Friday, 30 August 2013

Media Quotes of the Week: From journalists under fire for attacking journalists to a newspaper group accused of not wanting to sell newspapers

David Carr in the New York Times: "If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected. Same with the 2010 WikiLeaks video of the Apache helicopter attack. Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?"

Letter to David Cameron from WAN-IFRA presidents Tomas BrunegĂ„rd and Erik Bjerager: "That your government felt the need to threaten legal action in order to block reporting into issues of public interest is deeply regrettable. Furthermore, WAN-IFRA is extremely concerned that the government’s actions were an act of intimidation that could have a chilling effect on press freedom in the UK and beyond." 

Nick Cohen in the Observer: "Liberal Democrat ministers do little or nothing as scandals break about secret courts, the snoopers' charter and the detention of the partners journalists under the Terrorism Act. They are so shameless that Nick Clegg aides boasted to the Financial Times that the deputy prime minister had personally approved plans to force our sister paper, the Guardian, to destroy a hard disk containing Ed Snowden's leaked secrets on state surveillance. I remember a time, not so long ago, when the Lib Dems worried about the secret state. But that was another age."

Janet Daley in the Sunday Telegraph on the forced destruction of Guardian computers: "The reasons that this scene – which looks, on the face of it, like something out of East Germany in the 1970s – is apparently perfectly acceptable seem to be: a) the data in the computers was a threat to the national security of this country and to that of our American allies; b) this information was stolen from the US government and published illegally by people who are narcissistic/eccentric/of dubious political judgment, and c) the newspaper in question was the Guardian, which is full of annoying Left-wing prats."

Sun journalist Chris Pollard, after he was cleared of handling a stolen mobile phone, to Press Gazette:  “I have no problem with the police making arrests when they suspect wrongdoing. But the way they are doing it is totally over the top and ridiculous. You don’t need to send nine police officers at dawn to a journalist’s house because you suspect them of handling a stolen mobile phone."

Mail on Sunday leader: "When it comes to state investigations into invasions of privacy, it seems that there is a huge imbalance between treatment of the press and treatment of blue-chip companies. Even lawyer Mark Lewis, who represents the family of hacked murder victim Milly Dowler, says there must be consistency – whether dealing with a newspaper, a pharmaceutical company or a law firm. There cannot be one rule for the press and another for everyone else."

Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post associate editor, on the paper's coverage of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech": "In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words 'I have a dream' appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include 'I have a dream.'  I’ve never seen anyone call us on this bit of journalistic malpractice. Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it."

Roy Greenslade on his MediaGuardian blog on Newsquest's cover price increases and falling sales: "Newsquest editors and journalists be warned. The company isn't trying to sell newspapers. It is trying to make as much money as possible before it kills off the golden goose."

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Washington Post admits 50 years on - our coverage of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream speech' was a nightmare and 'we blew it'

Newspapers, particularly in the UK, are generally not very good at owning up to making mistakes - let alone confessing they messed up 50 years ago.

But, in the U.S. the Washington Post has admitted "we blew it" 50 years after its coverage of  Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech  in Washington - one of the most famous ever made.

Robert G. Kaiser, a former managing editor at the Washington Post and current associate editor and senior correspondent, has written an op-ed  for the paper describing how the Post was expecting a riot and missed the significance of the "I have a dream" speech.

He writes: "The main event that day was what we now call the 'I Have a Dream' speech of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. But on the day it was given, The Post didn’t think so. We nearly failed to mention it at all.

"We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made. Baker’s 1,300-word lead story, which began under a banner headline on the front page and summarized the events of the day, did not mention King’s name or his speech. It did note that the crowd easily exceeded 200,000, the biggest assemblage in Washington “within memory” — and they all remained 'orderly.'

"In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words “I have a dream” appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include 'I have a dream.'

"I’ve never seen anyone call us on this bit of journalistic malpractice. Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it."

Via HuffPost Media

Friday, 23 August 2013

Quotes of the Week: From Alan Rusbridger's chilling warning to Guardian-bashers bite back

Image of the Week: Guardian's destroyed MacBook
Alan Rusbridger in the Guardian: "The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like 'when'. We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting – indeed, most human life in 2013 – leaves too much of a digital fingerprint. Those colleagues who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state to know best (many of them in the UK, oddly, on the right) may one day have a cruel awakening. One day it will be their reporting, their cause, under attack."

Glenn Greenwald on the Guardian's Comment is Free after his partner, David Miranda, was detained  by UK authorities at Heathrow: "This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It's bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It's worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they feel threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples."

Roy Greenslade on his MediaGuardian blog: "Edward Snowden is an heroic whistleblower. The journalist who wrote his story, Glenn Greenwald, was responsible for breaking one of the world's greatest exclusives. Should we journalists, as a community, not be rallying to their cause rather than looking the other way?"

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian: "In a Guardian basement, officials from GCHQ gazed with satisfaction on a pile of mangled hard drives like so many book burners sent by the Spanish Inquisition."

Joel Simon, executive director of US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, in a letter to David Cameron: "We call on your government to explain the detention and aggressive interrogation of Miranda; publicly clear him of any connection to terrorist activity; and return his seized equipment as well as any copies made of its contents. Taking these steps would counter the unsettling perception that the United Kingdom has abused its anti-terrorism laws to impede legitimate journalistic activity carried out in the public interest."

on Twitter: "Quite astonished at journalists saying 'we had to give the spooks our computers cos they threatened jail'. For jail, read: GREAT STORY."

Brendan O'Neill on Spiked: "For the newspaper editors, politicians and concerned tweeters now getting het up about the state’s interference in journalistic activity, about what they call the state’s ‘war on journalism’, are the very same people – the very same – who over the past two years cheered the state harassment of tabloid journalists; watched approvingly as tabloid journalists were arrested; turned a blind eye when tabloid journalists’ effects were rifled through by the police; said nothing about the placing of tabloid journalists on limbo-like, profession-destroying bail for months on end; said ‘Well, what do you expect?’ when material garnered by tabloid journalists through illegal methods was confiscated; applauded when tabloid journalists were imprisoned for the apparently terrible crime of listening in on the conversations of our hereditary rulers."

Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail: "The Guardian, of course, is almost single-handedly responsible for Leveson because of its — later debunked — allegation that the News of the World deleted the voicemails of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Nor can I help pointing out the newspaper that has shed copious tears for Mr Miranda, held for nine hours, had no such concerns over the interrogation of dozens of red-top journalists. Some were arrested at dawn in front of their families, deprived of their computers for months and released on bail. Charges won’t be brought against some of them. Others will end up in court. But even the most culpable among them never attempted to damage their country. With friends like Edward Snowden, and employees such as Glenn Greenwald, that is what the Guardian is in danger of doing." 

Fraser Nelson in The Spectator: "Press freedom is indeed under threat in Britain. The Guardian, for all of its proud history, has proven a rather unreliable defender of these freedoms in recent years — especially when it has spotted an opportunity to sock it to Rupert Murdoch. There is a growing case for a British Bill of Rights that would define and protect press freedom for the digital age, giving us the same protections that the Americans are afforded by the First Amendment. But there is not, and never has been, a fundamental right for newspapers to acquire and publish state secrets that weaken our national security and put the country at risk. Any ally of press freedom ought to be able to make this distinction."

Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail: "One might have hoped that the Guardian would extend the same support to Jim Davidson as they have to their own man. But while Miranda has the right credentials — gay, fashionably Brazilian, Left-wing, anti-American, anti-British — Jimbo ticks all the wrong boxes. He’s a serial heterosexual, fiercely patriotric, works tirelessly for military charities, tells the ‘wrong’ kind of jokes and, horror or horrors, was a cheerleader for Mrs Thatcher and the Tories. So, even if he isn’t guilty, as far as the Guardian is concerned it serves him right. His kind aren’t entitled to ‘human rights’." 

Other quotes of the week...

Adam Boulton in the Sunday Times [£] on Sky News' cameraman Mike Deane killed by a sniper in Egypt: "They are a rare breed, becoming rarer, partly because of compliance and commercial pressures on news organisations, partly because the collapse of the new world order means that western news gatherers are more often targeted than treated with deference. When the military went on its deadly killing spree in Cairo, the danger was overt. Yet any sniper could see that Mick, large, blond and wielding a camera, was there to do his job, not as a participant. Camera crews are inscrutable as interviewees and interviewers hold forth. But we shouldn’t be inscrutable about them. Mick’s death is a terrible reminder of how important and dangerous their work can be."

on Twitter: "If two Bulgarian women drug mules were arrested at Heathrow, how sympathetic would Fleet St be towards them?"

Dan Hodges on his Telegraph blog: "A few years ago someone pointed out the media’s habit of concentrating on white, photogenic girls, jumping for joy at the prospect of a place at Oxford or Cambridge, followed by a first-class honours degree, and eventually the opportunity to write countless blogs condemning their own privileged upbringing. Back then it was a cute and witty observation. But today it has become just another of the Left’s Mandatory Tweets, or LMTs."

[£] = paywall

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Exaro investigative website takes down paywall

Exaro: No paywall as it offers data services

Exaro, the investigative news website launched in October 2011, has taken down its paywall.

Exaro says it is part of a move to focus on add-on data services as its main generator of revenue, rather than subscriptions to the website.

Mark Watts, Exaro’s editor-in-chief, said: “Given the high level of public interest in Exaro’s stories, it is terrific to be able to provide readers with free access to our strong investigative journalism. And, with our development of data journalism to create editorial content and add-on data services, Exaro is at the cutting-edge of where new media is going.”

Exaro says it led the way with an investigation into politicians and other prominent people alleged to have sexually abused children three decades ago; exposed the “Whitehall tax scandal” after revealing how Ed Lester was being paid as chief executive of the Student Loans Company off the payroll, via a personal-service company; and  revealed how Rupert Murdoch indicated in a secretly recorded meeting that he knew for decades that his newspaper journalists were bribing officials.

Exaro has worked with television news programmes and newspapers on several investigations, and is looking to expand its partnership arrangements with other media outlets.

Readers will still need to register with the site to receive newsletters from Exaro. They also need to register and log in to the site to add comments or download source document. The company’s editorial and corporate offices are on the corner of Fetter Lane and Fleet Street.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Media Quotes of the Week: From catching Usain Bolt to John Cleese's contempt for UK journalists

AFP photographer Olivier Morin blogs about his picture of Usain Bolt and a bolt of lightning in Moscow: "I admit, with only a thumbnail view at first, I didn’t even see the lightning in the background, but after a moment I saw four photos with the bolt in the sky. Two of these weren’t usable because the cloud was too dark and the lightning was hard to see. But with the other two images, thanks to a little luck, the lightning is nice and visible; I’d gotten 'the' shot."

Tim Rayment in The Sunday Times [£] on its libel battle with crime boss David Hunt: "With legal bills, losing a libel case can cost the same as employing an entire newsroom of journalists. In uncertain times the temptation is to settle. But a journalist’s instinct is to protect journalism. If a newspaper allows the libel laws to be abused by those seeking to launder their reputations, what is the point of continuing with investigative journalism?"

Roy Greenslade on his blog on the appointment of former Press Complaints Commission director Stig Abell as new managing editor of the Sun: "I have no doubt that many newspaper editors and executives will be gobsmacked by the news of Abell's appointment. There may well be a feeling that he has changed sides and reversed the normal order of things – the gamekeeper has become the poacher."

Anthony Longden from the new edition of the book  What do We Mean By Local?: "QuarkXpress and its successors are tools like any other. You cannot hand someone a saw and call them a carpenter but, in effect, that was what happened – the emphasis was now merely on pulling copy into boxes. Anyone can do that, can’t they? Traditionally, sub editors had been hugely experienced, and generally quite terrifying journalists. They were the scourge of poorly written copy (and those who produced it). They could spot and remedy legal risks. They worked at a ferocious pace, and they had been rigorously trained as young reporters. They were also a bit older, and there was the rub: many found the transition from paper to computer just too much, and chose to bow out. Almost imperceptibly, sub editing became a secondary activity."

Paul Robertson in  What do We Mean By Local?:  "Regional media businesses have spent years agonising over ‘the Internet’. What do we put on it? Who does it? How do we make money on it? All are valid questions, but the constant questioning and lurches of direction are paralysing the industry. It is fiddling while Rome burns."

Neil Fowler in What Do We Mean By Local? advises local papers: "Start charging for some online content – and hold your nerve. Ditch fancy website names and use your brands – their value is immense."

John Mair in What Do We Mean By Local?: "Unless the ‘locals’ learn from the past and especially the last decade, such proud names as the Wolverhampton Express and Star, the Cambridge Evening News, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo will exist only on the tombstones on media history."

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian: "Newspapers are still the nation's political megaphone, regardless of dwindling sales. When scarcely an edition of the Sun, Times, Sunday Times or indeed the Mail leaves the presses without a tilt at the BBC, that's alarming. If the Conservatives won the next election, would the BBC survive the redrawing of its charter in 2017 in anything like its present splendour?"

Mail on Sunday in a leader: "The more that emerges about the Soca report, the more it appears that the press has been singled out. It is being punished for a type of wrongdoing which, in fact, extends far more widely. It would be hard to reopen the Leveson inquiry itself. But politicians now considering how to respond to it should certainly bear these significant new facts in mind."

Edward Snowden interviewed by the New York Times Magazine, as reported by the Huff Post: "After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power -- the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government -- for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism. From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are still only beginning to recover from this cold period."

Bearded: Lebedev and Paxman
Evegeny Lebedev in the London Evening Standard: "Whatever one’s views on the specifics, Jeremy Paxman got one thing right. A beard, like a great work of art or literature, must meet its public fully formed."

"When politicians get it wrong should they be forced to issue a front-page apology, too?

John Cleese in a Guardian video interview on the British press [excepting the Guardian, Independent and Daily Mirror]: "The rest are the most appalling, depraved, disgusting, amoral creatures you could find anywhere outside of prison. And of course many of them are going to be inside a prison soon." 

[£ ]= paywall

Thursday, 15 August 2013

John Mair: Five lessons for the regional press

John Mair, co-editor of the updated book What do we mean by local? the rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism,  has warned "unless the ‘locals’ learn from the past and especially the last decade, such proud names as the Wolverhampton Express and Star, the Cambridge Evening News, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo will exist only on the tombstones on media history."

