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Is there life after a journalism course? The Coventry Class of 2009 – Greg Keane

September 7th, 2009 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Training

At the end of the academic year John Mair, senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University, asked just what would happen to his undergraduate journalism class of 2009. In the face of the biggest media recession for many a generation where do they go? Is there life after a journalism course? A few months on, we are re-visiting the students.

Greg Keane graduated with a  2.1  in journalism and media from Coventry University last June. He has turned a specialist interest into a small niche in journalism, non-league football.

It’s pointless to send away your CV in pursuit of that first job without any kind of meaningful credential except a degree in journalism.

Despite being warned on countless occasions that work will not simply come to you on the back of a university course, I arrogantly – as I am sure is the case for many of my peers – did not take much heed of the advice.

I applied for trainee jobs advertised on sites such as this one, thinking – almost without doubt – that my 2:1 in journalism and media earned in June this year was easily enough to merit me at least an interview.

Thankfully, reality set in soon enough after early knock-backs. I realised that only with proactivity would I make a name for myself.

An article in which I described my home town football club Luton Town as ‘the most exciting club in England’ generated a large amount of debate across many football forums, as fans struggled to work out whether the title was a question, or in fact a statement.

I had sent the article to the presenter of BBC London’s Non-League Football Show and pitched an idea to her about regularly updating fans on the Hatters’ often turbulent existence throughout the upcoming football league (or non-league as is the case) campaign.

She loved the idea and published the article although I was inaccurately described as ‘a Luton Town fan blogger’  (a description which is wrong on two counts: I was/am neither a blogger of Luton Town, nor a fan! Like many sports writers, I too won’t disclose the identity of the club I support. It isn’t one of the big four by the way).

The piece got significant interest and found its way being discussed on a number of football forums and I even received praise from Luton Town chairman and BBC Midlands Today presenter Nick Owen, via email.

I now regularity contribute features for the BBC London pages on a variety of non-league sides, for example. (Examples of my work here).

After this, I was asked to produce features for the site www.nonleaguefootballlive.com on a freelance basis. This has provided a tremendous platform on which to make a name for myself in a community which may be large, but lacking in many alternative avenues of information and reports from their clubs.

I have since become ‘chief reporter’ for the site and my articles stimulate much debate on the site’s own lively forum as well as clubs’ own message boards.

An article I wrote documenting the plight of Wrexham FC and their supporters seemed also to strike a chord with the Guardian’s David Conn who praised my article – recently he wrote a piece highlighting the trouble Wrexham supporters had trying to protect their ground.

Non League Football Live also has plans to launch a magazine in the coming weeks which they have asked me to play a big part in it.

But I haven’t confined myself to reporting: I have taken up a role as press secretary for the famous Corinthian Casuals in South London/Surrey and that position guarantees that my reports get published in around 14 ‘thisislocallondon’ newspapers and their online sites and one national, the Non-League Paper, which comes out every Sunday across the UK. Casuals are a club steeped with history so there is plenty of scope there to carve out a story.

And radio too: after a couple months of one day a week work experience at Mercia Radio in Coventry, my efforts paid off when they signed a deal to commentate on Coventry City matches.

I now do some paid assistant producing on the Tom Ross ‘Goalzone’ show. I control the studio and the commentator throughout a 3-4 hour show.

It is frantic work but it is enjoyable and certainly gets the adrenaline running. I also provide Mercia with a regular Sky Blues blog – another home for my work.

Unexpectedly, I foresee my future in sports reporting now, especially after finding a niche for myself in non-league football. It may not be glamorous or particularly exciting for many, but I enjoy it and hope that in the not too distant future, there will be a permanent job offer.

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Is there life after a journalism course? The Coventry Class of 2009 – Jason Craig

September 3rd, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Jobs, Journalism, Online Journalism, Training

At the end of the academic year John Mair, senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University, asked just what would happen to his undergraduate journalism class of 2009. In the face of the biggest media recession for many a generation where do they go? Is there life after a journalism course? A few months on, we are re-visiting the students.

Jason Craig graduated with a first class honours in journalism and media from Coventry University last June. He now works as a writer on the Belfast based Pacenotes – a magazine for the many thousands of  rally enthusiasts in Ireland.

As I write this, 10,000 copies of the September issue of Pacenotes Rally Magazine will be returning from the printers in Antrim and winging their way to newsagents, subscribers and leading rally figures across the UK and Ireland.

The days leading up to print deadline, leaving the office just before midnight and rising the following morning at 6am was not uncommon, and after a while you become oblivious to the man-hours needed to compile a 72-page monthly read.

When you are passionate about a subject and you are getting paid to write about it, time really doesn’t become an issue – at least for me, anyway. My last report covered the Ulster International Rally, a mammoth two day operation that required the compiling of driver quotes and pictures on stage and in and around service.

I give up evenings and weekends to be involved in a sport I have followed and admired for so long. To have access to teams and drivers is a privilege, so it is my job to relay this ‘inside information’ to the reader as best possible.

For the same issue, with the help of Phil James (www.pro-rally.co.uk), I have just compiled a one-off, 11 page commemorative feature on the Mini as this year marks its 50th anniversary.

I’ve spoken to many people about this giant-killing rally machine, but none more eloquent than the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally winner, Paddy Hopkirk. This is what makes my new job so varied and exciting.

Recently, in the space of a week, I have been to Dublin to research  a feature on Couture Auto Ltd before jetting over to England the following day to pay the motorsport engine builder, Mountune a visit.

