Friday, February 05, 2021

The shape of editorial leadership

Editorial leaders and…change

A major theme to emerge from current editorial developments is ‘change’, and different approaches to leadership and management through intense periods of transformation, and maybe even revolution, in both attitudes and working practices. I think it’s been for a fair while and will continue to be, might permanently be, about getting a lot of people to deal with a lot of change,” said Reach Midlands editor in chief Marc Reeves. “I think that’s what editorial leadership is and it’s going to continue to be so because the sands are shifting all the time.”

Reflecting on the wholesale change over the past 10 years, Reeves said: “Probably at the start of it we thought, ‘when this is all over, we can go back to some kind of steady state’. That steady state is never going to return and therefore I think leadership, as far as I can see in the future is going to be continually anticipating what you need to do to change and helping by involving your teams in it.”

Jeremy Clifford, editor in chief of JPI Media, contends that editorial leadership looks through a different number of lenses. “If you go to the very top, editorial leadership is how we manage change in a very fast changing, pressurised environment with lots of commercial pressures while trying to protect what’s at the heart of what we’re about, which is good journalism,” he said.

But Clifford acknowledges there is a real conflict and tension in being able to do that. “If you go down through the ranks of management you’ve got a different style, and type of leadership that’s about trying to get the best out of your journalists who are asked to do more and more different types of things and adapt to change very quickly. Of course, they’re the people who produce the content, so it’s a different type of motivation and leadership that they need compared with the editor at the top.”

Helen Dalby, digital editor for Reach in the North East, warns not to underestimate the importance of the core skills of managing people through change, developing and mentoring staff, and being a positive ambassador for our news brands. “Above all, I believe an outstanding newsroom leader should demonstrate decisiveness, conviction, good communication, consistency of message and clarity of purpose,” she said.

 

Editorial leaders and…their role in the newsroom

Ian Carter, Kent Messenger editor in chief, chose the word ‘inclusive’ to describe editorial leadership in his organisation, the KM group based in Maidstone, Kent. “It’s moved on a lot from the old days of an editor being there as the supreme being and scaring the bejaysus out of reporters. It doesn’t tend to work these days, partly I think it’s because of the makeup of some of the trainees that come through now. We find they tend not to respond to that kind of management style any more and also because there is lots of self-learning involved as well. I don’t think an editorial leader could or necessarily should be the person who knows how to do every cough and spit in the news room.  We should be learning from the kids that come in as much as they learn from us. So, inclusive.”

There were concerns from DC Thomson editor Richard Neville about the current trend to consolidate editors’ jobs, with some titles not having an editor on the patch. “I think you need someone who is a brand director and I’m not entirely convinced you can do that wholly remotely. I think you would have to sort of be a bit immersed in the product.”

 

Editorial leaders and…organisation

Joy Yates, editor of JPI Media in the North East, was keen to emphasise the organisation of the business she works for, Johnston Press (now JPI Media), rather than any individual, or indeed corporate, attributes of leadership. “Editorial leadership in our organisation comprises an editorial board which wasn’t something we’ve always had at Johnston Press. It was something that Ashley Highfield the recently departed CEO introduced which was a great thing for us because it very much gave editorial advice. Our editorial chief leads the editorial board and he sits on the executive management committee, the highest committee we have so editorial properly has a voice.

Yates takes part in a monthly meeting in Leeds when there could be a themed, strategy day. “It might be concentrating on digital and 2019 where we want to be, it might be very much content or strategy-based, or it might be people. We do a lot of work with our people and making sure we have business leaders coming through. We do a lot of career progression.”

For Neville the different models of leadership in an editorial organisation are driven by ownership structures. “The motivating factor is with those who ultimately own the group. So, I certainly don’t think our owners would ever contemplate not having an editor for individual titles.”

 

Editorial leaders and…digital publishing

Dalby’s background in digital content rather than a traditional journalism entry route (journalism at university, NCTJ qualifications, industry traineeship) shapes her response. “We’re digital publishers first and foremost, so editorial leadership must now involve a deep understanding of how audiences behave and consume content online. We have an excellent suite of data available to us to help develop that understanding, and a central part of the job of all content managers and editors now is to continually analyse, interpret and distil that information into practical direction to help our teams grow audiences and engagement.” 

