Thursday, 28 February 2013

Journalism Week 2013 - Neil Wallis, former Executive Editor of the News of the World

Possibly one of the most highly anticipated speakers at Journalism Week was Neil Wallis, lauded in our programme as a former editor of The People, Executive Editor of the News of the World, and member of the Press Complaints Commission.

He was one of many journalists arrested following the phone-hacking scandal in 2011 on charges of conspiracy to intercept mobile communications. Just recently the Crown Prosecution Service dropped their case against him, citing a lack of evidence to secure a conviction.

If there is a man more qualified or able to talk to us about the journalism industry and the Leveson proposals, then we haven't met them yet! Certainly, the tone was set before he even began with his presentation entitled "LEVESON: Devil in the Detail - Why Inquiry Report Threatens Press Freedom In More Ways Than One". Quite clear what his feelings on the reforms of the media are!

Neil was introduced by his former employee, and current Leeds Trinity Senior Lecturer in Media Law - appropriately enough! - Nigel Green. It was a perfect moment for Neil's phone to ring, and one wag in the audience (I have my suspicions about who!) shouted "It's Leveson!" to laughter all round.

Turning then to the serious, Neil was candid about his arrest, his bail and his subsequent exoneration - "It's scary. You feel like wetting yourself! It brings everything to a grinding halt - your life, your family, your career." The mood of the room was actually sympathetic, and it will be interesting to see if that holds up tomorrow when we're joined by Professor Brian Cathcart of the Hacked Off campaign, bitter ideological opponents to Mr Wallis and co.

Back to today, and Neil - cleared of all charges - has now set his sights on those arguing for the toughest of press reforms as proposed by the Leveson Inquiry. He painted a very convincing picture of the dangers of appointing a statutory regulator - specifically one backed by (and therefore dominated by) Parliament.

A Parliament, of course, that is wracked by scandal, corruption and ineptitude - see left!
There has been no end to the procession of crimes and misdemeanours of our elected leaders - exposed, naturally, by the Press they're now struggling to gag.

Hitting the topical angle, Neil referred to the Rennard scandal engulfing Nick Clegg's Lib-Dems, and how it was broken by a Journalist, those self-appointed detectives that the Deputy Prime Minister has made inadvisable enemies of!

Picture courtesy of @DMJHull

He spoke rousingly and charmed an audience of - I'll be honest - naieve journalism students who have been raised on a diet of cynicism towards the Government, even though their (our?) faith is still in the Guardian and the ethical correctness of the Leveson Inquiry. Nonetheless, it's clear to see how he was able to wield such influence over a Murdoch newsroom - and we're only seeing the beauty of charm and not the 'Wolfman' beast!

When the Q&A came around after a very quick half-hour, Neil made it clear how he'd tackle press reform. Trinity Journalism Graduate, and next Paxman Ben Cropper asked him if the Press Complaints Commission - of which Neil had sat on the board as a tabloid Editor - was a "toothless watchdog".
Neil responded forcefully that the PCC simply lacked stronger investigative powers - which seems surprising as the main complaint against the PCC seemed to be its lack of punitive strength instead. As an editor, however, Neil stated how he spoke to the PCC practically every day, checking the suitability of his stories - and is that a comment on other editors who might not have held to that admirable practice? He made it clear that "People were not arrested becase they broke the Editors Code of Conduct - they broke the law. The PCC couldn't stand in the way of that."

At one point he turned the entire Q&A on its head and asked us at one point we'd fall back on that tried and tested method of chequebook journalism. I couldn't tell if the silence that greeted him was moral in fibre, or just squirming! A few hardy souls ventured to admit they'd pay out for stories, and uppermost in my mind was securing the Telegraph scoop on the Expenses scandal. It was an interesting moral conundrum, and he continued the theme when asked if there was indeed a culture of criminality amongst the tabloids - "No, but I know a lot of journalists who sail bloody close to the wind!"

It's fair to say Journalism has always operated in the 'grey' areas, both morally and legally - indeed, it's probably where it's most needed. I had decided long before this session to get into this as far as possible, and tweeted a former Journalism Week guest - infamous tabloid apostate Richard Peppiatt. 

I asked Richard what I should specifically put to Neil, considering their naturally opposing viewpoints on a common topic. By the wonders of modern technology, the link to the right will show you all of Neil's talk and at 43:35 I am the person who asks the question - "Regarding press freedom, which you have discussed extensively and proudly, how do you reconcile it with the fact that all 175 titles owned by Murdoch simultaneously supported the Iraq War?"

The response I get is somewhat confusing - not certain that I would describe Rupert Murdoch's work as "left-of-centre papers". Nor would I describe all of his titles as "not being huge opinion formers." And his decision to mention the 'Editor of the Times' as opposing proprietorial influence seems laughably inappropriate!

Raising the most eyebrows, of course, is Neil's vehement response to Mr Peppiatt which came across as a violet drubbing. No less energetic is his attack moments later on Professor Cathcart, but Richard himself has already been responding to the comments via Twitter and the Journalism Week hashtag #ltjw until just recently, several hours after the talk has concluded!

Will the Hacked Off campaign respond equally forcefully to this tabloid supremo turned press freedom fighter? No doubt there will be even more exciting developments as Journalism Week comes to an end for another year, continuing the theme whereby I ask impertinent questions of important people!

Until tomorrow...!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Journalism Week 2013 - Mark Bradley, Yorkshire Weekly Newspapers - Group Editor

We went regional with our final speaker on the second day of Journalism Week - Mark Bradley is Group Editor of fifteen West Yorkshire titles including the Wakefield Express, Dewsbury Reporter and Halifax Courier. 

