Monday, 10 August 2009

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.

1 comment:

  1. Well said on the newspaper groups hanging round (under?) the desks of government ministers. I think they are seeking legal relaxations which will make title amalgamations, closures, job cuts by 'resource sharing' (giant subbing factories) easier.
    And you're right on the crap content issue too - poor editorial leaders must take the blame - but there's a chicken and egg scenario to be taken into account here.
    I reckon that if you and I were locked in a room with all this week's regional press publications we might discover something.
    Imagine going through the papers (plus websites)and putting them into 'total crap', 'a bit crap', 'good read' and 'cracking read' piles.
    I predict we would find...
    1. A lot of clone papers with dreary, centralised generic content, made by a particular group. As a result many of the titles would not reflect the readership of the area they purport to serve.
    2. The editors and news editors of a good number of the total or a bit crap papers are people you and I would never have promoted. They ticked all the 'management competency' boxes, were cheaper than real editors, wouldn't dare to query a threequarters page ad suddenly dumped on P3 and are more interested in the colour of their company car than that feeling of 'fuck me, we've made a shit hot paper this week'.