Critical Review of WINOL

Critical Review
Winchester News Online is a student led journalism website which features a weekly live bulletin every Wednesday. The team is split into news, features and production. The features have developed over the semester and we now have a fashion online magazine called Absolute:ly and an arts magazine. The overall structure has worked well and we have shown we can work well as a team. For our WINOL bulletin we have had weekly guest editors such as Claudia Murg, Geoff Hill, Mike Bushell who have praised our work and our professional standards.
The website has been majorly redesigned. Our aim was to increase the viewing ratings and to beat our competitors, other student news websites and local news websites. Using the Alexa ranking system, which can give us our ranking statistics, we can see that we have continually increased our audience ranking rates. We’ve seen our Alexa ranking diminish greatly with us now placing in the top 500,000 globally, and 10,424 (11/12/12) in the UK. We have closely compared our ranking with other student websites such as ‘East London Lines’ who, initially, had a better visor ranking than ours. But at the end of the academic year we have wiped past their results and proved to place better in rankings. East London Lines are placed 24,950 (11/12/12) in the UK. Our rankings place us higher than any other student production. We have also beaten the local newspaper ‘Hampshire Chronicle’ in both global ranking and UK figures.

Our website team have worked hard on redesigning the site. We changed from Joomla to Wordpress. We have also changed the style of news from tabloid to broadsheet. In general terms broadsheet is easier to produce and currently works very well for online news. Our news stories have branched into other major local cities. Our audience market now reaches out to Portsmouth, Southampton, Basingstoke and other surrounding areas to increase who would look at our news. Certain events that we covered generally pushed our viewing figures higher and helped us increase our ranking. The Hampshire Crime Commissioner debate, organised by fellow student Lou O’Brian, was filmed and put on live steam on our website. The event was so professional and in my eyes the best debate in the South that was held for the HCC election. This bought many viewers to the site. We also covered the American Elections. We also focus on getting links from other websites. headlined our American Election coverage on their front page. The features on the site are ‘sticky’ and will always be current whereas news is updated daily and feature our top stories of the day.

To broaden who our target audience are we have worked on social networking. Our WINOL twitter accounts regularly tweets about our events and stories that we are producing. This helps generate our publicity.

My role for Winchester News Online was the local politics reporter. The political angle I had to provide isn’t something I have ever shown interest in but I made sure I contained balance throughout the semester by interviewing both opposing political parties.
Throughout the semester I chose to take up the Ford factory closure story. It was a story that “had legs” and for three weeks I stuck with this beat. In October Ford announced it would close the Southampton factory and this would lead to 500 jobs being axed in the city. The interest in the imminent closing factory has concerned many. Local MPs queried central government to ask for questions.  I interviewed Winchester MP Steve Brine, Eastleigh borough Lib Dem, Councillor Keith House and UKIP representative Ray Finch. Along with the political interest shown the local enterprise partnership has everyone had urged for a grant to be given to the city to support the start of local businesses. I felt this was impractically something I was interested in. It was a national story when the factory closed and being close to home I felt I could connect with the story.

The first WINOL was a learning curve. I covered a story that I got from attending a Winchester City Council meeting. This week’s story was a housing plan story. It generally wasn’t good for our target audience but I was interested in how the Liberal Democrats had attacked the Conservatives leaders over how housing plans haven’t been addressed to residents properly. I interviewed Ian Tait Conservative and Lib Dem councillor Kelsie Learney.  The most valuable quote I got from this package was from Ian Tait, the cabinet member from the council. He said we should “expect the council the build on any council owned land.” The interview with Kelsie Learney was framed and focused well. The interview with Ian Tait was framed well but the background was of a cream wall and not in focus. In the future I need to decide more carefully where to place my interviewee. I achieved balance for this story so legally it would work. In terms of shots I had too many guilty signs and shots of roofs. But the shots didn’t relate to the script and it made the story too confusing. Housing stories are difficult to pull off and they will be something I will avoid on WINOL. But for my first week I felt comfortable arranging interviews and learnt how to use the camera. I used too many zooms and panning. Zooming is not natural to the human eye therefore they do not work.

