Friday, August 16, 2013

Poor pay, work experience and those biscuits

Lovely to see the cut and thrust of comment and debate following the publication online of my chapter in the latest journalism book, What Do We Mean By Local? The Rise, Fall – and Possible Rise Again – of Local Journalism.
As a newspaper editor it’s always tempting to have the last word with those pesky readers, so why change the habits of a lifetime? Here goes with some responses to correspondents on holdthefrontpage and PressGazette
Kendo Nagasaki (where are you now, Peter Thornley..?): If this man had an understanding or empathy he would realise that people’s circumstances change. They may start their career as single but, like most of us, after a few years, begin to think about settling down. They realise that a reporter’s salary is not enough to buy a house and raise a family. That’s why they leave for better paid jobs. It is laughable that Geere thinks that an editor’s salary of £30k is somehow good. You can earn more churning out press releases at a local council.
I’m proud of the hundreds of people I have helped on their way in journalism from students, trainees and senior journalists. I’ve ‘understanding and empathy’ by the bucketload and one of the main thrusts of my piece – mainly ignored by the masses – is that I want to help upgrade the status of journalism to everyone’s benefit.
LOL: “Journalists who leave either during their training or shortly after qualifying can feel an embarrassment that they have abused their employer by accepting the training (at a cost of an average of £1,000 per head) and then jumping ship” Would be very interested to see what this ‘average’ cost was based on and what went into it.
There are the actual costs of registration with the NCTJ, fees for exams, the cost of refresher courses and the cost of time put in by senior staff helping trainees. I actually think £1,000 may be a little on the conservative side.
And unionman writes: Surely a lot of contracts have clauses which mean if a trainee “jumps ship” shortly after qualifying as a senior they are liable to pay some of the training costs back – mine did!
Yes, those clauses were in place, but I never actually invoked them. It seemed churlish or even callous.
I’m grateful to Chris Morley from the NUJ having the good grace to put his name to his comments, unlike the other lily-livered lurkers: Geere participated in Northcliffe’s halving of its staff from 2009 [not true, maybe one third, but not half] which vastly increased workloads, stress and working hours for journalists. It meant they were forced to cut corners and hindered their ability to carry out their professional duties. The jobs massacre particularly targeted those in slightly better paid editorial jobs and flattened the newsroom hierarchy, considerably reducing prospects for career progression for those who remained [don’t follow the logic. If better paid people left why were there reduced career prospects?]. I am surprised to hear him say editors on small weeklies get £30k plus – that’s news to me, particularly for those installed in the job in recent years [I know the numbers, and helped ensure editors salaries were realistic at at least £30k]. Pay was frozen for a number of years and the final salary pension scrapped.
It is risable that Geere attacks trainees who leave when decent terms and conditions – as the basis for a lifetime’s career – have been laid waste by their bosses, offering them only joyless slog for pay rates bearing no relation to the responsibilities and effort put in. Instead of blaming everyone else, those who have drove the media ship on to the rocks should take some responsibility for their failure and get out of the way while those who believe that journalism requires proper resources get on with the job of rebuilding a great industry.
Very eloquently put, Chris, despite the factual errors highlighted above.  But you’re preaching to the converted. I have battled for improved pay and conditions for journalists for many years and will continue to do so.
Don Estelle, Greenhall Whitley Land, writes: Al continues the tradition of newspaper managers turning their face to the plight of their more junior staff. His superficial ‘report’ glosses over the practice of stuffing newsrooms with trainees while forcing senior journalists out to reduce costs.
As Kendo points out, people’s circumstances change, that’s why many have to leave. Al mentions interviews and how salaries are clearly explained. I wonder how clearly the future of his newspapers was explained to candidates? I can’t help thinking some of his trainees began drifting off once the reality started sinking in. As for being embarassed (sic) about the cost of their training, I feel, like me, most will not give it a second thought.
Wish I knew what the ‘future of newspapers’ was - I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did! Any candidate worth recruiting should be fully aware of the issues facing newspapers and make a career decision based on that information.
Now freelance, Anywhere but local papers: I was a local hack at one of the Kent papers taken on by Northcliffe and it was a horrorshow of a proprietorship. ….For Alan Geere to even have a platform to push his dubious ‘survey’ and to criticise reporters for wanting job security, decent pay and pensions literally takes the biscuit. Or not, if you worked for Northcliffe, where even biscuits were rationed.
I hope most readers will agree that this is not a ‘dubious survey’ but a serious attempt to tackle an underlying issue which threatens the health of journalism. And, as for those biscuits, we provided our own and my Aldi luxury range always went down well.
Capt. Starlight:  If any youngster asked me for advice on possibly going into journalism, I’d warn them strongly that they may end up disillusioned and stretched after a year or two. Bit like saying they’d like to be an actor or model. Sad but true?
Absolutely, Cap’n, I don’t disagree. But the point I am making is that journalism must up its game and recruit better people who can cope with the pressure.
JW, NUJ Life Member, says: “Work experience should set out in a formal contract, with a minimum period compulsory before a job offer is made.” Another way of staffing an office on the cheap?
You’ve gotta be joking! Workies can be time-consuming, unreliable and unproductive. A few can provide a helpful hand but as for staffing on the cheap it’s a non-starter. The work experience experience is there for the benefit of the (usually) young person not the employer.
Anon: How the hell does one remain a 'trainee journalist' for six years???? What's going on there?
Don’t even go there (what’s the teeline outline for that?)
Anon:  It’s nice to see the Press Gazette is letting comments through on this story. Over on holdthefrontpage, they're refusing to let through any comments that say anything unfavourable about Alan Geere. I'm sure the fact they're serialising his research has nothing to do with it...
News to me…

  • What Do We Mean By Local? The Rise, Fall – and Possible Rise Again – of Local Journalism. Edited by John Mair, Richard Lance Keeble with Neil Fowler. Published by Abramis Bury St Edmunds September 1 2013.  isbn 978-1-84549-593-0. Price £19.95 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The oil crisis growing on my doorstep

WE ARE right in the middle of sunflower growing season here right in the middle of France.
These titans of the countryside soar to anything upto two metres high in a matter of weeks but show their famous bright yellow nodding heads for just a few days. The flowers and foliage quickly die away leaving the sought-after seeds maturing in the wind and sun.
The French love their Huile De Tournesol – rather like they love everything home-grown – made from the sunflower seeds that most Brits think are just budgie food and Americans chew and spit out at baseball games.
Our region, Poitou-Charente, is the biggest grower of sunflowers in France, producing nearly a quarter of this vast country’s output. And that puts us right in the middle of an oil crisis involving the sunflowers and palm oil, produced mainly in central Africa and south-east Asia.
Palm oil has gathered its critics for both its environmental and health damage and last November the French national assembly's social affairs commission rejected a proposal to triple a special tax on palm oil from EUR100 to EUR300 per tonne.
The so-called 'Nutella amendment' had been initiated by the French Senate and justified on the grounds of promoting healthier eating and combating obesity. Palm oil makes up 20 per cent of the famous chocolate hazelnut spread and Ferrero, the Italian company that makes it, became the focus for anti-Palm protests. And, yes Ambassador, they make Ferrero Rocher too.
For now that legislation has been parked, but the anti-Palm movement is gaining even more support leaving my sunflowers even more important to both France in general and the economy of my little corner in particular.
It’s had the immediate effect of making me forsake Nutella  – a favourite with croissants here – and look more carefully at the ingredients of processed goods.
Not sure it had any effect on the traditional children’s game on making faces out of the heads – haven’t seen that on Xbox yet! – but then again the times do change a little slowly round here….