Mair writes: "Unless we learn from history, we cannot face the uncertain future for the local press. For some (including me), locals are in the commercial intensive care ward about to become history. Others are more positive. It was not always thus. In the great days – not that long ago – local papers ruled their towns. Their words were Gospel. Editors were almost proconsuls in the town, reporters scurried hither and thither to gather stories to fill  the daily and weekly news machines.

They had their ‘patches’ to serve. The paper was often physically in the centre of the town and always at the centre of its life. People bought it in thousands on their way to and from work to connect with their community.

Local newspapers performed national functions, too. They were the first home for stories that might go on to have national, even international, significance. They were also the training grounds and nursery slopes for journalists and wannabe journalists."

He adds: "Local news lies lower than the bottom-most rung of the traditional food chain; it is information you can’t get elsewhere, wherever you look and whatever you are prepared to pay. While news may well be something that someone, somewhere doesn’t want to see printed, local news is something that no one else, anywhere else can be bothered to print; information of interest to so small a section of the population that its publication isn’t generally regarded as either desirable or cost-efficient. It is, in fact, both of  those things."

Learning Something from History?

"So have local papers learned ‘nothing from history’ to paraphrase Hegel? These five quick and dirty lessons I would posit:
  • Find the audience wherever they are and whatever platform they use to get  their news. Today those are tablets and mobile phones, tomorrow is uncertain.
  • Big does not always mean best. Look at the continuing rise of the Tindle empire based on very local papers.
  • Local roots are vital – you pull them up at your peril. A reader in Tamworth is simply not interested in Stafford news.
  • Merger mania has damaged the industry more than it realised. The future is simply local, however defined.
  • And in industry terms, the local is still needed as a nursery slope for wannabe hacks; university journalism courses cannot and do not provide anything like a comprehensive enough grounding.
"News organisations in that inelegant word are ‘content’ providers. They find and produce news and features. The trick in modern media is to find audiences for that, platforms to serve and ways of – in another ugly modern phrase, ‘monetising’ that product. The advertising that has long migrated to the internet will never come back to print.

Accept that and try to recapture some of it in cyberspace. ’Get’ the net and ‘get’ it quickly or get out.

Unless the ‘locals’ learn from the past and especially the last decade, such proud names as the Wolverhampton Express and Star, the Cambridge Evening News, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo will exist only on the tombstones on media history. ‘The way we were’ will be the only memories."

Mair, a Regional Press Awards judge,  says of campaigning journalism in the local press: "Today, the paper as campaigner rarely happens. So much so that industry bodies such as the Society of Editors feel obliged to reward newspapers such as the Liverpool Echo when they mount long-running (and successful) campaigns  calling for ‘Justice for the Hillsborough 96’.

"For too many, this is an ambition too far; their campaigning stops at parking charges for the local hospital or another Freedom of Information generated ‘story’. Too many too have lost touch with their audience through the mania of mergers, acquisitions and consolidation that gripped the industry in the last decades of the twentieth century." 
  • What do we mean by local? The rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism edited by John Mair, Richard Lance Keeble with Neil Fowler, published by Abramis on September 1, 2013. ISBN 978-1-84549-593-0. Price £19.95 or as a special offer to readers of this blog £15.00 from
Other extracts from What do we mean by local?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

David Jackman: The local newspaper editor who went hyperlocal after he was made redundant

After being made redundant, local newspaper editor David Jackman set up the hyperlocal site, Writing an article in an updated edition of the book "What do we mean by local? the rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism", Jackman says: "On leaving the newspaper world I knew I did not want to sever my ties with the people, places and news that had been my life for more than 21 years." 

"Redundancy is a word no-one wants to hear. However, after 21 years and two weeks working on my local newspaper that is what I had to experience.

My venture into local journalism began on the Monday after the 1987 hurricane when I started at the then West Essex Gazette in Epping, Essex, having successfully applied for the job of trainee reporter. My first story was about a garden shed which had been blown into a neighbour’s garden during the hurricane.

It was not much of story, just a couple of lines, but when the newspaper came out on the Thursday morning I had my first ‘I wrote that’ buzz. I can still remember my first front page by-line, for a report about a fatal crash in Waltham Abbey when an elderly man died after being struck by a vehicle while out shopping.

In my early days as a journalist I was one of a team of four reporters based in a small upstairs office off Epping High Street. Two receptionists downstairs would call us down to see people who wanted to submit news items – be it a jumble sale report, wedding picture or obituary. Among the callers one day was a teenage local schoolgirl – Kate Silverton, now the BBC newsreader – who brought in a picture and a report on an Operation Raleigh expedition she had been part of.

In addition to the editorial team at Epping, there was another team of reporters based in Loughton and even more on the ‘sister paper’, the then Citizen Series based in Harlow, plus umpteen more at the main offices in Walthamstow.

Journalism – in the pre-Twitter Days

How times change. We used typewriters and carbon paper. Couriers would call in regularly throughout the day to collect the copy – articles for the three editions having been typed on different coloured paper – to take to Walthamstow. Photographers beavered away in the dark room. There were no digital cameras, email nor Twitter in those days! We eventually entered the modern world of technology when a fax machine was installed. Computers? Not yet. When they did arrive we had floppy discs but email was to be still some time off!

And then there was the landmark day when we were told we were going to be able to have a colour picture on the front page of each edition! The only drawback was that we had to decide about three days before deadline what picture was going to be used! These changes in technology make me feel old – but it just shows how much technology has developed in a quarter of a century.

Being a local reporter on ‘my’ local paper was a job I loved. Having lived in the area for all but about four years of my life – I am now 47! – I knew the area and many local people, and I was interested in what was happening on my doorstep. I covered many big stories over the years including the Korean cargo plane crash near Stansted Airport in December 1999. Like a typical newshound I still remember learning about the disaster while flicking through the Ceefax news pages on the television at home. The highlighted ‘breaking news’ type headline appeared and I was off!

Over the years my reporter role allowed me to meet many people whom I would not have had the opportunity to speak to had I been in any other profession – there were sporting stars such as Sally Gunnell and Frank Bruno, any number of politicians, and even royalty. I was invited to be introduced to Prince Charles when he visited the Abbey Church in Waltham Abbey to view the restoration work carried out after a man went on the rampage with an axe in the church and through the town.

On the morning after the attack I thought it would be good for the newspaper to launch an appeal. Within an hour or so, and after opening an account at a local building society branch, the Abbey Church Appeal Fund was set up – and it did not take long for the donations to start pouring in. Helped by national publicity, the appeal eventually raised more than £12,000 for the church with contributions received from as far away as America. The money went towards the cost of restoring the damaged organ.

From the role of trainee reporter I was promoted to chief reporter and editor, a role which I was to have for some 14 years. Over the years new editions were launched: at one point we had four Epping Forest editions covering the Epping area, Ongar area, Loughton, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill, and Waltham Abbey. But then having seen the newspapers grow in their ‘localism’ came the decision to cut back change pages and eventually to have just a single title covering the whole of the district.

Each year I would represent the newspapers and highlight journalism at school careers nights. I would often be asked what qualifications you needed to be a journalist. Having quoted the NCTJ requirements I would often add ‘and you need to be a bit nosey’. You need to be inquisitive and be keen to find out what is happening on your doorstep. And, I guess, that was me.

In my early days in newspapers the reporters would make weekly visits to the local funeral director for contact details for bereaved families so we could approach them about writing an obituary. I guess today that no longer happens with journalists likely to be told that such information cannot be given out because of ‘data protection’. Many families we contacted were only too pleased to talk about their loved ones and to have an article, however short, published in ‘their’ local paper.