Neville has a different take: “It depends on how you view what it is they [editorial leaders] do. If it’s just about getting out and getting stories online then you think of the job as a custodian. If you think anything there is more to the job than just nuts and bolts, such a legal responsibility, there is much more to it.”

 

 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Web Summit: How old school journalism was given new world treatment

Were you at Web Summit 2020? No, thought not. Luckily for you Alan Geere was among the 104,328 attendees at one of the world’s biggest online love-ins and sends this verdict

 


Sometimes it felt like you had wandered into a zeitgeist TV show – think ‘Industry’ the BBC2 drama currently airing about life in the bonking, sorry, banking world – with impossibly attractive and intelligent young people sharing the secrets of their life in a totally confident and competent way.

Of course, there were older people there too.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee (65), casually billed as ‘inventor of World Wide Web’ was there touting his new business, but grumpy old man of the day award goes to Norman Pearlstine (79) the outgoing (as in shortly leaving, not party animal) executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, who pessimistically presaged the demise of journalism.

“There is an existential crisis of journalism,” he said. “Government handouts or altruistic benefactors seem the only way to go. Large numbers of the population do not have the money to pay for information.”

Probably from his perspective things do look a bit grim, especially as he revealed that 20 years ago the LA Times had 1,250 journalists – yes one thousand two hundred and fifty – and today just has a fraction of that.

But it wasn’t difficult to see that Norman might have missed the point. Here were more than a Wembley Stadium-full of people who had paid up to 999 euros to practise their own individual journalism – listening to information and weighing up the interest, importance and effect of that knowledge.

Wed Summit isn’t going to change attitudes and approaches to journalism and publishing overnight. But like its heavyweight political and financial counterpart – Davos – anything that treats the problems with both seriousness and positivity has to be applauded.

And, yes, I’m ready for Web Summit 2021 – hopefully at the Altice Arena in Lisbon which I hear is very nice in December!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

From hiring and firing to balancing the books: Editing 2020


Jeremy Tunstall, writing in his seminal 1971 work Journalists at Work, chose to feature the ‘personnel management decisions’ in his dissection of the constituent roles of the editor. Calling these decisions ‘considerable’ he highlights the ‘hiring and promoting of wide range of journalists’ and the financial responsibility of ‘controlling salaries and expenses of over £1 million a year’, which equates to around £13.8 million a year in 2019 when taking inflation into account, according to the Bank of England (Bank of England, 2019).

While Tunstall was basing his comments around national newspaper editors there is still a considerable financial burden for regional newspaper editorial leaders to bear. For instance, a mid-sized newspaper with 50 journalists earning an average of £30,000 per annum would leave the editor looking after a wages budget of £1,500,000. Jeremy Clifford, editor-in-chief of JPI Media, has overall control of 800 journalists, so using the same formula he is ‘controlling salaries’ totalling £24,000,000.

Recruitment is also taking up a good proportion of the working life of the editorial leader. At the time of interview Marc Reeves, West Midlands Editor-in-Chief for Reach, said he had invested in the past five weeks “a good 50 or 60 per cent of my time to recruitment”.

 

What employers are looking for

Like many of the facets of the editorial leader’s job, recruitment is a skill that has to be acquired, either through training or practice, but is an expertise that publishers expect to be in place, even if the individual in charge has relatively little experience. Everyone appears to have their own style and approach, especially as there is no necessity to follow a ‘fixed formula’ of questioning as required of public institutions like the police, health service or universities who could find themselves on the wrong end of a Freedom of Information request by a disgruntled unsuccessful candidate.

There are a range of qualities that editorial leaders are looking for in recruits, including:

·         Flexibility

·         Inquisitiveness

·         Energy

·         Intelligence

·         Spark

·         Passion

·         Hunger

·         Can-do attitude

·         Self-motivation

These conceptual qualities are difficult to assess at interview and a candidate may end being ruled out by nervousness, unfamiliarity of surroundings or a lack of understanding of the process.

On top of this recruiters are looking for more tangible skills that can be tested, either by looking at previous work or in a live interview scenario:

·         Communication skills

·         Skilled multi-tasker

·         Practical skills

·         Story-telling online basics

Also evident was the requirement for a ‘good news sense’, which is both a quality and a skill but continues to defy definition despite academic efforts.

