Monthly Archives: February 2014

HOW CAN NEW MEDIA HELP WANNABES SHAPE LOCAL STORIES?

I had never really considered Twitter to be of particular importance in developing my craft as a journalist, until the day a respected London freelancer sent me a direct message on the micro-blogging site.

I had been blogging on WordPress for the past seven months and after a series of failed pitches to local newspapers in Belfast, I decided to turn my attention to national print outlets. After reading that boxer Carl Frampton was holding a press conference open to the public at the Europa Hotel (for his world title eliminator bout with Jeremi Parodi), I went along to the spectacle knowing that national media would be interested in the story. I took a note of the Guardian reporter’s name and detailed the press conference (including a preview of the fight) in a blog post.

The idea was to pass the story on to the freelancer and ask of his advice on how to make a better go of gaining a byline in a national. After reading his post-fight report, I tweeted my story to him. He wrote back telling me to “keep up the good work”. Some more correspondence on Twitter followed and in early January he asked if I would like to contribute to The Irish Times’ Schools Rugby supplement.

I took up the opportunity and wrote a preview of the competition, interviewed two prominent coaches and learned of the prospects of 24 competing schools, communicating with each one directly. The Irish Times published the piece complete with my byline.

Getting noticed this way may seem fortunate or unlikely but I can say with confidence that what grabbed the attention of my freelancing contact was the local angle I had originally taken with Frampton. Local news is a commodity that wannabes can readily use to their advantage. Using Twitter to establish contacts and share stories is not a guaranteed way to gain local coverage but it can be successful.

Having a product you are proud of like a blog is one way to get noticed, but lose the fear of having to be an expert to succeed with local pitches. Being clear about your story and its angle is what will separate an editor from running your story or not.  If you do get the opportunity to write, be meticulous with facts and sources. I may cringe now at my original handwritten proforma and countless tick-boxes for the Schools Rugby supplement, but it was a simple attempt to ensure I got each and every detail right.

Upon completion of my story, The Irish Times sports editor asked that I cover future stories. It feels good to be asked for once, not doing the asking!

To turn local pitches into winning ones, email press offices to snuff out possibilities of interviews with local organisations, from public officials to voluntary charity workers. Shoot emails off to local start-ups and ask them for their latest news. Get absorbed in your local news and ask yourself what is missing from the standard angles that the paper is taking. Constantly think about what is new, and not just in terms of stories, but media opportunities near you. Found a new political publication in the area? Send them a short bio and a pitch or two.

There is no getting around having to work for free sometimes, but when you manage to get the byline you want, firing off an invoice instead of a pitch will make it all worthwhile.

This article was published by Wannabe Hacks on Monday 17th February 2014.

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Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: new media new Belfast

Since taking up his high profile role in the City Hall, lord mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has been at the forefront of a campaign to publicise the achievements of his city’s people. It’s all good stuff, too. From his latest make over, complete with dyed purple and green hair for Belfast children’s festival, to celebrating the trends of local fashion designers and art dealers, Ó Muilleoir has found an embracing audience from which to spread native charm. Say it right and chances are the lord mayor will retweet your every word. Such is his inclination to include all positive vibes arriving to his Twitter account @NewBelfast, that neither nationalist nor unionist communities could ever feel discriminated against by way of Twitter equality. Diverse interests of ethnic minorities to business alignments between Ireland and America are championed just as extensively.

Ó Muilleoir’s effective social media campaign comes at a time when local politicians continue to lose face by dithering on the issues of flags, parades and the past. While they court controversy, his modern approach to the post peace process era, ensures he steers clear of Stormont’s madding crowd. Yet he was not as fortunate to avoid angry crowds at Woodvale Park in August where his presence was greeted with scenes of public disorder by loyalists. Despite the assistance of his minders and a police entourage, Ó Muilleoir was harangued and attacked whilst officially opening the park. History came in November when his attendance at the City Hall commemoration of British war dead made him the first Sinn Fein Mayor to do so.

But what happens to those who seek to chronicle these events and his time in office? Wanting to engage with Máirtín Ó Muilleoir directly to discuss any of the above presents notable obstacles, not least his busy schedule. Enquires made to Belfast city council press office must include the series of questions intended for discussion prior to permission for interview being granted. Any questions that have a direct or indirect association with Sinn Fein mean the process shifts to their press representatives.

In preparation for publication of January’s edition Off the Record went through this process during December only to be declined an interview. On the record, Ó Muilleoir has been strong to point out that he will continue to defy further threats to his safety to further the interests of public office, a man bent on championing people and political issues but sees fit to talk with and about them, on his terms or not at all. It is disappointing to think Sinn Fein are insistent upon Ó Muilleoir being kept from the spotlight where party matters are concerned. If bringing the 1916 Irish proclamation of independence into office at City Hall is not a political statement or symbolic of Ó Muilleoir’s republicanism then we can all assume politics is dead. Is it reasonable to ask that he speak about this? Or gauge his thoughts on the stumbling blocks that effected the Haass talks? How about the future? Will he continue to concentrate on his role with the Belfast media group and extend his entrepreneurial profile after leaving office in June? Or the past? Is he comfortable with the characterisation of him being in the political wilderness? For now, those answers can only be speculated on. Like much else at the City Hall. Flag or no flag.

This article was published by Off The Record NI on Monday 3rd February 2014.

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