PA's training centre gain is TM's loss

By Alison Hastings

TRINITY MIRROR's annual report and accounts are usually pored over by staff trying to work out what packages their senior management have received. Then they scan the rest to see what has been said about their respective division or geographic patch.

But it was a small item on page 14 which caught my eye: "To ensure continued journalistic excellence in our newsrooms, the Group signed a long-term contract with PA Group for the provision of editorial training services, which will guarantee a consistent flow of high-quality journalism trainees."

Translated, this means they have disposed of their famous and highly regarded editorial training centre in Newcastle to PA. I should declare an interest; for a period in the early '90s I taught on the 16-week intense post-grad course and then ran the department, before moving on to the Evening Chronicle. I was never lucky enough to do the course, unlike my stepdaughter last year, but did the year-long pre-entry NCTJ in Harlow.

Years ago, it was a badge of honour to say you were one of the few to have been Thomson trained — either in editorial or advertising. When Thomson Regional Newspapers sold out to Trinity in the '90s, the editorial centre was renamed the Trinity (and then Trinity Mirror) course — and still gave the few hand-picked delegates a great start on the journalism ladder. So why would TM sell off one of its crown jewels to PA?

Inevitably, one of the answers is financial. The five-year deal with PA means that TM no longer has to carry the cost of running the centre in Newcastle — but it is still able to get its trainees on the course. It also makes sense for PA. It has put its marker down on training as an additional source of revenue, and the fact that the previous TM editorial training boss, Tony Johnston, is now at PA, is clearly a factor.

PA had previously bought out the old Westminster Press editorial training centre in Hastings, which was ably owned and run by former Northern Echo editor Peter Sands, and the Newcastle operation is a welcome addition to the training stable. But what does it mean for the established post-grad courses run by universities? The PA course offers fee-paying places completing in a shorter time than counterparts at Sheffield, City and Cardiff, to name a few.

Peter Cole, at Sheffield, is unperturbed. He is convinced that the small, but beautifully formed, course there will still appeal to graduates who want a job in the industry, but are prepared to spend nine months delving into all aspects of the craft.

"We are a respecter of PA and have a close relationship with them, but we do not feel the post-grad courses are comparable. Our young people are in a transitional period between university and work and feel they gain from the bit of space this course allows," he says.

Of course, that space means more hard cash for accommodation and living expenses. But with the number of young people clamouring to end up in the media — even with the latest batch of redundancies — it seems there is room for both.

I DO AN investigative journalism course for the regional press — devised for Northcliffe Newspapers, because they admirably wanted their senior reporting staff to hone their skills in this essential area. Often delegates from dailies, and especially weeklies, would arrive on the course, worried that they would not have the time or resources to carry out Watergate-type investigations.

No doubt this was true. But there are all sorts of investigative work reporters can carry out relatively quickly and easily, which greatly benefit their readers.

The best reporters are those for whom something catches their eye, even though many thousand eyes will have glanced over it unperturbed before. If they then have a sense of outrage, tenacity and doggedness, to name just a few useful attributes, they will pursue these worthwhile and original stories.

One such reporter is Ruth Lumley who, when she was a reporter on the Chichester Observer, noticed graffiti in a train toilet declaring: "Girls 8-13 wanted for sex. Girls only. Text 660." Lumley texted the number, said she was an 11-year-old girl, and received a series of sexually explicit texts back. She contacted British Transport Police and, after a long investigation, they charged four men with child sex and rape offences. They pleaded guilty and the police believe they have now caught everyone involved in the child sex ring.

Lumley was described as a "catalyst, to forward our investigation at a greater rate of knots".

One can only imagine how many other people saw those adverts in the toilets (including train staff) without reporting it. How many reporters on your newspaper would have followed it up?

Lumley chose not to carry out an investigation herself, but handed it over to the police, which was probably the right thing to have done in this case. But she must have felt she made a difference when she heard the detective chief inspector say: "This has been a complex and protracted investigation into horrific offences against children. These young victims have had their childhoods taken away from them."

IT WOULD take a very confident politician to criticise the Press Complaints Commission and its chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, it would seem.

It is well documented that Cabinet ministers Jack Straw and John Prescott were less than pleased with the mild criticism they received in Meyer's recent book, DC Confidential.

And only a few weeks ago, the then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, chose to reveal his irritation with the press in a briefing and subsequent lecture, where he effectively called for statutory press control.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we see Straw demoted, Prescott losing his job, if not his perks, and Clarke on the backbenches.

All this has clearly not escaped Media Minister Richard Caborn in response to George Galloway, when he reiterated his own, and his Government's, support for self-regulation.

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