MY WEEK: Alex Leys, Assistant editor, Hull Daily Mail

If nothing else, my week has proved Sod’s law beyond all reasonable doubt.

Firstly, like buses, projects all arrive at the same time. I accept that the modern face of journalism is multifaceted, and definable boundaries are getting thin on the ground – I genuinely welcome this with open arms. However, two ‘biggies’managed to collide within a day of one another, both involving  user-generated content.

Clearly the launch of This Is Your Mail – an experimental website written almost entirely by readers – was of paramount importance and all efforts had to be channelled into making this bold step into the relative unknown as successful as possible.

But niggling away in the background was my first stint at setting up and running the Mail’s Talent Trail – now in its 14th year and described by some as Yorkshire’s number one talent competition.

Getting priorities right

Clearly any right-minded and aspiring assistant editor would focus on the innovative and cutting-edge development and do the bare minimum just to get the other off the ground.

But I had the terrible realisation that I didn’t fancy standing up on the opening night of the Talent Trail competition facing a west Hull club packed with our readers – all expecting a night’s entertainment – and having to admit to fumbling the ball for the first time in the charity event’s history. So I found myself juggling hot potatoes.

It’s fair to say Monday and Tuesday were tough. Thankfully, we had successfully got through the development stage of the Your Mail project with a week to spare – a result, I think you’d agree, especially given the complexity of the site and the lack of a ‘road map’to follow.

Things were going well, even our in-paper coverage came together and the marketing and advertising push was in place by the time I was heading with my wife to Club Cherokee – don’t ask – for the Talent Trail opening ceremony.

I even remember making the mistake of relaxing and saying out loud: ‘We’ve done it.’But Sod’s law clearly states that if anything can go wrong, it will.

We were at the point of no return as I sat with the judges and organisers adjudicating the process of picking the two acts that would progress through to the semi-finals, when my best-laid plans came crashing down.

I answered my mobile in blissful ignorance  – on reflection I should have realised my editor John Meehan wasn’t calling me at 11pm to find out how Talent Trail was going.

So as several people around me compared comments and marks about performance, vocal range and the like, I was trying to think of any sensible reason as to why our fully prepped and polished site was ‘down’eight hours before its official launch.

I’ll say one thing – at least Talent Trail went off without a hitch. Dropped toast always lands butter side down, but look on the bright side, the bread is OK.

Your Mail did eventually launch fit and well – which is probably more than can be said for me, John, and certainly the young lady who had the misfortune of being studio manager at the site’s developers when an understandably stressed John finally managed to contact her around midnight.

Looking back over the week’s events with a fine whisky sitting near my right hand, the pandemonium of the early part of the week seems somewhat remote. I realise I’m in the eye of the storm. We’ve done so much work to get Your Mail off the ground – much of it went very well, considering we’ve never stepped so far outside our safety zones before. After all, it’s not often we let anyone publish almost anything under our masthead. Perhaps it’s not a completely brave new world – although I’d maintain it’s brave.

New thinking

I don’t think there is any question that we all have to find a way to embrace the many new forms of communication with our readers, and letting them get directly involved is certainly high in the pecking order of must-dos.

Your Mail launched on Wednesday, and by the weekend it had already achieved its six-month targets for registered users and is well on its way to topping the first year’s targets – which is brilliant news.

But the site was always set up to test the market, and none of us are naïve enough to think that we’ve cracked it. I’m certain there are many lessons still to be learned and hurdles that we haven’t yet considered waiting round the corner – hopefully not lining up like the proverbial buses.

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