We would have ‘press calls’ at the local police stations several times a week when the officers would try to decipher the crime report forms and give us snippets of news. We did the same with the fire stations. Press calls were regularly made in person and over the telephone just before deadline each Wednesday morning. We would regularly attend parish and town council meetings and report them as if we were the clerks getting ‘nibs’ (news in brief items) on every issue that was discussed, from dog waste bins, litter and allotments to occasionally issues that developed into a front page article.

In those days there was no internet, no 24-hour television news. On many occasions over the years would a story break after deadline and you had the frustrating wait until the following weeks to publish anything about it. In those days you did not have Twitter or Facebook to feature any ‘breaking news’ or to seek witnesses for your story or encourage readers to send in their comments or pictures.

How Citizen Journalism is Transforming the News

The internet and social networking has certainly transformed the way we get our news. It means everyone is a potential reporter. With cameras on mobile phones they are not just a reporter but a cameraman and indeed a video film crew. Anyone can publish news within seconds. This is progress but in some instances it has resulted, I am sure, in the loss of personal contact between journalists and their readers. Reporters can be tempted to rely on social networking to make contact instead of getting out and about meeting people face to face.

Today Facebook followers, Linked In connections and Twitter followers have replaced the tattered pages of a reporter’s contact book, brown at the edges through constant use. After 21 years working on the same series of newspapers, and having lived in the area for so long, I was fortunate to be able to say that many of my ‘contacts’ were also my friends.

When redundancy loomed several of them said to me that I should launch my own newspaper. It did not take me long to decide that such a venture was a non-starter. How would I fund such an idea as a one-man band? Many other questions went through my head. Unless I had a whole team of staff how would I get advertising? Who would print it? Who would deliver it? The list of unknowns just grew.

But then I thought about a website. Surely for a few hundred pounds I could have my own site. Register a domain name and off I go. And that was pretty much what happened. I sought some initial ideas by searching the internet for ‘community websites’ and was faced with pages and pages of links. But one thing struck me. Many of the sites had not been updated for months. It seemed people thought it a good idea initially but then, for some reason, had lost interest.

Launching a Local Community News Site

And so I was struck by the obvious – that if a local community news website was to be anything like a success then it needed regular content. I had no experience of web-building but I already had contact with local web designer Bob Moeser, whose 5BelowZero business also provides computer repairs. It was through the repair side of his business that I had got to know Bob.

A telephone call to Bob one evening was to be the beginning of my hyperlocal business. First I had to come up with a domain name – ‘Your Epping Forest’ perhaps and various others along the same lines. Eventually I went for ‘Everything Epping Forest’. That was what I wanted the website to be – everything about the area; its news, its events, its clubs and organisations and its businesses.

I was conscious at the time that there were news items, however small, which were not being covered by the local press. I wanted an easy to navigate community news website. Nothing complicated, just a handful of pages – news, what’s on, local clubs and organisations and a Local Business Directory. As the site developed, a sports page, job vacancies page and Food and Drink section followed.

Within a few days a dummy page was ready and on 18 November 2008 – and with the news page featuring a good luck and welcome message from local MP Eleanor Laing – Everything Epping Forest ( went ‘live’. I sent out a launch email to my long-standing news contacts and was up and running. Here was my new business venture which was enabling me to continue to do what I enjoyed.

On leaving the newspaper world I knew I did not want to sever my ties with the people, places and news that had been my life for more than 21 years. I had never really seen my job as a job, to me it was more of a hobby for which I was paid. That first day Everything Epping Forest registered 235 visitors. I soon got into the habit of regularly checking the stats for hits and visits. Some people would call that sad, but to me it was simply being enthusiastic about my new venture.

I received numerous emails of support from former colleagues and news contacts as word spread about Everything Epping Forest. I had business cards, flyers and leaflets printed and a friend in Epping, who is a keen walker, offered to deliver a flyer to every household in the town. I attended council meetings, went to local events and took pictures. Many of the events I covered were not featured by my old paper. I would encourage people to submit short reports about their fundraising ventures, however small.

Receiving encouragement and positive feedback gave me that same ‘buzz’ that I had felt in my early days in newspapers when I was given a by-line or had an ‘exclusive’. It was great to know people were visiting Everything Epping Forest for their local news and information. When I introduced myself at events it felt odd initially when people said: ‘Oh yes, I’ve heard of Everything Epping Forest.’ I would get that ‘buzz’ again when someone would tell me they liked Everything Epping Forest and had added it to their list of ‘favourites’!

Shortly after Everything Epping Forest was launched I received a telephone call from Sky News which was putting together an item on the ‘demise of local newspapers’. They wanted to feature Everything Epping Forest as a community hyperlocal site which was seen as an example for the future for providing local news. Several weeks later and I had a similar call from BBC Radio 4 which wanted me to appear on the You and Yours programme which was also featuring the future of local newspapers.

Fifteen months after launching the Epping Forest site I decided, having also worked on a local title in Harlow, to launch a ‘sister site’ Everything Harlow ( Early in 2012, I was approached by Archant London, the regional media publisher whose stable of newspapers include several in the area. Committed to community magazines and A5 titles, they were interested in getting involved with Everything Epping Forest.

Expanding the Business

It was seen as a unique partnership, a one-man band hyperlocal journalist teaming up with a major publishing name. And so in May 2012 the Everything Epping Forest monthly magazine was launched. Its arrival was featured in several articles in the ‘trade press’. The initial single edition grew to three, covering most of the Epping Forest local authority area with some 30,000 copies delivered door-to-door each month. In May 2013 a fourth edition covering the Woodford area of east London was launched and in June came a new Everything Harlow title in partnership with the Everything Harlow website.

The third in the ‘trio’ of my ‘Everything’ websites came in late 2012. Aware that many local schools and organisations were creating plenty of ‘good news’ that was not being reported in the local press I launched Everything Local News – a media service to prepare and circulate media releases on the clients’ behalf. Later came the Everything Local News website – – the ‘home’ of the media service which features downloadable PDF versions of each release.

As well as circulating the releases to the relevant local, regional and national media each client has their own database of contacts who receive the release and pictures at the same time as they are emailed to the media. I now provide media support for two MPs, four schools and several business groups, other organisations and charities.

Redundancy is never a good thing but it can certainly open new doors. Being self-employed means you are your own boss. Whatever you achieve is down to your efforts. Any holiday means you have to pack your laptop along with everything else. Running the ‘Everything’ news sites and media service has enabled me to continue to do the job I loved. As I jokingly tell people: ‘News never stops!’ Because of that, the work can bring added pressures – but the pressure never seems to be too much when you are doing something you love.

I hope other journalists who have to experience redundancy do not think it is the end of the world but that it can simply be the start of something new and enjoyable."
    • David Jackman began his career in journalism in October 1987 having studied at Harlow College. He spent 21 years working on the West Essex Gazette Series of newspapers, the Harlow and Bishop’s Stortford Citizens and the Epping Forest Independent until he was made redundant in 2008. He then set up the hyperlocal sites Everything Epping Forest and Everything Harlow and the Everything Local News media service. 

