Tag Archives: coventry conversations

Coventry Conversations: ‘Tele’ editor Darren Parkin on weathering the local newspaper storm

You have to be either brave or foolhardy to take over as editor of a local newspaper in the current climate. Circulations are dropping, advertising plummeting, and revenues are through the floor.

But Darren Parkin, the 38 year old editor of the Coventry Telegraph, is not foolhardy. “Surviving the perfect storm: one year on” was the title of his Coventry Conversation last Friday, and survive he has.

Fourteen months ago, Parkin took over a ship that was rocking and reeling on the seas of change. The numbers were down but, worse than that “The Tele” seemed to have lost touch with the heartbeat of the Coventry community. Parkin spent his first weekend as editor reading, eating and sleeping in the newspaper’s library to see if he could rediscover that Holy Grail. One concrete result is a weekly page of community news, a lot of which is written by Coventry University’s journalism students.

The greatest challenge to local newspapers today is without a doubt the internet. Why buy when you can find it online? Advertising, especially classified, has fled to cyberspace and the eyeballs have followed. Parkin has met the probelm head on with some hugely popular blogs on the Cov.Telegraph website. One of those, called “The Geek Files“, is by far and away the most popular in the Mirror regional newspapers stable, although Parkin admitted that he had thought it was a bad idea when it was first suggested.

On taking over at the Telegraph, Parkin was faced with a staff of journalists who had become comfortable. Too comfortable. The previous editor was in post for just a year and his predecessor for over a decade. He thinks he has remotivated and refocused the staff. He was full of praise for his newsroom and their talent.

The “perfect storm” is far from over though. Over Christmas, the Telegraph put up its cover price by 3p to 45p, to make up for the anticipated 20 per cent rise in the cost of newsprint this year.

Initially, as expected, the rise reduced sales but they seem to be back on the recovery track. Parkin admitted that all he could do anyway was moderate and not reverse that long-term decline. In 1953, the Telegraph had a circulation of around 100,000. Today it is around 35,000.

But Parkin is willing to be innovative. He has forged new partnerships with the university, and with BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. He and they and the local commercial radio stations are involved in the Coventry News Forum, which is brokered by the university journalism department. That meets monthly and has so far proved to be beneficial to all. As an example, coverage of the 70th Anniversary of the Blitz got deeper following a News Forum meet.

Parkin started his career as a Youth Training Scheme intern on the Dewsbury Reporter 22 years ago, paid a pittance by the state. Since then he has been Young Journalist of the year three times, a chief reporter on the Solihull Times and at 24, Britain’s youngest editor after taking the top job at the Wolverhampton News.

From 2005, he was editor in chief of the well-regarded weeklies division of Coventry Newspapers and since November 2009 the editor of the Coventry Telegraph – a job he told the audience he had always coveted.

Perfect or not, one suspects that Parkin will survive many more storms.

John Mair runs the Coventry Conversations series at Coventry University. He is a senior lecturer in journalism at the university and co-ordinates the Coventry News Forum.

Former Sun editor expresses doubt over Andy Coulson’s phone-hacking denials

Former editor of the Sun David Yelland has cast further doubt over the claim by Downing Street director of communications Andy Coulson that he was in the dark about illegal phone-hacking at the News of the World during his time as editor.

Yelland, who was editor of the Sun for five years until 2003 and has edited another of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, the New York Post, told an audience of students at last week’s Coventry Conversations: “I can’t believe a fellow editor would not know phone tapping was in action.”

It is understood that Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who was sent to prison last year for his part in the News of the World’s phone-hacking operations, was paid around £100,000 by the newspaper for aiding in hacking celebriti Yelland told the audience he believed that any sum more than £1,000 would have to be signed off by someone “in deep carpet land”.

“It would be impossible for anyone at News International to not know what was going on”, he added.

Yelland’s comments will undoubtedly not be welcomed by Murdoch, who owns News Corporation, parent company of the News of the World. Yelland claimed to hold Murdoch in high esteem, calling him the “best newspaper proprietor of all time” and said that he had a close relationship with him during his time at the Sun and the Post. “He has a genuine interest in newspapers. Murdoch is rooted in newspapers and lives, eats and breathes them”.

