Saturday, 29 May 2010

Oh dear ...

Thanks to my old pal George Dearsley for spotting this one. One of the basic rules of headline writing - look at the picture first!  As George says sack the headline writer - or the picture editor. Or maybe both.

Friday, 21 May 2010

What skills will you need to thrive?

What skills does the modern journalist need? Well, on some papers, The Sun and News of the World for example, the ability to turn in a well-told tale at speed and have the rat-like cunning to bring in regular exclusives is still enough. I have just finished interviewing trainees for the Daily Mail where we were looking primarily for writing skills, ideas, toughness and self-motivation. But elsewhere, particularly in the regions and at papers such as the Telegraph, print journalists have had to develop new multimedia skills in video, podcasting and even broadcasting. My colleague Tony Johnston (above), who heads up Press Association Training, was one of the speakers at yesterday's Westminster Media Forum, where he outlined the skills he believes tomorrow's journalists will require. These include:
  • Numeracy to allow better use of freely available data
  • Technology to allow journalists to control the means of digital production
  • Enterprise skills to help find ways of making journalism pay
You can read what he said in the Press Gazette and on the Pencil Sharpener. 
I have long believed that some journalists will also need to develop a database mentality and to understand how marketing works. It is crucial though that the new skills do not dilute the essential role of the journalist - there is no substitute for original and interesting content. Anyway, as a result of all of this, Press Association Training is developing a new range of courses and adapting some of our existing programmes to ensure that trainee and established journalists can gain the skills they need. Your contribution to this would be appreciated. You can leave ideas here or on the Press Association Training blog, the Pencil Sharpener, or email me on
Other posts about yesterday's forum include:

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Highlights of the Local Heroes conference

Had intended to go to the Local Heroes conference with two other former Northern Echo editors Allan Prosser and David Kernek yesterday. But, as is my lot, I ended up in Howden running a managing change course for Northcliffe's North-East titles. Allan and David still went though and I am grateful for Allan's snapshot of the day. 

On the 8.27 out of Waterloo to Hampton Wick and Strawberry Hill and wondering what John Betjeman would do with these names in a rhyme scheme. It's a glorious English morning, and a Cup Final weekend and my daughter's birthday to look forward to. But as an aperitif I'm off to Kingston University's Local Heroes conference (cue the Mark Knopfler soundtrack) to see the future. Arrive in Kingston, another British town that's been sacrificed on the altar of the motor car, thinking that Betjeman would have a few choice words to say about the town centre redevelopment. A good conference organised by Press Gazette and Kingston University with a fair representation of Old China Hands and webheads and a bravura performance from two old-stagers on different sides of the political spectrum - Eric Gordon of the Camden New Journal and Sir Ray Tindle. Here are the quick pointers from the day:

1) Use ultra-local blogging to make local authorities and corporations more accountable. Things get done quicker when they are made visible.
William Perrin of

2) There is a huge seam of stories which don't see the light of day in the local Press.
James Hatts, founder the news website London SE1

3) Local website editors must live in the areas they are covering.
Sheila Prophet, part of the South West London local news network Neighbour Net.

4) Editors perform better when they own the business and concentrate on developing content, trust and value for advertisers.
Mike Dickerson of Community Times, a network of 150 local magazines.

5) The ultra local sector is currently worth £30m annually with a page yield of £200.
Jason Mawer of Oxbury Media Services

6) Newspapers now devote 60% fewer staff hours to local authority reporting and there has been a 35% increase in the use of press releases. Starting salaries on council-run newspapers include £31,152 (East End Life) and £33,994 (Hammersmith and Fulham News). Starting salary for a local reporter £12,000 (
James Morrison, senior lecturer, Kingston University

7) The PA pilot project for providing a service of coverage of local authorities is likely to be based on a group of six unitary authorities. Its editorial service will be independent of any national funding, free to all and will provide training for a future generation of journalists.
Tony Johnston, Head of Press Association Training

8) The secret of running an independent newspaper is to keep it egalitarian, the more local the better and to look into every corner of the title's existence. User-generated content must meet the tests of law, responsibility and ethics.
Eric Gordon, owner/proprietor of the Camden New Journal

