Online newsroom spreading the word in Birmingham

Birmingham City Council’s online newsroom is fast approaching one million page views in just seven months – without even being formally launched.

www.birminghamnewsroom.com went live at the end of June last year as the press office looked for new ways to reach its audience.

Featuring news headlines and releases, blogs, video news and photographs, the website is aimed at journalists, bloggers and residents.

The website utilises a number of social media tools including:

• twitter – over 860 followers
• YouTube – 60 videos uploaded so far (almost 8,000 views)
• flickr – 603 photographs uploaded so far, with users adding their own contributions
• Google Maps

Head of News, Deborah Harries, said: “We needed to move into the 21st Century and manage our news more effectively, and this package of social media tools is helping us get the council’s messages across in different ways and to a wider audience.

“Considering we only had a soft launch, the response to the online newsroom has exceeded our expectations and has a growing audience, with 27,687 unique users for January, reading almost 200,000 pages.

“The way news is accessed and delivered has changed dramatically in recent years. For example, though the traditional news release still has a part to play,  social media will eventually kill it off. This website provides all the press officers with a much more dynamic tool to issue news and rebut inaccurate stories.”

The website has been developed using blogging platform WordPress, keeping costs down to a minimum – in fact the whole site was developed for less than £150.

There has also been a degree of public consultation as Birmingham’s growing band of bloggers and citizen journalists have been asked for their views and suggestions from the development stage onwards.

Media officer Geoff Coleman, who developed the site, added: “There’s an online community out there that really takes an interest in local government news and their help has proved invaluable. We consider this to be an ongoing project and we’re looking to further develop the newsroom as the weeks and months go by.

“During the recent severe weather we attracted 9,800 unique users in just three days as people logged on for gritting updates, school closures and other vital information. We even asked residents to report potholes via twitter.

“Before developing the newsroom we were reliant on deadlines but of course the news has never respected deadlines and now we can issue updates even out of office hours.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Links to www.birminghamnewsroom.com stories can be found on www.birmingham.gov.uk.

Reviews over the first seven months

Joanna Geary (Former Birmingham Post development editor now with the Times)
I just wanted to congratulate you and everyone who has worked on Birmingham Newsroom.
This really is looking like it could become a really great resource for Birmingham residents and journalists alike.  Keep up the good work! http://birminghamnewsroom.com/?p=1668

Nick Booth (Podnosh)
I want to echo what Jo has said, congratulations.
This is a wonderful platform for potentially a whole new relationship between the council, the city and the media.
I think it’s wonderful. I’ve got a head full of things that could be done next or perhaps a little differently, but they can wait.  It’s through using social media that you get good at it and here the council has created a wonderful place for doing just that.
Congratulations to Geoff Coleman, who’s been nursing this for some months, and Deborah Harries for just getting on with it.
(Declaration – from time to time I get paid by Birmingham City Council – not for this though!)

Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, Cllr Paul Tilsley. (taken from his annual report Jan 2010)
The audience is niche but the numbers of people engaging with the site has exceeded our expectations, continues to rise and has yet to peak. It provides a place for genuine engagement with the public rather than the traditional one-way flow of news. Most importantly, rather than relying on third parties — newspapers, radio, television – to interpret or misinterpret our news we are posting first, and in its original form, on birminghamnewsroom.com.

Simon Dickson (puffbox.com)
‘well done Birmingham press office’. I’ve always said WordPress would make the ideal platform for a press office, and this kinda proves it.

Kevin Campbell-Wright (local government/new media expert)
This is fantastic! Not only is it good to see that the public sector world is making moves into the social networking field, but it’s good to see local authorities leading the way.
I’m very confident that this will prove really useful for journalists and hope that it will become a case study for others to do the same. Maybe then the social media idea can also filter down to the other areas of local authorities that are engaging the public (such as community development, leisure, adult (and younger) learning.
In terms of suggestions for improvements, I think this is pretty close to right already. I think this is a really good job…and I’m watching this space.

Dan Slee (Local Government PR and New Media specialist)
Excellent stuff. Some great ideas. I’m sure local government – and other organisations – will monitor with interest.

James Holt (regional media manager Liberal Democrats)
Very impressive.

Susan Hallam (Internet marketing guru)
Birmingham City Council’s social media style newsroom. Lots of good lessons for us to learn from this

David Nikel (Liberal Ladywood)
Long-awaited and they’ve done a decent job. Looking forward to see what comes next!

Paul Evans (www.localdmocracy.org.uk)
The Birmingham News Room – a well-executed information hub managed by Birmingham City Council has been launched and there’s a good write-up from Nick Booth over at Podnosh. I don’t have much to add to his account of it, and I’d urge you to have a good look around and think about the idea., but the execution is very good.

Josh Hart (Birmingham web designer/blogger)
Thanks for this site. It feels like a huge step forward.
There are, however, fairly significant layout issues in some browsers. Rather than moan about that I’d be happy to volunteer some time to help fix them. Would that appeal? We have taken Josh up on this offer.

For further information contact Geoff Coleman on 0121 303 3501

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