covered.
  8. John’s role at the Guardian Local saw success measured by interaction, rather than more traditional metrics.
  9. Recommended tools include: Scribd  (Links to an external site.)for embedding PDFs, Vine (Links to an external site.) videos to capture attention, Infogr.am (Links to an external site.) for online charts and infographics.
  10. “As a journalist you’re only ever as good as your contacts.”

My thanks to John for such an informative and insightful session and for giving up some of his evening to talk to us.

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