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.