 

Exploring the ‘qualities’ expected in recruits

Clifford offers this clear outline of what he is looking for, citing communication is a core skill, especially verbal communication:

“The first think I still look for is something I’ve always looked for and that’s passion, because you can teach a lot of the other things but you can’t teach a hunger and a passion.” 

Along with that enigmatic ‘news sense’ Ian Carter, Editorial director of the KM Media Group wants potential recruits to demonstrate ‘flexibility’:

“Probably flexibility is the thing that slightly differs nowadays, because I need to know that if they stumble across a story on the walk home from the pub, that it will be on the website by the time they’ve got through the front door.”

The recruitment process will typically start with an application, and things can go wrong even before they have started. Helen Dalby, Senior Editor and Head of Digital for Reach North East, says the basics are as important as ever:

“I will reject a CV with a spelling mistake out of hand, as if a would-be reporter can’t manage to proofread a document as important as that, I can have little faith that their copy will be clean.”

Even at interview it may not be what the candidate says that matters, but how they present themselves. Clifford is looking for “really good signs of communication”. 

“I remember when I was interviewing someone for a job, I told him there and then he wasn’t going to get it because at no point did he make any eye contact with me. I said if you are not going to look me in the face, or not make any eye contact you’re never going to get a story off anybody.”

Dalby feels it is important for interview candidates to be well-prepared: to know the websites and newspapers, to have followed the outlet on social media and to be ready to express a view on a recent story or Facebook post. “Considered criticism is far preferable to the dispiriting response of, ‘I’m not sure’ or, worst of all, ‘I haven’t looked’,” she says.

Carter turns the tables on applicants and researches them a lot more thoroughly:

“They quite often again look shocked when you repeat something they put on Twitter or Facebook a week ago and they sometimes feel quite awkward and embarrassed by it. You might say ‘I see you went to see Ed Sheeran last week’ – nothing wrong with that at all, but they seem to be quite surprised that you’re reading it. It’s a useful skill to learn that what you put on social media people are looking at and taking notice of and its yes, we are more fully armed with stuff about them that we can that we can throw them sometimes.”

 

Journalism education and “young dinosaurs”.

As if cementing stereotypes, there seems little love lost between employers and the further education colleges and higher education universities sending out people with journalism qualifications.

While acknowledging that young people are getting better equipped as the educators belatedly recognise the role as it is now, Reeves has this forthright view:

“Sometimes the colleges were giving us young dinosaurs because they were training them for an industry that stopped existing 10 years previously.  Colleges have now largely caught up or are catching up so those online story-telling digital basics are now being much better baked in.”

Carter is a little more forgiving of the candidates, saying that sometimes people are not prepared for life in a newsroom through no fault of their own.

“One of the things you get at university is usually state of the art equipment and you’re used to operating on Macs. Sometimes people come to us and they finish up working in our Gravesend office, which has still got an outside toilet and old equipment and they think ‘wow!’ and you can see the shock in their faces.”

Carter complains that the recently qualified students are not fully prepared for the commercial realities or the expected workload because they demand a lot from people.

“We get students from the university of Kent come in and spend two weeks with us and I think even after that period they don’t quite get what the expectations are from a journalist in this day and age.”

 

 

Can they do the job?

Reeves says the trainees his company takes on have already completed “pre-entry stuff” at various establishments around the country. They’ve had an immersion in law, public admin and other elements, such as shorthand. He says they make sure that the candidates have experience in different story-telling, have a view about how things can be told and have an ability and an interest in exploring different ways to get their content to people via Instagram, Facebook and other channels. But his message is:

“At the heart of it: Do they know what a story is? Do they have a view of what people will be interested in?  It’s what it’s always been, it really, really is.”

Carter says news recruits can learn new technology in a matter of weeks, but for him they have got to come in with and demonstrate good news sense and flexibility, which he rates as most important:

 “So often now people come into an interview … but when you say give me a story, they look at you like you’ve asked them to grow a second head. It’s just, you know, that’s what I want, everything else you can teach them.”

The contemporary reporter is a skilled multi-tasker, maintains Dalby. Writing, taking photographs, shooting and editing video, broadcasting via Facebook Live and managing their outreach on social media are all part of the day job. The technical elements of that can all be taught, she says, “so above all we’re always looking for can-do attitude and self-motivation”. 

