Archive for the ‘Regional’ category

J-students must stick around and clear up the mess

May 6th, 2009

It’s May. And, tough as the journalism market is right now, it’s about to get tougher. Journalism schools around the UK are about to spit out their latest crop of hopefuls.

Last year, I was among them. This year, with an added year of experience and cynicism, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. And, no doubt, there will be many worried students out there, wondering if their three years (or more) of study were worth it.

Here’s my advice: stick around and clear up the mess.

In an interview for Journalism.co.uk recently, I described how the job market has changed in the past year. In 2008, we were well aware that competition was tough. Reporters jobs were extremely thin on the ground. One position I applied for — on a smallish London newspaper — had, the editor told me, nearly 1000 applicants.

But now there isn’t any competition. There isn’t anything to compete over. Newspapers are getting rid, chopping down and slicing up. The reporter that left last week isn’t being replaced.

So what do journalism students do? Give up? Get a job in PR? Get a job in Sainsbury’s?

Maybe — if that’s what it takes. But here’s the crucial tip: whatever you do, stay close to journalism.

So what if there aren’t any full-time reporting roles on newspapers. Are the pages empty? No! They’re still full of words, pictures, stories. All of which are — until Murdoch invents some sort of Churnobot — written by humans. You’ll struggle with local newspapers, they don’t have much of a budget, but you could have better luck elsewhere. On the web, in the nationals — they all need writers.

So if you need to work at Sainsbury’s — do it. Work lates. Get a job in a pub.

Just spend your day being a journalist. Get shifts, even if it’s one day a week. Apply for anything that’s remotely near to a newsroom. Work on the reception if you have to.

You need to make sure you’re in the industry when it’s back on the way up.

Tipping point: The Big Journalism Bail Out

March 25th, 2009

There was always going to be a tipping point. A moment when a cut back meant no newspaper — rather than just less subs. Or less court reporting. Truth is, a newspaper can’t survive without journalists. Now that serious redundancies are knocking at the door — of the regionals, for now — newspapers face a year of desperation.

In the past six months we’ve jumped from being a throw away society into a bail out society. It was only a matter of time until those over-used words started to get banded about with the newspaper industry in mind.

So should it happen?

Yes. It should.

Will it happen?

Perhaps.

That’s a scary ‘perhaps’, isn’t it? When you consider what’s at stake, you could be forgiven for getting more than jittery about our chances. Like all bail outs, it would take millions. And can we justify millions of taxpayers money to publications that do things like this? We may not miss the Daily Express, but I would resent any plan that chose certain newspapers over others. Every newspaper has a right to exist. While we could perhaps sell the benefits of having the likes of The Times bailed out and saved (not that I’m suggesting it’s in trouble), it would be nigh-on impossible to convince the masses that taxpayer’s money should be spent saving the Daily Star.

Because here’s the killer: If people wanted to save the Daily Star, they’d buy it. Same with every newspaper out there.

And think of the consequences. Suddenly all newspapers would face the same kind of scrutiny that the BBC comes under every day. If a newspaper publishes a story that people disagree with — the public would have more weight behind them knowing it was their cash spent saving it. Imagine The Sun and Hillsborough happening all over again?

A bail out is akin to a mother slipping a son a tenner a few weeks before pay day. It’s borrowed, yes, but probably won’t get paid back any time soon. But the son needed that money and things will pick up once pay day arrives, so not to worry.

Bailed out banks are — fingers crossed — waiting for that pay day. When the economy recovers, they’ll be able to go back to their lucrative money-making selves.

But can newspapers?  Probably not, no. Newspapers were in trouble well before the credit crunch took hold. There is no evidence to suggest it’ll be any better when all this mess is over. A newspaper bail out pot would not be bottomless and it would soon run out, leaving us right where we are now.

Polly Toynbee wrote about this in yesterday’s Guardian. Craig McGill has a decent dissection of her main points here. She’s sticking up for newspapers, as you’d expect, but with, as Craig agrees, blatent snobbery, she clouds her very good points. In Polly’s bail out, we save ‘quality’ papers like the Guardian, but ditch rubbishier ones like the Express. I’ll admit I’m not its biggest fan, but to steal a quote, I’ll defend its right to exist to the death.

