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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Work experience turns students into journalists

I have had a couple of pleasant days talking to students who have returned from work placements. They have come back more confident, feeling like real journalist, after using the reporting skills we have been encouraging them to develop since the autumn.

They are happy and more convinced than ever that they want to be journalists, largely because they have been trusted to do real work both print and online. A big “thank you” to all the people at papers, magazines and agencies who have encouraged and helped them.

In one of the tutorials I was reminded of the story Richard Burton told recently about marking one lad’s work in which he circled “retail outlets and residential units” and wrote in the margin “shops? flats?”. Then he read the cutting of the page lead the story had become and it included retail outlets and residential units.

One student was showing me an impressive collection of cuttings from two weeks at a local paper when my eye lit on a caption story. Under a picture of two people it announced the were “sharing a joke”. It was, I suggested, a rather tired old cliche and she could have found something more informative.

I should have seen the smile that was forming on her face and understood before she said: “It was written in by the sub.” That’s journalism!

I am flattered

What is there to be said about my inclusion in Graham Holliday’s Who’s on your blogroll? feature in the current Press Gazette except that I am flattered? The list below comes from the blog of Martin Stabe who would have obviously been in the list if he had not just returned to the Press Gazette where he worked until its change of ownership a couple of months ago.

The spread includes profiles of Greenslade by Roy Greenslade, Wordblog by Andrew Grant-Adamson, Adrian Monck, Cybersoc by Robin Hamman, Sacred Facts by Richard Sambrook, Online Journalism Blog by Paul Bradshaw, Virtual Economics by Seamus McCauley, Shane Richmond, Complete Tosh by Neil McIntosh, Andy Dickinson, Richard Burton, Strange Attractor by Suw Charman and Kevin Anderson — and the anonymous Vickywatch.

Norway proposes press law to ‘tame Montgomery’

A proposal to incorporate the rights and duties of editors and their editorial freedom into Norwegian law to protect them from meddlesome owners is said to be a response to David Montgomery’s acquisition of Orkla Media last year. While denying that it was a direct precedent for the new law, the culture minister, Trond Giske cited a dramatic change in the nature of the country’s media ownership as one of the triggers, according to Kristine Lowe.

Norway has had a voluntary agreement on editors’ rights and duties for more than 50 years, signed by the editors and owners  associations.

Montgomery’s Mecom business’s trail of acquisitions across northern Europe is taking him into very different territory to that he experienced in the UK when he ran the Mirror group and established a reputation for ruthless management. Germany and the Scandinavian countries have a more consensual tradition than the UK.

But the sudden replacement of the Berliner Zeitung’s editor last year suggests he he has lost none of his old style. The journalists were extremely disgruntled about the lack of consultation but there was little they could do about it.

It is difficult to see how a law could make much difference unless owners’ sole rights to appoint editors were taken away. His record suggests that Monty is not easily tamed.

Mirror’s noisy web relaunch

The future of red-top tabloids is video if the relaunched Mirror website is a guide. There are three embedded video players on the home page alone.

You have to click on the News link if you want to get to a more conventional text news home page.

But like the new TimesOnline it has launched with glitches. One auto-starting video is irritating enough but two starting up is impossible. Both Sport TV and Showbiz TV started automatically, with a sports report on American football drowning out the other.

The video player with its choice of news, sports, entertainment, trailers, music and fashion does not auto-start but when it does the item titles are too small for the box.

But enough. This is driving me mad. I now have four sound tracks playing simultaneously (sport has started playing two items, one on top of the other).

As with TimesOnline it looks as if the launch has gone ahead without sufficient testing (I used two up-to-date browsers on a fairly new Mac Mini). But the greatest mystery is the American football report — that must be a small niche market for the Mirror.

Electronic paper is getting closer

Shane Richmond at the Telegraph has a detailed explanation of the technology behind a new flexible screen which rolls up into a mobile phone size device, and asks if it is “the newspaper of tomorrow”. The point is this device should be available later this year.

From the first digital audio player to the iPod took six years and every new technology seems to be adopted even faster than the one before. After years of talk about plastic paper it looks as if we will be getting it soon.

Glitches still affecting lime green TimesOnline

I thought I had given the new lime green TimesOnline time to settle down before commenting. But no. It loads fine in Safari but items are pushed down the page when using the latest version of Firefox (updated last week). And Internet Explorer, the old Mac version, simply puts the title in the right place and shifts all content off the screen to the right.

Trying to use the print button tells us the service is not available. Some glitches in a completely reworked site were to be expected but it is starting to look as if the testing was not as rigorous as it might have been.

World Association of Newspapers denies media change

Figures from the World Association of Newspapers showing that circulation and numbers of titles is up will come as no surprise to anyone who has noted the boom in Asia and Africa fueled by increasing prosperity and better education.

The basic global figures are that the total circulation of paid-for and free dailies together increased by 9.95 per cent over five years, followed by a year-on-year growth by 2.36 per cent in 2005.