This visit to the Essex based company had added meaning as anyone who knows me will be wholly aware of my admiration for the Blue Oval and rallying in general. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen so many Ford GT supercars in the same place at the same time, including one worth a cool £1 million!

In October I travel to Cork to cover the final round of the TROA Irish Tarmac Championship where this year’s winner will be crowned, and in November – the weekend before my graduation ceremony, in fact – I travel to the final round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in the hope that Ulsterman, Kris Meeke will prevail as the champion.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had strong leadership and continued support from my lecturers during my final few days at Coventry University: automotive hack Andrew Noakes and media guru John Mair were of particular help. They deserve a special mention for reasons known only to them, with two copies of the current issue soon to land on their respective desks.

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Advice from Guardian.co.uk’s online journalism Q&A

On Friday Journalism.co.uk took part in a live Q&A  hosted by the The Guardian’s careers section, allowing new and experienced journalists the opportunity to ask industry professionals for advice on conquering the world of online journalism.

The multimedia panel on hand to answer questions were:

Paul Gallagher, head of online editorial, Manchester Evening News
Laura-Jane Filotrani, site editor, Guardian Careers
Sarah Hartley, digital editor, The Guardian
Alison Gow, executive editor, digital, Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post
Laura Oliver, senior reporter, Journalism. co.uk
Madeline Bennett, editor of technology news sites V3.co.uk and The Inquirer
Paul Bradshaw, senior lecturer in online journalism, Birmingham City University
John Hand, duty editor, UK desk BBC News website
Alison White, community moderator, The Guardian

Here’s our round-up of the best advice from Friday’s event on how to make it as a successful online journalist in the digital age. You can also read the panel’s responses in full on the online journalism Q&A page on Guardian.co.uk.

Jump to:

What is the best subject to study to help me break into journalism?

[asked by Matt, who is studying English literature and language at college and asked if going on to study an English degree would help him prepare for a career in journalism]

John Hand: “I’m often asked which is the best subject to study at university and the answer is really that there is no particularly bad choice. The best newsroom has a good mix of people with different knowledge areas – for example, I think every editor in the country would love to have someone with the in-depth health knowledge of a medical degree on their team. Of course, any degree course that allows you to develop your writing and analytical skills (I always think history is a clever choice) would be better than most.

“The most important thing is to get some vocational training. Many editors themselves initially came through NCTJ courses (http://www.nctj.com/) so would respect those, but there are also many media organisations that offer their own in-house (or even external) training. If you want to get into news journalism, the key question to ask of any training scheme is how good their law course is.”

Sarah Hartley: “Grab as much work experience as you can throughout your uni years. Who knows what the economic climate will be like when you graduate but it may well be that you can find an employer who will put you through a block release course or similar. New schemes for apprenticeships, internships and such are bound to come through in that time.”

Madeline Bennett: “Has your college got a student newspaper or website? If so, volunteering to write for that would be a good starting point and showcase for your work. If not, why not start one? This is also the case for when you go to uni, student papers can be a great place to launch your journalism career.”

But what if I can’t afford to go to university?

[Forum user Dan Holloway asked: how does someone who has no choice but carry on a full-time job to make ends meet go about switching careers to online journalism?]

Alison White: “My advice would be to perhaps take some evening classes in journalism if possible – while I was at uni I did a 10-week course, one evening a week, about freelancing and a two-day course about getting into journalism. Or how about some work experience? Newspapers and other organisations are less well-staffed at weekends, I’m sure they’d appreciate some help with uploading content or other duties. Once you’ve got to know some people you can always keep in touch in the hope they might point you towards job opportunities or further work experience.”

Madeline Bennett: “Look for courses that focus on online journalism or multimedia skills, there might be some weekend or evening classes available that you can do to support your NCTJ. Also these courses are a good place to meet people who can help you get your first job in journalism, as they’ll often be run by current working journalists.”

Laura Oliver: “Start experimenting – if you can find the time outside of work to run a blog, contribute to other websites, you’ll learn a great deal about the basics of online publishing. Contact sites and other blogs that interest you and offer postings. Look at successful bloggers and think about what they are doing that makes them influential/profitable. Here are a couple of posts that might help too regarding building an online brand as a journalist:

“http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2009/08/17/adam-westbrook-6×6-branding-for-freelance-journalists/

“http://www.journalism.co.uk/5/articles/534896.php

What skills do I need to be an online journalist?

[Forum user Dean Best asked: what are the top online-specific skills I should attain to improve my online skills and better my chances of moving up the ladder?]

Laura-Jane Filotrani: “To be able to demonstrate a passion for digital – by this I mean that you are active online; you use the net; you have a profile online; you use and understand community; you are excited by being able to reach people using the internet; you want to find out the latest developments.”

Alison White: “A good knowledge of SEO and the importance of linking to others and providing ‘added value’ to the reader; i.e. give them the story but perhaps with a link to a video, an online petition, a Facebook page etc. News to me seems more of a package now rather than a traditional delivery.”

Paul Bradshaw:

“1. Understand how RSS works and how that can improve your newsgathering, production and distribution. I cover a little of that in this post:

“http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2008/04/21/rss-social-media-passive-aggressive-newsgathering-a-model-for-the-21st-century-newsroom-part-2-addendum/

“2. Engage with online communities around your specialist area, help them, provide valuable information and contacts, and then when you need help on something, they’ll be there for you in return. It will also build a distribution network for your content.

“3. Possibly hardest, but force yourself to experiment and make mistakes with all sorts of media. If you can make yourself entertaining as well as informative then that can really work very well.”

How can I make the transition to online journalism?