My two pence? The newspaper industry needs help. It’s on life-support, and the only way it can be saved is by outside intervention. Journalists of old would spin in their graves knowing that the free press is reaching out to the government for a hand out, but it’s for the greater good.

But let’s not see that money wasted on newsprint.

Money should be spent on giving regional news outlets a proper online presence. It should be spent on equipment for local audio/video. It should be spent on allowing every regional newsroom to be right in the heart of the town it covers — not in some soulless newspaper factory in a big city. It should be spent on giving regionals better individual controls over their web output. It should be spent on making the coder and the graphics person as important to the news operation as the reporters, subs and editors. It should be spent on community managers, whose sole job is to reach out to readers in a way that goes far beyond a drab letters page.

A bail out is needed. But this is no bail out for newspapers — it’s a bail out for journalism.

We have to convince the British public that what they’ll be getting in return for their money will be noble and dignified. Like the bankers who will have learned the hard way for risky loans, the press needs to learn the hard way about bad journalism. Paparazzi garbage has no place in the bail out plan.

We need to become PR people. We have no excuse getting this wrong. Hell — we tell PRs how badly they’re doing their jobs all the time. Let’s show them how it’s done.

Without a powerful press, our country will suffer. But ask Joe Public whether they’ll miss newspapers and I think we all know that he wouldn’t. We need to stop making this argument about newspapers, and start making it about democracy and freedom. Only then will we win the psychological battle with the public mindset.

Good luck everyone.

NUJ follow up: I’m still not convinced

February 12th, 2009

I’ve been doing some thinking about this whole NUJ thing. My post the other night reads very ranty — indeed, I guess it is very ranty — but I’m pleased to see that many readers of this blog agree with what I’m getting at.

And, from the defence, I received some rather predictable responses against my argument.

I’ll start with this point, from Joanna Geary (formerly Birmingham Post, now The Times):

I have much sympathy with your argument, although £13 a month for legal protection may be worth it and it is for that reason I am still an NUJ member.

Of everything I received (and blimey, there was a LOT) this was perhaps the most useful. £13 a month, as Joanna says, is very good to get legal protection.I can’t argue with that.

But it’s comments like this from ‘Chris’ (no link given) that remind me why I wrote that post:

But you wait till you’re staring down the barrel of redundancy – through no fault of your own, just because it happens that your team is being shut down.

Wait till you’re being forced to accept alternative work in a place you don’t want to live or in an area you have no interest in.

Wait till you’re summoned to meetings for a “quick chat” and end up facing four senior managers using classic intimidation tactics.

Then you’ll wish you had a union rep by your side to help fight your corner.

It’s always good to have a union behind you if you’re facing redundancy. Now, I underqualify myself here, as not only have I never faced redundancy, but I work for a corporation that is arguably more ’stable’. In other words, licence fees are still coming in. While not immune, we are safer.

But my issue is that while the NUJ are fighting a corner, it’s all rather pointless. Take this recent example of an NUJ ‘fight’:

The NUJ has strongly condemned the decision of Independent Newspapers to enforce three redundancies at The Kerryman newspaper in Tralee.

Séamus said: “This proposal represents a direct attack on the editorial heart of one of the oldest and most significant newspapers in Ireland. The inevitable consequence would be a poorer newspaper, which would not adequately reflect the community life of Kerry.”

At a meeting with the union yesterday, management announced its intention to make three journalists redundant. The NUJ chapel held an emergency meeting at which management was urged to rescind the decision, which staff say will have a detrimental effect on The Kerryman and Corkman titles.

My issue with this goes back to my ‘SAVE THE JOURNALISTS!” argument. The NUJ is pouring its efforts into protesting job cuts, when really they should be coming together — as a union — to offer more productive aid to their members. Advice on training, re-skilling and re-deployment.