But look also at the the figure for paid for dailies which increased by 6.39 per cent over five years, followed by 0.74 per cent year-on-year growth in 2005. If you can’t sell them you have to give them away.

There s a huge mass of figures in the WAN report and you can make more-or-less what you wish of them. Timothy Balding chief executive of WAN makes this of them:

The figures show that there has been a quiet revolution in the number of daily launches. This burgeoning growth of daily titles worldwide has largely gone unnoticed by market makers and media pundits obsessed with the digital media revolution. Meanwhile the real-world growth of newspaper titles and circulations continues inexorably.

Balding looks even more like a climate change denier when he says:

What we are seeing completely contradicts the conventional wisdom that newspapers are in terminal decline. Newspapers are doing far better than commonly believed. In fact, the figures confirm that the industry is healthy and vigorous and is successfully dealing with increasing competition from other media. The fashion of predicting the death of newspapers should be exposed for what it is — nothing more than a fashion, based on common assumptions that are belied by the facts.

Set aside the boom in Asia and Africa which is well-known, and look at what is happening in Europe. The 2005 figures were boosted by the distribution of more than 9 million free papers a day. Paid for sales in Europe declined by 6.3% in 2001-5 (Other figures are North America -4.47%, South America -7.29% and Australia and Oceania -3.04%).

With the free-distribution titles included Europe showed a five year increase of 2.13%. Since these figures there has been a continued increase in free papers and declines in paid-for circulations.

Larry Kilman, communications director at WAN, told the Guardian:

There has been a distinction between free dailies and paid-for dailies so people haven’t quite noticed the strength of print media, particularly in Europe. There is starting to be a realisation that of course they are print.

Stop treating us like idiots. Of course we recognise that the frees are printed. The point is that they are no replacement for The Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Mirror or the Sun. The day the Metro gets hold of a secret American video of their planes shooting British troops I will think about changing my mind.

The figures in the WAN report are fascinating and useful but the spin being put on them by the organisation is simplistic and unhelpful. I have never been one who believed the end of printed newspapers is close. But I believe a fundamental shift is taking place just as I believe in climate change. I can see and feel both of them.

Cosmo: ‘A raddled old slapper’

Cosmopolitan is 35 this month and Carol Sarler in the Daily Mail has taken a look at the latest edition and likens it to walking down the street and bumping into a friend you have not seen for years:

But as you look closer, your pleasure turns to horror – for she is not the gal you knew and loved; she is now a raddled old slapper with desperation in her eyes.

It was once an aspirational magazine for a whole generation of women she says but is now “as grotesque as she is tragic”.

Sarler continues:

The cover sets the tone, with a doggedly relentless string of provocative words and phrases. We have ‘sex boosters’ and ‘being thin’ and ‘loving your bum’ and ‘Kylie’s boyfriend’, we have another boyfriend who ‘beats the beautiful’, we have ‘real men’, ‘guys who grab’, ‘turn-on tricks’ and who ‘demands’ what in bed.

It’s like a gynaecological conference without the brains to match…

I know exactly what she means. I have always looked at Cosmo from time to time and I bought a copy yesterday to discuss with students. It is not what it was, From its fun but serious approach it has gone to sex and celeb.

I have a feeling that somewhere along the way it lost its way and readers and reinvented itself for a different audience. I suspect that all the commenters who have added their supporting views to Sarler’s piece are of her generation.

A look at Cosmo website confirms it is not aimed at them. There is a chat room with a thread on spanking and all written in txt language. On the home page there are instructions on how to have sex in a hot tub: I suspect the original Cosmo girls would have worked that out for themselves.

Call to defend Freedom of Information

On the eve of a Commons debate on the Government’s plans to water down the Freedom of Information Act, Roy Greenslade has a timely reminder to sign the Press Gazette’s petition. There is another petition on the Downing Street web site.

As an example of the weakness of the Act in its present form, Greenslade describes the attempts of the Western Morning News to get information about proposals for closure of rural Post Offices.

Newsnight and sex

Suggestions of rivalry and a fractious relationship between the three female presenters of BBC 2’s flagship Newsnight programme are dismissed as “male fantasy” by one of them, Kirsty Wark in the new edition of Harper’s Bazaar.

“Do people say this about Gavin Esler and Jeremy Paxamn?” she asks.

And just to prove that they are all girls together the three women — Wark, Martha Kearney and Emily Maitlis — have taken part in a photoshoot for the magazine wearing, according to the Independent, £5,500 worth of clothes and jewellery.

But, I fear, Indy writer Cahal Milmo is taking the attempt to criticise the women for wearing nice frocks rather too far and even resorts to quoting “one leading media PR”, the old stand-by of a weak tale.

He also says that a Sunday newspaper magazine (which one?) pictured Wark last month after she was “hailed as the ‘thinking man’s crumpet’.” That was a clever line when it was first used about Joan Bakewell but its reuse suggests a severe failure of imagination.