['Malini' asked: how do I go about breaking into the field of online journalism? And why would anyone pay and retain a writer when they can easily get so much content for free?]

Paul Bradshaw: “Use free writing to build a reputation and contacts; and sell the valuable stuff that you generate from that. Ultimately you should aim to become reliable enough for them to want to hire you when they are hiring.”

Sarah Hartley: “Writers have always provided free content – be it letters to the editor, local band reviews, poetry or whatever, so being online will only further the opportunity for that sort of exposure and that can only be a good thing for diversity and choice.”

Paul Gallagher: “I have taught myself some coding skills like HTML and I believe it does help a lot to have some technical knowledge, not necessarily because you will need them in the job but because it really helps to be able to communicate well with the programmers and developers in your company.”

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Academics threaten Observer boycott: the letters in full

August 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Job losses, Jobs, Newspapers

As reported on the main site, a number of high profile figures in business and academia have already, or are threatening to, cancel their subscriptions to the Observer, after the paper – the threatened closure of which has been widely reported – cut the weekly column by management expert Simon Caulkin. Below:

(1) Original letter to editors of the Guardian and Observer protesting the decision from over 60 signatories, never published.

(2) Follow-up letter from a key figure in the campaign, Philip Whiteley on behalf of over 80 signatories, questioning the lack of response, never published.

(3) Email reply from Observer editor, John Mullholland.

Hat-tip: Private Eye Issue 1243, August 21 – September 3, page 7, for a story that alerted us to the protest.

Letters in full:

(1) Original letter to editors of the Guardian and Observer

15 June 2009

The Editor
The Observer

Dear Sir

We are astonished and appalled by your decision to drop the Simon Caulkin column just at the point when the ideas he has covered over the years have become more relevant than ever.

We are living through one of the biggest crises of governance in history. September 2008 saw not just the end of Lehman Brothers but the end of 30 years’ dominance of neo-liberalism as the guiding ideology in running major private and public sector institutions. The notion that ‘maximising shareholder value’ can be considered in isolation from society was exposed as a pretence – bad for business as well as for society. The mechanistic strictures of the dominant management orthodoxy, with its dehumanising notion of people as a ‘resource’, its target culture and its opaque lexicon of competences, outputs and so on, have wrought terrible damage in social care, the NHS and education, as well as in the private sector.

Over the past 16 years, one journalist alone has been consistent in exposing the shallowness and limitations of these approaches. Simon Caulkin has set out a coherent alternative, rather than merely channelling protest. The unifying theme of the thinkers that he has championed – W Edwards Deming, Jeffrey Pfeffer, John Seddon, Gary Hamel and others – has been that organisations and economies are best managed by understanding the inter-dependence of different stakeholders.

Your decision, therefore, is ill-judged and ill-timed. A wiser choice would be to elevate Simon’s column to the main section of the paper. There is huge potential in the ideas he has promoted to assist ideological renewal of political parties, as well as to help governance generally.

We hope that you will see this as not just a letter of protest, but as sincere advice to recommend urgently that you reconsider your decision, and retain a vital element of your paper that could continue make a major contribution to policy debate.

Yours sincerely

Ricardo Semler, entrepreneur and author
Andrew Campbell, Director, Ashridge Business School
Philip Whiteley, chair Human Capital Forum
Dennis Tourish, Professor of Leadership and Management, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University
Susan White, Professor of Social Work, Department of Applied Social Science, Lancaster University
Petra Wilton, Director of Policy and Research, Chartered Management Institute
Joe Lamb, Emeritus Professor St Andrews University
Professor Jonathan Michie, President, Kellogg College, University of Oxford
Susan Scott-Parker OBE, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability
Professor Chris Brady, Dean, BPP Business School
H. Thomas Johnson, Professor of Business Administration Portland State University, USA
Mark Goyder, Director Tomorrow’s Company
Alistair Mant, Chairman, Socio-technical Strategy Group, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne)
Ismail Erturk, Senior Lecturer in Banking, The University of Manchester
Su Maddock, Director Whitehall Innovation Hub
Dave Wastell, Professor of Information Systems, Nottingham University Business School
Gary Kirwan, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Royal College of Nursing
Howard Clark, The Systems Thinking Review
Jim Standen, Director, Lignum Quality Services
Professor Bob Galliers, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Bentley University, Massachusetts, USA
Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, University of London
Clive Bone, Chairman, Institute of Value Management
GD Cox
Keith Reader
Professor Anthony Hopwood, Said Business School
Alison Widdup, Managing Director, Better for Everyone
Fred John, Estates Officer, NHS.
Roy Madron, political scientist, UK/Brazil
Dr Richard Howells, Director, Centre for Cultural, Media and Creative Industries Research School of Arts and Humanities King’s College London
Margaret McCartney (Dr) GP and writer
Max Mckeown, Strategist and Leadership Innovation Expert
Sally Garratt, Director Garratt Learning Systems
Bob Garratt, Visiting Professor Cass Business School, London
Andrew Sturdy, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Associate Dean, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick
Dr Martin Parker Professor of Culture and Organization, Director of Research and Deputy Head of School Editor-in-Chief of ‘Organization’ University of Leicester School of Management Leicester
Dr Gordon Pearson, Keele University
Jan Gillett, Chairman PMI
Dr. Mihaela Kelemen, Professor of Management Studies
Ian Christie, Associate, Green Alliance, Visiting professor, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey
John Carlisle, Visiting Professor Sheffield Hallam University, Founder, Cooperation Works Ltd and the Intlizyo AIDS Trust, South Africa
Morice Mendoza, editor and writer
Dr Olivier Sykes, Department of Civic Design, University of Liverpool
Ron Glatter, Emeritus Professor of Educational Administration and Management, The Open University
Bob Bischhof, Chairman – Vitalize Health Products, Non Executive Director – Henderson Eurotrust Plc, Member of Board – German British Chamber of Industry and Commerce
Dr Paul Hodgkin, Chief Executive, Patient Opinion
Alastair Mitchell-Baker, Director Tricordant Ltd
Adam Hogg, Managing Director, (Retired) Conquest Inns
Simon Hollington, Director, Leading Edge Personal Development Ltd
Dr Philip McGovern, Programme Leader – Technology Management Programmes ITT
Neela Bettridge, Founding Partner, Article 13
John Orsmond, Chairman Data Vantage Group
Peter Medway
Paul H Ray, sociologist, USA
Tim Pidsley, director Tricordant, New Zealand
Dr Timothy Wadsworth, NHS
Dr Bruce Tofield, University of East Anglia
Warwick Mansell, freelance journalist and author Education by Numbers: the Tyranny of Testing
Professor Tom Keenoy, The University of Leicester School of Management
Bill Cooke, Professor of Management and Society, Lancaster University Management School
Dr Leslie Budd AcSS MCIT MCILT, Reader in Social Enterprise, Open University
Ken Starkey, Professor of Management and Organisational Learning, Nottingham University Business School