Yelland’s talk was surprisingly open and on the record (see a live blog at cutoday.wordpress.com; podcast at www.coventtry.ac.uk/itunesU). He talked in detail about heavy drinking, which had started at Coventry and got worse during his career. He recalled drinking binges followed by sleep and a fourteen hour day in the newsroom as a regular cycle.

Yelland blamed one of his biggest mistakes as editor – allowing a front page headline about Britain being run by a ‘Gay mafia’ – on having been drunk in Dublin that day. Homophobia was not his scene, he said. He was mortified when he sobered up and read that headline and story. He later he checked himself into rehab and stopped drinking 2005 when he found out that his wife, from whom he was divorced, was dying of breast cancer. He is still teetotal now.

A worse mistake than the headline though, he said, was printing a topless picture of the soon-to-be Countess Of Wessex Sophie Rhys Jones. He did not say if it happened under the influence. Printing the picture lost over half a million copies over night, according to Yelland, and prompted an icy call from Murdoch. “It probably cost us ten million pounds.”

After five years as editor Yelland stepped out of the firing line of popular tabloid journalism and moved, via the Harvard Business School, into public relations. Today he is a partner at PR firm Brunswick and has represented the likes of BP during the Gulf oil spill scandal this summer and Lord Browne, the former BP CEO on his recent review into university fees. PR suits David down to the ground, he said. As a commander of information he is in his element being counsel to clients. Personal integrity in both journalism and PR is key, he advised the assemble students. “Once you’ve lost your personal integrity,” says David, “you’re gone.” Ambition and a determination to prove people wrong kept me going says David.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University and producer of the Coventry Conversations series. The talks series has just won the Cecil Angel Cup of 2010 for enhancing the reputation of the university.

‘Only when you’ve done your homework…’ Kirsty Wark tells Coventry students that research is key

I knew that Kirst Wark hadn’t lost it when I saw her doorstepping Nick Clegg all the way up the aisle of Sheffield Town Hall on Election night 2010. He was not best pleased. It was then that I decided to try and get her to speak at Coventry Conversations, and last wednesday she did, delivering a masterclass for Coventry University’s journalism students.

At that same Sheffield election count, Wark was about to do her first live stand-upper into the Dimbleby programme when two old ladies came by, “in a Moris Minor I think”. They told her that they’d not been able to vote, the queues at the polling station were too long and had shut before they could get in. A good yarn, especially as, in line with BBC post Hutton rules, it had two sources – both in the same car. Wark had to make a judgment call based on that hinterland of life in front of and behind the camera. She decided to broadcast thirty seconds later. She was right. She broke the story and it ran for hours overnight and for days afterwards. You cannot teach that nous.

Wark has now been in front of camera for nigh on three decades. She was a producer and director for BBC Scotland when the series producer suggested she take a try the other side of the lens on a political programme. She has never looked back. Today she commands the studio of Newsnight’s Review Show.

Wark left her Coventry town and gown audience in no doubt about the secret of good TV journalism – good research and hard work. Each interview is meticulously researched and brainstormed with her producers. “When you’ve done your homework, only then can you throw it away and respond using what you already know,” she said.

Wark was her own fiercest critic when it came to the interviews that had failed. When asked if she thought her style in the Alex Salmond interview in 2007, which was criticised for being rude and dismissive, was justified, Wark responded frankly: “It was overly aggressive and I later apologised”, she said. She told the audience that her favourite interviews were with Margaret Thatcher and Libertine Pete Doherty. Her least favourite was with disgraced Tory peer Lord Jeffrey Archer – “he was condescending”.

Wark stopped in Coventry on her way from her home in Scotland to London to present Newsnight the next evening. Her day would start early, she explained, with phone calls to the editor of the night at 9am and continue right through to transmission at 10.30pm. Newsnight satisfied her ‘nosiness’ but also meant she had to be constantly abreast of the world through reading, reading and more reading, she said.

She is buoyant about the state of journalism today. She believes no matter who the reporter or what the content, “as long as the journalism is rigorous and investigative it’s valid”. She added that if it helps to introduce a different demographic of viewer to news and current affairs, then programmes such as Sky’s Ross Kemp in Afghanistan have just as much place in the sphere as Newsnight.

