Many red-top haters have dreamed to hear the words ‘the News of the World is closing down’.
Those dreams became a reality yesterday as News International announced that its last ever issue of the tabloid will be published this Sunday, in a bid to limit the political and commercial repercussions of the phone hacking scandal.
Allegations of phone hacking at the paper have been rife for years. Hacking into celebrity’s phones is pretty low on the scale of journalism ethics, but this time the NOTW stooped lower than even its most reverent haters could have imagined.
Under the watchful eye of editor at the time Rebekah Brooks (who denies all knowledge), the NOTW allegedly ordered a private investigator to hack into the mobile telephones of murder victim Milly Dowler, families of murdered children Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, relatives of London bombings victims and members of the armed forces that died on duty. Messages were apparently deleted to allow room for more ‘story leads.’
Those who stand by the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mantra will swiftly point out that the key word there is ‘allegedly’. But, after paying off celebs such as Sienna Miller in phase one of the scandal, one can only jump to the conclusion that these allegations must have at least a little fire behind the smoke – if not a full-blown furnace.
And it seems advertisers feel the same. They have been dropping like flies throughout the week, and Sunday’s final edition will publish with NO corporate advertising. I’ll be buying it just to see what that looks like.
However, despite this background of hacking claims and falling advertising, coupled with Murdoch’s ruthless reputation, the announcement that the paper is to close still came as a massive shock to the industry – an industry which is still reeling a day later and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
It’s been around for 168 years, employs a staff of over 200 people and sells over 2.5 million copies a week. You just don’t expect a media institution like the NOTW (and it is an institution – whether you like or agree with its particular style of journalism or not) to fall at all, let alone fall so quickly and amidst such a, well, such a sh*t storm.
But then again, on closer inspection perhaps it’s not a shock as such – more a well-timed business decision. And a clever one at that – who knows if it would have survived such hideous allegations – and this way it doesn’t have to wait and find out.
It’s no secret that News Corporation has an £8 billion bid on the table to buy BSkyB (although reports are in that this is already under threat). And with a price tag that big, there is more at stake than just a UK newspaper. No one wants to be associated with such horrendous and inhuman activity – whether the allegations turn out to be true or not – and Murdoch is well aware of this.
With rumours already spreading that there will be a Sunday version of The Sun on the shelves within two weeks one can only wonder what effect, in the long term, this will have on the one thing that it all comes down to – News Corporation’s bottom line. Will one cash cow be replaced swiftly with another? My opinion is yes, although perhaps not quite as quickly as some suggest, especially as the story continues to snowball and arrests are happening even as I’m writing this. Plus, as the saying goes – mud sticks.
Whatever the next steps may be, my thoughts go out to the real victims of the phone hacking scandal; the families whose privacy has been so grossly invaded and the staff who await with baited breath to see if they have jobs to go to, or if they are the ones made to take the fall for other people’s mistakes.
Earlier this month I attended a free photography workshop hosted by TNR Communications, part of the Press Association.
The workshop set out to “give a real insight into how to get national picture desks to run your PR photographs.”
I’d highly recommend the workshop – it was a great insight into one of the UK’s busiest news and picture agencies – and they illustrated the presentation with some really strong picture examples, as well as offering valuable insight into the day-to-day workings of a picture desk.
Here are some top tips from the day, to help make sure you get that perfect press shot – and the coverage it deserves:
1). Track record is important
Make sure that the photographer you use has a strong track record in securing national coverage for their photos – even if you have to pay more for it. They should have an intuitive eye and know what a national paper is looking for and how to get it. They should also know how to distribute photos – if you have no connections it can be hard to get your photo seen by the right people. Make sure they also offer solid insight and knowledge into the best times to send photos and the best resolution, file size and photo captions.
2). Know what picture editors want
When pitching photo stories, picture editors are your audience not newsrooms – you need to understand them. You need to know what they’re looking for and how they operate. Avoid clichéd photos (smiling business men holding big cheques are most definitely a no-no!) And remember that news is about people – the photos needs to reflect this.
