Saturday, 15 May 2010

The future is now

I spend a lot of the time bemoaning the state of our industry. It may seem like I like to do it, but I truly don't.
What thrills me about this job is getting stories and bringing out newspapers. Newspapers, especially local ones, are truly important things for so many people and this current spiralling descent into extinction really hurts me.
I feel genuine sorrow for the new fresh faced recruits joining papers now. Working so hard to snag one of the few jobs on newspapers only to see them become a shadow of their former selves.
In five years time I dread to imagine what ridiculous pamphlet will be masquerading as a newspaper after more and more inevitable cuts.
It's easy to moan but what can we do?
Firstly we need to maintain our product's quality. If no-one is reading your paper there is not much defence in keeping it going. I know it's a struggle to remain motivated to do your job when it's obvious those above you have given up, but it is even more important to bring out the best paper you can.
Next is to fight every attempt to cut jobs, drop editorial pages and cut distribution.
It can often feel like there is no point and it's inevitable but the harder we make it for our MD to shave another couple of pages out of paper, knock a couple of thousand off our paper round or sell more ads on our premium pages the less likely he will want to do it.
Same for jobs. If he/she knows there will be an almighty row from the whole newsdesk over losing another reporter/sub the spineless twat is more likely to look to shed jobs in other departments first.
Embrace the web. It's not a replacement to newspapers, it's an added string to our journalistic bows. They still can't find out a way to make the same revenue out of their websites as they do our core products and I can't see that changing any time soon. But by treating the web as a part of your job as a journalist you not only increase your own skills base but you will start attracting new audiences who hopefully will start to look at your papers as well.
Bring in money ideas. By telling your ad team about a new shop/restaurant opening in town you might actually start creating revenue. You will get told things that may be great advertising opportunities which would go unnoticed by the ad sales peeps. The more money coming in, the better chance of keeping your jobs.
Keep the pressure on. If you are getting reaction from readers about changes at your paper, whether it be reduction in distribution, editorial or an obvious lack of news due to staff shortages get those people to complain all the way up the ladder.
Why not give discretely point them in the direction of your MDs phone number/email address. Let the ivory tower wankers soak up some of our shit for a while. They live such sheltered lives I doubt they have met an angry or disenchanted reader of their products for quite some time. Could be a nice thing to get them reacquainted with the green crayon brigade and see how easy their lives are after that.
Get out of the office. Meet some people, show that you care about the patch you cover. Re-engage with the readers so that hopefully they start to feel a bit of loyalty about their local paper again.
Get angry. You should be pissed off about what your companies are doing and how they are being run. Be furious about it. We are great at pointing out when other workers get shafted by their own employers but we are remarkably shy when it comes to defending our own jobs.
You want protection join a union. Work together to stop the bosses making these often ludicrous decisions that will ultimately send this business to the wall.
Things are changing in this industry and we cannot ignore the fact but our core job of reporting remains fundamentally the same. We just have a whole load of new ways of doing it.
Newspapers are still profitable. In some cases hugely so. But we are being bled dry by companies that have to see year-on year growth and are not satisfied by stable profits.
If the market is not there they make false profits by cutting pages, slashing staff and not putting out the same numbers of papers. Suicide by a thousand cuts.
If only our bosses realised if they actually listened to their people who love this job and harnessed a tiny part of the massive passion we have for newspapers, they might just have a chance of survival.
Role on the truly independent press, I say.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Local Newspaper Week

How many of you have spent a few hours trawling through their archives or contacting the great and good to put together a feature for Local Newspaper Week?
How many have written about the importance of newspapers for local democracy, holding forth swords of truth and shining lights in dark corners and suchlike?
How many MDs have demanded their titles run this stuff in favour of news stories to highlight how important your papers are to the local community?
And how many of you realise what an enormous hypocritical crock of shit this really is?
Who the fuck are we trying to kid?
The majority of readers already know their local paper really doesn't give a shit about them. That is why they are based 30 miles away in an anonymous news hub being created by multimedia content creators who churn out unchallenged council and police PR.
The majority of advertisers feel like they are being sold a lie when papers produce ever dwindling ABC figures or have stopped publishing them at all as beancounters save cash by cutting distribution on a monthly basis.
Press officers rub their hands in glee as their irrelevant chod is printed, in many cases word for word, as the few hacks who remain on news desks struggle to fill the pages of the three or four titles they are responsible for which used to be fully staffed.
Senior managers continue to be paid bonuses while profits fall, titles close, journalists get sacked and our pay is frozen yet again.
The thing is we in the newsrooms actually do believe in the importance of local papers, it's a criminal shame our MDs really don't give a fuck.
Newspapers to them are vehicles to make cash so they can tick the right boxes, fill out forms and hit targets so they achieve their OTT this quarter. Editorial is an expensive and irritating evil to these tossers.
If they could sack us all tomorrow and fill it with ads they would without hesitation. Look at the advance of Atex and other template systems. Fuck any qualms newsdesks have with its effectiveness or reliability. One hack who had the system recently installed told me it was such a clunking piece of crap it was adding hours to the newsdesk's day in getting the paper out.
The management couldn't give a toss however as they save hundreds of thousands a year by sacking all the subs.
Don't worry about the quality, or the mistakes, we're still making a profit.
Tick box, fill form, yippee it's bonus time again.
Short term thinking breeding long term problems.
Johnstone has died but doesn't quite know it yet. But the group’s chief executive, took home £959,000 in pay, benefits and bonuses after reporting a 56 per cent drop in profits, five titles closed and more than 750 jobs shed. Its staff are now facing a further £15million in cuts.
The wonderfully named Sly Bailey, head of Trinity Mirror, took home a bonus of £671,000. TM's profits dropped 41per cent it shut 30 titles shut and 1,700 jobs were lost. She already gets paid a cool £1million.
A scandal, a disgrace. Nah, just newspapers.
And who is going to print that?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Praise the newspaper gods

