Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Anyone got a spare room for 50,000 people?

SORRY, folks, I’m back on investigative journalism.
This seven par story is on page 23 of today’s Daily Monitor. It’s pretty well written and has one of my favourite does-what-it-says-on-the tin headlines.
Like in much of rural Uganda 90 per cent of the population of Amuria work in farming, growing crops from sweet potato and cassava to oranges and rice plus looking after animals.
So along come the Zhonghua Exploration and Mineral Development Company and bingo we have ‘mineral exploration’ and 50,000 people looking for a new home.
For local readers that’s more than the number of people who live in Fort Portal and for those in the UK that’s the population of Morecambe or half of Crawley, Eastbourne or Oldham.
Quite where they are going to go no-one knows. A local official is quoted as saying “…nothing is mentioned on how homes within the area will be helped.”
Mining has been big business in Uganda more or less since the settlers arrived 150 years ago so I realise this isn’t a new story, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come at again with an inquiring gaze.
And what is the track record of these mineral developers? What will they leave behind? What does it mean for a district like Amuria to have 50,000 displaced people?
While I’m here in Uganda I am having a go at some proper academic research into the effectiveness – or otherwise – of a ‘Western’ model of journalism in the developing world. This looks to me like a story worth chasing, but already I can feel the newsroom shrugs of indifference…

And in other investigative journalism news….

A standalone picture on the same page has this caption: “Pokot girls having lunch with their luggage at Kalas Girls primary School in Amudat District last week. They refused to go home for holidays for fear of undergoing Female Genital Mutilation”.
‘Nuff said.

Friday, November 30, 2012

“Irreverent, unruly and opinionated”: The lessons Uganda’s media can learn from Lord Leveson

WORKING in Afghanistan just after the fall of the Taliban I called it the ‘Galápagos Islands of Journalism’.
When Charles Darwin visited the remote Pacific islands in 1835 he found the wildlife largely undisturbed by outside influence, and so it was with Afghan journalism. Apart from a bit of help from the invading Russians and some old colonial approaches British the Afghans had just done it their way.
So, it was against this backdrop that I was able to see if all the things I held dear about the theory and practice of journalism made any sense. The lovely people who queued up to be journalists in their newly ‘liberated’ country – mainly poets, sculptors and thinkers from a liberal arts background – enjoyed my robust approach to holding the rich and powerful to account but found it hard to maintain the level of intensity needed to make it all mean something.
Fast forward 10 years and here I am in Uganda trying to make sense of their media landscape, in not altogether dissimilar circumstances. I saw it all writ large yesterday at Makerere University’s Annual Media Convention, where the great and the good tried to make sense of investigative journalism.
 Following the informative and  enlightening keynote address – ‘Investigative Journalism: An Adequate Defence of Human Rights and Good Governance’ – by Dr Monica Chibita from Uganda Christian University in Mukono, veteran editor David Sseppuuya (above) came at it with both barrels.
Launching into his topic – ‘Investigative Journalism on the Ugandan Media Landscape: Are We Doing Enough?’ – he derided the “easy pickings” mentality of journalists who simply make the most out of somebody else’s report. “Where is the initiative?” he asked.
He cited a “newsroom culture of indifference” as one of the reasons for a poor recent record of investigations and bemoaned the obstructive impact of big business, who use their clout as major advertisers to restrict journalists nosing about in their affairs.

'Bored' with corruption

Counsel for defence, in the shape of senior editorial executives from Daily Monitor (motto: Truth Every Day), New Vision (Uganda’s Leading Daily) and The Observer (Taking You Deeper) burrowed further into the current malaise, referring to poor salaries for journalists and the subsequent corruption in the newsroom as companies and organisations pay for favourable coverage.
Buried away in Lord Leveson’s statement on regulating the British press, released yesterday, he said: “There are truly countless examples of great journalism, great investigations and great campaigns. Not that it is necessary or appropriate for the press always to be pursuing serious stories for it to be working in the public interest. 
“Some of its most important functions are to inform, educate and entertain and, when doing so, to be irreverent, unruly and opinionated.”
I’ve spent nearly 40 years being “irreverent, unruly and opinionated” so it’s nice to have his lordship’s blessing. But I can’t help but feel Uganda’s Press might benefit from his words too.
As a student was brave enough to point out to the conference he was “bored” with stories about corruption (see earlier “easy pickings” comment). Me too, and I’ve only been here a few months.
Where are the stories about conservation, the environment, people just doing bad things? Every day I see stories that make me think: What’s going on there?