(2) Follow-up letter from a key figure in the campaign, Philip Whiteley, on behalf of 80 signatories

29 June 09

Dear Mr Rusbridger, Mr Mulholland

We write to register a double protest over the unjustified decision to drop the Simon Caulkin column, and your refusal to acknowledge the wave of anger that this decision has provoked.

Some 60 distinguished figures, including some of the most influential people in the world of business and management education, jointly signed a letter condemning your decision. You did not publish this, nor even give any of us the courtesy of an acknowledgment. In addition to this jointly signed correspondence, we know that over 200 people have individually registered their protest. The only letter to appear was mildly expressed. In short, you have seriously misled your readers over both the nature and extent of the protest, and of the support that Simon commands.

The Guardian/Observer has a strong tradition of respecting and upholding the principle of freedom of speech and dissent, so we find it shocking to be denied a space for an entirely legitimate argument, made by some of your (previously) most loyal and long-standing subscribers.

Doubtless you have made this move on business grounds; but you appear to have made no calculation of the business consequences of this decision. The supporters of this campaign are not just any readers, but long-standing subscribers who have passed on the habit of reading the Guardian/Observer to friends, colleagues, children and (given the number of professors and authors co-signing) to students and readers also, but who are now reconsidering their loyalty.

Questions of governance and management do not constitute a side issue to those of economics and politics: quite the reverse. It is the culture of management that has led to chronic waste in the public sector and the banking crisis in the private sector. Simon Caulkin possesses a deep understanding of the underlying causal factors of these crises.

Since we began this campaign, the extent of the protest has grown, as can be seen by the extended list of signatories to this letter.

If there is a necessity to drop pages, we urge you to move Simon’s weekly contribution to the main section of the paper.

Yours

Philip Whiteley
On behalf of over 80 signatories (see list below)

