Why should people read your blog?
I’ve had a lifetime’s experience in newspapers and think I can add perspective for the ‘lay’ reader and offer some guidance to upcoming journalists. I feel strongly about good ethical practice and good writing.
We are there to serve our readers and this is not necessarily achieved by jumping on every passing bandwagon. I don’t think it’s advisable, for example, for the broadsheets to write about every reality TV show just to prove they know what’s hot. More often than not, they simply prove that they don’t have a clue.
Above all, I want to encourage journalists to THINK about what they are saying, question the sources, look properly at statistics and keep their common sense and everyday instinct at the front of their minds. It’s hard to resist executives who seem to have a fixed idea of how a story should be treated, but the best of them can be persuaded by a cogent argument. I want to inspire people to speak up when they have doubts.
What’s the most important issue in your blogosphere?
There are several. Traditional newspapers were too late to recognise the importance and game-changing influence of the internet. They were already suffering declining sales and when recession struck, people started to wonder what papers had to offer over the web, TV and radio. A newspaper is terrific value, but the cost becomes frightening when your weekly bill is over £20 (once you’ve added in a comic for the kids and a couple of mags). Something has to give, and it’s the paper that often goes ‘because you can get the news online or from TV – and more quickly’.
Newspapers are now desperately trying to catch up, publishing in print, on tablets, phone apps and running websites. It’s a battle for survival, so obviously hugely important. At the same time the traditional media are under fire over phone hacking and other perceived sins and will face regulation as a result of the Leveson inquiry, another handicap as the freewheeling internet cannot be controlled in the same way.
Set all of that against a recession that is prompting everyone to tighten belts and shed staff, and we can see an industry under siege. This matters because a free Press is a vital element of free and democratic society.
What is your favourite blog?
I obviously look at a variety of media-based blogs, but my favourites tend to be people writing on other issues. I’m not a fan of the ‘this is me and my life’ style, but there is one exception and that’s freeourkids.co.uk by my former colleague Hattie Garlick. She was made redundant just as she learnt she was pregnant with her second child. She and her husband Jonny decided children didn’t need all the expensive paraphernalia showered on them these days, so resolved to live for a year without spending any extra money on their toddler son. It’s refreshing and shows thrift can be liberating and fun.
How often do you aim to post?
When I started I wrote every day on anything that caught my eye in the papers. Now I write much longer pieces that require a lot of research and a lot of patience to read, so it’s generally once or twice a week. It takes about 12 hours to gather all the information and then write it up, so a daily post would be pretty impossible now.
How do you feel about guest posts?
I’m pretty cool about writing on other sites and publishing other people’s posts on mine. I write for Press Gazette, Anorak and sometimes Blirt. I’d love to see what others have to say about the issues I tackle on SubScribe, and I also have a sister blog called SubSist, so it doesn’t have to be restricted to the media.
SubSist is intended to deal with everyday matters, but my main interests are in the third sector – I have worked with the Red Cross, the hospice movement and mental health charities – and questions of ethics and equality. Sometimes issues are raised that don’t fit happily within the SubScribe remit, for example the Bangladesh factory collapse. I wanted to write on that, so gave it a fig leaf of media interest with a payoff line calling for a newspaper campaign. There was a good response, and so i did three follow-up posts and all four are now on the SubSist site.
All welcome, as long as it’s well-written and original thinking.
How do you work with PRs?
I haven’t worked with PRs much recently, but obviously prompt responses and honesty are key. It’s good to get the background picture without necessarily seeking to publish every time.
What do PRs do that’s bad?
You know the answers: failing to read the blog so mis-targeting, scattergun emails in the hope one will find the right person, bad timing of phone calls and dishonesty.