Mark Bradley introduced to #ltjw by Susan Pape,
Assoc. Principal Lecturer in Journalism
An eighteen-year veteran reporter, then sub-editor and finally editor responsible for all the titles mentioned above, it was clear he was going to speak with a great deal of experience behind him.
He approached Journalism Week with an unprecedented amount of hard, and good, advice for training journalists, saying "I'll tell you what I'm looking for when I'm recruiting for my newsrooms." He wants reporters who can quickly take pictures, get and edit video, write good copy, write their own headlines, sub their own work and put it all on a user-UNfriendly Content Management System.

It's another brick in the wall of multi-skilling journalists - but more than that, Mark doesn't want staff to forget the "fundamentals - finding and telling stories. How you deal with people everyday will define you as a journalist, and what this course does is train you how to go out and TALK to them - not sit behind a monitor and press keys."

It's valuable stuff for a room full of training reporters, many of whom will be job-hunting within weeks. Demand for a position well exceeds the actual vacancies - Mark informed us if he advertises for a position, he will get at least 50 applicants!

How should the potential employee stand out from the crowd then? The answer is at the heart of regional journalism - that the journalist should be vitally aware OF their region! Any good editor wants to see in the covering letter itself a true awareness of the 'patch' you'll be covering, a real familiarity that will lead to good, in-depth writing.
Back that up with a reference as well - and make it a good one! If you can, make it someone already working on the publication who knows you. "I want to be able to pick up the phone and speak to someone who can tell me in a few minutes if you're right for the job."
Finally, Mark observes "I've never had a video application!" I'd already been considering a show-reel style portfolio on Youtube as an application tool, but now a room full of competitors know, I'd better get on it quick! The lesson here though is a combination of local knowledge, proven skills, and ability to improvise a novel approach - all keys to standing out from the crowd.

Mark turned next to the real challenges facing regional media, dealing with monetizing their work and balancing the digital/print demand. "We want to chase new demographics, of course, but we don't want to alienate our existing customers. Print is still our priority, and whilst it might change in 12 to 24 months, but many of our core demographics don't have access to high speed internet" - so, a flashy website is entirely wasted on your key customers and what content might you have sacrificed in the course of going fully 'digital'?

It's an interesting conundrum which must be facing regional titles and broadcasters across the country, and it's even more crucial when you consider a key message of Journalism Week is the importance of starting with local media - either as a stepping stone to national and international work, or building a solid career with your hometown title.

Mark echoed other common themes of the week, such as advising against too much dependance on Facebook or Twitter. "They're valuable tools certainly, but they are no replacement for properly curated content." He cites well-known examples of social media driven stories that have exploded spectacularly in people's faces, with names like McAlpine and Bercow ringing warning bells across the nation.

During the Question and Answer session, I asked him what he thought of hyperlocal blogging, and citizen journalism - did they compete for custom with their increasing popularity, and lack of commercial dependance versus his more traditional media?
"I think bloggers, and micro-local journalism, are really just part of the landscape that live alongside local newspapers - for the moment. We aren't really in direct competition."

He stressed the kind of 'brand loyalty' that publications like the Yorkshire Evening Post have, which is key to the success of regional media - and that loyalty is assured as long as they retain 'integrity', which causes him to comment on the post-Leveson world of journalism. "Our readers now come to expect a higher quality, less 'in your face' style of reporting that is less tabloid. They will actually complain if we become too tabloid, that's a definite shift after things like Leveson and the closure of the News of the World."

I found that a particularly interesting point, and after the applause and thanks I stopped to ask Mark to expand a little further on it for a video.

Journalism Week 2013 - Trevor Morris, Public Relations Supremo

Another Journalism Week has begun, courtesy of Leeds Trinity University and their Centre for Journalism - where I am a final year student on a Journalism BA.

I've blogged about Journalism Week previously and this year will be no exception. When not blogging, you can follow the action on twitter via the hashtag #ltjw, the account @JournalismWeek and the liveblog and livestream. We don't just talk about multiplatforming - we do it!

Today we had a couple of firsts - our first PR representative, albeit now resigned from the industry to become our first journalism academic, Trevor Morris.

The theme of his presentation to us was "Is PR good for us?" - an interesting concept to a room full of cynical veteran journalists and their proteges!

Indeed, he asked how many in the room were specifically PR students, and the lone few hands that went up were heavily outnumbered by the 'pure' Journalists!

Unabashed, he pressed on with his lecture which portrayed PR as "hard to describe, easy to malign" in my words. He discussed the steretotypes of the PR operatives, such as the male Machiavelli and the female Strategist - but the truth is actually of a well-connected corporate employee who probably knows as much as his CEO or Minister about the doings of their company or Department.

He confirmed my suspicions about the divide between Journalists and PR staff - the divide between good jobs and pay versus no work and scant earnings, with no medals for guessing who gets what! But more than that, that contention between the camps is actually a good thing. As a citizen, he says, he wants reporters to be sceptical of the PR line - "holding the powerful to account" as we were always meant to do!

Indeed, he freely admits that good PR must 'mislead in order to keep their clients interests' - and equated it with a Journalist deceiving to protect their exclusive. Are these deceptions necessary to our work? Some tweeters were still reserving judgement!

During his busy Q&A, Trevor was clear on his morals stating he'd never lost his principles over his work. At a time when Journalism is still recovering from Leveson, how many hacks can claim the same?