Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Trainee bullshitters the lot of 'em...

We all have our own weirdo.

That person who rings at least once a week, proclaiming some controversy or other regarding the council, the NHS or some other organisation.

We tolerate them, we print their letters, in the hope that once, maybe, they may come up with something sensational.

And then they do. No, it's not a world exclusive on how Zimbabwean people are repressed or an insider scoop that will bring the council down in one fell swoop.

No, your weirdo has a muffin bearing what he or she claims is the face of the Virgin Mary, or John Lennon, or Mother Theresa.

You diligently get the pictures and blow me, if you tilt your head to one side, in the correct light, you can see it, there does appear to be a face!

So you write up some words and the news editor plonks it on page three for the next day's paper and wait for the fallout...

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it's all about.

Because the following morning, once the paper hits the stands, while nipping in to the shop to pick up 20 fags and a Daily Moron, you realise that everyone in the queue is talking about page three, laughing, holding the picture up to the light.

They're enjoying it.

Yes, they're mocking the story, trotting out the usual "must've been a slow news day" bullshit, but carrying on about how they'll tell their mates about this at work.

Now, forgive me, but this to me is what it's all about. Yes, we all love a major scoop, exposing corruption and fighting for the under-represented, but we also like a good laugh. A real lump of good-old local news fodder.

But now, enjoyment of stuff like this seems to have disappeared from newsrooms. Every trainee appears to be so full of themselves - and shit - that this is beneath them in some way.

They sneer at stories like these, tell you constantly that they're not newsworthy, that this is a waste of their time.

Wankers, the lot of them.

I don't know whether it's a subconscious attempt to legitimise themselves in the post-hackgate world where they call themselves 'journalists' instead of 'reporters', but it pisses me off.

They all seem obsessed not with understanding what makes a great regional paper, but with furthering their own career, with what they believe is their own inevitable rise to the head of the 'wanky-shit-we-read-to-look-intelligent' desk at the fucking Guardian or some such.

Or they want to write about shoes.

Well, fuck them. Give me a cracking set of pictures from a Warhammer 40,000-themed wedding any day of the week.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

If customers deal with this, it's no wonder they're not advertising.

If you've ever had to bridge the gap between editorial and advertising departments, you will share my pain.
Now, I'm not one to abide by the usual stereotypes that all advertising staff are ameoba that fit into a cheap suit.
I've always attempted to give them more credit that that, to assume they have some intelligence, rather than speak to them like small children and not give them anything to do that involves using more than one brain cell.
I know many who do and I always thought it a touch wrong.
However, in recent months, there seems to have been a noticable decline in the basic skills possessed by people who sell pictures in papers and on websites.
I don't know whether it's due to financial constraints or the trimming of departments, but I have to admit, they really don't seem a very bright bunch.
The other day, an ad rep called up our editorial department and asked our internet monkey to post a story on our website.

When we received the email containing the 'story' they wanted us to post, under our masthead, in the 'News' section of the site, us hacks were summoned over to have a read.
I shit you not, the copy was unbelievable.
It was, to all intents and purposes, an ad feature at best. At worst, it was a barely-legible blurb for an ad in a village newsletter.
Sentences included the likes of: "Popshit hairdressing offers a fantabulous experience for anyone who has an IQ lower than a puddle."
And: "If you want the latest jaw-dropping styles then Popshit will happily grin inanely at you in one of the greatest salons in the world."
You know what I mean.
Anyway, we merely laughed and the web guru proceeded to email the poor, misguided advertising rep back and explain that this copy was going nowhere near our website - let alone the news section - and that it was barely fit to be seen by human eyes.
Perhaps arrogantly, we presumed the copy would be changed and something would be sent that we may be able to squeeze - at a push - on the advertorial section online.
But no, instead followed one of the funniest and bemusing telephone conversations I have ever overheard and had recounted to me later, in the pub.
A senior, very senior, advertising manager called our web desk and proceeded to launch into a tirade at the web editor about how this copy should go online and how, basically, editorial was the primary reason our publisher looks like going bankrupt within two days, or some such tripe.
The responses which came from the web editor were, as you would expect, perfectly rational, gradually becoming more and more frustrated.
"But the 'news' section is editorial, not advertising space."
"I wouldn't put this in the 'news' channel, but we could work on it and post it in the 'advertorial' section."
Progressing to...
"I'm sorry, but it's not news."
And ending in...
"Look, I'm telling you, you can cc in who you like on the emails, but this load of shit is going now nowhere near my fucking 'news' channel."
However, if that wasn't bad enough, I heard the killer line come from the web editor, who asked how much the client was paying for this 'news' story to appear online.
The response, I later learned in the pub, was astounding.
The senior, very senior, advertising manager replied that the client wasn't paying for any online content, but had taken an ad in the paper.
Now, I may be wrong here, but aren't we in an era when online advertising is supposed to be playing an ever-growing role in our revenue stream?
We are forever hearing from such senior, very senior advertising staff and MDs that the "digital platform" or whatever they are calling the website nowadays, is the future and how we are attempting to "grow these revenues" and "pursue this market", blah blah blah.
So why the fuck is a senior, very senior, advertising manager berating a journalist for refusing to give away a prime piece of editorial space online to a client who is paying precisely fuck all for the priviledge?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a clear example of why we are all wading through shit to produce newspapers and websites which contain anything more than recycled press releases, why we have two people to every 300,000 readers, and why we're fucked as soon as one of them dares go on holiday or be ill.
Because fucking morons are selling us down the river for a £50 ad, attempting to cling on to whatever shite money they need to earn their extra £50 that quarter, while killing the very product they need to survive in order to earn their money.
And I repeat, for the final time, that this was a senior, very senior, member of the advertising team.
What a fucking joke.
Anyway, the story didn't go online and I'm willing to bet the client didn't give a fuck. Why? Because they hadn't paid a penny for it.
NOTE: I later learned that the same senior advertising manager had been treated to a trip to the smoke for an expensive lunch for her recent efforts.
I puked in my bowl of last night's leftovers.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, @haplesshack, and you can email me with your anger at thehaplesshack@gmail.com


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Hello again old friends, it's been a while, what with silly season kicking in, riots in London, no money in any of our bank accounts.

