Friday, 26 October 2012

Best view from a newsroom in Europe?

This is for those of you working in windowless newsrooms or offices in industrial estates this grim October Friday evening. It is the view from the new newsroom at the Times of Malta in Valletta and was kindly sent to me by journalist Waylon Johnson (@WayCourt). The newsroom at the Times used to be a windowless and cramped place, now it is open-plan with this vista for the journalists to gaze upon.

A couple of years ago, while at the Inverness Courier, I took this picture and asked if the view from the editor's office was the best in Britain? Now the question has gone international. Which is the best newsroom view in Europe or, indeed, the world? The good news is I will be taking in the Maltese view first hand (and hopefully a bit of sunshine) next month when I have a week back working at The Times. Having just returned from London in the pouring rain, I have to say I am quite looking forward to it. 

Final newsquiz: Ben wins the Champagne

Me (left) and colleagues Tony Johnston and Mike Watson (far right) with Telegraph trainees Rhiannon Williams, Ben Riley-Smith (with his Champagne), Olivia Goldhill, Theo Merz, Radhika Sanghani and Dan Johnson.
I said goodbye to the Telegraph trainees this week. Their final task, at the end of a seven-week training programme at PA in Howden, was to put together a project on how the Telegraph might cover the 2015 election. They created a new print supplement, a radically new online approach and put together an interactive working app. Yesterday they presented it all to Telegraph executives in Victoria. It was all very impressive. They now head off on secondment to regional newspapers or to the Press Association. They are a bright bunch and good characters. I wish them well. We finished, as ever, with the newsquiz followed by farewell drinks in the Brass Monkey. Ben Riley-Smith and Dan Johnson were joint winners, both scoring a less than average 10.5. They were steeped in their project this week, so didn't really get the chance to study the papers. Understandable but, as they know, not really an excuse. Ben collected the Champagne for being top over the seven weeks - 8.5 points ahead of second placed Dan. Anyway, there are 22 questions. Three have a bonus so there are 25 points up for grabs. See how you do. As the diploma season is over, this is the last of the weekly quizzes. Hope you enjoyed them.

1. The Culture Secretary wrote to the chairman of the BBC Trust to say the Jimmy Savile affair had raised 'very real concerns' about public confidence in the BBC. Who is the Culture Secretary and who is the chairman of the BBC Trust? One point for each.

2. Exactly how much did comedian Frankie Boyle win in libel damages against The Mirror?

3. How long was soccer thug Aaron Cawley jailed for? For a bonus, which two teams were playing in the game when he assaulted goalkeeper Chris Kirkland?

4. In the latest Superman comic, Clark Kent quits his job as a reporter on the Daily Planet after a showdown with its publisher. Who is the publisher of the Daily Planet?

5. Who is the MP for North West Hampshire?

6. According to the Environment Secretary, bad weather and the Olympics are to blame for what?

7. Which store has defended its policy on restricting staff from displaying tattoos and piercings?

8. Trinity Mirror has merged its regional and daily titles. Who is the chief executive of Trinity Mirror?

9. Who visited Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy wearing a t-shirt that said 'I am Julian Assange'?

10. Barack Obama told supporters at a Florida rally that America had a choice between "reckless and wrong or ...... and ....... ". Fill in the two missing words. A half point for each.

11. Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison resigned from which police force?

12. Why was Pauline Bailey in the headlines?

13. Ford is closing its factory in Southampton and moving the manufacture of all Transit vans to which country?

14. Former policeman Michael Upson contravened a 1981 Act. What did he do?

15. Pippa Middleton's book was published this week. What is it called?

16. Who rode Frankel in his final race?

17. What, in a Tweet, did David Cameron say 'was healing'?

18. The FSA has said what is a ticking time bomb?

19. Who had their Olympic medals stolen after attending an event at Buckingham Palace. One point each.

20. Name the Category 2 hurricane which is sweeping through the Caribbean?

21. Nike has sold a sports clothing brand which provided the shirts for England's 1966 World Cup win. What is the brand called?

