Monday, 21 December 2009

In support of the Ocker..........

In 1969 a brash Aussie took over The Sun newspaper and changed the face of British journalism, for good or ill.
This "Dirty Digger" was derided and scorned by media pundits and the Establishment and his paper branded a "shit sheet" and a "six month wonder".
Rupert Murdoch now faces similar derision and naysaying from the pundits, self-styled"experts" and Establishment figures for his decision to set up a paywall for his online products.
"It won't work, " they bleat. "No-one will put up with it," they cry. "Everything on the Internet should be free," they wail.
Well I say fuck them, I hope Murdoch succeeds, not least for the fact it will secure jobs in journalism for a long, long time.
After all, if our websites really can make as much money as our paper products they will have to be treated far more seriously than the one-man-band operations many of the big "web is the future" corporations are running now.
If anyone can do it Murdoch can and, if he does, you can guarantee all of the whiney bitches who are knocking him now will jump right on board.
My concern is how to get Joe Punter to stick his hand in his pocket every time he wants to view a story or indeed pay a subscription to one or more newspaper sites.
I like the idea of micro payments. How about one pence an article?
It appears to be small beer at first but on a concerted web search session you can soon rack up the cash.
Twenty articles a day and you have hit the cover price of the Sun.
Or double it, treble it even and you are still only talking about three pence a click.
Offer a daily unlimited access for a discounted paper cover price to reflect the lack of printing, paper and distribution costs on the web.
Monthly and yearly subscriptions offering archive search, exclusive offers and articles can be available at even heavier discounts.
Grouped products, ie all News Ints libraries globally, available at seriously low prices. Lexis Nexis charges a fortune for its newspaper cuttings service and gets hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility to create a similar system for much less cash
The real problem comes with the copying of articles onto other web-sites, blogs, forums etc.
I think this has to be tackled head on with an extremely aggressive team of lawyers stamping down hard on plagiarism and cut and paste merchants. The cost initially would be large and, yes, there would always be those "freedom fighters" out there determined to buck the trend but overall it could have an effect. Super injunctions, anyone?
Google alerts and other links go straight to the site and a charge is made per link, with some of that fee going to the original forwarding site.
Internet geeks will have a whale of a time with this "censorship" but ultimately news costs cash to produce.
If all you want on the web is a bunch of navel gazers commenting on comments that other commentators have made then carry on arguing about paying for your news feed.
Without cash we journalists stop doing what we do because we get fired.
Forget the rather ridiculous notion of citizen journalism taking over because it is a fallacy to believe your average punter would bother to do what we do on a daily basis for shag all.
There are some great hobbyists out there but the majority write libellous, biased chod or shit about what they did on their holidays.
And tell me those hobbyists wouldn't love to start making some cash for what they do.
I think the single biggest obstacle facing pay walls is not an unwillingness to pay for news but it's the method of payment.
If you could click on a link to a story that automatically debited your bank or online account by one pence, would you really umm and aah about the cost. Probably not.
But you can guarantee you will not pull out your credit card and type in your number, address and other details in order to read about the latest upset in Emmerdale.
If the newspaper organisations can put aside their differences and create a universal payment system that allows one click debiting from an online cash account (something like Paypal would not be too far off the mark) with free vouchers offering significant initial funds to use those accounts, I think the plan to charge could just work.
After all if senior management had seriously thought about paywalls before deciding to give away the farm online in the first place would we really be having this discussion?

To those incapable of snow driving.....grrrrrrr*

If you feel not confident or incapable of driving in the snow please leave your fucking cars at home during a snow storm you utter, utter wankers.
Three hours to drive a journey that takes me half an hour on a bad day because some tossers shit themselves at a few flakes on the road.
Yes, it's a bit slippy and yes, you will skid and wheelspin a little but that does not give you the excuse of stopping every five metres while driving up a hill.
Your shit driving is causing this traffic chaos and if I was driving a company car I would have shunted you off the road by now.
Keep moving, use a higher gear and treat it like bad rainfall or better yet use public transport you total bastards.

*This is not strictly about journalism but it is a story on our website so I am entitled to unleash a little.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ho ho frigging ho!

I had my Christmas do last night and it made me feel sad.
As I looked around at the gathering of drunks, reprobates, egomaniacs, addicts, whores and subs that make up my wonderful newsroom, I realised that numbers had thinned from last year considerably.
We had lost almost a third of our newsroom in 2009 and it only really registered when we pooled our cash for our Crimble bash and it came to almost half of 2008.
This year has been hard, real hard. We lost our picture editor, deputy chief sub, reporters, trainees, subs, web monkeys, sports and ents writers. Some went easy and, I have to admit, some were dead wood, others went hard and were treated despicably.
The papers were constricted, in both pagination and editorial space, morale was at an all time low and it was the best we could do was to cling on by our fingertips to bring out papers that weren't total shit.
In terms of how we fared versus our opposition, I don't think we cut fatally hard in either circulation or staffing level. But severe cuts were made and in order to capitalise on this next year we need desperately to reinvest in both areas as quickly as possible.
However, I fear our profit hungry bosses will think differently. Their mantra is margins not manpower, and I truly believe their rapacious nature will mean 2010 is the year of make do and make money and not one of investment and long term growth.
My attitude is one of fight, fight, fight. I think the MD's belief that the internet is the new oil boom is over is to our advantage.
Our company's web growth is tiny in percentage terms to the real money making newspapers. While the net is important it is not, at this time, the cash cow they thought they could rape and pillage.
As the noughties become history I predict a resurgence or at least renewed enthusiasm in print media.
This clearly does not equate to any conceivable cash investment in our departments from our target obsessed wankers who somehow control our lives, however.
But who expects miracles at Christmas?

ps Ok I caught a serious case of Couldn'tbefuckeditis after I came back from holiday. These blogs can be a right pain in the arse.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Rumours of my demise.....

No, I haven't been fired or killed myself (yet).
I have just come back from a magical two week holiday, the first of that length for many years.
The problem with having so much time of is
a) the shit storm you find yourself in
b) the amount of work that has stacked up in your absence
Due to this I shall be taking another short break to catch up and tell you all about it, and the other fantastic new initiatives my MD has recently vomited up, in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Web first, web last or web never?

I think the majority of media organisations have some kind of web policy now.
Most of the big ones have declared that shoving everything written by their hacks straight onto the web is the way forward.
Some bizarrely still see the web as the enemy and have limited, if no presence at all.
I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Our guys want it all on the web, right now. Shorts, leads, second leads, picture stories and exclusives.
Soon as its written, bang it up. It's an official policy.
It is also ridiculous (and largely ignored by me) for many reasons.
The first and, I think, main one is what commercial value is there in putting all of your reporter's stories into the web product that makes a tiny amount of the company profit, but by doing so slowly destroys the value of the print product that still makes the vast majority of said company's profit?
Our managers would say more stories on the web equals more money in the long term.
Their reasoning may be sound (despite the fact more does not mean better).
They are building a fledgling product so they need stories to populate it and give users something to look at.
I agree with getting as much copy on the web as I possibly can. But chucking up everything as it is written is clearly devised by someone who has no concept of the value of real news.
How many times has web first meant your splash in your PAID FOR paper is out there two days before you come out?
How many times have you been scooped by your opposition papers by something YOU broke on the internet?
How many times have you followed up a national news story which started off as your OWN exclusive?
How many times have you LIED to your boss about whether a story is finished so that it makes the paper before it makes the web?
Our web heads - note the fact they are called managers and not editors - will argue that it does not matter because the web audience is different to that of your printed paper.
In that case, why not give the web our exclusives or non time-sensitive stories after - or indeed the same day - that our readers in our CORE product will see them.
After that I could not care less which agency, rival or national picks up on it.
This balanced approach works.
If you read the paper only, it's all new. Web only, it's all new. Web-paper combi reader (which I am told is a growing number) they get some new, some old but they are already progressive enough to skip over the shit they have already seen.
This way treats our newspaper readers with a little respect and our web readers get the same service.
(The only thing this approach needs is investment. You can't write the content needed with just one reporter and unfortunately that's all some of you poor bastards have on a good day. But that is another topic.)
There is a reason why newspapers have someone in charge of the whole page planning process. There is a definite art to bringing out a good-looking, easily read newspaper.
Even in your most bleak, crime and grime ridden weeks, it is possible to engineer a paper that does not make the reader want to open up their collective wrist for daring to live in their postcode.
This process should be applied to our web-sites - not just a first come, first served aproach to whatever happens to be knocked out of a reporter's notebook fastest.
There should be a balance between what goes online (and when) and what is saved for the paper.
Breaking hard news is always, for me, banged on the site straight away. Crashes, murders, fires, stabbings, court results, plane crashes and nuclear strikes from Axis of Evil states all are slapped up and updated many times during the day.
This is where the web-sites really earn their money.
Readers comments and pics can give you leads and quotes an army of reporters would struggle to get.
Pictures and witness reactions can flood in. Who didn't have more pictures you could handle last time it snowed or there was a major fire?
Also police appeals, council announcements, court cases, inquests, down pages, wedding anniversaries and the village fetes should all be subject to that instant news ideal.
If it's old news tomorrow, whack it up. Why not?
With luck and a good audience you may turn the mundane into magic for your next paper edition with a decent comment or emailed pic.
I love this aspect of the web.
But save the exclusive shit, the non time sensitive stuff, the features and the great picture story until the paper comes out.
The webbies can still have it at the same time your paper readers do.
Nobody loses and your products become one entity and not competing for your reader's affections.
The web is without doubt the future of journalism, but we ain't in the future yet.