Still, the bitter winter is coming and that always enlivens a newsroom.

Anyway, I thought I'd return with a new tone of blog - a bitter and cynical rant. There, I knew that would surprise you.

The Guardian. Yes, I've mentioned it.

Set to scoop all awards this year for the paper's phone-hacking coverage, the whole sorry business still raises some questions for me.

In recent days, we've had story after story - certainly online, which seems to be their tactic these days - regarding the Met's attempts to garner sources from the paper.

Now, while I naturally don't agree with any journalist being forced to reveal their sources, the saga does raise some questions for me.

The Guardian is, quite rightly, outraged by this move and is standing firm against the attempts, legal or otherwise.

But something doesn't sit right with me.

After the shocking phone-hacking scandal and the investigations, inquiries and debate that will continue as it all goes on, doesn't the world's most worthy paper think that just this sort of thing could be the outcome?

Is the Guardian really naive enough to think that there will be no legislation after these inquiries and the resultant reports?

Could something enabling public bodies to demand sources really be that far from thinking in the corridors of power?

The Guardian would argue, of course, that what they have done is in the public interest, something which should be protected from any possible legislation.

But I'm not so sure that this will be as clear cut as they - or the likes of the Hacked Off campaign - think.

I hope I'm wrong, of course, but in urging full disclosure, and by going after those at the NoTW with such vigour an being so keen to condemn their tactics, the Guardian and those hanging on their shirt tails need to be careful what they wish for.

Don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter - @haplesshack - or email at thehaplesshack@gmail.com

I'm determined to have another moan today so look out for that if you're inclined to be as miserable as I am.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Johann to be kidding...

I have read and dismissed a lot of Johann Hari over the years. Not for any political reason other than much of his flowery, overly-ambitious copy goes against my very being.

However, it never came as any surprise to me that such writing would garner awards from across the world of journalism.

Well, from the world of journalism that puts so much stock in whether a former editor and a Channel 4 news presenter removed from what many would call the 'coal face' these days thinks of you after reading your stuff, with only a 250-word piece you've written blowing smoke up your own arse and a complete lack of any 'real' context for company, anyway.

I must admit to being hugely surprised at his actions, however, and I am attempting to stick to those which he has admitted himself were wrong, involving using previously spoken quotes in his own interview pieces.

I am also surprised at the amount of support he has had. Who the fuck thinks this is okay?

The Independent? Surely not.

Fuck how flowery he can make his copy, simply put yourself in this situation, if you can remember being anywhere but a completely self-facing, patronising place as most national newsrooms are these days.

Your reporter returns from an interview of some importance, yet when you ask how it went and what he or she got, they respond with a blank face and say '[whomever they interviewed] didn't say much, but not to worry as I'll whack in some quotes form their book or from other interviews and write well around it'.

What would you do?

Please do not tell me - while expecting me to keep a straight face - that your reaction would be to pat him on the head, tell him what a good job he was doing and endorse the cheeky little fucker's nomination for a prestigious award.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

An allegation too far for the News Of The World?

A while ago, I wrote a piece on how newspapers should be very careful when judging the News of the World as more and more details of the alleged phone-hacking scandal emerged.

I argued then that many newspapers should be wary of the heat given to the News of the Screws as it would inevitably come back to haunt them - and the industry as a whole.

I stand by that, to an extent.

Yet, the latest allegations - that reporters/private detectives hacked the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler before we discovered the horrific truth of her disappearance - do put something of a new light on things.

While never excusing the use of phone hacking, if indeed it was a common tactic for harvesting stories, I defended the needs of reporters under extreme pressure to produce exclusives and stated that many of us would use any means necessary to get the exclusive yarn.

But this does indeed feel like a step too far.

This is not using the tactic to find out if Jude Law is back together with Sienna Miller.

No, this allegation does not simply centre on listening in on messages, but claims messages were deleted once the missing girl's mailbox was full.

This is a whole new ball game, for everyone.

Not only could it have caused the police and her family problems, indeed may well have done, it also suggests a deeper heartlessness which many would have subconsciously ignored when reading of previous allegations and cases.

This story has now entered the world which the NoTW itself loves to harvest - that of the human interest story.

The News of the World itself ran an exclusive interview with the Dowler parents shortly after their daughter disappeared.

Now, it is alleged that they themselves had some hand in what those traumatised parents spoke of, what they thought, what they believed.

Journalists, if we could ever call them that, on the red tops may well have committed the ultimate act of suicide, launched the bullet with their name on it into their own foot, by crossing a line so cherished by their readers and which forms the basis of their own content.

The same self-righteous readers championing NoTW campaigns and shedding tears over interviews like that with the Dowlers, may well now turn on the paper that likes to think of itself as their voice.

The housewives and white van men who take so much comfort in bemoaning the actions of celebrities and the apparent idiocy of councils/the EU/the government highlighted by the NoTW week in, week out, may no longer hide behind the seemingly harmless world of 'well, you can't believe what you read in the papers anyway'.

No, now there is something they simply won't ignore. The News of the World has become the story, exactly the wrong type of story for them because they are now the aggressor against a traumatised family going through the kind of hell they milk every Sunday for sales.

The Milly Dowler allegations take this whole sorry saga to a new level, a level so base that not even the NoTW can ignore it, though they will doubtless hide behind another cloak of denial and shameless misinformation on what went on.

