Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You know you're getting old when....

Something you remember writing like it was yesterday appears in the publication's 'Looking Back' column.

Richard Williams, ex-assistant editor of the Daily Post and now Wales director of RNID e-mailed to say he'd been back up north and picked up a copy of The Leader, as it is now having dropped Evening from its title, and there in the Looking Back page was a piece I'd written 20, Dear God, 20 years ago. There had been an earth tremor in North Wales and I'd done a backgrounder on it. I remember the day it happened and suggesting the piece to the Leader's features ed.

Richard has said he'll send it up to me, I'll scan it in and put it on here when it arrives.

Richard, incidentally, was another of the losses to journalism Trinity Mirror managed to achieve in recent years. He was one of the most talented editors I worked with with a real, and all too rare, feel for what readers are interested in and knew how to keep a paper in touch with its community. He was one of a number of really talented journalists who flourished on the DP under the editorship of Ali Machray, which is worth a blog post in itself(to follow soon). He left journalism when he was editor of the South Wales Echo.

TM's loss is RNID's gain.

The newspapers I love

When introducing myself to students or training delegates for the first time I'll describe myself as an inky-fingered old hack. This is literally true. When I started work on the Evening Leader back in 1988 the reporters still bashed away at old 'sit-up-and-beg' typewriters, on two sheets of folio paper (half A4) with a sheet of carbon paper between to produce a 'black' copy. The carbon paper would deposit its ink on your fingers and anything else you touched afterward.

When I started in journalism there were just two papers I wanted to work for. The first was the Liverpool Daily Post. I had grown up in North Wales reading this paper, where despite its 'Liverpool' title, it was the region's paper, a respected and trusted title, a serious newspaper. The fact that it was produced from Liverpool mattered little as most of North Wales looked to Liverpool as their major city, far more so than Cardiff because of simple logistics.

I ended up on the Post after four years on the Leader, and worked at the paper from 1992 to 1999, first as a reporter, then chief reporter, night news editor and finally night editor.

I did not take the well-trodden path from the regions to shifts on Fleet Street in hope of a permanent contract, so never looked like fulfilling my hope of working for the other paper I loved The Guardian.

I began reading that back in college, persuaded to give it a try, I kid you not, by the TV ad campaign back in 1984ish, featuring the likes of Harold Evans and Edna O'Brien.

When I went to University College, Cardiff (as was) to do a  journalism course, such was my devotion to the paper that one of my fellow postgrad hacks, Steve Busfield, gave me a badge of the Guardian masthead.

Steve made it onto the Guardian, where those of you who Twitter can follow him as @Busfield. I did not.

But then via a circuitous route that saw me go into training and media law, I ended up as co-author of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists and as such able to write about that niche subject. So for the past couple of years I've been filing contributions to Media Guardian on the subject. The pieces, though small, give me disproportionate pleasure. To get my name in what I regard as one of the world's great papers gives me as much of a buzz as getting my first front page on the Evening Leader back in 1988.

Still a hack then, just not so inky-fingered.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Guardian article (on the PCC)

I've contributed to a piece in Media Guardian today, on suggestions for PCC reform.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PCC (Slight Return)

Baroness Buscombe has pre-empted the collective response heading her way. Reported here on Roy Greenslade's blog.

She says: "My point was that, as there is already pressure to increase regulation of the internet, it is important to make clear that this must not lead to some form of statutory interference.

"Rather, a system of self-regulation (such as exists by the PCC for newspapers) would be more appropriate, if any bloggers wished to go down that route."

Hmmm. And the advantages to bloggers of such a route would be what?

Remember the newspaper industry signed up for the PCC facing the loaded gun of statutory regulation.

Despite what Baroness Buscombe says, there is no impending statutory regulation of blogs and so no perceived need by bloggers to run into the regulatory embrace of the PCC or anything like it.

Why the PCC could never regulate bloggers (and shouldn't even try)

There has been much chatter about Baroness Buscombe's comments on Ian Burrell's Blog regarding the PCC and regulation of blogs.

She is quoted as saying the PCC should "consider" whether the PCC should seek to extend its remit to the blogosphere (Burrell's quotation marks intact there, just on the word consider).