    What do we mean by local? The rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism edited by John Mair, Richard Lance Keeble with Neil Fowler, published by Abramis on September 1, 2013. ISBN 978-1-84549-593-0. Price £19.95 or as a special offer to readers of this blog £15.00 from

    Tuesday, 13 August 2013

    Paul Robertson: 'Agonising over the internet - is the regional press fiddling while Rome burns?'

    Paul Robertson, the former editorial director of Trinity Mirror North East and editor of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, argues "that regional media businesses have spent years agonising over ‘the Internet’. What do we put on it? Who does it? How do we make money on it? All are valid questions, but the constant questioning and lurches of direction are paralysing the industry. It is fiddling while Rome burns."

    Writing in the updated edition of the book What do we mean by local? The rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism, Robertson also claims that the Leveson Inquiry and parliament has largely ignored the crisis in the regional press which has led to job losses and titles closing.

    "During the Leveson Inquiry, the public would have been forgiven for thinking that all journalists are cheating, uncaring reprobates out to destroy anyone and everyone. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority are hard working, passionate about their jobs – determined to expose wrongdoing and uncover injustice but, equally importantly, to promote and support the local people and communities they serve.

    They are appalled by the phone-hacking scandal and the damage it unfairly does to their own reputations. The expensively assembled inquiry, by its very nature, concentrated on the celebrities, the high profile ordinary people badly wronged by the national media such as the McCanns and Dowlers.

    What it largely ignored – an accusation which can be levelled at parliament too – is the real crisis that is happening among those operating at regional and local level, where the journalists play by the rules. MPs and others have been up in arms about the proposed cuts to local BBC services – understandably so – yet what about the birthplace of those stations’ journalism?

    You can hear the pages turning on air as the local newspapers form the basis for any regional radio station’s news, sport and entertainment coverage as well as its phone-ins. It is the regional newspaper journalists who sift through council agendas, talk to contacts, bother to attend magistrates courts, community events, schools and workplaces. They and their families live and work in the towns and villages they serve, where contacts are made and the consequences of what they write are keenly felt.

    When People Turn to Local Brands

    The pages of the local paper in print and online continue to be the home of original journalism – a force for good but all that is threatened by the acceleration of circulation decline, the damage being done to the perception of journalists and the lack of a clear strategy from companies which give the perception that their shareholders are more important than their readers and advertisers,

    Trusted brands, with a fantastic heritage, pillars of the community loathed by some but loved by many. Even in the face of 24-hour news coverage, when a major event happens on their doorstep it is the local brands people turn to. This was clearly demonstrated during my time at the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle in July 2010 when gunman Raoul Moat went on the run for a week and became the focus of an international media frenzy.

    From the moment the first shot was fired in a quiet Tyneside suburb, injuring his ex-girlfriend and killing her new boyfriend, the team covered every cough and spit of the drama with fresh angles to stories for the newspaper and a rolling service through the website and social media – and in particular Twitter.

    It was thanks to local contacts, the fact we lived in and knew the area and people trusted us that we were able to lead the way without resorting to the cheque-book journalism which inevitably saw the nationals buy up Moat’s surviving victims.

    Long after the incident, it was the local newspaper which supported the launch of injured policeman PC David Rathband’s charity, covered the police inquiry, the subsequent court cases, the inquest and asked difficult questions of the police, social services and all those involved in the incident in which Moat ultimately shot himself having eventually been cornered and tasered by police.

    The dedication of the team on the ground resulted in brilliant coverage, rewarded with big increases in sales and online hits. To me, it proved in turbulent times the local media is still relevant and has the talent to capitalise on the biggest of stories.

    The move to overnight printing did mean the Chronicle missed out on PC Rathband’s tragic death in March 2012 in-print, which, judging by the paper’s Twitter account, prompted complaints and raised awareness among many readers who thought their evening newspaper was printed on the day that actually it isn’t – a further reason for some not to buy but log on instead.

    This should not tarnish such a brilliant performance on the Moat story; it should inspire confidence that local newspapers can not only survive but also thrive. However, forces are at work, which could make this extremely difficult, and unless there is focus, support and a deliverable strategy, more local newspapers will go to the wall before it gets to that point.

    Case for the Defence

    In July 2011, a month before leaving the Evening Chronicle in the days leading up to the closure of the News of the World, I found myself on local television and radio constantly defending what local and regional journalism stood for. I became so angry at the negative portrayal.

    Like every decent-minded person in the country, our professional journalists were appalled at the abuse of press freedom undertaken by the News of the World. It was a damaged brand – morally bankrupt – which brought shame on our industry and the threat of further legislation and regulation that will make it more difficult to do the job. Yet its closure was a major shock – a newspaper, which until this outrageous scandal had a well-earned reputation for investigative journalism mixed with celebrity gossip, sport, and campaigning, gone.

    A free, independent, scrutinising press has long played a key role in the democracy of this country at both a local and national level. In the acres of newspaper coverage, in parliament with MPs baying for News International’s blood and most notably among the, at times, holier-than-thou television coverage, this has been overlooked during the phone hacking debates.

    Crucial Relationship with Readers

    It is hugely disappointing that few have drawn a distinction between the way most journalists operate and the culture exposed at the News of the World. I know of no regional or local newspapers that act in this way. Do they get things wrong? Yes. The difference is they put them right through direct contact with complainants, correcting errors in print and carrying readers’ views on our coverage in letters and feedback columns.

    Contrary to the impression given that little attention was paid to the industry watchdog – the Press Complaints Commission – nothing could be further from the truth. A letter from the PCC would be taken extremely seriously; complaints dealt with as quickly as possible in the hope a satisfactory resolution can be reached.

    No journalist wears any such letter as a badge of honour, as no editor relishes having to publish in a prominent position any adjudication against their newspaper. Of course, there are times articles are written about individuals and organisations they don’t like – that is part of the media’s job. But local newspapers also champion the region they serve, the people within it, highlighting the great deeds of local people, being a critical friend to those who work to make their particular area a better place to live, work and do business.

    Local newspapers are the only media which regularly cover courts, councils, criminal investigations, which report on schools, help raise the profile of charities with extensive coverage, and which campaign on issues which matter to readers. As Geraldine Allinson, the President of the Newspaper Society, said in a speech in 2011:

    The fact is the role of local newspapers cannot be replicated by any other medium. No-one else can scrutinise those in authority and underpin the local democratic process the way we do. No-one else can support and reflect the aims and aspirations of the local community and campaign on its behalf. And no-one else can give a voice to local people who want and need to be heard

    Need for Focus and a Strategy

    Yet for how long are we going to be able to argue the case? Sadly every day there is news of job losses among journalists and regularly closures of titles attracting little attention outside the trade and the affected communities. Almost every newspaper centre with one or more daily has seen the evening title printed at the same time as its sister morning, while there is an increasing trend of once proud dailies becoming weeklies.

    A strong weekly, backed up by an interactive website could be a success, provided the owners support the editorial and commercial teams with cash and time to give it a chance. In Newcastle there was a ‘clear blue water’ strategy aimed at ensuring differentiation between the Journal and the Evening Chronicle – a challenge in any multi-title newsroom.

    Armed with marketing information, each title had its own dedicated team working to a publishing strategy which complemented each other with a fierce but friendly rivalry, resulting in distinctive newspapers with character. Financial pressures and structural change put this well-defined strategy, using brands with more than 100 years’ heritage, in the spotlight and a series of decisions were made which was to change the face of journalism in Newcastle and potentially threaten the real local feel of each title.