My experience of running newspaper investigations in the UK, US, the Caribbean and, yes, even Afghanistan points to the seeds of success being planted at home with a hungry newsroom of motivated journalists.
And that motivation and inspiration comes in many forms, not just money. And there is nothing more motivating than seeing your publication make a difference.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Why these stunning pictures deserve to be seen on the page, not just at an exhibition

I AM A huge champion of photographers, photography and ‘visual journalism’, to use the buzz phrase, as some of my earlier blog posts show.
So it was a thrill to be at the Uganda Press Photo Awards last night to see all the wonderful pictures on display, including the winning entry by Daniel Edyego (above), and also take part in a panel discussion on ‘photojournalism and democracy’.
My fellow panelists were the great and the good of East African photojournalism, passionate about their art and true to the traditions of journalism at the cutting edge of both history and democracy.
But, as I made clear during my opportunities to speak, what a shame that very few of these quality images are ever published. The daily papers are full of people shaking hands, people standing in lines and groups of people standing around someone important.
The news and features images that everyone spoke so warmly and eloquently about – “capturing a moment in time” said awards judge Carl De Souza – and admired at the exhibition just don’t make it onto the page.
The reasons and explanations are many and varied, including:
  • The assignment was poor in the first place
  • The photographer didn’t get any good shots, either because he didn’t try hard enough or because they were prevented by ‘minders’
  • The editors and designers don’t have the imagination and skill to pick and use a good picture
  • The editors are under pressure to run certain sorts of pictures of certain sorts of people
There was also some discussion about lack of both equipment and expertise, something I’m here in Uganda to try and change.  At Victoria University we are setting up a professional standard studio newsroom to produce a truly multi-media output of print, broadcast and online.
I will be holding workshops for media professionals and taster days for enthusiasts as well as making our facilities available to people who want to develop their own projects.
We will also set up an online platform where photojournalists – no, let’s just make that anyone – can upload their work to a wider audience.
I have worked with some wonderful photographers around the world and would dearly love to get my hands on the work of some of these guys.
Uganda and Ugandan photographers deserve a better showcase for their work and I hope to help provide it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Why TV for the citizens doesn't have to mean TV by the citizens

AND SO to the Kampala Serena hotel (where else is there? daaaahling) for the Marketers' Night Out.

I was one of just a handful of muzungu (loosely translated as foreigners) in a crowd of 350, a testament to the vibrant home-grown media and marketing landscape here as opposed to the ex-pat dominated NGOs and international corporations.
The afro-jazz band was good - take it away Milégé - the African buffet delicious and Mitch Egwang is as good an MC you'll find this side of the equator. The big hall thrummed with expectation and buzzed with chat, both business and pleasure, from a crowd who had clearly had a lot of practice at enjoying themselves.
And the main act didn't disappoint either.
Wachira Waruru (right) is the managing director of Royal Media Services and his Citizen TV brand is now the fastest growing TV station in Kenya. He told the crowd how they had "rebelled against the status quo" and defined a new style of TV output that answered the question: "What shall we watch together as a family?"
Mr Waruru explained that an East African audience can't identify with imported shows like Boston Legal and 24. That's a bit harsh on Denny Crane and Jack Bauer but it's easy to see his point
I haven't seen Citizen TV, so I can't vouch for its appeal and as I'm not the target market anyway my opinion is not particularly valid.
But from what I've seen - and hands up here as I haven't been in Uganda that long - African TV veers from a stitch-up of imported shows to home-produced output with low production values and unambitious content.
Mr Waruru admitted that commissioning programmes didn't work and everything is now produced in-house. This issue of 'sustainability of local content' is one that has dogged TV companies the world over and it was refreshing to see such honesty in appreciating that producing TV for the citizens doesn't have to mean TV by the citizens.
I'm already loving the lively media scene here. What I appreciate most is there's lots of it via newspapers, radio, TV and online. Quality may be a bit variable, but the quantity of offerings is a great place to start.

