Get ready for Teamwork Thursday

It’s the time of the week when I move into Mr Motivator mode.

Thursday means news day. And that means at least three Ss: stories, of course. And sweets.

But also slogans.

I’ve taken to encouraging our students with a few words of wisdom.

Last week’s didn’t pull too many punches.

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But a previous one was a little more subtle.

I first heard those wise words on the brilliant TV series The Missing, which comes to what will hopefully be a suitably dramatic and conclusive end tonight.

They were extremely timely as I tried to get over the point to my student friends that the very best moments in journalism come from teamwork – from a sense of shared goals and values.

Often when you ask journalists about the very best days they’ve had, the answers will be about battling in the face of adversity, about overcoming problems which seemed insurmountable, or resourcing difficulties which seemed impossible.

One of the greatest senses of achievement I can remember was the time when we produced a one-sheet replacement front page after a major development in a long-running murder inquiry which frustratingly came hours after the paper had been printed.

It’s that team spirit that gets you through so much in journalism

We literally went around supermarkets stapling the new front page to the existing paper.
Different times, obviously.

But it’s that team spirit that gets you through so much in journalism, and which keeps people in their jobs long after logic would have sent them to more financially lucrative and less physically exhausting employment.

There was a reminder at the weekend of the need for the world of education to search harder for ways to emphasise the importance of teamwork.

The BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz had been the guest of honour at a conference of independent school heads, where he had championed collaboration over the isolating individualism of the exam regime.

It was inspiring stuff from a man whose eccentric hair style covers a considerable intellect.

Just a few days before, I’d sat in one some presentations given by groups of our students as part of a magazine module.

It’s one of the few times when students on our courses are marked as a group.

And, my God, did they step up to the plate.

The groups had to pitch their ideas for a new magazine to us, and they did so with confidence, creativity and conviction.

What’s more, they showed the power of teamwork at every turn.

And I loved it.

It could be argued that the smaller newsrooms are, the more important it is for individuals to shine with their multi-skilled brilliance.

And there’s a lot in that, as last week’s excellent NCTJ skills conference heard.

But, in the end, the best journalism will always come from collaboration and co-operation, from communication and camaraderie. As well as, I’ve said many times before, from craic.

So, what’s the slogan for tomorrow, then?

I think it’s going to be this one.

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Until I stumbled across it on the Skip Pritchard website, I hadn’t a clue who Ken Blanchard was.

Now that I have, I very much like the cut of his jib.

 

Wish us all luck tomorrow. And happy Teamwork Thursday to you all.

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I don’t like the Mail. But you can’t ban people from reading it.

A lot has been written in the last few weeks about how best to hold the media to account.

Rival regulators, anguished academics, political procrastinators and emotional editors have all had their say.

But there’s another source of accountability that is perhaps the most potent of all: the audience.

They’re (I refuse to say we’re – I’m above all this, obvs) a fickle lot, of course.

They like to ride their high horses while splashing through the gutter.

But now and again, the readers have enough.

So it was in Liverpool with The Sun after Hillsborough. And so it was everywhere with the News of the World after its journalists hacked Millie Dowler’s phone.

And so it could be now with the Mail and Sun over their coverage of immigration and asylum seekers.

There’s been much celebration in some quarters of Lego’s decision not to run any more of its popular promotional activities with the Mail – although whether the toy firm’s announcement was the result of happenstance or soul-searching remains to be seen.

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The increasingly brave Gary Lineker and the Hope Not Hate pressure group have been trying to persuade his beloved Walkers Crisps and other brands such as John Lewis not to advertise in the papers.

They haven’t had huge success so far, and their efforts have been questioned in a blog by Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford as the beginning of a slippery slope to censorship.

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I think we need to have a sense of proportion about this – particularly when you see the BBC’s superb coverage of what real censorship looks like in China.

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Pressure from advertisers on editorial teams to change the focus of their coverage is a fact of media life.

Any editor worth their salt will have had a few skirmishes on this front.

They may not win them all these days. But they’re tests of integrity, of courage, and of diplomacy, not battles with Big Brother.

What does seem like censorship, though, is the ban on the Mail, Sun and Express being proposed at City University in London.

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I have no problem with the student union shop refusing to sell the Mail – as dozens of newsagents in Liverpool refuse to stock The Sun. But apparently there is no shop selling newspapers on campus. Which is in itself a sad state of affairs, perhaps.

Consumer pressure – people power – should hold the media to account. Newspapers are businesses and businesses are vulnerable to boycotts.

But there’s a fundamental difference between not selling – or boycotting – a product and banning it altogether.

What is the SU going to do – have its own thought police ripping the paper from people’s hands?

