Thursday, 25 October 2012

Journalism Tips 47. Christmas ideas and Freedom of Information. Start thinking now. Plus a few more book ideas.

Last week I suggested that you start thinking about your Yuletide stories - you'll find it here along with a few suggested books.

A week has gone by so let me repeat the basic message: You really do need to be thinking about them now, especially if they are going to involve festive Freedom of Information requests.

Even more so if you've never made an FoI request before and have no idea how to do it. And if you're a student looking for work experience on your local paper or you simply want an easy cutting in a real newspaper then here is your chance.

And while you may think you have plenty of time - there are 61 days until Christmas it's not quite that simple.

Remember it takes 20 working days to get a FoI response it is rarely that easy. So from tomorrow (Friday 26) there are 42 working days (in theory).

But you won't get a response from most places on Christmas Eve - so we're down to 41.

Then you have to have your copy ready before the edition goes to print, so really you need to have it ready to go by December 14 (36 days) - even if the article is for between Christmas and New Year.

Of course it may take a few days to contact all the relevant people to make it a story - and it is Christmas so people will be busy... even if you have their contact numbers to hand. Let's say two days to contact the relevant people (34 days).

And if you haven't another two days (32 days) and then you have to actually write the thing - another day for you to write and read and re-read it (31 days).

The definition of a full working day means that even if you do get it in by 9.01am tomorrow morning - and to the right department the day will be practically over and the 20 working days won't actually start until Monday (30 days).

Allow for the request to be at the very least four days late (26 days); there to a problem with the request itself (does not comply etc) another five days (21 days) and a couple of days to actually make sense of what they send you (19 days) and you will see you are late already.

(Admittedly that was painful towards the end.)

So while you console yourself at missing this valuable deadline here's another few journalism books to add to your Christmas stocking... And in an exciting new development you can now click on the title and it will take you straight to the relevant Amazon page. I will master technology.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
William Boot possibly the most famous countryside correspondent of all time. A legend - and a living one since he was based on W. F. Deedes - in his own and many other life times. Briefly: confusion runs at the Daily Beast and a lowly rural reporter finds himself (and an awful lot of stuff) in Africa awaiting the much expected civil war.
There, by accident rather than design he finds himself beating the rest of the assembled hacks - including that of the Beast's (Daily Mail) arch rival the Daily Brute (Daily Express) - to pull of an amazing newspaper coup.
Waugh is brilliant and typically acerbic. A must.
First published 1938.

A Crooked Sixpence by Murray Sayle
Set in the - then fictional - Sunday Sun of the 1960s. Australian hack James O'Toole comes to try his luck in Fleet Street. He soon finds himself writing an article about a hit  pop star Ricky Roger's dubious parentage (or at least it was back then) and finds himself up against Ricky's publicist Mary Lou. The story continues with Mary Lou: "You can't give us publicity like that. After all, it's not Ricky's fault, is it?"
"Look, Mary Lou," said O'Toole. "We're not in the business of giving Ricky good publicity. This is supposed to be a newspaper. We print what we think people will be interested in.
"For years you have been feeding us your cooked-up rubbish about Ricky's ties and his favourite dishes and we published it because deluded editors thought it was interesting. Ricky got rich in the process and you seem to be doing all right yourself.
"Now we've got something which is even more interesting. Maybe Ricky's income will go down but that's no concern of ours. We're not here to build him up in the first place. Those who live by publicity can't squeal if they die by publicity, can they?

Pratt of the Argus by David Nobbs
It is the 1950s and Henry Pratt has just finished National Service. joins a small Northern newspaper in the mid-1950s. We follow him as he makes contacts in the worlds of politics, crime and sport.
Naturally they all come together for an hilarious finale. It's part of a series but you don't need to read the first book as this stands on its own.
And it is very, very funny... especially if you are a journalist (even after all this time).

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