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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Westminster students win top journalism award

Elation today at the Reuter’s headquarters in Canary Wharf as a group of my students won the Team of the Year award in the UK Press Gazette Student Journalism Awards.

The citation, which was read by Piers Morgan, owner of the PG, before passing over to Dianne Thompson, chief exec of Camelot ,passed in a blur of anticipation. I clearly remember him saying something about professionals in the industry being able to learn from the winner and mentioning clear navigation, but the words we were waiting for came from Dianne Thompson: “Gravitas, the University of Westminster.”

Will Brierley, the editor who is now working for BBC online, stepped up with three of the team to receive the award.

It was, I believe, a good decision. Of some 30 student team projects I have supervised in the past ten years, Gravitas stands out. It emerged as a fully-formed magazine which could have gone onto the shelves of the news agents. Many student publications are superficially attractive but lack the same confidence, content and quality of writing.

Gravitas is different: a serious yet entertaining publication that relies on text rather than display, but the display is entirely appropriate and appealing The content is similar to some of that to be found in publications like the Spectator or New Statesman but apolitical. The pages are brightened by photo-essays in both colour and black and white.

Thanks must also go to Francis Wheen who wrote for Gravitas (commissioning is one of the skills we teach) and provided the big name cover line.

It was a pity that Chris Horrie, leader of the Post Graduate Diploma in Periodical Journalism course at Westminster, had to miss the awards. (I have been standing in for him recently while he works on another project). Without his belief and confidence that the students could achieve such a high standard Gravitas, would never have been published.

The full list of winners is on the Press Gazette site and there are more details on the awards site.

The whole event was a celebration of the the quality of young journalists entering a business which Geert Linebank, editor-in-chief of Reuters, said was changing rapidly and in which he believed some big names would fail while new names emerged.

Internet missing from Trinity Mirror ad report

In a run of trading updates from newspapers reporting gloomy advertising sales, something is missing from Trinity Mirror’s figures. The almost statutory reference to rising internet advertising is not there.

For the half-year interim results due of August 3 are expected to show a 10.6% like-for-like year-on-year fall in ad revenue with the regionals performing slightly better than the English and Scottish national titles.

The only bright spot is a 1.9% increase in property advertising but what is happening to the internet sites? As The Times points out Trinity Mirror is gaining a decent foothold online. It has made a number of significant investments in both property and employment sites. But we are getting little indication of how much advertising they are pulling in.

Murdoch starts play to influence next UK PM

Rupert Murdoch is hinting that he might support the Tory, David Cameron, in the next election, according to the Guardian. That raises what seems like the eternal question of British politics — is it the Sun (with a little help from the Times to add gravitas) wot wins elections or is Murdoch simply good at picking winners?

That, of course, is not something susceptible to scientific proof. The Sun supported Thatcher and Thatcher won; the Sun supported Blair and Blair won are both true but prove nothing.

What is obvious is that a period when the main political parties vie for the Murdoch stamp of approval does News Corp no harm at all. There are short and long-term gains to be made if two leaders are seeking the backing of the Murdoch papers.

Most immediately, there is the BBC charter review which will influence the whole development of TV in the UK for ten years.

Murdoch told the Australian, another of his papers, that he could see himself supporting Cameron in a British election, expected in 2009 or 2010.

He also said Gordon Brown, Blair’s expected successor, should wait at least 12 months after assuming power before calling an election. Murdoch said 18 months would give the voters a chance to compare Cameron and Brown.

It would also give Murdoch good time to be wooed with News Corp friendly policies on regulation and suchlike by the two contenders for four or five years in control of the UK.

I guess we are going to see a lot more of Murdoch playing hard-to-get.

Montgomery’s Mecom wins Orkla

Confirmation that the Norwegian media group Orkla is to have David Montgomery’s Mecom as its new owner was not received with joy by journalists in Oslo today. Mecom which is set on becoming a significant player in European media will move its operational headquarters to Oslo, according to Nettavisen. The response of Norwegian journalists is far from muted according to Kristine Lowe.

Getting journalism training right for digital hubs

Journalism trainers and educators will be looking closely at the announcement by Johnston Press that it is bringing print and online newsrooms together and training journalists to shoot video reports. (see my earlier post)

There are clearly many old hacks who still do not see a digital future and Johnston’s director of digital publishing admits to cultural work needing to be done.

Universities too have cultural work to do. Some tutors, often journalists who grew up in print, are less enthusiastic about multi-skilling than others. And there is a real problem of how to teach core skills of writing, news and features, along with law and government and research skills and have time to fit more into the programme.

And we have an industry which one time asks “why are you teaching people these skills we don’t need” and a little later is asking why we are not teaching them.

At the University of Westminster I hope we are getting things more or less right. The Westminster News Online site is a tough assignment, finding news from the rather small Harrow campus, teaching the basic skills of searching out news and features and writing them.

It brings together broadcast and print students on the post graduate diploma in journalism course and allows print students to go out with video cameras. Hits on the site this year show that the audience wants video.

When the new academic year start we will have a new newsroom better equipped to handle mutli-media production.

But it is worrying that the judges for the UK Press Gazette Student Journalism Awards could find only three to put on the shortlist for online journalist of the year. It is the shortest shortlist of them all.

I am glad one of them is Sarah Penn, one of our students, who went out with a camera as well as pencil and notebook. Sarah is also shortlisted for student interviewer of the year. The student’s magazine Gravitas is also among the contenders.

Digital future (alongside print) for Johnston Press

Johnston Press, the UK’s second largest regional group, is taking the leap into a digital future by announcing plans to merge online and print newsrooms. Journalists will be retrained to shoot video reports.

The plans were announced at a presentation for analysts and the press last evening when chief executive Tim Bowdler, said some 70 digital hubs would be established by the middle of next year says The Scotsman, flagship of the Edinburgh-based group of 280 daily and weekly titles which has a reputation for being canny.

While £200,000 has been spent on the first digital hub at the Lancashire Evening Post, in Preston, Bowdler believes the programme can be completed at a relative low cost.

Alex Green, Johnston’s new director of digital publishing who arrived recently from Virgin, admitted that there was “culturally some work to be done” at many of the titles.

The Guardian expands on the canny approach pointing out that Johnston last year achieved industry-leading margins of 34.7%. It quotes Bowdler as saying: “As we roll it out across the group we needn’t see a massive increase in the total editorial resource. I don’t think it should have a significant effect on margins.

“Hopefully, it will have an effect on our audience and increase our revenues because we will be selling advertising to a greater audience reach,” he said.

Johnston’s move is part of growing signs that regional newspapers are waking up to the fact that the future is digital.

See also my post on journalism training needs.