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When not getting your P45 is the short straw

Planned job cuts at the Express which would leave the Sunday paper with 16 full-time staff journalists, prompts the Press Gazette to ask: “How many journalists do you need to run a national newspaper?

The answer is more than 16. We had about that number many years ago when I worked on the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham and it was the most stressful job I have ever had.

Sunday paper journalism is tough at the best of times with the pressure to find strong stories and keep them exclusive until the weekend — one slip in who you talk to and there is a spoiler in a daily.

Faced with that prospect at the Sunday Express, it is going to be those who are not made redundant who will be drawing the short straw.

BBC: ‘Please get my name right’

Getting names wrong is one of those things that is more likely to happen in a blog than in traditionally edited media, but the effect is the same: the person whose name is wrong is disgruntled.

And I am disgruntled by being called Adamson-Grant almost all the way through the BBC’s response to my questions about the purpose of newspaper blogs. More than 24 hours ago I emailed the author of the BBC’s post suggesting it was changed. Maybe the email did not get through although it left my computer, and was sent as a reply to a message from the author, so there is no chance that the address was wrong. But nothing has changed.

I admit I have spelled names wrongly, but I have changed them as soon as they were spotted and, so far, before getting any external complaint.

I will be responding to the BBC’s response but it would be nice if they could get my name right first.

Let’s get competition back into local reporting

Can anyone doubt that that towns and cities throughout the country were better served when there was competition between rival local and regional newspapers? The journalism was more adventurous, there was a wider representation of views and a livelier local debate.

One paper’s scoop had to be followed up and that meant digging deeper into the story for more facts and alternative viewpoints. The BBC’s plan for 66 local TV stations might bring back some of that competition.

A report by Roger Laughton which came out yesterday looked at the nine-month pilot for BBC local TV in the West Midlands and supported the corporation’s plans for a network. Roy Greenslade examined the report and gave the response of the Newspaper Society.

Since the BBC’s plans were first mooted the regional press owners have campaigned against the idea which they felt would disturb their local monopolies on news. And yesterday the Newspaper Society reacted predictably to Loughton saying:

It would be a wholly unjustified use of licence fee money for the BBC to replicate local news services which are increasingly being developed by the regional press.

If the BBC were simply to “replicate local news services” the exercise would be rightly condemned. But that is not what I understand is planned. Let’s get some more competition back into local reporting: it might just increase the audiences for print, broadcast and online.

Muddles at Wikipedia

Richard Burton, the former editor of telegraph.co.uk, went to Cardiff recently to talk to journalism students and blogged about the reaction to his name at Welsh hotel reception desks. He pointed out that the actor was born Jenkins and to prove this provided a link to the Richard Burton entry on Wikipedia.

Shane Richmond, newseditor of telegraph.co.uk, records in his blog that he got to the same entry from the Wikipedia article on telegraph.co.uk. Today there is a new entry for Richard Burton (journalist). There is also a page called Richard Burton (disambiguation) which lists seven Richard Burtons.

Unfortunately, it lists the Richard Burton who now teaches journalism and is a colleague of mine as “editor of the UK telegraph”. Can someone, please, diserrorize the disambiguation?

On the whole I have found Wikipedia to be pretty accurate and certainly a lot more up-to-date than the printed encyclopedias. But another journalist, Cristina Odone, has also had problems with her entry recently.

She found she was recorded as being born in Rome when it should have been Nairobi. Worse, she wrote in the Observer recently, it said she was “anti-semitic”. The slur of anti-semitism was quickly removed as it broke Wikipedia’s rule that all information should be sourced.

But on the place of birth the contributor stuck to his guns and she had to send a photocopy of her passport before the entry was changed.

Tesco Times? Wal-Mart World?

I had a nightmare last night. Walking into Tesco’s I was confronted with piles of the Tesco Times — the red-top ‘value’ version and the ‘finest’ edition with a smart grey title. Fleeing to Asda I was offered Wal-Mart World.

It must have come from a conversation about “outsourcing” by newspapers of whole sections. The problem, I had said, was that it was like supermarket own brands which all came out of the same factories, and while some of them were quite tasty you were left wanting a meal prepared by a cook with individuality.

But why should these retail behemoths not move into newspapers? They have moved from food into practically everything else — clothes, electrical goods, stationery, broadband and phones, banking, insurance…

If sections of papers can be outsourced it is a small step to outsource the whole lot. The debate has taken off in the US more than in the UK following the Express’s decision to outsource the City pages and travel section.

Jeff Jarvis wrote: “If I ran a chain like Gannett or McClatchy (no thanks), I’d consolidate or outsource all kinds of editing. ”

Steve Yelvington took up the theme writing: “Outsource what you can outsource.”

On Monday at the Poynter Institute Joe Grimm painted a picture of the future:

A newsroom, bedeviled by missed deadlines, a short-handed copy desk and a lack of editing candidates, gets creative.

It finds a company that offers editing services. The company is overseas, perhaps in India or Singapore.
Powered by fiber-optic connections that carry data all the way around the world in less than a second, the off-shore company offers a money-back guarantee on deadline performance. In a pinch, it could throw 30 editors at an edition, three times as many as the newspaper could ever afford to deploy in its own office.

The quality is good. Hundreds of thousands of people in India grow up in English-speaking schools, and they’re working hard to build careers. The work is cheap by U.S. standards. The rate is a third less than what the American newspaper is paying. There are no health benefits, vacations or sick days, and no utility or equipment costs to the newspaper.

