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An Asian view of media diversity

There is a thoughtful response to Mary Fizpatrick, the BBC’s diversity director, at the Asians in Media web magazine.

Fitzpatrick said (Daily Telegraph report) she was tired of repeatedly seeing programmes where the situation “here we are in Africa, and here’s a white person saying, well, look at these people”.

Rehna Azim, writing under a heading “We just need better journalists” is sceptical of Fitzpatrick’s suggestion of culturally appropriate reporters for certain stories. She writes:

So for example if there was a riot in a predominantly Muslim area of Britain, the person telling us about it should ideally be a Muslim journalist who will have a “better understanding of the issues”.

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. That will depend on the individual reporter.

If he is a middle-class Muslim who went to private school, Oxbridge and lives in say, Tunbridge Wells, he may have less in common with unemployed youths who have lived in an exclusively Muslim community ‘oop north’ all their lives and are mired in the politics of their local mosque, than a working-class white lad who worked hard to get a job at the BBC or on a national newspaper.

But Azim does criticise the lack of Asians with editorial power. She is worth reading in full. My worry is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for difficult for her “working class lad” (or lass) of any ethnicity to get into journalism.

Constructive response to BBC web changes

The BBC has been making some changes to its news website to promote live TV and Radio and to give more prominence to other ways of accessing news — mobiles, RSS news feeds, emails and podcasts. Steve Herrmann, editor of the news site, posted a request on The Editors blog asking for feedback at lunchtime yesterday.

By this morning there were 86 rsponses. As always with change there are people who don’t like them but most of the comments are constructive, many of them making suggestions for further changes. This is a great example of the way a dialogue between a news organisation and its audience can work.

Trainee reporter prevents reporting ban

Proof that journalism training works. Kirsty Beever, six weeks into her first job at the Scarborough Evening Telegraph, had the confidence to stand up in court to dispute a prosecution request request for a restriction on reporting — and win.

The prosecution asked for a reporting ban on a speech in mitigation because it was derogatory. Beever, who had attended an National Council for the Training of Journalists course and taken the preliminary exams, quoted McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. She pointed out to the magistrates that if the mitigation had affected the sentence reporting could not be restricted.

The magistrates who had imposed a lesser sentence because of the mitigation agreed with her and allowed full reporting. (Via Hold the Front Page)

Rivals manoeuvre before London freesheets launch

News International is to launch thelondonpaper on September 4, two weeks before the previously announced date. The Press Gazette quotes a NI spokeswoman saying: “September 4th has always been our preferred launch date — we simply aimed for the 18th to give ourselves some flexibility.”

According to the Guardian the reason is to get on the streets ahead of Associated Newspapers London Lite, the revamped and renamed Standard Lite.

The mystery here is, if NI really wants to have the streets to itself at launch, why is it giving two weeks’ notice? It all smacks of manoeuvres before a battle.

The aftermath of a newspaper war

A Google search for “who owned the Western Daily Press” led someone to Wordblog earlier today. I am sorry to say they did not get the answer but it does raise an interesting story about local control of newspapers.

The Bristol morning was founded in 1858 by a Scotsman, Peter Steward Macliver, and continued under independent ownership until 1960 when, with its circulation under 12,000, it was bought by Bristol United Press. That is the simple answer but we really need to go back to a vicious newspaper war that began in 1928.

Anyone who thinks that DVD give-aways and price cutting are brutal competition or that there will be blood in the streets when thelondonpaper is launched next month, should look at the Camrose versus Rothermere newspaper war.

Give-aways included alarm clocks and life insurance. In Bristol the people, led by the Bishop of Malmsbury, were so disgusted they started their own paper, the Bristol Evening Post.

William Berry, later Lord Camrose, and his brother already owners of the Sunday Times, the Financial Times and the Daily Graphic, decided in 1924 to take on Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail and a host of other papers.

They set about buying, from Rothermere as well as others, taking papers in the regions and in London. They acquired The Daily Telegraph and almost before anyone noticed they had the world’s largest publishing empire.

