Saturday, 15 May 2010

The future is now

I spend a lot of the time bemoaning the state of our industry. It may seem like I like to do it, but I truly don't.
What thrills me about this job is getting stories and bringing out newspapers. Newspapers, especially local ones, are truly important things for so many people and this current spiralling descent into extinction really hurts me.
I feel genuine sorrow for the new fresh faced recruits joining papers now. Working so hard to snag one of the few jobs on newspapers only to see them become a shadow of their former selves.
In five years time I dread to imagine what ridiculous pamphlet will be masquerading as a newspaper after more and more inevitable cuts.
It's easy to moan but what can we do?
Firstly we need to maintain our product's quality. If no-one is reading your paper there is not much defence in keeping it going. I know it's a struggle to remain motivated to do your job when it's obvious those above you have given up, but it is even more important to bring out the best paper you can.
Next is to fight every attempt to cut jobs, drop editorial pages and cut distribution.
It can often feel like there is no point and it's inevitable but the harder we make it for our MD to shave another couple of pages out of paper, knock a couple of thousand off our paper round or sell more ads on our premium pages the less likely he will want to do it.
Same for jobs. If he/she knows there will be an almighty row from the whole newsdesk over losing another reporter/sub the spineless twat is more likely to look to shed jobs in other departments first.
Embrace the web. It's not a replacement to newspapers, it's an added string to our journalistic bows. They still can't find out a way to make the same revenue out of their websites as they do our core products and I can't see that changing any time soon. But by treating the web as a part of your job as a journalist you not only increase your own skills base but you will start attracting new audiences who hopefully will start to look at your papers as well.
Bring in money ideas. By telling your ad team about a new shop/restaurant opening in town you might actually start creating revenue. You will get told things that may be great advertising opportunities which would go unnoticed by the ad sales peeps. The more money coming in, the better chance of keeping your jobs.
Keep the pressure on. If you are getting reaction from readers about changes at your paper, whether it be reduction in distribution, editorial or an obvious lack of news due to staff shortages get those people to complain all the way up the ladder.
Why not give discretely point them in the direction of your MDs phone number/email address. Let the ivory tower wankers soak up some of our shit for a while. They live such sheltered lives I doubt they have met an angry or disenchanted reader of their products for quite some time. Could be a nice thing to get them reacquainted with the green crayon brigade and see how easy their lives are after that.
Get out of the office. Meet some people, show that you care about the patch you cover. Re-engage with the readers so that hopefully they start to feel a bit of loyalty about their local paper again.
Get angry. You should be pissed off about what your companies are doing and how they are being run. Be furious about it. We are great at pointing out when other workers get shafted by their own employers but we are remarkably shy when it comes to defending our own jobs.
You want protection join a union. Work together to stop the bosses making these often ludicrous decisions that will ultimately send this business to the wall.
Things are changing in this industry and we cannot ignore the fact but our core job of reporting remains fundamentally the same. We just have a whole load of new ways of doing it.
Newspapers are still profitable. In some cases hugely so. But we are being bled dry by companies that have to see year-on year growth and are not satisfied by stable profits.
If the market is not there they make false profits by cutting pages, slashing staff and not putting out the same numbers of papers. Suicide by a thousand cuts.
If only our bosses realised if they actually listened to their people who love this job and harnessed a tiny part of the massive passion we have for newspapers, they might just have a chance of survival.
Role on the truly independent press, I say.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Local Newspaper Week

How many of you have spent a few hours trawling through their archives or contacting the great and good to put together a feature for Local Newspaper Week?
How many have written about the importance of newspapers for local democracy, holding forth swords of truth and shining lights in dark corners and suchlike?
How many MDs have demanded their titles run this stuff in favour of news stories to highlight how important your papers are to the local community?
And how many of you realise what an enormous hypocritical crock of shit this really is?
Who the fuck are we trying to kid?
The majority of readers already know their local paper really doesn't give a shit about them. That is why they are based 30 miles away in an anonymous news hub being created by multimedia content creators who churn out unchallenged council and police PR.
The majority of advertisers feel like they are being sold a lie when papers produce ever dwindling ABC figures or have stopped publishing them at all as beancounters save cash by cutting distribution on a monthly basis.
Press officers rub their hands in glee as their irrelevant chod is printed, in many cases word for word, as the few hacks who remain on news desks struggle to fill the pages of the three or four titles they are responsible for which used to be fully staffed.
Senior managers continue to be paid bonuses while profits fall, titles close, journalists get sacked and our pay is frozen yet again.
The thing is we in the newsrooms actually do believe in the importance of local papers, it's a criminal shame our MDs really don't give a fuck.
Newspapers to them are vehicles to make cash so they can tick the right boxes, fill out forms and hit targets so they achieve their OTT this quarter. Editorial is an expensive and irritating evil to these tossers.
If they could sack us all tomorrow and fill it with ads they would without hesitation. Look at the advance of Atex and other template systems. Fuck any qualms newsdesks have with its effectiveness or reliability. One hack who had the system recently installed told me it was such a clunking piece of crap it was adding hours to the newsdesk's day in getting the paper out.
The management couldn't give a toss however as they save hundreds of thousands a year by sacking all the subs.
Don't worry about the quality, or the mistakes, we're still making a profit.
Tick box, fill form, yippee it's bonus time again.
Short term thinking breeding long term problems.
Johnstone has died but doesn't quite know it yet. But the group’s chief executive, took home £959,000 in pay, benefits and bonuses after reporting a 56 per cent drop in profits, five titles closed and more than 750 jobs shed. Its staff are now facing a further £15million in cuts.
The wonderfully named Sly Bailey, head of Trinity Mirror, took home a bonus of £671,000. TM's profits dropped 41per cent it shut 30 titles shut and 1,700 jobs were lost. She already gets paid a cool £1million.
A scandal, a disgrace. Nah, just newspapers.
And who is going to print that?