Don’t come here, go there….

In the slim chance that people might chance upon this blog looking for something interesting, I’ve now pretty much put this blog into retirement in favour the new site which unlike this site will be updated more than, say, twice a year.

New start, new beginning

After 14 months, a lot of articles and a lot of learning, I’m leaving paidContent:UK at the end of the year to find new opportunities. Jon wrote about it here.

I’ll be working as a freelance and will look to carry on writing about the digital landscape both in print and online, but I’m also looking for opportunities in events, social media & PR. I’m also in the very early stages of planning my own online venture, which I hope to speak more about soon.

It’s been a great year working with some of the best journalists – in fact, the best – covering digital media today and it’s been hugely satisfying seeing PCUK grow in popularity and stature, while also working on the main site. I have no doubts ContentNext will continue to be a success next year and beyond and I can only thank them for giving me the chance to be involved.

Anyone interested in talking about commissions, business ideas, speaking/panel gigs or pints in pubs please drop me a line on Twitter or on patricksmithjournalist at gmail dot com.

paidContent:UK is hiring for another reporter, so if you’re interested, drop the guys a line.

p.s. This isn’t the longest gap between blog posts ever, though it might be close…

From Press Gazette to paidContent

The future beckons. My big news is that I’m leaving Press Gazette this week to join paidContent as UK correspondent. Read the announcement here.

Tameka Kee also joins as West Coast correspondent based in Santa Monica, so congratulations to her.

I’ll be the company’s London-based reporter writing mainly for It is, to say the least, a very exciting job in a very exciting sector.

And it’s the end of two years at Press Gazette, where I learned more than is practically possible and worked with great people. I’ve been written about many awards nights, redundancies, court cases, campaigns, leaked emails, sackings – and – the audience’s gradual move from print to screen, the birth of video and audio journalism as a mainstream disciplines in newspaper offices, the erosion of traditional financial models and the current search for new ones.

My contact for any tips, stories, ideas or just to say hello, is and I continue to use And as ever I’ll be at

Film adverts: where exactly do the quotes come from?

I’m always intrigued by the blurbs on print adverts for the latest films. Usually, the more obscure the film, the more obscure the person supplying the congratulatory “must-see” quote.

Which is why a (printed) advert for Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in The Times today caught my attention. Here is what the critics had to say, with names given in full, in the original annoying syntax.

  •  “Stunning, simply stunning” (THEEDGE – 4 ROCHFORD, ESSEX)
  • “A great achievement” (NIMROD-14, UK)
  • “A must-see…This really is in my opinion, the best film of 2008 so far” (JOSEPHSALIBURY, UK)
  • “An incredibly powerful, moving story… I would recommend it it immensely to everyone” (HANNAH EDWARDS, UK)
  • “Please, please see this film, it will remain with you for a long time.” (MJAVFC1, UK)
  • “Truly heart-wrenching stuff” (OLIVERGBYRNE, CALIFORNIA, FULLERTON)
  • “This film wrenched me apart adn reminded me of humanity inside even the most hardened man” (TOMASSHAFFENDEN-1, UK)

As you can see, these are not film critics. They are in fact commentors on the IMDB page for the film. It even says so in tiny, tiny writing in the bottom right-hand corner. 

I find this puzzling: why not take something from the Times’ own film critic who called the film “one of the most moving and remarkable films about childhood I’ve ever seen”?

Why not do something creative with social media and quote from a specially designed online presence for the film – even if it’s just a Facebook or Myspace page? Just how relevent are the views of OLIVERGBYRNE, from California, to British people?

A more extreme and amusing example of obscure film-blurbism Guy Ritchie’s not-awful-but-completely-bewildering Revolver (about gangsters, unsurprisingly). The film was universally panned by critics, yet huge billboards appeared around towns declaring it “Brilliant…Guy Ritchie back to his best!”