Ed Hart’s comment:

As an objective observer on this one, I have had good and bad experiences of unions. If I had to sum up what I would want a union to do and be, it is to work on behalf of its members. The problem is that some unions lose touch with what this means, and see themselves as lobbyists, or big movers and shakers; when in fact their remit remains low key, but essential to those who really should matter – their members. Do they occasionally forget who the customer is, and what their customer wants?

Helps me counter this argument from ‘thatstheway’ (uh huh, uh huh, I like it!):

Someone so self-consciously hip like you could have some input into its digital media strategy if you weren’t so busy doing precisely what you accuse the NUJ of doing all the time, which is complaining, and making digital media sound like some big deal that’s going to require your special skills alone.

I feel I could contribute with the NUJ no more actively than I could to ASLEF, the train drivers union. Why? I feel I don’t have a connection with their outlook in any shape of form.

I’m all for protecting the strength of print. By doing so, we uphold the values that have made our profession truly great. But I’m also aware that, like the industry, a union has to change and adapt. Sometimes there are battles that cannot be won by standing outside a building with a placard.

I think it’s time for the NUJ to take a step back and reflect.

It needs to swallow a bit of pride and admit that just because journalism is online, doesn’t make it bad. In fact, it can make it very, very good.

It needs to stop posting videos like this, which show not only a devestating lack of understanding about online media, but also an aggressive “We’re trained and you WILL employ us” attitude that we just can’t afford to have anymore.

Maybe what we need to do is knock our collective heads together and search for ideas of how the NUJ can modernise and become the forward-thinking union we all need it to be.

Because here’s the thing: I want to join the NUJ. One commenter on my last post accused me of having no sense of solidarity which, and I hope my friends would vouch for this, couldn’t be further from the truth. If the NUJ can bring itself up to speed, I would love to get stuck in and get my hands dirty.

I believe in the future of journalism. I believe that journalists will be as important in 50 years than they have ever been. I’m preparing myself, and training myself, for a world without newsprint. It’s time the NUJ got ready too.

When webcams go bad: Priceless abuse of BBC Nottingham

February 2nd, 2009

Major props to @paul_fernley for spotting this gem:

BBC - Nottingham - In Pictures - Old Market Square webcam_1233530496085

(click to enlarge if you need to!)

In other news, Paul also mentions that today marks the relaunch of BBC Weather online. Cracking timing, lads!

MEN goes mojo and wins

January 9th, 2009

Three reasons why this is great.

1) It’s an embedded player — many more people will watch it as a result.

2) It’s unedited and raw — no need to waste time in post-production. Get this out there!

3) It was shot with an N95 — meaning it was probably sent back to the newsroom instantly.

Watch:

Now, if we leave aside the fact the video is a little boring, the newsgathering here has proven to be very effective. The reporter — Nicola Dowling — has clearly rushed to the scene, whipped out here n95, and shot a quick clip. Not much thought has gone into it — because there was no need.

Imagine if Ronaldo had have still been there. She would have had an exclusive video interview. The WORLD would have watched. Sadly, I guess she was a little too late, but she’s probably got at least an hour on the local TV crew, if not more.

The point is, Nicola’s use of mobile journalism (oh, okay then, I’ll call it mojo. Sheesh) demonstrates how easy it is. How many old timers (sorry guys) say “I’m not going to go around filming too” ? Too many. But this is so easy, it would be silly not to.

After all, most reporters hold dictaphones under the face of their interviewee. Why not hold a cameraphone? Easy peasy — jobs a good’un.

That’s not to say that all newspaper video should be as rough and ready as the Ronaldo clip, though. Here the MEN get the higher quality equipment out to do some more traditional TV-style reporting. And what a damn good job they’ve made of it too.

[via Journalism.co.uk and the Manchester Evening News]

A glitch like this could prove troublesome!

January 7th, 2009

screenshot021

Um…

The Internet: Just a fad

January 6th, 2009

Phewwww! There was me thinking newspapers had to work out how to get their arses in gear and get online properly. Turns out they don’t after all. Is just a fad you see. A mere phase:

The current obsession with internet advertising and Facebook will gradually go the way of all the digital fads over the last few years.

