Breaking the Big Stories

This week we spoke to IMPRESS member, Stuart Littleford, editor of Saddleworth News, about how he has brought this independent local news website to national attention.

Most journalists are programmed to chase the big stories, uncover a scandal or shine a light on some otherwise unknown mystery, but few find themselves in the spotlight of a front page national story as the only source who is on the ground. Stuart Littleford has made a name for himself in his local area as a reporter who breaks the big stories. When two policewomen, PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone, were shot and killed in Greater Manchester in 2012, Stuart was the first on the scene as he had been making an unconnected enquiry just a couple of miles away as the news broke. He tweeted the story with a picture of a police car blocking off the road leading to where the women were shot and for the next few hours he was the only source on the ground with virtually every national newspaper and broadcaster contacting him for updates. He did a live report on Sky News who also featured Saddleworth News on the front of the main Sky News website for the next few hours.

Stuart takes up the story: “As the first reporter on the scene, my tweets from Saddleworth News became the content for the national story. Similarly when a young boy was killed in a huge gas explosion in Oldham, I was the first reporter there and the nationals took our content.

“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to uncover locally and a number of my stories have also made national news. I investigated a story about sexual exploitation of children in schools, some local to our area, which was subsequently used by several national papers.”

Stuart has gained a reputation for Saddleworth News as a trusted source, delivering fast, on the spot news reporting, so while he has not actively pursued national awareness for his stories, his skill in being there when important events happen, his nimbleness in using every social media platform at his fingertips, whether it’s Periscope, video, audio, twitter or FB and his sheer determination and intrepidness to ‘get the story’, has meant exposure for his stories way beyond the scope of his local publication.

Saddleworth News began as a project for journalist Richard Jones in 2010, a stay at home dad at the time, until Stuart Littleford took it over in 2012. It has now grown to a readership of some 250,000 unique visitors a month. Its success is partly down to the interactive nature of the relationship between Stuart and his readers. 

“I will often broadcast live from an unfolding story on Periscope and Twitter so viewers can see in real time what is happening in the area. Inevitably then I am retweeted and there are comments and questions from readers which I can answer.  People have come to rely on Saddleworth News. When we experienced flooding last winter and heavy snow, we were an important source for updates used by local radio,” said Stuart.

When it came to professionalising the news site, Stuart wanted the credibility of joining a regulator and he was looking for an organisation that might put him in touch with other, similar publications. “We all do a worthy job and can learn from each other, being part of IMPRESS gives us the opportunity to work together to improve standards in local journalism,” he says.

Stuart is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, The Society of Editors and The Media Society.