So what’s next for Kirsty Wark? With a book and a documentary in the pipeline, as well as Newsnight and the successful Glasgow-based Review Show, ratings are as strong as ever and it appears that she will be a fixture on our screens for some time.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He founded and runs the twice weekly Coventry Conversations.

The Today programme’s Adam Shaw: tackling the UK’s ‘massive financial illiteracy’

Adam Shaw gets up at 3.30am every morning to present the business news on Radio 4’s Today programme. Last Thursday he extended his day to talk to students in Coventry University’s Coventry Conversations series.

“Being a journalist is an amazing job”, he told students, even if it means bowing to the whims of the man he calls “Today’s Interferer in Chief” – editor Ceri Thomas. A man who can rip up running orders and rip into items as the fancy or editorial judgement takes him, said Shaw. He told the audience that he sees himself as a translator, trying to do something about the “massive financial illiteracy in the UK”.

He defers, though, to the  grey beards of the BBC like Today presenter John Humphrys, whom he said wields a lot of power over how things are done and whether they are done at all. Likewise he praised the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston and his journalistic contacts and nous. According to Shaw, it was “rare for the BBC  to have scoops” BP (Before Preston).

Following an unsuccesful stint as an actor and some work experience with the BBC, Shaw got a job as an after care researcher for Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life. From there he joined Business Breakfast, because “the people who employed me thought my economics degree was useful”. In 1994 he moved on to the launch of the then revolutionary lunchtime business programme Working Lunch, presented by Adrian Chiles. The programme, made on a shoestring, was was the first programme after Newsnight to use big board graphics to explain things: “We messed up all the time but our viewers tolerated it”, Shaw said.

Shaw sat opposite Adrian Chiles on the set of Working Lunch for 14 years, but was replaced by Declan Curry a year before the programme was taken off air in 2009.

As a young actor, Shaw “was a spear-carrier, not Hamlet”, he told the audience. But it seems he will not end up a spear carrier on the TV stage if he can help it. As he gets to late middle age and the stage exit for presenters, he is looking to the future as a producer and making a twenty-part series for BBC World on world leaders and future trends.

‘I still get keyed up going on air’: Nick Owen talks to Coventry broadcast students

Nick Owen has been a fixture on Midlands TV screens for 32 years now. Today, he is the main presenter on the BBC’s Midlands Today and has been for 13 years. Before that there was Central News, the ITV World Cup in 1990, Good morning with Anne and Nick on the BBC until 1996 and, most famously, the time that he, Anne Diamond and Roland Rat saved TV-am (or TV-mayhem! as it had became known) in 1983.

Last Wednesday, Owen shared his secrets with students and others at Coventry University’s renowned Coventry Conversation series. He spoke to a full house and gave candid advice to aspiring journalists:

“The media is saturated. Whatever you do, give 110 per cent. The most important thing is to be yourself, be totally sincere and authentic and talk to people as though everyone matters.”

Owen, who had taken time off from the BBC Mailbox newsroom to come to Coventry, revealed that he still got excited about appearing live on screen.

“Buzz isn’t the right word. There’s so much going on in your ear. You can hear up to ten people talking but I still get keyed up when going on air.”

In recent years the BBC has built the BBC News ‘brand’: taking the English regions under the umbrella of the News Division and homogenizing the look nationwide. Owen is not a total convert to this kind of branding: “I would love our programme to be more distinctive. The move in the BBC is to rationalize local news. It is a pity because even the lightest stories are being pushed aside.”

But at least now he has the resources of the BBC behind them. At TV-am back in 1983 the cupboard was bare after the Famous Five Presenters – Michael Parkinson, David Frost, Angela Rippon, Anna Ford, and Robert Kee – who had won the franchise, had moved on. Owen was called from the sports desk to present by new editor in chief Greg Dyke. Dyke chose Anne Diamond – then at the BBC but previously with Owen at Central TV – to co-present. Much was made of the sexual chemistry between Anne and Nick, but Owen was having none of it when he spoke at Coventry: “Sexual chemistry? It was nothing serious, we were just mates, she laughed at my jokes..”

