Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beaten up and left for dead: When the newsman is the news

IT'S NEVER easy featuring your own staff in the paper.

If they’ve run a marathon, lost eight stone or jumped out of a plane for charity we’ll probably find a home for them in the back of the book.

But what if they’ve been beaten up in the street and left for dead?

What if they were rescued by sharp-eyed CCTV operators who spotted the assault and alerted the police?

And what if the assailant was jailed for four years for what the judge called a “disgraceful incident”?

My honourable deputy editor, Paul Dent-Jones, had no qualms about what we should do with his own agonising and deeply disturbing story.
Run it on the front page.

We posed the same questions we would if it had been any other innocent bystander, not one of our top journalists:
  • Do we have CCTV pictures of the incident?
  • Have we got an interview with the victim?
  • Are there pictures of both victim and attacker?
  • Do we have the full court story?

Yes to all of the above, so page one here we come.
Paul even wrote a poignant first person piece about his harrowing experience and explained to his tearful wife why we had to run it.
He wrote: “Perhaps I could have asked my editor to overlook this story…”
To be honest, if he had, I’m not sure what I would have said.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Latest News: Editor Is Journalist Shock

MOST EDITORS - and I can think of a few honourable exceptions - started in journalism doing all the things we love best.
Reporting, writing, taking pictures, writing headlines and drawing pages are the building blocks of the newspaper game and we love 'em all.
But just as you get quite good at that someone comes along and tells you that you might also be quite good at recruitment, budgeting, going to meetings, making pearls from swine and sometimes cleaning the toilets.
So, off you go to the door marked 'Editor' and suddenly all that fun journalism seems from a different world.

Here, in no particular order as Dermot would say, are some of the things I've done this week.
  • Helped set up meeting with Union reps about pensions
  • Dealt with aftermath of over-exuberant office Christmas party
  • Held an inquiry into company car usage.
  • Hired three staff, said no thanks to another three
  • Handled three angry readers, two upset MPs and a pigeon in a station tree (that's a story for another day).
Don't get me wrong, I love it all, especially making things happen when not much is happening but I am also determined to keep my journalistic hand in.
This week I've also written a panto review (Oh yes I have!), penned a trenchant comment and taken the front page picture for this week's Essex Chronicle (see above) complete with photo credit. My mum would be proud.
So, editors, wherever you've got to remember where you've come from and keep doing what you used to do.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Psst! Wanna be a journalist? The Apprentice meets X Factor

DODGING the traffic across London’s busy Victoria Street, determined not to miss his deadline another hopeful young journalist is eager to show he’s got what it takes to make it as a newspaper reporter.
He’s got half a decent story but his editor (me, also in the street) wants more. So back he goes (see above) and another exclusive, we-didn’t-know-that-before story is identified, researched and written all in less than an hour.
Welcome to The Apprentice meets X Factor as we take to the road to find today’s stars of tomorrow. Yes, there is an over-supply of qualified people and an ad for trainees will bring in hundreds of mad, sad and desperate applications.
So here at Northcliffe South East, sitting on our 45 weekly titles from the badlands of Thanet through the uplands of Sevenoaks and Dorking and back to the badlands of Croydon, we cut out the middle man and try to snare the best recruits before they’ve even finished their NCTJ accredited course.
I give them a quick heads-up with a romp through ‘How Not to Get a Job in Journalism’ – a You’ve Been Framed of the stupid mistakes made when trying to get a job – and then invite the keenest back to show what they’re made of.
It’s a simple enough assignment. Find a story for a specially devised publication and write it up. In that hour I can see if the ‘driven, ambitious and motivated’ applicant on the CV can actually talk to people, find an angle, write an intro that makes sense, construct a sentence and make a deadline. And you’d be surprised how many can’t...
With my sidekick Deanne Blaylock, editor of the Surrey Mirror Series and a perfect Margaret/Karren to my Sir Alan, we tease out the how, the why and the where of the stories and work out whether these people have got any chance in journalism.
Key for me, though, is the ability to engage with people. All the doom-mongers for journalism in general and newspapers in particular seem to have forgotten that finding people and getting them to talk to you is at the heart of it.
Further prophets of doom, like Nick Davies of Flat Earth fame who believes all journalists do is swallow PR guff, should come out with us some time and see the journalists of tomorrow find and write innovative, exclusive stories that are engaging and informative.
Earlier in the week I’d been walking with dinosaurs at the Society of Editors annual conference in Glasgow. A largely uninspiring selection of self-important big-wigs trooped on stage to tell it like it was/is/will be, few of them displaying any of the verve, excitement and ability to have a go that marks out the real leaders in journalism.
Then, Derek Tucker, outgoing editor of Aberdeen’s Press and Journal newspaper, and one of the many enthusiastic and knowledgeable editors I’ve had the privilege of working with weighed in with a heartfelt valedictory address.
“It frustrates me – and I know many other editors feel the same – that a lot of the young people leaving so-called university journalism degree courses are totally not suited for coming into newspapers. Very few possess the street cunning and inquisitiveness that is the hallmark of good journalists and it often appears that English is a second language.”
Tucker, who next year is set to retire after 18 years in the hot seat, told the conference newspapers were “reaping what we began to sow years ago” after deciding it was cheaper and more convenient to let academics train journalists on their behalf.
“Unfortunately though we also washed our hands of the careful selection process which places the attributes of a good journalist above or at least equal to educational qualifications,” he said.
“Tomorrow’s journalists must be identified and trained by today’s journalists not yesterday’s enthusiastic amateurs,” he added.
“Here, here,” say the cowardly blog commenters who haven’t even got the balls to use their names let alone do anything about the problem they perceive.
The trainees I see are trained to the highest standard by people who know and care. I don’t have the capacity or capability to teach shorthand to 100 wpm in 16 weeks or give a thorough grounding in media law or public affairs. I’ll leave that to the experts, thanks, Derek.
What I can offer, though, is a step on the first rung of a ladder that has taken the likes of Derek and me into a rewarding, unpredictable, at times frustrating yet always fascinating career. And I want to do my bit to keep that flame alive.
• This week I will be in Newcastle and Brighton talking to trainees. If you think you’ve got what it takes to work with us just get in touch