Royal Media say they are looking to bring Citizen TV to Uganda. I'm already looking forward to it, if I'm allowed to watch....

Monday, October 29, 2012

Can the power of prayer stop this carnage?

HAVING survived a 500 kilometre round trip over this holiday weekend to Lake Mburo National Park, mainly thanks to excellent driver Tim, my attention was caught by these driving related stories from today’s papers.
In the Daily Monitor a follow-up story to an accident on Friday night confirmed that 16 people were dead and the driver of the truck involved “fled the scene and his whereabouts are still unknown”. It made just a single column on page 7, but did at least prompt an editorial comment “We must end the road massacres”.
Meanwhile, over in the Jinja district New Vision reports that “thousands of residents joined a campaign to cleanse the Jinja-Iganga highway of accidents”. The campaign took the form of a prayer walk and one of the organisers said they were launching a spiritual war against evil spirits responsible for the accidents.
One prayer walker told the paper: “Road accidents are masterminded by Satan. We cannot attack him using the power of the gun, but by spiritual power through prayer.”
Well, maybe, but I prefer the Monitor’s more pragmatic approach calling for a ban on importing cars more than 10 years old, having a tougher driving test and getting the police to tighten up on enforcing traffic laws.
The unholy trinity of poor condition vehicles, awful roads and terrible driving make this a city where staying in is the safest and sensible option. I saw some atrocious driving on the trip across country to the Park and travelling around is clearly a dangerous pursuit.
But, like so much here, there is little individual responsibility for the tragic state of affairs. It’s always a problem for ‘them’, but maybe not when you become one of the victims of the 22,000 accidents a year.
AND IN LATE NEWS…the New Vision website reports plans for an eight-lane highway to Kampala to Jinja. God help us all…

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Psst! Anyone seen our new 1,000 shilling coin?

BODA driver Patrick whipped the 5,000 shilling note out of my hand and sped off in a cloud of dust and exhaust fumes.
The motorcyclist’s mission, which he had duly decided to accept, was to find me the elusive 1,000 shilling coin which has been in circulation here in Uganda for two weeks but doesn’t seem to have found its way into many pockets.
The new coin, worth about 25p, was minted to commemorate the 50th Independence Anniversary of Uganda. It is an attractive two-tone gold and silver and circulates alongside the 1,000 shilling note, the country’s most popular and grubbiest note.
So how are the good people of Kampala receiving the latest addition to their currency? Our top team of investigative journalists from Victoria University took to the streets and found that just over a third of those questioned didn’t even know the coin existed.
The rest had known about it, but only half of them had used it and just a third had kept one mainly as a memento and didn’t intend spending it.
Our team also had to secure a coin for themselves, a quest that about half managed but sometimes not without an added ‘bonus’ of another 1,000 shillings to the provider.
So in just a couple of hours they made a story for themselves. Using the basic press release from the Bank of Uganda they developed a story that will resonate with most Ugandans. Along the way they talked to more than 100 people, practised their interviewing skills and proved that my mantra of ‘be cheerful, be confident’ really does work.
The media here does a good job of covering the basics of politics, crime and breaking news but there’s precious little that involves the reader and makes them feel like ‘this is for us’. In a few more years I hope these folk will be showing how it’s done.
And what of Patrick and my 5,000 shilling note? I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t think he’d come back. But he did, complete with shiny new coin and some change. I gave the spoils to reporter Olympia (above) who was struggling to find her own. 
Generous to the last....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Meet our street cleaners, who clear 20 tonnes a day