Other papers too must now brace themselves for the fallout, as I predict this won't be the last scandal to emerge from the murky underworld that has become national newspaper journalism.

And while I once warned of the consequences of such a collapse, I now rather welcome the possible demise of the tabloids (and possibly broadsheets) as we know them.

For while these people are spending thousands on private detectives and solicitors to fight battles they really have no right to wage, there are thousands of hard working reporters in the world who have no such resources to call on, no such tactics to use, who walk in to newsrooms up and down the country every day unconvinced they will walk out with a job.

The meek shall inherit the earth, and please, let it be those still working with some sort of integrity.

Great empires such as News International do fall, history tells us so, yet the world keeps turning.

Hopefully, painful though it will be for anyone linked with any newspaper, this could ultimately send it in the right direction.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Oxbridge? Groaniad indeed...

In my opinion, this 'research' is vastly underestimating that proportion.

I would estimate it's nearer 50 or 60 per cent, but that's just a guess - which basically makes it a fact, going by the same criteria as the research itself.

What other background could Guardian journalists have? I mean, no aspiring reporter - no matter how good - could afford to work in central London, have travelled to far-flung parts of the world and studied at Oxbridge before deciding they fancy having a go at journalism.

And that's before we consider the cost of the clothes these people wear, be it in court, a press conference or elsewhere.

No, these guys and gals wouldn't be seen dead in an ink-stained shirt that fitted you nicely in 2003 (the last clean one you had in the wardrobe), your old school shoes and a tatty suit your mum bought you for the interview.

And unfortunately, the distant reality enjoyed by these employees is coming through in the printed product and its agenda more and more.

The very idea that anyone doesn't already know this, or gives a flying fuck about where little Crispin wasted three years studying philosophy, is proof enough of the arrogance The Guardian now uses as fuel with which to power the continual production of inane drivel under the guise of 'proper' or 'meaningful' journalism, which is largely wide of the mark and equally wide of the agenda such a paper should be pursuing.

I am not a Guardian hater, but the percentage of what it does that has any merit or integrity is decreasing at a rapid rate.

The Guardian is now surviving on the very same principles as its reporters; portraying a fashionable facade with very little real content inside.

However, should anyone at The Guardian feel the need to correct my opinions, feel free to do so via thehaplesshack@gmail.com, or via Twitter - @haplesshack

Friday, 20 May 2011

Someone said it for me. And well.

As a follow up to my recent berating of 'aspiring' hacks who wouldn't know a story if it bit them on the arse, I thought I'd post this piece by former Guardian editor Peter Preston, who has expressed my sentiments far better than I could ever hope to do.

However, to chip in my foul-mouthed tuppence worth, read this you fucking wannabes and stop bleating on about how The Guardian is impartial while sitting in Starbucks.

And MDs across the country could do with reading it too, perhaps then they may take that 'mission statement' which is on the wall of their office on a nice plastic plaque a bit more seriously.

Anyway, Peter's piece full:

"Journalism isn't about sitting in some lofty office thinking great thoughts. It is about knowing the people you're writing for, understanding their concerns, their hopes and fears. And you can only do that if you’re out there amongst them, being part of the community you aim to serve.

"I started in journalism, long ago, doing school holiday shifts on my local paper, writing my first features about life at the university just up the road. When I went to university myself I did every job going on the twice-weekly student paper there - and then learned my trade on Liverpool's big evening and morning papers. I did funerals, Rotary Club speeches, dog shows, council rows and rugby matches. And at the end of that stint, when I moved on to cover local politics for the Guardian, I think I’d learned something precious. That politics doesn't exist in some rarefied world at Westminster. That democracy lives, breathes and reacts in the minds and the lives of the people you catch a bus to work with every morning. That the local dimension isn't some remote step ladder on the route to the top. It's where everything begins. It’s the foundation stone of society.
"And that's as true today as it ever was. Your local paper, in villages, towns and cities up and down the land, is there to reflect you, yourself - your own running commentary on life. In the mazy world of the world-wide web, where nothing seems more than a click away, it is still the place where the people around you put down their roots.
"There's been a local press in Britain for as long as there have been newspapers. There will be newspapers - in one form or another - for as long as people care about what happens around them. News is a necessity, your link to your neighbours. Prize
it, relish it, support it... because, not just in Local Newspaper Week but every week of the year, it helps your world go round."

Keepin' it real.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The beat (-ing of reporters) goes on...

NOTE: May I apologise for my absence in recent weeks - there appears to have been some 'suspicious activity' on my account which needed sorting... Interesting... However, let's carry on.

So, the industrial disputes continue as newspaper groups up and down the land continue to preach about 'difficult trading conditions'.

For what feels like the first time, the sacred business run by the saviour himself, Ray Tindle, has been in the news.

The 'Enfield Nine' - union members of Tindle's Enfield division - walked out of the office on April 19 and returned on May 4, thanks to some handily placed bank holidays.

The resulting spat has proved reasonably entertaining for those of us still struggling to hold down a job in the industry, as the relative inexperience of Tindle comes to the fore.

In a statement that read more like the ramblings of a bitter and jealous child than the reasoned outpourings of a large company the firm said: "During the strike all the papers were produced by the remaining staff and management with as much editorial if not more than a normal bank holiday week."

So hang on, rather than simply make no comment, or issuing a stock quote saying the dispute is on-going, blah blah blah, the group instead goes on the offensive like a wounded animal.

The statement, translated, seems to say (with a thumb clearly pressed to nose): "Well, they weren't here and we did even more editorial than before, so fuck you journalists, who needs you anyway. Na na nana na."

Clearly, this will be bullshit, and is offensive to everyone involved, including those journalists not in the union who probably bled themselves dry trying to fill those papers.

