Friday, 14 December 2012

Critical Reflection

Photo: Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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My time on WINOL this term has been thoroughly rewarding for a number of reasons. Myself and the features team have developed and put into place an effective template to publish content to and our work has gained some of the highest view counts of the term. Audience figures across the entire WINOL site for both news and features have improved significantly.

The addition of a new, professional-looking website has certainly been beneficial. Initially, deciding on a website design and the form it would take took longer than it should have done, however, which affected the work of the entire team.

During the opening weeks, the WINOL website didn’t have a confirmed form, which limited what myself and the rest of the features team could produce. It also hindered the news reporters, who didn't know how to put their stories onto the site.

As news stories and feature ideas were discussed during meetings, knowing what form they’d take on the website was difficult because the website wasn’t finished. The initial week or two where we were experimenting with website design was the least productive for the features team.

On reflection, I don't feel that enough was done to plug individual news stories. On the features team and indeed for the weekly bulletin, every effort was made to gather views from Twitter, Facebook, online forums and through direct emails to people who we felt would appreciate the content.

On average, each WINOL bulletin this term has achieved around 158 views, which should be higher considering the quality of our output. YouTube statistics show that each bulletin last term averaged around 359 views. Our viewing figures have dropped slightly for the bulletin but the number of hits on the website are increasing, which suggests that more needs to be done to plug the bulletin on our homepage.

The platform migration from Joomla to Wordpress was another strong decision. Wordpress proved much easier for the whole team to use, as it has many functions similar to 'Blogger'. Wordpress also has the ability to allow users to install custom plugins and templates, which the web editor, Jason French, made the most of. Using the Wordpress plugin tool we were able to add features such as an article viewer counter, social networking buttons and footnotes visible only to authors and site admins.

External links and embedded players continue to have a major role in drawing traffic to the website. Alexa shows that the main WINOL page has 61 traffic sources that can be traced back to websites including The Student Room, Journalism.co.uk and YouTube. ELL has over 400 external website links, however, so if WINOL wants to compete effectively, efforts must be made to ensure our site is linked across the web.

Our work on a number of 'specials' this term has also helped to improve website circulation. The American elections made the front page of Journalism.co.uk, which was an impressive achievement proving that our content on the night was top quality. The Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Debate was also a huge success, selling out on the night. Most recently, our work on WINOL 99 has gone one step further in putting an innovative spin on local news.

At the time of writing, WINOL has a British traffic ranking of just over 10,000 and a worldwide traffic ranking of around 477,000. The Hampshire Chronicle has a UK ranking of 40,000, so for the WINOL team to outperform a genuine local news team made up of paid professionals is outstanding work and proof that the content we're delivering has importance on both a local and national scale.

The performance from the news team has also improved throughout this run of bulletins. In our opening weeks, interviews were poorly framed, a number of reporters had issues with sound quality and often the stories weren't particularly interesting. As the reporters continued to contribute to the WINOL bulletin, however, the quality improved. It became standard procedure to include some NATSOT in a piece or a well-delivered PTC. The inclusion of a 'coming up' belt also gave the bulletin some added polish and was a brilliant addition to the show, as it served as a means of stopping viewers from clicking off of the bulletin.

I feel one of the highlights of this term from the news team was Faith Thomas' continued work on the Ford factory closure. It was vital that the team did well to cover the story as it was of significant local importance, so revisiting the story as new developments arose was very effective. Lou O'brien's weekly look at the Hampshire Commissioner candidates during the build-up to the debate was also very well produced.

This term one of our main competitors was East London Lines and statistics show we managed to put up a strong fight. In September, WINOL had a UK Alexa ranking of around 50,000, which was poor compared to ELL's 38,000 (approximately). Undoubtedly, one of the reasons explaining our poor start was the lack of an established website design, but this was soon fixed and once it was, rankings improved.

This month, WINOL has come out on top with a UK Alexa ranking of around 10,000, compared to ELL's 25,0000 (approximately). This, in my opinion, is one of the key signs of WINOL's success this term. We have a new and improved website, higher viewing figures, well-established news and features and a dedicated fashion magazine, all of which draw users to the website and engage our audience.

The WINOL fashion magazine, Absolute:ly, looks highly professional. The striking animated banner at the top of the page is an effective means of showcasing the best content on the magazine. Sophie Webb's Legacy photoshoot and Georgia Spears' Dr Fashion feature have both been produced to a particularly high standard. Furthermore, Kate Drummond's work on the website has resulted in some impressive, eye-catching photography, which wasn't something that WINOL excelled at before this term.

The fashion magazine is updated on a regular basis which is important, but I feel that the content is not advertised enough. A dedicated Twitter and Facebook account for the fashion magazine would help it establish its own identity and make it stand out from the main WINOL page.

Our competitions have also proved very successful, with the first of them receiving over 30 unique entries. They were plugged extensively on the WINOL Twitter account, which now has over 1000 followers. Myself and Lee Jarvis have also been maintaining a dedicated WINOL Here and Now Twitter account throughout the term, which in itself has reached close to 100 followers.

