- Published: Sunday, 19 October 2008 22:43
- Written by Jonathan Walker
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.
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:
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.
(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".
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?
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?
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.
Their complaint was that newspapers weren't interested in recruiting quality staff - and paying them accordingly - or giving them the time they needed to do a decent job of finding out what's going on and telling people what's going on.
An uncharitable interpretation of their comments would be that they were asking for more money and less work, which rarely endears you to anyone.
But they had also criticised the focus on "social media", ie blogs and stuff, and the general emphasis on the internet.
For example, they wrote:
... it's becoming all too clear at the Telegraph, whose online business plan seems to be centred on chasing hits through Google by rehashing and rewriting stories that people are already interested in. Facts are no longer the currency they used to be.
This is a bit of a no-no in the industry at the moment (far better to say you are wildly enthusiastic about social media and complain that nobody else is).
But I was still a bit surprised by this response from Justin Williams, Assistant Editor at the Telegraph Media Group, who said:
Funny thing that - writing about things that people are interested in. It would be a ... er ... radical editor who went to his bosses and said that his reporters would, henceforth, only write about things that people weren't interested in.
Well, yes, news should be interesting. I think the point being made, however, was that newspapers were basing their strategy on search engine optimisation and getting into the most-read clusters on Google News "by rehashing and rewriting stories" that are already out there.
Strange day at the office. A colleague on another local paper was tasked with verifying a report their newspaper had received, from someone claiming to be a Downing Street press officer, that a Minister had resigned.
The MP in question (not David Cairns, the Scottish Office Minister who actually has resigned) was overseas and unavailable, so my colleague was reduced to phoning Downing Street and the relevant Government department to try to find out what was going on.
She collared the MP's researcher on the House of Commons terrace. I'm told the researcher was frantic, because she had been contacted by numerous journalists but had no idea what was happening.
My poor colleague was under extra pressure from journalists like me, who had not only started making our own inquires but were trying to get her to tell us what she knew (as she worked for the MP's local paper, she probably had the best chance of finding out).
Eventually, she managed to track down the press officer who had phoned her paper - except that he denied making the call, and actually now worked in the Cabinet Office, not Downing Street.
My colleague got the press officer to phone her newsdesk, so the news editor could confirm the voice was different.
The original tip-off had been a fake, but it clearly came from someone who knew the names of Downing Street press officers (or at least, of people who worked there recently), which takes a bit of inside knowledge or digging.
I'm not sure what the moral of the tale is, except that nobody knows what's going to happen next at Westminster.
Apologies for not giving names, but I don't want to repeat false rumours about Ministers even with the words "it wasn't true" in big letters.
The Birmingham Post is planning to go all out when the Tories hold their annual event in Birmingham later this month. I usually cover the party conferences alone with wire copy filling in the gaps, but as it is happening in our city this year the paper has arranged for a number of other staff to get passes and attend events.
As I understand it, the conference will also see more co-operation between the Post and the Mail than in the past, as part of the move towards an intergrated newsroom.
I have put together a memo for my newsdesk on events taking place. It covers a very small proprtion of the various meetings happening - I picked out the ones I thought were most interesting to us.
I thought I would publish it here, as it may be of interest to anyone who wants to know how journalists work, as well as people attending the conference. The Tories are making efforts to get bloggers to attend the conference, so Birmingham bloggers may find it useful.
Couple of notes:
i) I don't know if we will cover all of this, or any of this. It's not entirely up to me, and other things I don't know about are certain to come up. This is a memo I wrote, not the Post and Mail's plans.
ii) I'm assuming business desk will cover some events, which is why I am not planning to go to one or two important business-themed fringe meetings, but I could be wrong.
iii) I forgot about the "public" debates the Tories are doing, one of which I think one of my editors is actually speaking at! So I guess we will want to cover them.
iv) If by any chance Andrew Mitchell or Caroline Spelman see this - yes I know I haven't actually asked for interviews yet, but I am hoping you won't turn me away!
I have put together a list of the things happening at the conference which I think will be interesting.
