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The recklessness of No Deal

It should be blindingly obvious to anyone who reads up on it that “No Deal Brexit” will be an absolutely disastrous for the UK.
A common misconception is that No Deal means the status quo – or rather the plucky Brits saying “No. We’re not going to give you EU foreigns what you want. We’ll do it our way and everything else will stay more or less the same”.
Some may even be celebrating as it means we won’t pay the EU to get out.

Except economically (and therefore socially), the reality is far, far grimmer.

No Deal basically means all our exports to the EU will be subject to the ridiculously high World Trade Organisation tariffs.

Overnight we’ll be incredibly uncompetitive to EU countries. That’s 44% of all our exports. And even if they wanted to trade with us, under No Deal we’ll have left a hole in the EU budget so they’ll be mightily pissed with us. Basically, you can kiss that 44% goodbye.

So we’ll need to be make up the shortfall elsewhere or our economy will crash.

Brexiteers will have you believe there are magic trade deals just waiting to be signed with other countries – but there’s no evidence or indeed any indication that this is going to happen. The disgraced MP Dr Fox is currently enjoying jollies across the world “negotiating” fairytale deals (presumably not claiming bogus expenses this time). Except there are no signs that he’s getting anywhere, indeed we’ve been  screwed over a couple of times already (ie our trade delegate visits Japan, a week later Japan are singing about a glorious new deal with the EU).

We’re already seeing giant US corporations positioning themselves to force us into make unpalatable sacrifices (literally in the case of chlorinated chicken), things like opening up the NHS and other public services to be corporate controlled.
And because we’ll be so desperate to make up the loss of exports to the EU, we’ll take some of the shite offered. We’ll be in a position of weakness, and do we honestly expect the likes of China, the US and Japan not to take full advantage of that?

Of course they will and we’ll get shitty deals or they’ll force us to change our laws and regulations to suit their corporate whims. So rather than taking back control, we’ll simply be handing more of it to big foreign businesses.

Perversely, we’ll also find the EU to be a fierce rival, and a much stronger and more reliable rival at that. And make no mistake, they will go into competition against us across many sectors, because why wouldn’t they try to strengthen their own economy?
No Deal will also mean British exporters to the EU would be subject to the same customs checks, tariffs and red tape that are currently in place with other non-EU countries.
The port of Dover isn’t lying when it says they’ll be huge lorry queues at border points. The fact is all imports will have have to be subjected to greater scrutiny to make sure the right levies and individual terms of new trade deals are applied to everything. Whereas at the moment, we have freer-moving trade through our ports because most of the lorries and ships from the EU enjoy a smoother passage in.
So I honestly cannot get my head around how badly we’re approaching Brexit.
Our politicians are behaving with reckless abandon, they’re chucking out insults, strutting around proudly and stubbornly, and the guy we’ve put in charge of our negotiations “doesn’t do detail”.
There’s an arrogance among Brexiters that the EU needs the UK more than we need them. But quite simply, that’s bollocks.
They can cut us off tomorrow and yes they’d feel the impact, but it won’t be anything like the tremendous economic earthquake it would send our way.
One of the most frustrating things about all of this is how the government is deliberately keeping the public blind to everything.
We’re getting soundbites and “trust us” sentiments, yet it is sitting on 50 impact reports on how it expects Brexit to affect different industries – but the public can’t see them because it’s not in our “interests”, apparently.I suspect if these were positive reports, the government would be flying them from Parliament like a demented Trump supporter waving a Confederate flag.
I actually think Brexit could work (in the sense of not crippling us totally), but UNLESS we have skilled negotiators and take TIME to do it properly, it will severely damage our economy.
So if it needs to be done (and it really fucking doesn’t), an intelligent and careful approach will have a far more successful and rewarding outcome over both the short and long term than rushing ahead with it and sticking to unrealistic and arbitrary deadlines.
Now I may be paranoid, but I genuinely fear that the Tories are trying to get it done quickly as possible because they don’t know how much longer they can govern without a majority. They are putting party before the country once more. I fear they actually know (or at least suspect) that a quick Brexit will hurt us and therefore hamstring the next government. They create a mess, then blame the next lot for not being able to clear it up properly.
That may well be delusional, but the Tories do have something of a track record of putting party and individual interests before those of the country. The last election is a classic example – £140m it cost the public purse, in a time of so called austerity and just one year after the last one.

Its sole purpose was to increase the strength of the Tories. May claimed it was to give her a mandate – but clearly she didn’t get one. Most of the country don’t agree with their vision, but she used £1bn of public cash – cash the Tories said they didn’t have – to press ahead regardless and force an unpopular regime on us.

