Monthly Archives: September 2008

So that’s why we’re all going broke

This isn’t really relevant to anything I’d usually post about – except for being a brilliant piece of journalism.

Ever wondered how the credit crunch started? Then take an hour and listen to this podcast from This American Life. It’s everything you ever wanted to know and although it IS an hour long it’s fascinating listening.

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Subs are not cut-to-fit monkeys

In this column, Nick Clayton says:

For a start, websites don’t need subs, at least as they exist at the moment. The reason is simple. The key role of subs on newspapers is in getting words to fit a finite space whether that’s copy, headlines or captions.

Unlike a printed page, there is effectively no restriction on the size of a web page. If you want to run every word in the Bible in one place there’s nothing to stop you. In the interests of the reader there could be an editorial decision that no story should be longer than 700 words, but in terms of readability there’s little difference between say 500 words and 600 words. The missing hundred words won’t leave a space.

Even the most satisfying task of the sub, headline writing, is effectively rendered obsolete by the web. What are required online are labels that will be picked up by search engines, not clever plays on words.

He’s missing a fundamental point. Subs are NOT cut-to-fit monkeys. We rewrite. We pare back. We make better.

Copy is not cut just because it’s too long. It’s cut because the reporter has used ten words when two will do; repeated themselves, included quotes that mean nothing or phrases like this:

He said the ambulance took a long time to arrive. He said: “The ambulance took a long time to arrive.”

As for suggesting that web headlines don’t have to be interesting: he consigns us to a lifetime of unimaginative titles that consist of keywords, like this one from today’s Mirror: Army base ‘bully‘ film

And just two more examples:

The threat of rain did not dampen the spirit of a man who had unearthed a family link to the secret gardens recently discovered at the East Close Hotel.

That was the only mention of rain in the whole story.
And how about this?

BEAULIEU is still Beaulieuful according to Bank Holiday excitement seekers who surf the internet to find out where to go.

Internet search engine rates the venue in the heart of the New Forest as number 21 in its top 25, according to the number of hits asking for information.

Top of the pops is Chester Zoo, closely followed by London Zoo and the Natural History Museum. The Tate Modern comes in ninth, Cornwall’s Eden Project at number 15, Legoland at 17 and the London Transport Museum at 18.

Leeds Castle is next, followed by Paignton Zoo and then Beaulieu, which has its abbey, house and gardens, but more specifically the National Motor Museum.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu said: “Beaulieu was one of the first visitor attractions to open in this country over 50 years ago and it’s gratifying to see that in this modern age of the internet it remains one of the country’s most popular and best loved visitor destinations.”

The motor museum has 250 exhibits ranging from bicycles to cars, through to commercial vehicles.

And Beaulieu doesn’t lag behind the times either: the veteran bus that carries visitors around the grounds has recently been converted to run on recycled chip oil from the Brabazon Cafeteria, ensuring it is environmentally Beaulieuful.

A good sub would reduce that to three pars.

Unlimited space does NOT mean we shouldn’t care about quality.  I don’t leave stories long in the paper because I need to fill the hole – I sub it for value and workfrom there. That doesn’t stop being true just because there’s no box to fill. Every word should earn its place.

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Reasons to be cheerful

It’s all doom and gloom at the moment, isn’t it? Recession, unemployment, crashing share prices leading to company takeovers (there but for the grace of new shares goes Johnston press).

So here are some blog posts that make me optimistic. There are some people out there who think we’ll make it through. More thinking like that, and less thinking like this, is what we need to become commercially successful enough to keep us in our jobs….

We’re rethinking advertising

We should care about how our money is made. Advertising needs innovation as much if not more than editorial if newsaper websites are to work. Thankfully Paul Bradshaw’s got some ideas

We’re admitting we can’t do things the way we always have

And isn’t that exciting? Mark Potts has a convincing explanation for why change is good

There are lots of people with ideas for new business models

I didn’t really get into journalism for the business angle. But it makes me happy to know there are people out there who have thought about how we make money – and how we can make enough of it to ‘save newspapers’

And we do still care about the quality of our product

No matter what people say, subbing IS important. It’s not something any reporter can do. And it’s not obselete, not matter what Desmond or Greenslade say. Don’t agree? Richard Burton might persuade you.

