SubScribe: August 2016 Google+

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Mail and the medallist's mother

Daily Mail Daley

A headline in Wednesday's Daily Mail stopped me in my tracks - and not because the question mark was in the wrong place.
Could the paper be showing contrition for running a solo picture of Tom Daley on its front page the previous day?
No chance. The intro immediately disabused me of that notion - and took my breath away:

Her son may just have won an Olympic bronze medal, but that didn't stop Dan Goodfellow's mother from finding something to complain about

Telegraph Daley frontSharon Goodfellow had tweeted surprise when the Daily Telegraph's front page, featuring a photograph of Tom Daley without his diving partner, popped up on the #tomorrowspaperstoday Twitter feed on Monday evening.
The Mail hadn't arrived at that point.

Mrs Goodfellow's reaction stirred a bit of a Twitter breeze, inspiring 84 retweets and 170 "likes" and 20 or 30 comments that were universally supportive. One Twitter user contacted SubScribe to note that three papers had cropped Goodfellow out of a medals photograph. They hadn't. The Express went for Adam Peaty, while the Telegraph and Mail opted for  the Daley beefcake shot.

All of which made an interesting diversion and provided some material for breakfast TV and radio teams seeking something fresh for Tuesday morning.

By Wednesday, Team GB had won more and shinier medals, the world had moved on.
But not the Daily Mail.
To borrow a phrase, our athletes may just have won a clutch of Olympic medals, but that didn't stop the Mail finding someone to complain about. And in the process puncture a family's celebration.

A woman had dared to criticise the Press and question the editorial judgment of another newspaper that had made the same call as the Mail itself. This allowed it to attack both Mrs Goodfellow and another rival paper - The Times - which it didn't name. Here's a bit more of the story:

Sharon Goodfellow, 53, was incensed by media coverage of her son's success after he came third alongside Tom Daley in the synchronised diving.
Mrs Goodfellow bemoaned the fact that despite the divers being equal partners in the event, the British Press had just printed pictures of Mr Daley, 22, on their front pages.
One newspaper even left out and her 19-year-old son Mr Goodfellow's name [sic] altogether, writing as a sub-heading: "Daley and synchronised partner stunned as they claim dramatic diving bronze".
It later adds that Mrs Goodfellow had thanked Gabby Logan for "getting in touch with one broadsheet asking them to amend the sub-heading".

The Times back page

That paper was The Times, which had  not only fixed the omission, but also had a Matthew Syed comment piece about under-recognised "junior" sporting partners up on its website before Logan's Twitter reprimand.

It was a sorry error, and sports editor Alex Kay-Jelski was contrite.
Unlike the Mail.
The Times's ill-considered sub-head was on the back page, under two photographs of Goodfellow and Daley and a caption which named both (the paper had bizarrely preferred to make a "cultural" point about beach volleyball attire on its front).
Take another look at that cutting from the Daily Mail's front page at the top of this post. It focuses solely on Daley. It doesn't even say that he had a partner in a "doubles" event, let alone name him. Goodfellow did make it to the intro of the page 6 story - but Daley alone is headline material.

Daily Mail page 6

So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the story about the mother who "found something to complain about", the woman who was "bemoaning", "incensed" and "irritated", didn't mention the fact that the Mail was also guilty of airbrushing Goodfellow out of the limelight.

The Mail has some pet terms for people who refuse to acknowledge what it sees as the error of their ways.
"Shameless", for example. And "arrogant".
It is also known to demand "Now say sorry!"
I think the cap fits, Mr Dacre.

PS: that cultural divide

Times volleyball

It's easy to bash the Mail, but if you're looking for a volleyball picture to demonstrate the "cultural contrast" (as the Times calls it), isn't this one from the same spread as the Daley-Goodfellow story better?

mail volleyball

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Express does its utmost to keep readers alive

After the angst of the referendum and the relentless assault on migrants and refugees, it was something of a relief this morning to see an old favourite dominating the Daily Express front page.
An Oxford University study has concluded that people who take statins to lower their cholesterol may be at a "slightly increased risk" of developing diabetes.
This risk was, however, "greatly outweighed" by the benefits of statins in preventing heart attacks and stroke, according to lead researcher Dr Michael Holmes.
The hypochondriac Express has five big health concerns: dementia, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Statins straddle two of the them - helping to prevent one, while possibly causing another - so the paper is always interested in medical experts' (often contradictory) pronouncements on the drugs.
Today's is the 22nd statins splash from the Express and its Sunday sister since the start of 2014 - and third to say that the drugs cause diabetes. The Sunday is distinctly sceptical about the drugs and has produced ten of those front pages, not only linking them to diabetes, but also to Parkinson's, hundreds of deaths and even saying they can cause the very conditions they are designed to prevent. 
The Express is far more positive, hailing their capacity not only to help heart conditions, but also to combat dementia and cancer and prolong life. 

Confused? Who wouldn't be? No wonder GP surgeries are struggling to cope, their waiting rooms must be full of Express readers fretting about whether they should continue taking the drugs or give them up.
Or asking for any one of the new miracle cures the Express promises with such regularity. 
This morning's lead story, and the paper's return to its health-obsessed status quo after the battle of Europe, inspired a little audit of its medical coverage over the past two and a half years. SubScribe has looked only at causes, prevention and treatment, not at costs, policy or the impact on the health service. 

By far the biggest concern for the daily is dementia. Since January 2014, it has splashed on Alzheimer's, memory loss and related conditions 49 times. There have been lifestyle changes to prevent it, new tests to spot it, and new drugs on the way to fight it.
That, indeed, is the pattern for all the paper's pet conditions. Here are the 33 stories about diabetes over the same period (this time with a contribution from the Sunday - but only because of statins):


In third place, we have arthritis - with the Sunday offering one of the 26 pages.