Cue righteous indignation from, among many, Iain Dale, a collective response which had attracted a couple of hundred signatures at the time of writing this, and a more sceptical view from Guido Fawkes' Blog.

I don't know just how seriously this has been considered by the Press Complaints Commission. But those who think it has any likelihood of becoming a reality misunderstand just what PCC is and also cannot really understand the nature of blogging and the internet.

To appreciate what is onvolved you have to go back to the birth of the PCC. This was the late '80s early '90s, there was a widely-held beliefe among some politicians that the press, particularly the then tabloid press, was out of control. David Mellor, minister of state for culture memorably said that the press were 'drinking in the last-chance saloon.'

There had been a circulation war raging between The Sun, Daily Mirror and The Star and the tactics employed to outdo one another gave ammunition to those who believed there needed to be statutory regulation of the press.

The then regulatory body - The Press Council - had been discredited, its adjudications ignored by papers, and even attacked in print by the same papers. It was seen as offering little or no protection to those who found themselves in the pages of the papers.

The Calcutt Committee of Privacy, in its report to Parliament, stopped short of recommending statutory regulation of the press and its recommendations were accepted - self-regulation was to be given a last chance.

So how does this relate to bloggers? Well, if you look back at when the PCC was established there was a political will supporting its establishment and remit - indeed many wanted to go further and have it on a statutory basis. There was a demand for what it was going to do.

Where is the demand, political or public, for the regulation of bloggers by the PCC?

Of course, it might be coming from some quarters of the newspaper industry who see bloggers breaking stories and doing things they think they can't. But as for politicians or the public - nothing of any note. The idea that any politician is going to alienate 10m plus bloggers by putting the PCC in as their overseer is ludicrous.

Furthermore, the PCC is a self-regulatory body, not statutory. Bloggers would have to sign up to be regulated by it and I can't see that happening any time soon.

To be imposed upon bloggers it would have to be put on some sort of statutory footing (cue squeals of outrage from the newspaper industry who would fight that tooth and nail) And they would have a very hard time making the logical case for statutory regulation of bloggers whil retaining self-regulation of newspapers.

But just how would it impose its will upon something as mercurial as the blogosphere?Overseas hosting would mean evasion of its clutches would be a simple matter. Blogs would spring up and disappear before any adjudication could be made, no matter how 'fast free and fair' it might be.

Also, what makes the PCC think it has the capacity to govern so large and diverse a group as bloggers?

If they think they can do it, they'd better start recruiting now.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Lowry, Salford and The Pitmen Painters

Off to The Lowry in Salford Quays, Manchester, at the weekend to see a production of The Pitmen Painters.

Written by Lee Hall, he of Billy Elliott fame, it is based on the true story of a group of miners from Ashington, who, inspired by a WEA lecture, took up painting themselves and became a feted artistic group.

It was a good production, funny, poignant, moving at times and definitely worth seeing. Hall has great fun with the language of the miners and the confusion it causes to their tutor. One memorable line to the bemused tutor being: "Ye dee dee ort deen't ye?" Trans: "You do do art, don't you?"

And when the brass band started playing Gresford - The Miners' Hymn commemorating the disaster that still resonates in Wrexham, you'd have to be an unfeeling soul not to get a lump in your throat.

But then came the touch that for me detracted very slightly from a great play. As the play finished the slides that had shown us the miners' works of art, turned to text, informing us that their hopes of a "University of Ashington' had not been realised. Their pit had closed in the early '80s, and that Labour had abandoned its commitment to workers' ownership of the means of production.

It was just a bit clunky, a bit like a great big hammer blow of political pointmaking, when so much had been concealed before in the story itself.

I don't need a subtitle at the end of the play to tell me the socialist miners of the 1930s and '40s might feel betrayed by the way the Labour movement has abandoned its principles.

I'm slightly suspicious of plays, films or books which tell a story and then rather clumsily say: "Right, here's the moral and here's how you should think about it." Let people decide for themselves having seen it.

Having said all that, it was still a great production and worth catching on its UK tour. It's on at Sheffield's Crucible this week.