The nadir of his TV career was when an IRA bomb went off at the Tory Conference in October 1984, John Stapleton, then a TV-am reporter, had left Brighton so TV-am were exposed: “We were left with one man in a remote studio and me in London with another man for two hours.” Despite the bad days, he is proud to have been a part of the saving of TV-am, he said.

Owen had advice for the presenters of Daybreak, with Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley. Launched barely a month ago, the show is already possibly destined for broadcasting’s intensive care unit. His advice was that they don’t try to make their former hit The One Show at breakfast time, and have competitions that are a little bit more difficult than “how much is a century, 25, 50, or 100 years?”

From his success at breakfast, Own went back to sport – his first love. He presented the Olympic Games for ITV in 1988, the World Cup in 1990 and Midweek Sports Special for many years. He got used to the different pace of presenting on ITV due to advertising: It’s  more difficult because of the commercials. You lose track and spontaneity.”

On TV-am Owen was bit of a boy next door type, but in TV he is a true broadcast veteran. Should he be the old man next door perhaps?

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He founded and produces the twice weekly Coventry Conversations. All are available on podcast at www.coventry.ac.uk/coventry conversations

Ripe from the Vine: lessons in journalism

Photograph: Dean O'Brien

Today Jeremy Vine is top of the broadcast journalism food chain. He presents an eponymous  show on BBC Radio Two every lunchtime, fronts Panorama on BBC One every week and plays the all-important graphics role in the BBC’s Election Coverage. But it was all so different in 1986 when Vine started our as a bright-eyed 21-year-old trainee on the Coventry Evening Telegraph.

Opening Coventry University’s Coventry Conversation series last night, he let the university’s journalism students in on a few secrets (www.coventry.ac.uk/coventryconversations)

Vine had never been to Coventry before his first day on the ‘Tele’ thirty four years ago. He was thrown in at the deep end – sent off to report the courts and come back with story return with a story an a picture. “I had to go up with photographer, John Potter and work out who the defendant was and say, “that’s him! He was about 19 and made off with his family so we had to run after him.

“I was laughing thinking, ‘This is probably the most exciting thing I have done in my life!’ ”

But Vine was very quickly brought back down to earth after he filed his story.

“[The defendant] had run up to a woman in a park saying, ‘I want sex’, so that was my intro”. But news editor Geoff Grimmer told Vine, “That’s not a story because everyone wants sex. The story is that she fought him off with a shoe.”

It didn’t get much better. On another court case, the defendant collared Vine in the corridor and spun him a good yarn about the crime. Trouble was, it was somewhat different to his evidence in court. Vine wrote it up as gospel only for the news editor to toss it in the rubbish bin. Another painful  learning experience. “I got some pretty good carpetings for getting stories wrong,” he admitted.

“The most heinous crime was for someone’s name to change halfway through the story or in the lists of divorces or TV licence evaders. They also never wanted to see the words ‘incident’ or ‘situation’, if it’s a crash it’s a crash.”

He did learn though, and kept his eyes and ears open and delivered some front page splashes, including two very negative stories about the very university in which he was speaking (then Lanchester Polytechnic). Current Coventry Telegraph editor Darren Parkin, who is returning the ‘Tele’ to its roots, was on hand to present Vine with some of the broadcaster’s cuttings from the time. He looked humbled to receive them.

Vine said two of the biggest stories he covered on the Telegrpah were Coventry City winning the FA Cup and a rapist on the prowl in the City Centre. “At the end of the day I could see my story coming off the press 1,000 times a second. It was an amazing feeling seeing your name in print.”

Not amazing enough though.

Vine moved from ‘Tele’ to Telly, and to the BBC in 1988 for a news traineeship. News reporting followed, then Today on Radio Four, BBC Belfast, a job as the BBC’s Johannesburg correspondent, and then, in 2000, the big one: presenting ‘Newsnight’.

There was, however, already a Jeremy on that show (Paxman), and there was only really room for one.

“I was the other Jeremy and it was his show,” Vine recalled. The other Jeremy got the big ones, but Vine did some sterling journalism on Newsnight before Radio Two called in 2003 and he became the Jimmy Young of the new era.

For the 18-year-old wannabe hacks in the audience that night, there were plenty of good lessons in that Conversation. Words ripe from the Vine.