Fair enough if that’s what you think, except that the line is from The Sun’s online film e-zine Film First which had bagged a WORLD EXCLUSIVE interview with the director, as The Guardian pointed out at the time. Private Eye established that the “brilliant!” part of the quote was from none other than The Sun’s Page 3 girl Ruth (she makes a brief appearance in the film).

But the real point is this: if you want to know how good a film is, don’t listen to the film companies or their PR goons – go to IMDB and Metacritic and find out for yourself. That way, you can read all the good and bad comments, not just the ones cherry-picked by ideas-starved marketeers. 

With cinema tickets costing upwards of £10 in London, I know who I’d trust.

Social media tools and journalists: the debate continues

A big theme for journalists at every level these days is to what extent they get involved in social media -how much and in what way they interact with their audience.

Alison at the Liverpool Daily Post wrote a post about all the different ways she collaborates with and broadcasts to the paper’s audience and how she uses social media tools, particularly things like Twitter and online polls, to enrich what she does.

So I posted about this for The Wire, making the point that not everybody is quite so switched on with these things, and was taken to task by fashion blogger Petah Marian. She wrote:

Patrick Smith from the Press Gazette posted a story today about all of the “new” methods journalists were using on the net to gather stories. He and I have been following each other on Twitter for what seems like an age now, so clearly these “new” techniques are not new at all to him. I guess I’m a little surprised that someone who seems to be on the edge of the tech curve is writing about techniques other journalists have been using for ages

She makes a fair point: none of the stuff Alison mentions is that revolutionary. But, I defended myself thus:

Thanks for the link Petah.
You are right – these techniques are not new and I have written about many of them extensively both on our website and in the magzine.
But that’s not to say that all our readers – both young and old – are as familiar with them.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that many, I would even say most journalists at both national and regional level have never used Twitter, never heard of Plurk, think live-blogging is a waste of time and consider broadcasting live from a mobile phone something out of a science fiction film.
I could name a couple of editors who would broadly be in the same category.
So the fact that Alison and a few others are doing all this as part of their normal jobs is, to me at least, quite interesting.
That’s not to say all our readers are Luddites – many of them are far more intelligent and engaged in new media than we are, which is why I link to what they are doing so everyone can see.

Petah then comments again saying she gets my point. But she’s right – these aren’t new tools. Twitter is very much old news to many; things like Qik and Bambuser are old hat to people still waiting for a really reliable, high quality video streaming service (see my article in last month’s Press Gazette, if you subscribe). Delicious is ancient in new media terms and is, I would guess, used by a great many journalists.

But how many people are actually using these things? How many people use the DIY Yahoo Pipes UGC kit made by Robin Hamann?

I don’t think the most web-savvy people in the industry understand quite what a skills lag there is for some journalists. Some have only just, in the past year believe it or not, moved to publishing news online in any serious way and many still refuse to publish their best news online (take this incandescant rage at Northcliffe’s Thanet Gazette from Justin Williams as proof) because they are “protecting their business plan”.

Don’t forget the row an NUJ member started over an ill-judged article in The Journalist headlined Web 2.0 is Rubbish. Roy Greenslade, a former union rep at the Sunday Times (see Roy’s comment below) may or may not have torn up his union card and many others had no time for an organisation that apparently saw the net as a threat to its trade – when in fact it was its saviour.

The union regained some respect with its thoughtful multimedia commission report, but the “web is rubbish” argument got some support and I felt showed the level of trepidation among many in the business about the future.

There is case for saying that the NUJ should be wary of some aspects of convergence and moden newsroom practice. The 65 jobs under threat at Trinity Mirror’s Midlands titles (see also cuts at the Glasgw Herald, Daily Express etc etc) are directly a result of bringing in the ContentWatch CMS. Johnston Press and Newsquest are making similar cuts if not on the same scale.

But these cuts unfortunately seem inevitable and they’re going to keep on coming. And the sooner more people get familiar with those social media tools, start properly engaging with their dwindling audience and play a part in growing the web traffic that will ultimately keep them in jobs in future years, the better.