22. Ceefax signed off this week. Which year did it start broadcasting?

Answers here

Couple of captions that caught the eye

Here's a couple of captions that caught the eye this week. The one above from my old friends at the Newark Advertiser is an excellent example of why subs need dirty minds - and good taste. Thanks to @EdGrover for that one.

And this one from my other old friends at The Northern Echo, reporting on the delays to the badger cull, made me smile too ... albeit for different reasons. Hat tip to @johnestevens.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

First year celebration at The Irish Post

Congratulations to the team at The Irish Post on its first anniversary. In August last year Thomas Crosbie Holdings, owners of the Irish Examiner, decided there was no future for the Post and closed it down. But the staff weren't taking that lying down and campaigned to get the paper reopened. Their saviour was Cork-born businessman Elgin Loane who brought the paper back from the dead last October. Since then the Post, which was started in 1970 by the late Breandán Mac Lua as a weekly paper for the Irish in Britain, has thrived. I was at its Barbican offices a couple of weeks ago, and met Elgin, MD Niamh Kelly and the small but dedicated news team. It was great to be back. I have been involved with the paper since the mid-1990s, have redesigned it twice, sat on the interview panel for assorted editors and trained the staff. My colleague and friend Brian Page is holding the fort as acting editor, something he also did in the 1990s, while the paper appoints a new full-time boss. What is abundantly clear is that the spirit, determination and hard work of the staff is one of the main reasons the paper has survived. It is a fantastic story ... how many other papers can you name that have closed down and been resurrected, particularly in the current climate? Well done to them all and here's to many successful years ahead.

No Savile victims found in Runcorn shock

Here is another non-story to add to those I have flagged up over the years. First, there was the dog that injured its nose in Ringwood. Then the woman who couldn't buy custard powder in Whitstable, which spawned the great Custard Shortage collection. One of the earliest was the mattress that fell off a lorry in Kidderminster, causing no chaos at all (although a car did have to stop). One of my favourites was 90-year-old Irma Gledhill finding a straight banana. It was the quotes that made it. "If I can't do anything else, I will eat it,"  she said. And still on the fruit trail, there was the man who stumbled on a rather large pear in Sutton. There was also the chap who called the police to report a suspicious package from Amazon on his doorstep. And then there was the splash in the Folkestone Herald that told the shocking story of a woman who bought a pasty that was three days past its sell-by date. Yes. Really. The splash. People were equally shocked in Haywards Heath when Boots the chemist opened a little later than usual one morning. But the latest Jimmy Savile story adds a new dimension. Just think of the potential ... no murders in town this week, Tom Cruise not buying a house in our patch, aliens didn't land in city park. The list is endless. Never again will the newsdesk struggle to fill the paper. Once upon a time there would have been a world-weary news editor explaining in no uncertain terms to some hapless reporter that it simply wasn't a story. Now these things slip in with regularity - and inevitably get more web hits that any of the worthy and serious coverage. Perhaps there is method in the madness. It will be the bizarre, the offbeat, the mistakes, the funnies and the downright bad that will get the biggest followings. As I have suggested before, we might have to write new guidelines into our training courses for young journalists. "When you go back to your newsrooms you will be expected to deliver three page leads, three quality shorts - and at least one non-story a day."

