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More thoughts on newspaper blogs

More of my thoughts on newspaper blogs are in the Press Gazette today. They can be read on the trade paper’s site.

There is no further news on the PG site about its future as I write this at 15.15 BST on Friday afternoon which must be hopeful news for the future of our trade paper. It suggests the administrator is still talking to someone who is interested in buying it.

Petition against FoI restrictions started on Downing St website

Journalist Tom Griffin has taken advantage of the newly introduced “petition the prime minister” service on the Downing Street website to ask Tony Blair not to go ahead with restrictions on the use of the Freedom of Information Act.

I have signed. You can sign here.

Griffin’s full text for the petition is:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Reject the restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act proposed by the Department of Constitutional Affairs.

The proposed changes will restrict the number of requests individuals and organisations can make, and allow Government Departments to include ‘reading time’ in fees calculations, greatly increasing the scope for obstruction of legitimate requests. As the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee concluded, there is no need to change the existing fees regime. Indeed, the cost of the Freedom of Information Act is less than was originally projected by the Government, and the transparency provided by the Act can only benefit efficient government.

The Newspaper Society is also urging its member papers to campign against changes which could restrict access to information by journalists. Hold the Front Page has the story and an outline of the proposed changes.

What happens if old media dies before new media walks?

Tom Foremski, at Silicon Valley Watcher, cuts to the heart of the issues facing mainstream media in a post where he says informative journalism, “is being torn apart–not by blogging–but by search engine marketing. Quite simply, it is more effective to sell products and services next to a search box than next to journalism. That’s not good.”

He crystallises some unformed ideas which have been floating around in my head, producing one of those “now I understand” moments. In a post on the rate of change, he writes:

The disruption means there are many opportunities to create new types of very profitable media businesses while the old guard figures things out in committees.

The dark side of all of this, however, is not very appealing… To put it simply, what happens if the old media dies before the new media learns to walk?

By which I mean what happens to us if we lose that “fourth estate” that fourth “component” of our society?

He is optimistic that there will be a solution but writes:

But I’m asking who will pay for high quality media?

We are in trouble if we don’t find that solution. We need high quality, trustworthy media, so that we can make the right decisions as a society.

While he believes that there will be a solution, there will be “troubling and challenging times” on the way.

Save the Press Gazette student awards

Roy Greenslade has a full examination of the Awful truth of the lost-making Press Gazette. He gives details of a report commissioned by Associated Newspapers and the Telegraph setting out the dire financial situation and the stewardship of Matthew Freud and Piers Morgan.

This includes £15,000 taken by Freud for bottles of Chateau Lafitte from his cellar for the entertainment of a group of editors. However, Freud does seem to have lost close on £1million.

For more detail you will have to read Greenslade’s post. I have another concern: the future of the Press Gazette’s Student Journalism Awards.

These awards have become an important event which recognises the achievements of the young people who are coming into the business. Over the past few years they have demonstrated the ability and commitment of some very good journalists at the time when they are seeking their first jobs.

These awards are for those studying journalism and in no way replicate the Guardian awards which are for student publications produced, in the main, by student unions.

This year Camelot which has been the sponsor for several years was joined by Reuters which hosted the awards ceremony at its new Canary Wharf headquarters. Whatever happens to the Press Gazette these prizes should be kept going.

Constributions by editors, equivalent to the value of Freud’s wine which they enjoyed, would probably be enough to organise the event for another year.

Are newspaper bosses nastier than those in radio, TV and magazines?

Newspaper bosses are nastier than their colleagues in broadcasting and magazines if the headline figures from some research carried out by the Trade Union Research Unit at Ruskin College are correct.

Their survey of 1,436 National Union of Journalists members found that 40% of those in newspapers said they had been bullied. Only half that number (21%) in broadcasting and 25% of those working on magazines made the same complaint.

Overall the figure was 31% although the report also looked at discrimination and found women, and blacks and Asians were more likely to suffer, according to the NUJ report.

Having worked for some pretty insensitive newspaper bosses the figure does not surprise me, but I had no idea that other sections of the business were kindlier.

Later this morning I am taking students to Parliament to report a meeting of the Education and Skills Committee which will be taking evidence on bullying. The MPs will be hearing from the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. I was assuming Steve Sinnott would be talking about pupils bullying pupils, but perhaps we will hear about goings-on in the staffroom too.
(Via Press Gazette)

Papers get more staff hours than they pay for

A survey of readers of Hold the Front Page shows that most are working longer hours than those in their contracts. No surprise there: it has always been the case.