Before officially beginning work on the features team, I attempted a piece titled '48 Hours Without a Mobile Phone’. The article took the form of a typical two-page magazine spread with some still images of myself and a mobile phone and described my struggle without the technology over that time. At this point, it was thought that on our return myself and Lee Jarvis would be producing a monthly online magazine accessible through a .PDF file.

It was decided soon after arriving that this format would not work. Looking back on this editorial decision, it was wise to abandon this idea. The structure myself and Lee were backing was too plain and had been done many times before, so we decided instead to try for something new, fresh and innovative. As a result, the mobile phone feature was not uploaded to the website.

Features is a production led process that requires an established, concrete system to feed ideas into. This took a couple of weeks to fully form. Finally strengthening the board during the features meetings and dividing it into specific sections gave myself and the team a much clearer idea of what was being asked of us.

The first feature I produced for the website, Appsolutely Fabulous, was made before an effective features system had been implemented. As a result, it took longer than it should have done to produce as I kept changing the appearance of the piece. Despite this, it managed to become one of the most shared pages on the website during WINOL's opening weeks.

'Top 10' gaming lists have been done many times before by writers more experienced than myself, so my original idea wasn't very strong. I don't feel my first feature was innovative in the slightest and looking back on my performance, combining text and interactive video segments instead would have improved the feature significantly.

One of my proudest achievements this term has been towards my work with the wrongfully imprisoned Paul Blackburn.

Originally, I travelled to Southampton with Brian Thornton and a group of students to see a guest speaker called Ray Krone, an American man who was serving a life sentence on death row. Coming away from the talk, I felt inspired by Ray’s story and knew that exploring the subject of miscarriage of justice cases would be ideal for WINOL features.

Ray’s story was particularly interesting, but it wasn’t relevant to the UK’s legal system. This was when I decided to talk to Paul Blackburn, who was at Southampton the week after Ray. I'd been informed prior to the talk that filming in the building in which Paul was speaking was prohibited, so I went to the event with Lee Jarvis prepared to conduct the interview outside the venue if I had to, even though I knew this wasn’t ideal. I wanted a confessional interview and carrying that out anywhere other than a quiet location inside would give the wrong effect.

I decided to approach Paul at the end of his talk and asked him if an interview at Winchester would be possible. He said he appreciated the fact I’d asked him in person instead of via email and agreed to talk to me in Winchester.

The interview itself went well and what Paul told me was genuinely heartfelt. It was both the hardest and most enjoyable interview I've done for WINOL. In the end, I spent almost an hour talking to Paul about his experiences.

I feel the three-point lighting configuration, built with the help of Graham Marshall, gave the interview a nice visual polish. We were somewhat limited by the room we used in terms of space, but the way in which we positioned the cameras ensured this wasn't noticeable at all. Lee Jarvis and Dan Mackrell worked well on the cameras and framed the interview nicely.

If I'd had more time to work on the feature, I would have liked to produce a mini-documentary studying Paul's case and possibly more on the Innocence Project and its work as a whole, using other contacts at the Southampton Innocence Project and Paul's solicitor.

Since editing and uploading the interview with Paul Blackburn, the video has reached around 700 views and 34 likes on YouTube. It has become my most popular piece for WINOL and has also managed to generate the most views of any video uploaded to the WinchesterJournalism YouTube channel this term.

I feel other items I have published to the WINOL website have been produced to a high standard too, including my 'Behind the Scenes at the BJTC' piece, 'WINOL Merch' and my work as part of the U.S. Embassy team.

Myself, Lee Jarvis, Sam Sheard and Kirsty Phillips spent the evening at the US Embassy as part of WINOL's coverage of the 2012 American election. We were one of the first teams into the media room on the night and were tweeting and gathering video content throughout the event. The location in which we set up our equipment wasn't ideal, however.

As the election results came in, the lights were dimmed so the monitors around the room were more visible. This was something we should have anticipated before the day, as we could have taken additional lighting equipment to make sure this wouldn't hinder our performance.

Within less than 15 minutes, we were gathering interviews for WINOL's 2012 American Election Special. By the time our night at the Embassy had come to a close, myself and the team had worked together to edit and upload over 30 GV's, 4 interviews and a number of as-live PTC's. Not only was our work showcased during WINOL's election special the morning after, but it was also well received on the features section of the website after myself and Lee Jarvis produced a video package containing the highlights.

The performance of the WINOL team this term has been outstanding and as a result our website is looking the best it ever has. Despite lower viewing figures on the bulletin and Sportsweek, our content remains consistently professional and engaging. Alexa statistics prove we are one of the top teams of student journalists in the country and if we continue to work at the level we've established, this will remain the case for a long time to come.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the WINOL features team and the team as a whole, and look forward to seeing the website and bulletin go from strength to strength in the future.

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