Tag Archives: newspapers

Do we need a new newspaper?

Photo Trinity Mirror

Two significant things have happened lately in the newspaper world and I think they’re more related than people have assumed. First, the Independent has decided to start publishing online only. Second, we’re expecting the first issue of a new paper, the New Day, in less than a week.

So what’s going on?

First it’s important to deal with the Indie. I have to say I’m sad but not at all surprised. It’s been years since I wrote for it, partly because one of my commissioning editors was unbelievably rude (she had a reputation for telling everyone they couldn’t structure an article, that everything they’d written was unrelated and incoherent…then publishing anyway, which is what happened to me) and second because the absolute last time I wrote for them, they decided to cut their freelance rates without warning. There was no point in objecting, I was told, there were new people in charge.

That’s not how I do business. I took the loss and worked elsewhere. It’s not how anybody does business. It may have been unrepresentative and I have no idea how many sections of the paper were affected, but I wasn’t surprised to hear it was going.

It will be interesting to see whether the digital version is successful. Taking away the overhead of printing certainly sounds like a positive move (and following journalist cutbacks of 20% a few weeks ago I imagine my Guardian friends are watching this like the proverbial hawks) unless you’re employed by the printer; whether the brand is as easy to sustain without the print version as a flagship or even loss leader remains to be seen. The Daily Mail has done extraordinarily well on the Web, but would it work without that printed flagship?

New Day

My guess is that it wouldn’t work for people my age (50) but younger people won’t mind so much about the printed stuff – they’ve grown up with screens rather than learned them in adulthood. So it’s arguably an odd time for Trinity Mirror to be launching New Day, which emerges on the 29th.

The BBC suggests the difference between this and the I is that the I is a cut-down version of the Independent, whereas New Day will be a standalone title.

This is where they miss the point and where there is a link between the two. The I won’t be a cut-down version of the Independent when it’s owned by Johnston Press, and especially when there is no Independent in hard copy form (even if it retained its ties, it’s going to be standalone as far as the hard copy buyer in the newsagent is concerned).

So New Day has an opportunity in appealing to time-poor people whose views don’t coincide with those of the relatively liberal Independent stable. At the moment, though, it’s aiming to be politically neutral and will not have a leader as such, but a selection of easy-to-digest news.

And this is where the real risk is going to emerge; never mind a new title, they’ve come and gone before and will continue to do so as the digital world makes further inroads. What’s new is that we’re all so used to the papers being so strident about their views (Guardian to the left, Telegraph to the right, Mail even further to the right and soforth) that something genuinely neutral could risk looking pretty bland by comparison. Oh, and did I mention this one won’t have a website so if you want it you’ll have to buy it? Or just log on to something else.

I wish the new launch nothing but well – why would anyone say otherwise? But they’re going to have to find an attention-grabber other than “neutral” to sell in the number they’ll need to make it sustainable.

Media mistakes 6: Don’t write the headline

I’ve been editing supplements and articles for clients again and one of the corporate contributors has been late.

This often happens so it’s just as well I lied through my teeth about the real deadline (experienced editors will know this is essential when dealing with non-journalists who have no reason to be accustomed to deadlines). The writer was a pleasant and professional person – she explained the delay was because she’d written the article but hadn’t put the headline or the subheadings in.

Another contact was writing a piece for me and made the headline into a question. The text started “That’s something I’m often asked, and the answer is…”

Uh-uh. That’s not how it works.

We have experts

Think about a magazine or newspaper for a minute. If you have one handy, pick it up and have a look at the headlines. It may not be obvious but they will be set out according to a particular font and a particular size depending on where they are in the paper. The headlines will also be set to a strict formula – in Professional Outsourcing Magazine, which I edit, you hopefully won’t notice but when I point it out you’ll see that all of the headlines are two decks (that’s journalist jargon for two lines), the straplines are three lines each.

It gives the thing a uniform feel. Now look at the sub-headings. Ask yourself whether they’re there to break up the text visually or there because of the sense of it. Ideally it should be both but – and it’s a big but – ask yourself whether there is a subhead at any point at the beginning of a column or at the end of one. If the subs and production people are doing their job, there won’t be. It looks messy.

