One of my favourite new phrases is ‘in-house journalist.’ As in: “We’re Swindon Town, we have an in-house journalist so we don’t need to talk to the local paper anymore.”
I like it because it is such an outrageous nonsense. If being a journalist really is just the ability to string a sentence together and making a shorthand note of what the manager wants to say, then something is very, very wrong.
Journalism should be, in my opinion, be defined as the pursuit of informing the reader in accurate, unrestricted way. Is it a craft, a professional or a trade? I don’t know, but hopefully the definition I’ve just outlined transcends that argument anyway.
So in that sense, anyone in the employ of a football club may have a journalism qualification, they may even have had many years working in a newsroom, and they may well still be using the same skills as journalists, but they aren’t committing acts of journalism. I know many fine journalists who have moved into PR – be it football clubs or other parts of that industry – but none would openly say they are now replacing the role of the local journalist.
Put simply, their role is to be club first. A sports journalist’s role is to be fan first. Not in the sense of being told what to do by fans, but always putting fans first in their work. Informing fans, debating with fans, reporting all sides for fans. The same argument should apply when the National Union of Journalists next decides to speak out in favour of council newspapers. That’s not journalism either – it’s PR on behalf of a public body, and not journalism.
A lot has been written about the importance of audience metrics in newsrooms recently, and the predicted impact of assigning goals every month to individual journalists, something we’re about to start doing in one of the newsrooms I work with in Birmingham.
To be frank, a lot of what has been written has been ill-informed at best, based on the broad brush assumption that in the quest to get more people reading what we do, we have to appeal to what is seen as the lowest common denominator – essentially, regional cat gifs.
For as long as I have been fascinated by journalism, I have seen a very clear snobbery within it, with many journalists pinching their news at ‘popular’ news in favour of more ‘serious’ journalism. In national journalism, this often manifests itself with sneering between editorial departments and a superiority complex towards the popular press from what many call the unpopular press.
In the regional press, that snobbery manifests itself from time-to-time around user generated content, or parish pump material, despite the fact that faces sell papers – something the Derby Telegraph is proud to shout about when it announces over 200 faces in its weekly celebrations platform on a Tuesday.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a Government is planning to deliver what could be a devastating blow to the Freedom of Information Act. It probably should be a surprise, however, that it has taken so long.
This lunchtime, the Government, still in the first flush of ‘oh, so we really are in charge, aren’t we!’ thinking, announced a ‘commission’ to look at the Freedom of Information Act.
The Government’s position is pretty plain. Michael Gove, the former FOI-dodging education secretary who tried to claim sending emails via gmail and not government accounts meant they weren’t covered by the Act, set out the government’s view pretty clearly shortly after becoming justice secretary.
At the heart of this commission is the concern that civil servants don’t feel they can speak freely for fear of what they say, or more aptly write, ending up becoming public via the Freedom of Information Act. Call me a cynic if you wish, but I spy a smokescreen aimed at making it harder for those in power to be held accountable by those who ultimately pay their wages – you and I.
Why do I think that? Some reasons:
Stories involving people complaining about the state of public toilets have long been bread-and-butter content for newsrooms up and down the country.
But here’s a case of the cleaners striking back.
Faced with moans about the state of toilets in Alnwick, the cleaners responsible for keeping the loos spick and span decided to respond to the local newspaper, the Northumberland Gazette, with evidence of their own.
Evidence, they said, which showed the state some people were leaving the ladies’ loos in, in the first place:
A whole bunch of articles have been written in recent weeks about the plan the company I work for, Trinity Mirror, has to introduce individual audience goals for reporters at the Birmingham Mail. It’s been a project I’ve been heavily involved in and one, which as I said in a post the other week, believe will be good for getting closer to the audience that matters the most: Loyal, local readers.
To many on the outside – particularly those in academia – it feels like a big change, and many have jumped to the conclusion that it can only be a bad thing because it will result in the Birmingham Mail prioritising Kim Kardashian stories over Birmingham City Council stories.
Anyone who knows anything about local digital journalism knows that such an approach is simply a recipe for disaster. But, ironically maybe for those who set themselves up as the watchers of the watchers, few of those who have written about the plans have made much effort to source information for themselves.
That point to one side, many of the critical posts – most of which have a ‘I need to be seen to be writing about the journalism topic du jour’ tone to them – inadvertently make points which support the importance of giving individual journalists access to the audience metrics which tell them the impact their stories are having.
Journalism has changed. It can’t just be about shouting for attention. Readers expect to be listened to, and their views taken into account. The right use of audience data enables that to happen every day.
Can a story about a christening cake encapsulate one of the biggest challenges digital journalism has delivered to the regional press? I think so, and here’s why.
You probably saw the story about the woman who complained about a christening caked including bears with ‘naughty bits.’ For what it’s worth, I thought she was talking bunkum. Many others did too, but I’ll come back to that.
There’s a saying that a pint and a fight are the ingredients to a great British night out, but an investigation has unearthed the shocking crimes committed in Scarborough’s pizza shops and curry houses by rowdy revellers after they’ve sank one too many.
Scarborough’s ‘kebab crimes’ include bloody beatings, callous charity box thefts and staff being racially abused.
And in one incident, a woman was attacked with a doner kebab.
Our probe found out that 19 crimes were committed in takeaways, restaurants and chippys over the past 12 months.
CCTV and a heavy late-night police presence have helped officers nab the majority of offenders, but North Yorkshire Police have now revealed details of the takeaway offenders still on the loose.
Politicians always talk fine words when it comes to accountability. They want to be accountable. They want a strong, free Press to hold them to account. They want to be accountable to their electorate. But be it nationally or locally, when it comes to politicians and accountability, actions speak louder than words.
I wrote the other week about the police and crime commissioner in Humberside who, when challenged by the Grimsby Telegraph about a decline in the number of officers on duty based on information provided by a police source, chose to threaten the Official Secrets Act rather than deal with the issue at hand.
And today the Birmingham Mail reports that investigations editor Jeanette Oldham has been banned from asking questions of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Birmingham, and must now submit all her questions via the Freedom of Information Act.
Journalism faces many challenges (that’s a cheery way to start a post isn’t it?) Many are beyond the control of journalists, but one of the biggest, however, isn’t.
The challenge I’m talking about is making sure that the content (as opposed to *just* stories) we’re producing is done in a way which really suits the reader the way they are reading it.
In other words, making sure everything works for mobile. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And in many ways, it is, but it’s also fiendishly difficult to make happen at times, largely because of the way journalism is produced.
It’s a challenge which has been spotted, and addressed, by the New York Times in the last few days:
Journalists want people to read what we’ve written. Audience targets can help make sure we’re reaching as many people as possible
The issue of audience targets became a hot potato this week – and I can see why. But the reaction that seeking to write content which will be popular means we at the same time have to throw away our journalistic principles is one I think is wide of the mark.
I’ve written before that journalism is a combination of art and science in the digital age – and the correct use of audience data to drive decision making is surely part of that. So do targets damage the quality of local journalism? I don’t think so. I think they can actually make journalism better for the local community.
However, Roy Greenslade and The Times have reached their conclusions, as have many on Holdthefrontpage. But lets look at what makes a local news brand relevant in the 21st century. Greenslade calls audience targets clickbait payments. And if all you said was ‘here, hit this number, we don’t care how’ then he might be right.
But at the risk of letting the facts get in the way of a good headline, there are a number of aspects being overlooked here: (more…)