I’m obviously not personally planning to cover anything like all this myself. If we have staff with passes who are able to cover things, we could send them. I am not certain exactly where the security zone extends, but anything at the ICC or Hyatt will certainly need a pass.
I have put JW next to the things I am planning to do myself. If someone else particularly wants to do them instead, that’s fine. If we have enough staff to take stuff off my hands then that’s fine too.
Note that things will change a great deal during the conference itself. Eg we will get interview opportunities, speeches which didn’t seem interesting will turn out to be interesting, stories will emerge from talking to people etc.
Other things I plan to do which are not on the list:
Interviews with Andrew Mitchell (Shadow Cabinet), Caroline Spelman (Party Chair) and David Cameron.
Preview of DC speech Tuesday for Wednesday, if I can get it.
Feature Sunday for Monday if we want it.
Here are some of the things happening at the Tory conference:
Sunday Sept 28
11.10 to 12.30 main hall – presentation and debate about Birmingham , including a presentation on the “social action project” in Edgbaston JW
2pm-3pm main hall – Debate on Tory election successes, which I imagine will include some mention of the wins in the West Mids in this year’s council elections. Main hall JW
3pm-3.15 – Boris speaks. No local relevance but will be fun. Main hall
5.30 fringe, Broad Street , Dame Neville Jones, Tory security spokesperson, takes part in discussion on political Islamism.
5.45 fringe ICC David Willets, skills spokesman (Birm link) takes part in event on skills.
6pm Fringe Hyatt Coun Les Lawrence, Birmingham Education Cabinet Member, in event on preventing youth crime
6-30 Church service in the Town Hall with Bishop of Birmingham speaking, Caroline Spelman as host and a rapper(!)
7.30 Baskerville House – Whitby hosts reception on cities and launches “urban hub” JW
Fun at the lobby briefing in Westminster this morning, as hacks sought an angle on the Prime Minister's visit to Birmingham.
The nationals had lots of questions about how much it all cost, clearly hoping to build up a story about an expensive PR junket at taxpayers' expense.
Whether this is how it will be reported tomorrow, I don't know.
A better angle has probably presented itself with David Miliband declaring that Brown will lead Labour into the next election and win it, perhaps putting paid to stories about the Foreign Secretary challenging for the leadership (and leading to future stories about Miliband botting it, I suspect).
I have been writing about West Midlands Minister Liam Byrne's presentation to the Cabinet today, and Mr Brown's comments about the region playing a role in the development of environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient technology. There'll be more from Paul Dale and Neil Elkes for the Post and Mail respectively.
Off work for a few days, which means I no longer have any excuse for failing to fill in forms for the party conferences later this month.
The pass for Labour's event has already arrived and the Tory equivalent should be in the post, but I won't have anywhere to sit unless I book myself desks at both events.
It also means I will get round to filling in my response to Trinity Mirror Midlands' consultation document and confirming that yes, on reflection I would like to apply for a position in the new structure.
Specifically, I'll be applying for the job I am currently doing, which still exists. In principle (actually, in practice) anyone else in the company can apply for it too, although I guess I am at a slight advantage over any rivals out there. We'll see.
There's been a lot of comment on local interweb sites about the changes, including a bit of stick aimed at journalists who aren't happy.
Of course, the issue people aren't happy about is the prospect of 70 positions being made redundant. That's the figure over all the affected papers - Coventry and weeklies as well as the Post, Mail and Mercury.
It leaves us with 230 people covering news, features and sport, as well as photographers, various editor types and production staff.
What I am sure of, and what I imagine most commentators are really most interested in, is the decision wholeheartedly to embrace new ways of delivering the news.
Of course we should be trying to reach readers any way we can, or, perhaps a better way of putting it, any way they want to be reached.
That includes using web sites and other internet applications, mobile phones and anything else that comes around in the future.
It's a pity in some ways that the job cuts and the multimedia strategy have had to be packaged together like this. When you hear disgruntled hacks or NUJ reps complain, remember that they're not "resisting change" except for the specific change of potentially losing their jobs, which people tend to resist in any industry.