What I've learned from 2007 - Press Gazette

What I've learned from 2007

Jeremy Dear, general secretary, NUJ

This year, I’ve learned that, wherever they work, journalists passionately believe in the job they do. Europe-wide and in every sector of the industry, our Stand Up for Journalism campaign proved to me that people will take a stand to defend their profession in the face of chronic under-investment.

As for 2008, multimedia will continue to transform the way journalists work. Everyone in the industry needs to understand that this can be done without damaging quality journalism. Conveniently, the NUJ’s report, Shaping the Future, shows you how. It’s available on the NUJ website or you could ask the one person you need to know to survive 2008: your NUJ rep.

Jeremy Vine, presenter, BBC‘s Panorama and BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show

For the relaunched Panorama, I interviewed Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent kidnapped in Gaza.

I caught up with him in a suburb of Glasgow and we spent six hours talking about what had happened.

His strength was incredible – he described how they filmed him in a bomb belt and pressed a switch marked ‘ON’as he spoke. He also imagined his reaction if they beheaded him; he would try to be calm in case his parents watched the footage.

But he is utterly self-effacing; he told the story almost apologetically, like he was the bit of fluff that got caught on the needle and stopped us hearing the tune. I left, liking him hugely, and thinking: ‘Now, that’s a journalist.”

Shane Richmond, communities editor, Telegraph.co.uk

Community sites have to be developed with the collaboration of the community. We introduced the concept of My Telegraph at a readers’ open evening at our offices and put together a beta community from the attendees.

That community shaped much of our work over the weeks we spent building My Telegraph. It could not have been done as smoothly or as quickly without them.

Further development after the site went live was also guided by the needs and preferences of the community. In the new year, we’ll be taking these techniques further.

Ian Davies, director of development, Archant

During 2007 we have seen regional newspaper sites flourish. They have become a vital part of the audience communication, a means by which we can tell our stories, communicate our knowledge and engage with our communities in a way which extends our influence.

No longer do we need long faces, having heard yet again that we are in the waiting room to oblivion with no future but to manage decline.

Smile, shout from the rooftops, ‘we are alive”. Growing audiences, better ways to tell stories, and we are better placed than anyone, with only ourselves to blame if we throw the opportunity away. Yes, we are on a steep learning curve; some of what we do is poor, as an industry we are still constrained by resource, by systems, by our own attitudes, but our progressis accelerating.

We will leave our hesitant steps in 2007 and build with confidence in 2008.

Simon Bucks, associate editor, Sky News

In 2007, news organisations have been grappling with four things: the power of Google, how to do video on their websites, how to involve users in their journalism, and how to make money from news on the web.

Next year will see the Google issue become even more important. Web news video will increasingly be more conversational and less ‘TV”-like. The web will increasingly infiltrate TV.

The power of citizen journalists will become increasingly evident (remember: it wasn’t a professional journalist who Googled the Darwins and found their picture in Panama).

As for making money from web news, the debate about advertising versus charging will continue, but the pressure will be on the creatives to come up with ads and formats that engage and don’t irritate.”

Denise Chevin, editor, Building

The lesson that will stick with me most from this year is how to have more fun with our website.

We were pretty chuffed to win the PPA website of the year in 2007, but like everyone else we’re constantly trying to evolve what we’re doing.

We’ve always been pretty hot on using news and data to drive traffic, but this year we’ve stepped up the more quirky user-generated content.

Introducing health and safety blunders, which involves getting users to send in photos of people they’ve snapped behaving irresponsibly on building sites, has helped treble unique users and page impressions in the past 12 months.

Our competitions, such as the one we ran asking users to come up with a nickname for London’s new Olympic stadium, generated hundreds of suggestions, as well as coverage in the nationals, with the winning name being the Vol au vent.

Peter Sands, director, Press Association Training

The distinction between features and news is blurring and will probably disappear altogether.

Instead of bundling crime, politics, council reports, court cases, traffic accidents, human interest and job losses under a banner called, erroneously, ‘news’and everything else under a banner called ‘features”, newspapers could offer distinctive content sections.