He points to companies in India offering editing services and adds:

The problem is that globalization, digitization and tight supply-chain management let all kinds of companies break down jobs, divvy up the parts, ship the components around the world to the best bidders and reassemble them all by deadline. The Newspaper Guild and others have fought offshoring, but protesting won’t dent the incentives.

Does “tight supply chain management” sound like the jargon of another industry? Yes, that is what the supermarkets are good at.

Outsourcing in the news business is nothing new. Listings, race cards and a lot of copy, including much of the court reporting in the UK, have long been outsourced. PA produces whole pages. That is what news agencies are all about. Much printing is outsourced too.

So it would not be difficult to outsource an entire newspaper or website provided you had the right product managers (previously known as the back bench).

That, after all, is what many restaurants do. Open the packs arrange them on the plates, add a little freshly chopped parsley or dribble some coulis in a pretty pattern. They might even have a decent pastry chef so that they can boast on the menu about their prize-winning chef.

In the end the meal will fill you, may be enjoyable but it will have the sameness available in a thousand restaurants. The same would be cheaper from the ready meals counter of the supermarket although you would have to chop your own parsley and light the candle.

But spermarkets don’t need to produce their own publications. Magazine publishers already tailor their launches to the wishes of the big retailers who prefer fast turnover weeklies to monthlies and charge for prime positions.

What happened to the ‘bus plunge’ story?

Anyone who worked on newspapers in the days of hot metal setting will love Jack Shafer’s piece on The Rise and Fall of the ‘Bus Plunge’ Story in Slate for the sheer nostalgia. Those who don’t should enjoy the sheer craftsmanship of the filler stories told in 30 words.

The article starts:

As recently as 1980, the New York Times reserved an honored—if small—place in its pages for “bus plunge” news. Whenever buses nose-dived down mountainsides; off bridges and cliffs; over embankments, escarpments, and precipices; through abutments and guardrails; or into ravines, gorges, valleys, culverts, chasms, canyons, canals, lakes, and oceans, the news wires moved accounts of the deadly tragedies, and the Times would reliably edit them down to one paragraph and publish.

Read on.

Desmond: driving papers to their graves

Roy Greenslade does not pull his punches in criticism of Richard Desmond who he says should take up a job as a comedian when he has driven the Express and the Daily Star into their graves.

Even if Desmond sold the papers now, after pocketing £27.28 million in salary and pension entitlements from his business in the last financial year, it is difficult to see how anyone could pull them round. When they die I just hope no one suggests they are victims of the rise of the internet. Newspapers can still die because they are crap.

The tale of the horny moose

An email this afternoon from Norwegian blogger Kristine Lowe: “Seems I wrote about English Aftenposten’s obsession with elks etc on the wrong day, today one of the lead stories is “Horny moose kills two calves“.

Just enjoy the headline. If you want the context of the email, Kristine blogged on elk stories and my search for them ended up with an unlikely tale of Christmas trees.

Everyone needs a subeditor

Many cheers for Kim Fletcher who devotes the On the press column in today’s Media Guardian to praise of the sub-editor. He looks at the idea that the media world is now all about reporters and finds it wanting.

He writes:

What you tend not to hear from writing journalists is praise for colleagues who can synthesise copy, pictures and headlines to create compelling pages; direct a reader’s eye with clever design; take information from diverse sources and turn it into a clear narrative. What you will never hear from journalists is that their copy is frequently ungrammatical, sometimes barely literate, usually over-written and typically misspelled. There are many writers who have won awards for the cleverness of their subs and few who have not been rescued from disaster by them.

For that reason it is impossible to conceive a new-media world that does not offer a powerful role for subeditors. They have the opportunity to reinvent themselves, being perfectly qualified to embrace the multi-tasking that everyone says is the future. Who else, for instance, is going to take a piece of journalism – let us hold out against that grim word “content” – and repurpose it for the different platforms the world envisages? Here it is at newspaper length, this is the mobile phone version, it runs like this on the website and we can edit it – so – for the podcast and broadcast bulletin. Oh, and here are the pictures, cropped several different ways, and a piece of video.

If we expect the reporters to do all that, they are not going to have time to find anything out. And, without the benefit of a second pair of eyes on their material, they are not going to produce work of the professional standard that is required. In a world where media organisations that are “trusted” will succeed, that would be a disaster.

As a reporter I have often cursed subs for changing the meaning of something. On reflection what I wrote was usually unclear. Other times I have read a piece in the paper and thought: “Didn’t I write that well.” Then, on closer inspection, comes a realisation that the sub has subtly made changes, removed spelling and grammatical errors. Mostly, I have forgotten to thank the sub and enjoyed the praise for a “good story”.

I have argued that blogging is not journalism because there is no editorial process, with editors questioning and subs adjusting. That is why applying the term “citizen journalist” to bloggers, in general, is wrong. Wordblog is not journalism.

But sometimes I do ask my wife to sub a piece before posting. Lesley joined the Guardian in the days of hot metal as a features sub and maintains that careful eye on copy. She has taken to emailing and texting me pointing out mistakes. Repetitions of words, the “the the” problem, someone’s name wrongly spelled and all the other things subs spot.

Yes, everyone needs a sub. This piece has not been subbed and it probably shows.

A question of digital manners

In a world where so many people read and speak English, having little linguistic ability becomes embarrassing. Generally when someone links to Wordblog I take a look at their site and, if I like what I see, watch it and usually find something I want to link to in return. That just seems to be good manners.

But I am stumped by Médiablog in Hungary. I cannot understand a word of it. From the number of referrals its two links to me have generated it is a popular and well regarded blog.

While this post solves the immediate dilemma by providing a link to Médiablog, should English writers have an “other languages” blogroll?