And in joint fourth place, we have heart disease/stroke/high blood pressure (excluding statins stories) and cancer on 21 apiece:

heart disease

The Sunday, as we have seen, is concerned about heart attacks, but apparently not about cancer:


So what does Dr Express advise readers who wish to avoid these dread diseases?

Well here's a quick rundown of "good" foods:
Chocolate, fatty foods, spicy foods, yoghurt, eggs, rhubarb, bananas, carrots, broccoli, tomatos, mushrooms, grapes, walnuts.
And those to avoid:
Junk food, red meat, bacon, chicken (sometimes).
Drinking wine, tea and coffee is good; drinking fruit juice and fizzy drinks is dangerous.

Whatever you eat, it's best if you don't have too much of it.


Almost anything can be made better by a walk in the sunshine or  some gardening - the vitamin D will help to lower your blood pressure and prevent diabetes, and the exercise will beat arthritis, help to ease back pain, counter diabetes and add years to your life. 

It's a good idea to keep your brain active, too. By going to work or doing puzzles, for example. 
And try to get a good night's sleep - but don't overdo it, because naps are bad for you and too much sleep might kill you. Be especially careful if you need sleeping pills.


Does any of this surprise you? Well it should - because the idea of eating healthy food in moderation and taking exercise is apparently sufficiently unusual for it to make the splash on 99 occasions in just over two and a half years. 

Here's the collection of wonder diets:


And here are the dangers:


Of course, the nirvana is to live forever - or at least long enough to enjoy your pension (which is constantly being threatened, but that's another story). There is apparently a pill on the way that will allow us to reach 120, though heaven knows who'd want to. 
Anyway, advice on achieving an extended lifespan, including various "easy steps" and "golden rules", has made the lead for the daily 36 times since January 2014 (the Sunday doesn't seem particularly concerned about longevity):

live longer
The Express has, as we know, an ageing readership, so its diseases of choice are unsurprising. But it is not averse to mentioning others when there are no breakthroughs in its preferred fields: it has reported on two cures for blindness (yes, only a certain form - but never let that spoil the heading), acknowledged the agony of back pain and migraine (twice each), promised a cure for the common cold and advised that bananas and a honeysuckle drink can fight flu. 

other diseases

And, er, that's it, taking the grand total of medical splashes over the period to 216 - almost double the number on immigrants.
Some duplication was inevitable. First, a reminder of where we started:

statins and diabetes

Sometimes you can say exactly the same thing using completely different language (sunshine is also good for fighting diabetes):


And here's another example of expressing essentially the same message using different examples:


If you want to convey what is practically the same advice on consecutive days, try offering two sides of the same coin thus:

junk food

Sometimes deploying a different combative verb works (chocolate also helps you to live longer):

... or playing with nouns and adjectives:

fizzy drinks

All hail the multi-taskers:


But sometimes, there's no avoiding that absolute sense of deja vu:

deja vu

In the course of these 200-plus stories,the Express papers reported on 10 breakthroughs, 20 cures, and 33 "new" treatments (including 15 pills, 8 drugs and 6 jabs),  six of which were "on the way". 
There were 37 ways to "beat" disease and 29 ways to "fight" it. They dealt with 17 risks and 5 dangers and sought to alleviate 4 agonies and  15 pains.

word cloud

All in all, the papers - most especially the daily - are showing commendable dedication to keeping their declining readership alive.

So what else can one do but raise a glass of red wine and wish readers the very best of health. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Gareth Davies and Trinity Mirror: a postscript

Davies's award-winning efforts for the Advertiser
Some of Davies's award-winning efforts for the Advertiser

Last week former Croydon Advertiser reporter Gareth Davies caused a Twitterstorm with a series of tweets about his old paper. Yesterday SubScribe published his long-form account of what he believes is happening to local papers all over the country.

In the course of preparing the piece, Davies submitted a series of questions to Trinity Mirror in the hope of securing an answer to his concerns. The company's spokeswoman declined to respond unless he told her where the article was to be published.
Davies questioned the relevance of the platform and was told that it was pertinent because the company would need to know whether he was writing for the layman or an industry audience that would understand the jargon etc.
Once furnished with the information, the spokeswoman declined to comment. SubScribe approached her separately, offering the opportunity to be quoted or to write a new piece setting out the company's view. Again she declined. A separate approach was made to Croydon editor Ceri Gould, who did not respond.

The following quote from a TM "spokeswoman" - who knows if it was the same one? - did, however, appear at the foot of a report of his article on the website Hold the Front Page yesterday afternoon:

“None of the claims made by Gareth Davies stacks up. Every one of his points is either a misinterpretation of basic standard practice or completely untrue.
“It is clear he is intent on misrepresenting the Croydon Advertiser and Trinity Mirror, the people who work here and the journalism we produce as part of a personal crusade. We, meanwhile, will continue with our strategy of evolving to ensure a future for our titles.”

Gareth Davies is not everyone's cup of tea. He describes himself as a pain in the arse. He does not enjoy the approval of everyone in his home town - as can be seen from the comments at the foot of another report of his article on the Inside Croydon website.
He is, however, brave enough to speak out when nearly everyone else with first-hand experience of what is going on remains silent for fear of losing their jobs or of burning bridges if they've already lost them.

SubScribe shares the concerns of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of local newspaper journalists about the state of their industry and has written to that effect ... more than once. I was therefore happy to offer a home for Davies's article, but do not necessarily agree with everything that he has written.

It may be that Trinity Mirror is unaware of SubScribe or sees it as insignificant. It is, after all, a small blog run by a one-woman band. Even so, it seems extraordinary for the company to decline to respond to the article on the site where it was published, and then to use another platform to impugn the integrity of a reporter it was happy to claim as its own when he was collecting prizes.