3). Be more creative
Picture editors at national newspapers are inundated with photos – over 20,000 per day, and this is climbing everyday thanks to the rise in digital photography and citizen journalism. For a PR story to gain coverage this way it needs to be imaginative and eye-catching. Think of the wider story, and come up with creative ways of capturing it. If the story allows it try and be fun and humorous. And remember – a picture editor only sees thumbnails on screen – and hundreds of them at that. Your photo needs to be pretty special to stand out.
4). Try and sum up the story
An ideal photo for national press will sum up the story in one go. Even if you need to stage a shot which does this, then it could well be worth it. Often, strong photos aren’t run with a full story – just a photo caption. Make sure that your picture tells the story you want it to.
5). Manage branding
From a PR’s perspective getting branding into a photograph in the nationals is the holy grail of success. From a picture editors perspective it’s a nightmare. Try and find a happy medium – you can get away with branding but only if it looks natural within the setting of the photo. Don’t go overboard, and don’t try and make your branding the focus. Doing that will simply result in your photo not being used – or your branding being cut out.
6). Planning is vital
If you are planning a photoshoot or a photocall you must plan before hand. If it’s in a public place visit the site first; how busy is it? Is it too crowded? Can you get the right angles? Think about the environment and the background. What will be in your frame? If possible take your photographer with you – if not, take a digital camera and take a few snaps. You want your photoshoot to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible so planning is vital. You don’t want people hanging around on the day while you look for the perfect spot, or try to avoid the crowds.
7). Be aware of the news agenda
Pay close attention to the news agenda and time your photos well. Royal weddings, holidays, Wimbledon, hottest day of the year – all of these things can offer you hooks to get that perfect photo. BUT, it’s also worth sometimes going against the news agenda. For example election time, when picture editors are bombarded with man-in-suit after man-it-suit, it could well be worth doing something dramatically different to offer some light refreshment.
8). Move quickly
Once your photo has been taken get it re-sized, captioned and sent ASAP. But make sure that you pay attention to timings. Don’t send it on a Friday, and avoid afternoons if possible. The best time is around 10am in the morning. It’s also worth trying a Sunday morning – papers are often lacking content for Monday’s paper.
For some examples of great press photos check out TNR’s gallery.
Photo by graur razvan ionut
The website Churnalism.com was launched last week by the Media Standards Trust, and allows people to paste press releases onto the site and compare the copy with articles published by national newspaper websites.
I’ve found the site interesting, and had a bit of fun playing around on it, but I’m not really sure what the point of it is.
If Churnalism’s purpose is to highlight the fact that press releases are used in newspapers – then it will of course succeed. But the fact that press releases are copied by journalists will come as no surprise to anyone in the industry and is hardly front page news (excuse the pun!).
Nor do I think it’s a bad thing if press releases are copied – after all if a story is good (and accurate) then it shouldn’t matter where it comes from.
As a PR practitioner I feel a bit insulted by the site – as though it is suggesting that all press releases are crap which should never make it to print.
The other thing I’m not clear about is who exactly Churnalism is aimed at?
I expect PRs will love having a go – a fun, free way of tracking coverage anyone? Plus, if you find your release has been copied in its entirety then that is a PR score surely, and a sign you’ve produced something newsworthy?
I can’t imagine journalists wanting to check – after all if they’ve copied and pasted a press release do they really want to be called out on it?
Churnalism describes itself as ‘an independent, non-profit website to help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’. But do the public care (and how would they even have access to most press releases in the first place?).
I decided to find out, and as such did an impromptu survey with friends – specifically asking for people who didn’t work in the PR or media industries.
I asked the question ‘As someone not involved in journalism or PR – do you care?!’ Admittedly getting the answers from 20 friends on Facebook isn’t going to give in-depth analysis but it was interesting to see that actually, only half really gave a shit.
Some of the ‘other’ comments also gave food for thought:
“It depends on the press release. Every area of work allows for using work already done. If it is a large percentage of copied work it seems wrong that they should be allowed to do this, is it that hard to re-write something to say it another way? Isn’t that their job?”