The Tories don’t like the public sector and public safeguards. They put the interests of bankers, big businesses and the wealthy first. I fear Brexit is the ultimate excuse to abandon much of it to the private sector. The NHS, schools, councils – all of it up for grabs to the highest bidder to milk and squeeze until all safeguards are removed and only the best off can prosper.

I am the resurrection

I’ve clearly been upsetting a few people on Facebook recently with my political views, something for which I’m not very sorry about.

I’ve never forced anyone to read my shit, I’ve never made them comment. And usually the same people who give me abuse for posting stuff then engage in debate, albeit of variable quality.

So just for them, I’m moving some of my rants to this blog (not all, because I still like to shout at injustice every now and then like an old man shouts at clouds).

And I like to rant. I like to write. You may see it as an annoyance or a failing – even counter productive – but balls to you, it’s part of who I am.

It may all be totally pointless, and it maybe a waste of energy, but once again, balls to you.

Because in my head, if I can get just one person to think about something, or rethink their position, then it’s been worth it. If you don’t like what I write, then read something else rather than complaining about the act of my writing.

A very political tragedy

The Sun’s editorial today would be comical if it wasn’t so cyncial and nasty.
 
I’ll probably be accused of politicising the tragedy, but the very fact survivors are angry and demanding answers means it’s already political.

And today’s Sun is politicising it with it’s weird comment piece. It is demanding people stop blaming Tory cuts over failings at Grenfell. Instead we should blame Labour and stop trying to “overthrow capitalism”.

 
Well, if I may retort, Mr Murdoch, that’s kind of bollocks.
 
No doubt they’ll be some dreadful revelations to come, but it’s worth looking at some of what we know already.

In 2009, a coroner made considerable safety recommendations following the preventable deaths of six people at Lakanal House in South London. These recommendations have been repeatedly ignored and sat on by subsequent Tory housing ministers – including Mrs May’s new chief of staff.  (Maybe the insidious Labour do-gooders influenced them, Rupe?). 

 
Last year, 312 Tory MPs, 72 of them private landlords, voted against legislation to ensure homes are “fit for human habitation” and force landlords to abide by basic safety standards. Labour clearly trying to undermine our capitalist system by giving the poor basic protections there.

The Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea council, the richest borough in the country, repeatedly ignored Grenfell residents’ fire concerns.


The council did decide to refit the block with cladding, though, because wealthier residents of the borough thought it an eyesore.
However, rather than opting for non-flammable cladding, which would have cost just £5,000 more according to The Times today (or just £2 a piece), it instead went for a type which is banned in several other countries including the US, and known to be less safe.

The council also decided against fitting sprinklers, going against standard advice from several fire experts and the fire service itself. It allowed the tenant management company to repeatedly issue terrible safety advice about staying where you are.
(Still Labour’s fault, all this?)

And then we get to the Firefighters themselves who risked their lives, nine of which were hurt while tackling the incident. And that doesn’t include the mental scars such a tragedy leaves behind.

Firefighters have seen their numbers cut by more than 10,000 since 2010. Dozens of fire stations have been closed – including 10 in London. Fire engines have been scrapped and levels of emergency rescue equipment slashed.

Last year there was a rise of 15% in the number of people across the country who died in fires. (No correlation there then, and still must be Labour’s fault, clearly).


For the past seven years, firefighters have also endured pay freezes or 1% pay rises, and are set for just 1% again this year. MPs, in contrast, are set for a 1.4% rise next year, and enjoyed a lovely 10% rise just last year.

I think Guardian data journalist Martin Belam summed it well on Twitter, describing it as “one of those step-change moments”.
He said: “Huge amounts of inequality in one of the country’s richest boroughs.

“Emergency services cut by austerity staffed with brave workers who haven’t had a pay rise in years running towards danger.

“Work that used to be public sector being contracted out to a private sector and shareholders demanding a profit.

“A government that has repeatedly kicked into touch better housing regulation as “unnecessary red tape’.

“People shouting ‘don’t politicise this tragedy’ as if whether people preventably burning to death in their houses isn’t a matter for the state.”

It shouldn’t be about politics, but it is. If you’re not angry at the tragedy and the failings and would rather brush it under the carpet, then perhaps The Sun is the paper for you.

For everyone else, stay angry and focused until full answers are given and prosecutions made. 

P45

So I’ve been made redundant.
12 years in journalism and the axeman finally cometh.
Fired. Booted out. Got rid of. Ousted. The old tin tack.

I’ve even been able to read about my untimely demise and people’s lovely anonymous views about it on holdthefrontpage.co.uk and the Press Gazette.

To be fair, nobody’s really been unpleasant about me, but some of the phrasing is a bit, urm, choice.
My favourite line so far is “made to walk the plank” by Roy Greenslade on his Guardian blog. Blunt and a bit insensitive – which feels kind of fitting for a newsman really.