It's also offensive to readers, who are not stupid and would be well aware of the inevitable drop in quality those editions would have experienced.

As if to make things worse, Tindle actually published a statement in one of the editions produced during the strike which was, frankly, embarrassing.

It read: "Nine journalists of this newspaper who are members of the National Union of Journalists remain on strike for a second week so this is the second edition produced by the remainder of the staff and management.

"The dispute is about the paper’s non-replacement of staff leaving by natural wastage in this recession and is despite the company making huge and unsustainable losses.

"The group is the only one so far not to make journalists redundant in the downturn. That meant non-replacement of those who left for other jobs. We hope this edition is both local and acceptable to you, our readers."

Why run such a statement if the papers were as good, if not better, than previous weeks?

Tindle, who are you trying to kid?

Elsewhere in the world of industrial dispute, our friends in south west London have hit another barrier.

Earlier this week, editorial staff were told every position was under a three-month review with a view to making redundancies.

The irony, as always with these announcements, is in the wording.

Because while that entire newsroom sweats over whether they will get a pay cheque in three months' time, they should rest easy, because it is all in a bid to make the operation "more efficient".

Well thank fuck for that, for a minute there I'm sure they thought you were just looking to dump journalists in a bid to make more money.

Indeed, the week before, I understand the news editors of two of the group's titles - the Richmond & Twickenham Times and the Surrey Comet - were told they would be competing for a single job.

So two news editors, running sizable papers, are to be whittled down to one.

And how the fuck are they supposed to do that? Presumably, the management at Newsquest doesn't actually want to kill people through their jobs, but I can see a severe case of burnout on the horizon for the news editor lucky (or unlucky) enough to land that job...

However, I was mildly amused to read of the south west London NUJ chapel passing a vote of no confidence in the MD Roger Mills and advertising director Dene Stuart.

How refreshing to see an advertising name in there!

All too often chapels will attack an editor, or a regional publisher or whatever nonsense title such people now reign under, when the decisions are often taken by others.

This union seems to have at least recognised that while editorial staff are being thrown away left, right and centre, often the blame lies with an under-performing advertising department.

Good for them I say.

And let it be a message to advertising execs the world over: Yes, you are often too stupid to understand pretty-much anything, but we are wise to your game you muppets, so up your fucking game as what you do affects many, many lives.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The failure of hyperlocal - and journalism training

As if tailor-made to add fuel to the fire over the Kelvin Mackenzie debate I touched on last week, a chat with a friend over the weekend revealed some very interesting things.

My friend is the editor of a series of weekly papers and recently oversaw the launch of a handful of hyperlocal sites, you know the kind of thing, the 'up your street' stuff, full of community fodder and police press releases.

Anyway, said friend had a brainwave while putting these sites together; to get student journalists in the area involved.

So, he diligently got his walking boots on and trundled around colleges across the area, preaching the values of the sites and the exposure they could give all of the talented, ambitious young hacks learning their trade.

Free exposure to thousands, an unending resource with which to boost your portfolio and your CV, which the students and tutors gleefully lapped up, as would anyone keen to gain the edge over thousands struggling to progress in a failing industry.

However, six months down the line, the number of stories he had received from these eager beavers?

His estimate? Three or four. Maybe five.

Still, no doubt they're happily producing a self-congratulatory magazine or something and getting free CDs.


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

In defence of Kelvin Mackenzie

I feel I have to show some sort of support for Kelvin Mackenzie.

Yes, it's true, the man dubbed a "dinosaur" for his opinion that journalism courses at universities etc should be culled.

Kelvin, you have my support. It isn't worth shit, but you have it.

Having worked alongside, been in charge of and worked under people coming in to a newsroom straight from a university course, I can honestly say that all of them, 100 per cent of them, would have been better had they spent those three years working.

I'm sure not all journalism students are lazy, or do it because they want to be on the telly "like that one off've BBC Breakfast", or because they want to "write about football", but let's be honest here, those are the aspirations of many, many of these graduates.

Taking my own experience as a snapshot, less than 20 per cent of journalism graduates I have encountered had anywhere near 100wpm shorthand.

In three fucking years?

Yet I know trainees, in fact I was one, who worked full time on a newspaper and achieved that golden target in less than four months.

It's a fucking shambles to expect anyone who actually works in newspapers to buy the fact that it takes three years, in fact, that it takes three months, to do some basic training and get out there.

Yes, there has been a lot of loud-mouthed blabbering from some quarters, but don't take them all at their word, because you'll find those shouting loudest at Mr Mackenzie have a vested interest in journalism courses.

The other day I noticed a story which summed up my instant distaste for journalism as a 'course', a 'subject' to be studied.

"Half the journalism courses on offer at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham are to be axed as part of a cost cutting measure.

"The university’s BA undergraduate degrees in Motoring Journalism, which claims to be the only one of its kind in the UK, and Leisure Journalism, launched in September 2009, have both been closed to new entrants in the face of financial pressures and low market demand."


"The university runs four journalism courses, the other two in Sports Journalism and just Journalism alone."

Now what the fuck is all that about?

Okay, you could just about get away with a one-year course entitled 'Journalism', so long as those taking it actually passed any fucking exams and got their shorthand, and that included at least two days a week working in a newsroom.

But Motoring Journalism? Really? And Leisure Journalism? Fuck me.

These courses are actually costing money, tax payers' money, to fund and support.

So before you fall in to line and join those slating Mr Mackenzie - who, remember, was not long ago someone who had the power to hire and fire a lot of fucking journalists on a daily basis (go figure that the next time some 'journalist' who has done fuck all comes to your college and tells you how well you're doing) - ask yourself what, exactly, the people taking Leisure Journalism are learning that a Journalism student isn't, and vice versa.

