Saturday, 29 January 2011

Regional newspapers: 10 things to expect

Here is my article for the latest edition of InPublishing magazine - the ten things that ought to happen in the regional newspaper industry this year. At a glance they are: 
1. Stop the war
Before we rebuild newspapers we have to rebuild the internal relationships between management and staff.
2. Change (the) management
We have lost subs and editors but what about those who are meant to be guiding us through? The industry needs fresh blood and thinking, right up to the very top.
3. Chase the money
We need a radical approach to sales and innovative, skilled people to implement it.
4. Sort out the content
Readers need a genuine reason to buy the paper or visit the website every day. It means original, quality, targeted and real time content. Without it there is no business.
5. Stop doing things that aren't core
Expect cuts in distribution, printing, accounts. It's all about content and sales now - everything else can be sold, outsourced or closed down.
6. Go weekly
A weekly analysis of events, complementing a comprehensive, hyperlocal digital news service, would be more relevant than a daily print offering out-of-date news. There are nearly 30 evening papers selling less than 20,000. Expect there to be fewer at the end of the year.
7. Stop talking paywalls
Regional newspapers need to maintain and grow our audience and they won't do that by excluding swathes of the community.
8. Stop paying lip-service to local 
Newspapers have to genuinely get things done, organise events, become community leaders, be central to the economic fabric and get their reporters out.
9. Stay at home
2011 should be the year when the industry wakes up to the real advantages of home-working and outsourcing.   
10. Think about running a dry-cleaners 
Regional newspapers' best chance will be owners who genuinely care about the titles, work hard to ensure they succeed and know the community they serve. A local business with realistic margins … like a dry cleaners.
I also asked the great and the good of the industry what regional newspapers should be doing in 2011 - and have included their thoughts.   

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Take a tour of The Sun's subs room

If you are a beleaguered sub-editor, wondering if your days are numbered, then this is a must listen. It's the BBC's Word of Mouth tour of the Sun's subs room with managing editor Graham Dudman. He describes the subs as "the craftsmen of the English language who make The Sun what it is." Chief reporter John Kay says the reporters are "the foot-soldiers of the paper and what we produce are the nuggets of facts which our wonderful sub-editors then mould into this fantastic peerless prose which appears every morning." He goes on to say that, how ever well reporters think they have written their stories, "our wonderful sub-editors always find a way to improve them". He admits: "I hate to say it but every occasion that they have re-written one of my stories, which fortunately doesn't happen too often, it has always been improved." Great to hear. It is also good to hear subs talking about the importance of rhythm, pace, creativity, turning pictures into words and writing headlines from left field. We ran the subbing training scheme for The Sun and one of our former trainees, Fran Wetzel, talks about her experiences too. There are some classic Sun headlines in the programme. Many you will recognise, but I hadn't heard this one by sub Elaine Roberts before: A prize bull that dies and its sperm is frozen for future breeding. The headline: Pushing up Daisies.
As I have said before, it is not coincidence that the two most successful daily papers in the country, The Sun and the Daily Mail, remain committed to the craft of subbing. Graham emailed the link to me to say: "If I was running a subbing course, I’d be tempted to make it required listening!" Couldn't agree more ...  

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Evening Despatch: 25 years since it died

Here's a walk down memory lane for those who want remember newspapers the way they were. I have recently been in touch with colleagues from my old paper, the Evening Despatch in Darlington, where I was chief sub from 1981-1984. They were heady days when we didn't need to worry about revenues and digital platforms ... just producing a good paper every day. This is a promotional video from the time, featuring the editor Robin Thompson, who went on to be one of the country's leading media law experts and trainer. The exchange with old colleagues has led to a 'where are they now' post. Interesting for those who were there ... and a reminder that even hard-bitten hacks are sentimental when it comes to their memories. The Despatch closed in 1986, 25 years ago this year.  

Friday, 21 January 2011

High flyers about to land in New York

Delighted for six of our recent trainees who are flying out to New York on January 31 to work on the Mail's online operation. This time last year two of them, Mark Duell and Fiona Roberts, were still in college and were applying for the Mail's reporting/subbing schemes. They are currently doing their placements at the Yorkshire Post and Carlisle News and Star and will go straight from there to New York. Fiona said: "I still can't believe it, it feels like I've made it up. It's such a wonderful opportunity. I'm really excited  but also quite daunted to be going straight from sheep to the NYPD... it's quite a jump." They will be joined by four young journalists from the previous reporting course Simon Neville, Amy Oliver, Rachel Quigley and Oliver Tree. Good luck to all of them. I expect regular updates as to how they are getting on. 
The Mail is recruiting for this year's schemes. Details can be found here, here and here.  