 

Funded reporters, apprentices and diversity

Financial input from the BBC, via the Local Democracy Reporting Scheme, and Facebook, which has given £4.5 million to fund the Community News Project has changed the nature of editorial recruitment in the UK regional press. Now there are other avenues into a job, rather than the traditional FE/HE/NCTJ qualification route, with apprenticeships also gaining traction.

With the £4.5m ‘charitable donation’ from Facebook, 82 newsrooms across Britain were able to recruit new reporters under the umbrella of the Community News Project, managed by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

The 82 new appointments are dominated by the big three publishers with Reach having 28, Newsquest 23 and JPIMedia 19. The others go to Archant (4), MNA Media (3) and a little belatedly KM Group (2) and one each for Baylis Media, Barnsley Chronicle and Newbury Weekly News. The publishers have received more than 4,200 applications, averaging out at more than 50 for each job (NCTJ, 2019).  The positions were open to people with no journalism experience, or some training, and those who have passed their preliminary NCTJ exams.

Clifford, as one influential editorial leader, is a supporter of the apprenticeship route and when interviewed reported that his organisation had taken on 10 apprentices in the previous 12-15 months. He said:

“These are young people, kids if you like, who are at college or finished school and have not gone to university. They are desperate to come into a newsroom and these are people who’ve almost been brought up with the brands. As kids their parents have got it into the homes. I remember someone who was interviewing them said she felt quite emotional listening to them. I see absolutely hunger in these people and I see it as an absolute privilege to walk in a newsroom and work with them. We don’t know what will happen during their training programme but if you can just bottle that and keep it and point them in the right direction then I think they’ll succeed.”

Clifford concedes that apprenticeships have been ‘faddish’, but attributes the success of the movement to onerous university fees and the pressures on students through education. He feels apprenticeships have become re-established, much like the traditional indentureship programme.

Carter takes a dynamic approach to the recruitment process with apprentices:

“When we’re recruiting apprentices, we kick them out into middle of Medway at some point and do what we’ve done before, and tell them to   come back with a story.  If they do brilliant – even if they don’t as long as they’ve gone out and spoken to somebody and demonstrated that they can talk to them – that counts in their favour.”

In a more philosophical reflection Clifford feels all these schemes enables newsrooms to tackle some of the diversity issues of newsrooms dominated by “white, middle class, university graduates”. He continues: “We get people who may never have gone to university, never had the opportunity, but actually are part of, brought up in their community, so I think it will help diversity as well.”

 

Wider HR and financial responsibility

Returning to Tunstall’s assertion that ‘the personnel management decisions are considerable’, Reeves reflects that things may not have changed that much: “You know your staff costs budget and your freelance budget, there’s nothing new there. Both have been under more pressure and you know constant pressure, in the past 15 years, so there’s nothing new there.” 

Joy Yates, Editorial Director of Johnston Press North East, has learned to understand circles of influence and control as part of her editorial leadership role. “What is out of control just don’t worry yourself about, just concentrate on the things that you can make a difference with and influence. You do you want to be involved in everything, you do want to change the world and do this and do that, but you just have to be sensible,” she says.

She acknowledges that she is open to challenge and thinks it is really important for people to know that. “Just because I have the title of divisional director doesn’t mean I’m not infallible,” she says. “We’ve got people who can recognise people’s strengths, so whereas I can direct and advise and guide do the HR element of sport, I don’t know what those guys know. A combination of our talents and what we do gets us there.”  

 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Editor update: Time for a commercial break

Bottom line and audience

Newspapers have long had editorial staff whose role is to service commercial interests. Titles ranging from ‘commercial editor’ to ‘special projects editor’ and the more straightforward ‘advertising writer’, but now there is an expectation that the traditional editorial leader will take a much more significant stance in the commercial wellbeing of the title and business.

“Editors do need to be more commercially savvy,” says Ian Carter, Editorial Director of Iliffe Media. He recalled a meeting he had with a group of editors:

“I was saying to them that they have to be aware that now more so than ever that increasing your web audience has a direct impact on the bottom line.  I was saying to them if you increase your digital audience three-fold, which is quite easy from where they are now, that means £400,000 to the bottom line, just through increased revenue. They have to understand that and they can’t operate in isolation.” 