In other words, if you’re going to wage war on the Mail, let’s have a clean fight.

By all means, use every democratic method to persuade people not to buy a product. By all means, put pressure on other people not to advertise in that product.

But resorting to a ban on people reading that product – or reading anything, for that matter – means you’ve lost all right to so much as a square inch of the moral high ground.

Banning reading at a university is about as wrong-headed as you can get.

Why the best journalists still fear the tap on the shoulder

He’s one of the most-respected names in sports journalism.

He’s worked for all four quality daily broadsheets, written books, is a regular on TV and radio football shows, and chairs the Football Writers’ Association.

And yet, the great Patrick Barclay still admits to the journalistic equivalent of pre-match nerves.

He was one of the many inspiring guests at this week’s University of Gloucestershire Media Festival – part of a fantastic programme of speakers from the worlds of journalism, music, film and TV production, media technology, and animation.

He had all manner of fascinating insights into the biggest characters in football, the curse of the England manager, and his hopes for the future of journalism.

But I was most struck by his ever-present fear – even now, in his sixth decade of journalism – of being ‘found out.’

And, he says, he’s not alone.

“I’ve never met any good journalists who aren’t insecure,” he told us.

Part of that might be the freelance gig – and we heard a lot more about life as one of the self-employed at the festival yesterday.

 

But I think it’s also all about an obsessive drive for self-improvement, fuelled by the sort of nervous energy that keeps the journalistic flame alive.

One of my colleagues told yesterday’s audience that a friend who is one of the best-known interviewers in the business, regularly throws up before meeting his subject.

Paddy Barclay used to live in particular fear of being unable to make the journalistic switch from sports analyst to news reporter if a match he was covering was ever marred by tragedy or violence.

He’d have coped admirably, I’m sure.

But I completely understand his mindset.

I was a news editor for more than two decades, dealing with all manner of big stories and crises.

I fear the tap on the shoulder that says ‘you’ve been rumbled.’

But a couple of days without a decent splash would comprehensively undermine my self-confidence.

Now I have the job of my dreams. But, like Paddy, I still worry about someone tapping me on the shoulder and saying ‘time’s up, you’ve been rumbled.’

It’s a funny thing, this confidence business.

I have no problem with addressing big lecture theatres or meetings, and have always enjoyed public speaking. I’ve never dodged difficult conversations over stories, and I will always be completely frank with my students if I think they’re underperforming.

Confidence is one of the most-prized attitudes and attributes in a journalist, and one that is lacking in so many of the young people my colleagues and I see every day.

But it has to be the right sort of confidence – I’ve written before about the glorious notion of confident humility.

And sometimes in journalism, a dash of self-doubt can be just the right ingredient in the recipe for the perfect piece of writing.

Wanting to cover a murder trial doesn’t make you a bad person

 

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Gloucester Crown Court: geograph.co.uk

 

I’ve been in court a lot recently.

Not in the dock, you understand.

In the public galleries – up in the gods in one case – of Gloucester Crown Court and Cheltenham Magistrates Court.

All human life is there, with great stories at every turn for my students to have a go at.

But even so, they want more.

To be precise, they want to be in on the most serious court cases imaginable.

The ones involving deaths.

The ones where you get to look straight into the eyes of an alleged murderer.

It’s grisly stuff, and not the sort of thing that impresses some people.

But I’m not some people. I’m a journalist.

I don’t ever want anyone trained by me to be wishing for bad news, to be for even a millisecond treating real tragedy and heartache as mere journalistic fodder.

But, as I told one student on the way to court the other day, being interested in covering a murder case doesn’t make you a bad person.

It’s clear that we journalists do sometimes have a different outlook on life than people in Civvy Street, as the great David Randall so eloquently says in a blog.

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But I still maintain that journalists can be the nicest people in the world – full of kindness, emotional intelligence and an ability to see the best in folk. Genuinely.

As well as being more interesting than almost any other category of worker.

It’s about the overwhelming desire to explain the world

It’s not about ghoulishness.

It’s about the overwhelming desire to explain the world, to make sense of things, to understand why people do what they do – and that includes the worst acts imaginable.

I’ve been talking a lot about privacy and intrusion to another group of students.

I highlight a blog I wrote a couple of years ago about covering bereavement.

And I tell them that there are few greater feelings in journalism than the knowledge that you have covered a good life well.

That might just be a fascinating obit.

But it’s more likely to be a sensitive tapestry of tributes and facts about someone taken suddenly from their loved ones.

The stakes are never higher with that sort of writing – which means the sense of satisfaction is right up there, too.

The best journalists are completely fascinated by life and by people. 

We can’t limit our storytelling mission to explain. 

All human life – and death – has to be there.