Friday, 19 October 2012

Mail's final newsquiz: Helen wins Champagne

Mail trainees (left to right) Colette Sexton, Josephine Forster, Ellie Buchdahl, Helen Lawson with the Champagne,  Olivia Williams, Lauren York, Andrew Magee and Lauren Davis.
Today is the last day at the Manor, PA Training's Howden HQ, for the Daily Mail trainee sub-editors. We had a week of more intensive subbing and layout and each of them created a live Mail page when the Gary McKinnon story broke on Tuesday. They were also visited by senior sub Jenny Ryan who opened their eyes to the reality of working in the Mail newsroom. After today they go off on placements to regional newspapers (the Hull Daily Mail, the Western Morning News and the Manchester Evening News) or to the Mail or Standard. Good luck to them all. I am sure they will be a big success.
Meanwhile the Telegraph trainees, in their penultimate week, had a packed schedule with FoI specialist Paul Francis, digital trainer Andy Drinkwater and Telegraph lawyer Adam Cannon. Today they are visiting the Liverpool Post and Echo.
Yesterday we held the newsquiz. There was high tension within the Mail ranks as, with Champagne at stake, only a half point separated Lauren Davis and Helen Lawson as the final questions loomed. In the end Helen pipped it by one point. Well done to her. The winner of the week though was the Telegraph's Radhika Sanghani with an impressive 21.
It's a bit of a bumper one this week - 22 questions with a possible five bonuses - so 27 points up for grabs and Radhika's 21 to beat. See how you get on.

1. Who wrote the Black Spider memos?

2. Why was Candy Crowley in the spolight?

3. Downton Abbey beat the X Factor in the ratings war on Sunday night after Lady Sybil died from eclampsia. Who played the part of Lady Sybil? And, for a bonus, there was also a death on the live showing of Emmerdale. Name the character who died.

4. Heather Watson became the first British woman tennis player to win a WTA tour title since 1988. Which country's Open did she win? For a bonus, where was Watson born and raised?

5. An Austrian stuntman fell to earth from the edge of space. Can you spell his surname? For a bonus in which US state did he land?

6. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has suggested that MPs might receive a 40 per cent pay rise on their current salary. To a margin of error of £1,000, what is an MP's current basic salary.

7. MP Stuart Bell died at the weekend. Where was his constituency?

8. Malala Yousafzal was flown from Islamabad for treatment at which UK hospital?

9. The Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether Gary McKinnon will be charged with computer hacking in the UK. Who is the Director of Public Prosecutions?

10. Hilary Mantel became the fist woman to win the Booker Prize twice. What was the name of her winning novel and, for a bonus, name her book that won the prize in 2009?

11. Jon Benjamin has been threatened with violence after he made a Twitter joke about Argentina's football team. Benjamin is British ambassador to which country?

12. Comedian Frankie Boyle is suing which newspaper for libel after it called him a racist?

13. Who slipped while laying a wreath at Gandhi's grave

14. John Whaite won the Great British Bake Off. How old is he?

15. According to a new study, what offers no meaningful protection against cystitis?

16. There was an apparent catfight in Downing Street this week. Name the Chancellor's cat and the PM's cat. (Half a point for each).

17. The Employment Minister said Britain had the highest number of people in work since records began. Which year did he say that was? And, for a bonus, who is the Employment Minister?

18. Seven paintings, including works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Lucian Freud were stolen from which museum?

19. Outside which American building did a Bangladeshi man attempt to plant a 1,000lb bomb

20. Specialist digging equipment is being used to search for missing Ben Needham on which island?

21. Why have Rosie & Ruby Formosa been in the headlines?

22. In a BBC survey of 166 British football clubs Arsenal is the most expensive club (charging £126 for the top adult match-day ticket). Which club is the cheapest?

Answers here

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Now that's what I call a cock up

As a follow-up to my guide to the art of bill writing, it should also be pointed out that how newspapers are stacked at the point of sale is also pretty important. This one has been around a bit via @FatherWoland  and recently revived by @theJeremyVine. The message is still valid though (and it is very funny).

Monday, 15 October 2012

The art of writing newspaper bills ...

I was pleased to see this news bill in Tunbridge Wells recently. It certainly teases the reader and had the Courier flying off the shelves. It was a contrast to another bill I saw in the same town a few years ago that said Door slightly damaged in T. Wells Post Office raid. The use of the word 'slightly' was classic. Bills have been topical on Twitter in the last few weeks, not least because Radio 2's @ asked his followers to send him bizarre examples - and they duly obliged. 