9) Traditional advertising is more lucrative for a town's retailers than going online. Local weeklies are going to live, not die; expand, not contract; flourish, not wither.
Sir Ray Tindle

10) Smaller papers will fill the void left by the big groups with their centralised subbing who don't understand what market they're in.
Nigel Lowther, co-owner of the independent Cleethorpes Chronicle

11) Big groups focus too much on their bottom line rather than their newspapers.
Betty Drummond, managing director of Champion Media

12) Daily newspapers can't deliver information to a business audience quickly enough.
David Parkin, former Yorkshire Post Business Editor whose has 37,000 registered users in Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, sends out 750,000 emails a month and is expected to make £1m

13) Individualised newspapers ally the best of the print medium to the power of direct marketing.
Wanja Oberhof, proprietor of the revolutionary Berlin newspaper Niiu which aggregates content from dozens of partner publishers and 250 online sources and delivers a customised newspaper retailing between €1.20 and €1.80. 42% of its readership is aged between 19 and 29

14) A good hyperlocal website needs both professional journalists and bloggers.
Darren Thwaites, Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough

15) Online video is good for a) raw, breaking news coverage and emotion b) In-depth story telling
Multi-media journalist Adam Westbrook

The debate "It's time to end the Web first free-for-all" proposed by Steve Dyson and Anita Syrett and opposed by Nick Turner and Darren Thwaites was overwhelmingly defeated. This correspondent voted for, and may have been the only one!

Other reports on the conference can be found here:

Friday, 14 May 2010

It was the journalists what won it

New Statesman political editor Mehdi Hasan and Mail columnist Melanie Phillips (the unlikeliest of coalitions) wiped the floor with the politicians on Question Time last night. Michael Heseltine doing somersaults and Simon Hughes looking fazed. 

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Applying for a job in journalism? Read this

Just finished interviewing for the Daily Mail reporters' training scheme at Northcliffe House. More than 900 applicants whittled down to 40, then 14 and finally 7. My colleagues have also finished recruiting for the sub-editing scheme and have selected five would-be Mail PJs. Congratulations to all. I will see them all again in August and September when the training schemes begin at Press Association Training's Manor House in Howden.
One thing that struck me through the recruitment though, was how many people fall short in their CVs and even in their interviewing techniques. So, I thought it might be useful to share some do's and don'ts when putting together your application.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

As expected ....

... it's all Sam, Dave and baby puns on the front pages this morning. Except the Mirror who went with Gordon, Sarah and kids. Funny old crop on the FT again though ... why the policeman, the railings and the photographer's flash bouncing off the door?

Examiner wins Premier award for football

Spent the last ten days working on the Irish Examiner's end of season Full Time football supplement which is published today. It's 56 pages of quality writing, analysis, great photography and plenty of humour. Every Premiership club has a page dedicated to its performance with stats and speculation about next year. There are pages on the SPL, the funniest quotes, the best and worst moments, the top 20 goals, the pictures of the season and some first class graphics by my colleagues Paul Wick and Mike Brough. It's a real commitment to sport from the Examiner, by far surpassing anything on this side of the water. And the bonus is, after promotion, I get my job back as Newcastle United correspondent. It would undoubtedly sell as a stand-alone magazine ... but is free with today's paper. Little wonder Irish people still buy newspapers.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Every picture tells the strain

Tough decision for the picture editors today, with some quite brilliant portraits of Gordon Brown. The back of his head and the hunched shoulders work well in The Guardian and The Sun, although the door number gets lost a bit on the Sun's version. Simple and effective in The Guardian. The Independent and the FT use similar pictures but the Indie, even with the missing chin, really shows the strain. Why the background in the FT? Then there is the Mirror - strain and defiance. Excellent photographs that sum up the moment. The Express, on the other hand, chooses to splutter on with a shabby, sordid stitch-up-type headline. The Daily Star quite remarkably opts for three dull headshots of politicians in suits (when was the last time that happened?). Its headline though sums up the whole affair perfectly. Memorable front pages. Thanks to The Guardian for drawing them all together.


If you think the election has taken its toll ...

... on Gordon Brown, spare a thought for poor William Hague. And Adam Boulton clearly needs to take a few days off too. Watch this clip to the end, it's hilarious.