And quite what the fuck a Motoring Journalism course entails is completely beyond me.

However, feel free to follow me on Twitter, @haplesshack, and tell me why I'm wrong. Go on, I dare you...

Soon, I'm hoping to be on Facebook. Why? I have no idea, but apparently it's the thing to do.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Reporter wars on Twitter: Only a matter of time...

We all know reporters are an egotistical bunch.

Correct terrible grammar in their story, they won't give a shit, but spell their name wrong in a byeline and all hell breaks loose.

So it was no surprise this morning when I noticed the first indication of such egomania in the realm of social media (I'm getting good at this Twitter lark, Facebook is next!).

Two reporters in Gloucestershire had a little, light-hearted spat over one oft hem tweeting the other's story.

Obviously, with such a cracking local rag yarn up for grabs, the reporter who I presume wrote it was quick to claim back his turf!

This is where it starts kids, and it'll all end in tears...

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Less is more, so will we lose managers?

When I read this morning that new Northcliffe group managing director Steve Auckland had announced he was to appoint three regional publishers to replace the roles of regional editors and MDs I was actually quite pleased.

I'm not a completely heartless bastard, however if there are cuts to be made - and I'm not completely averse to that looking around some newsrooms at the complete losers drawing a wage - I would prefer to start the cull at the top and work down, rather than do away with roles which are needed in a bid to avoid paying off the regional director of useless shit and management speak.

Imagine my disappointment then when we discover that while the roles will "replace" those of regional editors and MDs, in the next breath "Northcliffe says no one is likely to lose their job".

So, in fact what I thought was a decent start to lowering costs for struggling newspapers across the UK, is actually just bringing in another manager on big money.


However, perhaps all hope is not lost.

Part of my initial thinking on the move - back when I thought it was perhaps the most sensible thing I'd heard for a while - was that maybe, just maybe, Auckland was backing up his promise "to do away with the corporate stuff and get the editors and the managing directors free to do what they want to do".

And it still could be - with an ever-more-distant 'regional publisher' (let's face it, there will be three of the feckers covering the entire country), I don't see how they can be hands-on in their approach.

Fingers crossed more power returns to editors up and down the land, tasked merely with delivering certain things, and how they do it is up to them.

Then they can begin the middle-management cull.

Directors of public sector loss making advertising based in the office having pointless meetings everywhere, brace yourselves!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Someone speak to the speaker... Please!

You've got to grudgingly admire Michael Martin don't you? Don't you? Okay, maybe not.

As far as stories go though, the former Commons Speaker is an absolute goldmine, even though - and indeed largely down to - his desire to be exactly the opposite.

Remember, this is the man who provoked outrage when fighting, to the absolute nth degree, to prevent the release of details of Parliamentary expenses under the Freedom of Information Act.

Now, in an altogether more amusing, yet in the minds of some equally outrageous statement, he has claimed journalists can be accused of helping burglars when covering stories.

Mr Martin, now Lord Martin of Springburn, has told the House of Lords that journalists door-stepping him - and let's be honest, there were a few occasions when that happened, through no fault of the journalists it should be said - could have threatened the security of his home by alerting burglars to the fact he wasn't in.

I mean for Heaven's sake, you really couldn't buy this stuff, could you?

Speaking during a debate in the Lords on the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill, he said: "I had a situation when a clown was outside my door - I describe him as a clown, although he called himself a journalist from Sky TV, using big satellite television equipment.

"There he was, outside the house while I was in London. He said 'We cannot get him; the house is empty'.

"Anyone who is involved in security will tell you not to advertise that you are away from home, but here was somebody broadcasting live television, saying that my house was empty. That is the type of pressure I am talking about."

Really? That's the pressure you were under?

By God, I'm sure that if Lord Martin of Springburn were to visit any housing estate in the UK - or beyond for that matter - and offer the services of every 24-hours news broadcaster to sit outside their homes constantly vigilant for movement of any kind, they would eagerly accept.

Because quite frankly, a vast array of cameras and people outside your house is the greatest fucking deterrent to a burglar you could ever have!

Just imagine Jonny Burglar now, sitting at home, watching Sky News (as I'm sure most of those inclined to commit such offences are avid viewers).

He thinks: 'Hmmmm, Martin isn't home eh? Only 25 members of the press, covering every angle of the house with highly-sophisticated equipment which could beam me around the world instantly as someone attempting to burgle the Speaker of the House of Commons, to get past.

'How stupid they will feel, mwa ha ha ha ha ha.'*

It's pathetic, it really is.

* That was intended to quote the laugh of an Bond-style evil genius. Apologies.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Falling off the North Cliffe?

Mr Auckland, who is now an industry God through his work making the Metro everyone's favourite news-for-nothing publication, was strangely forthright in his opinions, if not a little contradictory.

Take this quote for example:

"If you have stacks of titles and lots of loss-makers and lots publishing six days a week and not making money you have to look at the portfolio.

"I want a step change. It might be harsh but it gives a platform for the future. The key thing is a product portfolio review. We have to look at the number of titles and frequency of publishing."

I don't think anyone could argue with the first par. No business, run by the giant arses of Northcliffe, Newquest or otherwise, wants to keep running a title that continues to lose money year after year.

So fair enough.

However, the contradiction for me comes when the piece explains Auckland was "keen to stress he is not a hatchet man".

Well, I would suggest that's exactly what he is, judging by his own words. Threatening to look at all titles and the frequency of publishing is clearly an indication that the hatchet is about to be wielded.

There may be nothing wrong with that, but at least be honest.

Anyway, I'm merely nit-picking there.

There real interest comes with other remarks, particularly:

"Less is more is my motto: I want a clear vision at each operating centre. I'm trying to do away with the corporate stuff and getting the editors and the managing directors free to do what they want to do in their centres," he added.