You may think his points aren’t relevant online. But just because you don’t have a physical space to cut your copy to doesn’t mean said copy won’t require pruning, or checking, or sharpening up, or even hacking back to three pars because that’s all its worth. Quality control is just as important online as it is in print.

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Changes ahead

We’re all waiting for the go-ahead to switch from our existing site to the new Newsquest template.

It looks like this – and there has already been much discussion about the design. Readers, as whole, haven’t responded well – but then they haven’t really responded well to the Northcliffe redesign either.

The new version is undoubtedly better. The main issue for us will be the navigation – we’re moving from a side nav bar to a top nav bar  – and some of the sections don’t really make sense. Things aren’t where you’d expect them to be.

We’re hoping to put together some editorial for the paper about the new site and where to find your favourite sections, highlighting some of the new features, but there are some people who think this should be done after the switch-over and not in the run up to. There may also be a ‘how to’ video on the site.

We’ll see how it goes!

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Headline of the Day

And people say anyone can sub…

Headline of my week, on a story about a beleagured hydrotherapy pool and a potential rescue package:

Spa wars: a new hope

Not exactly web-friendly, I realise. But still. Take that, Desmond.

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Nokia N95 – should I get one?

I’m thinking of upgrading my phone – and while I can’t see the big bosses providing for me, I’d like something I can use for work; video, pictures and so on (nothing like leading by example, I say – if the reporters see someone doing it, perhaps we’ll start the culture shift I’m hoping for but have no authority to achieve!)

So: the N95. All it’s cracked up to be?

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TimeTube – Bournemouth Air Festival

Thanks to Alison Dow over at Headlines and Deadlines I’ve been experimenting with Dipity TimeTube today. Now to persuade the powers that be that it deserves a place on our site, despite not being ‘our’ content. For some reason I can’t get it to embed here (working on it!) but in the meantime, follow the link!

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EDF awards South East – where are all the newspapers?

Last week the shortlist was announced for this years EDF Energy Media Awards for the South East. Look at the website of the Year category. We have BBC Kent, the Kent County Council enterprise Kent TV, run by a freelance media company, and Archant’s Ham and High.

What we don’t have is any showing by the big three. No Johnson Press – the News is very well represented elsewhere in the list but despite being JPs biggest selling paper, no sign of their website on the shortlist. No Northcliffe – despite the fact that AND has just been nominated in the Newspaper Society’s online awards – and no Newsquest. although the Argus has recently launched the new version of Newsquest’s template. And not forgetting Trinity, who are also conspicuous by their absence.

I’m not sure how much of this is down to papers deciding not to enter and how much is the websites not making the grade. It will be interesting to see what the judges say.

But the former indicates a disturbing lack of pride in the product and the latter suggests that none of the big boys have so far got it right. Neither option is very encouraging.

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The point of this whole shebang

At the moment, I sub for a living.  As a student, subbing was my dream job. (Now I dream of having the authority to make some long overdue changes to certain newspapers’ websites, but that’s another post.)

The trouble is, now that I am a sub, I find the job is not what it once was.

Partly that’s the fault of subs themselves, who no longer consider it their job to rewrite copy, remove cliches, check facts or query the angle but are content with ‘making it fit’.

And partly it’s down to that oft-repeated ‘truth’: subs aren’t needed for the internet.

So print subs resign themselves to becoming irrelevant. And as a result, they become irrelevant.

I disagree.  Here’s three of the reasons why:

1. In many newsrooms the internet revolution is still in its infancy. And I’ve never been in a newsroom where a reporter and news editor have the time to produce two distinct versions of a story for each medium. Who’s going to take the print copy and sub for the web (and of course vice versa)?

2. Web headlines are an art. we all know how important geo-tagging and SEO is. But if you want a web headlines that don’t consist solely of place names and SEO terms, you need someone with skill and imagination.

3. Similarly, the web intro that is all the reader sees of the story.  Should it be the same as the one that has appeared/will appear in the paper? What about your feature content?  How we sell the story to the reader is, if anything, more important than in print.

Now I know there will those who say reporters can do all that, the Northcliffe give-them-a-box-and-
they’ll-fill-it school of subbing.

But I’ve never been in a newsroom where they were doing successfully. And I’d bet that’s the case in lots of the smaller regional newsrooms.

So the challenge for the sub who wants to survive is to make themselves relevant. Don’t just upload what you’re given in the form you’re given it. Apply the skills that got you the job in the first place.

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