Tag Archives: journalism

Subs v Greenslade (part three)

So. Part three. Why subs aren’t useless.

Page design, for all that Roy says it’s templated and not creative, is a well-developed craft.
There are rules about minimum headline sizes to hold up a page, how many decks you need for a top single, best use of pictures and so on.
These are guidelines based on studies of how people read, watch works as eye catching design and what makes you turn the page without reading on.

Roy may think that online ‘page design is irrelevant, of course.’

Of course it’s irrelevant if you want your readers to miss half your content. Of course its irrelevant if you want your site to be grey and boring, or your text to look so dull your readers drift off halfway down the page.

Page design may indeed be irrelevant to most newspapers right now, hamstrung as they are by their templated cms and their lack of knowledge about eyetracking.

But should it be irrelevant? No, absolutely not.

Two examples (and I promise I’m not showing off here…)

First, online picture galleries.

Here’s the Newsquest official gallery.

And here’s the one we built last month.

Why? Well, the Newsquest version is small. It doesn’t show off the photographer’s work. You can’t really see what’s happening in the pictures. It doesn’t inspire, or make you smile, or make you think ‘I’m going to send this link to my friend.’ Were that paper to be running a picture supplement, it wouldn’t make you think “I’ll buy that, because I already know their pictures are great.’ It doesn’t give the photographers any reason to take anything other than a bog standard news shot. I could go on.

The point is, why should pictures online be relegated to 310 pixels?  Why does the fact that it’s a website mean we shouldn’t care about how it looks?

Second: Our Taste section. Here’s how it looks now

Here’s the version we’re working on for a relaunch

It’s not perfect. We’re stuck with only using basic html and none of us are wizards. But it makes a difference. It’s more appealing. You can see where things are. We’re selling the content.

So page design is absolutely relevant. And who better to deal with it than subs who already know the basic principles?

If I was an editor this is what I’d do.

Find and keep good copy subs. Train them in SEO for headlines and let them work out how to combine optimizing for Google with writing good headlines. They’re not incompatible. It just needs skill.

Find and keep good design subs. Teach them about eyetracking, train them in basic html and the vagaries of the cms so they can add links, create breaks in the copy, use pictures to their best advantage, use italics and bold and lists to make the stories LOOK good.

Teach them about Google maps and Yahoo pipes and Dipity and Flash so they can tell the story in a new way; the online version of fact files and breakout panels and graphics.

Give them input into how the site looks. Use their experience and flair, make them part of the process, keep them enthused about the future and hang-on to their knowledge.

So when a story breaks and you’re running constantly updating copy on the web you’ve got a sub who can make it accurate, make it clear, make it interesting, make it sing – in both the old sense, and the new SEO sense – and finally do it fast, like in the old days of deadlines. Exciting for them and for the reader. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

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Greenslade v subs (part two)

No sooner had I finished part one than Roy posted this.

There are two things here that I would like to address:

1> Subbing can be competently performed by people who have no especial link with a given paper.

I’d say adequately. Not competently. But here’s a thing. A good local paper stands for something. It has an identity.

And that identity will be one of our most valauble assets in bringing readers online and ensuring our survival.

Take away local subs, who care about and are proud of their pages, who know what the paper is and what its stance is on everything from how it reports suicides to in what context you can use the word interweb, and you take away part of that personality.

One of the things I’ve been trying hard to do at the Echo is build a sense of an online community. It’s one of the things the BBC radio brands do well – make you feel like they are a family and that you, by listening, are part of that family. That’s what we strive for.

So we have an avatar – the deck chair – that is more than just our masthead. We call the office Echo Towers, partly because I’m a bit of a geek, and partly because (I hope) it makes our Twitter followers feel like they’re getting the inside track.

We have a joke in paper about our TV columnist and her kitten heels. Our What’s On picture captions are legendary. Our sections have an identity and the people who sub them know what that id is and why it matters.

Our readers probably wouldn’t know the difference if that changed. But they’d know there WAS a difference.

Perhaps we should spend more time building newsrooms full of people that DO have a link to the paper.

Aside from the obvious advantages – obscure spellings of street names, knowledge of the history of stories and characters that can be invaluable – maybe there’s a more subtle, but more vital effect.