"Originally regional newspapers were run by entrepreneurial-type people back in the halcyon days. I want to get back to that flexibility. If they want to change the cover price or business cards or say that publishing on one day, or two, or staying at six is most profitable then I want them to have that flexibility."

'Less is more', to idiots like me, can simply be truncated to 'less'. Again, Mr Auckland, please just be honest. Less will NEVER be more, it is a complete misnomer on every conceivable level.

We all understand the "halcyon days" went as soon as Gannett darkened UK doors, so please don't patronise us with the usual bullshit, we've had enough of 'aim higher' initiatives and the likes which always seem to make us more efficient and still manage to do away with hard-working people.

However, it cannot be disputed that Northcliffe does indeed now have less, or more, if you are Mr Auckland. 50% more, or less, in fact, as Peter Kirwan points out in his excellent blog.

"Overall, the numbers for the six years between 2005 and 2010 are remarkable:

Headcount: Down by over 50% from 8,013 to 3,817
Quoted cumulative cost savings: £125m
Quoted restructuring costs (incl. redundancy): £71m
Quoted write-downs in asset values: £200m"

So Mr Auckland, you have inherited a group which indeed has a lot 'more' than previously, so good luck with that.

But basically, what all of this ponderingly bad writing is attempting to convey is that, as Mr Kirwan also points out, "plans for industry consolidation have gone badly awry".

Indeed they have. Lord Rothermere couldn't flog Northcliffe a few years ago, so what hope now?

My bet is that we will see more and more dailies become weeklies - watch your backs any newspaper showing figures down 10%+ - and some under-performing weeklies either sold or merely closed down.

I am also intrigued by the idea that editors will suddenly be enjoying a new-found freedom under Mr Auckland to basically edit their papers.

I am eagerly awaiting the day this is put to the test by an editor who wishes to reward his staff with a pay rise, or an extra reporter...

I do love the term "consolidation" though, as it would suggest joining something together for an all-round gain, a positive, for growth.

And don't we all know that is absolute shite? Consolidation has brought nothing but evil to journalism.

Look at it like this: a sub hub is a group of sub editors consolidated to one location.

A good thing?

Fuck it, let's all have a drink.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Next 18-20 Months for Newsquest

You have to wonder how the fuck these people sleep at night.

Yesterday's announcement that Newsquest chief executive Paul Davidson has been rewarded for his 'efforts' at the 'struggling' group with a lump of shares which will see him avoid the breadline for the foreseeable future.

Well, after breathing a huge sigh of relief for the miserable git, the usual explosion of rage at the mere mention of his name returned.

Let's remember...

Only last week, we learned that Newsquest London, apparently one of the more profitable groups in the Newsquest stable, had asked staff to consider voluntary redundancy just weeks after asking the same staff to take unpaid, furlough leave.

I will refrain from commenting on how those working at the London offices were told of this decision, one which could change their lives forever, as I am informed it was via a three-line email, but I can't believe that to be true? If it is, someone please email that to me and I will happily take a look.

Anyway, Mr Davidson is ultimately responsible for these staff - and let's be honest, Newsquest London is not the only branch which will be royally fucked over in the coming months - facing the end of their careers, or a decision which could see them abandon what they love.

But for what? Exactly how badly is a company doing when the likes of Davidson are receiving these stock options, potentially worth millions?

Again, I'll ask the question; how the fuck does he sleep at night?

I hate to keep on moaning about the seemingly-systematic destruction of newspapers by profit-hungry morons in ill-fitting suits in rather modern-looking and faceless ivory towers, but fuck it, they are killing everything we work for.

And here's my prediction Davidson, to save you and your money-grabbing cronies the bother of pretending to know what lies ahead for hundreds of newspapers and thousands of staff sweating every day to eek out a living so that you can line your fucking pockets with cash:

First of all, at the end of the year, Newsquest will scrape their ridiculously-high profit margin.

It will then - and only then - dawn on fools like you that this is simply not a sustainable position.

So, you will go to Gannett and tell them you would love to provide them with a 25% profit margin again in 2012 but that, unfortunately, you have nobody left to cut but that you will try.

At the end of the first quarter, despite only having a trainee reporter and a sub in every Newsquest centre across the land - many of which will be covering patches previously covered by at least three Newsquest groups - you still won't have hit the target.

Then, you will be sacked, or you will 'retire' as nob ends in the higher ranks of business call it, with a fucking enormous golden handshake for destroying something which meant so much to us, the journalists, the other Newsquest staff, and millions of readers.

And therein lies my theory on how foolish, greedy morons such as Paul Davidson sleep at night:

He knows all of this really, and is simply lining his pockets before the inevitable retirement comes.

And I for one, will be lovingly sending him a watch - £2.99 from Argos - engraved with the words: "Thanks Paul".

As usual feel free to follow me on Twitter - @haplesshack - or send me an email with your abuse. Thanks.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Where next for the cash cows?

So where next for regional newspapers?

We've had a week of speculation since figure for the likes of Newsquest and Northcliffe were released - both showing what we all knew really.

In summary, newspapers are still making quite a lot of money.

However, is has been the way for years, the profit margin is the issue for men in nice suits sitting in head offices up and down the land.

Among the latest to talk shit about the industry was a chap from Northcliffe, a man so nondescript I can't even remember his name.

Anyway, he said consolidation was needed in the industry, despite the fact that consolidation has been rampant in newspapers for years and look where it's got us.

He told Press Gazette: "Our attitude is we think it [consolidation] is worthwhile and a good thing for the industry because it will create bigger businesses who are more able to make the transition to the brave new world.

"There’s obviously going to be a further transition…We are not going to be the consolidator. We are not going to be acquiring other regional newspapers companies to consolidate with Northcliffe.