The second week was more successful for me. I was motivated to get in the bulletin. I produced a package about the Itchen toll Bridge. I had heard that the bridge was about to introduce payment machines that do not give change. I arranged an interviewed Southampton city councillor, Simon Letts. The bridge is council owned therefore Letts provided balance to this story. The interview was focused well and he provided me with some ok shots. To make this package interesting I resorted to vox pox. These are not used much on news but they do provide a voice for the public. I felt comfortable going up to people near the bridge. The vox pox did work well and eventually my package was ready to go on the bulletin.
In the third week of WINOL I went to London alongside another student Karina. We filmed the Feminist rally at Parliament. Unfortunately a few problems occurred with this technically. We had filmed everything and were waiting to upload it onto YouTube. But unfortunately the upload took 4 hours. We had attempted this the day before so we were planned. But in London the upload took longer. The march to parliament fell quite late in the day and with the deadline for WINOL being around 1’oclock we missed it. We did upload the package eventually and uploaded a written story for the website along with photographs that came out very well. My challenge was to Skype call from Westminster. Previously trying this the day before it worked fine but on the day it did not sync well.
The following weeks I produced three packages about the closure of Ford. I really wanted to get into the factory to film but Ford denied me entering. I tried to be creative and filmed the gates of the factory and used this as my opening shot “The gates will be closed for good.” In terms of other shots I felt limited for Ford. I interviewed councillor Keith House the first week he provided me with good quotes about how it was “devastating” and what the council plans to do next. I wanted to get an interview with the Union but they were unable to this week. The following week the story continued as there were protests in Belgium. I interviewed Winchester MP Steve Brine to give a local spin on the story. I was able to lift footage from Youtube of the Belgium protests as I was given permission to do so.

I eventually tried to create another package a few weeks later about the Regional Growth fund. This fund was given to the city because of the imminent closing Ford factory and the worry of job loss in the city. The package would not be very visual so we decided to begin the story with the Bin collection story that was about how £8m will be spent on bins. I interviewed a Unite the union representative ‘Andy Cox’ who provided me with information about how the cities growth fund isn’t enough for the Ford workers. Eventually the package was unable to make the bulletin because there was worry that I needed more balance. Putting the bin story and the growth fund story together caused me problems. I critically needed a Southampton councillor to interview to provide better balance. But I did do a PTC that included a council quote I lifted from a statement.  

In terms of the Ford beat that I followed it worked very well on the website as it was a current problem in Southampton and many people are interested in it. I was unable to video interview anyone from Ford but I was given a good phone interview with Tim Holmes, executive director of Ford, who gave my story balance.
One week I created an oov about a super casino that wanted to build in Southampton. I interviewed Councillor Warwick Payne about the plans but visually the story didn’t work. I did create a good written piece this week about John Denham being banned from the Ford factory. I was provided with quotes from his spokesman and Ford gave me balance for this story.

In the final week of winol my package was made into an OOV.  I tried to make a package but I needed to find a case study. The story was about unemployment and the county council’s plans to employ 1000 apprentices. I interviewed the leader of the county council, Ken Thornber. He announced the plans the week before in a meeting, so he was a good interview to get for WINOL. But the interview was not my best shot, it was slightly out of focus and oddly angled. I was on my own for this interview and as Mike Bushell advised me after watching it, I should have asked to shoot it again.
Overall I have tried to produce a package every week for the bulletin. Unfortunaly it does not always work out who you can imagine. I have learnt a lot and received valuable critique from guest editors.
I have written weekly news stories from the website and received constructive criticism for them. All of the stories I have written are current. Local newspapers such as ‘Hampshire Chronicle’ put the story up after mine, for example the story I wrote about the Police drink-driving campaign was featured on local newspapers after as it was a particularly interesting topic.   In terms of news online writing I need to work on my headline writing style as this has been a struggle and the sub editor has worked hard on my stories to make them interesting. I also need to remember comments can never be written as facts.
Alongside being a WINOL reporter I helped film a fashion show for features.  I also helped out at the Hampshire Crime Commissioner debate held at the University of Winchester. My role was to be the usher to all the candidates. I had to make sure tensions were eased whilst all the candidates met before the debate. I felt prepared enough, once researching, who all the candidates were. They were all polite and friendly and I didn't have too much trouble talking to each individual. Mostly all of the candidates were willing to tell me a lot about themselves. I do love listening to people however for this event I had to remain impartial.

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