  • “It was a brilliant, fun and challenging task. Getting stories against the clock certainly puts the pressure on.”
  • “Interesting and refreshing approach to an interview.”
  • “It was great experience doing some real world reporting and it confirmed that I do belong in the world of journalism.”
  • “Very enjoyable. Like no interview from my past. Different.”
  • “I had great fun and feel I learned quite a lot. I would love to have the opportunity to learn from the best!”
  • “Very enjoyable. We were made to feel comfortable and then challenged to prove our skills. I think it went very well.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The editor’s right of reply

TELLING newspapers editors where they’re going wrong is a bloodless sport – I should know, I made a living out of it for 20 years – and especially easy when you’re sniping from the ‘anonymous’ sidelines.
A couple correspondents to this blog – ‘anonymous’ of course - were quick to tell me where I’m going wrong on a post I made about our innovative soapbox campaign here at the Essex Chronicle.
“We say 'hear hear' to the response by 'anonymous',” says complainer No 2, following up with “...we feel that the LOCAL part of your Chronicle has gone in the last year/two years - if something is popular with your readers then why do you suddenly get rid of it??”
I tend to roll with the punches and if readers want to have a go, either anonymously from behind the big sofa of the internet or more straightforwardly by letter or email, I’ll let them. The editor will always have the last say and that does seem a bit unfair.
But then another post turns up from Anonymous No 2: “Any chance of a reply (we've replied, as requested) to those of us who posted the 'responses'??. Or don't your 'local readers' count??”
Well, yes, Mr A, of course you count and here is that reply. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Welcome to Telegraph-land, scraping by spending £9,000 a month

I WENT to a conference talk about 20 years ago when David Hepworth, then journalism’s next best thing as editor of Smash Hits, gave this memorable glimpse into the secret of his success: Plagiarise, plagiarise and plagiarise again!
I’m a paid-up member of there’s no better great idea than someone else’s great idea so my magpie instincts were piqued by the Telegraph Magazine’s cover story: Where does all your money go? We ask one family to account for every last penny.
Just the sort of thing to have my Joneses keeping up with each other on our papers from Folkestone to Leatherhead and all points in between.
And what a delightful read it is too, prying into the shopping bags of Christoph and Sarah Alexander as they chomp and chip 'n' pin their way through £8,971.22 in September. Yes, the best part of NINE THOUSAND POUNDS in just one month.
Come off it, even in Telegraph-land there can’t be many people who spend nearly nine grand a month just living. “I’ve been astonished how it mounts up,” admits self-employed publisher Christoph. Here’s how, mate: £299 on an in-car iPod system, £155 on woolly jumpers, £108 on a self-storage unit for your ‘various hobbies’ and £120 for your son’s tutor, which you’ve engaged after ditching private school as ‘a bit too pressured’.
Sarah – £350 on clothes and £120 on physiotherapy – marches towards 2010 without a backward glance. “We buy what we need to buy,” she says, “we’re not extravagant.”
I think we will have a crack at this. I’ll try to find some representative folks from our readership in Brentwood and Margate, and I can guarantee they’ll have their feet much more firmly on the ground than Christoph and Sarah.
And the main reason for that will be because our editors in those towns know their communities and know their readers.
Seems like the top table at the Telegraph needs to get out more.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Harriet, we're watching you

NO SURPRISE, then, that Harriet Harman got off her driving while using a mobile phone charge.
The Labour Party deputy leader was fined £350 today after pleading guilty to driving without due care and attention after she reversed into a parked car in Camberwell, south London, last July. She was on the phone throughout the ‘low speed’ incident Westminster Magistrates Court heard, but the charge was withdrawn.
Not so lucky were the motorists caught in the act by Essex Police and our Essex Chronicle reporter and photographer team. We featured them on this week’s front page along with another pile of people on a spread inside who we nabbed in the act.
Among the bizarre excuses was a woman who said she was on the phone paying another fine she had been given for the same offence.
Our photographer also spotted her car sticker celebrating the anti-establishment anthem Their Law by Prodigy. There’s not much to the lyrics from Braintree’s finest but they do contain the lines I’m the law and you can't beat the law, Fuck ’em and their law. So that’s them told.
Some people see this as low-level anti-social activity rather than anything illegal. We’ve had some stick for “holding friends, neighbours and family up to ridicule”. Tough wotsits, we say, especially when so many accidents – ‘low level’ or otherwise – are caused by this practice.
And, people of Essex, watch out. We plan to repeat the exercise. Don’t call us...