Monday, 5 March 2012

20. You can quote people from outside your patch. Just because they're not local doesn't mean what they say is irrelevant.

There's a story I tell from some years back. A local rogue in Cheltenham had successfully sold some prints which he claimed were by William Blake. They had fooled several experts including, I recall, a well known auction house. Had they been genuine they would have been worth thousands.

I suggested to the reporter he contact The Tate Gallery (this may even have been before the Britain suffix) as it had one of the best collections of Blake prints and would, presumably, be interested in the story as well as providing expert advice.

He was confused as to why I would suggest such a thing - after all The Tate wasn't in the circulation area. However I told him to call - and to his amazement (but not to mine) they DID have a Blake collection and experts.

You don't have to feel obliged to stick within the confines of your newspaper's circulation boundary...the area you cover must from time to time interact with the rest of the world.

Many years later a new Waitrose supermarket was coming to town. Everyone felt it would have a huge impact on our small market town - just no one could be sure.

I suggested - and by suggested I mean told - the reporter to call the next nearest market town that had a year earlier had a Waitrose open. He rang around the local butchers, bakers  and deli as well as some other independents - had it been a good or a bad thing? The result was mixed it had some advantages - more people came into town but each one was spending a bit less.

The fact is here we were answering the questions that people had on their minds without them even having to ask.

Look for experts - yes one in patch is preferable to one outside of it. Make contacts with local universities who may be able to provide you with no end of quotable professionals.

But don't be afraid to go outside the confines of your area. Today with telephones, mobiles, the internet few people are restrained by their locality - why should your paper be?

Don't over do it but remember to use it to help with reaction, analysis and so forth.

While looking around local newspaper sites I found this example of what I am talking about. According to the writer:

Archaeologists have discovered important evidence of Taunton’s past as a fortified town and, later, a thriving market town.

So naturally one might expect reasons why it is "important".

Instead it goes on...

Excavation at Castle Green has brought fascinating glimpses of the past to light, including a skeleton and some human bones.

Now we know they are "important" and "fascinating".

But as we go on all we find out are that there are some "human bones" and a "skeleton" - let's not get into the debate about the definition of a skeleton or whether it is human or not.

It takes us seven paragraphs to get to a quote. Naturally this will be from one of the archaeologists or the British Museum, or the county museum or someone from the local museum, maybe the local history society, castle staff, a local author on the castle....

Oh no, we have this instead:

Councillor Mark Edwards, deputy leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council.

That will of course be Councillor Mark Edwards the archeological expert who will tell us something about the bones...the way they were found perhaps?

Errr no.

What we get is this:

[He] said: “The history of Taunton from a Saxon town through medieval times and to the present day is of great interest to people. The work being done today adds to that history.”

I may be alone in this but the history of Taunton hasn't ever crossed my mind and having read this I care even less.

It's a meaningless quote - not that it is Cllr Edwards fault he's a councillor not an archeologist. I would welcome his views on planning applications, the state of the local economy, the public parks and gardens of Taunton - but clearly he is no expert on the archeology. Or if he is he is it doesn't show in this article.

Think about it when you are writing. Is this person adding something to the copy - that might just get it up the newslist.

Oh and one more thing. The article doesn't explain that before any work can be done around the site an archeological survey must be carried out. It doesn't say if work may now be delayed as a result of the find.

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