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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life

Author Archive

The English Broadcasting Corporation?

It will probably puzzle anyone outside the UK but the BBC has come under fire for being being too biased in favour of England in the World Cup.

The attack came from Jack McConnell, First Minister of Scotland, who according to the Scotsman (requires free registration) said on a radio phone-in the BBC seem “to forget from time to time that they are meant to represent the whole of the country, not just one part of it. I hope perhaps they will listen to a bit of pressure and be more reasonable with their coverage.”

McConnell, who heads the devolved Scottish Parliament, had earlier said he would be supporting Trinidad and Tobago. There has also been strong support for T&T in Wales, where one of the Carribean stars plays for Wrexham.

Student journalism awards

The impressive standard of young journalists coming out of colleges and universities in the UK will be celebrated later this month at the UK Press Gazette’s annual student journalism awards. This year the awards ceremony will be at Reuters’ new headquarters so editorial bosses there can expect to be lobbied pretty hard for jobs.

I will be there to cheer on journalists I have taught who are shortlisted in three of the eight categories.

Private shool boys (mostly) set the news agenda

More than half of the UK’s leading journalists were educated at private schools according to a report published by the Sutton Trust today (Thursday). Worse, only 14% went to comprehensive shools which are attended by nine out of ten pupils.

The report finds that 54% of the top 100 journalists were independently educated, an increase from 49% in 1986. It includes a list of the top hundred and the schools they attended.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the trust which was was set up to provide educational opportunities for young people from under-privileged backgrounds, said their report raises questions about “the nature of the media’s relationship with society: is it healthy that those who are most influential in determining and interpreting the news agenda have educational backgrounds that are so different to the vast majority of the population.”

The report goes on to suggest that the power of those from the elite education system is increasing with the latest recruits even more likely to come from privileged backgrounds.

The reasons, says the report, include: low pay and insecurity at junior levels, high living costs in London, rising postgraduate course fees, and a bias towards people with connections to the industry.

While journalists castigate political parties for not selecting enough women to fight winnable parliamentary seat, only 18% of the top hundred are women. At least it is better than the 10% in 1986.

I read the report, or at least the press release and the executive summary, this afternoon after interviewing applicants for a postgraduate journalism course. I will post a longer and more considered comment after I have read the report in full. For the moment, some initial thoughts.

First an admission. I was privately educated and when I went for an interview for a job as a junior reporter on the local daily paper I met the editor who was wearing the old school tie of the place I had just left.

That was in the very early days of journalism requiring educational qualifications. I worked alongside people who had started as copy boys (the term included girls) progressed to copytakers and then to reporters. Some of them were among the best reporters and photographers around.

Since then the entry requirements have steadily risen until today a postgraduate diploma is needed for many, if not most, jobs. The ending of undergraduate maintenance grants and rising PGdiploma fees are making it very difficult for any but the children of wealthy parents to get into the craft.

I see this among the people applying for places on the course, not that many don’t have to scrimp and save. Some are just determined and beg and borrow and work during the course. There are also more mature students who have had well paid jobs and saved enough to take a year studying for a job they really want.

There are few from the poor housing estates, the very communities that are being covered with little understanding. With the rise of white nationalism (shown in the recent local government elections) and the threat of home-grown terrorism we need, more than ever, reporters and commentators who understand the people who live in these places.

I suspect that the situation may be worse than the Sutton Trust suggests. National newspapers and broadcasting have always recruited a top layer from Oxbridge, but expected their general news reporters to have served their time on local and regional newspapers.

Now there is direct entry into the national media as reporters and subs from postgraduate courses and the opportunities to move from the provinces is much less than it was in the past.

After reading the report in full I will examine one of the crucial issues facing British journalism and its impact on the society as a whole in greater detail.

Advertising goes with the audience

A report that UK internet advertising will overtake the share of national newspapers by the end of this year will have sent shivers down the spines of hacks watching the BBC’s ten o’clock news last night.

The figures reported rather earlier by emarketer.com predict a marginal lead with the internet taking 13.3% of the £12.2 billion market against 13.2% for national newspapers.

Group M, part of the WPP advertising giant, believes the margin will widen considerably in 2007.

The large newspaper groups have been seeing traditional markets slipping away. Rightmove, owned by some of the country’s biggest estate agents, has become the first choice of people looking for a new home and left advertising managers wondering what has hit them.

Rupert Murdoch and his News Group admit they have been slow off the internet mark. Time will tell whether paying £332.85 million for MySpace was a shrewd move or a panic too late.

Job advertising has traditionally been a big earner for the quality and mid-market papers and that is extremely vulnerable. Yet newspaper bosses were slow to react to the threat and find themselves scrabbling around to buy up existing site. The Daily Mail group which includes London’s only evening paper, the Standard, has spent £35 million on jobsite.co.uk.

While newspaper websites are moving into profit, as they attract more advertising,they are far from generating the revenue to replace that lost by the paper versions.

What is clear is that the directors of large newspaper corporations failed to recognise the impact of web. You can hear the exchange between the men in the leather armchairs of their London clubs — “Would you want to go through all the classifieds on a screen, old boy?” — “I can’t see its appeal but my grandson uses it.”

