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I am an experienced online journalist and political editor working for Trinity Mirror papers in the West Midlands and the North East, based in the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Westminster.

I understand how government, Parliament and political parties work. I am equally at home digging out stories from data, social media or interviews as I am covering major set-piece events or explaining how things work to readers.

I produce content which is shareable and promote my work on social media.

My experience with content management systems and knowledge of HTML allows me to include charts, embedded content from third parties and formatting in my work, to create content which encourages interaction and keeps readers on the page.

Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (but please send press releases to my work email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as this is the email I monitor during working hours).

The News Sandwich

Bloomberg's hatchet job on Gordon Brown has raised some eyebrows, as the New York-based news agency is usually known for its strict impartiality.

Guido is ecstatic - the PM's spokesman told lobby journalists he "didn't recognise" the claims it made about Brown's behaviour, which is Westminster-speak for saying they're wrong.

I was teasing one of the authors this morning by telling her she was now the story, but she didn't rise to the bait.

Whatever you make of the Bloomberg feature, we should all be grateful to the writers for introducing us to the concept of the news sandwich. Supposedly, when Brown's PR people are telling him what the papers have been saying, they downplay the negative coverage by first telling him about a positive story, then describing the negative one before swiftly moving on to another positive item.

It's like something out of The Thick of It, which, by the way, I heartily recommend.

Should the government, or the BBC, help local newspapers?

Should the Government intervene to help local newspapers survive the recession?

This was the suggestion put forward in a House of Commons debate earlier this week.

Two things struck me about the debate. First, as we've reported in the Birmingham Post and Mail, Cabinet Office Minister Ian Pearson hinted that some kind of help for the industry may be announced in a Government policy paper due out on Monday January 26.

Mr Pearson, who also happens to be a local MP representing Dudley South, told a backbencher: "The final issue that I want to mention is financial support. My hon. Friend raised this issue, as did other hon. Members, and it is a complex one, given the requirement that freedom of editorial control must not be threatened by state intervention.

"I want to reassure him that such support is being considered within the Digital Britain initiative."

Digital Britain is a green paper - an early policy document - which will be (according to a government press release) "an action plan to secure the UK's place at the forefront of innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications industries."

Those of you with interests in blogging, the internet and the future of media big and small might find it interesting, it seems to me.

The second thing that struck me was the pessimism MPs taking part in the debate all seemed to have about the future of local papers.

Solihull MP Lorely Burt, a Lib Dem, suggested the BBC should step in and set up some kind of "joint venture website" with local journalists.

She said: "It would keep local journalism alive and kicking, it would be attractive to advertisers and more interesting, varied and local, and it would create a synergy beneficial to both."

The problem with this idea is that local papers already have their own local websites, of varying quality, and believe they have an important role in helping them stay afloat.

Sharing their advertising revenue with the BBC would hardly help. Having said that, the BBC has clearly invested in the technology and expertise to create high quality websites, so perhaps this could help smaller publishers.

I'm not sure, however, whether Ms Burt was worried about helping media businesses at all - or if she simply wants to help local journalists continue to perform what she believes is an important role.

Read more: Should the government, or the BBC, help local newspapers?

Evening Standard bribes readers to "buy" two copies

Every so often I buy two copies of the Evening Standard. Not different editions, with different stories, but identical copies of the same paper.

This is because the Standard has gone one better than offering free copies. It actually bribes potential readers to take the paper away.

In some branches of WH Smith (and elsewhere, for all I know) you get £1 off a magazine if you also buy the Standard for 50p, effectively giving you a free copy of the paper and 50p off the magazine.

Now, I always get a copy of the Standard while I am at the office in Westminster. It's as much a national paper as a local London paper, and even though most of the stories I write are focused on the West Midlands, it makes sense for me to know what the national papers are saying.

Having skimmed through it at work, I might take it on the Tube with me to Waterloo, where I catch the train home. And sometimes I'll stop in Waterloo's WH Smith to pick up something to read for the train journey.

I know I can save money on magazines by grabbing a second copy of the newspaper here, but I don't. I'm not a great environmentalist, but I can still see how wasteful this is, even if I stand to save 50p.

But there are assistants roaming the shop (employed I suspect by the Standard rather than WH Smith) who look out for people buying magazines, and thrust a copy of the paper into your hands before you reach the till. They do this even if they can see that you already have a copy of the Standard under your arm - and even if you point this out to them, and explain that you don't need two newspapers.