A paper readers can identify with. A product staff care about. Pride in your work. A sense of place. Readers notice when you spell place names or school names or surnames wrong. They know the backstory, and when you don’t they’ll happily point it out (while telling you how rubbish your paper is).

And who among us can claim that reader loyalty and brand identification won’t matter in the future? In the new age, newspapers will need to market themselves. Outsourcing or templating your subbing diminishes your brand. Slowly, maybe, and subtly, but it does. That’s why Roy’s wrong.

And point two?

This: “I am talking newsprint here, incidentally. It is noticeable that punning headlines work less well online and, of course, the page design is irrelevant.”

More follows in part three!

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Subs v Greenslade (part one)

How do I disagree with you, Roy? Let’s count the ways.

First:, let’s start with the cheap shot.

“I write my blog every day, I don’t need a sub to get in the way,” said the former Daily Mirror editor turned Guardian blogger. “I produce copy that goes straight on screen – why can’t anyone else do that?

You can eliminate a whole structure. “We’re now producing highly educated, well-trained journalists, who of course don’t need to have their work changed.”

Readers of his blog will know that there are often misspelled words, missing words and sentences that could do with a good pruning.

One could suggest that Roy’s instinct is for excessively wordy and tortorously punctuated sentences.

One could also suggest that a good sub, seeking brevity and clarity while maintaining meaning, could halve most of his columns with little effort and no loss of substance.

It’s an argument that brings up the old Giles Coren subs v reporters debate, in which the reporter, educated as s/he is in grammar and spelling, and completely and thoroughly conversant with the minutiae and nuances of their story, has chosen every single word carefully.

Their sentences are so deliberately, consciously, constructed that any attempt by a sub-editor to shorten or clarify will destroy the magical edifice of words that so perfectly encapsulates the story in question.

I’m prepared to concede – because I don’t know every journalist in the country – that there may be some out there whose work cannot be improved upon.

But in the real world? The reporter will type too fast; not know how to spell, have not been taught the difference between it’s and its (a journalist I know in her twenties says she was never taught punctuation at school, and finds it’s and its impossible to understand), misread their shorthand, leave out a crucial ‘not’, be oblivious to the difference between an active and passive sentence and so on.

And then there’s the reporters who just can’t write. Some of the best reporters – as in finders out of facts – I’ve worked with couldn’t write for toffee. Some can’t spell. Some get too involved with their complicated story and find it impossible to write a version that someone coming across it for the first time would understand.

There’s the thousands of trainees who don’t yet know how to write breaking news copy, running copy, how to construct court copy, whether you’ve got privilege on questions shouted from the public gallery at council meetings, why the style for a page three is different from a page five, or why we use ‘said’ in news copy and ‘says’ in features and never, ever, use sez (apply from your own style guide, the point is the same.)

A former editor used to tell our reporters not to worry about fine tuning their copy. She used to tell me, as news editor, not to bother with any rewriting when we were on deadline, because she knew the subs would do it faster and better than we could.

None of this is intended as a slur on reporters. But it makes me wonder if Roy has been inside a regional or local paper recently. Does he know how the system works? Does he really think that every reporter in the country is turning out perfect copy that doesn’t need an eye casting over it?

Then there’s the ‘reporters can write headlines’ argument.

Yes, they can write a series of words that will more or less do the job. But it’s not just on the Sun that headline writing is a skill.

Who’s going to teach those reporters about why it’s a good idea to have a verb in a headline? Do they have the necessary thesaurus in their heads for those times when they need a different word to make their headline fit? What about the literary/cultural knowledge that lets a good sub write a headline that references a writer or musician and gives the reader a new connection with the story?

The same editor used to give us instructions – I want a funny headline, do something clever with this. If she didn’t like it, we did it again until she did. On any news story, if it was boring, we did it again.

Can reporters do this? Will reporters do this?

Now, it’s true that not all subs write good headlines. Which brings me to point two;

“There are two kinds of sub-editors,” he said. “Sub-editors that work on local and regional newspapers, that work on a template – that can be outsourced elsewhere.

“There are subs working on serious quality newspapers [to templates] and that can be sent elsewhere.