Section 1 could be a four-page summary of the top 20 issues of the day/week presented in graphic and pictorial form, concentrating on ‘how’and ‘why”, rather than ‘what”.

There would be cross-references to the web and other printed sections.

Section 2 could be the good columnists, the best writing, the investigations, a little satire and humour.

Section 3 could be a forum – letters, reviews, recommendations, comment, readers’ photographs, quotes, all carefully selected.

Section 4 could be a people round-up containing, say, 100 people a day/week who have achieved something. The list of sections is potentially endless.

Tony Watson, editor in chief, Press Association

This was the year when media organisations were reminded of the importance of trust and integrity and that the audience cannot be taken for granted.

Against this background, in 2008, while there will be a place for user-generated content, journalists should be reassured that future news provision will continue to depend on good-quality, professional journalism.

Rob Evans, investigative reporter, The Guardian

This year I’ve learned that journalists can achieve a lot if we campaign together to protect our rights. Ministers wanted to bring in changes to the Freedom of Information Act, which would have, in effect, sabotaged the legislation.

But media organisations, along with other campaigners, combined in a huge protest and helped to force ministers to back down. Reporters are now all in a better position as the Act has been protected.

Ali Hall, editor, Look

That taking time away from your magazine to develop it is the most precious time ever. That working on a fashion title means you get even more obsessed with bags and shoes. And that when your team say they don’t want karaoke on a work night out, they are lying.

Alex Thomson, senior correspondent and presenter, Channel 4 News

The lesson of 2007 is the triumph of technology over chaos. We have a very brave individual indeed who is currently working for us in Mogadishu, filming the civil war currently tearing that benighted city even further apart. But how do you pay him?

Simple. Go to the website for international cash transfers he emails. This throws up a tiny internet café in west London as a payment point. You go in there, I learn, and you hand over the required cash for our man in the Horn of Africa.

Keyboards are whacked at high speed. Three minutes later or so Our Man In Mog calls up from his mobile saying he’s got the money his end. Meanwhile, all around him, Somalia continues to tear itself even further apart. But I ask, can any of you über-profiting high street banks beat that?

Richard Downey, publisher, Monkey, Viz and Inside Poker, Dennis Publishing

The one thing I have learned from 2007 to take into 2008 is that the times really are a changing. By adding a digital product such as Monkey to the print titles that I publish I have had to learn quickly that if media isn’t interactive, engaging and challenging then it struggles to find a space for itself in the media landscape.

John Dale, editor, Take a Break

As a man, never raise your voice to staff while wearing a wedding dress, and don’t put anything on Facebook you wouldn’t want your mum to see.

Nick Wrenn, managing editor EMEA, CNN

Until recently, pitching a story about the environment could be a hard sell. Not now. The level of interest over our Planet in Peril special this year underscores the fact that climate change is a subject everyone is fretting over, debating the science and wondering what they can do to make a difference.

As with any journalism, the challenge is to highlight stories that grab viewers and forge a personal connection – it’s a topic we will continue to emphasise in 2008. I imagine it will also be a key strand in our coverage of the biggest event of next year, seeing who the Americans will choose as their next president.

Heather Brooke, journalist and author of Your Right To Know, a guide to FOI

I learned that words are more important than propaganda. I make FoI requests and there will be one FoI officer and 25 to 50 press officers who try and spin what I find out under the Act.

Next year, journalists should not believe the spin, ask more questions and not accept anything on face value. With requests, always ask for the source.

Amanda Baillieu, editor, Building Design

I don’t think I have learned anything this year. It’s been more about saying, ‘This is how it should be done, trust me”. There’s a nervousness about what’s around the corne,r and no one can forecast what’s going to happen.

It makes everything more exciting, and it also means editors who know the market and understand the reader are in a more powerful position to argue their corner with publishers.

You can’t edit a title if the content isn’t there to back it.

Brian Rhoads, editor, North Asia, Reuters Beijing

As a journalist in China, I find the growing hunger for news about this complex and incredible country never ceases.

Five years ago, an interest-rate cut by China made no waves in international markets. Today any comment or tiny shift in policy can move currencies and stock markets around the world.