Cc
Will Hutton
Polly Toynbee
Dan Roberts
Liz Forgan

Signed by:
Ricardo Semler, entrepreneur and author
Andrew Campbell, Director, Ashridge Business School
Philip Whiteley, chair Human Capital Forum
Dennis Tourish, Professor of Leadership and Management, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University
Susan White, Professor of Social Work, Department of Applied Social Science, Lancaster University
Su Maddock, Director Whitehall Innovation Hub
Petra Wilton, Director of Policy and Research, Chartered Management Institute
Joe Lamb, Emeritus Professor St Andrews University
Professor Jonathan Michie, President, Kellogg College, University of Oxford
Susan Scott-Parker OBE, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability
Professor Chris Brady, Dean, BPP Business School
H. Thomas Johnson, Professor of Business Administration Portland State University, USA
Professor Christopher Grey, Head of Industrial Relations and Organizational Behaviour Group, Warwick Business School
Mark Goyder, Director Tomorrow’s Company
Alistair Mant, Chairman, Socio-technical Strategy Group, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne)
Hilary Wainwright, Co-editor Red Pepper magazine, Fellow Centre for Participation Studies, Bradford University
Ismail Erturk, Senior Lecturer in Banking, The University of Manchester
Charlie Hedges, Chartered Geologist
Dave Wastell, Professor of Information Systems, Nottingham University Business School
Professor Martin Parker, University of Leicester
Gary Kirwan, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Royal College of Nursing
Howard Clark, The Systems Thinking Review
Jim Standen, Director, Lignum Quality Services
Professor Bob Galliers, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Bentley University, Massachusetts, USA
David Davies, Director Didero Ltd
Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, University of London
Clive Bone, Chairman, Institute of Value Management
GD Cox
Professor Anthony Hopwood, Said Business School
Alison Widdup, Managing Director, Better for Everyone
Fred John, Estates Officer, NHS.
Roy Madron, political scientist, UK/Brazil
Dr Richard Howells, Director, Centre for Cultural, Media and Creative Industries Research School of Arts and Humanities King’s College London
Max Mckeown, Strategist and Leadership Innovation Expert
Sally Garratt, Director Garratt Learning Systems
Bob Garratt, Visiting Professor Cass Business School, London
Andrew Sturdy, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Associate Dean, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick
Dr Martin Parker Professor of Culture and Organization, Director of Research and Deputy Head of School Editor-in-Chief of ‘Organization’ University of Leicester School of Management Leicester
Dr Gordon Pearson, Keele University
Jan Gillett, Chairman PMI
Dr. Mihaela Kelemen, Professor of Management Studies
Ian Christie, Associate, Green Alliance, Visiting professor, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey
John Carlisle, Visiting Professor Sheffield Hallam University, Founder, Cooperation Works Ltd and the Intlizyo AIDS Trust, South Africa
Morice Mendoza, editor and writer
Dr Olivier Sykes, Department of Civic Design, University of Liverpool
Ron Glatter, Emeritus Professor of Educational Administration and Management, The Open University
Bob Bischhof, Chairman – Vitalize Health Products, Non Executive Director – Henderson Eurotrust Plc, Member of Board – German British Chamber of Industry and Commerce
Dr Paul Hodgkin, Chief Executive, Patient Opinion
Alastair Mitchell-Baker, Director Tricordant Ltd
Adam Hogg, Managing Director, (Retired) Conquest Inns
Simon Hollington, Director, Leading Edge Personal Development Ltd
Dr Philip McGovern, Programme Leader, Technology Management Programmes, Institute of Technology, Tallaght, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Neela Bettridge, Founding Partner, Article 13
John Orsmond, Chairman Data Vantage Group
Peter Medway
Paul H Ray, sociologist, USA
Tim Pidsley, director Tricordant, New Zealand
Dr Timothy Wadsworth, NHS
Dr Bruce Tofield, University of East Anglia
Professor Tom Keenoy, The University of Leicester School of Management
Bill Cooke, Professor of Management and Society, Lancaster University Management School
Dr Leslie Budd AcSS MCIT MCILT, Reader in Social Enterprise, Open University
Ken Starkey, Professor of Management and Organisational Learning, Nottingham University Business School
Kieran Doyle, General Manager Production at Sulzer Pumps UK Ltd
Dr Luke Mitcheson, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Paul Buxton, Policy Officer, Crawley Borough Council
Roger Evans
Martin Meteyard (former Chair, Cafedirect plc)
Christopher Bird Owner, IT U Consulting Group
Laurence Barrett Associate Management Consultant
Paul Hodgkin Chief Executive at Patient Opinion
Bob Birtwell Tutor at University of Surrey
Andrew Campbell Director at Ashridge
Kathy Sheehy Williams Programme Manager at WEA
Rob Worth
Natascha Wolf, self-employed writer
Paul Summers, Corporate Programme Manager, Portsmouth City Council
David Kauders, Partner, Kauders Portfolio Management
Dave Kerr, Business Improvement Manager, Atkins
Paul Barratt, PMBprod
Kate Gott, PhD Student, Brunel Business School
Kevin Cryan, Analyst at DHL
Donal Carroll Associate at Open University Business School & Director at Critical Difference
Tim Casserley, Discovery Alliance & Edge Equilibrium & Author
Emma Langman, Head of Business Improvement at E Squared Thinking Ltd and Visiting Fellow in Systems at University of Bristol

(3) Reply from Observer editor, John Mullholland (by email)

1 July 2009 [by email]

Dear Phil Whiteley

Thank you for your letter and I must apologise for the delay in responding.

Simon Caulkin is a tremendous writer and his column has added enormously to our understanding of British business and management. For these reasons, the decision to lose the column was not taken lightly. It followed much discussion and only after exploring many different options did we reluctantly conclude that we had to take this course of action.

As you will doubtlessly appreciate, this was just one of a host of difficult decisions we have had to make in order to reduce costs across the newspapers at Guardian News and Media.

Newspapers and media groups are experiencing the most difficult trading conditions imaginable. Not only are we suffering, like everyone else, from the catastrophic fallout from the credit crunch in terms of severely reduced advertising revenues but, additionally, our industry is under structural assault from digital media which is causing enormous disruption to our business models.

In these circumstances, we are having to make extremely difficult decisions many of which have caused real anguish as we seek to cut costs. I do hope that Simon can continue to have a relationship with the paper and that we can continue to publish his writing from time to time. Should the economic climate change, then perhaps we can revisit the issue.

Thank you for taking the trouble to write and I completely understand your sense of loss but hope you can appreciate the dilemmas we are facing.

Yours sincerely
John Mulholland
Editor
The Observer

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Trinidad’s tabloids scream loudly, but Barbados’ press could do with some balls

July 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. Previous posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown. Trinidad and Barbados were the final stops.

After experiencing Guyanese ‘journalism’ during the Caricom summit, any order is better. In Trinidad, there is much economic prosperity due to oil and natural gas: ‘What recession?’ they ask here. The economy is healthy but the society has some of the fissures of Guyana.

Trinidad politics
Indians were brought here in thousands as indentured labourers to replace the freed black slaves one hundred and seventy years ago. They live in the south of the island, the African Trinidadians in the North. They have much of the wealth, the prime minister and his ruling PNM party are black and have the political power.

There is much violent crime – especially kidnappings and murders – and that is the staple fare of the super tabloids who make up the Trinidad & Tobago newspaper market. The Guardian, the Express and Newsday are much the same. Screaming headlines on the cover but much content inside. They are big in pagination and include lots of classified ads.

Politics gets a big shout and through that the racial dimension. The leader of the opposition (at the moment) Basdeo Panday is Indo-Trinidadian. He was prime minister until 2001 but was driven from office for alleged corruption. Today his UNC is breaking into bits.

His former attorney general Ramesh Marhaj is leading a ginger group/internal opposition within the party together with another MP – Jack Warner, who runs football in this part of the world, is vice-chair of FIFA and has been the subject of critical investigations on British TV about his dodgy behaviour in that job.