And the survey says......

Read it and weep, losers.

PR industry 'wasting its time' says survey
(Yes pedants, I know it is unrepresentative due to its sample size but who really gives a fuck?)

I offer no comment.
Instead I will be sending out 16,000 emails to every media organisation in the country, so check your junk mail folders peeps.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Dear workie person.......10 points to a great 'experience'

Ok, can I please, for the love of God, write a disclaimer on this blog to prevent a series of comments about how much of a nasty prick I am.
I am not talking about lovely little school children or those who pop into the office to get 'a taste' of what journalism is like before they embark on a different career path.
I love these type of work experience peeps. All fresh faced and dewy-eyed. I ask nothing more of them than they ask of me.
I am talking about the many thousand journalism graduates, media studies kiddies and those already signed up to a course on the multi-million pound roller coaster that are the NCTJ prelims. These are the subject of today's dissection.
Work experience is the best way to get a job in journalism. I have hired the best and recommended the most promising.
If you show willing and enthusiasm (and let's not forget talent) this is your time to shine.
A mate on another paper recently had 145 applications for one trainee position so competition is fierce and the old adage 'It's not what you know, it's who you know' still stands. Sorry HR people.
Sure working for free sucks, but if it is a way to give you an edge over the competition then it makes some sense.
At worst, a good reference earned on work ex gets you an interview. It's up to you to do the rest.
So having, I believe, qualified my position I ask something of you many workies.
Read a fucking newspaper.
Any newspaper will do. Preferably mine, but I will settle for any national (Independent excluded). Your own local paper - free, paid for or printed with a John Bull set. Hell, the Beano would be a start.
The number of workies coming through my doors who have no idea of what an intro on a news story should look like is shocking.
And these are not greenhorns, but soap dodgers two years into a three year journalism course or half way through their prelims.
Reading newspapers helps you learn what newspaper style is. It doesn't change much throughout the industry but look at PA for an easy style. Simple, straight and spare the adjectives.
Murder IS brutal. Thieves ARE heartless. Vandals ARE mindless. A tramp IS smelly. Spare the bleeding obvious.
Second, it's called work experience for a reason. It is an opportunity to see how the real world of work works. So try and look the part. Shoes not trainers, trousers or a skirt not jeans, a shirt or blouse perhaps. You might even fancy a tie.
But crop tops, fluorescent blue cardigans or football shirts with flip flops (oh yes) really doesn't cut it.
You may not be getting paid but I will, sure as fuck, send you back to your tutors in tears if you turn up dressed for a night out at a roller disco.
Third, if your first attempt at writing a news story gets taken apart by a news ed don't take it too much to heart. You are here to learn and the best way to learn is to listen to those that know what they are talking about.
Please don't take it personally that you write for shit and someone dares to help you structure a story. Even the most seasoned hacks on the nationals have sat down next to their bosses and had their tale ripped to shreds. Except most of them don't walk out and tell their mum about the horrible man.
Fourth, engage with the other reporters. They are a mine of information. They have a job and can tell you how they got it. They can help you with stories, contacts and general advice. Most don't even bite. It also shows that you have the ability to make quick relationships with strangers which is a key trait of a decent hack. Don't hang around in workies corner and discuss how it's going to be when you lot get a job. Look around you. The majority of your new work ex friends will never make it into anything resembling newspapers.
Fifth, push for a byline. Do not let other reporters nick your work. Make sure if you get a story in the paper you stake your claim to it.
Byline the copy before you send it and, if you have to, talk to a news ed or a sub to get your moniker on it. Cuts are king and most of the time a news ed or sub won't care much whose name goes on top of it. But if you make a (small) scene, you can get that precious cutting.
Sixth, come to work bearing gifts. Not biscuits or cakes (although these are a good thing) Bring stories. Find something out locally, even if it's a dud, it shows willing. Think about what the paper covers and come in with a few ideas. Bring in a tale and you will rocket in the estimation of every news ed. We see dozens of work exes a year. Those who bring in stories you can count on one hand.
Seventh, understand what you are getting into. Read journalism web-sites, HTFP, press gazette, Media Guardian, and FSB should be on your favourites.
If you don't already understand how hard it is to get a job and what a parlous state we are in, you soon will.
This is not a job for shrinking violets or those who want an easy time. This is a tough business and will become increasingly so.
Please don't ask me on press day, an hour before deadline, about what is happening in journalism. You should already know. It's called research and it is the cornerstone of our job.
Eighth, remember if you book a week's work experience someone else is missing out. So please cancel in plenty of time when you get a job or go on holiday or decide you can't be bothered. Phoning on the morning of your placement really doesn't impress.
Ninth, try not to call the editor or managing director mate, pal, buddy or chief. They really don't like that.
Tenth, if you are going to turn up late, hungover, stoned, still drunk or nonplussed on day one, don't bother. I already have my reporters doing that I don't need a workie taking the piss as well


I never imagined PR people could get so upset about one little post.
Jesus, if YOU personally aren't that shit then clearly I am not talking about YOU.
Just for the record I have written equally scathing articles about my own industry.
In fact, I have only really had a pop at your "industry" twice in about 70 posts because I am really more interested in the scandalous destruction of my own beloved industry.
But since I didn't write those blogs in bullet points with an easily digestible key to each post then why would I expect you to read them?
Anyway, I am going to continue to write about journalism and reporters and news and things for a while. So if you don't mind, can you fuck off and I will send you a twitter next time I slag your pointless jobs off.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Fact versus fiction

Firstly, I have to apologise for my previous post. Its headline should have read 'Why the vast majority of PRs should die (or just have a bad day)'.
Judging by the comments (some of which came without editor's notes) I have touched a nerve and upset our PR brethren.
I hang my head in shame. I have been crass, sexist, and ill informed.
I am both upset and disturbed.
Not for voicing my opinion, however. Or swearing. Or writing what I felt on that day. Fuck it, it's my opinion. Read it, don't read it, I could not care less.
No, I am both upset and disturbed for the fact my chod got more comments than a recent tale on my newspaper's website (unique users = many 1,000s a month) about a scrote getting just three years for kicking someone to death outside a pub.
It got more comments than a story about a kid getting run over by a drink driver who walked free from court on a technicality.
More comments than a council's decision to evict five OAPs from the homes their families grew up in. The homes they thought they would live in until they died.
More reaction than our campaign to save a kid dying from leukaemia.
In the last two days more than a quarter of the total readership of my blog has come on to read and comment on what is, in essence, a load of made-up shit written by a self righteous, opinionated idiot.
Is this what really gets us riled? Is this the future of news? Why do you really give a shit? You don't even know who I am.
Welcome to the internet's world of meaningless shat and massive indifference.
Tune in to my next blogs. 'What I did in my Holidays', 'Why I think Hitler was pretty cool' and 'Why I reckon your mum is a whore'.
Or go and have an opinion on something that actually matters.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Why PRs should die

I get sent at least 150 emails a day - it used to be significantly more.
I estimate that just 10 per cent are actually pertinent or useful.
Since I started here I have junked every single press release or crank email I get sent which has zero relevance to my patches.
Daily I still junk scores of emails.
Only a handful are from people with obvious mental disorders. The rest are from supposedly professional public relations people.
Do PR wankers really sit in their offices and consider the pap they have written so valuable they feel they have to share it with every mother fucker?
Or do they actually think that sending a poorly written press release to a newspaper some 200 miles away from the event they are promoting is a good thing?
What I most hate is the follow up call from a hopeless tool.
Sometimes it's so obviously a work experience idiot. Other times I hope it's a work experience idiot because I can't believe someone who cannot even speak legibly on the phone has a job in PR. (I actually can)
Today some dimwit thought I might be interested in a national initiative from some piss poor supermarket chain.
I asked what exactly was the connection with my patch.
"We have a store in your area," was the retarded reply.
Fuck off, was mine.
If I was to use every tedious puff a large corporation with branches everywhere put out where in the name of God would I stick the actual news?
Another reason why PRs should be shot is their chirpy voices selling their shitty wares.
"Hi, I'm Clayre/Arabella/Charlotte from Blahblahbollocks PR and I have got a great story for you. We've done a survey/asked a tramp/held a seance and discovered that INSERT NAME HERE has the ugliest/smelliest/smallest people in the world.
"No you can't see the actual survey and we can't actually quantify it, but we have a new make up/deodorant/platform shoe product that will solve INSERT NAME HERE's problem."
You fucking shower of overpaid cunts.
I honestly had an INSERT NAME HERE press release that someone had forgotten to fill in.
It's on our wall of shame along with all the other press releases that look like they have been written by a 12-year-old dyslexic turd.
PRs - some advice.
Target your audience.
Know your target newspaper's deadlines.
Stop pestering the editors with calls.
Find an actual story.
Fuck off.
Kill yourselves.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

