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Agency photo coverage axed at strike-threatened weeklies, claims NUJ

A group of newspapers in South London are now without professional photography coverage after an agency partnership ended, the National Union of Journalists has claimed.

The NUJ says Newsquest has ended a decade-long agreement with Deadlinepix to cover news and sport across its South London titles.

Papers affected include the eight-edition South London Guardian series, South-East London’s News Shopper series, the Surrey Comet and the Richmond & Twickenham Times.

There are currently no staff photographers working on the newspapers.

The union’s claims come as staff at the titles are being balloted over possible industrial action for the second time in a little over a year.

According to the NUJ, costs at Newsquest’s Sutton newsroom, where the affected papers are produced, have fallen by more than £350,000 as departing reporters and news editors have not been replaced.

Newsquest South London staff during their 11-day strike in July 2015

Newsquest South London staff during their 11-day strike in July 2015

A spokesman for Newsquest South London’s NUJ chapel said: “We’re really worried that when tell people, ‘I’m afraid we don’t have photographers any more,’ it will damage our papers’ standing on patches they’ve represented for up to 162 years.”

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, added: “Journalists on these titles are balloting for industrial action over inadequate staffing levels, excessive workloads, reduced quality of newspapers, the health and safety of employees, plus pay.

“Newsquest’s disgraceful behaviour is alienating staff and readers alike. Good quality pictures are central to the long term, sustainable success of any publication. Taking a hatchet to costs over and over again is not a strategy worth the name.”

HTFP has approached Newsquest South London for a comment.


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  • September 6, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Reporters need to refuse to take photos.

    It is actually job preservation for themselves, circulation drops when quality is reduced, with no photographers, the paper will be rubbish.

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  • September 7, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Doesn’t surprise me. I grew up in a Guardian patch and every time I go back to my mum’s, our local edition seems to get worse. (That’s if it even arrives – distribution’s been iffy for years). That’s not a dig at the frontline staff, who I’m sure are doing their best under the circumstances, but the cold hard truth is it often goes straight in the bin because it’s not that interesting or relevant.

    There’s no reason, in theory, why reporters couldn’t take photographs – the problem is a lack of investment in kit, training and sheer manpower. With the demise of film, darkrooms and so on, the process has become more streamlined but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer an art to be learned and refined over time.

    If you want good images in your paper but don’t want dedicated snappers, you still have to buy or rent some decent DSLRs (plus lenses, flashguns etc), establish a long-term training and development programme AND ensure you have enough staff to send two reporters to the more complex jobs. Ever tried taking a picture spread while simultaneously getting quotes and interviews at a royal visit or major breaking incident?

    Sending a lone, untrained junior to every job with an iPhone (or, as is more likely, relying on Joe Public while reporters are chained to their desks) will result in the kind of blurred, pixellated, out-of-focus and just plain ugly shots we’re seeing more and more of in the local press.

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  • September 7, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I’m sorry Dave S, but if you actually believe that professional photos will improve the circulation in the long-run, then you’re mistaken.

    Yes, an incredible photo of a specific high-profile event or issue can shift a few extra copies here and there but, locally, they don’t happen every day.

    No matter how much better ‘professional’ photos might be, there are two things to consider.

    First, some journalists might actually be skilled photographers but probably not on the whole.

    Second, it no longer matters if a local paper has 20 photographers at its disposal to go to a variety of events and stories. People have become more used to seeing snapshots of others people’s lives via mobile phone pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. More to the point, these images are posted to a targeted audience which has specifically expressed and interest in that community group, blog or profile by actively following or liking it.

    So, while a local community group event, which might get one show picture in the paper next Thursday, they can instead put up a whole gallery and selection videos themselves straight after or even during the event. Yes, the quality isn’t always going to be as good but it can be delivered immediately and targeted to its core, niche audience.

    Local newspapers cannot possibly keep up with that until the regional publishers sell off the titles to smaller groups who then need to diversify into smaller niche publications and develop matching digital strategies.

    Small, agile newsrooms that are happy with small, but sustainable, profit margins are the answer. That’s when photographers might still have a place in local news. It’s very sad, but true!

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  • September 7, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Used this example many times but I’ll say it agian, but compare how local newspapers are run these days to magazines.

    If you buy a magazine you expect good pictures, good design, and well-written pieces written by knowledgable writers and subbed by editors.

    If Empire was run along the same lines as local newspapers, it’d contain UGC pictures of the back of Harrirson Ford’s head and the headline would refer to him as Hans Solo. At which point, film buffs might think twice about paying an ever increasing amount for diminishing quality.

    It’s not about the individual photo or how many of that individual photo you sell, it’s about the overall quality of the paper and what a difference those pictures make to the overall product.

    A lot of it is subliminal, but readers can tell when they look through the paper whether it’s been put together with quality and care, and if it hasn’t then they won’t buy it for long – and nor should they.

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  • September 7, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Oliver as always puts across his arguments very well. However, for me the lack of professional photographers at newspapers reflects the general decline in the status of newspapers in general.

    When a journalist takes a photo on his mobile or users submit a photo they’ve taken themselves – the public don’t see anything that they cannot do themselves (and sometime better)

    A professional photographer brings far more than just taking a photo, they are a contact point for the community, and when they turn up with their kit and when they organise people together to take a good photograph it shows that the newspaper have skilled and professional people on top of the better quality photographs that they take and they are bothered about quality.