The comment was the only official response to the SubScribe article, but Trinity Mirror had been firing its big guns before it was even written.
Chief executive Simon Fox, regional editorial director Neil Benson and digital publishing director David Higgerson had all piped up after the tweetfest.
Apart from Higgerson's blog - which focused on the 1,000-click argument - the attacks were personal. For Fox, Davies was talking nonsense, while Benson said pointedly that the culture at the Advertiser "particularly since Gareth left" had been one of positivity. In a separate comment to Press Gazette, Benson had what appeared to be another dig: “The days when reporters could choose, arrogantly, to write about what interests them, rather than what interests the audience, are over.”

Davies is not the man in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square, but he is a lone figure standing up to a big organisation and it isn't good PR for that organisation to be seen to be trying to silence or squash him.

Sometimes the message is so strong that it doesn't matter how small or insignificant the outlet.  So, in case anyone is wondering whether Davies should have had a "conversation" about potential reader interest before writing, it is probably worth mentioning that his piece has had thousands of clicks in less than 24 hours.
It has also been debated on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, and followed up by HtFP, Inside Croydon and Press Gazette, to name but three.
Isn't that the sort of audience engagement TM craves for its output?

A further approach has been made to the company for comment or a rebuttal article. We await the response with interest.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

If it's not Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Man U, don't expect Reuters to cover it

Another guest post from our sporting secret squirrel E. I. Addio
It's a tough old world out there - and not just for local newspaper journalists. A few weeks ago we reported on Reuters cutbacks that meant restricted Olympic coverage and some Euro16 matches being reported from in front of a TV set in Bangalore. Well, if we thought it couldn't get any worse, sports editor Mitch Phillips is about to prove us all wrong.
In a memo to staff outlining future football coverage for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Phillips says that pretty well everything that doesn't happen in England, France, Italy, Spain or Germany is out of the window (apart from a special dispensation for the Old Firm match in Scotland)  - and even then it will be all eyes on the biggest teams.
Riots or corruption? Yes. International friendlies? Hmm. Perhaps. Someone scores a hat-trick? A couple of pars in a wrap maybe. Player fined? Probably not.
And it's not just football that will feel the pinch: basketball, cricket, boxing, badminton and motor-racing coverage will all be cut back - or abandoned. Stringers' services will no longer be required, but there will be talks to see how to keep them sweet so that they'll turn it on when Reuters comes begging for a special one-off favour. 
Phillips clearly expects howls of protest as he concludes: "Any questions/observations all welcome but think twice if you are going to pleading “special case” for a particular event."
But there's good news: the Bangalore output will be expanded.

Here's the memo in full:

From: "Phillips, Mitch (Reuters News)"
Date: 15 July 2016 10:56:
Subject: EMEA sport coverage changes
Dear all, as our staffing levels remain below the optimum we are again looking at ways we can cut the burden on the desk and have come up with a few areas of coverage we are going to drop or change.
For the new football season we will no longer have routine weekly coverage of Greece, Belgium Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Scandinavia, Balkan countries or in fact anywhere other than the Big Five.
We will still carry occasional spot news from these countries but this will be focused on riots/corruption etc rather than hat-tricks.
Instead of regular weekly coverage we will include a couple of pars in the Sunday night round-up. This round-up will become a task carried out by the various Euro reporters/stringers and will passed around and not done by the London Sunday subbing desk. However, the Sunday wrap will no longer include the big five.
It can take occasional entries from lesser leagues – Celtic’s first premiership clash with Rangers, Greek fixtures all cancelled due to protests etc – but these leagues do not need to be included as routine.
We will also be streamlining our Champions League coverage, focusing (even more) on the bigger teams and carrying fewer match reports, with the same applying to international friendlies.
Other events we will no longer cover are Euro basketball, all-England badminton, many cricket one-dayers, most motorsport outside F1 and most boxing other than key big fights.
While we will continue to cover important  FIFA and UEFA issues in great depth we will cut back on covering routine announcements such as firework fines etc.
Of course it is a shame that we need to make these cuts and some clients might not be happy but as we are all aware, we just don’t have the staff in terms of reporting or editing to continue to process the same level of copy. We also understand that there will be some seeming contractions as we cut in some areas but expand the Bangalore output but that is a different issue.
Understandably the changes are going to impact on some of our stringers who we will no longer need on a week to week basis. We’ll be talking to them all about if and how we can retain a relationship to include internationals and one-off stories.
Any questions/observations all welcome but think twice if you are going to pleading “special case” for a particular event.
Many thanks

Mitch Phillips
Sports Editor EMEA
Thomson Reuters

Gareth Davies: Why the Trinity Mirror model threatens local journalism

Gareth Davies worked for the Croydon Advertiser for eight years, during which time he frequently made the news himself - as four-time winner of the weekly newspaper reporter of the year title and as the subject of a harassment order as he pursued the story of a conwoman who was subsequently jailed.

 Last week he provoked a Twitter storm with his tweets about the state of the paper he left in June. He has now put those thoughts into a detailed article, published below. 

SubScribe's view of the latest debate and state of our local journalism can be seen here, here, here and here.

As Davies explains, Trinity Mirror has yet to comment on  his thoughts as set out below. Further efforts are being made to encourage a response and SubScribe will happily publish an alternative view if one is forthcoming. 

Croydon Advertiser

On Friday evening I tweeted a photograph of this week’s Croydon Advertiser, the first edition in the weekly newspaper’s 147-year history put together without the input of the reporters who wrote the stories and with minimal involvement of an editor. Instead the paper was made up of articles taken directly from the Advertiser’s website by sub-editors based 50 miles away in Chelmsford, Essex. This is what Trinity Mirror, which bought the paper in October 2015 as part of its purchase of Local World, calls Newsroom 3.1, which is designed to free journalists to concentrate entirely on generating web traffic.