War declared: shots fired

I am a very happy bunny tonight.
The first salvo in the war against advertising has been launched.
A very large (expensive) advertisement came in after it's ad deadline and we sent it back.
Stick your money up your arse.
It was a very powerful statement from editorial backed by my ultimate boss. In the very recent past the ad would have got through with no more than a tugged forelock and a ticker tape parade. No more.
It not only felt great, but I honestly think I felt a groinal stirring.
Since I recently declared war on advertising to save our titles, a little bit of departmental snooping has uncovered a number of rather disturbing traits among our downtrodden hard-working, market-deprived advertising staff.
The worst is ad reps booking premium space without a paying client to back it up. They like to hold the space so that they can achieve targets later in the week with a cheaper deal to a preferred client.
Unfortunately this prevents other departments from booking real money deals for full money punters as the space is gone. And some of those departments, I learned, can and will sell the ads for four times the shite deals our main sales staff are getting
Joined up thinking or bullshit target hunting? You decide.
Other idiocies include free space for potential customers who want to gauge effectiveness of future ads.
Or ads just shy of a full page space which get bumped up to full size later because they know the surrounding edit space available is unusable.
Selling largish ads for £50 on page 3,5,7 just to make target.
Ad staff who have no idea about left and right premiums or offer editorial write-up as part of the 'package'.
The management in recent months have spent a long time prowling news departments looking for 'efficiency savings'.
In less than a week I have uncovered gross examples of idiotic selling that even the most retarded spastic would find hard to defend.
This comes from a newspaper group that has been whining about the economic downturn for the last two years.
Bleating about being forced to sell more of our better editorial space in order to save our doomed titles.
I know for a fact my papers have hit budget every week in summer during the worst recession since the Lord Jesus Christ used to walk the Earth.
Everything done within our group in recent months has been to increase page yield so that an unchecked, increasingly lazy, and inefficient sales staff can make their budgets.
Fuck them. Make them work harder.
Do your job and sell something you useless twats.
Do I whine to them when my team have a quiet week? Do I fuck. I make them get more stories.
There is no cease fire in sight from this camp.
And I fucking love it.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Game on?

A businessman I know made me a very attractive and, I must admit, sphincter-clenching offer last week.
Over a number of glasses of vino collapso, we discussed the future of newspapers.
My argument is simple and oft repeated here.
As long as you give the readers a product worth reading there is still money to be made in print newspapers.
Couple that with a progressive web site in synch and mutually benefitting your paper product and the company has a good future.
Running a part paid/part free model is also looking like a good move in terms of circulation.
Make sure the whole area can get hold of a copy then no-one can complain they haven't seen the thing.
Sell ads like the pages they are on actually mean something ie premium deals on front of book pages.
How many times have your ad staff given front of book space away for peanuts on deadline day to make a ridiculous budget figure then expected advertisers to book early andpay full whack the next week?
I predicted that two or three local titles run independently could make enough not only to employ a fairly decent staff who are paid a fairly decent wage but would also turn over a healthy 8-10 per cent profit.
I know how much my papers bring in each week and it is serious cash.
The caveat is lose the money-hungry companies that currently run our newspapers. These organisations exists solely to satisfy faceless shareholders and are run by whore-mongering management bean counters who do not care if the product is worth reading or not.
As long as their monthly/quarterly budget figures are right fuck the consequences or long term effects.
By taking away their greed and producing something to be proud of, newspapers can survive and thrive. It may be idealistic but I also think it could just work.
Now my businessman is no slouch when it comes to newspapers and has made a considerable amount of cash from buying, running and selling the things.
So he told me find a newspaper worth saving and come back to him.
I do the news, he sorts out the business side of things.
Predictably, I woke up the next morning sore-headed and figured the previous night's conversation was drunken bullshit.
But I know this chap and he is not given to bravado. Hence my rectal dysfunction.
Suddenly it's down to me to put up or shut up.
Gulp. It's a daunting thought.
I truly believe that independently run newspapers are the future. Fuck the big companies. Once they realise there is no longer the ridiculous margins left in papers they will get bored and fuck off and do something else. (or hopefully go out of business).
There is going to be a lot of decent titles left on the scrap heap which will inevitably get picked up by entrepreneurial souls. Look at the Burton example.
Trinity Mirror discarded the spent carcass of what was once a popular title in the gutter after sucking the life from it. Businessman steps up and takes the helm.
Whether it works or not will depend entirely on what they produce.
Newspapers, like the restaurant industry, is littered with the sorry tales of failed wannabes.
But it is also home to many pioneers. Ray Tindle, Enzo Testa, Lionel Pickering, Chris Bullivant, and Frank Branston, to name a handful.
Whatever you think of them, and I imagine some of you harbour less than sweet thoughts, they went out and did it.
Created empires from bank loans and hard graft.
Is this truly the end of days or the new frontier?
I hope to find out.

ps anyone know any titles going cheap?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The eternal struggle

The combination of editorial and advertising staff in newspapers should be a wonderful thing of symbiotic bliss.
A mutual sharing of ideas, concepts and schemes designed to make our papers greater and better than they were the week before.
Why then is it such a fucking hellish marriage of pain, anger, frustration, and paranoia?
My first response is mangement greed, my second is advertising staff's ignorance.
Since I started in newspapers back in the early 90s I have pleaded for a weekly/monthly meeting between editorial and advertising staff (not just managers).
It is an opportunity to air grievances, deal with customer complaints or sort out new projects or campaigns.
But mainly it's an opportunity to explain why editorial bothers to bring out a newspaper worth reading each week.
It's never happened.
In my career I have met only a handful of ad staff who really care and understand about the products they sell and why local papers exist.
My very favourite used to have a quiz at the start of the week to test her staff about the paper's content.
Most don't give a fuck, however.
Having said all that I am still a great fan of my advertising staff.
There, I said it.
I am a great fan of my advertising staff, even though I know they are not mine.
There, I told the truth.
The reason why I like sales is because it keeps me in a (lowly paid) job.
So I help them with tips by telling them about new shops, promotions or businesses with something to say. Convert that into cash, earn some bonus.
Or I give their best customers a few puff nibs or a slot in my business pages just to keep everyone sweet.
I come up with commercial ideas -some very lucrative -and I am present at meetings of the serious spenders. Mostly nodding and smiling (it's v. hard).
I know all their names and will generally bend over backwards to help out.
This alone should earn me a little kudos, you would think.
But the problem is I also care what my paper looks like.
We're a free so editorial space versus cash per page is a major issue.
Premium pages sell for more, so it figures the space up front they try to limit.
But I'm one of those old fashioned types of boss. The crazy sort who knows if there is nothing to read, there is also nothing to sell.
I'm also a hard-nosed, mean, manipulative bitch who knows exactly what to say and whose buttons to push to get what I want.
And I generally get what I want.
That is until recently when we surrendered a lot of space due to recession/credit crunch cost cutting.
We allowed advertising to sell more than we wanted on the proviso we got it all back once holiday season was over.
Well summer's over and those pesky ads are still spoiling my papers.
In fact they are ruining my papers.
So battle lines are drawn and favours are revoked.
Squeeze in ads over deadline - fuck you.
Front page promotions for ad features - fuck you.
Favours for clients - fuck you.
Fuck me - fuck you.
I don't do this lightly or in a spirit of belligerence.
I do this to save my newspapers. To stop the money hungry, management whores from selling everything we own to make a monthly budget figure.
My only goal in life is to carry on bringing out newspapers until I turn grey, drunk and shouty.
Give an inch and advertising will sell a mile.
It's time to claw something back for our readers.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Dinosauraus extinctus?