A MATHS lesson from Mr Achilles Byaruhanga, the big cheese at Nature Uganda:
If there are 10,000 marabou storks in Kampala eating up to 2kg of discarded food a day, how much rubbish do they collect from the streets?
It is, of course, drum roll….20 tonnes. Yes, 20 tonnes.
I’m always encouraging reporters and students to ‘draw the story’ to make sure they appreciate the scale of what they are writing about and ensure there is enough happening to make it interesting.
But even I’m struggling with what 20 tonnes of discarded food looks like. All I know is that it’s a lot.
The topic came up after an insightful question from one of our Victoria University students as we quizzed Mr Byaruhanga about Big Birding Day, which launches here in Kampala today.
The ungainly creatures, dubbed ‘Africa’s Ugliest Bird’ by wildlife writer Jon Blanc, flollop around Kampala building their giant nests in trees and scavenging at the many heaps of rubbish that decorate the city.
So rather than being a pest, like London’s pigeons, Mr Byaruhanga says we should view them as unofficial garbage collectors without which we’d all be a lot worse off.
Rubbish here is deemed by many citizens as a collective problem for someone else rather than an individual responsibility. Food, food wrappers, drinks containers, household rubbish, newspapers and even office materials are discarded without a care of where it will end up or who will deal with it.
So, I say thank-you Mr and Mrs Marabou and long may you stalk the highways and byways of Kampala.
They will no doubt be among the 1,000 or so species Nature Uganda hopes will be identified in tomorrow’s Big Birding Day, a 24-hour bird watching contest to see who can spot the most different sorts of birds.
Bird watching is a $20m a year business in Uganda and a series of events this week is designed to help promote to country as a serious birding destination. 

  • Picture: www.everydaytrash.com

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Call in now – more cheaters exposed!

If there is anyone you know that plans to break your relationship or your pal’s bond by sleeping with them, send info to 0772760922
I KNOW you all like to imitate/steal a good idea so hold on tight and try this one for size.
The Red Pepper – Kampala’s most expensive newspaper at 2,000 Ugandan shillings, about 50p – runs a weekly spread called ‘Cheaters’. Readers follow the teaser above to phone in and expose friends, neighbours, colleagues doing what they shouldn’t oughtta.
Whether they are all genuine I doubt (some are signed Roberto Carlos and Prince Edward!) but my local informants tell me there are some real cheaters in here who are now heading for some serious discussions with ‘er indoors.
I’m not yet quite up to speed with Ugandan morality, but while polygamy – or at least having lots of children with different women – appears commonplace it seems ‘cheating’ is frowned upon.
And genuine or not they are full of the detail that I tell students and reporters everywhere that really makes a story sing. Last word with ‘Ben’:
He is a city engineer attached to one of the popular construction companies. He cheats on his wife with Mugaso who works with the President’s office. They happen at Steers along Kampala Road.
So now we know. A weekend African safari on me to the first editor who goes with this one…

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lecturer ‘arrested’ at golf club

From @KampalaNews
A 56-year-old English University lecturer was ‘arrested’ on the fairway of the 15th hole at Kampala Golf Club and marched at gunpoint to explain himself to the head of security.
Alan Geere (for it was I) was nabbed by a security guard as he headed down a well-worn path towards the clubhouse, where he wanted to inquire about playing at Kampala’s only golf club.
“You have committed a crime,” was the reply from the guard to all Geere’s protestations that he had only been in the country a week and didn’t know it was a ‘crime’ to walk on the golf course.
Geere was made to promise never to walk on the golf course again and released by the head of security with a cheery smile and handshake.
“It was a rather unsettling experience,” said Geere. “And membership costs the same as a small family car so I rather think I’ll keep the promise and won’t walk on the golf course again.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Press Complaints Commission…every unhappy customer’s best friend’s new best friend

