Monday, 7 May 2012

33. Always remember on a local newspaper someone will know when you’ve written crap. A bad reputation is not a good thing.

Really this is a continuation of my earlier post about sensationalism in the local Press.

I suppose the argument goes that since sales are in decline the way to reverse it is by aping the big beasts of Fleet Street. Of course the editors that go down this route don't then insist upon having the stories to back it up.

Instead they think exaggeration, the use of hyperbole and unnecessary drama is the key. In short they bullshit.

As I wrote recently, this is an appalling avenue to go down.

When I first took over a local paper I went to various bodies that I thought might be worth talking to. This included the local golf club (see a later point).

I asked to speak to the club secretary. He was only too pleased to meet me, so that he could laugh in my face. He then asked me to repeat what I had said to his assistant - he, quite spontaneously, laughed too, which sent the club secretary into gales of mirth yet again.

There was clearly a problem with the I hadn't even started.

The problem for too many local newspapers is that their staff are (usually) young. Not surprising given the wages. As a result many (though by no means all) leave to either enter the world of PR or head to bigger newspapers...many more quit altogether. A few (and by no means always the best) will get promotion and head up the management route.

Of course the problem with having so many young staff, especially if they are from outside the patch, is that they will make fundamental mistakes. They will not know the history of the area or the long running feuds, they will fail to understand the significance of an event or be unclear as to the impact of a decision.

And with the staff numbers being squeezed there is not enough time to learn. It is one of the reasons I advocate fewer stories written well.

Because simple mistakes - made too often - undermine the product.

So the junior reporter - along with everyone else - should remember that although they may be only a small cog in the paper's production, they may have a far longer term impact on its future.

And while you may only be passing through the jobs of others now and the future may be affected by simple actions. The loss of an advertiser and a few readers may not be the end of the newspaper (although I bet the advertiser is these days) but the cumulative effect may be.

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