Are curmudgeonly old hacks in the newsroom a good thing?
In my opinion they are. I would even go further and demand they are in the newsroom.
I am prompted to make this plea after reading two particularly interesting stream of comments on blogs on UKPG and the Meeja Guardian.
In a nutshell both contain criticism and immediate defence of two veteran newsmen. One is described as a "a repulsive bully and a dinosaur - the type of which is, luckily, dying out in british (sic) newsrooms". The other "tough and abrasive" and a "handful".
This is exactly what our increasingly clinical newsrooms need.
One reporter's bully is another's mentor. One's abrasion is another's passion.
The interesting thing about these so called 'dinosaurs' is there is more support for their type of journalism than their detractor's condemnation of their style.
And, in the case of one, support comes from some seriously heavy hitters.
I love grumpy old bastard hacks. I always have.
Jesus, I should, I will be one soon.
I don't care they are rude, or upset people. I love it.
After all, with sometimes more than thirty years in the business don't you think they deserve the right to moan? Most of you are bitching after just 18 months in.
Their experience and contacts alone are worth five cocky young 'uns who think they can change the face of journalism in their first year after leaving college clutching a grubby media and communications degree (2:2 clearly).
You can learn more from a 'dinosaur' in ten minutes than you can in a month from your 24-year-old news editor who got the promotion because he happened to be the only senior in the office during the recruitment freeze.
Dinosaurs generally drink too much, have little or no desire to conform, hate the management and take a lot to get motivated.
They have been there, done that and got the free t-shirt from the PR.
But get them excited about a tale and watch the show.
The distinction must be made, however, between the passionate, ageing hack and the old fart destined to be taken outside and shot.
Both may be equally cantankerous, awkward and obnoxious.
But one still loves the job and is invaluable and the other is an old fart who should have been fired years ago but now it will cost too much. Management are just hoping they will die soon.
I don't like their negativity and I don't like their stink.
For the truly great old hacks treat them like you would a flea bitten yet cuddly, slightly lame, dog.
Take the piss and poke them all you like but don't be surprised when the evil fucker bites you.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Invest or die

I had a well thought out coherent argument about large newspaper organisations investing all of their profits back into newspapers in order to bolster their products and create real newspapers again.

But in the spirit of all that is great in journalism - and because I am feeling a bit lazy - I thought I would steal some thoughts instead.

The question - why are we so fucked?

The answer - advertising revenue is plummeting

Why we ask?

Cos our products are getting increasingly shit.

Why? Due to a lack of investment of course.

timaych sums it all up on the UKPG website in the comments section. Good lad/ladette. He/she writes:

Why do advertisers pay huge sums of money to appear on F1 cars, or the badges
snooker and darts players?

Why do they pay top dollar to be seen across the shirts of Manchester United
and Real Madrid?

Because they want to be associated with top 'products' themselves.

Now, grab a copy of your local paper, compare it to a copy which was written
10 years ago. Then to one produced 20 years ago.

Small firms would rather go to a community newsletter to advertise services
while larger companies know and understand more wider streams of appealing
to the public, like the internet.

So - the answer to your question, IMHO, is (a) a declining standard of
newspapers (b) a total incomprehension by most groups as to how to use the
internet (c) the vicious circle of declining sales (linked to point a),
meaning lower pagination, meaning fewer advertisers, meaning a worse product
and so we go on.

So how does one stop the rot?

Someone somewhere needs to stop worring about recouping losses for a while,
invest in editorial to make the product, both online and print, attractive to the reader, then the advertisers will start come back.

The second coming of local papers. Still - that would take foresight, vision and a long term plan from those at the top...

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Big pictures, big headlines.

It really is true that a picture tells a thousand words.

Well actually, nowadays it's more likely a picture fills a hole in your paper a thousand words would have gone if you had the staff to write it.

Early on I learned (was mercilessly beaten) to realise that pictures in this job are worth far more than words.

After all who wants to read about a spectacular event when they can hopefully see it in an image (yes, ok, I now include video into this blog - just don't ask me to embed anything).

Who wants to read about a dead mum/kid/scoutmaster without seeing what they looked like before their awful newsworthy demise.

A good pic can make a shit story sing. A page with nothing worth reading on it look can look like you actually have some tales with a clever use of a pic.

Nationals understand the power of the pic. Most decent pictures in the nats don't have anything resembling a story to go with, but who cares. It is why most of the red tops have an equal or bigger budget for pics than news.

It's why freelance snappers earn more on day rate than hacks - despite the fact most sit in their cars scratching their arses when you are door knocking like a mad-man for a collect.

If news is king. Pictures are the emperor.

I reinforce the pictures, pictures, pictures mantra into my guys every day. It's gradually getting through.

If something explodes in the High Street I call my snapper before my reporter. I shout 'don't forget to ask for pictures' on every death knock.

Punters are getting more media savvy. We pick up an increasingly amount of reader pics on our breaking news stories.

On a ring-in, and if they are nearer than my lot, I ask them to whip out their mobile and take some snaps.
Mostly shit, but I like choice and we have had some front pagers from them.

I want images on every lead or it ain't a lead. Front page pic must be worthy of front page.

It doesn't happen every week and I know it can't but why strive for second best?

First call should be to get your snapper rolling, you can always call him back when if it's a false alarm. No harm in sending early because that extra five minutes could mean getting your guy to the scene before the tape goes up.

Words you can get on the phone.

Pictures show you were there.

Is ABC really as easy as 123?

A high circulation - combined, of course, with decent informative editorial - is at the heart of every good free newspaper.
After all our strength is the little figure - found commonly on the back page or page 2 - which reveals the number of homes our product gets to.
Advertisers still love circulation figures because it equates to readers, and we are almost entirely dependent on the money they spend each week in our papers.
So, when our management decided at the beginning of the year that it would be a wizard wheeze to cut costs by slashing distribution, everyone else thought it was the act of incompetent fuckwits.
And how the chickens have finally, and beautifully, come home to roost with the new ABC figures.
My titles' circulations are down by tens of thousands of editions. In one case a quarter, another a third of their previous totals.
We print them next week and advertising staff are already being 'trained' how to lie their arses But our advertisers are not stupid and, mostly, live locally. They suspected this was coming months ago.
When little Billy the paperboy from number 7 gets the bullet from his £2.50-a-week job and they don't get a paper that week, they knew about it.
When their mum from the other estate and their brother-in-law from three streets over also don't get a paper they get a call.
When they meet other business people and hear the same stories they started to realise they are getting fed a rather large and unpleasant shit sandwich - with no sauce.
Now they actually know they are chomping on a turd baguette.
Readers are also equally unimpressed when they suddenly stop getting what they thought was their local paper.
They talk. They know. After all where the fuck do we get our stories from.
Suddenly your paper has gone from the powerful champion of the people, to an irrelevant, barely read, unreliable free sheet.
I see tumble weed and the hear the tolling of a single bell.
Once a decent ABC figure is achieved it should be cherished and protected.
Paperboys and girls found dumping editions in skips and under bridges should be flogged then sacked.
Every complaint to my desk about lack of delivery means at least 50 editions, sometimes as many as 200, have not reached their destination ie into the readers glorious, slightly sweaty, mitts. I used to get 5 a week. I now get 15-20.
I encourage and cajole my reporters to take each complaint seriously by recording it and sending it to our distribution department.
The very best complaints - those from powerful local figures or advertisers - I email to our head of distribution, our MD and group ed.
The resulting fall out of these latest 'cost saving' measure, I predict, will cost the company - and more importantly our papers' reputations - far more than the few thousand quid they 'saved' over the last six months.
This is short-term, bean-counting bullshit thinking at it finest.
Do management arseholes who have been in this industry longer than ten or twenty years actually realise all of their 'improvements', 'efficiency savings' and 'modernisations' over the years are the reason we are now witnessing the extinction of newspapers?
Or do they wake up and wonder how it is the newspapers they bring out weren't as good as they were six months or a year ago? Despite the fact six months to a year ago they sacked half the staff.
Short term cuts are always seen over a long term period, you absolute no mark wankers!
Wake the fuck up before it's too late!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Name and shame

With another cull of journalists announced in the Midlands by those incompetent fucks over at TM, can anyone fill me in on any management fools fired during these hard times.
I read, and know, of redundancies across the country. Many of which have been the more experienced and necessary voices across newsroom floors.
But I have not heard of many MDs getting the bullet.
Surely they have to take some responsibility about the massive losses and circulation drops suffered in the last year.
Or am I wrong to think that the money grubbing wankers in charge are blame free for this scandalous, systematic destruction of a once great industry?
Let me know if you have any tearful tales of senior management whores getting their cards.
I need cheering up.