The worst comment was from some moron trying to use the sacking of me and two of my colleagues to drum up sympathy for some  MDs who lost their jobs a few months ago. Now it’s never good to read of any job loss, but I know for a fact that all of those departing MDs left with rather larger pay-offs than all the hacks who’ve been handed their P45s.

Anyway, there have been so many of these depressing cutback stories over the past few years I’ve lost count (and yes, like the hypocrite I am, I’ve even commented on a couple of them).

I guess I’ve always assumed that one of these bouts of cut-backs will catch up with me sooner or later.
Indeed I was even sold to another company at one point (along with my paper). Not quite the same, but not very pleasant either.

For some months now I’ve been feeling my axing creeping ever nearer, with the theme from Jaws playing quietly in the deep recesses of my brain somewhere.

I was given a huge clue that something was up two weeks ago when I had the easiest publishing meeting ever. Normally you can expect some very tough questions and forensic examination of everything you’re doing. This time it was so pleasant and friendly I was almost expecting a hand job at the end of it.

But it’s been coming longer than that.
Several papers up north started combining editors – much bigger papers than mine  – and looking down south to my home town, one group editor there has two 20,000+ to look after as well as four smaller stand-alone rags.

So really all things considered, this was expected. I was even quite cavalier about such a prospect.

But it turns out that expecting something to happen and something actually happening are two completely different things.
When I received the “chat”, it knocked me sideways.
I’m genuinely surprised at how much it has upset me, and is still upsetting me.

It’s bizarre really.
Not least because I wanted to leave and I’d actively started applying for other jobs and  was planning to distribute my CV across the country like some over-zealous muck-spreading maniac.
Even the time scale of my redundancy isn’t much different to the one I’d planned in my head either.
Obviously I’m now under more pressure to actually find a job straight away, whereas if I’d have been in control of my own exit, I’d have had more wriggle room, but the truth is I didn’t really want to be here anyway.

So I’m struggling to understand why I feel so shit about it all.

I guess maybe it’s because I had the impression that I was valued here. Respected even.
I’d worked hard, enjoyed success and believed I was highly thought of in my company. They rehired me after all, and I had been approached for a couple of other roles.

And maybe I do have a decent reputation here, but it’s not enough to stop them proceeding with the cut-backs.

I tell myself that it’s not just me and it’s nothing personal. They combined six editor roles into three, and I have a lot of respect for the other two who are losing their jobs.

Since the bombshell, I’ve found it a real struggle to motivate myself to get the paper out.
But the thing with (most) newspaper editors is we just keep going. Going the extra mile is the norm. We don’t know how to ease off and my standards won’t drop just because I wont be here next week.

And anyway, my deputy has a lot of time off over the summer so I’m still having to do the lion’s share of the proper work and can’t hide behind admin, meeting people or creating/implementing various strategies (important parts of what I do, but less so than physically putting a paper together).
I’m being professional and I don’t think the paper looks any different, but I know my heart isn’t in it as much now, and I’m concerned that’s going to come across somehow and readers will notice.

Complaints are the hardest thing to deal with now. Before I could deal with most complaints with politeness, charm (seriously), or just shrug them off  and forget about them if they were minor.

But now I’m hating it. I just want to shout at the Mrs Self Important and Mr Pedantic and rage at how petty their quibble is and insignificant against my own job lost.
And yes, I’m painfully aware of how arrogant, self-pitying and pathetic that sounds.

Mondays have been the hardest.
After a weekend with my family, maybe even playing some cricket, to have to come to work in a place I’m not really wanted and “get the paper out” is much harder work emotionally.

I guess the main purpose of this blog post is to get the self-pity out of the way. To write it down so I can move on.

Now I know I have to pick myself up.
And I know I can because I always do.

I’ve now sent out dozens of CVs, reached out to even more friends and contacts who might have something appropriate.

The fact I’ve now got two gorgeous, awe-inspiring daughters I’m responsible for, I’m more aware than ever that there is no time to sit around feeling sorry for myself, not that I’d want to do that anyway.

I’ve already picked up some subbing shifts on the sportsdesk of The  Sun, and my pay-off gives me about four months to find something. I’m confident I’ll find something before Christmas, but even if not, I can find bits and pieces to keep me going and even dip into our savings if I have to.

I won’t be unemployed for long. I just hope I can find something I want to do.
Sadly, I don’t think that’ll be local papers anymore, I just can’t see much of a future in it.
The constant cuts are also taking the fun away from it.

The next generation deserve more respect

I’ve been looking at a lot of CVs this week.
So far I’ve had more than 40 people apply for a trainee reporter post at my small weekly paper (and it’ll be more, as the deadline isn’t for another three days).