    Staffs merged so those who had grown up with loyalty to one title were forced to quickly get to grips and understand the characteristics of the other. Reporters were required to write different styles for different titles, designers and subs following suit and for a time there was a painful period to manage change. The mantra was exclusives yes, secrets no, with more intelligent forward planning, sensible placement of stories where they would have the most impact and collaboration at all levels became the norm. It was not just editorial. Being aware of the difficulties facing our commercial colleagues operating in the same local market place was more important than ever. There was a clear need to be more supportive, without compromising independence and integrity. 

    The Madness of Free Content

    A Dunkirk spirit ensued, so despite the cuts, changes and pressures, newspapers continued to be produced – but in the same cut-throat environment that saw sales spiralling downwards and boardrooms wrestling with how best to tackle it.

    The utter madness of uploading all content online for free continued as the attempts to monetise websites proved only moderately successful. However, more discerning advertisers were looking for alternatives to monopolistic newspapers charging higher prices for smaller audiences and, in the process, the cash cow that was classifieds – in particular situations vacant – was slaughtered – having a dramatic impact on the bottom line.

    In an industry of innovation, local newspapers quickly adopted social media, such as Twitter and Facebook not only as tools for newsgathering but also to interact with the audience. User generated content brought a new dimension to publishing and there was a real opportunity to once again begin reclaiming some of the ground lost due to the explosion of alternative sources of news and information, using brands which were recognised, trusted and still strong enough to be a significant player in the crowded marketplace.

    Yet, the economic situation, the need to make profits to service increasingly high debt levels and the fact print still remained the place where most revenue was generated despite the migration of classified, has seen what could be a fatal delay for many in adapting to changing consumer demands. You only have to travel on your local transport system to see the change. Not so long ago the train carriages and bus seats were filled by people reading their local newspaper.

    Today those same people are using their Kindles, mobiles and iPads – spaces where very few local newspapers have gone or have done so half-heartedly and too late because they don’t see it making a return – short-sighted thinking which has become the norm. There is no doubt, too, that the clear blue water has become increasingly muddied as content is duplicated across titles from the same stable. The marketers may say there is little crossover readership but, from my own experience, many family, friends and acquaintances did get both the Journal and Chronicle but no longer do so. When I ask why the main reasons given are ‘it is because they are the same’ and ‘I can get it for free on the web’ but that is not what either the owners or the marketers want to hear.

    Local Life under Pressure

    Newsagents continue to close apace, while new outlets which people frequent less often – like garages and supermarkets expand. It is a difficult conundrum for distribution. But again, to cut costs, most newspapers are now distributed wholesale rather than dedicated local teams, in fewer numbers and less areas to reduce waste.

     Taking two hundred copies out of van routes doesn’t appear too drastic but it all adds up, as does the lack of a coherent, cost-effective home delivery service. Just like the Post Office, the pubs, the independent high street stores – all part of local life under intense pressure, many closing, so the local newspaper – many of which fight to save those facilities – face a fight themselves. But they still have more eyes and ears on the ground than most media outlets in terms of journalists, readers and other staff.

    The multi-skilled single newsroom at its best allows a flexible approach where resources can be targeted effectively. It has improved diary management and forward planning. No longer are there two reporters and photographers turning up to every event from the same centre or to the same court case to hear the same evidence.

    Having said that, there are times when it is still desirable, perhaps even necessary, such as covering a football match with personality writers whose opinions are valued by a particular title’s readers. If this is to be maintained then everything must be done to protect and in some cases beef up the content operation again even if, and I say it with a heavy heart, all production is outsourced. Pages can be produced to template from anywhere in the UK or indeed in the world but local, unique, relevant content has to be gathered from the town, cities and villages served by the newspaper.

    How do we Sustain Local Newspapers?

    In InPublishing, November 2011, former Hull Daily Mail editor John Meehan talks about sustaining journalism in the regions. It is thought-provoking, well argued and, while there are points for disagreement, it largely reflects my own views on the future way forward. He points to the unique place the newspaper has in the community as compendiums of local life while the printed word gives credibility to the digital format and it is this point which is probably the most pertinent. Meehan writes:

    Regional media businesses have spent years agonising over ‘the Internet’. What do we put on it? Who does it? How do we make money on it? All are valid questions, but the constant questioning and lurches of direction are paralysing the industry. It is fiddling while Rome burns.

    Local newspapers have a proud record of championing important causes, promoting local businesses, holding decision-makers to account, unmasking those who commit crimes in the neighbourhood as well as the unsung charity workers – with regular up to date information which can be trusted and relied upon. In a world of global communications, there needs to be more recognition that no two places are the same – what matters to people in the suburbs of Newcastle is not necessarily the same as in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff or Glasgow.

    As I have already stated, there have been many efforts to streamline and rationalise the work being done in newsrooms around the country – some of which makes sense. Whether it is delivered in print, via a website, mobile device, a new form of television or a technology not yet even available, content generation and managing material coming through active engagement with the audience should be protected at all costs. Unfortunately, it is increasingly a case that is not happening.

    Towns, cities and villages will be poorer, less democratic places without their local newspaper in whatever form it takes. Almost everyone agrees but too many are reluctant to enter the debate and make a difference. Platitudes don’t pay the bills or wages. MPs can help by changing the legislative framework and ownership rules – they should take a closer look at who covers the issues they are talking about in their constituencies away from the Westminster bubble and perhaps gain a better understanding of what it would mean to them to lose the local news source.

    The phone-hacking scandal and the attention being paid to it mean the crisis in local newspapers is likely to be largely ignored for the foreseeable future, by which time it could be too late. Sky has joined the fray with its video-led website pilot in Tyne and Wear.

    If successful, it is certain to be rolled out to other areas. In many ways, thanks to the resources at its disposal, Sky Tyne and Wear is doing news on the web in a way newspapers have failed to do. Local television might play its part, but only if the brands with heritage, trust and a relationship with their audience engage and shape its future along with a viable financial model which may require initial subsidy to ensure plurality.

    Failure to act will mean local newspapers, so often the glue which holds communities together will become unstuck and society will be a much poorer place as a result. As media consultant Jim Chisholm said in Press Gazette in December 2011, much of what has happened to our newspapers has been self-inflicted, but the products remain profitable.

    He argues: “Yes there are tough times ahead, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be exciting and positive if we start making some brave, positive decisions about the future of news.” While I agree, I also fear it is already too late for some.
    • Paul Robertson was editorial director of Trinity Mirror North East and editor of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle (2002-2011). Previously he was editor of the Teesside Evening Gazette (2000-2002) and held numerous positions on the Journal, Newcastle including chief reporter, head of content, sports editor and deputy editor.
    • What do we mean by local? The rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism edited by John Mair, Richard Lance Keeble with Neil Fowler, published by Abramis on September 1, 2013. ISBN 978-1-84549-593-0. Price £19.95 or as a special offer to readers of this blog £15.00 from
    • See also, Neil Fowler: Government must help the regional press - which should start charging for online.

    Monday, 12 August 2013

    Fowler: 'Government must act to help regional press - which should start charging for online'

    Neil Fowler, who has edited the Lincolnshire Echo, Derby Telegraph and Western Mail, says Government ministers must show they that understand the real media issue of our times is a crisis in the funding of general news in this country – specifically for regional dailies as well as the quality end of the national market.

