Does opening of a KFC caff warrant a live blog?

New KFC opens in Nottingham – live blog!

Really? A LIVE BLOG? This I have to see…

Sadly, it was not the opening of a super duper ruper KFC, the biggest and fanciest in the world, one staffed by real live chickens, or one perched atop a precarious mountain cliff you had to climb up to. Nor was there going to be a celeb fest, with the chance to glimpse young Romeo Beckham, Caitlyn Jenner or even a Nottingham Forest reserve goalie.

What it was, it turned out, was the opening of a bog standard KFC in a Nottingham suburb, to partner the five already open in the city.

I was alerted to this breaking news story via my personal Facebook feed, thanks to the eagle eyed people behind the humorous Angry People in Local Newspapers group.

Clicking on the link I landed on the news home page of the Nottingham Post, where I once sat on a news desk helping to deliver four daily editions.

The live blog ended up being surprisingly extensive. From a start time of 10am til after the lunch rush at 1.30, there was a video tour of the new cafe taken on the reporter’s phone, a picture of the first customer with her milkshake, a shot of the menu, a picture of new employee Raj, the backs of people’s heads in a queue, a picture of veggie reporter Tom’s KFC lunch (no chicken for me thanks…) and a snap of his shiny shoes to illustrate they didn’t conform to safety standards so he couldn’t take us ‘behind the scenes’.

As these things go reporter Tom did a good job. The souvenir front page he gets given when he leaves his job in how ever many years will probably feature a KFC logo as a reminder of this particular highlight of his career.

So, let’s not all get too serious and po-faced about it, yes? It’s just a bit of fun isn’t it?

Well, no actually. There’s nothing funny about this being seen as an answer to any question I might ask about the future direction of regional newspapers.

Setting aside the possibility that this was a dry run for reporter Tom in the art of live blogging, my questions are around the editorial decision-making which led to it being seen as a good use of a half day of his time.

Part of me hopes it was a free puff offered up to KFC as part of an advertising deal. While ethically suspect, this would at least be understandable.

Readers’ sarcastic comments reflect this uncertainty:

“NEP at the cutting edge of modern journalism!”

“I’m going to be opening an envelope this afternoon if you’d like to come along and report on that. But seriously why don’t you balance this “story” with an article about the disgusting cruel conditions that KFC chickens have to endure?

“It’s a KFC! I mean really… this is news worthy is it… I give up if this counts as worth having a live news feed!!”

I am desperately keen to see local newspapers survive. The challenge to find ways to pay for journalism and to monetise content is proving a difficult one to resolve. None of our major regional news publishers seems to have hit on the right formula.

Print sales remain in freefall, with continuing declines in the past 12 months; mergers, closures and redundancies of journalists are increasing.

So the commercial need to focus, belatedly, on websites and digital, and the attendant fascination with clicks and page visits, is understandable.

I also understand the celebrations that come when a newspaper’s website audience increases and when audited ABC figures for online readerships soar, as they did at the end of 2015.

The Nottingham Post, for example, has seen a 35% rise in online audience.

I also get that news desks and editors are increasingly attuned to the need to up their stats; and that the Most Read and Most Popular stories are picked over at editorial meetings and attempts made to replicate the formula day after day.

But is the way forward to have more clickbait of this kind – a straight puff piece for KFC, totally lacking in integrity?

There will have been plenty of clicks on this story. It is one of those ridiculous items that gets attention, and this one in particular will pop up in years to come as an example of the journalistic experiments of this era.

Journalism researchers, academics and trainers have picked it up to use as a talking point with students about the pros and cons of the exercise.

But is this really something for regional papers to aspire to? Is it, as a regional editor put it to me when I questioned the value of the item, about “giving the public what they want”?

I’m part of ‘the public’. I clicked on the story (several times as it happens to see how the live blog progressed and to watch the video). I have no intention of visiting KFC (also being a veggie!) and don’t live anywhere near Nottingham. My stats might well suggest I am either a KFC fan, a Nottingham resident, or have some other interest. They will almost certainly testify that this is what I, the public, want.

The reality is the exact opposite.

View the live blog at:

http://m.nottinghampost.com/Live-Opening-KFC-Cinderhill/story-29277918-detail/story.html

 

 

 

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