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Outlining the case for shorthand

Photo: Press Gazette

Two interesting snippets are doing the rounds this week that show shorthand is still thriving at journalism training centres. First there is this quite brilliant short video Why I love Teeline posted by Julie Starr on the Evolving Newsroom and brought to my attention by @danbloom1Then there is the story of Anneka Masish, a journalism student at Staffordshire University, who has shown her devotion to her craft by having her name tattooed on her leg ... in Teeline.
Shorthand, or more specifically Teeline, has played a big part in my life. First there were my experiences, as a trainee, in Mrs Mawston's sitting room in Whitley Bay every Wednesday afternoon.
Then, when I ran courses in Hastings, gaining 100 words per minute was essential. Some trainees were told by their editors 'don't come back unless you get it.' You can imagine the pressure. The brilliant Sylvia Bennett delivered 75-minute sessions first thing every morning followed by another hour from midday to 1pm. She had a great success rate. She still does, running the shorthand on PA Training foundation course in London as does her counterpart Susan Nixon in Newcastle. But it was shorthand that dominated the last days of the course as the pressure mounted. It was shorthand that caused tears and distress. No matter how good you were at bringing in stories or penning a readable feature, if you failed shorthand your editor would be unhappy. One editor asked me to pass on this message and we put it up on the noticeboard: "If you don't have shorthand you are a liability in my newsroom. I can't send you to court or council and, in a small team, you will need to slope off for extra lessons when you should be out gathering stories. My message is simple. Get your shorthand at Hastings or don't come back." 
It always struck me that some good people were lost to journalism because of this. It is also unfair. National newspapers are littered with big name writers who have never been near a Pitman or Teeline class. Nevertheless, the industry insists shorthand is still an essential requirement. I interview trainees for the Daily Mail and you are unlikely to get over the first hurdle if you don't have  shorthand (and a driving licence). At a student conference last year Graham Dudman, managing editor of The Sun, told delegates: “Number one is shorthand. I want to know that you can write shorthand at 100wpm.”  Apart from being a required tool having shorthand also adds to your professionalism. I recall the judge who, having studied a reporter's shorthand note, advised the jury that this was not a hack but a professional man. Then there was the case of England Football manager Glenn Hoddle being interviewed by Matt Dickinson of The Times. Hoddle told Dickinson that he believed disabled people and others were being punished for their sins in a former life. In the argument that followed Dickinson's professional shorthand note was critical ... both to his reputation and Hoddle's future. 
I know we can use tapes - but not always. Here's Kim Fletcher, chairman of the NCTJ, on the Today programme: “If you have a shorthand note you can find the quote very quickly. You go in with a tape recorder, or a digital recorder, and if you’ve spent an hour in there with your recorder you’ve got an hour of tape to go through, that takes quite a long time.” Journalism is changing rapidly of course and in a world of social media, video, forums, blogs,  and the like - not everyone will need to write at 100wpm.
For now though, if you are studying journalism you should learn to drive, build up a stunning portfolio, pass your law exam and GET YOUR SHORTHAND.            

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Arnold Hadwin, an inspirational editor