Editors have always been commercial, maintains Joy Yates, Editorial Director of JPIMedia in the North East who says they understand private sector businesses and the need to make the bottom line. However, to attract the commercial revenues “more and more we’re finding that it’s the editorial route into some of these big players that really works, so it’s all about collaboration”. And that ‘collaboration’ can take different forms, as she explains:

“It’s not every customer that is suited to a 15 x 4 [a quarter page display advertisement] but they might be suited to an online piece of content which a reader is not thinking is an advert. It’s just more interesting …so its constantly going back to content being key and that’s one of the drivers that we find. So, it’s working closer with our commercial friends but understanding our place in it.” 

Jeremy Clifford, Editor-in-Chief of JPIMedia, acknowledges there is pressure to create content that’s going to attract advertising but maintains it can be done in a positive way, explaining:

“If you write a story which attracts a page view for you then that’s got a commercial pressure with it, because then you’re going to be directed to say ‘right I want more of that content over there’ because I’m going to get more page views which generate more revenue as a result of that. So that’s one of the financial pressures which is a good pressure because you listen to your audience and you monetise it that way.”

Marc Reeves, Marketplace publisher, Midlands & Wales for Reach plc. says that the ultimate direct lever pulled to influence the commercial success of the business is the scale of the audience generated. Instant, contemporaneous metrics are available showing audience engagement online and Reeves admits: “I’m held to account on those numbers every single day, so that’s a new thing.” He further reflects:

“You could say ‘well, that just replaces the old focus on circulation’. It does, it’s really the same thing in a different guise with different economics beneath it and I think on the journey to those editor/publisher roles, I think a more sophisticated understanding of the commercial levers that everyone pulls is probably more necessary.”

.

The rise of native advertising
Clifford agrees there is commercial pressure in terms of sponsored content and invokes the ‘church and state’ concept too. “I think we’ve got to be really careful and aware of those pressures and we need to still be cognisant of the church and state so that we write content which is there because of journalistic reasons.  That said, I do think there is relationship with commercial organisations that you have as long as you clearly label it, I think that’s also okay as well,” he says.
Reeves thinks it’s important that journalists understand how the economics work. “For too long we had that church and state where editorial just wrote the stories and was quite antipathetic to the commercial side of things, which sort of worked when we were a monopoly and the money was being delivered in lorries every day,” he says.
There is an acknowledgment from Carter that they are quite far into the world of native advertising which brings all kind of commercial awareness and sensitivities. “They [editors] need to wear two hats, they need to be able to wear a commercial hat but also know when to put those Chinese walls up and say, just because my website is carrying a piece of promoted content about your double glazing company we’re still going to be covering you when a house that you’re working on burns down.”
But he denies the accusation ‘why are you doing disguised adverts editorially?’. “We’re not. We have run editorials about local chip shop week since the dawn of time and it’s just a new twist on that really.”

Yates recalls that when she first started in the industry 30 years ago “it was commercial and editorial and never the twain meet. That just can’t happen any more”.

 

Into the future
Helen Dalby, Audience & Content Director for Reach in the North East thinks the commercial collaboration undertaken by newsroom leaders will develop further in future. She says that it will become increasingly important strategically that the focus as editors is on growing and developing audiences in the ways that they can control. Expanding in her theme, she said:

“We need to use loyalty services such as apps and email newsletters and via a total commitment to a good user experience online and to driving up engagement. The rigours of search engine optimisation have meant that we’ve had to become very disciplined at managing detailed seasonal publishing and republishing. Our increasing commercial collaboration also means it’s important that we as a newsroom are well planned, as good planning and communication gives our colleagues in advertising departments the time they need to monetise the audience opportunities we’re delivering.”

Reeves reflects on the changes of the scale of the newspaper business, where numbers have shrunk from 500 people in an organisation. “We are now down to a newsroom out there with 50 people in it and that includes some commercial people so you can’t have that demarcation anymore. Therefore, the better informed and equipped people are to them make those decisions around the whole of the business the better decisions those will be.”

There is also a concern about the proliferation of primarily internet-based competition. Yates describes the advent of the ‘bedroom journalist’:

“Everybody can create content; everybody can pick up a smartphone and take video and post it on any channels they want to or and anybody is a bedroom journalist. We can all post every day on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. By doing that you’re creating content so competition is really, really everywhere.”