Of course some are depressingly easy to reject – poorly presented CVs, awful spelling and grammar, lack of relevant experience etc.

I fear for those people because most of the applicants look good. Scarily good.

It’s a real shame that I’m going to have to reject so many of them.

It’s really hit home that I wouldn’t have had a hope of getting into the industry if I was applying now.

When I started I couldn’t drive. I had just one week’s worth of work experience and some pretty poor grades – a B, D and an X at A Level (I forgot to turn up to my politics exam) and a 2:2 in Media Communications and English Studies at Cheltenham and Gloucestershire College of Higher Education. A degree which took four years to get. A stunningly awful “achievement”.

I know my academic achievements do not really reflect my intelligence. I pissed about (and I got pissed a lot) I worked full time as a waiter and then in a pub.
I was also far too immature to get the most of the opportunities I had.

In the end it took six months of unemployment for me to finally grow up.
But this generation don’t have that luxury. They know they need to work hard at their education to get a job.

They also have to pay for their university tuition fees. Added to that, the dire economic situation is making it a tough environment for graduates trying to find work.

In journalism it’s especially bad as we’ve shed thousands of jobs over the past decade.
Worse, competition for those few jobs is horrendous as the popularity of journalism degrees has rocketed. Supply has far outgrown demand.

Ten years ago, most of the CVs that have landed in my inbox this time have come from people who wouldn’t have looked twice at a paper the size of mine.

Ten years ago a trainee job at a small paper would have been ideal for a middling student – someone with potential but who wasn’t necessarily the brightest and best in their class.
I don’t mean this to be insulting – the best academic achievers don’t necessarily make the best journalists, I should know, I was one of the weakest in my journalism class when it came to the theory (to be fair the others were an incredibly talented bunch and my grades were perfectly reasonable).
But  it turned out that I had much more of a talent for doing the actual work than studying it. And 12 years later, I’m one of just two from that class still practising news journalism (although this can probably be used as evidence that I’m a bit stupid really).

But now I am overwhelmed by choice.
I can cherry pick some of the brightest and best students who are desperate to get any foot in the door.

To make it now, this generation need to work ridiculously hard to get noticed.
The CVs I’m favouring have lots of work experience. Basically they’ll have worked for free for several weeks.
This depresses me a bit, because it’s making it harder for students from poorer backgrounds to get on.
While I believe you’ll find a way if you really want to, anything that puts poorer candidates at a disadvantage angers me.

Something else that annoys me is how we bemoan the quality of our trainees.
I guess each generation looks down on the next, but when you see the NCE pass rate being one of the lowest ever this year, the obvious knee-jerk reaction is to slate them.

Personally, I don’t buy that.

If anything, I think the industry is letting them down.

I think there is a combination of factors making it harder to pass the NCE.

The first is the NCE isn’t adapting to our times properly. Standards have to be high, but rather than deliberately trying to catch students out and fail them for silly errors, it would be better to set exams which reflect their situation and are more relevant to the skills they need.

I’m really not saying make law or even newspaper practice exams easier, but do we really need to try and deliberately trip them up around every corner?

I’ve seen too many good trainees who are excellent reporters on their papers fail because of a silly, sometimes minor errors.
I’ve helped out at several refresher courses and the interview stage can be ridiculous. Some of the past papers contain pages and pages of possible information, there’s no way a reporter can get everything. Worse, some of the stuff is deliberately designed to lead them down the wrong path.

There should be more input from editors on how well an individual is performing. Some people are rubbish at exams, and an unnatural, high-pressured test situation doesn’t always reflect how good somebody is at doing the actual job.

Another problem is here are far fewer old heads in the newsrooms these days to guide the trainees.
And those who have resisted the higher wages of PR, survived all the cuts and redundancies and are still fighting the good fight, well, they have less time than ever to give proper support because news teams are much smaller.

Added to all this, we are asking our trainees to have more skills than ever before.

Previously you needed to know law, shorthand, some local government, how to structure a story, interview technique, contact making and the ability to charm the newspaper librarian (an all but extinct species – look them up on Wikipedia).
Now you need all the above (minus the librarian charming skills), plus an indepth and vast knowledge of all things digital and the ability to rapidly adapt to changing technologies.
Photography and video experience are becoming increasingly important.

Simply put, we’re asking for more with less. I can almost see Gus Hedges rolling his eyes.

Anyone who’s worked with me (well, maybe not those on my first paper when I was rather green) knows that I have high standards. I get annoyed by people with no common sense and I don’t believe business should ever effect the trait.
Silly, avoidable errors are only forgiveable in small doses.

