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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Back to the paywall drawing board

The 'paid-for content' debate is on the agenda again with the iPad launch. The New York Times has announced that next year it will resurrect its paywall. Its last one came down in 2007. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette launched its 'members only' website for $36 (£22.50) a year last August. So, 1,000 subscribers just about pays for a trainee reporter. It is made up entirely of content not to be found in the newspaper ... meaning someone has to gather it. Meanwhile Tindle Newspapers, Johnston Press and, of course, Rupert Murdoch are plotting their own paid-content strategies. And adding fuel to the debate this month is a Harris Poll that says 77% of adults wouldn't pay anything to read newspaper stories on the web. And those who would pay, wouldn't pay much.

No surprise. We recently went through a newspaper and marked up every item that the management team thought people would be prepared to pay for online. The paper remained unsullied. The conclusion was that for anyone to pay online for content it would have to be unique, interesting and genuinely valuable - and that would require big investment and innovation in editorial. Then there was the discussion about how long the content would stay unique once up there. This particular paper has gone back to the drawing board. We suspect they won't be alone.


Headline watch 1

Made for?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Paper bites back

The next generation of print ...

... based on an idea by The Sun


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Harry cuts to the chase

Harold Evans's autobiography Paper Chase is a real walk down memory lane, a compelling piece of social history and a timely reminder of newspapers and journalism at their most colourful. But what is striking is how much is still relevant. It should be compulsory reading for all regional paper journalists.

On headlines: My first edict as editor (on The Northern Echo); place names are to be dropped from headlines. The editor's memo explained the main effect of place names was to deter the circle of readers who didn't live there, ie, the vast majority.

On photographs: I had developed a toothache looking at the pictures in the paper. There were innumerable small 'grip and grin' photographs of retirement ceremonies, flower shows, well-equipped bulls, empty buildings, councillors on rostrums. I couldn't believe they represented the changing dramas and personalities in the region ...

On typography: I am addicted to print. An addiction to print means you get your fix by looking at the shapes of letters in type even when the words don't make any sense. I savour the design of letters, the ascenders piercing the skyline, the fugues created by the descenders. Today I waste emotional energy nursing grievances about the migraine-inducing type on medicine bottles and the ridiculously emaciated compressed capital letters of credits on DVD boxes. What are they trying to hide?

The book is a reminder of why so many journalists were inspired by the man ... and why editors voted him the best UK editor of all time. The cover price is £25 but Amazon have it for sale for £13.78. My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times. An autobiography by Harold Evans.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The right type

Here are some of our favourite typography quotes to remind us that choosing the right font and using it properly is as important today as it ever was.

"There are now about as many different varieties of letters as there are different kinds of fools." Eric Gill.

"People who love ideas must have a love of words, and that means, given a chance, they take a vivid interest in the clothes which words wear." Beatrice Warde.

No matter how great the author's wisdom or how vital the message, unread print is merely a lot of

paper and a little ink. Herbert Spencer.

Last year we ran a typography workshop for Sony and in the process were delighted to discover these iPod apps.

Kern (59p) - you have to position a falling letter into the right place in a word.

WhatTheFont (free) - use the iPhone camera to take a picture of a font and this app will identify it.

The Font Game (59p) - how many of the fonts can you identify? Pretty difficult stuff.

The latter is provided by an excellent typography website A must visit.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Give us an 's

Those of you who get irritated by apostrophe abuse might enjoy this. It's St James's of course ... why penalise James just because his name ends in an s? If they reinstated the 's we might win something.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sex! Sensation! Pets! Heroism!

I'm indebted to the British Journalism Review for an interview with the legendary Donald Zec (left). One of the trailblazers of popular journalism he was a Daily Mirror writer for forty years.
Zec talked of the first story he wrote for the Mirror after moving south from the regional press in Manchester. It's an anecdote that has served me well. I've used it often to explain to both journalists and non-journalists the importance of using specific words rather than vague generalised vocabulary.
When asked to cystalise the elements of a perfect tabloid story Zec replied: "Sex, sensation, pets and heroism."
He went on to explain that he was sent out to cover a fire and returned to write a fairly standard intro:
Firemen were called to extinguish a blaze in Old Compton Street last night...
The news editor called him over and explained that this was the Mirror where things are done slightly differently.
He was told to unload the contents of his notebook into the ear of one of the wise old subs who would re-write it in Mirror -style. The new intro came back:
Clad only in her scanties, a blonde, 22-years-old night-club hostess climbed along a 30ft parapet in a Soho fire last night to rescue her pet cat Timothy.
And there you have it: Sex, sensation, pets and heroism.
There is a valuable lesson to be learnt here though. The second version is clearly more readable and engaging than the first - not only because it involves a scantily-clad blonde. The real skill is in using very specific words to build images. Firemen extinguishing a blaze is boring, because it doesn't paint a picture or conjure an image. A blonde, 22-year-old night-club hostess risking life and limb on a parapet to rescue her cat is full of specific detail which brings the story to life. Even the use of Soho rather than Old Compton Street adds colour to the piece.
The very best writers understand the value of small detail and know when to use it. Those who are new to the craft tend to use 'big and clever' words because they believe that's what's required. I once asked an American delegate on one of our writing courses why she insisted on using words like 'commenced' instead of 'started' and 'dispatched' rather than 'sent'. And she replied that she didn't want people to think she was stupid. Her words were clearly a reflection of her own self-image. And that's why it's harder than people think to write well.
Writing is a highly personal experience which is why we find it so difficult to edit our own work. As I often say on writing courses - the principle of simple English is easy to understand but very diffcult to execute.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A real gem from the Framley Examiner