Gissa job, go on, gissa job

I am made up by the number of job ads for real reporters jobs at the moment.
After almost a year of fake edit jobs or b2b bullshit, the market seems to have started to pick up.
And long may it continue.
I live in hope that my office might see the influx of new souls to replace the departed in the next few months.
So in the spirit of getting a new job or indeed your first job, I have a few tips for those of you polishing your CVs and preparing for interview.
Get names right. This tip is a deal breaker. I have tossed CVs and discarded cover letters when my name or the name of the paper is incorrect.
If you are one of 50 applicants for the same job (and you will be) failing to spell your potential new boss's name right will see you rejected before your email or letter is opened.
Keep CVs short. If you are applying for your first job your CV should be a page long - at most a page and a half. Mine is two and a bit pages and I have been doing this for nearly two decades in more than 14 organisations.
I don't really need to know if you worked in a travel agent during your uni holidays or had a Saturday job in a supermarket. We all did.
Provide a concise account of your qualifications and education with relevant work experience ie. what have you already done that relates to the job you want to do.
Include any awards, any extra courses or skills plus references. Everything else is puff and filler.
Hobbies and interests is a grey area. If you do something remotely interesting or hobbylike include them, however, socialising, drinking, reading and going to the cinema are not hobbies.
One of my favourite CVs listed sunbathing under hobbies. What a tool.
Spend time on the cover letter. For me this is the selling point. I want to hear about why you want THIS particular job. Why you are the perfect person for MY newsroom. Why THIS job ad caught your eye above all others.
Do not send me a generic cover letter that you send out to every other job. You know, the one where you change the paper and bosses name at the top. It's too obvious.
I want to see passion and enthusiasm. Not stock bullshit about love of writing and ready for the next step.
Pop in a few details that are relevant about the paper you are applying for. Mention a campaign or a news story you liked. Tell the boss what you will bring to the table.
Hard sell the mother fucker. Don't expect your CV to wow. They are boring and samey. A good cover letter is like your foot in the door at a death knock.
Don't pimp your CV. This is still a relatively small industry (and shrinking by the hour). Bullshit and lies on your CV can take only minutes to debunk. A phone call to a mate of a mate can quickly and easily reveal your claims about a chief reporter role and shifts on the nationals to be poppycock. Be honest, be frank. Don't get caught.
Do your research. Google your prospective employer, google his team and their stories. Look at the electronic paper which many sites have. Check out the council - who is in power, who are the MPs, check the paper's demographics (obtained with a quick call to the ad department). Look at previous campaigns, big issues, big stories, big libels.
Fuck it, google yourself to make sure the bollocks you are about to spout in interview doesn't come undone with that picture of you being arrested by the local constabulary.
It's all there. It's all online. There are no excuses for not spending a couple of hours doing your homework.
Target your audience. If you are applying for a news reporters role, the last thing your potential new boss wants to know is that you really want to be a sports reporter.
Either lie to him about your love for news or don't apply just because it's easier to get an NCE through news.
I don't consider sports journalism a real job, my only love is news so why the fuck am I going to waste my time training you so that you can get a non job. (ditto PR)
Get experience. This is a biggy for trainees.
In my book, commitment and enthusiasm is weighed above all other skills in this game. I will teach you the rest.
If you want to be hired as a trainee you must have shown enough initiative to have worked a few weeks in a real newsroom.
I had CVs out of my ears for the last trainee we recruited (many, many months ago).
Most had done a degree and started or completed the NCTJ prelims. It's almost the industry norm now.
But the very best - and the ones who secured the interview - had done all that and been to two or three newsrooms for at least a week - and produced cuttings.
I don't hold much sway with qualifications because I started this job with none and still have none and don't consider myself either at a disadvantage or a worse reporter for it.
But failing to prove that you really want to be a reporter is a real crime.
To illustrate my point, a couple of Oxbridgeites who, after securing a first class degree at our hallowed institutions, decided to embark on a career in journalism.
Their covering letters revealed they had not bothered to pursue NCTJs and sneered at the idea of real work experience but due to their academic brilliance felt they possessed the skills required to become a reporter.
The applications were binned.
It is only going to get harder to get into this industry. Newspapers are getting more and more about qualifications rather than ability.
Natural raw talent and great local knowledge is getting ignored because of pedestrian box-ticking HR interviews.
You need to shine more than ever to get ahead so don't let your initial approach let you down before you even get to a rare chance at an interview.

Monday, 24 August 2009

"I'm really sorry to bother you but......."

Everyone has their own opening line for a death knock.
I quite like a bit of semi-sincere contrition - before I ask for a picture of their dead baby.
Make like I don't want to be there. And the truth is I mostly don't.
I must have doorstepped hundreds of grieving families and it still doesn't get any less nerve-wracking as I crunch up the gravel repeating the deceased's name over and over in my head so I don't blurt out the wrong one.
I still remember my first and I play over in my mind, on occasion, the very worst.
When I was freelancing every job seemed to be a death knock. I used to joke to people I met outside of work that if I ever came to their door with a smile and a handshake it meant someone in their family had just been fucked up.
That initial feeling of dread as you approach the knock never leaves, however. Will there be tears, smiles or threats. Will they understand I am doing my job or decide I have personally affronted them and unleash the hounds.
Some swear or abuse me, calling me 'scum' , others welcome me in and get the teas on. You can never tell which reaction you will get.
I once got chased by one guy in his car for about five miles after he beat up my snapper. And his son had only been blinded.
My 'favourite' death knocks are the one where you have talked the relative round and, just as they are peeling open the family album, the spouse comes home and goes spastic mental.
I have been tossed many a time. I now try to retain hold of the collect as I am physically thrown from the homestead.
It's a part of the job I dislike, but there is no greater feeling than walking away from the house quotes in your notebook and pic in paw knowing full well you just scooped everyone in town.
In a completely unrepresentative survey, I do find that families living in less salubrious areas tend to be a bit more forthcoming and open than the wealthy who are often the most abusive.
Women tend to be more polite than men, and parents seem to want to talk more about death through illness than those lost to violence or accident. Presumably they have had longer to come to terms with it.
I have only been hit twice during this job. Both on death knocks. I took the punches and considered them a form of involuntary penance.
I have come to terms with performing death knocks but, even after all these years and all those slammed doors, I still can't fully justify them to myself.
We claim that we are writing a tribute to the dear departed. Generally horse shit.
We say that it is cathartic for the family to talk of their loss. Crap.
We believe there is a public interest in knocking on a family's door shortly after their son/daughter was blown up in a terrorist attack. Bollocks.
We want to launch an appeal against guns/knives/leukaemia/death in general. Lies.
In reality we tell the family's anything to get through the door - to get a bit of background, a smiley picture, a grieving family shot - just so your nib becomes a down page, your lead becomes the splash.
You basically want a story and the dead scout's family is the best opportunity this week.
I am happy with this.
I am not saying the resultant story can not be something of value.
Be it a tearful appeal for a son's killer to come forward or a plea for funds to save other little crack babies.
Some death knocks forge relationships with the family and the reporter that can last years.
And this is why we do them across the country day in, day out.
But I can't pretend that the initial death knock is nothing more than cold calling for a tale.
Some you win, some you lose.
But there is no lofty ideal behind it.

Monday, 17 August 2009

On a scale of one to arsehole - what kind of boss am I?

It's a fair question.
For some months now I have told you what I expect of a good reporter but not really what standards I set for myself or how my team are treated.
I can't accurately say whether I am a bad boss or a good boss, as, in the main, it is subjective. Depending on the reporter's own expectations and ambitions and direction they wish to take, it will ultimately alter their view of the way I work.
I am a hard news journalist, and I imagine I always will be. Nothing gets me more excited than a grisly murder or a disaster. Sick, yes. Realistic, definitely.
I am undoubtedly, at times, a mean bastard, unfair and rude.
But I would not let my reporter's do anything I have not already done or would be willing to do again.
When we are short staffed (which is often) I muck in. I come in early to do downpages. I make calls to contacts for stories. I deal with the mundane drivel (like uploading to the web) to free my reporters up to get me decent stories. I spend an hour a night reading through our web comments to get leads. I scour the local blogs and councillor's web sites. I still go to some council meetings and meet with as many players as I can to build good relations.
I do door knocks at weekends to get a head start when reporters are busy.
I will sit down with my team and go through their copy. I will offer them advice on getting pics, writing features and building relationships with councillors.
If they are having a phone call they can't deal with from an angry punter, I will get them to kick it up to me.
I will even help them with their CV if they want to move on or give them contacts to flog their stories to the nationals. God forbid, if they ever want to catch a train down south and work on the London papers, I will tell them what, and who, they need to know.
I let my reporters have time off for doctors, dentists, driving tests and other things beginning with d without making them fill out a holiday form.
I buy biscuits and cakes on stressful days and I let reporters go early on quiet days. I back my team up to the hilt when it comes to readers' complaints, legals and PCCs. I keep them off the radar of my bosses.
As long as the stories are coming in, I don't mind if the reporter comes in late or negotiates a morning off for a night job.
I make sure reporters take their lieu time and holidays. I realise their pay is shite and let them blag as many freebies as we can using the paper's name - including press trips abroad.
I buy the first round in the pub and, fuck me, I even make the tea (sometimes).
But to get you also have to give and I am a hard taskmaster. Chair spinners, clock watchers and bullshitters get short shrift.
My only goal is to bring out the best paper we possibly can. My motto is - get it first, get it right and get it all.
I truly care about what I do and my expectations of what we can do are higher than many of the bosses in local papers.
I give praise when it is due, but equally I give bollockings when a reporter drops a clanger.
I realise no-one is superhuman but to bring out the very best in reporters, I must push them.
If every time you fucked up you got a pat on the head and a 'never mind' would that make you worried about doing it again?
I have lost my temper and I have been an arsehole, I accept that.
If that makes me a bad boss, a dinosaur or a relic, then so be it.
But understand that sometimes, when stories are falling to pieces, legals are dropping like rain or deadlines are looming, I am equally as terrified of doing this job as you are.
It's just I'm not allowed to show it.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