On a related theme, Martin Belam is in the midst of a series of posts on how newspapers engage with social media. (He’s even selling an e-book about it for £25, the smart man). Belam is talking about website structure, more the domain of web editors and group-wide web strategy people (red-socked twats, as Grey Cardigan would put it) than rank and file journalists. But, worth a look.

Court reporting in the online age – how soon is now?

As every trained journalist knows, you can report whatever you like from a court case as long as it is “fair, accurate and contemporaneous“.

It doesn’t even matter if what is said is false – absolute privilege is a complete bar to any nasty letters from Carter Ruck or any other libel lawyers. 

To have that privilege your report must be published at the “earliest opportunity” –  while the trial is happening, or just after, not three weeks later.

The media law bible McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists says: “For all practical purposes this means publication in the first issue of the paper following the hearing, or while the hearing in proceeding.

It continues: “An evening paper might begin reporting a case in its early editions, continue to add to its report as later editions appear, and perhaps conclude it the following day.”

But in a 24/7 media age, what is contemporaneous? Increasingly, newspapers feel the need to file to only one deadline: now, online.

In fairness to MacNae’s expert editors, this is from the 18th edition published in 2005 and the newer book is better with online matters and the forthcoming edition even better. But the advice it gives on being contemporaneous is from another age: hardly any evening papers publish more than one edition, and most of them are essentially morning papers now anyway, printed over night to save money and time.

So surely “at the earliest opportunity” is now. It’s as soon as the reporter has gathered his or her thoughts, deciphered the notebook scribblings, wrote the story and emailed it or phoned it in to the newsdesk.

Judges are not the most web-savvy people (see here), so for time being the next day’s edition will be enough. But how long before the senior judges and the Ministry of Justice wake up to the fact that the whole issue of “earliest opportunity” has changed?

The Society of Editors is already warning that the Contempt of Court laws need to be shaken up to cope with multi-media realities. So how long before the powers that be take court reporting law into the 21st century?

Thanks to Alison at the Liverpool Daily Post for kicking off the debate on Twitter today. She asked whether newspapers whould break exclusive court reports online, to which I ask another question: why not?

Dealing with research students – should you give an answer?

One of the more bizarre aspects of being a reporter on a national magazine is getting requests from research students asking for help with their degrees. With the ever-growing amount of journalism MAs being studied these days, Press Gazette reporters are often asked if they can contribute to some thesis on ‘why newspapers are dying’ or ‘the influence of celebrity culture on blah blah’.

Whenever possible I try to help. Even the badly-worded, mass-emailed questions get a response, if only to send out a message that if students want a good answer, they should ask good questions.

To demonstrate the dilemma we often find ourselves in – whether to help, whether to ignore – this is what an MA student from City University, asked me via email:

Sent: 06 August 2008 16:28
To: Patrick Smith

Subject: question for my dissertation

Dear Patrick Smith,

I am an Italian journalism student in London. I am writing my final dissertation on the Treaty of Lisbon, and I would like to ask you a couple of questions about it. I really hope you can find five minutes to give me a short reply, I would really need an expert’s point of view about this.

1) Do you think that the issue of the Treaty of Lisbon (and what it represents for the UK) has been covered well in the British press?

2) Do you think there were any biases (in favour or against) in the way some newspapers have reported it, and in general, in the way they report EU-related issues?

I really hope you can reply. If you prefer, I could contact you by phone. Thank you in advance for your cooperation and your time.
Best Regards,

So far, so vague. As my followers on Twitter will know, I didn’t really get the point of this. It was committing one of the major sins in asking for expert opinion: (apart from asking someone who isn’t really an expert) it’s asking the interviewee to write the whole thesis. So I wrote:

I’d like to help but your questions are far too vague. Both questions 1 and 2 really require a lot of research to fully answer and I don’t have the time. How do you define “covered well?” What do you mean by “British press”? Do you mean national papers, regional papers or both?
The press’s coverage of Europe is a fairly complex area and certainly one worth investigating – but you will get more of an answer with more targeted questions. If there’s anything specific I can help with please get back in touch.