This week’s paper is a mess. Little to no thought has gone into its design. The story count is low and photographs have been used far beyond their usual size in order to compensate. The image I tweeted was of two consecutive pages which, instead of local news stories, consisted of  a pair of listicles: “13 things you will know if you are a Southern rail passenger” and “9 things you didn’t know about Blockbuster”. Both were clickbait written for the web and thrown into print to fill space - an indication of what the paper will be as a result of what Trinity Mirror calls a “truly digitally-led” newsroom.
As a strong believer in the value of local journalism, and having worked at the Advertiser for almost eight years, I felt people ought to know.

The tweets (you can find a helpful summary of them here) prompted a large response, receiving 400,000 impressions within 24 hours. People from outside the industry, including readers in Croydon, were surprised and disappointed. Many former reporters said they had left local journalism for similar reasons. I was also contacted privately by journalists at other local and regional papers who recognised an all too familiar tale but, knowing the likely repercussions, have been unable to speak openly about their experiences.

The Advertiser and the other papers in its newsgroup are far from the only newspapers trapped in this race to the bottom. Equally, Trinity Mirror is by no means the only publisher helping it along. It’s probably not even the worst offender.
But what is happening at my former paper is indicative of a wider problem undermining local journalism - and by that I mean what it should be and not what it has become - to such an extent that it is  probably beyond saving, at least in its traditional form. This article is about Trinity Mirror, and before that Local World and Northcliffe Media, but many of the problems it describes are playing out in dozens, if not hundreds, of newsrooms across the country.

Redundancy call on the school run 

On May 26 the new editor-in-chief of Trinity Mirror south east, Ceri Gould, read out a short statement to staff at five papers - the Croydon Advertiser, Crawley News, East Grinstead Courier  & Observer, Surrey Mirror and the Dorking Advertiser - announcing a restructure in preparation for the switch to Newsroom 3.1 (papers in Kent and Essex had been given the news earlier in the day). Everyone  was told that their current job no longer existed and that  if they wanted to continue to work for the company, they would have to apply for new roles. The announcement met with stunned silence.
We had known something was coming but, perhaps naively, not that. In a meeting later that day, reporters were told they would no longer have any role in putting together the newspapers they had worked for. Even the editor of the newly monikered “brand” would only have an “input” on pages one, three and five.
 Our sole focus would be on writing stories for the website and, as a result, we would have to go “cold turkey” on the paper. A reporter, who has since left, asked whether we would still have the time to meet contacts. The newsroom, she was told, would become “much more like a daily paper”, meaning that reporters would be “tied to their desks”.

job description

The pack provided at the start of the 30-day consultation process included descriptions for each of the new roles. Mostly they described things we already did, but with a rebranding - such as creating “total content packages”, focusing on “digital engagement” and generating “audience reach”. A section labelled “Performance measurement” said that reporters would have to produce a “a required volume of certain types of content per day” - ie quotas - and would be “assessed regularly, taking into account audience traffic to your stories and therefore encompassing page views, unique users, local audience and other metrics”.
This last point was particularly alarming, given that Trinity had dropped a previous attempt to introduce web traffic targets for reporters at the beginning of the year after the Daily Post, the Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Post, Newcastle Chronicle and Manchester Evening News held strike ballots in protest.

I asked to leave because I believe Newsroom 3.1 is the beginning of the end of the Advertiser as a newspaper. I’ve seen the impact of similar changes at Newsquest papers in south London and want no part of it. I would have found it very difficult to have no input into something I had spent eight years of my life working on. Story quotas and judging reporters by web stats are barriers to producing good journalism, especially when imposed on understaffed and under-resourced papers. Taking voluntary redundancy allowed me to look after my young son but, even if that were not a factor, redundancy would have been my only choice.

I raised these concerns with Ceri Gould. My fear about the future of the newspaper met with no response but I was told there were no plans to introduce quotas or to measure reporters by page views. When I pointed out both policies were in the job descriptions we had been given, she said the documents were out of date, and that I should take it on trust that it wasn’t going to happen.
I was assured that Newsroom 3.1 would provide opportunities for talented journalists, even those sceptical about its merits. Ceri cited Martin Shipton, the Western Mail’s veteran chief reporter, who, she said, originally hated the idea but had since become an enthusiastic convert. He told BBC Wales in June that Trinity Mirror was “anti-politics” and had convinced itself that the public was “more interested in lifestyle type journalism…than about important decisions taken about their lives”.
At the end of the meeting I was told my request for redundancy would be accepted. The box explaining why read “personal reasons, disagrees with Newsroom 3.1, no appetite”

Three others in our group, including a news editor and a senior reporter with a combined experience of more than 20 years, also decided to leave. Only one had a job to go to. Three more journalists have left since then. That leaves six reporters, all trainees, to cover Croydon, Sussex and Surrey (rather than working for individual papers as they previously did), as well as far wider areas.

“Please think beyond our traditional patches,” says a guide provided to staff last month by an editor. “Big stories from Sutton, Bromley, Streatham and Caterham do very well for Croydon. Big stories from Horsham, Brighton, Haywards Heath and Horley do well for Crawley. For Surrey any big stories from across the whole county can do well.
"And, for things like travel, days out or really huge stories (such as the Shoreham Air Show disaster) people can be very interested in things well outside our patch.”