It's called a MOBILE phone for a reason

One of my biggest annoyances is a reporter's basic inability to answer their mobile phone when it rings.
I sometimes have a subs query, an urgent message from a dying relative or I may need to send you to an address early when I get a sniff of a police raid.
So, pardon me for working, I may need to call you on your mobile phone out of hours or during your lunch break.
Ring, ring, ring....message. Ring, ring, ring.....message. Ring, ring, ring.....message. Then straight to message (as they turn the phone off). I text the little fuckers to ring me back asap.
Sometimes I get a call back within an hour but often, especially at weekends, I get nothing until they walk into the office on Monday morning.
Their excuse for ignoring three messages, eight missed calls and ten increasingly abusive texts - "I don't work at weekends".
One of the little turds told me at interview they wanted to end up on the nationals, so I asked whether they thought turning their mobile off when they worked for the bigs would be acceptable.
"Oh, I wouldn't do it then," they tittered. Then don't do it to me, you pathetic wanker.
The last thing my national news desk said as you left the office every night was make sure your mobile is on.
It is always on, day and night. And I always answer it, day and night. When it runs out of juice or is another room, I get a feeling of dread that I am missing out on something.
Do you think that reporters in Dunblane, Lockerbie, Hungerford, Soham or Hillsborough knew what was going to happen in their towns?
Of course they didn't.
(And yes, I also realise that in some of these cases reporters were unlikely to have owned mobile phones.)
But something as big as the above events will happen again. And maybe in your patch. After 5.30pm most likely, or even at the weekend.
So the next time your mobile phone rings, pick the fucker up or you may just be hanging up on the biggest story of your career.

Dolly Parton news gathering

Wouldn't it be nice if everything we reported on happened during our contracted working hours - but clearly not during our lunch break.

We could have council meetings timetabled for 10am. Car crashes not before 9am and murders early afternoon please.
Major disasters like rail smashes, plane crashes and psychopathic shooting rampages midweek, thanks, to allow for enough time to follow them up before buggering off to the pub early on Friday afternoon.

Except, as we all know, it ain't like that.
News doesn't sleep and it certainly doesn't allow for our social or family lives nor the fact that sometimes we really don't want to get out of bed at 4am after a call from a police contact.

So why do some reporters today think that somehow they are exempt from working outside of their contracted hours?

Even during interviews I carefully explain the 9-5 day just doesn't happen. At least once a week there will be a night job, lunches are invariably taken at the desk and working late or coming in early on deadline day is the norm.

We try and make back those hours with time in lieu, but generally you will work as and when required.

Lots of nods at interview time, but once their dainty little feet hits the newsroom proper all of a sudden a militant level of clock watching comes into force.

Chairs are spinning at 5.30pm with no thought to ask the news ed if everything is ok. Hour long lunches are taken to the minute and coming in early is only down to public transport not breaking down.

The slack caused by their anally-retentive attitude to contracted hours is taken up by the real reporters in the office. The grafters who do the job because they love it and don't mind working a bit harder for the tales that matter.
It creates division and animosity in the office.

My hands are tied by HR. The hours are the hours, and by forcing them to do extra could lead to claims of constructive dismissal.
And these pedantic fucks are exactly the type who would do it.

To those of you who watch the clock while sitting at your desk, ask yourself why.
I imagine it is because you do not want be - or deserve to be - sitting at that desk.
You clearly have no idea about what the job is about.
You have no passion for news and you are biding the time until you can go into PR at senior level or some other worthless profession.

You are a fucking waste of space.
You make those people working around you work harder to make up for your laziness and lack of commitment.
You are keeping someone who may actually want to do your job from doing your job.

You are a cunt. And I feel like a twat for believing your lying "hard-working" arse during your interview.
Be a man/woman and resign.
Or better still toss yourself in front of a bus because it will be the closest you will ever come to getting your name on the front page of a newspaper.

Monday, 10 August 2009

You will abide by the grooming standard

I wear a suit and tie to work every day. It's a kick back to the nationals.
Shoes clean. Shirt ironed. Conservative tie. Suit not covered in sick. Any less and you could be sent home.
In many respects it makes sense. In the mind of many, a suit and tie still gives an air of authority to the wearer. Even more so, in this casual age.
I remember one particularly scary death knock on a very, very hard council estate outside Glasgow.
I was pure shiteing it - to use the vernacular. There were neds (non-educated-delinquents) hanging from the door frame - beady eyes, baseballs caps, missing teeth and shiny shell suits everywhere - and I was convinced I was about to feel cold steel or a broken bottle this night.
As I left my car I noticed another of my trade - also white faced - leaving his car. A quick nod and we strode purposefully to the door - game faces firmly on. Through the neds, who parted for us, and up the stairs (lift was predictably fucked) and to the 17th floor flat.
We were in and out, quotes and collects in hand, within 20 minutes with the wee wifey considering us to be the polis - to continue the Irvine Welsh effect.
Not once did we say we were anything other than two guys in suits working for the papers but people assumed we were something we weren't.
And we were smart enough to allow them to think what they like.
Now imagine that scenario with you wearing a t-shirt, jeans and trainers. You ain't getting in the door without a chib in the guts
Since that day I use my clothes like a suit of armour.
Dress smart, act smart, work smart. From the moment I put my suit on, the outside world can not affect me.
I am important. I am professional. I will be taken seriously.
Also, dressing smart every day should be a necessity.
How can you know whether you will be sent to court or to a death knock, an inquest or a funeral?
Respect is not just given by how you act but also how you show up to someone's place.
Not everyone gets it.
My favourite fuck-off and get changed moment came when a new boy had his first day on a national's London desk - run at this time by an indomitably nasty news ed.
Our new recruit was dressed in yellow corduroy slacks, a mostly unbuttoned, unironed casual shirt and - the piece de resistance - sockless brown loafers.
Fuck me, if you wore a grey suit in that office or unbuttoned your collar you were deemed a dangerous rebel.
I have never seen someone so utterly humiliated in front of 50 plus hacks when the news ed bawled him out before sending him home for the day.
The new recruit went on to become a very successful foreign corr in a country where flip flops are the national costume.
The other evil cunt is still very much alive and still working on one of Britain's great (smartly dressed) national papers.
Maybe casual ain't so bad, after all.

Are we the authors of our own misfortune?