Warner’s son sold the travel packages and tickets for Trinidadians to the to the 2006 World Cup. Panday wants Warner to account for $30m (T&T) of election expenses. Warner says it was money he gave the party so no need to account. This makes the British MPs look tame.

Columnists abound on the pages of the T&T press. Different races. All have views. Many far too prolix for the page. Sub-editing is not a craft that seems to have been found in the Southern Caribbean. But the three dailies and the local TV news programmes – sadly also divided on racial lines – make for lively reading and listening. Crime sells. They certainly put the fear of God into the bank manager cousin with whom I was staying.

Keeping awake in Barbados
Not so Barbados. The problem here for a journalist is keeping awake. The best description for the Barbados Nation and Advocate? Stodgy, boring, dull. They make the Bedworth Advertiser look interesting. Boring headlines and even duller stories. It is like reading a parish newsletter for a nation.

The ‘news’ is based on government news conferences and other press conferences by NGOs and the like. On such sexy subjects like polyclinics, insurance and diabetes. Again, writing is prolix and not of great quality.

Barbados is a very polite and ordered society (the murder rate is a fraction of Trinidad’s) and that shows in its press. The hacks need to get themselves some more balls. The TV news is not much better.

There we have it. Prosperity, tabloid culture, Little England and the news values of British suburbia. Funny how they all travel. But Blighty calls.

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Alan Rusbridger’s digital crystal ball: what next for ‘public information’ journalism?

July 23rd, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism

One of the more influential figures in British journalism – Alan Rusbridger the editor-in-chief of the Guardian and the Observer discussed his ‘why journalism matters’ at a star studded Media Standards Trust event at the British Academy last night. His audience included Lord Puttnam, Robert Peston, Roger Graef, Bill Hagerty, Felicity Green and Nick Cohen.

In his tour d’horizon Rusbridger chose to refer back to the past and, most importantly, forward to the future. He traced the origins of the recent seminal reporting on the G20 protests by Paul Lewis – which lead to a furore over the death of an innocent bystander Ian Tomlinson, after a phone video came to light. It was reportage taking the Guardian back to its foundations, Rusbridger said, drawing comparisons with its reporting of the Peterloo riots in Manchester in 1819.

That and Lewis’ work was based on simple journalistic principles of observing, digging for the truth and not giving up. “It was a piece of conventional reporting and tapping into the resources of a crowd,” he said. “There are thousands of reporters in any crowd nowadays. There was nothing to stop people from publishing those pictures but it needed the apparatus of a mainstream news organisation for that to cut through and have impact.”

Likewise on investigations. The money and time the Guardian had invested in the major series on tax avoidance earlier this year was, initially, simply the traditional way investigations were done. That story had been transformed by documents which came from readers of the series and were put first on the net before being injuncted by Barclays Bank. His audience had a sneak glimpse of them up on the screen.

But the days of journalists behind castle walls sending out articles ‘like mortars-some hit, some missed’ to readers were now gone. The process was thanks to the internet firmly a two-way one.

He quoted Jemina Kiss, the Guardian technology reporter, who has over 13,000 personal followers on Twitter and uses them to help research, shape and comment on her stories. Rusbridger admitted to being an initial Twitter sceptic, before his conversion: ‘I didn’t get it’.  “Sometimes you are too old to keep up with all these things  and Twitter just seemed silly and I didn’t have time to add it to all of these other things – but that was completely wrong.”

The Guardian editor looked back – all of 30 years – to the days of long and dull parliamentary reports in the broadsheet British press and compared them to the likes of EveryBlock on the internet, the US-based site which aggregates information in micro-areas to help plan journeys to work, and to avoid crime and other hazards. He’s not sure if it’s journalism, but ‘does it matter?’

Local struggles

But it was on the death of local news – on TV and in newspapers – that he was at his most challenging. ITV had all but retreated from the provision of it, with a final surrender due next year; local papers were feeling the economic heat severely and cutting back on the essential reporting of council, council committees and the courts – to the dismay of some judges. He called it the ‘collapse of the structure of political reporting’.

This ‘public information journalism’ should not be allowed to disappear, he said. It needed public subsidy. Rusbridger posited that it could be, but would not be, done by the BBC. More hopeful were the trials currently being run by the Press Association where they would act as a print and video agency / aggregrator for the country and syndicate those services to local papers/websites.

“This bit of journalism is going to have to be done by somebody,” Rusbridger said. “It makes me worry about all of those public authorities and courts which will in future operate without any kind of systematic public scrutiny. I don’t think our legislators have begun to wake up to this imminent problem as we face the collapse of the infrastructure of local news in the press and broadcasting.”

Rusbridger said local public service journalism was a ‘kind of utility’ which was just as important as gas and water. “We must face up to the fact that if there is no public subsidy, then some of this [public service] reporting will come to pass in this country,” he said. “The need is there [for subsidy]. It is going to be needed pretty quickly.”

Whilst modern journalism was evolving and being transformed by the new media, it still firmly mattered as did journalists, he said. “There are many things that mainstream media do, which in collaboration with others is still really important. The ability to take a large audience and amplify things and to give more weight to what would [otherwise] be fragments. Somebody has to have the job of pulling it all together.” All was not gloomy in Rusbridger’s digital crystal ball.

More to follow from Journalism.co.uk. The event was tweeted live via @journalism_live.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He is currently editing a special issue of the journal ‘Ethical Space’ on the reporting of the Great Crash of ’08. He will run a world-wide video conference, supported by Journalism.co.uk, on ‘Is World Journalism in Crisis?’ in Coventry on October 28.