Even under the old way of working, these reporters, like so many across the country, had seen the opportunity to cover important matters of public interest - court cases, inquests, employment tribunals, council meetings - severely restricted.
Now this inexperienced team of six trainees covers a population of approximately 3.5 million, with each area having guaranteed access to a photographer on only one day a week. They are overseen by five news editors, two of whom have been promoted but are, I am told, still paid the same as when they were reporters. Trinity Mirror is looking to recruit three journalists but, as the adverts say the positions will be in Croydon, Kent or Essex, it is unclear how many of the staff who have left will be replaced.
(At the end of the consultation process all the newsgroup’s editorial assistants -  whose responsibilities varied from managing the photographic diary to writing community news - were made redundant overnight. One day they were at their desks, the next they were not. One, after 16 years' service, was told that she had lost her job over the phone while on a school run.)

Writing for five websites, covering areas we don't know

Reporters who applied for jobs were told they would be working shifts covering all areas in the newsgroup, which had not been mentioned during the application process. Instead of working 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday, reporters now work shifts, the earliest of which begins at 6.30am and the latest finishes at 10pm on a weekday. Instead of each paper having one person on call at the weekend, who (at least theoretically) was allowed to claim a day back during the week, reporters now work both Saturday and Sunday on a rota. Employment law in England and Wales states that a person cannot be made to work on Sundays unless they and their employer agree and put it in writing. No such change to reporters’ contract has been suggested or agreed.

Working in shifts with a reduced number of staff means that, once every six weeks or so, reporters will have to work 12 days in a row (including, for some, finishing at 10pm on a Friday ahead of an 8.30am weekend shift the next day). When reporters are on shift during the week and then at the weekend they will have worked 59.5 hours in seven days. The legal limit is an average of 48 hours over a period 17 weeks. One reporter has calculated that, under the new system, he will earn 50p less than the London Living Wage of £9.40 per hour. When I began as a trainee reporter in 2008 I was paid £14,500. The starting salary has not improved significantly since.

Staff were told that working in shifts was the only way to make Newsroom 3.1 work with the number of staff available. It was sold to them as ending the exploitative system that meant they regularly worked well beyond their contracted hours without extra pay or time back in lieu. Yet even under the new system they are expected to work outside their allotted shifts.
The guide says: “I would hope everyone already does this, but please if you spot a huge story out of hours take personal responsibility for ensuring we get it online with the same speed and quality as we would do if it was within working hours.”
Staff, who work in an office with no union representation, feel misled.

“The change has been tough - uncertainty always is - but what I think has been the toughest is becoming a reporter for all three patches,” said a source. “During the consultation we were not told that was a possibility. In fact we were advised to pick what patch we would like to cover when listing what roles we would wanted to fill.
“Then, after our interviews, the roles had changed and we were now expected to write for five websites, covering areas most of us had no experience of. That came as a shock. It’s worrying that we have not been given the chance to sign a new contract as a result of these changes, especially with the new hours we are working.
“The new way of working has improved the way we cover breaking news, but the hardest thing is how under-resourced we are. I’m holding out hope that more reporters will mean more time to work on public interest stories rather than listicles designed only to get hits.”
Reporters are concerned that covering huge areas with significantly fewer resources will affect their ability to produce good journalism.
Thankfully, the guide finishes with a helpful reminder.

While we are working different hours and in a different way, we still want great exclusives, tip offs from well-cultivated contacts and brilliantly written features. We still need to be superb at the basics

Yet the opportunity to do these things has already diminished. Reporters have arranged to meet contacts only to be told they cannot afford to do so unless it results in a guaranteed story. How can contacts possibly become “well-cultivated” under those circumstances?
Even getting to these meetings has become harder now that all work-related train travel - an important consideration given the size of the patch reporters have to cover - has to go through a non-editorial manager rather than be claimed back under expenses.
Trinity Mirror wants reporters to be “superb at the basics” but, a fortnight into Newsroom 3.1, staff are already being told to make serious compromises to fundamental journalistic standards. I am told that, on July 21, a reporter was instructed by an editor to lift quotes from the website of the rival Croydon Guardian instead of corroborating the story himself. On a separate occasion another journalist was allegedly told to “cannibalise” a story from the same paper.
A source said: “[The reporter] was told by an editor to steal quotes because the policy is now to get a story up straight away if [the Guardian] ever have something we don’t. It’s embarrassing.”

That 1,000 clicks barrier 

Under a section entitled What Not to Do, the guidance says reporters should focus on “what we shouldn’t be writing about” adding: “Just because someone wants us to write something doesn’t necessarily mean we should write it.”
There’s nothing controversial about that; the same quality control happens in every newsroom. What is new is the way these web-only newsrooms draw the distinction between what is worth reporting and what is not.
The guidance continues: “If you don’t think a story is likely to get at least 1,000 page views then talk [to an editor] and we can make a judgment on whether we feel something should be covered. Important stories may still be covered even if we fear it might not get 1,000 page views but it may be a case of presenting or headlining them differently to how we normally have done.”
Ceri Gould said on Twitter that it was “factually incorrect” and “utter rubbish” to claim that this was her group’s policy. After being provided with an extract from the guidance, she responded:
Writing in his blog, David Higgerson, digital publishing director for Trinity Mirror regionals, also denied the policy existed before going on to justify it. He said the company wanted to start a conversation about stories that gain less than 1,000 hits. It was, he said, a case of “cold economics”: stories that do not get page views do not generate advertising revenue. He said Trinity was trying to “survive and remain relevant”.
Neil Benson, the company’s editorial director, said: “The point is that journalism without an audience is pointless.” Such replies are to be expected from a company that judges the value of a story only by the number of page views it receives. Such a policy also echoes a growing problem with a media industry reliant on Facebook for generating traffic. As Kath Viner, editor of the Guardian, highlighted recently, Facebook’s news algorithms give us more of what they think we want, stories which reinforce rather challenge our existing beliefs. 
Publishing content on a local news website using a crude measure of what has previously been successful plays into that and does little to encourage reporters to cover under-reported subjects.
On an average day a sizeable proportion, sometimes most, of the stories posted on the Advertiser’s website do not get more than 1,000 page views. The paper’s online readership has increased significantly in recent years and its daily targets are hit more often than not, but that is mostly down to a handful of well-read, well-written stories. 
Plenty of important topics, the sort of things local newspapers have a duty to report - local politics, complex health or education stories, for example - are often read by less than a thousand people. The early stories about Lillian’s Law, an Advertiser campaign which prompted a change in drug-driving legislation in England and Wales, did not exceed that number.  For the Advertiser this policy will create a website dominated by crime and Crystal Palace.