So, back to my contributors. There was actually no point in putting the heading or subheading in – if it doesn’t fit exactly it’s going to be thrown out. Likewise, the subheads: unless you can predict exactly where a particular piece of text is going to fall in a column, we’re going to move them or rewrite them for neatness’ sake. And of course the same goes for tying a headline in too closely with the text.

It’s always useful to have a change of tone or subject emphasised, or a suggestion for a subject of a headline. I’d suggest, though, that you don’t bust a gut over it if you’re contributing an article; it’s quite likely to be used as a guideline and then jettisoned in favour of something that will showcase your article better.

Do you need help with writing for publication? I can help – call 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Media mistakes 3: It’s a good idea to answer at length

One of the frustrations I often face as a journalist is that people answer my questions as thoroughly as they can. I’ve just got off the phone with a guy I’m covering for the New Statesman; he was genuinely interesting and had a lot to say and I’m going to share as much as possible with the readers.

Note, “as much as possible”. In other words I’m going to have to be selective, cut a bit, eliminate repetitions and turn it into journalese.

In this case that won’t be a problem because the guy was himself a journalist. He was, consciously or otherwise, aware of my need to make an article out of his comments. Not everybody is as informed.

Read the papers, look at the quotes

When I first started writing, I naively thought the seasoned commentators would speak in pure quotes. They don’t, of course. I was quite shocked when I asked a guy why he’d chosen to sell a particular gadget and he came out with about 200 words.

I did my best to select what the readers would need to know and probably got it about right at the time. That was, however, a risk on his part.

It’s worth looking at the newspapers, magazines and online sources, whether multimedia or otherwise, that you’re targeting. How long are the quotes that they use? There are unlikely to be any strict rules but you’re bound to notice there isn’t much waffle. More than 15 words in print is going to start looking like a soliloquy.

This needn’t be a problem to the journalist, we’re used to cutting and getting to the nub of the story. It’s what we’re paid for. But…do you want our choice of your words speaking for you, or would you rather have yours? The only way to ensure I use your choice of quote, that will serve your company well, is to make your point briefly and then, politely, stop speaking. And the only way to make sure those words work for you is to prepare carefully.

If I have a choice of 200 words, I’m going to choose those that fit my story the best. I won’t sabotage your quotes but my idea of “best” may not be yours. If I have only 30, I’m pretty much forced to use your choice.

So, how thoroughly do you generally answer questions?

Do you need help with interview technique? Contact me on 07973 278780.

Katie Hopkins: publicity master?

This week, a group of students at Brunel University first stood up and turned their backs on, then walked out on former candidate on “The Apprentice” and now columnist Katy Hopkins.

Hopkins has built herself quite a reputation. She is right wing and has made numerous controversial comments about refugees, women, overweight people…I could go on. She behaved pretty badly during “The Apprentice”, trying to plot the downfall of a couple of the candidates. And failing.

She is also a master at publicising herself and making a great deal out of what appears simply to be a particular outlook on life.

If I were here I’d be thanking those students at the moment. Look at what it’s done for her. She would have been unlikely to get into the Guardian and the Independent without their actions, these papers are not her spiritual home. She would also not have had the ammunition to launch an attack on universities and freedom of speech in her Daily Mail column, in which she has some justification for accusing the students of having closed minds and not researching other speakers with the same diligence. There’s an important lesson about handing people the moral high ground in there.

How do you solve a problem like Katie

It’s an old difficulty: how do you efficiently protest against someone without drawing attention to their views? There are a number of ways, and the students in this instance blew most of them.

First, you ignore the speaker. Just don’t invite them to speak and they won’t force themselves on you.

Second, if your uni or other organisation has invited them to speak and you object, don’t go. An empty or poorly-attended hall is not a news story.

Third, if you do turn up and want to object, give the speaker a chance to make his or her point first. Whatever objections you have, walking out before he or she has spoken is always going to look unreasonable. Putting a film of it on YouTube is going to hit the papers – Hopkins can probably charge a larger fee as a result of the last couple of days’ notoriety.