This year, China’s status as manufacturer for the world produced an endless by-product of news about food and product safety.

In the year ahead, China will attract ever more interest as host of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Our challenge will be to ensure we connect the dots for our clients on the important economic, political and social changes under way.

Mat Toor, team leader, Project Badger (Dennis Publishing’s skunk works unit)

I’ve learned that if you create a website in the right way, Google can grow an audience from zero to 200,000 within eight months, as has happened with Know Your Mobile.

I’ve also learned that it’s better to launch something that isn’t perfect and then fix it when it’s live, rather than to keep delaying a launch in order to try and achieve perfection that matters not a jot to search bots.

And finally I’ve learned that working next to the Red Lion on Kingly Street – where a pint of lager is just £1.62 – is temptation that I’m not equipped to resist.

Gary Wright, group editor (midweek), Kos Media

We will as an industry, I’m sure, look back on 2007 as the year in which the web and newspapers came together to give people their regional and local news on demand.

Personally, after years of opposing the idea, I’m convinced finally that there is no longer any point protecting newspapers from the internet by holding stories.

When something happens, tell your audience straight away. A whole section of our readership refuses to wait until publication day. Many people expect to be able to find out what they need to know, now.

Anne Spackman, editor, Times Online

I’d draw a tag cloud highlighting the following words: search, Google, links, Facebook, video, RSS, technical development, caching, slideshows, lists, Drudge, Digg, analytics, maps, targeting, UGC, moderation, comment, databases.

Stevie Spring, chief executive, Future Publishing

Just do it. Actions speak louder than words and it’s much better to deliver than talk about delivery. Anyone can come up with a strategy – and a good idea doesn’t mind who has it – but it’s executing it that’s the hard part. To do that, you need the entire organisation to have bought into where you’re going and a fantastic management team that thinks nothing’s impossible.

Conor McNicholas, editor, NME

I learned that it’s possible to set yourself insane targets and still achieve them quite quickly. A year ago I wouldn’t have believed it was possible, but, thanks to my publishing director Paul Cheal, in 2007 we’ve launched a TV channel, announced a radio station and we’re about to host an 18,000-ticket live event – the biggest in NME’s history. Mindboggling. But most of all I learned that no matter what happens at work, having a fabulous baby boy calling you ‘Daddy’when you get home makes everything else seem trivial.

Peter Horrocks, head of BBC News

In a year with a flurry of five-year plans, savings drives, lost controllers and multimedia reforms at the BBC, we learned that the only thing that really gets the team going in the morning is good old-fashioned breaking news: whether it was Robert Peston with the scoop of the year on the Northern Rock crisis or Nick Robinson revealing the election that never was.

But the best-ever breaking news headline strap of the year was the heart-lifting ‘Alan Johnston freed”. Alan’s dignity, calmness and dedication to impartial reporting were the greatest inspiration in 2007. Jonathan Ross worth 1,000 Alan Johnstons? I don’t think so.

Jonathan Munro, deputy editor, ITN News

One hope for next year is that it will be a busier news year and there will be some more hallmark events that we can hit hard as running stories. What we haven’t had in the past year is big breaking-news stories. That’s really unusual to go a whole year without at least one. Both internationally and domestically, there’s been very little that sets the pulse racing.

The whole year has been bog standard in news terms and our lesson is that you are to take the bog standard years and work as hard at them as you do at the big stories. We also want to keep stories such as climate change and Zimbabwe on our agenda and think of further ways to maintain viewer involvement.

Phil Hilton, editorial director, ShortList

If offered the choice between launching an independent weekly magazine or gouging your own eyes out using only Brannigans Roast Beef and Mustard flavour crisps shout ‘Hand me the salty snacks, publishing entrepreneur’and make a break for the door.

If you’re weak enough to accept such an absurd mission avoid at all costs the energetic optimist and perfectionist Mike Soutar – that’s S-O-U-T-A-R (write it down). He’s tall and Scottish and will make last-minute refinements to the magazine even as the two psychiatrists burst into your home to section you. Be warned.

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