SubScribe: Montgomery's vision for his local papers - translated into plain English Google+

Friday 22 November 2013

Montgomery's vision for his local papers - translated into plain English

David Montgomery: photograph from The Guardian

It's a tough job, but someone had to do it. David Montgomery has finally spelt out his vision for the Local World group of newspapers.

Strangely, for someone who has been a tabloid chief sub and editor of the News of the World, he seems to have difficulty with plain English. He chose instead to communicate with his staff in a mixture of jargon, cliche and soundbite. Maybe it was an initiative test. Maybe it was to mask the horror of what he plans to do.

He has deliberately thrown out all editorial terminology. The only word to survive is 'journalist' and this all-journalists-are-equal jack of all trades is for some reason designated a 'senior journalist'.

Editorial becomes the content department. Editors become content managers, news editors are swept away, as is anyone with sub in their title. No one will write stories or handle copy. Everything will be content. Newspaper titles become 'franchises' and they are, of course, published across many platforms. The newsroom becomes the office and it will be shorn of the experienced staff who help to train up cub reporters - the network dismissed by Montgomery as a 'hydra-headed nanny' must be decapitated. How jaundiced can you get?

Any reporter working for Local World will have to metamorphose into Superman or Wonderwoman when the new regime comes into effect. They will each have to be a multi-tasking a specialist, taking responsibility for covering every area of their subject from grass roots to international level. That includes writing, subbing and publishing in every format.

They won't have a desk in an office, but will have to work from home - which means subsidising the company by using their own heat, light, paper, printer cartridges etc.

There are many concerns about this 'vision', apart from the obvious worries about the workload and difficulty in maintaining quality, let alone lifting it.

If everyone is working solo, the papers will immediately lose the benefits of team thinking, idea sharing, camaraderie. Anyone who has worked remotely for any length of time will say that while it's nice to set your own hours and not have to commute, they miss the feeling of being part of the team that comes with going to the office.

More seriously, perhaps, is it wise to give so many outsiders access to your computer system?

And if they are posting material before it has gone through any editorial hands, what about legal worries?

But I'm sure that once you've read SubScribe's 'plain English' translation below, these and other pitfalls will soon become even more apparent.

The full text of the original can be seen on the Press Gazette website, along with some robust reaction.
If it's too much to take in one go, click on the subheads below and that should give you that section of Montgomery's 'essay'.

Role of the journalist

Apart from grand columnists writing for posh folk, journalism is a craft on a par with bricklaying. It’s stuck in a mould of everyone doing a specific job and newcomers have been indoctrinated.

This way of working has festered for so long that we need  a swift wholesale revolution. Technology will rule.
Local World journalists will have to do everything, often with no guidance from above.

We want to offer such rich and comprehensive coverage that no one needs to look anywhere else.
We can’t do that with the existing structure and just getting the readers to contribute won’t give us enough of the right stories. So we’re going to change the journalist’s job description, approach to news gathering and the way we publish stories. We will also change the way we recruit and train journalists.

Skills and tasks

Every journalist will be put in charge of a ‘segment’ and will have to deal with other people’s offerings as well as finding their own stories.  They must then assess them, write them, sub them and publish them on mobile, web, tablet, newspaper, Twitter, Google and anything else we can think of.

Most stories will come from unpaid stringers and various local vested interests who will put their copy directly into the system. The journalist will then have to make it look pretty, turn it into English and placate the contributors if they don’t like the result. Once the story is up online, the journalist can see whether it’s any good and turn it into a page lead or spike it.

Rotas and shifts will be abolished. Each journalist will work from home and be responsible for their ‘segment’ 24/7, 7 days a week.

We won’t accept anyone who isn’t tech-savvy – any 12-year-old can do it – every journalist must be a reporter, sub, editor, designer and be able to post stuff online and tweet about it. They must also have foot-in-the-door determination and be able to juggle a thousand tasks at once.

For example, the poor sap covering the police, crime and the courts will also have to take on traffic, underage drinking, immigration and other anything else that is covered by any law. They must be  highly productive and use their initiative to get stories. The crime hack should start out by offering the chief constable free access to the paper/website for all police propaganda, from photofits to stolen bikes and crime prevention campaigns, promising to make it look good and handing control of most of it to the police press office. Once the cops trust us, they’ll start giving us proper stories that people might like to read.  Don’t worry,  that won’t stop us criticising the police, but the journalist will be so pally with the cops that they won’t mind.

The same system will apply to other ‘segments’ such as health, education, business, sport and culture.  The stuff they put up on our system won’t be at all the sort of thing that people usually think of as stringer copy because it will come from professionals on the inside.

All journalists will be equal and they will all have a speciality. But if a jet crashes in the High St, then everyone will have to muck in.

The content manager/director

There will be only one executive layer above the journalist. The titles editor, news editor, chief sub will all disappear to replaced by content managers, who will have equal ranking. In small operations there may be only one – and they may not have an editorial background.

Well, actually there may be another layer. Instead of having an editor-in-chief, we will have a director of content, who won’t do any journalism but sit and have grand thoughts about strategy and how to give papers and websites built by template a distinctive feel. The man in the glass office won’t have time to worry about things like style, taste, legalities. That should all be the responsibility of the rank-and-file journalists.

The content director and managers should, however, be able to put a printed newspaper together single-handedly.  On smaller weeklies, the content manager should be able to regurgitate stuff that’s up online in a couple of hours.

On dailies, a handful of content managers will work in the office overseeing  the paper, website etc. There will be no news conferences, although journalists may pop into the office from time to time to brief the content manager or discuss stories. The newsdesk and news editors will be abolished. Specialists shouldn’t need them to tell them what’s going on in their patch locally, nationally or internationally.

Content managers will have to work closely with the publisher to make sure we make the most money possible from the stories we publish.

The content department

Everyone will have to keep thinking up new ways to make our papers and websites better. The boss class will have to come up with ideas that appeal to advertisers as well as readers and everyone will be given a digital measuring stick showing what people like, so they know what to publish in future.

Everyone will be required to join local organisations so they can persuade more people to put their guff up on our sites.

A local managing director will be in charge of the content and commercial directors, but the content chappie (editor) will carry the can if circulation falls or we don’t make money.
Journalists will be told as much so they up their game. They must be able to publish their stories directly and there will be no one to help if the system crashes.

Recruitment and training

We will recruit only highly literate graduates of exceptional creativity.  They must be inquisitive and have strong personalities and presentational skills. They will need management ability and a deep and broad general knowledge so that they can be sent off to work on their own without any backup as soon as possible. The newsroom of experienced hacks who traditionally guide a rookie through their early months - the 'hydra-headed nanny' - won't be there.

They won’t be taught how to write news stories; if they can text their friends all the time and be understood, they should be able to communicate.

Trainees will shadow senior journalists covering different ‘segments’, but they must start blogging on their first day.

Finally, all of this is on top of all the traditional journalistic practices. Everyone must be able to deal with anything we throw at them.

Oh dear, shame on me. It took three hours to read Monty's magnum opus, translate and post it here, complete with researching a picture and setting up hyperlinks. He expects his staff to be able to put together an entire weekly paper in that time. Best I don't apply for a job.
But I do wonder how long it took him to write the original. 



1 comment:

  1. "difficulty in maintaining quality" - what makes you imagine Monty is interested at all in quality?