What Katie should do next

On the other hand, you might be the Katie figure rather than the listener in this case. If I were advising her or someone like her, I’d suggest:

  • Turn up to anything to which you’re invited and get a friendly colleague along with a camcorder, DSLR, phone with good video recording or something like that. Get any protest on disk.
  • Stay calm and be reasonable. Don’t allow yourself to look flustered. It’s your right to express an opinion in a democracy and the fact that I wouldn’t vote for you/buy your newspaper/whatever takes nothing away from that right.
  • If there’s a walkout, make it a bigger news story than it is – as indeed Hopkins appears to have done. Wait and see whether someone uploads their own footage for sharing, and use the copy you’ve made only if they fail to do so – so it doesn’t look like self-publicity.

I hold no brief for Katy Hopkins. The audience, however, has handed her an incredible win. I suspect this wasn’t their intention.

Do you need help handling an awkward audience during your business presentations? I can help – fill in the form below and we’ll talk.

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When did trailers become news?

Above you’ll see I’ve linked to the trailer for the new Bond film, Spectre. It’s due out this year and I’m looking forward to it.

This isn’t a movie blog, though, it’s a media blog – so I thought, rather than offer advice, for once I’d come out and say I’m flummoxed. The BBC runs a roundup of the newspapers and the fact that 007 has a new trailer has, in one form or another, hit four of the UK’s front pages today.

Let’s run that again. A movie that everyone knew was in production and scheduled for release this year (let’s take it that “everyone” means “everyone who’s interested” in this case), and which has already been teaser-trailed in cinemas and online, releases a scheduled, deliberately promotional trailer.

So far, so completely legit. If I were a Sony shareholder I’d be horrified if they weren’t trailing the release of this one like anything, it’ll have to compete with Star Wars, for goodness’ sake, and that’s now got Disney behind it.

But…

I thought the front pages of newspapers were for showing off actual news (or offers or promotions, depending on the paper). I can certainly see something creating an online buzz like this as an inside-page filler, but I prefer to see something unexpected on the splash pages. Oddly it’s not just the popular press – the Mail doesn’t report it on its front page but the Times does.

Obviously you’ve got to sell papers. Anyone can appreciate that. But selling them on the strength of something that’s taken some effort to find out rather than something a commercial machine has spoon-fed a publicity machine would be good.

You’re unlikely to be as lucky in getting a manufactured, press released story onto the front page of the nationals – if you need help crafting your stories or interacting with the press, have a look at my media training offering.

Sourcing stories – how it’s evolving

Journalism gets a lousy press sometimes. Given that we are the press this is ironic, but it’s the case. Even before it was uncovered that several of us were tapping into people’s mobile phone messages illegally, people assumed that we made stories up, intruded into people’s lives, named suspects of crimes before they were convicted and soforth.

So I thought it was worth laying out some of the rules we’re supposed to follow. If you or a client feel you’ve been treated other than properly according to any of this, you have a cause for complaint.

First, not every story comes from a press release or official announcement. What, you really thought President Nixon had officially released Watergate, or that the Enron directors had made a formal declaration about their crooked activities? No, the rule is that we’re supposed to find at least two substantive sources for every story. Unfortunately social media is diluting that. Only today I saw a report about an MP’s estranged wife accusing him of being an alcoholic. I make no comment on the truth or otherwise of the claim but it was taken from one of her Tweets. In other words, no second source – so he could sue if he wanted (mind you, he’d then be seen as the big bad MP suing his former wife – that would never play well).

Second, while we’re on the subject, an insult is not the same as a libel. Libels are specifically damaging allegations which are factually wrong. So if you wanted to call me a useless git whose work was unreadable I couldn’t touch you – it’s called vulgar abuse and the law doesn’t care. If you add that I’m habitually late with deadlines and I plagiarise, I can claim you’re damaging me because these are specific and untrue. This protects reviewers; I can say your play was rubbish; if I say it lost money when it didn’t, I’m acting unlawfully.

In terms of accusations, there are clear laws about what you may and may not report and that includes names. If you feel you’ve been named unjustifiably in a criminal case, you need to speak to a lawyer rather than read a blog.