The crucial figures for traditional media business in the next year will be not the comparison between newspaper and internet advertising but the share of internet advertising won by those groups.

Since writing this I have seen Scott Karp’s post “Has the MySpace downturn begun?” on Publishing 2.0

First ripples of spam

Help! I fear drowning by spam. Less than 48 hours after reactivating this blog and the email address that goes with it eight spams have got through anti-spam software and into the in box.

I thought I was being careful with the address well hidden, but the first ripples are arriving before the Atlantic rollers build up to swamp me. Any suggestions for dealing with it will be very welcome.

Reinventing the wheel

Microsoft and the New York Times have announced “a great next step in melding the readability and portability of the newspaper with the interactivity and immediacy of the Web”. It will be available soon and presents stories in columns on the screen.

Somehow I don’t see it taking off. Nor does Steve Yelvington who doubts if the train will even leave the station.

We are waiting for for something new but this wheel isn’t even round.

Can "big media" meet the web challenge?

Neither of Britain’s two most successful web sites is a conventional market economy business forced to watch daily shareprices. The BBC, funded by a compulsory licence fee, and the Guardian, owned by the Scott Trust whose purpose is the maintained the daily, do not have the financial markets on their backs.

This raises the question of whether the big commercial broadcasting and print organisations around the world are capable of taking the longer view which the transformation of media demands.

Two examples do not prove a case. Yet the evidence is mounting that early investment and belief in the web is paying off for both. There are other factors, of course: liberal America looking abroad for news, the Guardian’s more compact size and the BBC’s success with Freeview digital TV on its home ground among them.

Amid the gloom about shrinking print circulations, the latest year-on-year figures show the Guardian edging up. There are many ways of presenting these numbers but with a few exceptions they show newspaper circulations declining. The Guardian’s regional Manchester Evening News is among them and is to make part of its distribution free. (Papers handed out for free are the current newspaper success story. Two in London and recently in Spain I was handed four on one street corner.)

But to say the web comes first is a big step for anyone with ink under their fingernails. That is what The Guardian is doing with the foreign and city departments introducing a “web first” policy. It means they will put up print staff stories on the web site as they are filed — no more waiting until the print edition is out.

Ian Mayes, the paper’s readers’ editor today, quotes the editor as saying: We have to look at the way in which people are choosing to read the Guardian — younger people are not reading the printed paper — and we have to respond quickly to further changes in digital technology. To put it another way, I’m committing the Guardian to being where the audience, the readership, is.” Read Ian on the converging paths of printed paper and web.

This does not mean print is dead and in another move the paper is to start printing in five US cities, although they do not appear to be thinking of circulations which will worry the American dailies. It seems to be more a matter of building on the brand image their web presence has created on the other side of the Atlantic. The Times (of London) has already begun printing in New York.

And the BBC is launching its advertising-supported BBC World TV service on cable in the US going head to head with CNN and Fox. They have had a limited presence for some time but are building on their audiences in some 200 countries and territories.

At home, the domestic digital service News 24, has marginally overtaken Murdoch’s Sky News, partly because of the the success of Freeview. Another factor has been Sky’s disastrous relaunch which is now being rolled back.

We seem to be seeing a confidence in both the BBC and the Guardian born of their success on the web both at home and abroad. The brands are becoming better known and they are building on that.

The other question is whether they would have had that confidence if they had shareholders breathing down their necks demanding “dividends now!” I suspect the answer is a clear “no”.

Expect the bleatings of “unfair competition” about the BBC to increase in volume.

Post script (Tuesday): Interesting thoughts on the cultural change in the newsroom of the Guardian on Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine blog

Andrew Grant-Adamson

I teach journalism at the University of Westminster in London, UK. The advent of the web, multi-chanel TV, digital radio, mobile phones and so much more is making this the most exciting period in journalism that I can remember. I wish I was starting out as a junior reporter again.

When not in London I live in a Suffolk village in a house looking out onto an ancient green. Behind the timber frames of the houses there are poeple selling on eBay, designing web sites…. The countryside, as much as the cities, is being transformed. Only on the desolate stretches of East anglian coastline can you imagine the world is not changing faster than ever before.

Getting started… again

There is a difference between a blog which is intended to be read by anyone who might be remotely interested in what I write and a diary which is essentially private. Yet, there is also a similarity: both are started with the intention of continuing with some sort of regularity although they may both be laid-down when there is little or nothing to say.

This is my third start. At the moment there is a lot to say. I have just wished farewell to the latest group of post graduate journalism students at the University of Westminster where I teach. I hope that those who have not already found work will soon get jobs (note to employers: they have a lot to offer you).

Journalism is at one of the most exciting stages in its history. I wish I could go back 40-something years and start again. It is also a painful time for those who feel threatened and confused by the web, blogs, podcasts, multi-media. Transition is always difficult, especially when there is no clear view of what is going to happen. For me that is the thrill.

I want to express my own views, hopes and fears. Mostly it will be about journalism but the world in which reporters and editors operate is a part of it too.