Grey Cardigan 1 February 08

I DON’T know Karen Jeffery, features editor and mother of the chapel of the NUJ branch at the Milton Keynes Citizen. But she looks a bit of a sort, with one of those artfully peeping over the shoulder byline pictures, and she’s a blue-eyed blonde.

So I like her, even more so when I read the passionate and articulate case she made for the ongoing strike at her newspaper in this magazine last week.

The concerns she raises are common to us all in the regional press, not least the Evening Beast: ‘Our team is stretched so thinly it is impossible to

do the job properly. Staff leave and are not replaced. Seniors are replaced by juniors on cut-price salaries. The time lag involved in replacement is breathtaking. We are on a hamster wheel, running like fury but not getting anywhere.”

And the dispute is not just about money, although a 2.7 per cent offer in the face of an RPI of 4.2 per cent and a group profit of over £180m is pretty poor, if par for the course. ‘We are driven … by frustration – muted rage really – over Johnston Press‘s apparent disregard for editorial quality.”

Ah, good old Johnston Press. The parsimonious, prudent face of tight-fisted Scottish stereotype. I know an editor who once worked for them who was reduced to tears by his repeatedly thwarted attempts to purchase a new lead for the kettle in his office. Yes, I know that if you look after the pennies then the pounds will roll into Tim Bowdler’s bank account (current pay somewhere between £800,000 and a million), but that’s just daft.

Let’s get back to Karen or, to be more accurate, all of us. ‘Trips out of the office are a rarity. Most of the team – currently four trainees, one part-time reporter, two full-time reporters, one news editor and nine subs (some of whom write and edit too) are resigned to the fact that their job is to sit obediently and churn, churn, churn.”

I make no apologies for going over what might be seen as old ground. From newspaper to newspaper, we see the same blatant abuse of journalists, almost as if managements are taking a perverse delight in belittling us. Their excuse for the pitiful wages and the ever-increasing workload is that they have no problem recruiting ‘journalists’and that there’s a long queue of wannabes willing to sign up. Well yes, up a point, Lord Copper.

But every 10-year, fully trained pro who swallows their pride and decides to wallow in the trough of PR, or who sets aside their sense of justice to join the press office of the local constabulary, can’t just be replaced by a child in a suit who’s being supported by their middle-class parents to the tune of a car and a flat. Yes, they might be willing to work for £13,500, but what do they actually bring to the party apart from filling an empty seat?

I used to think that newspaper managements didn’t understand this; that they thought that a body was a body, whatever their experience. Now, sadly, I think they do know. They just don’t fucking care any more.

So where five years ago we might have been producing several editions of one newspaper, we now find ourselves churning out additional supplements, magazines, copy for the website and the dreaded video podcasts. I say dreaded, not because we don’t want to do them – although a few bob extra for the effort would be nice – but because we don’t know how to do them well.

There’s a particular cruelty involved

in sticking a print-trained hack in front of a camera and expecting him to turn into Sir Trevor McDonut. Yes, some can manage it – mainly the child in a suit who’s being supported by his middle-class parents to the tune of a car and

a flat because he’s only here until he can blag a job on the local telly channel anyway. But for most of us it’s painful

in the extreme.

Is a little training in the art too much to ask? Even if it’s only half a day with Cheeky Charlie Chuckles from BBC Radio Borsetshire? That can’t cost too much, surely?

AND SO we turn to that fine publication, the Halifax Courier, only to come across the sort of intriguing intro that has media diarists from Farringdon Road

to Canary Wharf rubbing their hands with glee.

‘A MAN was doused in bleach during a violent robbery in Calderdale last night. The raid is being linked to others in West Yorkshire, including a shocking dinner party hold-up in Lightcliffe. And police believe the common theme in the raids is pies.”

Yep, pies. I could tell you what it’s all about, but that would only spoil the surprise. Go and find their website, then at least they’ll get a few domestic hits, instead of the massed ranks of commercially useless ex-pats who infest most local newspaper websites.

I AM indebted to Professor Greenslade’s globe-trotting blog – a sort of Funny Old World without the funny bits – for bringing us the news that Iran’s most important women’s magazine, Zanan, has been forced to close after 16 years of publication after being accused of ‘compromising the psyche and the mental health’of its readers by providing them with ‘morally questionable information”. One too many features on how ‘Black is the new Black”, no doubt.

Meanwhile, in a rather worrying precedent, two Azerbaijani journalists have been sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour after being found guilty of libelling a regional governor. They also have to pay the state 20 per cent of their salaries for a certain period. Oh, how the Press Complaints Commission must sometimes wish it had such teeth.

You can contact me, should you wish, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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