 

The really interesting thing for me as a practitioner is how this stuff is evolving. OK, I’ve been a journalist for a quarter of a century and had some training so yes, I know about the two-source rule (and I’ve had a few of those which have proven, nonetheless, to be wrong after I published them – I don’t miss that sort of journalism, invaluable training ground though it was).

The emergence of the blogger, however, has diluted a lot of those standards. Don’t misunderstand me; there are some utterly superb bloggers out there whose work is as good as any professionally trained hack. There are others, though, who think they’re in the Wild West, who won’t acknowledge your right to reply and who don’t believe they need more than one source.

This is now spilling into the mainstream press, which is why we’re seeing MPs falling out with their wives and exchanging allegation of affairs and alcoholism without any real thought as to how legal these statements are. The journalists at least should be considering the legality; I suspect they’re actually weighing up whether these people are actually likely to sue and publishing regardless.

Obviously the best way to avoid this sort of coverage is to make the best of any press opportunity in the first place. I can help with interview skills and media preparation – click here to book some time on the phone and we’ll talk. Or fill in the form below and let me know how I can help.

Don’t pay to be published

I’m not planning to use this space to rant often, I promise, but I’ve just seen this news story and it’s made my blood boil. Put simply, a newspaper group in South London appears to be charging students to have their work published online so they build up a portfolio. Here’s the link to the NUJ’s coverage:

https://www.nuj.org.uk/news/newspaper-groups-charges-students-120-for-chance-of-a-by-line/

Now, if it’s wrong or mistaken then I’ll take this post down willingly and I’ll be relieved. If it’s right, then the whole concept is wrong in more ways than I’d care to list.

Let’s start with the parallel in the commercial world. There are companies that will pay handsomely for a place in a sponsored supplement in national newspapers and magazines, and I’m certainly one of the journalists who will write for them. And yes I’ll take a payment. These are adults, though, looking for commercial advantage themselves and making decisions about how to deploy corporate budgets.

It’s a little different in the student world.

Finances

Students, in my day, had very little money. We felt very sorry for ourselves but with hindsight we were wrong. If we ended up with a debt at the end of college then it was because we hadn’t budgeted our money very well. There was no question of paying for our tuition fees. It is now radically different and young people end up leaving college with massive debts (here’s a report from Which?). And yes, they write them off 30 years after you’ve left, but to put this in perspective I turn 50 in a couple of months, I left college in 1986, so if we’d had the system in place then I’d still be in debt.

Even in the olden days, we’d have fought shy of paying for vanity projects. The reasons would be many. Affordability is the first.

The second, though, has to be quality control. What, you think the mags are going to be a stringent about quality when they’re obliged to publish something because someone is paying for it? If I’m honest I don’t see how they could be.

This leads to a second issue. You end up with a string of these pieces in your portfolio. An editor writes you a certificate saying you’ve been published. What next, then – you show them to another editor when you seek a job? OK, but she or he is going to identify these as paid-for pieces. Do you seriously think they’ll be taken as seriously as “proper” clippings? Once again, if an employer knows you’ve paid for them, I can only imagine there would be something of a downgrade in their eyes.

This is as nothing compared to my final two objections, though. The first is a simple moral point. If you want to sell newspapers and gain a profit, you pay the people who make it, not the other way around. I can’t make sense of any system in which the writer pays the publisher unless they believe there is no other way of getting into print.

The second objection is that this is, ever so slightly, 2015. I know that won’t last but there it is for the moment. People are already looking seriously at blogs as a means of publishing their own words. Guys, if you need your work published to show an editor, do what I did and sign up to a blogging service and put your words up there. It will cost nothing – or you might do what I’ve done and pay for a design that suits you, but you’ll know why you’re paying.

If any students are reading, please, please don’t let these people think they can charge for publishing your work. They can patronise you with a little certificate if they like; ultimately, though, they should be paying you, not the other way around. And anyway, I’ll let you publish something on here for only £119. That’s a quid saved, at least.

My thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Bustin for drawing this issue to my attention

UPDATE: I’ve now been told that this company has been laying off journalists – so it used to pay for copy and is now going to get people to pay it to publish. If this is a training course then it may be worth something, but let’s label it as such rather than guarantee people a sheaf of cuttings.