    Writing an article in an updated edition of the book "What do we mean by local? the rise, fall and possible rise again of local journalism", Fowler claims: "The model of news being subsidised by advertising is broken and cannot be fixed, but more than just platitudes from our policy-makers is now required. There needs to be a minister with an overview of the industry – so that the government may actually be seen to be acting with some understanding and serious intent."

    He also argues that papers should start charging for online content, stating: "Giving all a newspaper’s output away for free on the web has been a disaster. The message that the internet would be the new rivers of gold was always false."

    Fowler starts his article with a look back at the regional press since the war:  "In the time since the end of the last war, the regional newspaper industry was basically held back by a combination of weak management and the intransigence of the print craft unions. This meant that three golden eggs were laid in the 1980s – the sale of Reuters shares being the first, which funded the second by buying out the unions and investing in new technology and colour presses, all of which was followed by the third ‘egg’ of economic growth during the second and third Thatcher governments.

    There were some innovations – notably the launching of a ring of suburban evening newspapers around London in the 1960s – but there was little else. Research and development, the staple of most other industries, was simply ignored.

    Essentially the long-term decline in readership, which began in the early 1960s, and the decline in the sales of regional daily newspapers, in particular, which began in the late 1970s, was masked by the massive growth in classified advertising – and especially the situations vacant category. Newspaper paginations mushroomed, profits grew massively and all was rosy – and then the internet came along and stole those rivers of gold, as Rupert Murdoch named them – and the dam broke. So technology and economic factors combined there, along with some gross managerial misjudgement.

    Politically, ownership rules have lain untouched for a generation or more. Misguided views on plurality amongst policy makers have, I believe, held back the industry. And all the while society and people’s lifestyles were changing. The industry knew it but hoped that its superficial responses would allow it to carry on it the same old way. It was wrong.

    The Questions that Need to be Answered…

    A surprising revival happened in May 2011. Driven by the Society of Editors, new life was breathed in to the UK Regional Press Awards. Two years earlier, in 2009, the event had been like a wake, and a miserable wake at that.

    In 2010 the National Union of Journalists had arranged its own event, but it not been able to match the glamour or excitement of previous years when under the stewardship of Press Gazette it had been a genuine industry highlight. But in 2011, some 350 journalists from reporter through to editor, with a few managing directors thrown in for good measure, attended a remarkably upbeat lunch at a London hotel to celebrate the best of the local newspaper industry. But was the optimistic atmosphere merely a cheerful pre-death rattle of a sector mortally wounded in the maelstrom created by the effects of the growth of the internet? Or was it an indication that there was still resilience of some kind still propping up the industry’s somewhat shaky foundations?

    Interestingly, the winners of most of the twenty-three categories showed that if regional and local newspapers were dying, some of them, at least, were going down with a fight. Before making my recommendations I think it is important to summarise the mistakes that I believe have been made following my interviews and discussions. The regional and local newspaper sector did not research the future in the way that almost every other sector of industry does as a matter of course. During the golden years of high profits between 1989 and 2005 it could have looked ahead but failed to do so.

    • It did not research its customer base effectively. It looked at how they interacted with the newspaper products themselves but did not look at how their lifestyles were changing.
    • New Product Development was seen as short-term way of making more money, rather than a long-term way of possibly finding new routes for the business.
    • The groups failed to experiment as the changing marketplace became apparent. Having thirteen or fourteen daily centres meant that different business models could have been tried. They weren’t. The sole attempt to be truly radical was by the Manchester Evening News in the mid-2000s when it launched its part-paid/part-free distribution system. Few other trials of any other radical note ever took place.
    • Giving all a newspaper’s output away for free on the web has been a disaster. The message that the internet would be the new rivers of gold was always false.
    • Dreaming up new brands for newspaper websites has also been and continues to be, with a few exceptions, a disaster too. I can buy a Mars bar in a variety of forms, I can buy Fairy detergent in different styles – but if, in 2012, I wanted to read the Leicester Mercury online I had to go to thisisleicestershire website and then struggle to be sure that it actually was the same brand that had been established for well over one hundred and twenty five years. To be fair, Local World, the new owner of the Mercury and many other papers, has started changing things for the better, but there is considerable damage to put right first.
    • Politicians have believed that phone hacking on one newspaper out of twelve hundred is the real issue that bedevils the media. They are wrong and need to begin listening to the industry – and perhaps, to those who read newspapers, too. The oh-so-slow negotiations post-Leveson, where the political and judicial classes have all but ignored the needs and despairs of the local and regional press, exemplifies this.
    • The fear of the concentration of ownership and a lack of plurality has been overblown. The editor dancing to the tune of a power-crazed proprietor does not exist in the regions. And never has done. But still the debate goes on. Local World, the business vehicle established to take over the assets of Northcliffe Media and Iliffe Media, was subject to very detailed scrutiny over a period of six months by our old friends from the OFT before the deal was officially allowed.

    However, the groups allowed distant ownership to become a problem, when careful management could easily have negated it.

    Senior executives have been viewed by their staffs, both senior and junior, as being too focused on the bottom line and not taking a longer-term view. Even in 2012, in the depths of the economic decline, there were some (not many I admit) news businesses making 30 per cent margins. No one I spoke to understood how this would help the survival of brands in the future. At one point in the 1980s, the CEOs of the big four chains were all graduates of various parts of the Thomson empire – with Thomson-trained being worn as badge of honour – and Roy Thomson, in particular, as having been seen as businessman who combined care of the profit figure along with a desire for future security.

    As those leaders left the industry they were replaced with those from a different school of business and from outside the industry. The fact that many were to enjoy substantial monetary rewards – and continue to enjoy them in times of austerity for many – has not helped their image at all. Most worrying of all is that they did not believe it would end. An end to boom and bust was not just a parliamentary cry. Senior executives did not see the damage that the internet would bring. They did not see that its arrival would merely conclude what had been happening for decades. But equally I must say what has been done correctly:

    • The industry has been right to cut costs as much as possible. The mistakes of high operating margins was not in making them, it was not using some of them for genuine research and development. Press sharing should have taken place years ago and back office centralisation is a necessity that every business of whatever sector seeks to achieve.
    • Cost-cutting has been painful but has been necessary. Even the family-owned businesses that have seen their circulations perform better have not been protected from this assault. But managements must ensure that enough resource remains to provide the right kind of service that readers will pay for.
    • I say this because no one I have spoken on all sides of the debate has been able to say what could have been done differently to prevent the advertising model changing so radically with the Internet. It may be that local newspapers are a victim of a vicious combination of a changed socio-economic environment and advanced technology. Even the most far-sighted of managements may not have proved to be up to the challenge.
    • There was an attempt by the industry to seek unity of purpose when it developed the Fish4 brand for classified advertising – but no agreement could be reached and that it is why it struggled until it came under one owner in Trinity Mirror. But to have succeeded it would have had to have done something so counter-intuitive that it would have been almost impossible to sell to its shareholders and to maintain credibility – and that would have been to have included jobs advertising at knock-down prices – so losing vast amounts of revenue before the power of the Internet really became apparent.
    • There have been attempts to diversify – brand extensions have taken place in to books, events and other activities – but they were never going to replace the core purpose of the business – the collating and the passing on of local information. They have been right to become more aggressive on cover prices.
    • Small can be beautiful. Sir Ray Tindle has proved that success can come about with careful husbandry and without acquiring huge debt. His papers may be small – but they have retained their markets and look after them. And at the age of eighty three, he is not finished. In 2012, he was still launching products - with a new paid-for newspaper in Chepstow, his third new title of the year. He also has a paywall on his websites. Some news is offered – but you pay if you want to read the product in full.

