The demands of the modern multi-media era are putting pressures on publishers and, in turn, staff to get information on to the web without the age-old recourse to proofing, she claims.
That’s the “unnerving” conclusion of Lily Canter as the Sheffield Hallam University course leader for 220 undergraduate journalism students returned to the news frontline after a five-year absence.
The former regional journalist, who spent two days back at the ‘coalface’ as a multi-tasking reporter for the award-winning Derbyshire Times, said the 24/7 approach to breaking news with a rolling deadline had its downside.
The once-a-week deadline has been replaced with a rush to get the digital news drop on competitors – and it appears to come at a cost, said Lily.
“In my time there I noticed the unnerving practice of reporters writing straight to the web with not many checks and balances,” she added: “This seems to be done afterwards, not before. No one bats an eyelid.
After initially getting over the shock of discovering the Times’s Chesterfield office no longer offers direct entry to the public, Lily said: “Weeklies are now operating like a daily . . . it’s more and more editorial output with less staff.
“At the advent of the web, I think publishers originally tried to protect their news in the printed format but now they see no point. There’s a ‘get it out as quickly as possible’ attitude now.
“And no one is bothered whether that information is on their own newspaper web platform or not – so long as it’s out before the opposition. Twitter and YouTube will do it seems.
“Competition is driving them on, whether the audience actually wants it or not.”
In her last couple of years at the Northampton daily, she recalls the internet was starting to take off, news was “crudely broken” on the paper’s website and online video was being produced.
“We had subs, photographers, feature writers, secretaries and even receptionists to welcome the public,” she added.
She left in 2009 to do a PhD and further her academic career. In her five years away from a newsroom job, had a baby, travelled to Australia and been appointed head of the journalism team at Sheffield Hallam University – personally lecturing around 100 students on a BA Journalism course.
“That is a lot of changes, in not a lot of years. And newspapers have seen a similar amount of upheaval in that time as I discovered on my return,” she said.
She added that going back to work at the “severely cutback” Johnston Press title was “something of a challenge.”
Lily added: “I shot video, took photos, uploaded content to Twitter, Instragram and the DT website, conducted interviews, wrote copy, imported photos, wrote photo captions, wrote headlines, laid out pages, edited video, created photo slideshows.
“And this was a fraction of the work a regular reporter was expected to do. I learned that much has changed, for better and worse, but reassuringly some things remain the same and perhaps always will do.”
She sees her two-day workout experiencing life as a regional newspaper journalist “invaluable for informing my own teaching.”
In this modern templating world in which a reporter now finds themselves, she says the art of good headline and caption writing has suffered.
She added: “Journalists don’t have to just worry about the ‘copy’ they have to write headlines and photo captions and identify photographs to go with their story
“I learned that I hate writing headlines and photo captions and wished I had been trained to do this. I shall be looking at both those areas when I return to the classroom next month and reaffirming their importance to my students.”
“As someone who lectures on a NCTJ media course it’s quite worrying – the lack of final proofing and how this might affect the laws of contempt.”
A spokeswoman at Johnston Press said: “Consumers expect immediacy when it comes to their news consumption and journalists today don’t always have the luxury of time as they strive to get stories online quickly.
“That is why we have an extremely robust – and successful – training programme (as proved by our recent NQJ pass rate of 88pc against the national average of 72pc) to ensure our news teams are fully trained in journalism laws.”