Not my words, but those of Mark Ashley, managing director of the Wigan Courier, pictured below on a recent family holiday:

I know what he means though. Digital fads, they’re everywhere. I mean, that quirky little Amazon site soon dried up, didn’t it? And that eBay… pfft.. no-one uses that anymore. And to think we all thought E-MAIL was a good idea! Aaaahahaha!

No.

Regionals: Online memorials a good start

November 26th, 2008

As part of my little experiment monitoring the improvements that need to be made to regional news, I’m going to take a few moments here and there to mention decent improvements. Steps in the right direction, if you will.

Take this effort from the Limerick Leader. An online memorial page, set up for Shane Geoghegan after he tragically died earlier this month.

It’s a great example of harnessing an existing audience using a simple Web 2.0 tool.

ScreenShot018

It’s by no means perfect, though. It’s very hard to go from the memorial page to the newspaper’s homepage – meaning any traffic generated by the feature will not be recorded. I’m not for a moment suggesting the motivation for this memorial is to get readers, but it’s a slip up not to include a promient link where people attracted to this site — new, young readers — can click through to the main Leader site.

Now strictly speaking Limerick wouldn’t be affected by a BBC local expansion as it’s in Ireland, but this ‘Announce’ software belongs to Johnston Press. Here’s a similar example for Sunderland.

Regionals must abandon ‘one size fits all’ attitude to online

November 22nd, 2008

My last post about the local press was a bit of a rant. Anyone can do that. It takes a better mind to offer some practical advice. So I will attempt that now.

Abandon the ‘one size fits all’ attitude to online – NOW!

Frustrating, aren’t they? Regional news websites, I mean. They all look the same. ThisisLincolnshire. ThisisGloucestershire. ThisisBORING. What’s wrong with LincolnshireEcho.co.uk? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. By giving seperate name and feel, you’re distancing it from the print product.

Sam Shepherd made this comment on my blog earlier this week:

Great idea Dave… but to make those sites LOOK different will take much more than individual papers grasping the nettle. At least two of those groups (probably all but I’ve only worked for two of them) have designed awful, counter-intuituive templates that leave no room for creativity at a regional level.

Newsquest ‘bans’ embedding of iframes or widgets, so the only way you can use sites like Flickr or apps like Cover it Live is to cheat and hope the big bosses don’t notice. We have a maximum display window of 310 pixels so even when we do sneakily embed google maps or dipity timelines you can’t read them.

In your Basildon Echo example, they don’t have access to that second column of white space except to use preset Newsquest panels – on our site, I’d love to have a Twitter widget and a Flickr panel but we can’t.

You don’t expect all regional newspapers to look identical – so why can’t the groups loosen up a bit, let each site work on developing its own version of the basic template that does allow for a bit of design flexibility, proper display of pictures – and most importantly lets us use some of the great tools that are out there? When you read the comments to our site, lots of them complain about how all the newspapers look the same online. It just contributes to the ‘it’s not a local paper, they don;t really care about us’ feeling that many of our readers have.

This goes hand in hand with a comment I remember the editor of the Hull Daily Mail saying in a guest lecture once. A student asked him how he manages to stand out from the crowd and innovate when all the websites in the Northcliffe group look the same. His answer? “With great difficulty.”

Incredible, isn’t it? They really are making it harder for themselves. Worth pointing out the URL for the Hull Daily Mail is, wait for it: thisishullandeastriding.co.uk . Holy crap.

Each of these regionals should have an on-site webmaster. They should be allowed to edit the content, use widgets…. do whatever they please. Adverts may be shifted, yes, but you can bet that more advertisers will want to be on your site when it’s the most popular for local news.

It doesn’t break the budget. All the things Sam mentioned in her comment can be done for free. They only thing stopping them is bigwigs higher up the train who insist that the the right hand column must permanently say “Hundreds of jobs!”.

Perhaps they’re making it easier for all the journalists they’re sacking to find other work.