I love this comment (and I must stress this was an anonymous survey – though I’m sure my friends will tell me who they are when they read this post!)
It’s a very good point – writing and researching is what journalists are paid for. But then on the flip side, it’s also what PRs are paid for – to create newsworthy material for their clients.
The issues surrounding the Churnalism website, and the reasons behind it, are age old – the love/hate relationship between journalists and PRs (many journos say they hate PRs but would then struggle to fill pages without them) and also the ‘purpose’ of a press release.
Is a press release a fully formed story, or a taster of a subject which the journalist should then embellish and build upon?
And if a journalist runs a press release word for word does that make them bad at their job, or does it make the PR good at theirs?
Or perhaps it doesn’t mean any such thing – perhaps it means that the PR/journo relationship is working.
Churnalism will clearly help demonstrate lazyness in the media (and indeed unimaginative PR) but it also makes it look as though every story comes from a press release. What would be a fair representation would be seeing how many original news stories there were on a day – COMPARED to those that came from a press release.
With regards to the effect the site will have I’m not sure – as I don’t think it’s doing anything that people didn’t know already.
It’s fair enough if they want to raise awareness to the public that this happens – but they should also make it clear that many press releases are well written, accurate and have a place within the news agenda.
What do you think of Churnalism.com?
I read with interest a guest post on No Sleep ‘Till Brookland’s Blog earlier this week, which told a fellow PR Juliet Shaw’s experience of selling her story with a national paper.
For those of you who have ever been bored enough to click on the ‘about me’ section of this blog, you’ll know that I previously worked as a real life features writer at a news agency. A brief stint where I discovered I was actually pretty good at it – but also that I hated having to exploit people and tell the odd ‘white lie’.
Whatever your reason or motive, selling your story – be it as a case study such as Juliet, or your personal story (HAVE YOU BEEN THE VICTIM OF A CRIME? HAD A LOVE RAT HUSBAND? GOT A DISGUSTING DISEASE?!) – can be a rewarding experience, especially when you (eventually) get the cheque at the end.
But you have to think seriously about whether it’s worth it. There is no excuse for a story turning up which bears no resemblance to what you’ve said, but there is always the chance that things will get embellished, and that an ‘angle’ will be chosen that you’re not comfortable with.
With that in mind here are my top three things to remember if you’re thinking of gracing the pages of a magazine or newspaper anytime soon.
1). Most newspapers don’t do read backs
If you sell direct to a newspaper the likelyhood is that they won’t do a readback (read the copy over the phone to you to make sure that you’ll be happy). However, if you go through an agency many will. It’s one of the good things about going through a features agency. It’s worth remembering though that they will never send you the copy via email. Or at least that’s what I was taught!
2). You will be named and pictured
It’s very rare that newspapers and magazines will publish anonymous stories (unless incredibly juicy and contentious). They want real people, real places, real faces. If you’re not prepared to have your name, location and picture splashed across the nationals then it’s probably not for you. It’s also worth remembering that although ‘yesterday’s news is tomorrows chip paper’ it’s not the case with the internet. Not so much for women’s mags (unless the story gets picked up elsewhere) but if you do a story for a national paper be prepared for it to keep popping up every time someone Googles your name.
3). There will always be an angle.
Although the journalist may be being sympathetic to you and your cause (there is always a cause – it’s how they’ll persuade you to sell your story in the first place), ultimately their job is to keep their editor and the reader happy. That means delivering a juicy story by finding an angle and exploiting it – often at your expense. Husband died of a heart attack on Christmas day? Not enough. Headline reads ‘Husband died while glazing the gammon’. Gave up your big house and moved to Africa to help orphans? Headline reads ‘Gave it all up for sex in a mud hut’. (And yes, these are stories I actually had the pleasure of working on). Look at the publication that you’re being asked to appear in. If they’ve made other stories sensationalist then the likelihood they will yours too.
Have you ever sold a story or been a case study? What were your experiences?
It’s been one year since I ditched journalism for PR, aka the ‘dark side’.
It’s not something that really dawned on me to write about or publicise until I stumbled across the young journalist’s blog section on journalism.co.uk.
