Digital news brings community together

The Oxford Mail website

The Oxford Mail website

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Didcot and Wallingford. Call me on 01865 425425

IMAGINE what life would be like if a natural disaster brought the city to a virtual standstill.

This scenario might sound futuristic and far-fetched but think again.

For it is precisely what occurred in Oxford at the start of the year when the Abingdon and Botley Roads were closed to traffic because of flooding.

While the floods meant no traffic could pass on two major routes into Oxford, the emergency created lots of traffic on the Oxford Mail website.

Oxford Mail:

After a live blog was created on the website, images of soaked parts of the city and beyond flooded in, with citizen journalists helping us to tell one of the biggest stories of the year online and in the Oxford Mail.

A stream of pictures were uploaded onto the blog and the more pictures we featured, the more residents sent them in.

Oxford Mail:

The Mail's Flood Blog kept readers up to date on the latest road closures and weather warnings

Once the flood waters died down, the post mortem began on how the disaster could be averted in the future, with the focus on fundraising for a £125m flood relief channel for the city called the Western Conveyance.

Each new development has been reported in the paper, and online, with readers’ comments online furthering the debate about how Oxford’s flood problem could be solved once and for all.

“I thought the live blog was excellent and I enjoyed the online coverage,” said Peter Rawcliffe, chairman of Oxford Flood Alliance, pictured below.

“The flood blog was a perfect example of how coverage of breaking news online complemented what is in the newspaper itself.

“The blog was obviously very popular and people saw it as a place to send their pictures so that they would be seen by others.

“The website acted as a real hub for the community – people looking at the coverage online were sharing their experiences and felt more joined together as a result.

“It was very good for community cohesion and keeping up morale.”

Mr Rawcliffe said he hoped the paper and the website would continue to get the message out about why Oxford needs the Western Conveyance.

He added: “It’s not guaranteed that it will happen but it’s good value for money and I’m hopeful that it will happen – we can’t have Oxford flooded out in the same way every two or three years.”

The Oxford Mail website also featured a live blog when St Giles was interrupted in February by a bomb threat to the Army recruitment office.

Oxford Mail:

The bomb threat at an Army recruitment centre on St Giles

Commuters rely every day on oxfordmail.co.uk for its live travel updates.

When traffic grinds to a halt on the A34 or in the city centre – last month’s fatberg in Frideswide Square caused major hold-ups – the website will provide regular updates.

Oxford Mail:

The live blog about a bomb threat at the Army recruitment office in St Giles

Drivers can check the website on their phones or tablets when they are in a jam, provided it is safe and legal to do so.

Ed Turner, deputy leader of Oxford City Council, said: “The Oxford Mail website is an invaluable resource for citizens and political aficionados alike.

“It’s a fantastically swift way for readers to find out what is going on in the city.

“The flood blogs definitely brought people together and was a very useful source of information for people affected by flooding.

“Local politics is blessed with armchair generals and they sometimes suggest in the online comments section how local authorities should be run.”

Oxford Mail assistant editor Jason Collie, who oversees Newquest Oxfordshire’s websites and social media pages, said: “There has been some doom and gloom in the newspaper industry about what is going to happen in the future. But print and digital combined means we now have more readers than we have ever had before.

Oxford Mail:

Oxford Mail Assistant Editor Jason Collie

“In January and February, during the floods and other breaking news stories, in each month we had more than 500,000 unique browsers looking at oxfordmail.co.uk.

“That is a mind-blowing figure and showed that our readers realised we could supply all the information they needed, first, fastest and best.”

Mr Collie added that the digital world was “all about real-time news”.

He said: “During something like the floods, as well as watching the story develop, readers wanted to know information that was affecting their day-to-day lives and the website was the place where all that information was gathered.

“People could find out if their buses were running, if schools were affected, and if they were going to be able to catch the train home that night.”

Another big change in the past three years is people accessing the website and the paper’s Twitter and Facebook feeds from two or three different devices.

Oxford Mail:

The Oxford Mail app for tablets

“They are looking for different types of news on the different devices, so we try to cater for all these different demands,” Mr Collie added.

“We can do this with the website and with the Oxford Mail app, which launched in January for tablets.

“Now we are about to launch a trial in which we will be sending news bulletins and significant updates straight to people’s phones via the messenging service Whatsapp.

“We believe we are one of the first newspapers to be going down this route.

“Once again, this is all about the Oxford Mail evolving in a fast-changing, fast-paced digital world.”

GET INVOLVED

  • Access the Oxford Mail online at oxfordmail.co.uk
  • Follow us on Twiitter for the latest news at twitter.co.uk/theoxfordmail
  • Like our Facebook page and see what is being shared at facebook.co.uk/oxfordmail
  • If you are on the go use our specially-designed mobile site by visiting m.oxfordmail.co.uk
  • And sign up for our tablet app by going to the App Store in iTunes
  • Local bands are being given the chance to show off their music by providing MP3 sound clips for the music section of oxfordmail.co.uk. Acts featuring so far include folk singer Jess Hall, Huck and the Xander Band, and math rock combo Bright Works.

ESSENTIAL FOR ADVERTISERS

  • DIGITAL commercial manager for Newsquest Oxfordshire and Wiltshire Darran Reynolds said: “As online growth across our news sites continues to soar it has increasingly become an essential part of our advertisers’ marketing plan.

“Print and online combined means that we can offer our clients unbeatable exposure to the local audience and we are seeing terrific results for our clients as they continue to invest in this medium.”
Steve Thompson was digital media manager at the Oxford Mail from 1998 to 2001. He said the paper’s website started out as thisisoxfordshire.co.uk in 1998, and has changed beyond recognition since.

  • Mr Thompson, who lives in Benson, near Wallingford, and still works as a digital media consultant, said: “In the early days the website featured mainly text with the odd photo.

“That was before broadband when just a few journalists had email addresses.
“Now people can engage with the website’s content in so many different ways and they use it because they want to know what’s going on right now.”

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