Last weekend I was part of a MyFerryLink press trip visiting the Flemish town of Ypres and some of the important First World War sites in the surrounding communities and countryside.
It was the first time I had travelled to the continent to visit the battlefields of either of the world wars of the 20th century. Although obviously aware this would be an emotional journey, I was still shocked at the extent to which the experience – especially wandering among the gravestones of the huge Tyne Cot Cemetery – moved me. However much you are taught in school, or you learn in documentaries, very little can quite prepare you to take in the sheer scale of the sacrifice made in Belgium and France almost a century ago.
The town of Ypres was almost entirely destroyed by the fierce bombardment unleashed by the German army positioned on the ridges surrounding it. But is was rebuilt with an incredible accuracy, and today is a pretty town that still retains its medieval charm despite being – physically at least – essentially reborn in the years following the Great War.
Ahead of the centenary of the outbreak of war in 2014, I would urge anyone who has the chance to make the short hop across the Channel to the battlefields to do so. The people are friendly, the beer is great and you are guaranteed an educational and moving experience.
Last weekend was spent in West Wales, staying in the wonderful Carmarthenshire village of Laugharne and visiting family in Carmarthen and Llandysul.
Naturally I picked up a copy of the local newspaper, partly to see what was on the agenda locally and partly to satisfy my geeky urge to pore over the design and content of a product I hadn’t encountered before.
The weekly Carmarthen Journal is the oldest newspaper in Wales and part of the Local World group. It is edited by Emma Bryant, who was promoted to the top job in July, and produces editions for the town as well as surrounding communities.
I was impressed by the quality of the paper put out by Emma’s small editorial team, which included a decent mix of hard news reporting and nicely-written human interest pieces, but the thing that struck me most was the Journal’s treatment of community news.
At too many papers the community news is treated as something of an after thought, shovelled with as little effort as possible into pages at the back of book only to emerge as a wall of text that does little to encourage readers to linger on the page. But not at the Journal.
Who do you trust more, your local paper or Facebook? According to this story published by The Drum earlier today a YouGov poll has found people are far more likely to trust their local rag to inform them about what’s happening in their community than they do Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking behemoth.
Regardless of the figures YouGov turned up, this headline is the sort of thing that can usually be guaranteed to rally the digital evangelists and print die-hards for yet another clash in the cultural civil war that seems to have gripped many newsrooms in recent years.
But to see this as another excuse to rehash the tired old arguments about print versus digital would be to miss the point entirely. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that trying to quantify people’s trust in Facebook compared to their local paper is akin to asking which they trust more, the BBC or their telephone.
Yesterday morning I couldn’t tear myself away from Essex Chronicle Media Group senior editor Nev Wilson’s Twitter feed as he made his way through a stack of applications from people hoping to become a reporter on his papers.
It was quite clear from his tweets that many of those fighting for a chance to break into journalism in a hugely competitive job market were seeing their applications fall at the first hurdle because they were making very basic errors.
Journalism is a trade that values accuracy, research and – perhaps most importantly – the ability to handle language with care and confidence. Badly spelt applications and covering letters addressed to the wrong person won’t get you very far in most walks of life – but they are certainly not ways to ensure a newspaper editor remembers you. For the right reasons.
I’m not going to say much more on the subject – partly because I’m hoping Nev might get round to blogging about his experience – but you can see a selection of the tweets from Nev in this Storify I put together.
New Year, and time for resolutions. In 2013 I have vowed to get outside and take far more exercise. Nothing too strenuous, mind, just a regular stroll and a chance to stretch the legs.
And what better excuse to get out and about than the promise of tracking down some of the very best real ale pubs the south east has to offer.
This week I was a guest on the BBC Surrey drivetime show talking about public transport and the results of the first annual localpeople.co.uk town survey.
The interview was a response to a letter from Surrey County Council to Transport Secretary Justine Greening calling for greater investment in the rail network here in the south east of England.
Our localpeople.co.uk town survey, carried out last month across our network of 165 hyperlocal websites, found that people in Surrey are feeling let down by public transport and frustrated by gridlock on their streets.
You can listen to the interview here.
Facebook’s introduction of Subscribe in September last year and its resulting transformation into an asymmetrical social network has presented a new opportunity for connection – but is it an opportunity that is passing many journalists by?
Social media use has exploded among journalists in recent years. What only a few years ago was considered by many in the industry at best a fad, and at worst a time-wasting distraction, has now become a valued part of the reporter’s toolkit.
And the evidence around me – in newsrooms, in conversations with colleagues and online – suggests that Twitter has become the tool of choice for most. Where once Twitter was an unknown quantity, now it is almost surprising to discover a journalist isn’t using the micro-blogging service.
But is this really the best approach for us to be taking?