“Then there are creative people who put together our popular, mass-market papers, such as The Sun. Those types of subs do creative work – but they are largely in a minority”.

I’m sure Roy, experienced whipper-upper of storms that he is, knew exactly what he was doing when he said this.

A whole tranche of journalists – journalists with years of experience, who remember hot metal and Wapping and wax – dismissed in two sentences.

I’ve don’t know of any local papers (yet) that use templates. A library full of shapes, maybe, for building the bare bones, but shapes that are flexible, to allow for designing around a big story, or a great picture.

So to write off every sub outside London (and every sub that doesn’t work for a tabloid) as non-creative, a purely mechanical beast that simply chops copy to fit a box it didn’t even design, is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing he’s ever said.

I’m going to stop now, because I’m rambling, and this post is already twice as long as it should be.  But I do have more to say, about what we should be doing with our subs and why they do still matter, especially online. More follows….

(And sorry about the dodgy intro. A sub would have taken it out)

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Cllr Grower and sockpuppeting; we can see your email address, you know

Well I couldn’t go home today without writing something about this.

Views range from the absolutely-we-did-the-right-thing to the lazy-story-he’s-got-a-right-to-privacy.

What do I think? From a management of the community we’re building perspective, I’d like to have seen him privately warned tp cease and desist before we named and shamed him.

But from a news perspective, I think it’s a great story. I think he has attempted to deceive his electorate and if we’d been mid-election I’m fairly sure those comments could have seen us in breach of electoral regulations if we hadn’t named and shamed him once we knew.

But as Judith Townend from journalism.co.uk said to me today, where do we draw the line between silly and serious?

No harm has been done by the comments, so should we, as holders of private data and managers of a website where people are allowed, if not encouraged, to post under pseudonyms which currently range from Frying Leper to Lord Jesus, have told him to back off, register under his own name or stop bigging himself up? And what of the countless other commenters promoting their own agenda? Who’s allowed and who isn’t?

On reflection, I think I fall on the side of news here. He’s a public servant, paid by the tax payer. They deserve to know if he’s the kind of man who’ll post nice things about himself while trying his hardest to pretend he knows nothing about the story in question.  If he was a company, it would be illegal. Has it done us harm with our online readers? Maybe. But you can’t please all the people all the time.

But I will make a quick point about the age old issue of links.

Not a single one of the national stories (nor Iain Dale’s blog, which linked instead to the Indy) has a link to us, or any of the stories Cllr Grower commented on, or journalism.co.uk, who picked up the story first.

To be fair, the nats are all using PA copy. But why can’t PA include links in their feeds? And someone has made the choice to pull the PA story from the feed and highlight on those sites – it’s not hard to find the link to our story.  I know Alison Gow has complained about this before, and we’ll no doubt be more annoyed when we see how the print versions use it tomorrow. But if the link economy is part of our future model for news, then why not link to us? I am, courtesy of a Yahoo pipe, linking to them. How about they return the favour?

PS: the best part, in my view, was a complaint from Cllr Grower that people commenting on the story were pretending to be him. Not who they said they were. Oh the irony.

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Newspapers on Twitter: is there any point?

I think there is. Forgive if this is going sound like trumpet-blowing, but this is why I think twitter is worth persevering with as more than an RSS feed.

One of our followers asked for suggestions as to where he should take his girlfriend for dinner.
This is what happened
Our conversation on Twitter

Our conversation on Twitter

PROS: The links are all links to our reviews. And everyone who’s following us or him can see this conversation.
We’ve promoted our taste section, boosted our reputation for being the source of all food knowledge, published links to five old reviews that might now get some traffic and increased awareness of us as a brand providing a service to readers. (and possibly created a rod for my back when people start asking me questions!)
But it took five minutes of my time and Rob Hawkes thinks we’re great now (and hopefully will tell other people how great we are, and so on.)
CONS: is the benefit worth the time?Will we, as a paper, get enough from this one reader for it to have been worth my stopping what I was doing (writing a photo sales strategy) and spending five or ten minutes finding some content that matched his needs?  Added on, of course, to the time I spend monitoring the account in the first place, which, as I read here is a time consuming job.