THE BODY of a kayaker is washed up on a remote stretch of shoreline and our intrepid reporter doesn’t think twice before heading down there.
A quick whizz around some contacts in the area and she’s established a name and an address. But after chats with some neighbours, two knocks at the door and a polite note left she’s no nearer any personal details, but does elicit a response from the local police.
“It is extremely inconsiderate and unprofessional of you to approach the home address within a matter of a few hours of being given the devastating news,” writes a Police Constable within an hour or so of our visit.
“She [the dead man’s partner] had wished to deal with this in her own time as she was coming to terms with the shock herself, but is now having to deal with the intrusion from you and concerned neighbours. She is incredibly upset and angry and is seriously considering complaining to the Press Complaints Commission about your behaviour.”
Ahh…the Press Complaints Commission, every unhappy customer’s new best friend. Or at least every unhappy customer’s best friend’s new best friend. Whether it’s police office themselves, Family Liaison Officers (also police), solicitors, councillors, counsellors or ‘family friends’ suddenly everyone wants to involve the PCC.
I blame that nice Mr Leveson. Until he started turning his interminable handle no-one knew much about or cared for the unloved PCC. Now The Right Honourable Lord Justice has indicated that it’s on its last legs everyone wants to bang on the door.
The last people to try and get our knuckles rapped ended up with the door slammed in their face or, more prosaically: “After assessment the Commission has decided that no matters have been raised which show a breach of the Code.”
This one concerned us reporting the funeral of a ‘popular’ local lad who was killed when he came off his motorbike. We discreetly kept our distance and didn’t intrude but did go about our business looking and listening. Our story was a fair reflection of what happened, but some family members took exception to us being there at all.

The adjudication read: “The Commission was satisfied that the newspaper had paid appropriate regard to the feelings of the family. There was no suggestion that the journalist present at the church had initiated any interaction with mourners or disrupted proceedings in any way.”
Well, thank you very much for deciding that we could do our job. But my fear is that there are lots of young reporters and some inexperienced editors who will be put off by the easy recourse to go to the PCC. Rebutting the complaints is a time-consuming business and, although not really necessary, some editors call in expensive legal help.
Just as we were doing our job with the poor kayaker. Turns out he was struck by lightning. And who was the first to tell us? The very woman who originally wanted to complain, but has since become our best friend and wanted us to be the first to know the result of the post-mortem.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How a little production difficulty brings out the best in journalists

I AM FROM the last generation of journalists to work in ‘hot metal’, where type was set on labyrinthine machines and made up into upside-down back-to-front pages by men in aprons who held all the cards.
At the old Cambridge Evening News in Newmarket Road I found out the hard way what I could and couldn’t touch (anything) but also learned a respect for the beauty and integrity of typography.
“I haven’t got f****** rubber type,” shouted Nigel from the random where headlines were made up. Either the letters fitted on the line or they didn’t. No kerning, tracking or electronic wizardy here.
I can still count a headline from a hundred paces and cast off copy – decide how much it would make as set text – both now skills consigned to the history books.
Fast forward 35 years and this week we had a harsh reminder of the fickle finger of production fate. Our normally robust system let us down and we lost about 240 hours of production time. With nearly 40 papers to get out the door this could have cost us dear.
And everything did get done – eventually – but not without a delayed distribution here and a reprint there.
And that was all due to the spirit, flexibility and not to forget good humour of all our journalists across the region.
Back in the 80s I was production editor of Today, Britain’s first ‘electronic’ newspaper, wobbly colour ‘n’ all. The big mainframe Hastech system didn’t work very well and the Datrax system to send the pages to press was even worse. But it brought on the best in everyone, determined as we were to conquer the technical issues and produce the best possible newspapers.
And so it was this week. Contrary to what some nameless online trolls might say no-one was forced to work extra hours but everyone who could, did. They will be entitled to time off, but as of now no-one has even asked for it.
That’s what we do as journalists and that’s why I love this game so much.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A tearful goodbye to a lifetime of front pages

I’M SAT in my now deserted office surrounded by the debris of three and a half years editing and some of the hundreds of front pages we have put together in that time.
Much to the chagrin of the ‘property and facilities’ people I stuck them on the wall with Blu-Tack and Sellotape (other brands are available!) and used them daily as a learning tool, something to impress visitors and a good place to go when you run out of ideas.
I’m also reminded of Rachel, who came to us on work experience for six months via Mencap and plastered a lot of them together at just the height she could reach – which wasn’t very high.
I’ve had too many jobs in too many places to get over-sentimental about leaving a building but these pages make the place feel more like a living being than just bricks and mortar. Some were award winners, others were turkeys. Some fell into our laps and other we had to work hard for. But all of them reflect the very best efforts of everybody at the time.
Now we’re off to the other side of town to a spiffy office with nice desks, posh computer stands and a ‘printing station’. I wonder if there will be room for a new ‘living wall’…