We used to give the Framley Examiner book away on our foundation courses to the winners of our media quiz - Who Wants To Be The Owner Of The Framley Examiner. Nice to see the publication has posted some new pages . Not for the faint-hearted though - it regularly gets very close to home. Don't you just love the typography...


Haiti: the power of Twitter

Watching the terrible events in Haiti unfold as a breaking news story on Tuesday night was another powerful indicator of the power of Twitter as a tool for news and picture coverage.
Getting live coverage from the scene was a real problem for the broadcasters as power lines and phone links were cut.
The very first pictures started to appear on Twitter though around 11pm and I immediately started looking for anything from Haiti on which is a great aggregator of real time images.
It took about 30 minutes then for these same pictures to be picked up and broadcast by the rolling news programmes. The first photographer to post was @CarelPedre
Sky News was the first UK broadcaster I saw to make a direct appeal to Tweeters to send them any updates directly.


Monday, January 18, 2010

David Cameron posters backfire on him

Here's a nice piece written by a former trainee - Carol Driver who works for the Mail. PA Training has been responsible for training Mail journalists for some time now. It's good to see them flourish.
Nothing is sacred on the web - as David Cameron is finding out. Check this out

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's all out there

For journalists wanting to find out more about social networks, it may seem obvious, but the best place to start is, predictably, on social networks. Here are a couple of really interesting things we've found. We dug them up a few months ago just by following people on Twitter who know their stuff.
Over the coming months we'll collect all we find and post it here so you can keep dipping in and find out the latest developments. We'll do all the work and let you know on Twitter what's new on the blog. How easy is that?
Here are two good places to start. The first is from 'Mashable' a blog/website that monitors social media trends. Some of it is a bit too whacky for the working hack, but other stuff is really useful such as 10 ways newspapers are using social media to save the industry.
There are plenty of cool videos illustrating just how powerful social media has become - most of them made by smart Americans - this is one of the most viewed and the stats it contains are impressive.
We'll be back with more on social media soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Quality matters

Here's a great piece of newspaper content that we often use in our web training sessions to illustrate just what newspapers can do with multimedia. It won a Pulitzer Prize. It's very beautifully crafted and very moving. It was created using a very simple piece of software called soundslides. You can get it here:

There isn't enough of this quality of content around. Maybe because it's time-consuming and laborious and in this age of instant news perhaps we've forgotten that quality, in-depth journalism is what sets newspapers apart from almost all other media.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Phew...but we knew it all along

A new survey in the US tells us what we really knew all along...namely that most news starts out with local papers. This is a heartening bit of hope in amongst the unrelenting spears of doom and gloom raining down on local media. Here's the evidence - as if we ever needed it.

Those of us getting a bit long of tooth and grey of hair always knew this was true. How many of us have watched how broadcasters relentlessly stole and piggy-backed the hard work of local reporters to glam it up and push it out in the then more 'glamorous' media - radio and TV. You can blog, post, twitter, tweet all you like..but at the heart of it is some basic reporting from the stalwarts of news - the local reporters.

Really useful content

The winter chill has seen some excellent work from local newspaper websites which have understandably seen an uplift in traffic thanks to snowed-in residents trying to get a handle on whether they can get their kids to school/themselves to work or the shops. Both local newspapers and radio come into their own in this kind of situation and full marks to the Argus in Brighton for finding and posting an excellent map showing the location of grit bins.
Whether there was any actual grit in them is another matter. But a fine example of how local newspapers can make themselves useful again.

Old fashioned journalism

Good to see there's still a place for good, old fashioned journalism. This from Press Gazette on the unsung heroes of investigative journalism in the UK - Private Eye.

New look Express & Star website

Here's the new Wolverhampton Express & Star website. It looks very posh. Will it work though? According to the UK Press Gazette they've teamed up with Trinity Mirror. One to keep an eye on?


Welcome to Pencil Sharpener, the new PA Training blog for 2010. We want to make this a valuable resource for anyone in the business of communication. Check here for tips, advice, opinion, research, ideas and expertise on all aspects of the media business.