Monday, 29 November 2010

Regional Press 2011 outlook. Your thoughts?

This time last year I was asked by the editor of InPublishing magazine to write an article on the outlook for the regional Press in 2010. You can read it here. In short it focused on getting the content right, finding new revenue streams and companies coming to terms with smaller profits. It concluded: Unable to sell and with revenues declining, newspaper companies have little option but continue to draw as much profit as they can. Manage the decline carefully, keep it tight, don’t invest and there could be a good few fertile years in the cash cow yet. So, unfortunately, what regional newspapers must really do in 2010 is brace themselves for more of the same.  
I also asked the industry's makers and shakers for their tips for 2010 and they are listed alongside the article. Now I have been asked to write an article on, you guessed it, the outlook for 2011. The easy option is to say, even more of the same. But if you have any thoughts on where the regional Press goes from here, please let me have them. You can either leave a comment below or email me at All contributions welcome.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Another contender ...

... for the non-story of the year award. Courtesy of @johncthompson.

20 classic tabloid headlines

I have spent the last three weeks in Hull, training reporters to write headlines. There were 80 journalists, from the Hull Daily Mail, Scunthorpe and Grimsby Telegraphs, Lincolnshire Echo and assorted weeklies, all scribbling real headlines to stick on the wall and discuss. We also looked at the 28 rules that govern good headlines. The first is simple: The sole purpose of the headline is to catch the eye, to persuade the reader to turn to the article underneath. If the headline is boring, then it is unlikely to succeed. Avoid dull words. 
We certainly had no problem finding dull words. The list included:
Residents, Boost, Council, Adjourned, Drama, Appeal, Volunteers, Alert, Meeting, Alarm, Accommodation, Project, Services, Centre, Plans, Call to, Bid to, Proposals, Committee, Bonanza, Blueprint, Development, Fund, New, Infrastructure, Facilities, Situation, Crackdown, Local.
We even found some classic bad headlines (not from their own titles I would stress) including: 

At first we thought they were a random collection of words rather than headlines. What all these words have in common is they are non-specific - none of them build a picture in the reader's mind.
The reporters did pretty well and have since written publishable headlines for their papers. At the moment they are writing heads only on shorter stories. But who would bet against that being rolled out? 
These Northcliffe papers are not averse to using the odd pun,  as you can see from the above. But the headlines we were dealing with were, of course, very different from those in the tabloids. That didn't stop us taking time out to look at some of the classics. Here are 20 that might just brighten up your freezing cold November day.

Something for your wall ...

... a splendid typography poster from This is an old but good list too, showing the most popular ten typeface families used by American newspapers. The list isn't too different from those in UK newspapers - Franklin, Helvetica, Utopia, Times, Nimrod, Interstate. But the top US family, Poynter, is barely used in the UK, which is a shame. The family was designed 13 years ago by the Poynter Institute after consulting the newspapers themselves. It is designed specifically for newspapers - robust, readable and distinctive - with a complimentary range of sans and serif. I guess it's unlikely in the current climate that newspaper managements will be looking to buy in new fonts - in fact some groups are purging their systems of excess fonts. But even if you are not looking to buy in new fonts, take a detailed look at your current fonts list. There are a lot more usable faces than Helvetica, Century and Times. 
Poynter Old Style Text

Friday, 26 November 2010

Subbing hubs turning full circle?

Traditional subs? Hubs? Reporters writing directly to the page? Outsourcing? Working from home? In the last few months I have been working with newspapers who are all taking a different approach to how they produce their titles. At the Daily Mail I have been training subs in the usual way - text editing, accuracy, rewriting, headlines and layout. This week I have been with those at the Press Association who are producing the Daily and Sunday Mirrors and the People. With big-hitting former Mirror subs now on the PA team, it is a project that has settled down and is working smoothly. Indeed I have stolen a headline from sub Kay Harrison on Polly Hudson's column - Daybreak's Christine Bleakley: The secret diary of Adrian's moll - for my headline course. I have also been at the Hull Daily offices, not working on the hub, but training 80 reporters to write headlines. The conclusion, not surprisingly, is that bright reporters can be taught to create good publishable headlines. It is certainly right that editors examine the way their newspapers are produced. If I was editing these days I would definitely put my editorial energy into the content and look at ways to reduce the 'processing'. We all know, of course, that in many cases the motivation is not to shift manpower to the reporting side but to cut costs. There has been much written about this and there will be much more to come. Here is the latest contribution Why the hubs will turn full circle  from my old editor Allan Prosser in this month's InPublishing magazine. As usual Allan doesn't sit on the fence. Here is a couple of extracts: 

In the Gadarene rush to impose manufacturing process on their titles, publishers have destroyed value, thrown away knowledge, and vandalised their assets. In many cases they should be ashamed, not that shame is a common characteristic of the newspaper business. More importantly, very few managers who have overseen this damage would last a week in the real world of competitive industry.