One of the direct consequences of the drive to become more commercially aware has been the transformation of straightforward ‘editor’ roles into ‘creative content director’, ‘brand editor’ and ‘audience editor’. Whether the world outside the media business has any appreciation of the subtleties of these naming conventions is debateable, but the biggest impact is the message sent to journalists that their vision and scope has to be extended to appreciate that they work for a business that needs to demonstrate it is receptive to commercial concerns.

The multiple channels of the delivery, as outlined by Yates above, also make it important that editorial leaders have a working knowledge of how these applications operate and the advantages they bring to their business as well as the beneficial impact for rival competitors.

Conclusion
Editorial leaders tend, almost by definition, to be a confident breed. The individuals in this study are no exception and by the very nature of their survival in tough times have shown themselves to be astute and commercially aware, although Carter is grateful for what he calls ‘the great stock in editorial freedom’ placed by his company. “I suspect that may not be the case at some other companies where we have seen very good, probably difficult, truculent editors leaving and possibly, and I’m making big assumptions here, slightly more malleable people are in key positions in some companies,” he said.

There is no suggestion that editorial leaders today need to be ‘malleable’ but they do need to be probably more commercially aware than their predecessors.  

 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The ‘hands-on’ role of the editor

How does a commitment to a hands-on role translate itself to the editor who has oversight of sophisticated and complicated technology? Jeremy Clifford, editor-in-chief of Johnston Press, is concerned that editorial leaders do not spend time and effort keeping up with the latest technologies that drive the industry. “I don’t know how to fix my car if it breaks…you just need to know how to drive it,” he says. “If you waste your time trying to work out how to use Crowntag or learn Socialflow [analytical tools] and that sort of thing, you won’t concentrate on the core part of what your job is which is making sure that you find the best journalism. You create the best content that you can and that’s all that a real leader needs to do, the tools of the job, they just need to know what tools and how to apply them.”

This attitude could be construed as a minimalist approach to challenges that might appear either too complicated, difficult to learn or time-consuming to perform. Professional engagement with craft skills or technical know-how is not a new issue for editorial leaders. Tasks as relatively simple as ‘cropping’ a picture [deciding which part of a full image to use for publication] and writing headlines that fit in the available space were often performed by the editor, who was able to exert authority and gain credibility by executing them with a high degree of skill. With the advent of computerised newsrooms in the 1980s, some editors chose to engage with the ‘new technology’ while others remained outside.

Many editors around the country are responsible for a complex collection of newspapers and websites. Joy Yates, Editorial Director of Johnston Press North East, says: “I run eight titles and that wouldn’t have necessarily been the case before. I edit three daily titles and when I first became an editor you had one title whether it be a weekly or a daily so I think the scale has very much changed and it makes the approach to what we do is very different. The management structure is far leaner because content is our USP and we have to drive content.”
In order to keep on top of that content Yates relies on what appears to be a traditional news conference, or meeting of editorial department heads, in both the morning and afternoon. “I will always know what’s on the front pages as we have quite a strict conference structure. I might not always get into all of the conferences because if I’ve got a meeting like this but I’m not going to say to the team ‘oh you’ll need to put the conference back an hour’, I have to trust, entrust the power the team that I have to do that so I would never change the structure that we have just to suit my diary for that day.”
For Helen Dalby, Senior Editor and Head of Digital Reach North East who is not a trained journalist but came up through a digital route, there are different concerns. “Moving from a primarily operational role to a more strategic one brings with it the difficulty of letting go of the reins, but I’m lucky to have an outstanding team of digital publishing editors and content editors to work with,” she says.

 Not just ‘how’, but ‘where’

