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.