I, for one, am deeply mistrustful of our beloved companies going cap in hand to the government asking for handouts and favours to keep newspapers alive.
It is a little like a beggar with a three-legged dog on a string asking for '10p for a cup of tea' before driving a 7 series Beemer to his eight bedroom house in Mayfair and then shagging his supermodel wife.
Up the arse, obviously.
Many newspaper bosses are practically willing to blow a Government minister or two for a few quid without truly understanding where newspapers and journalism stands today.
The money is out there, they just need to understand how to get it.
I blame newspaper management for a massive slice of the shit we are in. Their shortsighted, shareholder-appeasing horse shit has pared many newsrooms to the bone and caused the premature deaths of too many good papers.
But I blame reporters and editors for an equally large portion.
I read one of my sister papers this week. A paid for costing its readers 65 new pence per week.
This paid for wasn't particularly understaffed either. It had seven - count them seven - editorial staff not including the overall group editor.
Nor was it a gust-of-wind-will-blow-me-away stripped-down paid for.
This was a cat-killing, hernia-inducing, paperboy-cursing 100 pages plus. So money was obviously being made.
I had to read it twice to fully grasp the gravity of the situation we are in.
It was utter shit.
To be conservative, the splash was weak, piss poor, drivel that would struggle to find a home in the Oxtown Gazette. It was badly written, uninteresting and dreadfully laid out. It even turned to five, where the same picture was used and the copy was a virtual duplicate of what I had already read.
Page three was a turgid council story with a bad headline and no pics. Four, a boring charity sport story. Seven, a crime story that would have struggled to make a nib. Eight and eleven a similar inquest with nine breaking it up with a classic 'I'm old feel sorry for me tale'. At least it had a pic of the subject.
There was a cursory pop at the cost of council's own 'newspaper' on 14 but I couldn't help thinking I wouldn't mind having a gander at it to see what is actually happening in town.
This rag carried on for a few more awful pages which I flicked through rapidly.
Bear in mind this paper was a 100 plus pages paid for. It's 'news' stopped around page 20.
The pages themselves looked like a trainee sub had been given a key to the font factory. Headlines didn't make sense or were simply dull as fuck.
There were no pictures worth using at all. And the page shapes looked like they were created to maximise profit despite the pagination (which I realise they were).
Basically it was everything that gives a classic local paper a really bad name.
I know the patch this paper covers and it has some really good news areas, deprived communities, crime and a council that deserves a kick in the arse.
There is no logical reason to bring out this collection of utter shite.
So can we blame the MDs or newspaper companies for the year-on-year drop in circulation? Or do we look instead at the staff?
Is a lazy editor worse than a bad MD? Are badly directed journalists and subs more damaging to newspapers than a bean counting executive?
I think all of us should stop looking outside of our industry for answers and spend some time studying what we actually produce.
I know that the underfunding within this industry has crippled many papers but there is no real excuse for bringing out some of the shit which pretends to be news.
Bad papers are created as much by bad editors and poor journalism as they are by lack of cash.
If stories in newspapers are weak, we should ask why.
Being short staffed is not an excuse for sloppy, poor journalism. I have no staff, but it doesn't stop me concentrating on the great tales.
It just stops me doing as many things as I would like.
Underfunding of journalism is a terrible, dreadful thing but shit journalism is like cancer.
Once we accept lower standards and a lack of news values it will start to spread until there is nothing worth saving.
No matter how big our 'Hungry and Homeless' sign is.

Monday, 3 August 2009

When blogging is awesome

I don't know the background to this story nor do I know the journalists in question but I stumbled across it in one of my random google/vodka moments.
I have heard of Branston because I have been in journalism long enough to know the players.
But this blog is awesome and truly shows the power of the independent voice.
It's all in the comments and it REALLY does show why newspapers are powers for both good and evil.
People in this blog I salute you.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Journo, 30+ gsoh, ns seeks masochist to share laughs and late nights

I have been single for a long time. Too long.
I often question why, since I have had long term relationships before.
Clearly I have many issues.
Anger, selfishness, a sometimes obnoxious often narcissistic personality, a talent for fibbing, shallowness, a sense of superiority, rudeness and an almost tourettes-like propensity for swearing.
But enough of my good points.
I remember when my last serious girlfriend left me. We owned a house together, had moved a long way from home together and both worked for big newspapers.
Unfortunately she worked in advertising and I worked in news.
Her switchboard closed down at 5.30pm. Our subs started working then and calls and queries would come in thick and fast and continued well after the time I arrived home. Usually at 8.30pm.
When I worked late, late on Friday and was back in the office for a 14 hour day on Saturday she was often surprised when I wanted to do fuck all on Sunday except chill out and watch some TV.
Her complaint was that she was bored all day Saturday because I wasn't there.
My attitude. At least you weren't fucking working.
This bullshit continued for a time until one Tuesday an ominous text appeared - "We need to talk."
Oh fuck, here we go.
It wasn't a surprise she left and after some tears and shouting, that, as they say, was that.
Four years of my life down the shitter.
I look back now and wonder, however, was my work utimately to blame or did I work harder to get out of the relationship?
Who knows. All I know is that it was a period of my life that I was deeply unhappy, in a job I hated, with a girlfriend who didn't make any effort to understand what I did for a living.
She's married now. Good for her. I hope she's fat.
So why am I still single.
I think it's because of nights like these.
Nights where I come home utterly despondent and depressed. Fucked off with my shitty life and my shitty job.
Nights where I finally realise that no matter what I do and how hard I try, management don't care about what we do.
Nights when I think that twenty years in this game have been for nothing.
Nights when I realise that most people see me as the ranty old man crapping on about the past.
Nights when all the shit I have waded through starts catching up and the darkness starts to get harder to suppress.
Why would I want to share all that with anyone I actually liked?

ps Did I mention I like animals?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Sustainable journalism

I'm all for the spirit of the Blitz in a newsroom.

I love the idea of pulling an all-nighter in the attempt to cover a major story. Everyone's excited. No-one cares about the time or that they had plans that evening. Pizzas and takeaway boxes litter the newsroom and the boss has a case of lager sitting in the fridge. We are all pulling together for the good of the paper to cover that one huge story.

Why does it feel, however, that this attitude, this sense of pride and accomplishment is needed just to bring out a normal edition each week?

Why does each week feel like a Sisyphean Challenge (you know, the rock and hill guy), relying on good will and the fear of getting sacked in a jobless market?

I know it's the same for the reporters, but they have the added disadvantage of earning shit money and facing my wrath when they don't produce the mountain of copy needed to fill our pages.

A lot of talk is made about sustainability.

It's the new buzz word in this eco-conscious era.

Sustainable fishing, farming, rivers and forestry; sustainable buildings, communities, and cities; renewable energy and green technologies.

It's the new black.

So why can't we create sustainable newspapers?

Like deforestation across the globe, the greatest crime in our journalistic world is the systematic culling of reporters from our staff.

We still hear of job losses every week despite the economy apparently bottoming out. These are just the major ones highlighted by the unions.

We all know at least one someone who has been made redundant or just not replaced when they decided to quit the game altogether.

Recruitment freezes and consolidation of desks have been happening for months now.

After reading about other papers in my company and others, I realise I am actually quite lucky to still have three reporters on some of my editions. Albeit mostly trainees.

I hear horror stories from across the country - of one reporter writing everything in a paid for; one editor in charge of three titles with a staff of half; other papers resorting to taking in bought in nationwide features about summer style and holidays with just one or two actual news pages.

One of my editions just started making some bucks after a revamp. It has one reporter who now has to take on three times the workload.

He is a lovely old boy, a true pro, but he is feeling the strain.

When I asked for a trainee (total cost to company about £1,000 a month) so that we could capitalise on this new found stream of dosh, and to take the strain from Al, I was told no way, no cash.

Bullshit. I talk to the reps, and classified, recruitment and property. I make it my business to know what is going on and I know that this paper is now making profit.

So how can this formula be sustainable?

I fear my guy is a few weeks away from melt down, so I have a choice. Nick someone from another title to the detriment of that paper (already at famine-lean staffing levels); drop pages on a weekly basis from the newly profitable paper (alienating our new very keen readers); or take it up the arse until something breaks and management wankers are forced to take action.

Two hundred and fifty quid a week.

Half the price of a half page advertisement - of which there are dozens a week in the title - and this problem disappears.

Fuck me, for the morale boosting properties alone, getting in a new reporter would do wonders across our whole newsroom.

It probably isn't even the same amount of money it costs to pay for the four offices we are still renting at High Street rates after the management recently took the decision to centralise operations into a news hub.

I don't think it is even the amount of cash spent on management's company Mercs or Beemers.

At one function this year they forked out £800 for a table. Managers only. Networking you see. Piss up more like.

Sustainability means to endure, to carry on despite hardships. But all the other examples of sustainability mentioned above require some kind of investment. Some energy with which to endure.

Reporters are the energy of newspapers. They are the driving force behind the product, others sell.

Without a decent, sustainable level of reporters, extinction is inevitable.