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It’s no use having a platform if you have no customers. Full stop.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. His last posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown.

As one door closes in the media, another opens. The trick is to spot whether the train leaving the station will crash or make it to the new destination. British newspapers and others are standing watching the various emerging platforms wondering which ones to accept and which to reject.

Some are dithering and may die. Imagine you are the editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph facing steadily declining sales. Do you boost them on a  new web platform, do you throw your resources, mainly journalists, at that platform? Do you try to revive the traditional paper? Or do you give up the ghost?

For the last two and a half weeks, I have witnessed, here in Georgetown, the death of one platform and the rise of others. The Plaza Cinema in Camp Street is, or was, right opposite my hotel. It was a Georgetown institution when I was a boy.  A huge art deco cinema which played the big films. I saw ‘Ben Hur’ there over 50 ago as a young boy.

There were five or six big cinemas in the town which provided entertainment for the masses especially at weekends. Films came from Britain or the USA a few weeks after their release there. Each town and village on the coastal plain had a small cinema too. The films they showed varied according to the ethnic group of the area.

Indo-Guyanese village cinemas showed Hindi films with English subtitles – early Bollywood; the African Caribbean diet was Hollywood. Cinema was part of the very fabric of life. The cinemas supported a daily full page advertisement in the local papers.

Then along came television. Most of it illegal – stealing from satellites and from video shops. Copyright was for the birds. They showed anything and everything. When I pointed out to one transgressor that the film he was showing on his TV station clearly said on screen ‘For Home use only’, his retort was instant: ‘I show it in my home, they watch it in theirs. What’s wrong with that?’ Iron logic. TV stole the cinema audience. People preferred the comfort and safety of their living rooms to the trip into town where cinemas were old and often smelt of bodily functions.

The illegal DVD trade took up any slack (last week within twelve hours of it happening live in LA, I could buy a DVD of the Michael Jackson Memorial Service in Georgetown market). The cinema platform firmly died first in the villages, then in the town. There were fewer and fewer ads in the paper.

Three weeks ago, part of the art deco facade of the Plaza fell down. It had been closed for two or three years now. That was followed by an army of scavengers who, day and night, over two weeks literally stripped the place of anything worthwhile.

Timber went first, taken away in scores ofdray carts (horse drawn carts) to pastures new to make new or improved houses in which to watch films on TV or DVD. It was like watching ants taking food from one place to another.

Now all that is left of the once great Plaza is a breeze block back wall and some steel pillars. The human scavengers have like locusts left just the shell. If ever I wanted a real-time demonstration of the death of one media platform and the rise of another, this was it.

In the not-so slow death of the Plaza Cinema in Georgetown lie big lessons for those trying to ride the tiger called the internet.

It’s no use having a platform if you have no customers. Full stop.

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This is Georgetown but it could be Westminster: journalists hunt in packs wherever they are

July 8th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Press freedom and ethics

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. His last post looked at how summits bring out the lazy side of journalists.

The herd mentality is alive and well and living in the sun. I’ve just seen it at the Caricom (Caribbean Community) Summit (July 2-5) of 14 Presidents and Prime Ministers with the Caribbean media. A pack without teeth. The government of Guyana established a very slow accreditation system and a media centre in the conference venue. But the media centre was a broiler room. Up to 20 hacks, computers (usually working), tea, coffee and confusion.

The highlight of the day was often lunch, with the President’s press secretary presiding over just who got fish and who got meat. Big decisions. He and others in the communications team at the Summit did precious little briefing, precious little spinning in advance, or even ex post facto. That was left to the principals and usually in impromptu corridor press conferences where they were waylaid by journalists. The worst sort of herd mentality. One hooked the prey while the others piled in, often not knowing what questions to ask, but not wanting to miss out on the action. A journalism flash mob with plenty of heat and not much light. The leaders love this. They can bluff on a wide variety of subjects for several minutes to feed morsels to the hungry hacks.

Away from the pack, the masters of journalism. None bigger than Rickey Singh. Sitting typing in the corner of the media centre. Thousands of words over three days for his outlets in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados (where he lives) and his native Guyana. He is a one-man Caribbean press corps and the institutional memory for the travelling correspondents covering the Summit. Any historical or other questions they ask Rickey out loud. He knows all the answers. He has lived them.

Rickey has been to virtually all the Summits since the founding of Caricom. After 40+ plus years as a journalist, often against the odds and the subject of official displeasure, there are no new names and faces for Rickey in the Caribbean. Just watch him in action, prowling the corridors of power at a big event like this. No media scrums for him. As he walks around casually, his name is all. The powerful stop him and talk to him. Now, that’s contacts and working them. Rickey pumps out news, features, opinion, the works from his corner position in the Summit newsroom. The ultimate freelance, the ultimate journalistic craftsman.

For many Guyanese journalists, a little knowledge is enough. The big issues they leave to politicians and their prolix communiqués. The hacks take what they are offered, too often with little or no deep questioning. Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson was given a very easy ride in a press conference he called after facing criticism for an exercise in ‘ethnic cleansing’. It’s not a pretty sight to see how easily young journalists can be kept happy.

There we have it; experience against naivety, age against youth, solo against the pack. This is Georgetown but it could be Glasgow or the Westminster lobby. Herds don’t need cold weather to exist.

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Reporting from ‘the EU in the sunshine’ where hacks are hunting in packs

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV.

Summits bring out the worst in hacks. Lazy journalism by design. You arrive, get spoon-fed information, report it and then leave. You get fed and watered too. No need for digging, no need for investigation.