So, to my point (at last) after being a long time critic of journalism degrees, I’m staring to think that three years studying might not be such a bad idea afterall.

You  clearly don’t need three years to learn the basics of being a journalist, but perhaps more time is needed to learn the digital stuff and the extra time compensates for lower levels of support trainees can expect from experienced hacks if they get a foot in the door.

Most courses involve a lot of practical experience anyway. You’ll never totally recreate the newspaper office experience in a class room, but students do produce their own papers, websites etc, and tutors are able to give them feedback that previously the sub editor (another all-but extinct species) or news editor used to.

My plan is to research journalism degrees more before passing judgement.
I enjoy guiding and teaching trainees, and have a pretty good success rate so far.
But I want to know more of what our young journalists are doing at university.

I do, however, reserve the right to slate any degree which doesn’t have NCTJ recognition. Universities which don’t offer industry-recognised qualifications are purely after students money and care little about their wellbeing and future job prospects.

Silly point on cricket and making friends in your mid 30s.

Let me tell you about my new found love for cricket.

That is perhaps the best opening sentence I’ve written in terms of turning readers off instantly.

Still, I’m going to carry on.
Most people who know me are aware of my love for football and Tottenham Hotspur. But in recent years it’s become a rocky relationship and I just don’t enjoy it as much as I used to.
Obscene amounts of money, greedy players, increased levels of diving, piss poor refereeing – it’s just making it hard to stomach these days.
Obviously I’ll always be a Spurs fan, but it just ain’t that fun anymore.

So I’ve started getting into cricket again.
I played it at school – even captained my house once – but I didn’t carry it on after I left.
I did play in a charity friendly during my time at the Battle Observer once, but my then editor took it so seriously he refused to let me bat or bowl.
Despite that, the club were impressed by my fielding and asked me back to play for the third team.
I always regretted not taking them up on that.

I started watching England in about 2005. The Ashes had suddenly becoming competitive rather than the Aussies dominating all the time, and I also met my wife who loves sport, including cricket. When we moved in together it became a regular fixture on the TV.
I also started thinking about what it would be like to play again. Surely some village team would take me on to make up the numbers?
I work very hard and pride myself on my energy. But outside of work, I’m pretty lazy and enjoy slobbing about, so I  never got around to it. I’d flirt with the idea, usually when I was subbing the sports pages, and I’d mention it to the missus, but we both knew I wasn’t going to do anything about it.

When we moved to Daventry last summer I realised I didn’t know anyone within a 45 minute drive. My lack of friends in the town started to get me down. My wife was meeting new people but the only people I met was through work.
So when I saw Barby Cricket Club tweet about needing new players, I decided to finally give it a go.

However, someone suggested a different team as it was “more local”, so I contacted them and turned up to their next nets session.
I bought some rather naff tracksuit bottoms, dug out my 10 year old trainers and turned up and starting introducing myself.

But the response was crushing. While most (not all) said hello, they all seemed suspicious of me and most didn’t say a word to me for the rest of the evening.
I was just given a ball and told to join the queue to bowl. I soon discovered I didn’t have the confidence or ability to fast bowl anymore, so small run-ups and just luzzing it down the track was the order of the day.
And for 1.5 hours that’s what I did. Chucked a ball at someone who kept smashing it for imaginary sixes.

It was clear I was rubbish and had little to offer. But it was still heartbreaking that nobody was talking to me.
I’m not used to being a social pariah – usually I find if you make the effort, people talk back.
Being men, that initial chat is often stunted, a bit wary and even a bit awkward. But being ignored like this was just rude.
I tried to start conversation four or five times, tried to join in with other chats, but all I got was disinterested grunts or they’d turn around and start talking to someone else.

It all sounds so massively pathetic writing it down.
But seriously, it was like going back to being the awkward kid at primary school who never really fitted in with any of the friendship groups (I was a quiet, slightly odd child at that age – only later becoming far too mouthy and opinionated).
So this knocked my confidence and I began to suspect that while I was good at making contacts at work, I was just shit at making friends.

But despite it all, my bowling was actually much better than I’d hoped.
About 75% of my efforts were vaguely on target, decent line and length. So although there was very little movement of the ball. I could see some potential.

Fortunately my wife persuaded me to try again.
I contacted the first club I’d spoken to, Barby, to see if they still needed players and they invited me along to nets.
When I turned up, the guy I’d emailed warmly greeted me, introduced me to a few people and reassured me that it didn’t matter if I was rusty. As more turned up, nearly all of them made the effort to come over and introduce themselves.

They also lent me some gear to have a bat. And again, while I was pretty rubbish, I loved it.
The ball hit the stumps a fair few times and if it had been a proper game a lot of my wild swings would have been easily caught. But to be able to hit a good 90% of the balls (some of them properly smashed) was exhilarating.