Weak-willed as I am, I'm afraid that in these circumstances I just accept the paper and the 50p saving. It saves me money, and presumably boosts the Standard's circulation, but it can't do much for the environment.

Government Unlikely to Intervene In Row Over BBC Local Websites

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham gave regional journalists the strong impression he doesn't plan to intervene in the row over the BBC's planned local news websites.

Trinity Mirror CEO (and therefore my ultimate boss) Sly Bailey told an industry conference earlier this month that commercial news organisations were investing in digital platforms.

But she said: "If online audiences are diverted away to BBC sites though unfair competition, using public money and the BBC's unparalleled promotional machine, there will be an impact on the commercial sector's ability to develop these digital businesses, to grow these digital revenues and to invest."

The BBC's strategy "is anti-competitive, it is unnecessary, and it will waste public money," she said.

Mr Burnham talked about the importance of local newspapers and his admiration for the work they were doing developing digital media.

But he said it was not his role to tell the BBC what to do, and pointed out that the BBC Trust (chaired by former Birmingham Council Chief Executive Sir Michael Lyons) was already considering these issues.

He also said the BBC deserved some credit for developing its website ten years ago, when it got some stick for doing so.

The BBC is planning 60 local video websites.

Birmingham Bloggers On The New-Look Birmingham Post

I've added a new page to this blog with a round up of posts from Birmingham and West Midlands-based bloggers, with the highly original name Blogroll (on the menu up top).

As I write, three of the posts listed focus on the new-look Birmingham Post.

Jon Bounds at Birmingham: It's Not Shit seems to like it.

Paul Groves at Groves Media gives it "a tentative thumbs up for now".

Nick Booth at Podnosh says Birmingham should be proud!

The Birmingham Post's New Advert

This will be aired in or around the News at Ten slot on ITV for two weeks beginning October 20th, 2008, apparently.

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In honour of this event, I've added a new feature to the blog, on the lower right - Postovision, direct from YouTube.

Making Multimedia Easier for Journalists

Paul Bradshaw has an interesting post on his blog, calling for ideas about the ways newsrooms could change in order to help journalists adapt to changes in the industry.

My initial response was heartily to endorse his first idea, which is to make it easy for journalists to know when someone has commented on something they have written, so that they can respond.

People sometimes comment on blog posts you have written weeks ago, and unless there's some kind of alert system to tell you, it's easy to miss them.

In more general terms, I'd like to see news organisations develop content management systems which are designed to get journalists doing the things they (presumably) want them to do.

Let me see what's happened to something after I've written it - not only whether there have been any comments, but whether anyone has even read it.

Links on a BBC News story

And when inputting stories, provide a way for me to provide links to go with it, if appropriate. As I said before, encouraging hacks to set up delicious accounts is all very well, but it won't happen.

I also have my doubts about how many of our readers actually use services like delicious. You end up with a situation where newspapers embrace these services because we think readers want us to, and then try to educate our readers on how to use them.

Links can be very useful with a story, but they should simply be placed on our websites next to the story itself, as the BBC does already.

The debate I referred to earlier on Jo Geary's blog has taken in a lot of issues, but one of them I think boils down to the idea that journalists need to take the reins themselves, as the businesses they work for are incapable of providing leadership (and I'm not suggesting that's Jo's view, just one of the views that seems to have emerged from the many comments and blog posts from various people).

I don't agree with that. We are seeing leadership from Trinity Mirror and, in any case, I believe that's where it has to come from.

My advice to any newspaper business hoping to get journalists to embrace new media is this:

  1. Make it easy for them.
  2. Tell them to do it. It will happen.

Birmingham Post Relaunch Heralds Changes Across Trinity Mirror Regional Newspapers

The Birmingham Post's big relaunch takes place on Monday, when the first edition of the new compact paper comes out. There's also a spanking new website to go with it, although I'm not certain whether that is launched on the same day.

What isn't quite in place yet is the new editorial structure to go alongside the more visible changes. Rather than having three newsdesks, with three sets of reporters, there will be one, to cover the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and Sunday Mercury.

So instead of a Post reporter writing a Post story, you have a BPM Media reporter - the business' new name - writing a story which could end up in any of the papers. They send it to newsdesk, and the news editors decide where to put it.

The aim is to make better use of economies of scale, so that staff are able to get more done by avoiding duplication. To put it another way, each paper now has more staff than it used to - albeit shared with the rest of the business - and should be able to do a better job of reporting the news.