Friday, July 13, 2012

Headlines that lie and the pursuit of truth

WE’RE all used to the nationals and TV coming down when there’s a big story in our patch and trampling all over the community.
The reporting of the death of ‘cop killer’ Peter’s Reeve’s death in a churchyard just two miles from our office was no different. The live TV feeds were full of wild speculation and the Daily Mail’s story (right) the following day just wrong, wrong, wrong.
But we’re aghast at how a local free newspaper – our ‘opposition’ here in Chelmsford - can get it so wrong in its sensationalist reporting of the events.
Whilst it really grabs the reader’s attention, the Chelmsford Weekly News’ headline Murderer kills himself on wife’s grave is simply not true. Even more so, because she is actually ALIVE and pictured on our front page.
To top it off, there is nothing in the story to corroborate this wild assumption.
Here at the Essex Chronicle, however, we did everything possible to find out the truth, after several national newspapers also made the same error.
On the day of the suicide, we had one reporter at the local register office trying to find out who the gunman’s relatives are.
Furnished with that information we sent three reporters down to the graveyard at 10pm, once the cordon had been lifted, so they could painstakingly search the gravestones to find that emotional link that the nationals had been so ready to peddle.
We even returned in the morning, and with the help of the local vicar, scoured the burial records.
So what was the local link? Was it Peter Reeve’s late father, mother, wife?
Neither. The truth is Peter Reeve had no close family connection to the gravestones in Writtle.
There are some Reeves buried there, but they are from the early 50s, when Peter Reeve would have been a small boy.
His mother and father are, in fact, buried at Chelmsford Crematorium, and his estranged wife is alive, and still living in Chelmsford.
I think we all deserve some sort of explanation.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Fun and games on work experience

WE LOVE having young people here on work experience – student journalists as well call them – and have had an many as six at a time over the past few weeks.
We always involve them in everything we do and get them out doing ‘proper stories’ that then appear in the Essex Chronicle and Brentwood Gazette
It’s nice to get at a thank-you note or even a box of chocolates but one of our latest recruits, 15-year-old Jaymie Baker went one further and penned this poem about her time here.
I think she may have a future in journalism…

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The sex change teacher and the editor

A LETTER lands on my desk written to parents by the headteacher of our much-lauded Grammar School.
It starts:
“I am writing to inform you that Mr XXXXXX XXXXXX, our Head of XXXXX, is undergoing the process of gender reassignment. After taking leave until the end of term, followed by the summer holidays, Mr XXXXXX will return to school is September as Ms XXXXXX XXXXXXX.”
And so it goes on, praising the courage of Mr X, directing parents to a gender identity research website and asking that they look at it with their son, pointing out that Ms X should be allowed to return to work “without fear of prejudice, intolerance and harassment” and stating that it is “not appropriate” to ask questions about the transition.
I remember someone much more vaunted than me writing about the “lonely hour” of the editor, when you have to decide what to do. I sought out m’learned friend - not really a privacy issue if you don’t name him – and a couple of editor chums, who said they would run with it, both with tasteful provisos.
My biggest concern was not the legal, or even ethical, position but what would the 100,000 or so readers of the Essex Chronicle make of it.
It is one of the best schools in the country, which even managed to put up with me from 1967-74, and an important part of the fabric of our city. As most local paper editors know, readers don’t like it when you run stories that portray community institutions in what might be considered an unfavourable light.
But, having found references to the letter on Twitter, spoken to pupils and got a response from the head, I ran this story, which I think shows the school in a very positive light and shows us to be a responsible local newspaper.
The readers, or even you, may know better. The paper is out this morning so we’ll see.

