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Local Newspaper Week: New technology, same Express & Star values

By Harry Leather | Opinions | Published:

Newsrooms might have been transformed by technology, but the motivation to serve our readers hasn't changed.

However you read the Express & Star it's the same quality content.

Rewind a generation and my job didn't exist.

The Express & Star was printed on the same day, had no website (let alone social media pages) and video was something you watched on VHS.

A lot has changed.

Now, more than one and half million people visit our website each month, around 170,000 readers follow our Facebook and Twitter feeds and our YouTube videos are watched all over the world.

However, whether you prefer to read the paper, scroll through expressandstar.com or just watch us on Facebook Live, what you're getting is the same: interesting local stories that inform and entertain.

But while the ingredients that make a good story may not have changed, the recipe for creating these stories has.

For the modern reporter, a fully-charged smartphone is just as fundamental as a working pen and paper. Following the right Facebook groups and having an organised Twitter feed are just as important as regular calls and reliable contacts.

Our journalists still sit in court rooms and council meetings, visit crime scenes and crashes, scour 100-page reports and transcribe all their interviews in shorthand.

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But they also live-tweet from football grounds, film at major incidents, search for leads on social media and organise interviews through WhatsApp.

More skills are needed than ever before but the standards expected haven't dropped.

The immediacy of the internet means swift reporting is crucial to all online news outlets. But at the Express & Star accuracy and impartiality always trump speed: we like to publish first, but we prefer to publish right.

And traditional news and sub-editors with strong local knowledge are as integral as ever for maintaining these high standards.

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Elsewhere, job specifications have evolved and new roles have been created that are key to the editorial operation.

As well as having a core of reporters with a dedicated patch in the Black Country and Staffordshire, we now have video journalists and digital editors who are just as sharp on SEO and social media as they are at grammar and headline-writing.

We get tip-offs from tweeters, from Facebook commenters, via email, through forms on our website and still receive a regular flow of hand-written letters.

Using online tools like Google Analytics and Chartbeat we monitor what stories interest you the most and use information about reading habits to inform what we cover and how we cover it. But we don't just chase clicks.

As local people who enjoy reading the news too, we know nothing is more frustrating than clicking on a story only to find it's not what you were sold. Thus, while some websites churn out misleading articles with teasing headlines and images, we prioritise quality and topics that are relevant to you.

The digital transformation is not confined to the newsroom.

As well as offering adverts in the newspaper, space in the classifieds and birth/death/marriage notifications, the advertising team now sell all sorts of interactive and video adverts that feature on our website. At times they may be frustrating, but they are necessary when we provide our content for free online.

We also have search engine optimisation experts, commercial video editors and pay-per-click executives, as well as an entire support team for the website.

Like a printing press needs operators, maintenance teams and pre-press crews, a website needs developers, coding experts and round-the-clock IT support.

But, be it print news, mobile news or desktop news, the constant keeping our operational machine moving is you - our readers - although you've been changing too.

More than 137,000 of you still read us in print every day. And while around the same amount of you visit the website daily, you all arrive in different ways - some on desktop, some on tablets and the majority through a mobile phone.

Whether you've been reading the same Express & Star edition for decades, subscribe to our mobile app or just pop in from social media when something catches you're eye, we're here to serve you.

We don't know where the future will take the regional news industry, but we can be sure that technology will continue provide us with new exciting tools for news gathering and story telling.

Wherever the technological transformation takes us, we will keep standing up for the Black Country and Staffordshire

Harry Leather

By Harry Leather
Digital Journalist - @hleather_star

Digital journalist covering breaking news across the region from the Express & Star's head office in Wolverhampton.

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