Arnold Hadwin - urbane, old school editor
 Photo: Press Gazette

I was saddened to learn of the death of Arnold Hadwin, OBE, a former editor of one of my old papers, the Evening Despatch. Although he had left to edit the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford by the time I shipped up in Darlington, I met him a few times. He struck me as an urbane man, always smartly turned out with a real passion for newspapers and a huge supporter of excellent journalism. He was a thoughtful man with plenty to say too. This came over in an interview he gave to the Press Gazette two years ago when he talked about the way newspapers were run today. Here are a few of his choice quotes.  
“The people who run newspapers know nothing about newspapers.”
“They want 18 per cent profit when they should settle for six. Eighteen per cent and 20 per cent is monstrous. At the height of the German economic miracle, they were all prepared to take eight per cent returns on capital."
“I was always opposed to cutting down editorial posts. It’s the easiest thing in the world to sack people - it’s more difficult to become more efficient. If you have got five football matches, you want five people in five places. You can’t rely on donkeys telling you what might have happened.”
“Everyone seems to think they’re capable of writing to the level of a proper journalist. But you can’t just sit down and write the first sort of crap that comes into your head. With journalism, there is a long apprenticeship.”
Many people in the industry will know his daughter Sara who is course director of the MA in International Journalism at Cardiff University and was previously an editor at the North West Mail and Petersfield Post. She has been in touch to say the funeral is on Tuesday February 1 at St Hugh's, Langworth (in Lincolnshire), at 1.30pm and afterwards in the village Memorial Hall. 

There are tributes to Arnold in his old paper the T and A and by Mike Amos in The Northern Echo here.

Type comparison 2 - sans headline faces

One of our Irish clients has been in touch, looking to change their sports page headline font from Franklin Gothic. The key question in any such change, of course, is why? Do they want:
  • A more economical face (a better count)
  • Clearer legibility
  • Stronger display
  • Something more modern
  • A different font from another title or from other sections
  • A brand change?
Anyway, in order to help them consider which font they might go for, we have prepared another typechart. This one is for sans display faces for newspapers. There are of course different weights for all those listed, except Impact. If you would like a higher res PDF than the jpgs above, let me know on and I will send you a copy. The previous typechart for newspaper body copy fonts can be found here.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Couple of old chestnuts ...

Here are a couple of links that have been pinging about on the web which illustrate some of our old favourite points. The first, forwarded to me by Tony Johnston, is the most amazing press release ever written. A little bit of satire that has gained worldwide publicity for Pitchpoint Public Relations. It's the same theory as non-stories in newspapers - write something particularly bad and the world and his dog will visit your website. Previous examples include the dog with the injured nose, the Whitstable custard shortage, the Kidderminster mattress chaos and my personal favourite, Irma's banana drama. The lesson is that publishing nonsense can get you noticed and lead to all-important hits on your website - madness or genius? We might have to write it into our training courses for young journalists - bring in at least one non-story a day.
Thanks too to David Bailey of the Sligo Weekender for drawing my attention to this Facebook exchange. When I bang on about grammar and spelling these days, I am increasingly faced with youngsters from the 'lol, OMG, cul8r' generation who ask whether such archaic rules will be relevant in the post-newspaper age. It's all about communication and understanding, they say. It is indeed.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Do you have the worst job in the world?

Here is a fascinating but surely flawed list from the Wall Street Journal. American recruitment specialists Careercast have listed 200 jobs, rating them from best to worst. They took into consideration working environment, stress, physical demands and job prospects. Where you think a newspaper reporter came? Top ten probably,  top 50 without a doubt? No, a hack's job is 188th, behind a dishwasher, maid, ad rep, garbage collector, mail carrier (postman to you and me), barman, janitor and waiter. Photojournalists do marginally better at no 185. A publication editor is ranked 80th, a photographer 144th and, most bizarrely, a typesetter/compositor comes in at 120th. The full list makes no mention of copy-editors (subs to you and me). The report goes on to say that the jobs in the bottom 20 (which include reporters and photojournalists) tend to suffer from a combination of fatal flaws – low salaries, difficult working conditions, serious risk of injury or death, and poor employment prospects over the coming years. Wow. I appreciate things have been tough of late - but a reporter's job worse than being a waiter or a dishwasher? Mind you, it could be worse still. You could be a compiler of dubious lists.

An old sub's revenge ...