They included this one, which carried the comment 'it's all kicking off in Brecon and Radnor'. So, with so many bad bills around, I thought it would be timely to revisit my guidelines and show some that work and some that don't. 

Bills have been tools for selling newspapers for decades, as this one from the Daily Telegraph shows. They can be hugely effective. What other industry has the opportunity to get several different messages on the streets every day? A few years ago research by Press Ahead showed clearly that people were influenced by bills, particularly those with local news stories. Yet the nationals don't bother any more and I have more bad examples than good ones from the regions, suggesting newspaper staff don't have the knowledge, time or inclination to do them properly. 

So let's start at the beginning ... why we use news bills. The sole purpose is to persuade a casual reader to walk into a newsagents and buy the paper. You won't do that if you simply stick five meaningless or bland words on a poster. Persuading someone to change their routine (a routine of not buying the paper), stop in their tracks, go into the shop and fork out their cash, requires thought, work and time.  So, here are my tips for the bill writers:


1. Tease the reader
Always leave one key question unanswered. Give them a reason to want to buy the paper. Tell them it’s a well-known publican who has been up to no good but not which one; tell them it's a big signing but not who. When Ingrid Bergman died I put out an evening newspaper bill that said World's greatest actress dies. It was a quote, so legitimate, and we sold droves. People not only wanted to know who had died ... but who the world's greatest actress was. All three above have sufficient intrigue to arouse a potential reader's curiosity.

2. Understand who the bill is aimed at
There is no point in billing the One Direction poster in an area dominated by pensioners or the luxury cruise offers in the run-down council estates. Know who lives where and what their interests are.

3. Use place names ...
... but don't expect them to work if the rest of the bill is dull. People are fascinated by interesting things that happen where they live. But a place name will not save a boring bill.

4. Boring bills have a detrimental effect
I once saw a bill that said Council discusses pollution policy. If people think that is the best story you have on offer, it will probably make them decide not to buy the paper (even if they had originally intended to). A quality general bill is better.

5. Think bills all the time
They shouldn't be an afterthought at the end of a busy production shift. Every time a journalist is presented with a story, he or she should go through their own checklist ... will it make a story, will it make a headline, does it need a picture, should there be a graphic, will it make someone buy the paper, can I write a bill? The checklist starts with the reporter.

6. Keep them short
Readers can take in about five, maybe six, words at once ... after that you have probably lost them. 

7. Don't forget the non-editorial stuff
Free beer, free tickets to the races, money off Tesco vouchers, 400 jobs today (those were the days) ... may all trigger a sale. Oh, and as the above example shows, just be careful when putting bills next to each other.

8. Keep it fresh
People will not buy a paper on the promise of being told something they already know. Keep up to date ... know what’s been online, on the radio, the TV or in the rival papers.

9. Ask how and why
Why I'm changing sex - Oxford teacher; Why I quit - Keegan; How child killer was caught - can all be effective. 

10. It's OK to ask questions
Is this the biggest crook in Darlington? Are these the worst dressed men in Cambridge? These would work even better on a picture bill.

11. Names sell papers
We live in a celebrity culture - and that includes local celebrities. People are essentially interested in people.

12. Use words that build pictures in the reader's mind
Words such as boost, shock, drama, carnage, probe and horror tell us nothing. Use specific words that build pictures.

13. The promise of a picture can work wonders
Albert Dryden, the full story in pictures helped put thousands of copies on to The Northern Echo in one day. And putting pictures on a bill can be a real attention grabber.

14. Have impact but be legible
Choose a good typeface or a bill writer with good calligraphy skills. A font that fills in or a spidery handwritten scrawl, aren't going to stand out. And don't always opt for caps. Road signs and warnings on cigarette packets are in lower case ... because they are easier to read. 

15. Location, location, location
Where the bill goes is a key factor - make sure people can’t miss it. Go where the crowds are.