It's been a pretty good 2010 so far.
Newspaper editorial space has increased as advertising revenue gradually goes up. Our bosses are still maintaining it's tough out there but our front line ad staff spread a more hopeful gospel.
Our team is getting some cracking tales and the papers are looking great.
It's a time for optimism and forward thinking.
So tell me why the two organisers of our only UK wide regional press awards have decided that this year they will axe their events.
Wilmington, former owners of the Press Gazette managed to retain the rights to both the Regional Press Awards and the British Press Awards after the PG went tits up. The British Press Awards is still running this year, the Regionals however are being 'rested' (whatever the fuck that means).
The Newspaper Society has cancelled all three of its awards this year including the Weekly Newspaper of the Year blaming 'market conditions' and 'a need to improve the format of the awards'.
Apparently newspaper owners "felt unable to commit".
To my, oh so cynical, mind I say what a pile of horsecock.
For years the press awards have been an easy way to make a lot of money. At £40-£50 per entry and £100-£130 per seat at a table should your organisation get shortlisted, it's easy money.
But now the taps are turned off.
We had to pay our own entries last year so most of the office did not bother. And try getting a seat for the main event after one of your team got lucky. You may as well have asked the MD to suck you off.
Both awards went ahead and you could see the organisers shifting uncomfortably in their seats as the halls were half empty.
The writing was on the wall then and even I can see how bean counters actually have some justification in not paying out more than £1,000 in entry fees and a further bag of sand should we get an invite to the big show.
But this industry needs awards. Regional newspapers, now more than ever, need recognition for the great work some still do.
EDF are thankfully still doing theirs but they are only region by region. Other more localised awards are still going on and some groups are doing the in-house variety.
Journalists work long hours for shit money and one of the highlights of the year is the opportunity to put on a tux and take the piss out of your peers at a free booze up.
It also helps to recognise that bringing out good papers still matters and allows junior staff to make their CV a little more exciting with a press award or two.
It's a shame that once again money gets in the way. I wonder what entry fees and event tickets would cost if the events were not for profit.
Here's my suggestion. Get the big five newspaper publishers to stump up the running costs for a 2010 awards for the regional press. Make entry free and shortlisters get a gratis ticket to the big night.
After all each of these publishers crow about winning awards in their titles so there must be some commercial gain to this whole process.
Would £50/100k be enough to hold the first Local Newspaper Awards.
After all if the chief executive of Newsquest can cash in £200k worth of company shares to stick in his own piggy bank surely his company (and the others) can stump up ten or twenty large each to put a smile on their many thousands of employee's cherubic faces.
Fuck me, I don't half live in a dream world!!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Sign of the times part 3

A recent job ad, once again missing the bleedin' point by about a country mile............

We are a specialist HR publishing company with both online and paper publications. We are looking for an Editor who can do the following:

Most importantly - write features and articles, cover stories, columns, news and the leading letter. (do all the work then)

Then, in no particular order of importance! (the irrelevant exclamation mark is possibly trying to make all the next pile of mind numbingly boring menial tasks sound slightly interesting)

•manage interns & in-house reporters and generate and plan feature/column ideas across all printed products (for in-house reporters read unpaid workies, we like to call them interns cos it makes them sound like they have a fucking clue)

•flat-plan editorial in all publications research background information for articles and fact-check (so back to writing stories again)

•search the internet and other medium for new ideas for features/articles/news etc (steal shit off other people, rewrite the intro and bang your byline on it. Come on, you have 50 pages of edit to fill about a subject so shit even those in the industry don't want to read it)

•sort through press releases (and bin them? or just copy and paste them on a page)

•establish and maintain contacts within the HR/recruitment industry (unlucky)

•set up meetings/interviews (with anyone in particular or just in general)

•interview (both face to face and on the telephone) (as opposed to using smoke signals or a psychic medium)

•track other publications/assess competition (there's competition!!!!!)