I think, in this age where we’ve got some pretty stiff competition for people’s attention, that it probably is. This may only be one person. But better to have 1000 true fans than than 100,000 who’ll visit the site once and then never again, right?
What do you think? (and sorry again about the trumpet blowing)
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Baby P, Facebook and contempt of court

Yesterday, while looking for a link for a story I came across a Facebook group identifying Baby P.

There’s been a lot of between-hack speculation about why he and his parents can’t be named – after all, the social workers and the doctors have all been named and shamed, so why not the people who really did the damage? As it turns out there are valid legal reasons – but does it matter?  I found his name completely by accident.

Once you’ve got his name it’s but a short step to his mum’s name, her boyfriend’s and even the house number and the street they live in.

This illustrates two things: first the futility of newspapers believing we’re the sacred keepers of news no-one knows about until we tell them. There are thousands of people who have this knowledge and thousands more who are just one facebook friend away from finding out. In this kind of world, how can we pretend that news itself is what we sell?

Second, how can the courts police this? Publishing Baby P’s name is technically contempt of court, punishable with a prison sentence. But everyone who joins one of those Facebook groups is ‘publishing’ his name to all their Facebook friends. Are they all in contempt?

And what about the newspapers? Thanks to Google caching, once you know the names it’s a simple search to bring up all the stories published before the reporting restrictions were imposed, even though they’ve been removed from the newspapers’ websites. Who’s punishable there?

Is it possible to enforce reporting restrictions in these circumstances? With everyone so connected to everyone else, isn’t it im possible to put up barriers to information? and if so where does that leave us when there really are valid reasons for witholding the identities of those in court?

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How many 25-year-olds you know buy a newspaper?

A thought:

I hate to admit it, but newspapers as they exist today have probably had their chips.
Maybe not tomorrow, or next month, or even next year – but it’s coming. Why?

Well as Ryan Sholin demonstrates, the newspaper buyers of the future don’t buy them. A weekly publication, maybe. A daily newspaper, when they can get the news that’s relevant to them online? Nope.

After all, how much of the content of the average regional newspaper (because that is what I’m talking about here… I’m not sure if this theory applies to the national and even less sure why I’d think that was the case) is of relevance or interest to all its readers?

I’d say maybe five or six page leads out of the 15 or so pages will be interesting enough to appeal to everyone.  And the nibs are usually glorified events listings and done much better elsewhere.

So if you’re only reading five stories a day, it makes much more sense to look at them online, subscribe to a feed that will tell you when important breaking news happens, and rely on your social network to send you the interesting stuff.

So maybe what we have to do is
a) break the news online. Be first, be best, be the place people trust for the facts. If that means curating the best UGC in your patch then go for it.
b) provide some of that interesting stuff. Present it in an interesting way. Give people something they can’t get in print and then use the feedback to inform the in-depth analysis you’re writing for print
c) be where the people are, whether that’s Twitter or Blip.tv
c) be really good at the analysis, the backgrounds, the feature writing – so that people will buy your weekly round-up because they think it’s worth spending some of their spare time on

What does that mean for the newsroom? Fewer reporters, probably, more emphasis on quality of writing, both in print and online, and contacts.
We’ll all have to know about mapping and video and creating interactive content.
More page designers, less sub-editors.

You’ll notice I’m clinging to the idea that there will still be a printed publication of some kind.  Why? Because I love books and newspapers and magazines. I love how stories can be presented in print. I think great page design can always be a show stopper. I think pictures still work better on paper. And I do agree that people will always read. Fingers crossed I’m right

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RSS for dummies – would I convince you?

Here’s my first attempt an a RSS guide for dummies. What do you think. Too patronising? If you knew nothing about RSS, would this convince you to give it a try?

Our news, delivered to you, for free

Want to get our headlines, as they happen, delivered to your desktop – for free? Well you can, with RSS feeds. Sound complicated? It’s not – here’s how it works…

You choose which of our headlines you’re interested in; news, sport, north dorset, east dorset, business, entertainment.

We send you a headline and a summary of each story, as it happens. If you want to know more, there’s a link to take you to the full version. If you don’t you can delete it.

You can read your headlines as they arrive, or check your feed once a day, five times a day or once a week if you like. The updates will stay put until you’re ready to read them.

