Citizen journalist

Men-of-Harlech

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Proper journalists such as me are supposed to hate citizen journalists. In fact, we’re supposed to call them “witness contributors” or something else suitably PC, according to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Well I don’t. I like citizen journalists. I like a lot of user-generated content.

I like the fact that communities get involved, tell us stuff, send in reports and photos and now take video and audio and comment. It adds loads and takes away nothing. I too am a citizen journalist – last week for BBC Radio’s cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew and for Test Match Special. Continue reading

End of an era?

aol-money.jpgI stopped commissioning stories for AOL Money this week – Wednesday to be precise. I started commissioning the predecessor site Daily Finance in December 2009. Recently I worked on the design and build of the new site and the integration of DF and its sister title Walletpop into AOL Money.

It has been a labour of love. The old DF CMS tells me “You have written 312,078 words on 522 posts.” I’ve written a fair few thousands words for AOL Money too and I have commissioned millions more. I’ve known it was coming to and end, looked forward to it even, but I’m feeling a bit sad too. Continue reading

Mad Monbiot

George Monbiot

Geroge Monbiot, hosted on The Guardian

Guardian ecology columnist George Monbiot has listed his earnings and savings and said all journalists should do the same. I am not sure if he is just showing off about how much he earns – more than £60,000 from the Guardian – but he cannot be serious.

Journalists should feel no more compunction to reveal their earnings and savings than anyone else. And it would be a mountain of work for the many of us who are freelance and such scrambled data would prove meaningless. I’ll have a go at explaining why. Continue reading

PA cannot SEO

headlien and story on Daily FinanceToday I had an extended row with PA about their omission of key words in a story about an anti-Asda advert from Tesco ruled “misleading” by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Here’s how the row progressed.

Our correspondence is listed in detail at the end but the main issue is that PA wrote a passive news intro (Tesco has had something done to it), without naming the source, and with a headline that omitted the allegations or the word advert. It was a lesson in how not to do journalism. Continue reading

Marching orders

Starbucks windows smashed with anarchy A grafittiReporting Saturday’s TUC March for the Alternative and UKUncut’s protests against tax dodgers proved the limits of technology. There may be power in a union but if there’re no power points to plug in laptops and mobiles, nobody will know about it.

Broadband access too is key. We posted our first report and video from Starbucks in Villiers Street, near the Embankment. Trying to upload video in Hyde Park via a Vodafone dongle proved fruitless so, with Starbucks on Piccaddilly smashed up, we had to march for the alternative. Café Nero had broadband but no power sockets. I filed with 4% Macbook battery life left. Continue reading

Treasury audio

George Osbrone giving budget speechYesterday I recorded Treasury press officer, Andrea Geoghegan, refusing to give me information she had to hand revealing exactly how much worse off the Treasury thinks the Budget will make families. I published it on Audioboo and wrote about it on Daily Finance. It has caused a stink.

Does the press officer deserve it? Should I have named her? Did I give her a fair chance? I’ll tell you how I behaved writing my “Treasury tries to kill Budget cost story” then you decide. Continue reading

More please, Sir

Article in teh Journalist called Freelance: the musicalAn email discussion with freelances today about stagnant rates prompted me to dig out an article I wrote more than a decade ago on how to get a rate rise – based on the musical Oliver. It appeared in The Journalist in December 1999. I have reproduced it below.

I was on the way to speak at the London Freelance Branch when I learned that Humphrey Evans was speaking on the same subject. I knew Humphrey would say the same as me, so I needed to say it differently A call to my musical-mad friend resulted in this presentation hastily written on the train. Continue reading

New era dawns

Insurance Times websiteToday is the first day for nearly two years that I have not had to get up at 6am to write early morning web news for Insurance Times. I woke up at 6 anyway (but I lay there until 6.20). My ambition is to be woken with a cup of tea in bed at 7am. For now at least, that is just a dream.

Since 10 November 2008 I have missed six working days in 100 weeks – once in hospital after my knee operation and one week off travelling this year. I have written about 3,000 stories, sometimes writing nine a day. Insurance Times paid about £12.50 per story.

I have worked from holiday homes and hotels. I have stayed in B&B’s with broadband purely to be able me to fulfil my contract. I have even worked from my laptop and dongle on campsites.

Ullapool campsite

Supermarket giant Tesco announced to the stock market at 7am in September last year that Fortis (now Ageas) was to be its insurance provider.

I called Fortis and got a quote for my story while sitting outside my tent just metres from the sea at Ullapool in Scotland on the xrv.org.uk national meet motorcycling weekend. Fortis told me that morning that Insurance Times was the first to run the story, with it live before 8am.

A lot of what I wrote was news from that morning’s papers and other sources – often one or two pars and pointers to where readers could get the story. But I had plenty of other exclusives too, either given to me because my contacts knew I was up at that time or through my industry knowledge.

New Year honours

When Simon Bolam was given an MBE for services to the Insurance Industry in the New Year honours 2008 even the Scottish papers missed him because they did not know who he was. I remembered him as the former leader of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA).

I knew the name of the broker he ran and tracked him down, first speaking to his daughter, who by then ran the firm, and eventually – at about 9am – Bolam himself.

I was in the Lake District, booted and waterproofed, about to leave for a hike, when he called and I added his quote to my story. The rival Post Magazine ran that story six days later when they got back to work.

In-house reporters

Insurance Times has taken the work in-house. Two new reporters will take turns to get up early and get into the office to start work at 6am. I have worked for Insurance Times for so long – I am a former editor – I was trusted with remote access. One will be getting up at 4am to travel in.

The early morning news made a huge different to the site’s traffic. When CEO’s get in at 8am, if the site is the same as it was the night before they won’t look again. If a CEO tells the next level of management to look at a story, traffic really picks up. That is what happened.

I think I offered great value for money. I did a good job. I wrote more stories than I was asked to write and more than most thought possible – I had to process them all to the website, including links, photos and categories, not just write the words.

I think I gave Insurance Times more as a freelance than they will get from staff.

Links (new windows)

PRs need help

PR people need help. They appear to have less understanding of how journalists work than ever before. They don’t appreciate deadlines, the speed journalists work at and the hours journalists now work on 24-hour internet media.

I have had a couple of weeks of dire experience with PRs. These include:

Slow, non-answers | Embargos | Contacts | Press registration Continue reading