No edition of this magazine would be large enough to accommodate the account of howlers, inaccuracies and plain stupidities which have emerged through the centralisation of production and the so-called focus on efficiency through delayering the checks and balances which existed before the move to what has infamously been called “one touch publishing.  

Strident stuff. Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Irish Daily Stark

Following the poignant approach to the bailout by the Irish Examiner, here is a more direct view from today's Irish Daily Star. I have worked for the Star (which incidentally has nothing to do with the UK/Richard Desmond version). It has no qualms at all about using colourful language. When I raised an eyebrow at the lack of asterisks, editorial director Ger Colleran said the paper was young and Irish and its language simply reflected that. Fair point. Colleran's editing style is uncompromising. "We simply refuse to fudge the issues. Instead, we cut to the heart of the matter. When we are witnesses to political failures and mismanagement, we say so." The Star is Ireland's biggest selling red-top by a long chalk - well ahead of the Sun and the Mirror - and the third biggest selling paper behind the Irish Independent and Irish Times. Its approach reminds me of the words of my old editorial director: "If you have a friend who has nothing to say, plays it safe and sits on the fence, you will eventually stop inviting him around. It's just the same with newspapers.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Whatever happened to the leaders?

Delighted to see Alan Geere active on Twitter at long last. His thought for today is We're all followers ... where are all the leaders? Good question. There is certainly a vacancy. If you fancy applying here is the job description that I ran in my Press Gazette column this year. Any takers? 
 Ben Bradlee - all editors need supportive publishers
 (and that is one of today's fundamental problems)
If ever leadership was needed in the regional newspaper industry – it is needed now. I see plenty of managers, controlling costs and reading from the corporate script, but genuine leaders appear thin on the ground. Maybe they are too busy retreating. Yet, traditionally, it is during adversity that our greatest leaders have stepped forward? In my 33 years in the regional Press there have always been big characters, prepared to fight for what they believed in. So now the industry is going though perhaps its darkest hour, what has happened to all the heroes? The answer, sadly, rests with the first quality of leadership – having a vision.  As theologian Theodore Hesburgh  aptly put it, you can't blow an uncertain trumpet. But does anyone have a clear mapped out strategy beyond the management of decline?  Newspapers have dabbled with video, blogging, social networking, going free, web first, paywalls, UGC  – all without much real conviction, investment or, to be frank, results. That is not to devalue the editors guiding their staffs and publications through difficult times. If they could get out of the engine room and on to the bridge, I know many who have real leadership qualities. So if anyone fancies the job, this is what it entails. You will require:

Vision. The essence of leadership.  People won’t follow you if you don’t know where you are going. 

Communication skills.  No point in having a vision if nobody knows about it. You need to be an articulate orator and to understand the resistance and fears of others.

Integrity. People have to trust you and your motives.  If you are just regurgitating the company line, if you don’t genuinely believe, if you don’t have strong values, you are unlikely to earn that trust. 

Commitment. Leaders do whatever it takes to achieve their goal. Hard work and energy are essential.

Charisma. Leaders are never dull. You need to be interesting and passionate.

Courage. Leaders can be afraid … but they can’t be shackled by their anxieties. You need the courage to say No (much harder than saying Yes) and to understand that your own position may be threatened

Confidence. In yourself, your vision and your people.

Creativity. Newspapers require creative and radical solutions. Padding the same path as your predecessors is not the role of a leader.

Strength. You will put yourself and often your family under stress. You need to be assertive, which is very different from aggressive, in the face of resistance and personal pressure.

Resourcefulness. Ben Bradlee, one of the great editors of our time, had the full support of his publisher Katharine Graham during Watergate. He couldn’t have done it without her. I know editors who do have a vision for regional newspapers –many believe that they should be locally owned, operating on smaller margins and providing a comprehensive community service. For that they need financial backing, otherwise it is no more than a pipe dream. Leaders need to call on all of the qualities above to get the resources to achieve their goal.