In 1928 Rothermere decided to fight back and founded Northcliffe Newspapers to establish a chain of evening papers in the larger industrial cities. A Time magazine article on January 9, 1933 records:

In Newcastle, Rothermere planted his Evening World in opposition to Camrose’s old established Chronicle. In 100 days he ran the World’s circulation to 176,000, two-and-a-half times the Chronicle’s. Baron Camrose wailed in protest against the Rothermere circulation method, which was to give free and hearty dinners plus free insurance policies to longtime subscribers. But ruthless Rothermere’s only reply was to snort his contempt of “old fogies” in the business. In Bristol Rothermere dazzled the natives by building the most modern and luxurious newspaper plant outside of London.

Bristol’s long-established and loved Times and Mirror closed under the Rothermere onslaught. Opinion turned against the upstart Evening World. There were stories of people refusing the Evening World but paying the news vendors so that they would not lose.

Local businessmen, a powerful and influential group in the City of Merchant Venturers, got together with the Bishop of Malmesbury at their head to raise the money for a new paper.

The got a run-down industrial building on Silver Street and installed second hand presses. The Evening Post was launched with a title line announcing: “The paper all Bristol asked for and helped to create.”

At the end of 1932 Rothermere and Camrose called a truce. Rothermere abandoned the Newcastle Evening World but the Bristol Evening World lived.

It continued, under Rothermere’s ownership, to battle with the Evening Post until 1935 when the two papers were brought under single control. In a complex deal Northcliffe newspapers held a minority of shares but as a single shareholding it would normally have allowed it to exercise control: the agreement prevented this.

The Evening World continued until 1962, a lively paper, when its low circulation eventually caught up with it.

In 1960 Bristol United Press, owner of the two evenings, had bought the ailing Western Daily Press which had a circulation of fewer than 12,000. Eric Price, who was working for the Daily Express, was recruited to revitalise the morning.

He set about the job with a zeal and a popular middle-market approach which offended traditionalists — among journalists as well as the West Country establishment — but built circulation. In 1989 it was selling a shade under 76,000.

It was “the paper that fights for the West” and it saw the nationals as its rivals. Eric Price was innovative with design, introducing a “goodies” panel stripped across the top of the front page, a navigation tool that, at the time, was almost unknown.

The pages mixed village flower shows with national stories giving them greater importance by association. Eric Price delighted in attacking bureaucrats and the readers liked it. I worked for him and he kept me on my toes and taught me a lot about local news.

The Bristol papers continued as an active locally-managed business until early in 1990 when David Sullivan, owner of the Sport and magazines including Adult Fantasy, made the shock announcement that he had bought a substantial shareholding and intended to make a bid. Because of the combined circulations of the Sport and the Bristol papers he needed approval and the Competition Commission was asked to report.

The Commission decided a take-over by David Sullivan was not in the public interest, saying:

The main public interest issue is the likely effect of the transfer on the character and content of BEP newspapers, particularly the Evening Post and the Western Daily Press. We consider that if the acquisition of shares were allowed Mr Sullivan could be expected to influence editorial policy and the character and content of these papers and that this would harm both the accurate presentation of news and the free expression of opinion. We also consider that the acquisition could harm the standing of the papers in their community and that there could be some adverse effects on circulation.

However, the rather cosy arrangements were shaken and in 1998 Northcliffe Newspapers extended their shareholding and gained direct control.

Sources:
Time Magazine Jan 9, 1933
Competition Commission report, 1990
Tony Gosling’s Bilderberg.org webside. The relevant article appears to be accurate
My memory, which may be faulty

Missing links in newspaper web stories

A rousing hear, hear to Rob Skinner who, in his Ertblog, bemoans the lack of links on the Guardian site to outside sources. My feeling is that linking to source material increases credibility. Most people are not going to wade through a 100 page report or the full text of a John Prescott speech so I doubt that links will drive visitors off the site, but it is nice to be given the chance.

