Saturday, 20 November 2010

Birmingham Budget Cuts ... The Story So Far

Well, the Birmingham Budget Cuts website has been up and running for a few weeks, so I thought I'd share with you what I have been doing and how it has gone.

Essentially I am very happy with how the site looks, the content, the favourable feedback we have received and also the amount of traffic.

From past experience, one of the most difficult jobs is getting people to visit your website, but now with tools such as Twitter, the job has been made much easier.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story so far ....

We decided on a name and I regisrtered for a Google account to give us an email address and log in do Blogger which is where we decided to base our work.

I developed the site using a newspaper style template, removing the elements we didn't want to use and changing others so they suited the purpose of the blog.

Next, I registered a Twitter account, started a Facebook Group, Cover It Live account and also a YouTube channel. I also added a link to the CSR page on Wikipedia which to date has been the source of the majority of our traffic.

One of the first tests for our new site was to try Live Blogging for the first time. Hedy went down to London to cover a protest while I stayed home, Tweeting, posting etc to keep the story alive. What I found was that traffic to the site decreased when I stopped Tweeting so it became quite a job making sure interest in the 'event' was maintained.

The next big test was to cover George Osborne's Comprehensive Spending Review speech live. For this I based myself in the Urban Coffee Company, with laptop and headphones, along with a strong coffee and Guinness cake. Hedy went off to meet with union members which I settled in for a marathon live blogging session. This was made all the more difficult by background noise and a fault with the BBC feed where instead of George Osborne, I was treated to Sophie Raworth in the BBC newsroom practising her lines and running through the running order for the lunchtime bulletin.

Despite this, the live blogging seemed to be a success with lots of traffic to the site and an increase in followers on Twitter.

With tired fingers and eyes, I then headed out to the cathedral to cover the UNISON protest against the cuts where I interviewed two union members which you can view below.

Since then, we have added news stories as regularly as they become available.

We also hit the jackpot when information was given to us regarding spending cuts in and around Birmingham which made very interesting reading and allowed us to develop some original and exclusive content for the site.

Despite all this, Google News unfortunately deemed us a site which simply 'aggregated' news rather than developing our own, which is very unfair and shows they did not look too closely at it before reaching this conclusion.

The Google Map which I started has had a major update with many new cuts and job losses included on it with links back to the source of the data. Unfortunately, people connected with many of these cuts have been unwilling to be interviewed on the implications of any reduction in funding. However, this has not been through a lack of trying to secure interviews.

View Birmingham Cuts 2010 in a larger map

At the time of writing, the site has had 3,069 pageviews. The biggest referral sites are Wikipedia, Twitter, Birmingham City Students' Union, Created In Birmingham, Digital Spy, Liberal and Respect Councillor Salmaya Qoob's blog. The search terms through which most people have found the site have been "Birmingham" and "jobs" and I wonder if we had used "jobs" in the title whether that would have led to more traffic being directed to the site.

Currently, the Facebook group has 12 members and on Twitter we have 69 Followers.

As I said at the outset, I am very pleased with how the site has developed so far and hopefully it will continue to grow as time progresses.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Social Media Cafe

Download now or watch on posterous
VID-20101029-00002.3GP (4152 KB)

Today, along with the rest of my MA class, I attended to Social Media Café meeting in the Coffee House, Birmingham. To get an idea of what it is like, check out the video below.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

CSR Speech Wordle

Wordle: Geirge Osborne's CSR SpeechTo the right is a Wordle I created from the contents of George Osborne's Comprehensive Spending Review Speech for the Birmingham Budget Cuts Website.
It is very interesting to look at which words appear larger, meaning they were mentioned more frequently in the speech and which are smaller.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

MA Enterprise Market Research

For the Enterprise unit of my MA, we have to devise an entrepreneurial idea. The task for this week was to explore and test out an experimental market research activity. My idea was to organize a charity fun run between supporters of Aston Villa and Birmingham City which would be called 'To Hell and Back' as the supporters would start at their home ground and run to their rivals' ground (ie Hell) and back to their own stadium.
To begin with, I contacted people who either had experience of organizing fun runs in the city to get some idea of the issues I would need to address to decide if it was feasible. I wrote to MacMillan, and the organizers of the Birmingham Half Marathon to ask if they could give me any advice or information but neither responded.
I also wrote to the council who were more forthcoming with information. The licensing department sent me a pdf containing licensing advice for organizing a charity event.

