Wednesday, 1 July 2009

How journalism actually works

It's a fairly simple concept our job really. We find out about shit, we prove said shit, we simplify it and write about it. We ain't psychics. We rely wholly on others telling us things or us literally falling over stories in the streets where we work.
I mentioned contacts in a previous post and there is no greater asset to a hack than a good contact.
It helps to live on the patch you report on. It really helps to have been born there and gone to school there and to have married and had kids there and ultimately to still live there 30 years on. But not everyone is perfect.
Newspaper companies however have a different idea. They think stories come packaged via email. That the general public will inform you when something major happens on the high street. That grieving parents are only too happy to drive 40 miles to give you a collect. That the courts cover themselves. Council meetings are all webcast. And basically who needs to be in the local area to call themselves a local paper.
A large number of newspaper companies have withdrawn their local offices to industrial estates to churn out dozens of papers. I am in one of them and it sucks hairy balls.
Every day I have to weigh up whether it is worth sending a reporter out to cover a job properly - and risk a one hour minimum journey time - or get them to do it over the phone in a third of the time.
I know what I would prefer, but this is news gathering in the noughties. Pardon me for thinking young journalists might be able to actually meet people face to face.
One of the worst examples of the news hub is Trinity Mirror and its disgraceful Fort Dunlop set up. It's like a vacuum sucking up every newspaper office in a hundred mile radius.
They actually think that they can fool the readers into producing umpteen local papers from a central 'warehouse' of news. I saw an ad recently for some sort of hybrid news ed/web mong/ page planner. This creature was expected to edit and place stories into one of the multitude titles they produce at this concentration camp of news without being in charge of one of them.
How can that work? I edit three papers. It took me two months to learn which area was covered by which paper. More than a year on I am still discovering what makes my readers really tick in each edition.
Each patch is totally different. And within each of my three patches there are a myriad of different wards all with separate identities. I struggle to get it right each week, and I actually visit all of my areas on a regular basis, in my own time, and live in one. It is important to understand how your readers live and what their towns are like.
So how can a TM Fort Dunlop news beast focus and get it right on a weekly basis?
I say they can't. I say the products they bring out will be starved of all the things their readers want.
A local knowledge. An idea of what is important. A sense of community within the pages. Some stories that reflect their area.
And once again the money grubbing whores that run the majority of newspapers in this country fuck it all again for cash.

ps if you are a Fort Dunlopite and you disagree get in touch. I welcome your take on it.

pps Your bosses call you a 'combined editorial content-gathering team'. They are basically calling you cunts.

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