16. Don’t give the game away on Page 1
If the bill has teased the reader off the street - then don’t spoil it by telling him what the story is in the splash headline. Keep on teasing.

17. Don’t con the reader
If you have a reputation for over-larding the story, the readers won’t fall for it for long. 

18. Watch out for legals
A bill is a publication. It can be libellous or in contempt on its own, even if the story it refers to is not. And sometimes, if it isn't legally dodgy, it can still cause irritation. I once put a bill out that said 'Jack Ford shot dead'. It referred to the hero, played by James Bolam, of the TV series When the Boat Comes In. It was huge in the North-East. We found out exclusively that Ford was to die in the last episode. I received an irate letter from a reader saying we had made him buy the paper on a false pretence. He said we had confused fact and fiction - that he thought it was the American president - and he was going to complain to the Press Council. I wrote to explain the former president was in fact Gerald Ford and he replied saying: "I will never buy your paper again. The next time I see a placard that says Bloodbath At The Palace I will expect a review of Hamlet.' Ouch. 

19. Watch out for double meanings
Death row doctor can be read two ways and I still have a copy of my favourite  Princess Anne in Bath - pics.

20. Don't leave old bills out there
It confuses the reader and destroys your credibility. Change them every day, or every week if you are a weekly. Date them. Weeklies can pre-bill before the day of publication ... and then put a new bill out when the paper comes out.

21. Please, please watch the spelling
... otherwise your credibility will be tarnished and you will be doing the rounds on Twitter - or on this blog.

22. And, finally...
... do ask yourself if what you are billing really is a story in the first place.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Viz visits the News Shopper ...

Here's a touch of Viz nestling in a local weekly paper. I guess you could just about argue it works because, even if you don't get the pun, the heading makes perfect sense. It was in the @NewsShopper with a hat-tip to Kent and Sussex Courier reporter @frankhamo.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Can you tell your Goudy from your Gouda?

I will be talking typography with the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail trainees in Howden this week so, here's a couple of topical links. This neat introduction to typography video is nicely done and covers all the basics. And I am grateful to Mail subbing trainee Lauren York for pointing me in the direction of the irresistible Cheese of Font game. Be warned though, only visit the site if you are prepared to waste an hour or so of your life.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The newsquiz: Ellie's 18.5 to beat

The Mail and Telegraph trainees with Mike Watson and me at the Manor
I have been with the Telegraph trainees in PA Training's Manor at Howden this week, talking about subbing, headlines and laying out pages. The Daily Mail subbing trainees have been with trainers Tony Johnston and Mike Watson and enjoyed a photography session with the MD of Press Association Images, Martin Stephens. Today the Telegraph trainees are off to the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal offices and the Mail subs are off to the Hull Daily Mail. This meant we did the newsquiz yesterday. Well done to Ellie Buchdahl who won with an impressive 18.5 out of 23. She was closely followed by Olivia Williams and Josephine Forster on 17. Top Telegraph trainee was Rhiannon Williams with 16.5. There are 23 points up for grabs this week, 21 questions with a bonus on Q6 and Q13. See how you do.

1.  An elderly Bedford couple bought more than they bargained for from a car boot sale. What did they buy?

2.  A teenage girl had part of her stomach removed after drinking liquid nitrogen at a cocktail bar in which town?

3. David Cameron joined Twitter at the weekend. In his very first Tweet what did he promise?

4.  Gary Lineker apologised for his remark after a goal was scored during the Schalke v Montpellier football match. What did he say?

5. Hugo Chavez has been re-elected president of which country?

6. A controversial book has made allegations of a menage a trois involving France's first lady and former minister Patrick Devedjian. Name the book and, for a bonus, name France's first lady.

7. Spain has had its credit rating downgraded by which finance agency?

8. Who announced an intention to be the first professional musician to sing in space?

9. One of the three members of the punk band Pussy Riot has been released from prison, two are still in jail. How long do they have to serve?

