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Union hits out at Montgomery ‘vision’

The National Union of Journalists has condemned as “dangerous” a document by Local World chairman David Montgomery outlining a vision of the future of journalism.

The regional publishing boss set out a series of thoughts about about future role of journalists in his group in a 2,000-word essay originally leaked to Press Gazette last week.

Local World has since stressed that the essay, which suggested some weeklies could be run by a single journalist, was an “internal working paper” rather than a detailed blueprint for the future of the industry.

However the NUJ says says the “jargon-laden” mission statement will “reduce newspapers to notice boards” and kill off investigative journalism.

Deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick said: “This is a very dangerous vision. What he appears to be suggesting is that the police, schools, Tesco and other organisations can put their press releases directly into the local paper, without verification or comment.

“To take copy in this way denies readers a balanced coverage of the story and is an open invitation to vested-interest journalism. All organisations will be able to promote their propaganda unhindered.

“I cannot see that the public would want to pay for a notice board of organisations’ press releases and there are already signs that advertisers are not convinced either.

“It also appears there is no place for professional photographers in Montgomery’s vision. Readers will be able to tell the difference between pictures taken by their local photographer who works within their community and random snaps taken on mobile phone cameras sent in by the public.”

Mr Montgomery’s essay envisaged some weekly papers being staffed by a single journalist whose role would be to put together the paper by “skimming” existing online content.

It also suggests that most journalists would work remotely and be on call 24/7 rather than working to fixed shift patterns.

The majority of content, according to the document, would be produced by third-party contributors and public authorities, with the journalist’s role being to assemble it in “attractive formats.”

It says that the journalists of the future will combine all the “traditional skills” of reporter, sub-editor, and editor-in-chief, along with “online agility” and basic design ability.

The media commentator and blogger Steve Dyson has also hit out at the vision document claiming it showed “contempt” for the regional media industry.

Writing in MediaGuardian, he said the missive made “no attempt to motivate, inspire or lead his troops; instead, he denounces their profession, embarrasses his managers and depresses the entire industry.”

In a statement last week, Local World said:  “Our strategy is built around enriched content and this internal working paper is to help inform the work on building systems which free our journalists up to focus on creating, sourcing and managing content.”

The company has declined to comment further.

15 comments

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  • November 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm
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    I know of several rural titles in southern England (not Local World but owned by another well-known publisher) that are already staffed by one reporter. Glad to say I don’t work for them myself.

    The aforementioned reporter, almost invariably a trainee, must take all photographs (or at least source them), write or source all the copy for the sports pages, run the reception desk and take classified adverts.

    In some instances they do not have an office but are given a laptop – without a 3G or 4G mobile internet connection – and told to work from wherever they can find somewhere with free Wi-Fi.

    They are “supervised” by an editor who is responsible for three or four other titles spread across a wide area. They rarely have face-to-face contact with them, however, as they are based at a regional hub.

    If anything, Monty needs to get with the times. Other publishers are working far harder to destroy what’s left of the industry than him.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm
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    LW management has confirmed to me in person that police and local councils are among the organisations which it is assumed will be putting their guff directly into its websites.

    Regarding Monty, I still find it baffling that someone who so obviously loathes journalism and journalists chose it as his profession.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm
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    Regional journalism has been struggling for years against the Montgomery philosophy. In the past, however, this nonsense has usually come from accountants, who can’t be expected to know any better. Monty is, allegedly, a journalist, though you’d be hard put to guess it reading his rubbishy proposals for the future of the industry.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm
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    Some would say the papers write what they want anyway so what’s the difference.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm
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    The difference, Lorraine, is that under Monty’s vision everyone EXCEPT the newspaper would write what they want in its pages – unproven, unchallenged, unscrutinised and in many cases of press releases, unreadable. Clearly, you are only acquainted with the antics of the redtop nationals!