Patrick Smith

I thought that would be the end of it. But no, within the hour our man wrote back:

—–Original Message—–
Sent: 07 August 2008 16:37
To: Patrick Smith
Subject: RE: question for my dissertation

Dear Patrick,
I am sorry that I was not clear enough with my questions. I will try to re-write them and be more specific.
1) When I say “covered well”, I mean: when British newspapers covered the Treaty of Lisbon, were they covering it properly in terms of knowledge and insight of the issues (highlighting what would have changed, what would have not, what was happening day after day in Brussels and so on)? Or were they (at least some of them, mainly the tabloids) simply taking an anti-EU stance no matter what, and taking advantage of every possible occasion to criticise EU politicians and highlight that Britain had to stay “out of this”? (and if so, weren’t they forgetting the journalistic need to balance
sources, even if you do not agee with them?)
For example The Sun ran a campaign asking for a referendum, highlighting the fact that Gordon Brown had promised it. But they never highlighted that it was extremely difficult to ask people to give an overall opinion over a 400 and something pages long document, nor they allowed too many pro-EU commentators in their interviews.

2) when I say, “British press”, I mainly talk about the NATIONAL newspapers, and in particular I wanted to ask you if you noticed any difference between tabloids and broadsheets in terms of coverage. The impression that I had was a very negative journalistic performance in some tabloids (which were simply shouting NO to the EU), whereas there was more insight and attention in the case of national broadsheets (although with some differences, for example the Telegraph sounded more anti-EU than the others, and the Guardian seemed timid when it came to take a clear stance).
What impression did you have (just in general terms, I am not looking for a very deep insight)?

Hope I have clarified a little more what I meant. Thanks in advance for your help.

Fair enough, he came back with better questions. But, I was quite annoyed with his inherent liberal bias in his questions – i.e. anyone that opposed Lisbon is a bad journalist. This is a common theme in many students’ questions and as someone who covers the full spectrum of British papers, it often unnerves me. So I replied:

—–Original Message—–
From: Patrick Smith
Sent: 07 August 2008 18:23
Subject: RE: question for my dissertation

Well done for getting back to me so fast. My answer:
1. It’s impossible to say whether they were covering it properly – it’s an entirely subjective question, and it depends what you mean by properly.
The Sun took an anti-EU stance and its editorial content was of course influenced by the paper’s proprietor, its editor and probably the majority of its audience – all of which are traditionally Euro-sceptic.
Personally, I have no problem with a newspaper taking a line on an issue and writing stories based on that. Left-wing people only dislike The Sun’s propagandising because they don’t agree with it. You could hardly accuse great left-wing journalists like Robert Fisk or John Pilger of being particularly impartial in some of their most famous work – which is what makes it so powerful.
On the question of balance – journalists have to be fair and accurate: they have to report the world as it is, report people saying what they say. But the combination of news and opinion is as old as journalism itself. It is the job of newspapers to “criticise politicians” or at least hold them to account.
The Independent campaigned strongly in favour of the treaty and ran several front pages (one lifted from an EU Commission press release) urging readers to support it, but they are not mentioned in this debate of EU bias.
And, to be fair to The Sun, their reporters write news and opinion in clearly labelled boxes in the paper, so readers know which is which.

2. I’m afraid I don’t understand this. You seem to equate good journalism with supporting the treaty, which doesn’t make any sense. And if you read The Guardian’s leader column it came out in favour of the Treaty I seem to remember. Just because they don’t splash their views on their front pages doesn’t meant the broadsheets don’t have an opinion on the issue.

I hope that can be of some help. I might also suggest that you ask even more specific questions, you are still being quite vague. Surely the issue is WHY is Murdoch so anti-Europe? Why is he so pro-China? Could it be that he has business interests in China to protect and promote?

Patrick Smith