I am grateful to the blog, Catch the monkey while catching the monkey, for posting this little piece of history from my Northern Echo days. Back in 1982 a brash Canadian called John Pifer shipped up at the Echo as executive editor with a brief from head office to "sort out that nest of vipers." He managed to upset or sack just about all of the old school. His prized head though was that of night-editor Frank Peters, a martinet who ruled the subs room. Peters sported a handlebar moustache, occasionally wore a kilt, and was a stickler for accuracy and style. 
Eventually even the formidable Peters was ground down by Pifer and decided to quit for a position at the Times with his old editor Harold Evans. On his last day in charge, Peters ran a leg of shorts on the front of the broadsheet as usual. But this time the first letter of each headline, when read vertically, spelled out FUCK PIFER. 
Peters rode off on his moped for the last time, leaving instructions that whatever was changed on Page 1, the shorts had to stay. This alerted the composing room overseer to the fact something was amiss. He spotted the offending headlines and asked the subs to change them. When they refused he went over their heads. The fallout was amazing. Letters were sent to The Times advising that Peters was an undesirable. His official leaving party, after working for the Echo man and boy, was cancelled. Those subs who refused to change the shorts were said to have undermined the paper's editorial judgement and were forever tarnished. Apparently advertisers had been upset and threatened to boycott the paper (although in reality it became a collector's item) and for years later the group's executives would only discuss the whole affair in hushed tones. You can see why. If maverick subs used the paper to air their grievances every time they had a disagreement with management, then any credibility would disappear altogether. I'm pleased to say it did not start a wave of obscene messages hidden in newspapers but there have been other incidents. One of the most famous was ten years later when Express columnist Stephen Pollard, fed up with life under Richard Desmond, decided to leave for The Times. As a parting shot in his column, the first letter of each sentence spelled out FUCK YOU DESMOND. This time around The Times, who had welcomed Peters with open arms, took a very different view and decided not to proceed with Pollard's contract. The story is told in Media Guardian here. Remarkably, years later Pollard went back to write for Desmond's papers. Frank Peters died in 2004. His obituary in the Daily Telegraph is here.   

Friday, 7 January 2011

Mail looking for trainee subs and reporters

The Daily Mail begins recruiting for both its subbing and reporting training schemes next week. Adverts will appear in The Guardian on Monday, inviting applications from talented would-be reporters and subs.
Through Press Association Training, I have helped run the sub-editing course  since it began in 2003. At the time the concept of taking young people, often directly from journalism college, and turning them into national newspaper subs was pretty radical. But it works ... which is why the scheme has continued to grow. There have been more than 50 people through the training, many of them holding senior positions at Derry Street. 
The training involves four to five intensive weeks at the Press Association's Manor House in Howden, East Yorkshire, where the trainees are taught all aspects of the subbing craft. Tight-editing, accuracy, headlines, captions, typography, layout, software, editing online and Mail style are among the modules. The trainees then gain six months hands-on subbing experience at a big regional daily before returning to the Mail. 
I also run the reporting scheme, with the Mail's consultant editor Sue Ryan, which is now in its fourth year. As the successful applicants will probably have been on a post-graduate journalism course, the formal training is shorter. There are two intensive weeks in the Mail's London offices, covering the skills needed to work for a national newspaper and the Mail in particular. The trainees then work for a large regional paper for several months and, if they make the grade, are given positions jobs at Northcliffe House. 
The details for both courses are above and will be in The Guardian on Monday. Anyone applying might find these tips useful. They were written after the interviews last year. Good luck.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Half-Time: The pantomime that is Newcastle Utd

I have spent the last week putting together a 40-page Premier League Half-Time magazine for the Irish Examiner and was up to the early hours making changes following last night's fixtures. The Wolves, Chelsea, Newcastle, West Ham, Spurs, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester City, Wigan, Bolton, Liverpool, Blackburn, Villa and Sunderland pages all needed updating. It was a labour of love though, especially with Newcastle putting five past a hapless West Ham to go up to eighth. The magazine is published tomorrow free with the Examiner. If you are a football fan, try to get hold of a copy. It includes a page on every club, the 20 best goals of the season, the games to watch, the best pictures of the year, the team of the season, SPL and Championship rounds up, the best quotes and chants, the whackiest incidents and every statistic you need. Once again it is a great commitment from the Examiner to quality sports coverage. Above is the cover designed by my colleague Mike Brough and below is my half-time report on the pantomime that is Newcastle United. 
Double click on page to read.

Don't walk: It is way too dangerous

Woah! Things are definitely more dangerous on our pavements than we thought. Thanks to Andrew Howard from the Express & Echo in Exeter for this daft headline on a Press Release from the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Good use of space?

Here's a splendid video from National Geographic magazine to kick off the New Year. By the end of 2011 you will be one of 7 billion people. It's a fascinating message ... and really first class use of typography. Have a happy and prosperous New Year and use your space wisely.