We don’t ask for any personal information, there’s no cost, and you’ll never be spammed. It’s just a no-hassle way of keeping up with the news.

Interested? Then read our step by step guide to signing up.

First, you need a news reader, also known as an RSS reader.

If you have a My Yahoo page, adding our headlines to it couldn’t be easier.

On our home page, under the Daily Echo logo, there’s a little square orange button with the words All Feeds next to it.
You’ll also see this button around the site and on other website that use RSS.

Click the all feeds button and it will take you to a list of the feeds we offer. Click the link for the one you’d like to use, and you’ll get a new screen that shows you the most recent headlines, with a bar across the top that says ‘Subscribe to this feed using” and a drop down menu.

All you have to do is choose My Yahoo from the options and click subscribe now. That’s it! Our headlines should now appear on your My Yahoo page. You can go back and choose another feed to subscribe to if you like. And you can cancel at anytime.

If you have an MSN account:

On your My MSN page, look for the box that says add new content. There should be a search for new content box.

In that box, type http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/rss/
That will give you all our news headlines. If you want sport, it’s http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/sport/rss

Click the green arrow and you’ll get a results page that should say ‘one result for syndicated content’ and a Bournemouth Echo headline. Tick the box next to this and click on the OK button.  Our headlines should then appear somewhere on your page!

To get other feeds, you’ll need to go to our homepage. Under the Daily Echo logo, there’s a little square orange button with the words All feeds next to it.

Click the all feeds button and it will take you to a list of the feeds we offer. Click the link for the one you’d like to use, and you’ll get a new screen that shows you the most recent headlines, with a bar across the top that says ‘Subscribe to this feed using” and a drop down menu.

Because you’re using MSN, you’ll need to copy the address from the browser bar (it should look like the picture below) and paste that in the new content search bar in your MSN page. Then follow the steps above.

If you have a Google account:

On our home page, under the Daily Echo logo, there’s a little square orange button with the words All feeds next to it.
You’ll also see this button around the site and on other website that use RSS.

Click the all feeds button and it will take you to a list of the feeds we offer. Click the link for the one you’d like to use, and you’ll get a new screen that shows you the most recent headlines, with a bar across the top that says ‘Subscribe to this feed using” and a drop down menu.

Select Google from the drop down menu and it will ask you whether you want to add the feed to your Google homepage or use Google reader.

Unless you already have an iGoogle homepage, the easiest option is to use Google reader. Click on it, and it will ask you to sign in to Google. Once you’ve done that you’ll get a Google Reader page with our headlines on it!

You may want to bookmark the page or make it a favourite because it’s not easy to find from Google’s search page.

If you have an iGoogle page you can choose to add our headlines as a module – or choose to add it to Google reader and then add the reader as a module to your iGoogle page. (For instructions, click here!)

If you have an AOL account:

On you’re my Aol page, click the favourites tab. On the left of the screen will be a box called feeds.  Click Add Feeds. In the box, type  http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/rss/ for news or http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/sport/rss for sport. Click the check button. It should bring up our feed in the results box. Tick the box next to the feed and click Add Feeds.

Our headlines should appear on your page!

To get other feeds, you’ll need to go to our homepage. Under the Daily Echo logo, there’s a little square orange button with the words All feeds next to it.

Click the all feeds button and it will take you to a list of the feeds we offer. Click the link for the one you’d like to use, and you’ll get a new screen that shows you the most recent headlines, with a bar across the top that says ‘Subscribe to this feed using” and a drop down menu.

Because you’re using AOL, you’ll need to copy the address from the browser bar (it should look like the picture below) and paste that in the Add Feeds search bar in your AOL page as before.

If you don’t have any of these accounts and/or you are using Firefox as your browser, you can add the feed directly to your bookmarks like this:

Go to our homepage. Under the Daily Echo logo, there’s a little square orange button with the words All feeds next to it.

Click the all feeds button and it will take you to a list of the feeds we offer. Click the link for the one you’d like to use, and you’ll get a new screen that shows you the most recent headlines, with a bar across the top that says ‘Subscribe to this feed using” and a drop down menu.
Select Live Bookmarks and click Subscribe now. It will ask you where in your bookmarks you want the feed to be stored. Choose your location and click ADD.
The links will then appear in your bookmarks as a folder called Bournemouth Echo.