Live-blogging the opening of a pub or KFC

There’s another issue, given that the newspaper is now made entirely of stories taken from the web. It means the 8,000 people who still buy the paper will stop getting certain types of news. For instance, this week’s  paper had no "news in brief" columns, often made up of community stories and events. As they would not reach the page view threshold, they are now presumably seen as worthless.

Trinity Mirror's changes to their print products might be easier to stomach if they had led to significant improvements in the quality of their websites - after all, it cannot be ignored that fewer and fewer people are buying newspapers. 
Certainly traffic to the company’s websites has improved since Newsroom 3.1 was introduced, and given that’s how Trinity Mirror measures success, it is unsurprising the company treats the regular criticism it receives (media commentator Roy Greenslade recently accused chief executive Simon Fox of “strangling his newspapers to death”) with incredulity.
It’s also making lots of money, helped by dreaded “synergy savings” (see cuts) after the acquisition of Local World.
Even in the relatively short period I worked for the company I noticed an improvement in how we covered breaking news - if live-blogging almost everything is a sign of progress. 
During major incidents the difference is marked and, for the most part, provides a better public service. But the obsession with live-blogging extends to coverage of the opening of a Wetherspoon’s pub or a KFC.
The trivialisation of news means reporters are asked to turn almost everything into a list, as if no reader could possibly understand what they’re being told unless there’s a number in front of it. My former colleagues have been asked to liven serious stories up by “writing like they would talk down the pub”. This is the “journalism” becoming a growing feature of local and regional newspaper websites up and down the country.

It wasn't a bed of roses before TM took over

All of this is not to pretend that the Advertiser, and its sister papers, were problem-free before Trinity Mirror. 
In 2012, then owner Northcliffe Digital moved the paper’s office to Redhill, half an hour away from Croydon. Staff, most of whom lived in London, received no adjustment to their salary to take into account having to travel ten miles away from the patch they were meant to be covering in order to get to work. Overnight the number of people visiting the office plummeted and never recovered. 
When the Daily Mail and General Trust-owned company streamlined its business in 2012 in preparation for the sale to David Montgomery’s Local World, it announced that up to 38 jobs were at risk in Essex, Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Newsrooms were told the gap left by their soon-to-be-departed colleagues would be filled by a massive increase in the amount of copy provided, for free, by readers. 
The company envisaged that as much as 60 per cent of its newspapers would be made up of user-generated content (UGC) and it also opened up its websites to allow people to post stories online without any editorial input. The proposals prompted several senior reporters at the Advertiser to leave but, for the most part,the company’s bleak vision of the future was never realised. After a few months it became clear that few, if any, members of the public were interested in producing these stories, especially for nothing, and most of those posted directly online were done so by police and local council press officers, who realised it was an opportunity to publish unfettered PR. 

Local World arrived determined to make much-needed improvements to its new papers’ online coverage. Its solution was to tell already overstretched and undermanned news teams they had to produce twenty times more stories without any extra resources. The company even got rid of each paper's digital publishers. The pressure to meet targets was so great that some editors plumbed incredible new depths. One sent a photographer to the local high street to  snap people secretly, then published the gallery online to a swath of complaints. Another wrote stories about nude celebrities and even published a map of all the dogging sites in the county. One paper has a reputation for outright fabrication of  football transfer stories for clubs not even on its patch. 

The Advertiser was fortunate in it had a good crop of reporters, covered a newsy patch and, critically, had an editor who did his best to shield the paper from this clickbait culture. The importance of being led by the right person should not be underestimated. Our editor eventually left with no permanent job to go to when he was told by his Local World bosses that crime was going to be barred from the front page of the paper following complaints from commercial managers. The company would later replace a journalist of 45 years’ experience with two part-time reporters tasked with writing lists for the website. 
Similar issues have affected local and regional newspapers up and down the country. Some, including some owned by Trinity Mirror, have been closed or become online-only. While taken individually, these problems might seem inconsequential, the end result has been to create an industry that, as a whole, is unable to adequately fulfil the role of local journalism - to provide a public service, to be a vital part of democratic accountability, to be a force for change for causes that would otherwise go unnoticed and to chart social history. There’s no easy answer, though the ownership model of citizen publications such as The Bristol Cable provides a potential hint by removing local media from the control of large companies. But the solution cannot be to turn newspapers, and their associated websites, into thrown together collections of clickbait.

No comment from TM - but the door is still open

I approached Trinity Mirror for comment on the issues above and was told by a press officer that none would provided unless I identified where the article would be published. Since I cannot see what bearing that would have on the answers, I did not provide that information. Neil Benson, the company’s regional editorial director, did send a lengthy statement to Press Gazette, which included the thinly veiled suggestion that I left because I wasn’t “up” for the pace of live-blogging (I reported from the middle of a riot, including after being beaten up, for ten hours). He said the company was “disappointed” and “baffled” by my “outburst”- a not insignificant part of the problem - and that since the new structure had been introduced, the “culture” at the Croydon Advertiser “has been one of positivity and excitement about what the future has in store and how the newspaper and website are evolving”.
Having read this article, I’ll leave you to decide. 