"I think we have other opportunities in the group for investment. But we are very content to go on operating Northcliffe, it makes good cash flow and so on."

Okay, so let's actually tell it like it is, shall we? Northcliffe thinks consolidation is needed, but won't be consolidating.

Does anyone else smell a 'come and get me' plea?

No wonder he thinks consolidation is needed when clearly Northcliffe would be hugely interested in getting rid of a cash cow that is struggling to produce milk in the quantities of years ago.

Let's not forget, it was Northcliffe who was for sale only a few years ago, only not sold.

So don't patronise us.

Meanwhile, in newsrooms up and down the country, we are being told of the continued squeeze on 'revenues' and the need to make cuts, take furlough leave and such like.

However, in among the headlines of Northcliffe effectively being up for sale, and the drop in 'revenues', it seems to have been missed that Northcliffe's operating profit last year increased - yes, increased - by 24% to £30 million.

That is on revenue down 10% year on year.

So just how hard is it out there? Being complete arses has earned Northcliffe £30 million, an increase.

Now I realise £20 million is a tiny sum of money, but why not just make that much profit in what is widely regarded as the worst recession we've seen, and keep a few of the jobs you've not replaced, or pay those who remain a little bit more?

I know, it's a crazy thought...

But the reality is that the newspaper industry has been a cash cow for a long time, and we - as well as out papers - are simply being milked for all we are worth until profits drop to, oh, I don't know, £10 million? Then we'll be sold off for pennies to another group who will do more of the same.

Depressing, I know, and if anyone can give me an alternative view of the future, I'd love to hear from you.

Email me at thehaplesshack@gmail.com, or chat to me on Twitter, @haplesshack

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Inside what? Just get on with it Croydon...

Now, I'm not averse to a good old scrap, be it in print or behind closed doors, so I was particularly amused to see a little tete-a-tete developing between one London editor and a blogger this week.

The esteemed - only by himself admittedly - Inside Croydon recently had a bit of a rant against a campaign run by the Croydon Advertiser, a Northcliffe weeklie.

Inside Croydon claims the paper - in their 'it-was-us-what-won-it' edition - was in collusion with the councillor concerned over the results of a consultation.

Clearly, if Inside Croydon has any actual experience in a newsroom, he'll already know that no newspaper will run a campaign unless a. they can win it, or b. it is a hugely popular lost cause that not even the campaigners expect to win anyway.

So, we all take the Croydon Advertiser gloating with a pinch of salt, as every paper deserves to big itself up every now and again.

But not Mr Inside Croydon, he attacks the paper pretty harshly, with rapier-like wit such as:

"Yet the Croydon Sadvertiser, with its deadline of last Wednesday – a full seven days before the announcement is due – contained extensive details from what it claimed to be a leaked council report, alongside a lovingly staged picture of “Two Permits” Thomas and the paper’s editor receiving a massive ... 250 signatures [coughs with embarrassment].

"The Sadvertiser was very late to this particular story, despite being contacted by local residents’ groups nearly two months ago. In the end, the CRAPP (that’s not too rude; it means Croydon Residents Against Parking Plans) online campaign, and its dedicated band of supporters who leafleted and petitioned in their neighbourhoods, managed to raised [sic] nearly 10 times the number of signatures that the local newspaper did."

Again, as anyone who has ever been involved with regional/local/national newspapers knows, the last thing, the very, very last thing that anyone should do at this point is respond...

Well, I thought everyone knew that anyway.

Cue a rather tetchy response from Croydon Advertiser editor Glenn Ebrey in his online blog.

Glenn, in a total loss of any kind of editorial judgement, hits back with just as non-rapier-like wit, with such gems as:

"Firstly, he continually describes us as the Croydon S-Advertiser, which must have taken a whole 30 seconds to think up. No chance of a job on the subs desk with lame puns like that.

"Then, he goes on to criticise us for daring to start a campaign (a successful campaign, I might add) against Croydon Council’s parking proposals. If we hadn’t bothered with a campaign, we probably would have been criticised for that too. Isn’t campaigning what all good local newspapers should be doing?

"Next, we are slammed for having the cheek to report documents we obtained before their official publication. Isn’t that just good journalism Mr Insider?"

Well, not really Glenn, as anyone who knows anything about journalism will also know that in all probability, there was no Mission Impossible-esque espionage involved in getting the report. Or was there? If so, please email me with the details and I'll happily praise your reporter/s for their efforts!

Anyway, as shit as that response is, it's nothing to what Mr Ebrey does next.

Yes, in true local rag style, he challenges the Inside Croydon blogger to spend a day in his newsroom while boasting of the paper's circulation.

Again, anyone in papers knows this is total bollocks, so stop trying to kid yourself that the Croydon Advertiser is different from any other newspaper in the country Glenn and is enjoying a new-found period of growth and prosperity, it isn't.

However, he wrote: "The mystery blogger also suggests we have an “increasingly small circulation”. Last time I checked, our papers were distributed to more than 100,000 people a week. That sounds like a pretty captive audience to me.

"I have no idea who Mr Insider is because, despite being so forthright in his views, he very bravely decides to remain anonymous.

"But, if you are reading this, I’d like to put forward a challenge to you Mr Insider. Come and spend a day in our office, see how hard our reporters work, the dedication and hours they put into producing the paper each week, and see if it changes your view."

I mean Christ, if you're going to go out on a limb and respond, you might as well do it in a really innovative way; a car park fight perhaps?

But no, the old day in the newsroom challenge it was.

And Inside Croydon's response?

"If you don’t mind, for now we’ll pass your offer for us to give up a day of our expertise to give your staff some training and show them how to do their jobs. And we will continue to judge them, and you, on results."

That was, at least, actually quite funny.