There are so many great posts here from budding journalists itching to get into the field of journalism.
They remind me of myself just 2 years ago – desperate to be a features writer and see my name in print.
If only I’d known the truth then – that actually, after all that university studying and unpaid work experience, when I actually got there, when I actually landed that ‘dream’ job, I would bloody hate it!
Admittedly my career as a journalist (a paid one at least – if you can call it that!) was short lived – a mere 9 months at a news agency writing features for woman’s magazines and tabloid newspapers.
So many people ask me ‘Why did you leave journalism – that sounds so exciting!’ and sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision.
But honestly? That was enough for me. The bulging press cuttings book and the thrill of seeing my name printed in national press wasn’t enough to cancel out the death knocks, the incessant phone calls to bereaved and upset mothers, wives and children, and the hours of sitting outside victims houses to get them to ‘sell’ their story.
I couldn’t take the complete lack of privacy for victims of rape, assault and adultery and I haven’t bought a single woman’s magazine since I left the job the year ago.
I enjoy my job now – I am writing everyday and the topics I write about are wide and varied. Of course the rush of seeing something you’ve written appear in print isn’t the same as the one you get as a journalist – after all it hasn’t got your name on it.
But there is still a rush.
And I don’t regret my stint in journalism – having that insider knowledge has helped me to understand the industry and has been an integral part of shaping who I am and how I tackle public relations for my clients.
There has been talk across the Atlantic this week about making journalist’s primary source material and transcipts more readily available online.
Washington Post economic and domestic policy blogger Ezra Klein has called for transcipts to be used alongside traditional write ups, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has criticised the media for not making use of the huge amount of space available online to host source material.
Klein says: “It’s safer to have your full comments, and the questions that led to them, out in the open, rather than just the lines the author thought interesting enough to include in the article.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
The main point of a journalist is that you, as a consumer, don’t NEED to read through 10 pages before getting to the point.
It is a journalist’s responsibility to tell you the who, what, where, why, when and how in the first couple of paragraphs – not hidden within a 15 minute interview spiel.
Also, there may be the space there to host the material – but what about the audience to read it?
I have no idea who would read a transcript – which often (if you’ve had the pleasure of transcribing anything) doesn’t make sense, has people talking over each other and is full of pauses, ums, ahs and corrections.
So, what it would perhaps mean in reality, is that journalists would need to turn every last word of an interview into a feature, or at least write it up in a way that is easy to digest for the reader.
Of course, there may be some exceptions – you may get the odd interviewee who is full of top information, which they express in a way that is interesting and engaging.
But it’s highly unlikely that there are enough of them to enable publishing transcripts online to become the norm.
Also, what about the interviewees themselves?
They are trusting (sometimes naively it must be said) that the journalists can turn their rambles into something useful.
Many would cringe at the thought of their unpolished answers being bared for the whole world to see.
There has been a lot of talk in blogs and on Twitter today about two particular work experience job adverts, both within the journalism industry.
Work experience? In journlaism? But that’s nothing new right? But the reason the backlash has been high is because they are both for freelancers.
One of the adverts under scrutiny is for a work experience person (or ‘workie’ as they are affectionately know in the industry) to help source real life features.
Before getting my first job in journalism (selling real life features very similar to those mentioned in the advert) I would have jumped at the chance for a work experience placement like that.
The only line I have a problem with is ‘Previous experience within the Real life sector is preferred but not essential.’
Really? An experience intern? Surely that is one of the worst contradictions.
But I still would have done it.
Journalism, more so than any other profession, seems to rely incredibly heavily on work experience. It’s no good having your NCTJs or a journalism degree if you haven’t got a cuttings book full of clippings to back it up.
I’ve done my fair share; four weeks at Cosmopolitan magazine, four weeks at a local Southampton paper, two weeks at a paper in Bournemouth and two weeks at BBC Southern Counties Radio, not to mention countless student papers, websites and hospital and community radio stations.
PR seems incredibly similar – my colleague worked for over six months, completely unpaid for numerous agencies before landing a paid position.
But we both agree.