    But what must happen now? I hope people are willing to listen. There needs to be a fully rounded debate – and I hope that my recommendations can act as some form of catalyst. So far that debate is still to happen. The overblown nonsense that was Leveson still hangs a dark cloud over rational debate over how news will actually be funded in the future.

    The current coalition government has said it recognises the difficulties the regional and local press is facing. It has said that it intends to change ownership regulations to make it easier for groups to buy, sell, and swap titles to enable some greater geographical grouping. But it failed at the first attempt in Kent with what should have been a logical, easy and straightforward decision. With Local World it didn’t fall at the second attempt, but it needs to put forward a definite statement of intent.

    The Kent Messenger is not a business that has milked huge profits over the years. Arguably if it had been more ruthless and driven for higher margins in the 1989 to 2007 period, its path through the last four years would have been easier. As its profit margins did not have so far to fall, once the pincers of structural and economic came it had immediate problems. This deal would have been good for Kent, good for the industry and a sign that the government actually understood what the position of the sector is.

    A Matter of Priority

    The government through Culture Secretary Maria Miller and Business Secretary Vince Cable, as well as Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, must show that it understands there is a crisis in the funding of general news in this country – specifically for regional dailies as well as the quality end of the national market and that this is the real media issue of our times.

    Miller, Pickles and Cable should instigate the debate and do so as matter of priority. The model of news being subsidised by advertising is broken and cannot be fixed, but more than just platitudes from our policy-makers is now required. There needs to be a minister with an overview of the industry to bring together the disparate views of the three departments – so that the government may actually be seen to be acting with some understanding and serious intent.

    Consolidation and title-swapping should be made easier, especially geographically. Plurality is a red herring with the competition for both advertising and comment created by the internet and should not used to hold up further mergers. These changes will not necessarily produce vast savings – but will help. The industry should press this case as soon as possible – and the government should make the right signals too.

    The industry should continue the bold moves instigated by Northcliffe at Lincoln, Scunthorpe, Torquay and Exeter (and followed by Trinity Mirror with the Liverpool Daily Post) in turning some of its daily titles to weekly production. In 2011/12 it converted four of its daily titles to weeklies – on the back of a successful change to the Bath Chronicle five years ago. Johnston followed in late 2012 with five conversions in Northampton, Kettering, Scarborough, Halifax and Peterborough, accepting the economic reality of the real world. These are radical attempts to find solutions for the long-term and should be encouraged.

    Readership, rather than sales and impressions, should become the new currency to sell to advertisers. In Canada, newspapers focus on NadBank, the agency that produces readership figures. ABC sales figures are very much second division.

    The Issue of Debt

    Moves should be made to help the three PLCs – Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror in this country and Gannett in the US – to have an orderly rescheduling of their debts (i.e. the lenders must take substantial losses) if there is to be a viable future. This is not to allow them off the hook in any way – nor to forge a path for them to continue as they have been operating.

    But it is an acceptance for both the businesses themselves and those who own their debts that it is almost impossible for that debt ever to be paid off and to have any business of substance remaining. Ashley Highfield, the relatively new CEO at Johnston, has already said that attempts are being made to restructure its loans, but I can’t see that being enough.

    All three are stuck in a no-man’s land of inertia. Their shares are all very low – the individual parts of their companies are clearly more than the present sums – Johnston has a market capitalisation of around £50m and Trinity Mirror just around £200m. In March 2005, Trinity Mirror was in the FTSE 250 index with its shares at around £7.29. Since then the index has grown by 40 per cent yet Trinity Mirror shares have sunk by 90 per cent. They are pulling as much cash as possible out of their businesses, by very tight cost control (i.e. job losses) to service their debts, which is in turn causing those businesses long-term damage. The companies may argue that they are still profitable and that they have strategies in place to pay off this debt but, as one analyst told me, the City has lost interest in them.

    There is hope, though. In July 2012 Dunfermline Press passed on a chunk of its business to Lloyds Bank in return for a £32.5m write down in its debts. The larger players need to find a route, too. And the establishment of Local World, by a merger of Northcliffe and Iliffe titles with the support of Trinity Mirror, and with virtually no debt or capital provision, offers a new example of what might happen.

    A Return to Local

    They have futures as news business brokers, providing print, back office and technology services to the industry – but I believe a way of returning titles to local ownership is required. Here there is a very basic analogy with the 72 football clubs outside the Premiership that, in the main, are supported by groups of local business people. Those business people tend to believe often for vanity purposes, that it is good for their hometown to have a high profile football club. The case must be made for the return of the locally owned news business, supported by local enterprises, so that local engagement is maximised. It is good that towns and cities have their own news providers. This recommendation is not at odds with further consolidation. Having news business brokers providing cost effective support services will be a necessity for re-localised enterprises.

    The government should include the recommendations of the 2011 Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report on the potential of charitable and trust ownership of newspapers in its forthcoming Communications Green Paper. This important piece of work sets out the case for a new way of looking at the funding of news and should become part of the agenda. In this Green Paper the government should also examine ways in which the tax system can be used to assist local entrepreneurs, business people and individuals to buy back into the ownership of local media. 

    Study the business of journalism  

    University media schools should move from their preoccupations with the study of journalism to include much more of the study of the business of journalism. They should work more with their sibling business schools to help the industry find real solutions to its woes. I believe there is a gap in the market here ripe for filling. The industry still has time to experiment, to try new models and be brave. Local World is trying with its new fast-track centres of for ‘transformation’ in Derby, Cambridge and Exeter. It should share its results with the wider sector. There remains a demand for local and regional news and no one else can provide it with the same level of expertise and independence than the existing news businesses. It should work together more to share risk and results – what will work for one may well work for another.

    Start Charging for Online

    Start charging for some online content – and hold your nerve. Ditch fancy website names and use your brands – their value is immense. And it may be the time to restrict mass free distribution of titles. Competition law does not allow rival titles to co-operate but with the cost of newsprint the move towards pick-up must be accelerated as well as the move back to some form of pay wall. There remains a level of local advertising that is available to traditional businesses. However, much of it is still being scooped under the radar by local entrepreneurs and franchises that are developing solid advertising-driven glossy magazines delivered to highly targeted areas.

    An Intelligent Debate

    In all this bloggers and members of the public will have their part to play, but the fundamental question remains: who will cover Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court on a wet Wednesday afternoon? It will not be a well-meaning amateur and has to be a professional journalist – the question is how will it be paid for?

    And, finally...

    Finally, let all of us in the industry have an intelligent and realistic debate about the real state of this business and how it got there. And let this debate be soon. There’s an awful lot of scrutiny, human interest and fact about our localities that we risk losing if we don’t get this right. Politicians and bankers have a role to play with the industry in getting this right for the future. This is a genuine societal issue – and society will lose if a route is not found through this current crisis."
    • What do we mean by local? The rise, fall and rise again of local journalism edited by John Mair, Richard Lance Keeble with Neil Fowler, published by Abramis on September1, 2013. ISBN 978-1-84549-593-0. Price £19.95 or in a special offer to readers of this blog £15.00 from