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  • November 26, 2013 at 3:46 pm
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    The desperate utterings of some newspaper owners become more farcical by the day. Perhaps they should simply hang up their balance sheets and calculators and let people with a true understanding of journalism take control. Too many shareholders hold too much executive power in the industry, they’d be better off letting people with vision take the reigns while they simply worry about the long term value of their shares. What the newsroom produces is ‘the product’ which can not be diluted if we want to live in a country with a free press. Perhaps when people with a journalistic background are allowed to make it into the boardroom things will change, until then, I suppose we’ll have to put up with salesmen and accountants that through their greed have so badly let the newspaper industry down.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm
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    His vision also assumes the local police, council etc want to write straight into the newspaper. A big leap to make.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm
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    I would love to know when any regional newspaper last held a local authority or business to account over a press release. These days, for the most part, they are either ignored or printed almost verbatim.
    I don’t have a problem with councils or Tesco adding their own content to a newspaper website as long as it’s clear who’s written it. Give the public some credit, please!
    The main problem with Monty’s plan is rather than this freeing up journalists’ time to write quality news, he wants to get rid of them.
    The traditional key value of regional newspapers is quality local content and, despite the decline of print readership, their websites still give the majority of them a larger audience than they’ve ever had before. Monetising this has been the tough task, but there are signs that this can achieved to an extent which will support a decent local business model.
    However, Monty’s plan risks losing that audience and, with it, any chance of that successful business model.
    As media consumption continues to change, will the public go to a news site for a fix of press releases and occasional bit of local news, or will they select who or what interests them and digest it via their news platform of choice? We are already seeing this happen with Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds/lists, Google Now, etc.
    Historically, printed newspapers have been a catch-all (news, sport, business, property, jobs etc) but they now need to adapt to be able to deliver more relevant information to different target audiences. That means having the resource to deliver quality content to each of those audiences, where each will have its own ‘value’ that then can be sold into.
    In Monty’s plan, there is little or no scope for this and councils, police etc will slowly erode existing online newspaper readership by tapping into these audiences themselves. This would also be exacerbated by any attempt by regionals to use paywalls, but that’s another argument!

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  • November 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm
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    Why on earth would police, sports clubs, councils, local businesses etc need the platform?

    Most of them have their own media teams, their own internet platforms and can distribute news items to the public via twitter and facebook in some cases they often do a better job than the local newspapers.

    If people want to aggregate news sources they can do it via RSS feeds or aggregate tweets and sign up to their interests via facebook. This boat has long since sailed….

    Why give up the one USP that local newspapers do have – independently written and researched news stories that local people trust – it doesn’t make sense to me.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 8:55 pm
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    Oh dear, MW, Oxford. I honestly hope you’re not a journalist.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 9:00 pm
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    Sadly, as someone who now works in PR, this news is great – no pesky journalists to question my press releases… result! It shouldn’t be that way, of course.

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  • November 26, 2013 at 11:59 pm
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    Desperate times..’ The NUJ Hit Out’..big deal, like Monty Pythons ” What have the Romans ever done for us?” It’s a bit late in the day for the NUJ to come in now. The damage has been done over the years, I’m suprised that anybody remains a member as they have all been made redundant now.

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  • November 27, 2013 at 6:21 am
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    This is such a short sighted plan. It will fail and when it does dear colleagues, we start afresh. Quality will always sell.

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  • November 27, 2013 at 9:36 am
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    The Montgomery format has been operating for several years at one of the country’s major media groups, particularly in its weeklies division. The result has been an inevitable slump in circulations, a collapse in profits despite huge savings in staffing costs, and a rise in “sickies” due to stress-related illnesses. Who is there now among newspaper men to argue against the infallible prophecies of the number-crunchers? Certainly not the NUJ.

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  • December 3, 2013 at 11:39 am
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    When I started in journalism many moons ago, the daily on which I worked had copy boys, copy takers, fotogs, reporters, deputy chief reporter, chief reporter, copy sub editors, deputy chief sub, chief sub, check subs, stone subs, news editor, assistant editors, editor — oh and I nearly forgot proof readers. And now this Local World genius wants one poor hack, bound to be a junior, to do the lot.

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