So I kept going every week, and they promised me some friendly games, so I started to buy some gear.

I had no idea at the time but they’re actually one of the best clubs on my patch and have fantastic facilities.
Fortunately this gave me an excuse to give something back to them  in terms of improving the coverage in my paper. Nothing they didn’t deserve mind, but my sports editor doesn’t really understand the sport or realise that their first team plays at a much higher level than any of the other local teams.

Sadly it’s been the worst opening to a cricket season that the team remembers, so my appearances have been limited to two games so far. At least five have been cancelled now. I’m also disappointed that so many of the midweek training sessions have been cancelled, usually due to the weather.
I’m well aware I’m still pretty rubbish – I’ve scored a total of three runs in those two games and I haven’t had a bowl yet as I haven’t got enough confidence in my consistency. I probably seem overkeen as I’m going to nearly every training session too, but I’m determined to get better.

I’m practicing with people who’ve been playing for years and are much, much better than me.
And while it must be frustrating for them to face my bowling at times – easy hit, easy hit, wide, easy hit, wide, unexpected decent ball, wide – they never complain.
I’ve had practice sessions with the bat where the first team bowlers have been using me as target practice, and sometimes the ball was hitting my stumps with unnerving irregularity.
It’s embarrassing really, but I’m never made to feel like the donkey I am.

I’m always delighted when someone gives me some pointers too. Often really basic stuff, and it must be a bit awkward for them giving a grown man advice they’d usually be giving an 11-year-old. But I really appreciate it. Every little tip makes me better.

One area  I’m reasonably useful is in the field – so I’m not totally useless and do offer something to the team .
Despite my extra lumber, I can still sprint faster than most. I’m happy (stupid enough) to chuck myself in front of fast moving balls and I’ve stopped a fair few boundaries.

My goal now is to become less of a donkey as the season goes on.
There’s no reason I can’t reach double figures in an innings soon. And my bowling accuracy is improving, so if I can get a few overs it would be nice to see whether I could be effective in that respect too.
I also need to learn fielding positions, so when the captain sends me to mid off or silly point, I wont have to then wait for him to point exasperatedly at me.

Whatever, it’s just nice to be doing some sport again.

Still gold in them thar hills

Roy Greenslade seemed staggered that a mid-sized JP weekly paper could make £51k profit in one month last year.  
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2012/jun/07/mediabusiness-johnston-press

The original piece (http://www.themediabriefing.com/article/2012-06-07/The-surprising-truth-about-local-newspapers) by themediabriefing.com ‘s Pat Smith, was clearly a bit of an eye-opener for all those commentators who’ve been predicting the death of the local press for years.

While that margin is a slightly higher than my own august organ and probably needs a few other variables figured in, it’s kind of what I’d expect.
My own paper is still very healthy. Down a little bit on sales maybe, but still very profitable and performing better than the average. And audience has grown considerably when you factor in the website (visitor numbers have shot up 50% in the past year).

I’m hoping the piece will shut the doom mongers up for a while anyway.
Most seem to have either been out of local papers for a while – the it-was-better-in-my-day brigade – or have very little experience of them anyway – the “we’re from the internet” crowd!
You know the type. Those cocky upstart who think they can save news (often despite limited journalism experience outside their degree) with shiny new hyperlocal sites (that make no money and are full of tedious crap) and believe anyone who defends the printed product must simply be a dinosaur.

The fact is, most of us who have ink running through our veins ARE embracing the web, often with equal or greater zeal. But we still see both mediums as very important.
Most editors (most) are not stupid. We know digital is vitally important for us.
We’re desperate for better technology, better strategies and new ways of making money from the web.
We’re well aware we’ve got more audience than ever before as young people who have never bought papers are suddenly digesting huge amount of news online.
We just need that undiscovered country of a business model to make it pay as well as print.

And I think JP is better placed than all our rivals to make the web work. The new digital vision is very encouraging – even if some of the technology still needs a bit of work.

And I think it has the potential go further. I can see a time when our trusted local brands, built up over the years through our newspapers, enable us to build large community websites.
Local hubs where submitted content (and I’m talking mainly stuff that’s already out there at schools, clubs etc) comes to us and sits alongside proper news stories. And why not add in data blocks such as house prices, good schools, crime figures, searchable by postcode.
And if we create 200 or so of these local uber hubs across the country, the potential is huge.

But because most editors aren’t stupid, we’re also keenly aware that the vast majority of our income still comes from print. It would be daft and suicidal to just give up on the most profitable part of your business.
And the figures in Pat Smith’s story show there’s still gold in them thar hills.