10. Which car maker has recalled 7.4 million cars worldwide?

11. Following Newcastle United's sponsorship By Wonga, some of the team's players may have a problem wearing the new shirt. What law do they fear they might be breaking?

12. Who announced on Twitter that she was expecting a baby in May?

13. Which company has been called 'immoral' having paid only £238,000 in tax. And, for a bonus, Elton John lost his libel case at the High Court after which newspaper carried a series of articles about his tax affairs?

14. Why was 25-year-old Mike Jones in the headlines?

15. Prince William left his wife to carry out public duties in the North-East so he could attend the funeral of his former nanny. What was her name?

16. Jimmy Savile's gravestone has been removed in respect of others buried at the same cemetery.  What did the quote at the bottom of the headstone say?

17. Boris Johnson said: "If I am a mop then, Dave you are a ...." What is the missing word?

18. Scotland Yard policewoman Katherine Keohane won more than £11,000 after her sniffer dog was given to another officer when she became pregnant. Name the dog.

19. What is Le Froglet?

20. Name the £50m Mark Rothko painting damaged by a visitor to the Tate Modern.

21. Which celebrity had his fish cafe in Brighton broken into and the safe stolen?

Answers here

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Wow ... Helen scores astonishing 19 in newsquiz

Ed Miliband in full conference flow (Q3). Picture by PA
Well done to Daily Mail trainee Helen Lawson who scored a hugely impressive 19 out of 21 in this week's newsquiz. Astonishing result. She was closely followed by Lauren Davis with 18. The top Telegraph trainee was, once again, Ben Riley-Smith with 17, the same score as the Mail's Andrew Magee.
There were great scores all round. I like to think it is because the trainees are now reading the papers in detail ... and not just that the questions are easier. Have a crack at it and make your own mind up. 

1. In which city were two diners banned from an all-you-can eat restaurant for eating too much?

2. In the annual pre-Labour conference football match the MPs beat the journalists 3-0. Who scored twice?

3. Ed Miliband earned positive acclaim for his closing 'One Nation' speech at the Labour party conference. What is the FULL name of the novel by Benjamin Disraeli to which he was referring?

4. It's the Conservative Party conference next week. In which city will it be held?

5. Sir Roger Moore has urged customers to boycott Fortnum and Mason until they stop selling which product?

6. Trail-blazing chief executive Marjorie Scardino's retirement from Pearson, owners of the Financial Times, means that there will now be how many women chief execs of FTSE 100 companies?

7. The Transport Secretary pulled the plug on the bidding process to run trains on the West Coast rail link. Who is the Transport Secretary?

8. A memorial plaque at the former home of Sir Jimmy Savile has been removed after it was defaced with graffiti. In which town was the plaque?

9. In the film Skyfall James Bond's favourite tipple, vodka martini, is replaced by which 'placed product'?

10. Who took to the stage wearing red court shoes from Hobbs, a navy Joseph dress and a red dragon brooch?

11. The MP for Leicester East has been making the headlines again. Who is the MP for Leicester East?

12. What will Daily Telegraph journalist Henry Winter be doing at 11am this Sunday?

13. Which company was criticised for airbushing women out of its Saudi Arabian catalogue?

14. Women's Minister Maria Miller has called for the legal abortion limit to be reduced to 20 weeks. What is the current legal limit?

15. Mitt Romney was widely recognised as having outscored Barak Obama in the first presidential debate. In which university was the debate held? And for a bonus point what date will the American presidential elections be held?

16. The prime minister of which country said we are "a state capable of defending its citizens and borders. Nobody should try and test our determination on this subject.”

17. Chief executive Philip Clarke was under pressure for presiding over his company's first drop in UK profits for 25 years. What is his company?

18. Who was captain of the triumphant European Ryder Cup team?

19. Who claims to have more than 1 billion active members?

20. Whose Strictly Come Dancing partner had to pullout after fracturing an ankle in rehearsals?

Answers here