Next I looked at a possible route which I visualized using Google Maps:
View Fun Run in a larger map

For the next part of my research into the feasibility of this event, I went to those who I would want to encourage to participate in the event, the supporters of both clubs. To do this, I posted messages and polls on the forums they used most frequently to discuss their teams. The results were not encouraging with only a third of supporters stating they thought this was a good idea.

The comments from both teams' supporters were generally in agreement that such an event would result in violence between the two fans, with one typical Aston Villa supporter comment saying:
don't go on dragons den with that will ya!!!!!!!

I'm out!!
while Birmingham City supporters made comments ranging from the generally positive:
It could be hilarious - the sight of several hundred angels and demons having a dust up before the game. :DGood luck with it mate - not sure it would be allowed on a derby day TBH.
Whilst I admire your desire to do some good, I really dont see this as a good idea, for many reasons, chief one being the huge ill feeling between the two clubs. 
The forums did provide some useful feedback such as this from the Aston Villa forum:
 Good idea, I think the security of it would be questioned by the police and city council, plus, route, marshalling, road closures, insurances, first aid etc etc. Having been involved in the organisation of one of the largest charity runs in Sutton Park, I can tell you they are sticklers (and rightly so) when it comes to making sure those kinds of t's are crossed and i's dotted. All the best.
 Obviously there is some interest but the general consensus was that the idea would be a non-starter due to the threat of violence between the two sets of fans from a deep rooted animosity. One actually pointed out that if I was a Villa or City supporter, I would never have suggested it.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Almost Going Live

Well, the Birmingham Budget Cuts is almost ready to go live and what a hectic few days it has been to get everything up and running.
As well as finalizing the concept, implementing our vision meant undergoing a very steep learning curve but ultimately this has been a very satisfying project.
Working with fellow student Hedy Korbee, we decided on a clear and simple name for the site, to maximize search engine placement and clearly define what the site content would be.
We then had to choose which blogging system to use. Initially we were going to use Wordpress but opted instead for Blogger as it offered more flexibility in coding and customization options for free with no financial outlay. Using Wordpress would have required us to register a domain name and pay for hosting the blog ourselves.
I managed to find and customize a newspaper style template for the blog and after deciding what categories our news items would come under, we began submitting sample stories to check that the system worked and looked clear and easy to navigate.
An ongoing feature of the site is an interactive Google Map showing where the cuts in Birmingham are located and also a live blogging and video feature, which we will be using this coming Tuesday and Wednesday to cover the London demonstration and George Osborne's speech respectively. For this we are using the Cover It Live and qik services.
To encourage interactivity and also make the general public aware of our website, we set up Twitter and Facebook accounts and will be using the hashtag #brumcuts on Wednesday to make it easy for people to find and comment on Tweets related to our news content.
We really hope that we get your support in this venture and would be grateful if you would become part of the community we are trying to build up to discuss, scrutinize and examine these cuts to ensure the truth and implications of the forthcoming cuts are clear to everyone.
So why not take a few minutes to look at the site, follow us on Twitter and join the Facebook site. We look forward to welcoming you on board what could be journey over rough seas for those affected by the cuts.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Starting an MA!

Well that's my first week completed on the MA Online Journalism course. Copious cups of coffee have been drunk,  I have discovered the frustrations of motorway and city traffic, travelled on a bus for the first time in about twenty years, successfully used the railway system and met many interesting people, a lot of whom are fellow students from all over the world. In fact, coming here to study from places like Bulgaria, Spain, Poland and Canada makes my hundred mile trip make me seem like a local.
So what have I made of life back in full time education? Firstly, I'm still in shock that I've done it in the first place. Secondly, I am still enjoying being disbelieved that I am a student and therefore eligible for many various discounts and finally, but also most importantly, how much I am enjoying it.
For next week, I have to think up an entrepreneurial idea and tweet it in 140 characters. In fact reading through the Enterprise module makes me think of The Apprentice, and I half expect to be greeted by Sir Alan at some point (though hopefully not to be told I'm fired). So what will I come up with, which 'Action Learning Set' group will I be placed in and what will next week bring? Keep reading to find out. In fact, why not subscribe to or follow this blog and make me feel like I'm not actually doing this as some sort of therapy!