There’s been cuts to editorial certainly, but most papers still have adequate resources to keep standards high. Of course those on the outside who throw sticks at us for still worshipping the old news gods love nothing more than seizing on our silly mistakes and waving them around like bloodied heads of fallen battlefield rivals as an example of “cuts” leading to “falling standards”.

A bad headline – cuts!
An error at the press which messes up a page – Cuts!
An awkward juxtaposition of an advert for skydiving lessons next to the story about the man who fell from an aeroplane (I’m making that up, but you get the jist)  – cuts, cuts, cuts!

But in reality most of these cuts are usually just cock-ups. And as far as I’m aware, this industry has been making cock-ups for years. We’re pretty good at it really.
Personally I’m particularly fond of advert juxtapositions and have quite a collection on my desktop.

I’m confident that we will continue to make cock-ups for years to come. This is because a), I’m confident most (most) journalists are human. And b), I’m confident we will still be here for years to come.

The fact is most local papers – particularly ones which serve towns of 20-50,000, are still deeply rooted in their communities and highly valued.
The bigger towns have lost their sense of community, but places like Daventry, my town, still has an identity and a sense of togetherness.

The local press can still act as their champion.

But when you remove that local presence, papers start to lose their relevance.
I’ve experienced it myself. When JP sold me along with the St Neots Town Crier, I was relocated to an industrial cowshed outside Cambridge with other editors from across Cambs, Herts and Essex.
Despite heroic efforts and disgraceful working hours, I always knew we were never in touch with our readers as much as our rivals – The Hunts Post – because all of its staff were based locally.
That said, it was nominated for an EDF award and it won it the year after I left, so I guess my old employers would probably argue being out of town made no difference.
But any proper journalist will know that it does. It makes a huge difference. And it was a big part of the reason why I was desperate to get back to JP, a fact which will probably surprise many industry critics.

So back to my point.

Local newspapers are not dead, we’re not even on life support yet.
Profit margins of over 20% are still common place and realistic.
And that’s a figure many businesses would die for.

Top ten games

I like lists.
Everyone should.

So taking a break from journalism (already, just one post in to my new blog), I’ve decided to list some of my all time favourite computer games – inspired by a similar list in today’s Guardian.

11. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ok, so putting this on the list automatically destroys my integrity as a proper gamer. It was a simple hack and slash, button slamming affair based on a decidedly average cartoon.
BUT.
This was the first game I ever completed in an arcade. I can still remember it vividly. I was about 14, on a French exchange with my school, and playing as Michaelangelo (the one with the orange mask and nunchakus). Along with three classmates we spent a good hour destroying reams of baddies, killing every boss,  and emerging victorious. I think we each spent about a fiver on restarts, but the sense of achievement was marvellous. It was one of my first truly rewarding experiences of multi-player gaming.

10. Unchartered series: All three of these games on the PS3 were brilliant. They took Tomb Raider and added greater depth, better combat and top drawer narrative and dialogue.
The cut scenes aren’t annoying and play very well with the action, while some of the set pieces are awesome – particularly memorable ones include the crashed train in Among Thieves and the plane crash in Drake’s Deception.
If I had to pick a favourite it’s Among Thieves.

9Championship Manager (late 90s): Champ Manager was the premier football management game until the programmers lost the rights to it and jumped ship. Football Manager is now a much better franchise.
Another uni staple, I used to sit for hours in my flatmate’s immaculate room playing this. Hard to describe why, but there’s something about turning my consistently disappointing Spurs into genuine world-beaters.

8. Left 4 Dead: I do enjoy a good zombie film, and unsurprisingly shooting dozens of zombies in the face is incredibly satisfying.
It’s a very simple premise – hundreds of zombies versus four normal people with guns, and a few specialist zombies with unpleasant skills (like chundering or trapping you with a massive, rope-like tongue) to liven up the action. It’s best played online with three others, or with three allies and four players as the zombies.  Just quality co-op fun, mainly just blasting dead people, but there are a few tactics to help you avoid the infected.
Left 4 Dead 2 brought in some melee weapons which certainly add to the fun, but very little else was added to the sequel, probably because very little else was needed.

7. Red Dead Redemption:  A beautifully created slice of the Wild West. Great characters, storyline and sub-quests. Being ambushed by outlaws while tearing through the plains on horseback makes for some of the best gunfighting fun to be had.

6. Dragon Age: Origins: Another fantastic example of a decent story. The script is very good and the multiple dialogue options genuinely make for different games. The fight engine is also very interesting, going for a tactical approach rather than just hacking and slashing. You have to pause the action and issue orders for each of your party to succeed because fights are tough, but just about winnable if you’re paying attention.