That’s it!

Once you have our RSS feed, why not try others? You can have updates from your favourite websites, news pages and blogs – all you have to do is look for the little orange button, and when you see it, click it!

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Newsroom 2.0: re-imagining our business

There are a lot of people talking about business models and the web. How has the news gathering process changed? How do we best utilise the new technologies? How do we think of news as a process, not a product.

But for those of us who started in the print world, most of these people are leaving one element out. There’s lots of talk about the web and barely any talk about the newspaper – except to say that the printed product is done for.

So here’s my question:

If you were starting a newspaper from scratch, today, how would you run your newsroom?
Assume that there IS a printed product; a daily paper, a free sheet or two, a property and business supplement, a what’s on pullout maybe, as well as the online offering.

How would you staff it?

I think there are three core stages:

  • news gathering (in which I would include the writing of the story, creation of video, pictures)
  • honing (the casting of a critical second eye, consideration of legal issues, editorial angles, things the reporter might have missed, extra details that will make the story better)
  • packaging: how the story is displayed, online and in print

There’s obviously a subtext here: the viability or otherwise of sub-editing in the new world. I think there’s still a role (as I have said before) for editorial judgement as well as the obvious need for design, both online and in paper.

But if the news creation model is changing elsewhere on the editorial floor, does it need to change in the production department too? And if so how? My key questions:

  1. Should reporters upload straight to the web?
  2. Who ‘hones’ the copy: newsdesk? If so, does it need to be done again?
  3. If the copy’s been honed for the web, does it need redoing for the paper? If so, who should do it?
  4. If we trust reporters to edit their own video, why don’t we trust them to edit their own content? (Or should that question should be: if we don’t trust them to edit their own content, why do we trust them to edit their own video?)
  5. Should reporters write to box? If so, who checks their copy? Who creates the box?
  6. Do we abandon page design completely, stick to a set number of free designed pages and create templates for the rest, or template everything?

I’m not sure I have any answers for these questions (although I have strong opinions about some of them!) and I’m sure there are other key issues I’ve not thought of. But I’d be interested to hear what you think….

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The future for regional news?

I’ve been thinking about a couple of things this week.

In my new role at the Daily Echo (which makes me responsible for content and driving up traffic – will post more about this later!),  I’m very interested in what’s happening with the BBC plans for regional news websites.

That’s not because I’m scared of the competition. But – and this is a big deal – the BBC plan is to spend £68m. They already have superlative platforms and video delivery. They have a brand name. And with £68 they have more money to spend than I could ever dream of.

And a few things have happened recently, which added together, don’t make for a bright future.

First there’s Tim Luckhurst in the Guardian, blogging about ITV cutting back on regional news. Then there’s this statement on the BBC plans from the Newspaper Society, which says there has been no market failure to justify state-funded intervention into regional news – but written before ITV’s regional news output was slashed.

Then there’s this job advert from the BBC. They’re calling it a talent pool. But it looks to me like they’re looking for senior journalists who are prepared to be headhunted should the local websites get the nod.

And last but not least this, where culture secretary Andy Burnham says, on the BBC’s Media Show, that he is a) prepared to spend BBC money on improving regional news, potentially even funding ITV and Channel 4 if needs be, but that b) he wants the BBC to be the backbone and he won’t allocate funding that will put the BBC at a disadvantage.

I have no idea what the BBC trust will decide. But with ITV cutting back, there is obviously an argument that local news needs a boost.

The sad truth is that the BBC is so far ahead of most local newspaper’s websites that we’ll struggle to compete. I firmly believe there is a massive audience out there for an informed, well connected, aggregation-embracing, entertaining local news website.

But we need to time to build it… and if the Beeb gets in there first (and poaches all our good people) I’m not sure we’ll ever recover.

I know there’s an argument that it’s our own fault for taking so long about it. And  I repeat – I’m not afraid of competition. I think it’s necessary to drive up standards, and god knows some local newspapers could do with a kick up the arse.

I love newspapers. I want them to survive. I think they can survive.  But if BBC local news happens NOW it could be the death knell for many.

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