Stop dancing on our graves, life is local and we’re at the heart of it
Which story from your newsroom will you remember most from 2018 and why?
A double whammy which lit up our websites and newspaper — M&S shutting down and a strip club opening up!
M&S closure came out of the blue. The store which stood for continuity and tradition, was marking 80 years in town — it’ll be gone early next year. As well as breaking the news, we went further and, two reporters delivered the most in-depth analysis across 13 pages simply by visiting every part of the town centre, and asking retailers, politicians, business groups etc one key question: Where do we go from here?
At the same time, Sin opened its doors in town sparking a huge debate about whether women were being exploited. A demonstration sparked a counter-demo — we filmed them both and reached a Facebook Live audience of of some 120,000. Some 2000 comments were posted as the coverage rolled across several weeks. Two big stories, handled superbly by a news team which did what all good reporters should do — got out the office, spoke to people and came back with content that was rich with diverse opinion and key points.
Looking around the regional press, can you point to something from another newsroom which stands out to you? What was it and why?
Not so much another newsroom, but the Behind Local News conference in Wolverhampton where editors, digital folk and specialists shared some great ideas and new ways of thinking which we took back and adapted at our own strategy session to shape our digital plans for 2018–19.
What did you learn in 2018 about local journalism which you’ll remember?
That we still matter — and we still have a voice. The constant “print is dead” mantra is tiresome, and the petty ill-informed anonymous sniping on social media utterly scunnering at times — I’m sick to the back teeth of people dancing on our graves when we still have a pulse.
No-one else does what we do — local radio bulletins are shallow, national/regional media focus on the big breaking news stories. That big patch in the middle? It’s ours!
Local journalism should be all about speaking up, and speaking out — celebrating everything that is good about your town as well as tackling the big issues that affect people’s daily lives. Do it well, do it with a bit of humour and a wee bit of attitude — and you CAN make a difference.
If you had one tip to share with other editors about being an editor in 2019, what would it be?
Never lose the sense of fun at the heart of this job. The hours are crazy, the pay won’t let us retire to into the lap of luxury, and if plate-spinning ever becomes an Olympic sport, we are racing certainties for gold medals … but, at its very essence, being an editor, working in this most creative of industries, is still pretty cool (Is it cool for a 54-year old to use the word ‘cool’?!).
After 24 years of stressing, editing, fixing, tweaking, designing and writing, I’m still not sure how we get from a blank story schedule to a paper & website brim full of great stories every deadline day … but we do! We all do. Oh, and grow a beard — you’ll get several columns out of it!
What do you hope will happen in 2019?
The industry has to stop its constant restructuring and role changes and deliver a year of calm to let newsrooms do what they do best — delivering the content that packs a punch in our pages, both in web and print.
‘Life is local’ has been our motto since William Caxton was a trainee, and it remains more important than ever. No-one delivers the content we do, or has our knowledge of the area, so support our news teams, make sure they are resourced, and they will deliver the numbers needed to make this industry not just viable but vibrant.
What will you be looking for in new reporters when recruiting in 2019?
Bags of enthusiasm and a desire to be the best journalist they can be. The rest we’ll teach ’em!
How would you sell your newsroom to someone thinking about applying for a job in 2019?
It’s still the best place to learn your craft.
What’s the most memorable thing to have happened in/around your newsroom this year?
Moving out of our home of 50-years standing in January and into a fit-for-purpose office suite was the best thing we did. We left behind a building that was far too big for us and which the public could no longer access — reception was closed and we were three floors up in the attic — and relocated into the wing of an office block just a few hundred yards away and still in the heart of the town centre.
Every day, without fail, folk pop in with photos, stories or advertising queries — that’s wonderful! We have an ‘open door’ policy, so they can simply walk right into our newsroom, meet the team and also see a glimpse behind the scenes. The move certainly marked the end of one era, but it has also heralded the start of a new one. Since downsizing, we have hosted an open day and welcomed several groups for visits … and, most important of all, we’re still only 5 minutes from the High Street, right next to the train station