5. Battlefield 2142: Probably a surprising choice for fans of the brilliant Battlefield series. They’re all good (although they do work better on the PC rather than PS3, particularly BF3). But I was brilliant at 2142. I joined a clan and everything. Unlike other FPS of the time, the multi-player element was very tactical and much more natural somehow. CoD for example was just hectic and ridiculous. There was no tactics to is, just running around corners and shooting. Where’s the skill in launching an airstrike for foght’s sake?
No, Battlefield is a classier animal. Squad play is rewarded and you’ll stay alive longer working in a team.
I just felt the weaponary and maps of 2142 gave it that extra something which elevated it above the others.

4. Frontier: Elite II: A favourite of mine at university. I’ve never found a decent space trading/fighting game as good as it. Eve online came closest, but I found it  too tough for a noob to get going.
A bit buggy in places, but I loved my Cobra MKIII.

3. Asheron’s Call: My first MMORPG. I bloody loved this and still miss it. Launched in 1999, it was overshadowed by Ultima Online and Everquest. Incredibly it’s servers are still going and a small band of players have kept the community alive.
Standard fantasy monsters and levelling your character type stuff, but it was a huge land to explore and monthly updates continually added new events and updated the backstory. I played it for 3 or 4 years before progressing to Everquest II.
EQII was clearly more polished and even bigger, but it lacked the charm and wonder of AC. Tried a few others too but they all seem like grinding to level. My experience of AC was more social and exploration based.
ACII was utter shite mind.

2. Fallout 3: A brilliant RPG set in a post-nuclear war America, kind of 1940s but with modern tech, it’s a strange, grimy but superbly imagined world. A great storyline, unique combat system but best of all so much to explore and do. You can wander around for literally days exploring the map and still know you’re missing out on stuff.
New Vegas is pretty good too.

1. Civilization IV: I loved the original Civ and each one subsequent edition brought the franchise forward (until the woeful latest Civ V, which seemed unfinished, untested and unplayable).
Cerebral, micro-management, building huge armies, many, many, many different strategies  and just hugely gripping. Very much a “one more turn” game, 4am sessions have been known.
I still play it, even though it’s seven years old.

Interesting times…

I’ve decided to start a new blog.
It’s not going to be exclusively about journalism as I have many other interests, but it’s going to start off that way.

I enjoyed writing my old blogg but I was becoming increasingly worried that it would get me fired.
I tried to keep it anonymous. And that was fine until some bright PR spark discovered my real name and added it and my job title to some media directory. A quick Google of my username and up came my true identity.

So I’ve learnt that anonymity doesn’t really work on the web without a superhuman effort.
And I’m not superhuman, I’m a 35-year-old out of shape dad.

So, by being honest about who I am, hopefully I can rein myself in a bit and not put my career at risk.

I never slagged the company I worked for off, but perhaps at times I was too honest, and that doesn’t always go down well with the Powers That Be.

I’m in a new job now, working for a new company. And while there are still many things that frustrate me, the underlying thing is I like what I do. I love news, and I love newspapers.

Many say the future of newspapers isn’t too promising.
My own feeling is they still have a future, but perhaps not as we know it.

I think the ones which will survive best are the weeklies in mid-sized towns. Too small and they become unsustainable, too big and they lose all sense of community.
And it really is community that’s important to the weekly newspaper.
If your paper has strong roots in its community and stands up for it, there’s no reason it can’t keep going for years.
See Matt Engel in the FT (summarised by Jon Slattery): http://jonslattery.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/are-our-towns-and-cities-too-big-for.html

But clearly none of us can survive in this industry without embracing the digital side of things.
I personally consume nearly all of my national news online now. I rarely buy a national paper as any news I want is on websites and blogs. The only time I’m tempted to buy a national is for features, indepth analysis of something that interests me or to look at their design.

Local papers still fascinate me though, and I’ll buy one wherever I go. I genuinely enjoy reading them, some in a sneery manner, but most to steal ideas.

There’s something more honest, genuine and even authoritative about a good local rag.

I think part of the reason I prefer printed local papers over their websites is because most local paper websites have been quite poor for a long time.
But they are genuinely getting better,  and there are signs that they’re becoming even more innovative and interesting.

There is definitely still a certain reluctance to go totally digital first at this level, mainly because we still need to make money and it’s still easier to do that in print than online.
But again, that is evolving and the principles behind digital first is being embraced more each day.

I’m finally starting to see some interesting business models coming through, I can see how we can start making the web pay better. Not as much as print, but I can finally see some hope that we can increase digital to match the decline in print. Many papers are also  finding a  balance between online and in-paper news which works well.

My key hope is we don’t abandon print too quickly, or damage our papers too much in pursuit of the online profit.
Some of the changes coming through genuinely worry me.
But I’m approaching them with an open mind and will try to make it all work to the best of my abilities.