Spider sense is tingling

I have a niggling feeling I am about to get royally butt-fucked by the management.
Don't get me wrong, they are already slipping me a length every day I come to work and do more than I should to bring out a decent paper with limited resources.
But this time I honestly think this is going to be akin to a full-on management gang-bang.
Over summer revenues drop and pagination decreases. It's natural. Readers, schools and sources go on holiday, politics takes a back seat and advertisers spend less.
This year, due to the 'harsh economic climate', we reduced pagination further and allowed advertising to bend the rules in terms of how much and how many of my key news pages they were allowed to flog.
As a result the papers look shit, have little content and essentially look like every other piece of crap free that publishers use as circulations boosters for their dying paid fors.
We were promised it would only be a short term measure and I accepted by autumn we would be back on track.
As the weeks roll on, and no talk is made of our phoenix-like resurrection, I suspect this is just another management lie.
After all, why would they change a money making formula? Especially after our MD announces that, after all the earlier cuts, our profits are not quite as bad as predicted earlier in the year. In fact in this 'harsh economic climate' they are actually pretty fucking good.
In the management's world of short term decisions that created this long term problem, why would they sacrifice this increase in cash to go back to the bad old days of bringing out decent profit-low editorial pages?
It's a little like owning a stately home that is not making as much money as it did, but is still making a modest profit by just letting visitors in and selling ice creams.
Suddenly, someone has the wheeze of selling off the things that make visitors come to the home in the first place.
A few pieces of antique furniture here, a couple of regal oil paintings there, a chandelier perhaps? Al in the vain hope the visitors don't notice they are actually getting short changed.
Unfortunately for Lord Toffee Nose and his scrabbling for pennies he didn't actually need, the punters vote with their feet and suddenly he is in a real dilemma.
What's the difference with this analogy and that of selling all the space in newspapers?
Ultimately the readers (and yes the key word here is read) know when they are being sold a pup. It doesn't take them long before they don't bother picking the paper up because there is nothing in it.
I smell a spiral of despair here.
I am checking the job pages daily. Come autumn, if my predictions are correct, I am gone.
This rat is getting a new ship before the hole in the side of my current one becomes too large to fill with straw and false promises.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Why getting the facts right matters

I think about death a lot. Almost an unhealthy amount. My own death on occasion, but mostly the deaths of others.
About how a businessman can leave home for work without a care in the world and end up in a mortuary slab with a knife in his gut a few hours later; about drunk drivers who smash into cars carrying mums and their babies; about masonry falling from a building on top of a chap as he sips a latte in the cafe below or getting hit by a bus as a teenager sends a text to his mates while crossing the road (which happens more than you think).
We deal with death every day.
Murders, car wrecks, inquests, disease, medical negligence, court cases, law suits, viruses even just obituaries for the great and the (sometimes) good in the local area.
When they come to our attention, the deaths are often sudden, sometimes brutal but always an immense trauma for the families of the victims to deal with.
Combine the loss of a loved one with the attention from the media and you can create a tense, pressurised situation.
We do the door knocks, we gather the tributes and we write the stories. If there is a court case or inquest we cover it but inevitably the stories dry up and we move on
What we write about them in our newspapers is often the last thing recorded about the people who have died.
Many families keep the tribute pieces and news stories as a lasting reminder of those they have lost.
So, for fuck's sake, at least have the decency to spell their names correctly when you come to write the stories.
Check your facts, check the spelling of their names and their ages even if you think you already know.
Jane could be spelt Jayne, how many ts in Matthew, Claire comes in many forms and even Alan has a Scottish variation.
Getting the basics right first time and every time is what maintains not only the reputation of your newspaper but also your own as a decent reporter.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The great swine flu swindle

We are either on the brink of extinction or all about to get a bit of a cold.
Swine flu intrigues me from a journalistic point of view.
Firstly, as a moderately fit and healthy, youngish man, I comfortably predict a bout of piggy cough will not kill me. So I clearly write this with a sense of smug satisfaction.
Swine flu fears have been in the news for months ever since a few Mexicans died from it.
Initially reports from Mexico had well over 150 dead in a few weeks of the discovery of the new strain.
Was this going to be the pandemic every national newspaper had been waiting for to take Jade Goody off the front page? Oh yes.
The word 'deadly' was attached to this pork-crackling of a cold and the world's end was comfortably predicted.
When reality bit and the actual death toll in Mexico - already renowned for its excellent health service - was revealed to be a more modest 17, who really cared?
By this time the snouty sniffle was already in Blighty.
Aaaagh the headlines screamed. We are all going to die!
Since the porcine version of the bubonic plague has been among us, 30 people have actually died. Most had 'underlying health problems' - a seemingly terminal diagnosis these days - and so the healthiest among us breathed a smallish sigh of relief.
However, when a GP and a young girl died without the prior sickness issues we were all vulnerable again.
Headlines declared us all dead. No hope for humanity, isolate yourself and keep away from the unclean lest you succumb!!
The doc, in reality, also suffered from heart disease and high blood pressure, and had viral pneumonia.
Today, we discover the young girl died from a septic shock complication due to tonsillitis.
The health authorities still do not know how many of the 30 deaths attributed to swine flu actually died from swine flu.
Normal, common or garden, get-it-once-a-year influenza kills 30,000 a year in this country.
So far swine flu has killed far less than it should. Even if it kills the predicted 65,000 that is still less than 0.1 per cent of the population.
Heart disease, is the UK's biggest killer. Based on 2005 data, there are some 227,000 heart attacks each year. More than 150,000 deaths. Do we close chippies or ban fat people from pizza restaurants. No. Are we surprised when unhealthy people die of a heart attack. No. Do we report every coronary episode. No.
So why are we all reporting on each pig flu case like it is the first time anyone caught a cold?
I don't often wear a tin foil hat, and most conspiracies are dismissed with contempt, but the stories being told around the country by every newspaper are fulfilling a great Governmental service.
Keep the state in fear and they won't ask any awkward questions about recessions, expenses, bad leadership etc.
Let's try to get this 'pandemic' into perspective.
Swine flu is a bad cold.
When the radio and television advertisements are suggesting the best cure is stay at home and take a Lemsip, you can rest assured it isn't as fatal as the newspapers are making out.

Flim flammery

One of the biggest crimes in journalism is spinning a shit story into a headline grabbing story, in my humble opinion.
An even greater crime is to spin an already good story, in an attempt to make it better.
The first thing I teach my chaps (and chapesses) is to be honest in what you are writing. If the story isn't what you first thought, see if there is anything worth salvaging for a filler or nib, then walk away.
If you feel the need to spin a story then surely it's not that good a story in the first place. A great story tells itself.
It's too easy to fib a little to make the busted flush into a lead or, with an extra level of deceit, a splash.
But these stories will create journalists, editors and the paper so many problems, both short term and long ,they are very rarely worth the initial lies to get them into the news list.
Short term you are open to, at worst claims of defamation or PCC complaints, at best a snotty call to the editor who is forced to write a clarification, correction or, god forbid, a bloody apology.
Long term, your paper and staff lose all credibility. The trust of your readers is a hard won thing and all too easy to lose.
Recently I went away for a week to come back to the mother of all splash headlines. It wasn't technically wrong but it did give the wrong impression of what the story was about.
We had a serious PR problem that week (caused by my boss, so no heads rolled). As soon as I saw the level of vitriol towards us for what we had done, I apologised in an editorial with a front page trail.
It was the right thing to do but it didn't have to happen. The story was good enough without the extra splash of sauce my boss had added.
My rules are be fair and accurate and balanced.
If the quote you get from the council/cops doesn't fit the story question your original source. It may be that they or the press office are fibbing. It's your job to determine who is the bullshit merchant.
Get evidence. Documents, letters, emails or confessions written in blood. Make sure they are real. With these it is easy to see who is telling the truth.
Don't lie to your boss. It's easy to give the right answers in order to get your story into the paper but I would rather stop any problems getting in there in the first place.
I am far harder on a reporter who is rumbled for porkies after we have gone to press than I would be if they admit it's bollocks earlier on.
I don't mind reporters telling me they don't know, because I know they can find out. I hate to hear the words 'I think', 'I assume' or 'I'm 90 per cent sure' before a sentence.
Assumptions and thoughts are great for philosophers, beatniks and hippies. But we deal in facts. Hard, cold and impossible to challenge.
I know it's tempting to think you will be the one who won't get rumbled, but eventually you will.
I remember the tale of the reporter in Scotland who didn't want to travel down to the Borders at night on a doorknocking job (about 100 miles away). So he told the desk a couple of hours after being dispatched that no-one was in. Easy.
Except for the fact a snapper also dispatched by the desk found the house firmly ablaze half an hour later.
Another guy I knew made up stories to get at the top of the news list. He would be king of the conference and bullshit his way through the week until miraculously his brilliant exclusive evaporated into thin air.
He was only rumbled when, on one particularly tense Christmas Eve, the boss really needed his 'top tale' as the rest of the news list crumbled before him.
Editor demanded to meet the reporters source to crowbar the story out of him and after about half an hour of strong debate, the bullshitting hack admitted his lies.
His Christmas present was a P45.
The best I save until last. One hack was so desperate to see his name on the front page of his local rag he would sneak into his office in the dead of night on the deadline eve and spike the other reporters tales.
I shit you not.
Because of the way things worked, his tales would be the only ones ready for the tight morning deadlines and the splash was his.
After a few weeks of this nonsense the news editor and the hard-working reporter who had the majority of their stories binned hid in the office and discovered him at it.
Be fair, be accurate, be balanced. The only complaint they can have is they don't like the story.
Then you truly can tell them to go and fuck themselves.