I'd been under the impression that Birmingham was the first Trinity Mirror operation to go down this road, but I'm told by a friend on the Western Mail that they've already done something similar in Wales.

In any case, this is the way of the future for the company - not something we've been told, just my prediction - so colleagues in Liverpool and Newcastle might want to pay attention!


Whose Newspaper Is It Anyway?

(Edit: And also see MarkMedia's site for more debate).

Jo Geary has prompted a debate on her blog with a post lamenting the fact that "journalists don't know their own business".

She writes: "After all, if we don't understand how our market is created, nor how we best make money out of it, then I would argue we know little about serving it properly."

She argues that the National Union of Journalists should adopt "a pro-active policy of educating members and providing them with access to financial information on their companies".

Orson Wells as newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane

I wrote a comment, which I re-post here (as it was really far too long to be a comment). It's partly a response to other comments from Jo's readers, which included suggestions that journalists should learn about search engine optimisation - how to get a high ranking in Google - and the usual NUJ bashing.

By the way, the profit margin on Trinity Mirror's regionals (such as the ones I work for) was 21 per cent in the last financial year, significantly down from 25.6 per cent previously, but actually pretty good by the standards of most businesses, surely?

There are two issues here. One is how the internet changes the way they do their jobs, which is basically to gather and pass on information and ideas. Jeff Jarvis' blog gives one very simple and clear example - it could now mean providing links, in some cases.

The second issue, which is separate, is how we create a business model which pays our wages.

Good journalism which makes the best use of all the media available to us (I mean that one brand, such as the newspaper I work for, uses various media, with print being one of them) does not necessarily pay the bills in today's world.

Teaching journalists about search engine optimisation and ‘social media', or improving their work in other ways, won't change that - will it?

Read more: Whose Newspaper Is It Anyway?

Serious Monkey Business

One of my favourite stories of recent days didn't quite make the grade in the Birmingham Post and got chopped down to 100 words or so - and can't even be found on the website.

That may very well be the fate it deserves, but by the power of the Interweb I present it here anyway, as I liked it. The MP concerned told the House of Commons that this was "serious monkey business".

Cheeta the chimpanzee should receive an Oscar for his role in films and television shows including the Tarzan movies, according to a West Midlands MP.

Mark Pritchard wants the 76-year old animal to receive recognition in order to raise awareness of thousands of primates kept as pets.

Mr Pritchard (Con The Wrekin) launched a campaign to win an honorary Oscar for Cheeta as he presented proposals to change the law in the House of Commons.

He submitted a Bill which would make it illegal to trade primates, such as monkeys, apes or lemurs, as pets.

He said: "Keeping primates as pets is like something from Victorian times.

"It is outdated, and comes from a dark period for animal welfare in this country."

But the Victorians at least had the excuse that they did not realise that many primates were in danger of extinction in their natural habitat, he said.

Even owners who tried to take good care of primate pets were unlikely to be able to provide a suitable environment, he said.

"It is estimated that up to 3,000 primates are currently being kept as pets in the United Kingdom.

"Many are kept in cruel and cramped conditions, but by no means all of them.

"But whatever their captive conditions, these wild animals will always remain wild. These are animals that need large areas of vertical and horizontal space.

"They need certain room temperatures and humidity, long hours of natural sunlight and a varied and balanced diets."

Mr Pritchard asked MPs to back his campaign to ensure Cheeta received an Academy Award, commonly known as an Oscar, to publicise the condition of primates kept as pets.

Cheeta appeared in 12 Tarzan movies in the 1930s and 40s, and currently lives in retirement in California.

Personally I'd love a monkey as a pet. Does this make me a bad person?

The First Rule of Fight Club

Details of an interesting new website arrive in my in-box - www.journoworld.co.uk, which aims to explain how to become a journalist and what to do once you get a job.

I like the way the first article on the topic of being a journalist is titled "dealing with newsdesks".

Hints include not telling your news editor about a story, because if they learn about something too far in advance of it actually being printed they will get bored of it, and ditch it for something newer.

Shocking stuff, although not the first time I've heard that theory.

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About me

Jonathan Walker Political Editor of the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail, Sunday Mercury, Coventry Telegraph, Newcastle Journal, Newcastle Chronicle and Sunday Sun.

Contact me:

Email jonathan@walkerjon.com (but please send press releases to my work email which is
jon.walker@trinitymirror.com, as this is the email I monitor during working hours).

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