Benson added: “As the UK’s largest publisher, nobody cares more about the success of the local media industry than Trinity Mirror and nobody has more of an interest in the local media industry succeeding than Trinity Mirror. The changes we make are about exactly that, ensuring there is a future for our newsbrands.”

If you are a journalist working on a local or regional paper and have experienced issues similar to those outlined in this article please contact in confidence. For those using PGP encryption, his public key is 4CEE 0B57 E05F D9C1 A9D9 E282 A7DC DA88 E58F DD92.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Click clique don't understand what 'local' means

Half a dozen teenagers, one waving a belt about, chase a couple of boys round a town centre at 8.30 in the evening. The police are called, find the boys, make sure that no one is hurt and leave them to it.

Is this a fight? Or a brawl? Or a story that a thousand people would want to read?

In a sane world of local journalism, it would make a nib. In today's voracious digital world, it is the fifth most important story of the day for the Croydon Advertiser.
Top slot goes to commuter misery on Southern Rail, followed by the threat of rain, a missing old man found safe, the fire brigade complaining about being asked to rescue animals, and the air ambulance being called to a cycle race.

Even in newsy south London, it's a job to find meaty stories to fill a weekly paper in the silly season, especially with only a couple of reporters. And it's even harder when they also have to cater for a website that needs feeding as often as a newborn baby.

In such a world, it's logical to try to make best use of limited resources and not waste time and energy on stories that don't cut the mustard. But how do you decide which stories are worth pursuing?
That used to be the task of the editor, or news editor or chief reporter. These days, however, there is no guarantee that there will be anyone with any of those titles in the office.
There are, however, algorithms. Easy. Once you know what people are reading, you can give them more of the same. And if you've got a story that might not attract a thousand readers, you can ask a higher authority - possibly fifty or a hundred miles away - whether you should carry on writing.

Gareth Davies
This philosophy is, according to Trinity Mirror's David Higgerson, sensible for two reasons: first, because advertising revenue is linked to page views and, second, because publishing stories that might reach only 0.4% of the local population would leave the paper in "not a strong place" in holding authorities to account.

Higgerson was writing in response to a series of Friday night tweets from the Advertiser's former chief reporter Gareth Davies, left, prompted by the departure of another reporter and by that day's issue, which had two "listicle" features on opposite pages. A proud paper had been reduced to a thrown-together collection of clickbait, stories scraped from the website by subs, he said. "Things are really shit."

Davies's timeline has been storified by Sarah Wickens and you can see it here. It makes depressing reading, and all the more so because the picture he draws will be familiar to so many.

Croydon Advertiser

The Croydon Advertiser was one of the Local World papers that were taken over by Trinity Mirror last autumn. Since then, a dozen editors have left their posts under a restructuring that has created regional editors-in-chief and more localised "brand editors". The leavers include high-profile journalists such as Neil White from the Derby Telegraph, Kevin Booth from the Leicester Mercury and Paul Brackley from the Cambridge Evening News.
Davies, who has won four reporter of the year titles at the Regional Press Awards, took redundancy from the Advertiser in June. The entire Mercury features department was disbanded the week after it had been honoured for its Leicester City Premiership supplement and Lee Marlow named feature writer of the year for the third successive year.
Meanwhile journalists at the Liverpool Echo, Newcastle Chronicle and Echo and North Wales Daily Post have been holding disruptive chapel meetings in protest at what the NUJ describes as a "merry-go-round of misery".

Today Trinity Mirror has published its financial results for the first half of the year and says it is on course to achieve £12m in "synergy savings" after the Local World takeover. As anyone who has ever worked for a company that has been taken over knows, "synergy savings" means getting rid of people.
The company also reported a 42% increase in pre-tax profits and a 30% increase in revenue. The latter is to be expected, since it has 83 more titles than it had this time last year. If, for a true comparison, you add last year's first-half income for those titles to Trinity Mirror's 2015 figure, it turns out that revenue has fallen by almost 8%.
Trinity Mirror has also had to find money for phone-hacking compensation payments and the folly of the New Day experiment. On top of that, there is  a ballooning pension fund deficit, up by a third to £426m. It's hard to blame Local World journalists - some of whom must be looking back fondly to the days under hatchet man David Montgomery - if they feel they're paying the price. "Gareth speaks for all of us," Lee Marlow told SubScribe.
Still, the shareholders are happy: there's an increased dividend and the share price is up.

So much for the financial background. Life has been rough for the regional Press for years, with many papers' print circulations down to clearly unsustainable levels.

The trouble is that almost all of our local newspapers are now owned by one of three groups - Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press and the American-owned Newsquest - each of which seems to have problems with the definition of "local". Well here's a clue: if something is 10, 20 or 50 miles away, it isn't local. If your office is on an industrial estate when your readers are in the high street, it isn't local.  If your reporter is in one town, your editor in another and your subs in a different county or even country, your product isn't local.

In his response to Davies's tweets, David Higgerson concluded: "I write as someone who loves the regional press as much as the day I first set foot into the Chorley Citizen offices on work experience in 1996."

Please bear with me as I, too, trip down memory lane. I started my reporting career at the Herts and Essex Observer in the market town of Bishop's Stortford. On Thursdays, the editor and I would drive 16 miles to Hertford to see the paper offstone at the offices of our sister paper, the Hertfordshire Mercury.  The two towns had nothing in common other than that they were in the same county. The newspapers were run completely separately, sharing only the same owner and the same printing set-up. Seven miles in the other direction, over the border in Essex, was Harlow with its own newspaper, the Citizen, which had nothing to do with us.
In 1980 Harlow got another paper with the launch of the Star, an independent freesheet.  It, along with the Observer and Mercury, eventually ended up as part of Local World.
Until last week, each had its own editor. But on Friday, Observer editor Paul Winspear, news editor Sinead Holland and Star editor Ken Morley packed up their desks and now all operations are run by Julie Palmer from her office in Hertford - by far the smallest of the three towns.  The area she oversees is quite compact compared with some local newspaper fiefdoms, but people in Hertford have no more in common with those in Harlow ten miles away than they have with the little green men on Mars.