The Caricom (Caribbean Community – think EU in the sunshine) Summit, which opened last week here in Georgetown, Guyana, is no exception. Fifteen regional leaders and distinguished others from all round the world propelled at speed by police outriders all over the Capital City to a brand new Conference Centre. They ‘meet’ for three days to discuss the pressing issues of crime, security, economy and more in the region. But, like all summits it is a sham. The team have long been at work preparing the final communiqué. One person told me minutes after the end of the Opening Ceremony last night that the final communiqué was done and dusted – just crossing the ‘T’s’ and dotting the ‘I’s’ left to do. Where is the journalism in reporting that charade?

But the 60 or so journos from all over the Caribbean who are here go through the motions. The Guyana Government has set up a press centre in an anteroom of the summit to feed regular morsels to the hungry hacks. They run on the spot, faithfully file and come back for more. The herd instinct in action.

There is one real story at this talkfest. The Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, is it. He is a pariah in the Community as it heads towards integration. He wants to clear his Little England island of illegal Guyanese immigrants. His police round them up early morning, interrogate then and so far 53 have been dispatched South in two months. Caricom is supposed to be about the free movement of labour. Thompson held a bizarre press conference on arrival in Georgetown. Local journos failed to ask the right questions. But the ‘Bajan bans Guyanese’ story will run and run.

The local media hunt firmly in packs – whatever their race or the politics of their paper/TV station. At the ceremonial opening last night, the usual suspects were present. All corralled in the lobby or in one small room. All using the feed from the State broadcaster as their only source. Some of them will not file for a day or so. ‘Soon come’ journalism is common here. But how many of the Guyana Press Corps will have the courage to announce the opening as a non-story? Nothing really happened. Fifteen men in suits sat on a stage and listened to six of their number drone on for two hours. Sound bites aplenty there were not.

More to follow on the conference, which ran July 2-5. Over the weekend, the Premiers and the Pack headed off to the Chinese built Conference Centre to go through the elegant quadrille that’s called ‘reporting’ major summits. Me – I got hold of a copy of the final communiqué and sat beside a hotel pool reading it and reporting it. If you are going to be lazy, do it right.

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Guyana: Four daily papers and 20+ television stations but a poor standard of journalism

June 29th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting, Comment, Journalism, Newspapers

Regular Journalism.co.uk contributor John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University and the inventor of the Coventry Conversations, now on iTunes U. He was born in Guyana and returns there regularly to observe and advise the local media. His nom de plume in Guyana is Bill Cotton/Reform.

I am at one of the frontiers of modern journalism: Guyana in South America, but of the Caribbean. Most things go here. Four daily papers and 20+ local television stations feeding the news appetite of the 750,000 population. Journalists rank just above dog catchers as a trade in Guyana. At least the latter get some training.

Over here there is a university course in ‘Public Communication’ but little else to fine-tune wannabe hacks. The best and brightest go north drawn by the bright lights of the USA and Canada, like many others in their country. Newspapers are still sold on the streets by vendors on commission. The four on sale range from the supermarket tabloid Kaieteur News to the urbane Guyana Times. Kaieteur is the baby of local shoe shop entrepreneur Glenn Lall. Brash, vulgar, full of crime stories with some challenging columnists (including me behind a nom de plume).

It hits the popular mark as nearly does The Stabroek News, a paper instrumental in bringing democracy back to Guyana in 1992 after a period of dictatorship. Its guiding light, the Caribbean media giant David Decaires, died last year. The paper has lost some direction since. It is worth looking at though – for the letters column alone. A national Conversation tree but one which is prolix. Working out which letters are genuine makes for a fascinating read. Both major political parties (the PP and the PNC) and racial groups (Indo and African Guyanese) employ specialist correspondents to support their positions under a variety of noms de plumes (I am not alone in my anonymity. It is a Guyanese tradition).

Third in the press race is the Government-controlled Daily Chronicle. Cynics dub it The Chronic or The Daily Jagdeo in honour of the now second term President Bharrat Jagdeo. If a government minister speaks, they report it. If the President does, it hits the front page. The masses have not gone for it in thousands, nor for the new kid on the block for the last year, The Guyana Times. Intelligent, erudite, semi-broadsheet and the brainchild of a pharmaceutical baron Bobby Ramroop. It is well-written if stodgy, but at a level way beyond the literary level of the mass of the population. The Guyanese middle classes are now not here but in Toronto, New York and Miami. They read their papers on the internet.

The big action is on screen-in TV journalism. That is madness. Tout court. 20+ stations all stealing product from international satellites and re-transmitting it. The Guyanese journalism content ranges from the vulgar-local poujadist and station owner CN Sharma, the soi-disant ‘voice of the people’ with oppositional news shows like ‘Capitol News’ and ‘Prime News’, to the ‘Chronic’ of the airwaves NCN and its ‘Sixo’Clock News’ – which I invented a decade ago. The latter is news on the station owned by the Minister of Agriculture (and President manque) Robert Persaud and makes few pretences to impartiality.

Few of the TV journalists have any training. Few stay in the job for long. Few ever work out what the medium means. They think relaying a press conference with a few links is a ‘story’. More than one over several days if they can spin it out as they get paid per piece. Wallpaper is too kind a word to describe their use of pictures to tell tales.

So there you have it. Poor journalism by under-trained hacks. But all will change later this week when the heads of the Caribbean Governments come to town for their Annual Caricom Csummit. They bring with them the cream of the Caribbean Press Corps. That should be an intriguing piece of media anthropology in action. I will be there.

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