Monday, July 02, 2012

What every editor needs: A bottle of Drambuie and a telephone

WE'RE changing the guard here at Chronicle Towers and moving to new offices the other side of town.
We’ve been here at Westway since 1962, but the clanking press, men with inky rags and even the NGA chapel meeting call to arms are long consigned to the memory of the dwindling number of Chronicle staff from those times.
Before that the paper had hopped around Chelmsford, ending up in a High Street office now occupied by Jessops, the camera shop.
Scrambling around for some pictures to illustrate our latest move we found this evocative image of the Editor’s Office.
For students of the genre, it contains:
  • An empty milk bottle
  • A bottle of Drambuie
  • A complicated looking telephone
  • A door with no window
Make of all that what you will…

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Readers: Doncha just love ‘em

SO THERE we are feeling quite pleased with ourselves for being crowned Britain’s Best Weekly Newspaper for the second successive year at the Society of Editors' awards when a lovable reader of the Essex Chronicle brings us back to earth with a jolt.
The gentleman writes to berate us for confusing the Queen’s Coronation with the Diamond Jubilee festivities (guilty as charged; I’m off to The Tower) but then goes on to say:
“Frankly I find quite a few errors in your editions that makes me wonder if any of your articles are ever proof read before publication. 
"How you supposedly won Britain's Best Weekly Newspaper for the second year running beats me.”
Love you too, I replied, as I acknowledged his note and our mistake. Must try harder…

Monday, May 07, 2012

And best editor goes to...

David Montgomery. The steely-eyed, dour Ulsterman was not everybody’s cup of tea but he was a genius at spotting a story and telling it with maximum impact. He was Editor of Today in the immediate post-Eddy Shah days and I was the Production Editor, tasked with manhandling the wobbly colour and mainframe-powered ‘on-screen make-up’ system, as it was called then.
Montgomery worked six days a week, and seemingly all day and all night. He called me at late o’clock to make changes to pages that had already been changed and he called me at early o’clock to find out why the papers were late in Truro.
His attention to detail was troubling but his feel for how to play the big story unerringly precise. On the Sunday morning after the Hillsborough disaster we pored over hundreds of images looking for the most powerful pictures that would tell the story without being distasteful. He didn’t shy away from disturbing but he knew from his experience at the News of the World just what the readers couldn’t stomach.
He loved a poster front and powerful picture spread and all this in pre-digital days. I was the man who had to load the slides into the carousel the right way up first time round, a task I can still perform if ever required.
I joined Today pre-launch as part of Shah’s vision to bring bright young things from the provinces into the rough-tough world of national newspapers.
Working alongside the old hands - deep breath here - including Brian MacArthur, Jonathan Holborrow, Jane Reed, Anthony Holden, Pat Pilton, Ron Morgans, Tessa Hilton, Ray Cave and Len Gould was a fantastic education.
A lot of us – including future editors Colin Myler, Amanda Platell, Nicola Jeal and Geordie Greig – have a lot to thank Today for. And I have a lot to thank David Montgomery for.
  • An extract from ‘Six of the best’ which appears in the May 2012 issue of PressGazette

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My best to tip? Never confuse journalism with brain surgery

What's the best tip you could give to an aspiring journalist?

Just do it. Last year, fed up with inflated CVs and clunky application letters, I asked for applications via Twitter. 140 characters to sell yourself and then we’ll go from there. I had more than 500 responses, including the very nice lady who wanted to be the Essex Chronicle’s correspondent in Bolivia, and tried out a range of people in various newsrooms.
But what struck me most about the majority of the applicants was that they hadn’t actually done anything. No blog, no website, no contribution to other media. Just a ‘burning desire’ to be a journalist with the ‘hunger and ambition’ to succeed.
Yes, it’s true that there are plenty of ‘qualified’ journalists out there, but there aren’t many who are any good. Journalism isn’t brain surgery; you don’t need any special equipment or specialist knowledge and it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to die if you get it wrong.
So, aspiring journalist, when you’re looking for a job assemble your work in one place on a blog or website and in your CV and covering letter link to published work. Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you’ve done.

An extract from 'Six of the Best', a feature for the upcoming issue of Press Gazette