•ensure every word is proof-read on time and that all authors' amendments are implemented correctly (authors' amendments! So you need copy approval, oh dear)

•proof-read and edit all publications (after you have written them all I presume)

•sign off all materials and take full responsibility for corrections, mistakes etc. (fall on your sword you blaggard there's an errant apostrophe )

Your character should be - Flexible, hard working, driven and a self starter. (and barmy)

Most of all we are looking for someone who is passionate about writing and will just fit into our team. (not passionate about editing then)

Welcome to journalism 2010 you can be the boss - as long as you realise you are the boss of yourself.

No mention of any money. No mention of online skills.

Oh, and they missed off making the fucking teas.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Honesty isn't always the best policy

Sometimes being right is not enough.
When you work for the nationals you can afford to roll in and spend a couple of days upsetting the citizenry because in 48 hours you know you will be somewhere else annoying the great and good on another story.
Make a complaint to a national and you may as well be talking to a deaf lamp post.
Your regional newspaper however has a much harder task when it comes to running those edgier stories and keeping the peace.
I use to think print and be damned. But after a while getting damned can grow a little tiresome.
How many times have you printed a story that is 100 per cent true and been innundated with complaints?
Or defend a splash you know is right because of a concerted campaign from the vocal minority.
Or apologised as a public relations exercise rather than a moral judgement.
When you are the local paper sometimes you can go too far and you have to admit when you are wrong. The old adage don't shit on your doorstep also rings true.
But even when you are right you can be horribly wrong.
I prefer my saying 'Report everything and let the subs sort it out'.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Sign of the times part 2

A recent job ad spotted on HTFP.

Location: Market Rasen
Lincolnshire Newspapers Ltd
Do you want to join Johnston Press, one of the largest
regional newspaper groups in the UK
, at editor level?
We are looking for a new editor for the Market Rasen Mail – a great opportunity to make a mark at a time of exciting challenges for a paper that is going
The Rasen Mail is the heart of its community, a bustling market town in the Lincolnshire Wolds.
There is a very small team – and we need an all-rounder who is comfortable with reporting, editing and running the diary.
Applicants need to be NCE-qualified seniors who want to take the first step
on the management ladder and who have the right attitude to get things done.
A great package including company car awaits the successful applicant.

Please correct me if I am wrong here, when they say "editor" do they actually mean dogsbody who is prepared to do absolutely everything because they sacked everybody else.
This is supposed to be an editors level job yet they are asking the succesful applicant to do basic reporting. WTF?
I am all for lending a hand when things are tough but this is putting it in as a job requirement.
The clue to this ad is right at the bottom. Must have the "right attitude to get things done". Or in real English must work their nuts off doing every job under the sun for fuck all money because, despite being the "one of the largest regional newspaper groups in the UK", we seriously under resource our paper's editorial departments because we don't actually believe them to be important.
I imagine the company car in question is in reality a pair of roller skates and a push.
The only places this newspaper is going is straight down the shitter.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Masters of our own demise

Back in the old days journalists used to have a strange device called a contacts book.
In it they would put the names and telephone numbers of interesting local characters, councillors, gossips, cops, lawyers, judges, tattle tales and other ne'er do wells.
The journalist would use another outdated device called a telephone and ring said contacts on a regular basis to get stories to put in the paper.
Some would give you regular stories, others were less forthcoming and normally motivated by petty spite, personal ambition or greed.
We called it basic reporting.
Nowadays we call these people 'community correspondents', we are their 'mentors' and the whole thing has the twee title of 'citizen journalism'. It's all part of the great hyperlocal plan - reporting down your local street.
But shouldn't your 'local' paper already be covering each of the areas.
Oh hang on, didn't all the reporters get fired already?
Is the real reason why Captain Desperate and the rest of his management flunkies are so keen on getting more local coverage because that is what people actually want?
Hire a couple of journalists then you dumb fucks. One journalist will produce more stories per week than your army of drivel-typing curtain twitchers.
Stop trying to get Joe Public to do my reporters' jobs for them on the cheap just so when the next round of lay-offs come they have some copy to stick between the ads.
Thankfully, at the moment, the majority of community correspondents are a complete waste of time.
They sign up write one piece about their holidays, or why they think President Obama is a great/bad President, then never log on again.
Others are prolific but equally irrelevant or worse utterly reckless with no regard for defamation laws or balance. A handful, a rare, rare breed, actually do come up with one or two stories every six months.
Back in my day these last guys would already be in my contacts book rung on a regular basis and filleted for their information. But maybe that's just me.
Is someone a citizen journalist if they come in with the splash one week but are never seen again? Or is that the internet equivalent of a ring in?
I have no qualms with Mr Smith posting his results of the Tiddlywinks Championships or the Railyway Model enthusiasts telling us about their AGM. Good luck to them and the six other people interested in it.
But creating people who may be able to replace me come the next revolution is utter madness.
I will no doubt get some flak from my forward thinking internet buddies, but while you are training up the next wave of 'citizen journalists' to do your job for free spare a thought for all the hacks already laid off last year and hope 'citizen journalism' doesn't take your job in 2010.