My next stop was the Evening Gazette in Colchester, then part of Essex County Newspapers. It is now owned by Newsquest and run by an editor based in Basildon, 38 miles away. Again, the two towns and their environs are linked by nothing beyond the county in which they are situated.

That's the way it is now. I talk about local papers, Higgerson talks about the regional Press. My editors lived and worked in the communities they served. Trinity Mirror and Newsquest may talk about community, but they don't seem to understand the concept -  to recognise that there is more to it than geography. They look on a map and see that this town is ten minutes down the road from that one, and assume that of course one editor can look after both of them.  There are many reasons why local papers are struggling, but the consolidation of operations that take journalists physically ever further from their readers must be a key factor. And yet the tougher times get, the more they do it. Don't they look at the rise of the hyper-locals and wonder?

Let's go back to this 1,000-hits policy. I live in a village with about 250 homes. The Crown Estates owns a patch of land on which it wants to build 100 houses, and another patch on which it wants to build still more. This, as you can imagine, is an issue of abiding interest to us all, but of little concern outside the village. So it's unlikely that a thousand people would want to read about it. Does that mean the progress of the application shouldn't be reported?

Higgerson accepts in his blog that many important stories may not get over the 1,000-click barrier, and goes on to say that in such cases, a discussion should take place and ways found to make sure that readers want to read them. How? By sexing them up? By dumbing them down? By tricking the reader into clicking? Our websters could put up a heading saying "Village may be doubled in size" and get the thousand hits required to justify the story. But then people who aren't interested in Feering would move away without looking further.

And what's the time frame for these 1,000 clicks? A day, a week, a month? By far the most widely read post on this blog is the one about why local newspapers matter. It was written more than four years ago and reached about 300 people in the first few hours. It took a couple of weeks to get to the thousand, but over the years, it has had several resurgences and has had many thousand more views than when it was in the first flush of youth. Please take a look. I think it is still relevant and it has one statistic that will make you weep:
"In 1970, the Birmingham Evening Mail had a circulation of 400,000 and employed 113 journalists: 30 newsdesk and reporting staff, 25 district reporters, 23 news subs, 15 features staff, 20 sports staff and 9 photographers."

Some stories need just to "be" there, whether readers look at them at the time or not. The ground needs to be laid for the future - "paper of record" duty and all that. Take our village development, for example. Under the 1,000-click rule, it might be deemed unworthy of a reporter's attention.
But what if we all run stark naked through the streets, waving our Nimby banners, to protest? Suddenly it's a story. A proper local paper would have been on the case, following the proposals from the word go, but these days you'd be lucky if a reporter has time to go down to the planning office to see what's coming up, let alone get round to writing for an audience of a couple of hundred villagers.
So when we're all wobbling down the hill in the altogether, the reporter has to start from scratch - and there's no photographer on the staff to capture our embarrassment.
Then someone takes a picture with an iPhone and sends it in to the Sun or Mail. Before you know it, it's a national story and the local journos are left playing catch-up.

Enough of the fantasy. Higgerson is apparently concerned that a publisher's credibility in holding authorities to account might be compromised if less than 0.4% of the potential readership (the 264,000 people served by Croydon Council) clicked on its stories.
By that token, every national newspaper might as well give up and go home, since with a national population of 65 million, you'd need 260,000 clicks per story to achieve the same strike rate as 1,000 in Croydon.
A newspaper's ability to question authority lies not in how many clicks it gets on a story about an old man who goes Awol for a few hours, but on the reputation it builds up across the board.

In his tweets, Davies said that many council and health stories fell below the 1,000 page views mark, Higgerson's response was: "Let's ask why and do something about it." He suggests engagement on social media, live blogging of meetings. "It's not enough - any more - for us as journalists to say 'this is important and therefore we'll do it'. There is little point in writing something because we think it's important for readers to know about, but not to think how to get readers to read it in the first place."

Sounds fair enough. No harm in getting your overworked staff to tweet their wares, But journalists and executives everywhere should beware of the assumption that there is no audience appetite for serious subjects - look at the spike in readership enjoyed by the broadsheets during the referendum campaign.
There is evidence in Croydon, too, where the advertiser has a lone-wolf rival in the form of the Inside Croydon  hyper-local website. Its editor Steven Downes has had many a run-in with the Advertiser and, indeed, Davies, so he has understandably made merry with the Twitter storm.
The site has had more than three million hits since it was set up in 2010 and has 9,000-plus followers against the Advertiser's latest ABC circulation of 7,851. Downes says that in the five days to last Friday, his site had 18,000 page views - predominantly for its coverage of local politics.

There was no politics on the Advertiser's home page this morning. There were a lot of puffs for things with nothing to do with Croydon and when I clicked on the main headline, I was required to answer a "consumer survey" before being allowed to read the story - another of  Davies's tweeted complaints.

 I was, however, allowed straight in to the earth-shattering story of the High Street riot van.
At the top is a file picture of a police car with an out-of-focus figure in the midground. Ironically, for an organisation that has sacked all its staff photographers in favour of reader contributions, copyright-free agency stock and reporters' smartphone efforts, an ad invites the reader to buy the paper's pictures.

At the bottom, under several blocks of puffery (including repeats) were two comments. Both spam. Presumably Trinity Mirror can't afford moderators, which doesn't matter much when the commenters are self-serving trolls, but could matter a lot if they start libelling people.
Anyway, here's the story, all 118 words (interrupted by an ad and two puffs). Is it worth a thousand clicks? You tell me.