‘Keep your cool, but lose it if you must’: Jon Snow’s advice for journalists

Jon Snow has presented Channel 4 News for 21 years.He has worked in television news for more than three decades, always at ITN, but he is also the Visiting Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Coventry University.

What he does not know about making TV news and Current Affairs probably is not worth knowing and late last week, Snow passed on the wisdom of his years to young wannabe hacks at Coventry University.

Five golden pieces of advice from the master:

1. Stay sober: a lesson he learned in his early days at ITN then awash, in his view, with alcohol.

The truth is you had to be pissed to get on in television. People drank vast quantities whilst they were working. We had a bar inside the studios and people would put out the lunchtime news and go and have a few pints and then go back to work completely squiffy.

His road to Damascus came one day when after the early evening news, the editor at the time and next most senior person invited him for a drink:

I went across the road to the wine bar, sat down with them and after about an hour, realising I still had to do a piece for News at 10, there were six empty wine bottles on the table and only three of us, so I realised I must have drunk at least one-and-a-half of them. I was now squiffy in any case. After a time I wanted to go to loo, so I went downstairs to the gents and I was unsteady on my feet and lurched into the cistern. It detached itself from the wall and crashed into the throne and then exploded in an eruption of water cascading everywhere. I made a very fast retreat, shut the door, saw the water pouring out underneath. I saw these two guys sitting there and thought ‘they’re going to drown’ and I said ‘chaps, got to get back and get my piece on for news at 10’. I sat there watching out of the window thinking this was the end of my career.

It wasn’t. Snow has not really drunk on the job since.

2. Keep it simple: Jon explained how he had appreciated reporting from Haiti after the earthquake had struck in January, because it went back to his roots – finding stories and telling them, simply, to viewers using all original footage and through this simplicity touching the hearts of millions. He pointed to the fact that £100 million was given by the British public to Haiti Relief partly as a result of the messages from broadcasters. Snow is planning to return soon to Haiti to follow up on the stories.

3. Expect the unexpected: Tuesday 11 May was a moment of “complete magic” for Snow, as Channel 4 News went live outside Downing Street to broadcast the resignation of Gordon Brown.

At 18 minutes past seven the car comes out and we have no idea where things are going. Normally the great thing about anchoring any programme is that you’ve got this thing [an earpiece], the lifeline, the umbilical chord to the producer, and they’re saying, ‘Jon he’s going to the Palace’. But they didn’t – I was hearing nothing but silence. I suddenly realised I was on a one-to-one adventure with the viewer. The viewer and I were equally ignorant about what was going to go on; it was a sublime moment of total equality when we were both peering at this helicopter image and the car was turning right and turning left.

4. Have a point, but keep away from pressure: Snow said that TV had made the 2010 election with the Prime Ministerial debates dominating the agenda and the tabloid press having to follow that. The Murdoch-owned press fared especially badly, he said: “The tabloid press had a terrible, terrible election. They got it seriously wrong. Murdoch was beaten, in a fantastic moment in history Murdoch, decided to try and elect David Cameron and the Sun went out to bat for him. We now have the first government for a long time not elected with Rupert Murdoch’s support.”

Then when questioned about the success of Channel 4’s comedy election night coverage and what that says about the British public, Snow said: “It tells you that people are real who necessarily wants to watch drab results with people as old as the ark coming out and saying ‘bark, bark’.”

5. Keep your cool, but lose it if you must: Snow was very sympathetic to Sky News Political editor Adam Boulton about his outburst on air to Alastair Campbell on 10 May.

It’s no good asking, ‘should anybody have lost anything?’ He lost it, so what? Good God, the world would be duller place if people didn’t lose it (…) what’s misconduct? If he’s guilty of it I’ll have to go to the hang man’s noose.

Snow said he saw Boulton’s outburst as a possible result of pressures building up on Boulton and Sky News to move along the road to a more Fox News’ style approach.

Simple, to the point, straightforward – but that’s Jon Snow for you.

Could peace journalism offer a future for news media?

Non-violent activism is not reported enough in the media, which focuses on violence in too much of its language and reportage, Richard Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, argued yesterday in a Coventry Conversation event at Coventry University entitled “Give Peace Journalism a Chance!”