There is more of course –  including  judgment, knowledge, humility, responsiveness, fairness and consistency. So if anyone is up for it, that’s the job description. There certainly appears to be a vacancy.

I will leave the last words to Lord Slim and his pertinent and still relevant assessment of the difference between leadership and management.
Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision. Its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculations, statistics, methods, timetables, and routine. Its practice is a science. Managers are necessary. Leaders are essential.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Poignant page from the Examiner

The Irish Examiner always manages to respond to major Irish stories with spectacular front pages - and it certainly didn't disappoint yesterday over the EU bailout. In the middle of this page is a replica of the country's Proclamation of Independence from 1916. 
The original begins: 
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
The Examiner's version begins:
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God how have we come to this? And in the name of the dead generations from which she received her old tradition of nationhood,Ireland, through our new masters at the European Central Bank summons her children to her financial sovereign funeral.
The original concludes: 
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
The Examiner's versions concludes:
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God - Mammon. Whose blessing we invoke upon our debts, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by casino cowardice, insolvency, or economic rapine. In this supreme hour of failure the Irish nation must, by its memories of valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice their financial futures for the common good of the international money markets, prove itself somehow worthy of the august destiny to which it has now called time on.
Poignant stuff. Some of you might remember the Examiner's front page from September 2005 when the IRA put its weapons out of commission. The page was made up of the names of the 3,530 people who lost their lives in the Troubles. They ran from side to side in 18pt, with the text changing from light to bold to form the silhouette of an IRA  gunman.
Great ideas, great journalism, great layout - and a reminder how effective print journalism can be.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The eighth wonder of the world

Who would want to go back to the days of cantankerous printers, composing room overseers, the frustrations of headlines that wouldn't fit, the inexact science of casting off or the lack of colour? Not me ... although this excellent trailer for 'Linotype: the film' made me have second thoughts. If you were around, as I was, this is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Found - a newspaper novel from my boyhood

After 35 years I have managed to track down a copy of Clancy by Frederick Mullally (at Amazon for 1p). When I was 19, it was a novel that was instrumental in confirming I wanted to be a journalist. I remember Clancy as a principled hack struggling through Fleet Street while having numerous dalliances with sultry women. Just the job I was looking for. It became a TV series in the 70s called Looking for Clancy with Robert Powell as the lead - and I remember one particularly dramatic scene when he discovered his lover's husband was watching him perform through a false mirror. I can't really remember much more but will read it and post a review on the ever-growing list of novels based on newspapers. Other additions include Russell Wiley Is Out To Lunch by Richard Hine (Amazon Encore) recommended by David Kernek. David, a former editor of four daily titles, says: "You'll find much of it all too familiar - clueless publishers, declining circulations, 15-year-old management consultants, endless cuts etc." A dry satire of the particular hell that is newspaper publishing right now. Doesn't sound the kind of book to inspire 19-year-old students that the future lies in newspapers - but a must-read nonetheless.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Radio presenter feels like a jerk

You may have seen this cracking tale broken by the Irish Examiner last week. Radio presenter Neil Prendeville 'was seen to expose himself and masturbate' while in his seat on an Aer Lingus flight. Unfortunately for Mr Prendeville he was seated next to an Examiner reporter (one of our former trainees as it happens). Anyway, if Mr Prendeville hoped this story was going to fade away, he clearly hadn't allowed for Ryanair's creative advertising department. This advert is now running in the Examiner. 

Footnote: Thanks to The Irish Sun for the above and the splash headline: 'I feel like a jerk.' Quite brilliant.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Telegraph recruiting for next intake of trainees

Less than two weeks after the Daily Telegraph trainees finished their formal training at Howden, the paper is now advertising for the next intake. And anyone who feels they have what it takes, better get a move on. The closing date is November 26, far earlier than last year. At a time when the rest of the industry isn't overly-eager to invest in training, all credit to both the Telegraph and the Mail who have remained committed to their graduate schemes. They don't do it for altruistic reasons though. The scheme works - as the bylines in both papers testify. If you are applying, you might want to read this.

Geordie boys take the P155 ...

I can't imagine why anyone would want a Steve Bruce Derby souvenir tracksuit ... but if you did there is one for sale in today's Newcastle Journal's classifieds. Only £51 (geddit?). For those who live on the planet Zog, Newcastle tore apart Bruce's hapless Sunderland 5-1 on Sunday. Clearly great news on Tyneside, even for Trinity Mirror's advertising department.