Hold the Front Page is jointly owned by the regional press giants, Northcliffe, Newsquest, Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press. Perhaps they will take notice of the results and start rewarding their journalists properly for the work they do. But don’t hold your breath.

Press Gazette’s young writers win awards

It is good to see the achievements of the young team of journalists at the Press Gazette recognised in the Periodical Training Council’s New Journalist Awards, as the trade paper prepares for another week of publication under administration.

Martin Stabe picked up the award for the best new online journalists, while Zoe Smith was highly commended for her features and Sarah Lagan in the news category.

I got to know Martin when he was part of a group I taught at City University, where he combined a deep knowledge of the technology, setting up a CMS system for a group project, with a strong nose for the story and a nice writing style. Sometimes I felt I was learning more from him than he learned from me.

In a pub in Greenwich a few weeks ago I bumped into another young reporter from the Press Gazette I had taught and he remained confident with a great portfolio of cuttings to take to job interviews.

While I hope that this week’s edition will not be the last, Press Gazette has developed fine young writers who should be snapped up by other publications.

Will Daily Mail become UK’s biggest selling ‘quality’ paper?

Almost exactly a year after resigning the editorial chair at The Daily Telegraph, Martin Newland returns to the defence of the broadsheet format. In the Guardian’s On the press column he he questions whether The Independent is a “quality” newspaper, and is not much kinder about The Times.

He writes:

Is it not strange that when the Daily Mail treats us to an editorialised front-page headline the industry cognoscenti roll their eyes at the excesses of the “middle market” press, but when the Indy does the same it is treated as a brilliant, evolutionary step in the future of quality newspaper journalism?

The industry never had a proper discussion, post-tabloidisation, about quality journalism. It may well be that changing readership patterns and the digital age are redefining what is a quality newspaper, but if the confirmation of reader prejudices and the editorialising of headlines is now OK for the qualities, what are we doing excluding the middle market from the quality stable?

The tone and the tricks are the same, but the Indy is allowed to cover itself with a veneer of respectability that somehow marks it out as a “quality”. When you consider the Mail sells nearly 10 times as many copies as the Indy, the editorial distinction becomes all the more bogus.

The column is illustrated by two Indy front pages. One is a picture of Tony Blair with a poppy wreath and these words reversed out of black: “As Tony Blair laid a wreath at the Cenotaph, four more British soldiers laid down their lives in a wretched, futile war.” The other is a full page close cropped mug-shot of George W. Bush and the words: “IT’S THE WAR STUPID Midterm Election Special.

These illustrate the Indy’s use of the tabloid techniques but the content is very different to the celeb diet of the Sun. So there seem to be three issues, editorialising the news, content and tabloid presentation. On two of the three The Independent is following the path of the redtops.

When The Times was producing both broadsheet and tabloid editions there were obvious differences in treatment and content of stories. The Times has over the years moved from its lofty “paper of record” position and frequently seems to be in danger of colliding with the mid-market Daily Mail.

Newland, whose article should be read in full, argues that “The Times, the Indy and, to a lesser extent the Telegraph, are all eyeing the Mail’s market… The rush by the qualities for middle-market success could thus end up with a kind of reverse takeover, with the Mail emerging as the country’s best-selling quality newspaper.”

My feeling is that overall content still makes The Independent a quality paper and that the two largest selling papers in the sector (Times 667,243 sales, and Telegraph 899,767, both without bulks for the April-September period this year) are more likely to need classifying as middle market as they struggle to stem circulation losses.

Newland has started a fascinating debate.

Two very different views of future for newspapers

The Independent on Sunday has found a soul mate in the editor of its rival, The Observer. In an IoS interview with Roger Alton, Jane Thynne points out that the two papers have both stuck to good old-fashioned journalism and have outperformed their rivals in the Sunday quality market. In reply to her question, “Do you get excited by the digital future?” Alton replies:

No. I get excited by newspapers more. Significantly, for a large amount of our future, this is the platform that matters. Britain makes very good newspapers. The thrill you get online is the viral jokes, the bits of YouTube, the sheer enterprise and wit. Clearly, elements of what Will Lewis [editor of The Daily Telegraph] says are right, but if everybody’s having to do everything all the time, there’s a problem about the paper. If that’s not actually any good then the role of the other stuff will be sabotaged.

In The Observer, an interview with Will Lews, not surprisingly, paints a very different future. He says:

Go to other news organisations and they are in a right tizzy, aren’t they? If you aren’t doing this it’s already too late. We are following the reader, and they are moving pretty rapidly into new places. Everyone who’s not started this process – they’re already dead.

Can they both be right?