Peace journalism is solution-orientated. It gives a voice to the voiceless. It’s attempting to humanise the enemy and exposing lies on all sides, highlighting peace initiatives and focusing on the invisible effects of violence, such as psychological trauma,” he said.

Keeble attacked the traditional media, for acting as propaganda for war, rather than a resolution promoter, but stressed the importance of alternative media in promoting peace journalism.

“Part of the critique is the critique of the language of the media and one of the things that always amazes me, is the way in which the metaphor of war is everywhere […] there’s all different kinds of ways in which alternative citizen journalists are challenging the professional monopoly of this word journalism, and I celebrate them enormously.”

Talking about the exposure of war, Keeble said: “It is the responsibility of journalists to expose the truth.”

“You are not being told to be objective,” he added. “There’s no way in which X can be balanced with Y, because what about A, B, C and D and everything else in between? The whole notion of balance is problematic, isn’t it?”

Dhiren Katwa: ‘Current BBC Asian Network model promotes segregation’

Dhiren Katwa, senior news editor at Asian Voice, spoke at the Coventry Conversations series on Thursday about the possibility of the BBC’s Asian Network being scrapped in the face of strategic cuts. He said Vijay Sharma, head of the Asian Network, has been “in hiding” over the current situation.

The Asian Network’s audience fell by 15 per cent to 357,000 in the third quarter of last year, and is expected to struggle for survival after director-general Mark Thompson’s forthcoming strategic review of BBC programming.

Katwa, a member of the Equality Council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said he thought it would be a shame for the Asian Network to go, but added that he didn’t believe the BBC should be specifically broadcasting to minority groups. He told the audience that “with the Asian Network working within a silo, it’s promoting or contributing to segregation rather than integration”. He said that the solution is to embed minority targeted elements of the BBC more firmly within the corporation.

When asked about the network’s fall in ratings, Katwa said commercial competitors such as Sunrise Radio had contributed to the network’s struggle to reach it’s young target audience, but put its current problems largely down to “a lot of internal issues”.

Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s chief operating officer, told the House of Lords Communications Committee on Wednesday that the idea of one network serving the UK’s entire Asian community wasn’t the right way to represent such a large and diverse audience.

Katwa echoed her assessment in his talk, and suggested that “the BBC Asian Network needs to be embedded within the BBC as a corporation with more faces from black and Asian backgrounds.”

Sharing Katwa’s view, broadcast journalism lecturer and founder of Coventry Conversations John Mair added: “There is no role for something separate or segregated, it should just be part of the mainstream. Not ‘now Radio Four’s Asian hour’, every hour should be Asian hour”.

Katwa said at the talk that his opinions were his own and did not necessarily reflect the views of Asian Voice.

Evan Davis ponders micropayments for the BBC at Coventry event

On the day that he was honoured by Coventry University for his services to financial journalism, Evan Davis, presenter of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and Dragons Den, spoke about his career in journalism and about the state of the industry at a special graduation week Coventry Conversation.

Discussing the issue of paid content, one which has been in the news recently after comments made by Rupert Murdoch concerning the online indexing of News International’s content, Davis proposed that the BBC could start charging for content with a micropayment structure.

“The BBC could charge for its web pages, a penny a page, and it should take all revenues thereby derived and just give them back in a reduction in the license fee the following year.” He stressed this was just an idea and that he wasn’t necessarily advocating its use.

Davis was criticised for his overly-soft interviewing style after joining the Today programme last year. He spoke about receiving ’emails of lots of colours’ from the show’s audience and admitted to ‘reading emails everyday, and getting more and more depressed by how many people hated me’.

In response, Davis stressed the need for entertainment, claiming that the audience don’t want to hear an entirely ‘grown up interview’.

“I genuinely, genuinely don’t think I’ve done a good interview if I have snared them or caught them out,” said Davis.

“I think there are occasions when making them look stupid is a public service, but I think they are fairly rare occasions. I think most importantly is to make sure if they have something to say that they are given the chance to say it.”

Discussing his own journalistic style, Davis stressed that there is no one particular style that makes a good journalist. He also reiterated one piece of advice he said had stuck with him throughout his career: “If anyone tells you that comment is free and facts are sacred, they’ve got it the wrong way around.”