It sucks, but it’s worth it.
The media is an incredibly competitive industry and to succeed you need to make sure that you’re willing to do whatever it takes – which includes working for free and, excuse the cliché but its true, learning to make a bloody good cup of tea.
I’m sure there has been a fair few posts on this in the past, but it is something that continues to be discussed between myself and colleagues, if only in a tongue in cheek manner.
So what is the PR’s perfect journalist?
The easy answer could be ‘the one that publishes everything I send them’.
But I’m not sure that it is as simple as that. I can envision that should that ever happen the already declining state of journalism would slip even further.
And after all, it’s nice to have to fight (at least a little) for that key piece of coverage and know that you’ve done a good job for your client.
So, here’s my vision of the perfect journalist – if you have anything to add, or indeed take away – leave a comment and let me know!
1. HONEST TO THE POINT OF RUDENESS
I’m not adverse in the slightest to a bit of rudeness – and many journalists have a reputation as being a bit surly. But honesty really is the best policy when it comes to PRs. If we send you a press release, and it’s not of use, replying with a simple ‘NO’ would save everyone involved so much hassle, not to mention eliminating the need for those annoying ‘did you receive my press release….’ phone calls.
2. FEEDBACK IS WELCOME
There is one regional journalist I work with on a regular basis who is well versed in the above, but is in fact one of my favourite journos. They nearly always reply when they receive a press release – whether it’s ‘great story – thanks’ or ‘too weak, not using it’. It’s all valid feedback and will help us to define what to send you next time.
3. VALUE OUR SKILLS
Although of course there are some (very) bad PRs out there, many of us are ex journalists, or have been working in the industry for years and know what works and what doesn’t. Journalists who take the time to get to know their decent local PRs are the ones that benefit from exclusive stories, tailored features and being offered the first bite at the cherry when something really good comes along.
4. DON’T MAKE PROMISES YOU CANT KEEP
If you don’t know when you can use the story – don’t make up a date – just say you don’t know! The worst thing is telling a client when to expect coverage and then having to explain, tail between your legs, when the coverage doesn’t appear.
5. DON’T PRETEND YOU HATE US THEN BEG FOR STORIES
Everyone knows that there is a love hate relationship between PRs and Journalists, but the fact is, and apologies for sounding like a naff 80’s film, but we need each other. You get some great stories from (some of) us and in return we get great results for our clients. Nurture relationships with a few key PRs and you’ll always have someone who will go out of the way to get a story for you when you’re suffering from the dreaded ‘slow news’ day.
6. TELL US WHAT YOU WANT
Need a case study or a quote from a reputable source? Contact us! If we haven’t got the clients ourselves, if we’ve got the time we’ll try and point you in the right direction. After all, the ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ approach is always going to work.
7. WE’RE NOT PSYCHIC
There are a million posts out there that say you shouldn’t phone a journo, you shouldn’t send attachments on emails, and you shouldn’t do this, that or the other. But the fact is everyone is different and if it’s a PR you’re going to be dealing with on a regular basis tell them how you like to be communicated with. Do you prefer emailed press releases, a short synopsis or a phone call outlining the story? Perhaps you even prefer a Tweet or a Direct Message? The best PRs will listen and make sure they do what works best for you.
MPs are to be asked to agree to an earlier sitting of the House of Commons next Tuesday, so the emergency Budget can be held at the earlier time of 12.30pm, according to the BBC.
This is great news for business PRs and journalists alike.
I moved to the B2B team from consumer about three months ago and was lucky (!) enough to experience my first taste of budget day fairly quickly after starting.
Usually the budget is announced at 3.30pm and having to juggle numerous clients and get their comments together in time for close of play can be a nightmare.
This move to 12.30pm should be a huge relief for both PR’s and business journalists in the region – giving more time to source good quotes, case studies and reactions.
The only thing left to find out is are the reactions from businesses in the region going to be good or bad?
With previous threats of ‘painful cuts’ from the new coalition government , and George Osborne set to announce additional public spending cuts or tax increases of £34bn a year, I have a feeling it might be the latter.