Gerry Isaaman on decline in newspaper sales

A letter from Gloucestershire in yesterday’s Media Guardian suggests that among the reasons for newspaper sales declines could be that “newspapers are no longer seen as giving value for money.” It is signed Gerald Isaaman. Could this be the Gerry Isaaman who spent 25 years as editor of North London’s Ham and High when it was a truly excellent weekly: a man who knows something about what the readers want.

Terrorist plot gives BBC online a huge audience surge

The BBC news web site saw a huge surge in demand in the week ended August 13, presumably as visitors sought information on the terrorist plot arrests and airport chaos. Neilsen Net Ratings puts the the unique audience at 1.8 million, up 98% on the previous week. (Via iMedia Connection). But EA Games, a sports computer gaming site had the biggest percentage rise, pipping the BBC with a 102% rise, to an audience of 925,000.

Numbers count when choosing pictures of conflict

The question of proportionality in the use of pictures of the Middle Eastern conflict is addressed by Ian Mayes, the Guardian’s readers’ editor today. He quotes from a reply the paper’s deputy editor made to an accusation of disproportion in the use of pictures which was part of a complaint from the Israeli embassy in London. The deputy editor said:

In the past four editions … we have used 11 photographs … two could be categorised as showing Israeli victims and five [were] of Lebanese victims. The remainder could be said to be neutral … That is against a backcloth of 35 civilian deaths in Israel and 1,005 in Lebanon.

Mayes, who is president of the Organisation of News Ombudsmen, concludes: “Numbers, in such a context, do count.”

Does journalism training belong in universities?

A debate over journalism education/training in Denmark echoes an opinion article in yesterday’s Observer by Mary Warnock who argues for elite academic institutions, saying: “The silliest thing Tony Blair ever said was that 50 per cent of the population should go to university.”

Supporting the rejected Tomlinson proposals for education reform, she writes:

Those who chose the wholly practical course would leave school already virtually apprentices, used to skilled work and capable of increasing their skills; those who chose the theoretical alternative would have passed academic examinations that properly prepared them for university. Different universities could make their own decisions about academic or ‘mixed’ applicants, depending on their teaching and research strengths. (It might even have turned out that some institutions of higher education would proudly go back to calling themselves polytechnics.)

Denmark’s school of journalism management is currently at odds over whether the school should become a part of Aarhus University or remain an independent institution, Norwegian journalist Kristine Lowe writes in her blog.

The head of the school believes that as research has increasingly become the domain of universities the school needs to work more closely with the Aarhus. The chairman, on the other hand, believes independence is important to maintaining industry links and strengthen journalistic development.

Lowe has experience of journalism courses in British institutions. In an earlier blog post she wrote of her experience of a media and communications course at Sussex University (abandoned after five weeks) because it turned out to have “very little to do with the reality of the media as I knew it”. She later completed an MA in International Journalism at London’s City University, although she does not mention this in the post. It is always instructive to listen to what former students have to say.

Her conclusion is: “Journalism is a craft, not an academic discipline and there’s a limit to how many souls can find gainful employment theorising about page three girls.”

The City courses are practical as are those of many of the better journalism departments in UK universities. British employers recruiting post-graduate journalism students tend to a preference for those who have completed a diploma rather than an MA. Most students are also keener on achieving a diploma.

In other words employers want young journalists who have a solid practical training. At Westminster University, where I now teach, practical journalism training has been successfully combined with research. The Communication and Media Research Institute is top rated and contributes in many ways to the quality of practical teaching for young journalists.

Media studies and journalism can be combined successfully, as they are at Westminster, but it is a difficult trick to pull off. In places where things go wrong students are short-changed as Kristine Lowe says happens at some British institutions and at the University of Stockholm. She quotes a representative of the Swedish Newspaper Publishers’ Association as saying practical vocational training has gradually been replaced by academic research and studying mass media from a cultural perspective.

The trouble and confusion arises when there is no clear distinction between media studies and practical journalism. But journalism is probably not a subject for universities which measure their success in Nobel Prizes, the yardstick of world excellence Lady Warnock uses.