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 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

Qur’an crimes

Should journalists mention facts that will play up racism, even though the source seems impeccable?

I did a story yesterday about insurance fraud on Daily Finance. In the course of interviewing the lawyer, she made the statement that the defendants refused to testify in court because they would have had to swear on the Qur’an. Continue reading

Sunday PR roast

Accountants Ernst & Young issued a press release today (Sunday) but the named PR, Vicky Conybeer, did not have access to a photo of those quoted in the release because she was not in the office.

Why bother releasing it on Sunday or being the named PR if you can’t help working hacks? Continue reading

Council tax post

I finally got the figures I needed – though I had to find some via a link on Local Government Chronicle’s website to the Communities department’s site (new window) that the PR had not found.

Interesting that the chief PR seems to think the response “but will be Monday before I can come back to you” would be OK for a website that runs seven days a week.

When he gets back in on Monday he’ll find several more emails from me and that I have found the missing figure on his own website.

Related post

Poor Govt. Pr

Links (new windows)

Taking the rise out of council tax (Daily Finance)

Poor Govt. PR

Big Ben and a streetlight in the dark

Throw some light on it

An email to my MP asking whether I should complain about the Communities PR team to the minister or head of the Civil Service elicited a response, at last.

I called Matthew Gorman there on 15 December. I asked for the amount of council tax collected and the cost of collecting it, plus the amount of council tax benefit paid and the cost of paying it. I was given this information ten years earlier by the predecessor department for an article in the Guardian.

Continue reading

Tweeting twits

Tweets from #governmentnews are so wrong the person tweeting should be taken out and shot. Journalists should avoid this site because of its inaccurate and misleading information.

Yesterday, 17 January, it tweeted that new donation and funding figures for political parties had been published. This was just baloney. Continue reading

Wheelchair hero

Andy Barrow in blue Team GB vestI lunched with Andy Barrow, captain of the GB wheelchair rugby team, at the Charlton Park rugby club vice-presidents’ day yesterday.

I follow Andy on Facebook. I was surprised to see him at the club as he is always abroad, usually playing for Team GB in another tournament, though sometimes just on a well-deserved holiday.

He’d just been with some Charlton Park players at the Dubai rugby sevens. He’s off next week to watch the cricket in South Africa.

Facebook friends

Andy follows me on Facebook. “How do you write seven stories before breakfast every day?” he asked. “I have to write one blog a week for the team’s website and it takes me ages.”

If that’s true – and I suspect it was just flattery – writing is one of a short list skills Andy has not mastered. He has become an expert press spokesperson for the team. He has negotiated higher levels of sponsorship from the RFU. And he is learning to be a motivational speaker.

All of that is on top of taking on the team captaincy. He will be captain at the London Olympics and possibly the Olympics beyond that. Andy has broad shoulders – both physically and metaphorically.

Follow the money

I’m going to ring Andy tomorrow and interview him in more detail about the finances involved in getting elite wheelchair athletes to the top of their sports. Andy has to chase up various grants, gifts and sponsorship to fund his sport.

I’ve been reading the NUJ’s guidelines for reporting disability. Well-meaning though they are, they are very hard to stick to.

“Ditch the super-crip stories – they are patronising and set disabled people impossible standards. Report disability sports as you would any other sport,” they begin. So that’s reporting Andy out of the question. And my headline will have me drummed out.

Spanish practices

“Would this be a story if the person was not disabled?” is another question. If the captain of the GB wheelchair rugby team were not disabled, it would be a bigger story. In 2000 Spain’s wheelchair basketball team all jumped out of their wheelchairs after the final whistle. It was a scandal.

“Is the person’s impairment really relevant to the story?” is another question. How can it not be? The players get graded by their level of disability and the team has to maintain a certain average disability score of players on the pitch at any one time.

“Life isn’t a ‘trial over adversity’ – most disabled people don’t see it that way,” the guidelines say. Well I am sorry but other people do see it that way. We’d report nothing interesting if the measure was whether the people doing the interesting thing “don’t see it that way”.

The best

Andy is an extraordinary person. He broke his neck playing rugby aged 17. When I visited him in hospital at the time he was determined to walk again. If anybody could have done, he would. When that dream died he turned to being the best wheelchair rugby player he could be.

I interviewed his doctor for The Guardian, shortly after Andy came out of hospital. He said that stem cell research might actually mean they could make a paraplegic walk again at some point in the future (Andy is tetraplegic – he has limited use of his hands too).

Yesterday I asked Andy about that. He’s happy just the way he is, thanks. He is one of the most level-headed people I know. He is a realist, understands the limitations his sporting career has and is readying himself for a second career afterwards.

He will be just as successful at whatever that is too.

Links (open new windows)

Go students go!

I am heading for Southport for the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ’s) Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM). In 2009 why can’t we get a Vodafone and 3G signal on a Virgin East coast train?

Tomorrow I am running the NUJ student members’ conference. We should have 25 students there. A mix of students of journalism and students journalists working on student media. Continue reading