However not unexpected, as the last time I had any contact with Mr Inside Croydon, I was emailed with strict instructions not to publish any of his comments in this blog, I presume due to a sudden burst of shyness.

Oh, the irony...

But in this case, I can't help but doff my cap to Inside Croydon, and wield a sword of disappointment in the direction of Glenn Ebrey for committing the ultimate newspaper crime of rising to the bait and losing.

Disappointing all round really.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Glum Times - an enjoyable two-page read

Oh dear, glum times in the newsroom as the age-old gripe returns; paginations.

In the heady days of easily-achieved 30% profit margins, expenses that served as your food shopping and two reporters (plus photographer) for every job, the possibility of cutting pages was folly, where would there be space for all of the advertisers knocking down our door to hand us their used £50 notes?

Alas, as we all know, those days are long gone.

Instead, we've all seen the cost-cutting initiatives rolled out in force across newspaper groups, all featuring a snappy, employee-friendly name like 'Aim Higher', 'Pursuing Excellence', when they should just be honest and call them 'Pursuing Lost Old Profits' - or PLOP for short.

So it was as we were glumly informed that due to a slow January (when is January not slow?) for advertising, our papers were going to be reduced to about one page of news each.

The raising of eyebrows around the conference table was almost audible among those who have been here before because we know how this goes.

Cut paginations, fewer stories, fewer staff.

The amount of resigned indignation was incredible and I suspect most people in the office are going to spend their Friday afternoon updating their CVs.

So why do management continue to chase that which is long past?

While none of us are so fucking stupid as to pretend things are easy out there, nor are we so naive as to think we are actually losing money.

We're not, and we know it.

Oh no, the problem for those enjoying a whopping pay increase is that the margins are falling, so for example, instead of making a £4,000,000 profit this year, we're heading for a mere £3,000,000 profit.

Obviously, the multinational companies that now own your local and regional newspapers couldn't give a flying fuck that this is still a hugely profitable business, they merely want to earn as much as they can, as much as last year, as much as ten years ago, so fuck us all over in a bid to return to that level.

It's absolute lunacy and must end. And I'm comfortable predicting that it will come to an end, in one way or another, this year.

How long before Newsquest, or Northcliffe, simply grows tired of not making the profits they used to and sells everything?

Surely it won't be long.

And far from fearing that day, I relish it coming, because once the evil empires loosen their grip on everything anyone reads and looks at online, the groups will splinter, some taken on by independent owners, even worker groups.

Then, and only then, will we see a newspaper run properly once more, by people who care about what goes in, what doesn't go in, and cares about the quality of the package over and above a huge profit margin.

Perhaps then we will see a newspaper that is happy with a 10% profit - 10% of a lot is still a lot - and will invest in quality product and people.

But am I just dreaming? You tell me...

Meanwhile, I'm off to update my CV and work out how I can maintain a story count in a newspaper the size of a Starbucks napkin.

You can, should you be minded, follow me on Twitter - @haplesshack - or email me at thehaplesshack@gmail.com

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Is anyone listening in?

It may come as something as a surprise, but I have never blogged on the so-called phone hacking 'scandal'.

Being a legally-minded yellow belly has played a part in that of course, but so has my own difficulty in settling on an opinion of this tactic, whether it has happened or not.

You see, the clear cut moral supremacist in me immediately wants to cry 'outrage', 'folly' and other such words only an indignant mother can use with any authority.

But the reporter in me yearns to cry 'what the hell, these things are news and if people don't want you to find out, they should sort their fucking lives out' at the top of my voice across the newsroom.

So where do I fall? I remain, as yet, undecided.

One thing I can tell you however, is where I don't fall. That, my friends, is in the sickeningly self-righteous camp of those seemingly taking such joy in highlighting the alleged working processes of some newsrooms.

I mean, come on, even the most liberal newshound on Planet Papers has to swallow a bit of ego here and admit - to themselves in a darkened room on a cold winter night if no-one else - that they would love to have written the possible exclusives these alleged hackings have produced.

And more to the point, if they don't, why the fuck not?

The last thing any reporter who understands the pressure in a national newsroom should be doing is taking this easy chance to, effectively, shit on their brethren.

Because like it or not folks, newspapers will ultimately stand and fall together, tabloid or broadsheet, tits-on-page-three or no-tits-on-page-three.

If we are all so confident we have never, ever, pushed a boundary in the pursuit of truth; whether we perceive it as being in the public interest or otherwise, then this nauseating witch hunt taking place at the NotW should continue unabated.

However, cast your mind back to your first day in a newsroom.

What would you have done to score a huge exclusive to impress the scary person sitting in the big office? I can guarantee the answer would have been an unequivocal 'anything'.

No, that doesn't excuse illegal tactics, if any of those being alleged have been used and those caught should face stern punishments.

But please, save me the self-righteous pontificating so much in evidence currently.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

And a funny new year...

Well hello all and a happy new year and all that balls to everyone who actually reads this.

Due to a distinct lack of inspiration induced by a festive season spent bathing in copious amounts of alcohol and unsuitable food, I am falling back on the classic new year filler - a round-up of the previous year!

Yes, that's right, here are a couple of my favourite piles of shit from 2010. Enjoy!

Plus, I've saved a new one for last so don't despair!

Not strictly a journalistic error, but what the hell, it is funny... Is Facebook trying to tell me something?

Got to love this picture to accompany a story about undercover police officers. My, how they're getting hard to spot!

A rather over-enthusiastic columnist here it seems. Thanks for the Tweet, you know who you are!

And a special mention to those lovely people who follow me on Twitter, @haplesshack, just because they are special people:


Obviously, they may be mental, but I still love them.

Have a good one - and don't forget to keep your spots and any other rants coming to thehaplesshack@gmail.com should you wish to!