The physical location of the editorial leader can have immediate impact for both the individual and those he is working with. “Do I have an office? No, I can’t stand working in office,” says Ian Carter, Editorial director, KM Media Group. “There is an office that we share and we use it if someone is about to get hired or fired but by and large I like to sit on the news desk and be in the thick of it, because why on earth would you want to lock yourself away from where the fun is?”
But that fun can have a downside. “The toughest part of my job is the fact you are never, ever off duty and it is tough and it puts a strain on everything but equally its self-inflicted because I can’t ignore a story if it breaks. There’s no end point anymore. In one sense there’s no end to it,” says Carter.
Upon arriving for the interview with Marc Reeves, West Midlands Editor-in-Chief, Reach Midlands Media Ltd. who has direct responsibility for eight daily titles, 30 weeklies and their attendant websites, he was sitting in the middle of the newsroom alternately looking at a computer screen and engaging with colleagues. “I sit on the desk all the time when I’m here, if I can. It’s a conscious effort to find time to do some journalism because otherwise it would be squeezed out,” he says.
“I think that it’s really important for me to continue to be active, particularly in Birmingham with the titles I’m directly editing and managing. I think a good editor will walk down the street and come back with a few stories sticking to him or her and I think that you’ve got to be able to do that. It doesn’t mean that you’re writing all the time, of course it doesn’t.” Echoing Tunstall’s observations of the editor as ‘chief processor’ Reeves says he no longer writes headlines. “I used to be a production sort of focussed editor, you just can’t do that anymore and neither should you be because there are people way better at doing those functional things than you are. But first and foremost, your job has to be rooted in the journalism that you’re doing.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

“God bless journalists, every one!" - Reflections on A World Without News

‘The research’, a bit like ‘The Science’, can sometimes end up going up its own wazoo and leading us precisely nowhere. There’s also the nagging suspicion that researchers sometimes know the destination and are just trying to find a robust route to locate it.

There’s no doubting that all the right spadework has gone into this piece of research. A nine-page methodology document sets out to clarify its credentials, covering semiotics, behavioural experiments and quantitative surveys.

And the results are unequivocal. We love news and we want it to stay. Journalists, even when the bearers of sad and well as glad tidings, are doing a great job keeping the country both informed and entertained while shining lights in dark corners.

Sadly, as an old friend of mine often says: ‘Fine words butter no parsnips’. While the philosophical argument about the value of journalism will be encouraged no end by this report, the struggle for the financial future in this uncertain world will go on.

But, as Tiny Tim didn’t quite say in A Christmas Carol: “God bless journalists, every one!"

Reflections on A World Without News

Full report in the November issue of PJ News

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Reach for innovative thinking, 1992-style


Reach had some innovative thinking to share amidst cataloguing the departure of heavy hitter editors among 550 job losses revealing it is planning to launch its own ‘news wire’ as part of its plans to combine national and regional editorial teams across the UK and Ireland.

Editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley and Managing Director of Reach plc Regionals Alan Edmunds told staff the news wire will become “integral” to every Reach title and will “enable the sharing of our journalism across platforms and products”.

And commenting on the wider project to create one editorial team across Reach’s nationals, regionals, Embley and Edmunds said: “The aim of these changes is to protect our newsbrands for the long term and enable us to innovate and develop new products and services.”

Now, ex-cus-a-me for a little personal reflection, but this is exactly what the trailblazers at Thomson Regional Newspapers (TRN) did all the way back in the hazy days of 1992. Realising that there was a lot of duplication across the group, especially in entertainment and other feature areas like food, motoring and gardening, Thomson Online Feature Service (TOFS) was set up and I was installed as editor to make it work.

Glossing over the fact that there was no ‘online’ in 1992, TOFS was designed to provide a two-way syndication service with material coming in from the ‘subscribers’ and going out to them from a small core team based in the journalistic nirvana that is Watford, then headquarters of TRN and home to the great, good and sundry renegades, myself included.

First challenge was to win over the clientele which included big beast editors like Magnus Linklater, Ed Curran and Derek Tucker plus assembled MDs like Alan Scott, Bob Crane and Tony Hill. ‘Not invented here’ was the dismissive response from Watford when the papers - from the Aberdeen Press & Journal to the Newcastle Chronicle via The Scotsman and Belfast Telegraph - railed against this head office imposition.

But slowly and surely we made it happen. The people on the desk who had to make it work, including the aforementioned Alan Edmunds who was then news editor of the Western Mail, realised that they were getting quality, oven-ready copy and pictures for nothing. They could localise the submission or simply use as it came.

They key, and I’m sure Reach are all over this, was quality.

Our film reviews and TV interviews had to be better than PA and our motoring column superior to anything that came out of the syndicated services. It had to be error-free and on time – and largely it was.

Those mammoth TRN titles are now spread among the four winds of newspaper ownership, but it just goes to show that a good idea is always a good idea even 28 years and several newspaper lifetimes away.

This is part of 'Reasons to be cheerful' published in the August 2020 issue of PJ News