    Pointing and clicking with an iphone just isn’t the same, and don’t even get me started on the recent trend for embarrassing Facebook Live videos. (print journalists by and large are not very good broadcast journalists in my opinion!)

    So when the public see that newspapers are not only taking photographs they can take themselves, they are writing listicles that most people could write themselves, they are producing videos in a similar style to most vloggers and facebookers , and they are in an small business sized office – what is left of substance that is distinctive to make the newspaper stand out from the rest of the community?

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  • September 7, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Shocking and now with the news that the whole newsroom has been put at risk of redundancy this must signal the end of quality journalism first here then across the rest of the U.K. Regional press groups with what could be hundreds of jobs at risk nationwide, if you’ve not done it already can I urge those still working in the UKRP to prepare your exit plans before you too face the cold announcement and the next round of ‘efficiencies’
    Truly shocking

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  • September 8, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Oliver, I think I won that argument going by the likes.
    The readers are not stupid, they don’t want a paper full of badly composed fuzzy mobile phone pics by reporters or submits.

    I’m guessing all the staff will have to sign new contracts now they are nearly all on notice of redundancy, which will have the multimedia content creating terms in it. So they will have to take photos as part of their job. Sad times

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  • September 8, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Dave S, I didn’t realise this was an ‘argument’ to be measured by social media stats but, now you mention it, you’ve helped to prove my point.

    Your comment, although grammatically problematic due it’s lack of punctuation, was first and therefore most likely to be read by the people with a close, vested interest in this issue on the day it was published.

    In short, although it was a poor quality post, it was timely and targeted. Much like the idea of poorer-quality pictures being posted on social media immediately after or during an event instead of just one ‘professional’ picture in the paper three days later.

    Readers want something timely and/or relevant to them. A three-day old picture of an event, no matter how good, will be of little interest to them if they’ve already seen 200 pictures of the same thing on social media on the day it actually happened.

    I understand webmonkey’s concern about the public seeing journos doing things which they can do themselves but I disagree that it’s damaging. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve read many a comment on HTFP in which journos moan about today’s reporters not being able to get out of the office and actually meet people, well, here’s your chance to get more involved in your local communities and raise the profile of your paper.

    Jeff Jones also proves my point about relevance and targeting. Most magazines target a niche audience. Empire focuses on film, tv and gaming; it doesn’t try to cover theatre, performing arts, opera etc. So, why do newspapers continue to try being a jack-of-all-trades?

    I don’t believe that print is dead, nor do I believe that the ‘professional photo’ is dead. I simply believe that a variety of smaller, niche publications targeted at relevant communities can be successful if run with modest profits in mind by local consortia.

    Within this model, it’s vital that good writers and good photographers start embracing the work of amateurs and step in when they spot opportunities to add value. Admittedly, this was much easier when newspapers were the only realistic local outlet.

    Finally, as I keep saying, remember that the newspaper is not your ‘product’. It’s just a medium of delivery. Your product is news, whatever the topic!

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  • September 8, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    By the way Dave S, I didn’t mean that personally about the ‘poor quality comment’. I’ve already spotted a couple of literals and grammatical issues with my own post so who am I to talk? I genuinely meant it as an example related to the discussion (not argument).

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  • September 9, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    I think my point Oliver was less about journalists getting out in the community, but about how it looks to the public when they do. Maybe the days are long gone of a proper tog going out to events, but people used to think it was special when a newspaper photographer was visiting them with all their kit, organising people and composing the photographs. People knew to buy the next days paper with the photographs from the event in it and they could order good quality photos from the photodesk. It’s not quite the same when a journalist whips out an iPhone along with countless other people at an event is it? Might be different online, but I don’t think cutting back on photographers drastically is good for a papers reputation or brand.

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  • September 9, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    webmonkey, you’ve hit the nail on the head. A photographer turning up with his kit ‘used to’ be special. Reporters also ‘used to’ go out to see their contacts. Newspapers ‘used to’ have much less competition and sold more copies. Publishers ‘used to’ make a lot of money out of print.

    You know my feelings about regional publishers bleeding the industry dry but I don’t see any future which can sustain the volume of staff of the last 10 years or so… or even now. Things have to change.

    You’re right, it’s not the same when a journalist whips out an iPhone like everyone else but the game now is working out when and how to add value and when to get the public involved.

    You mentioned the embarrassing Facebook live videos and, again, you’re right. Just using it because it’s new and trendy is not a good enough reason to do so. This is why so many publishers are frantically trying to maintain Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Periscope and so on and so on.

    Each of these needs to have a strategy behind when to use them so that everyone’s limited resources are not stretched too thinly trying to maintain something which delivers zero value to the business. If, for example, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook works for you, then focus on them.

    I’ve not yet seen any evidence of a clear digital strategy for social media in local newsrooms. I’ve just seen lots of self-absorbed nonsense around papers ‘using Periscope to live broadcast a car fire’ or ‘using Thinglink to create and interactive webpage’ but with no real reasoning behind why they’re doing it.

    Today’s journalists need to know when turning up with an iPhone actually makes sense and when alternative resources are appropriate. You cannot do that without a clear strategy and regional publishers don’t appear to be forthcoming with one!

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  • September 12, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Oliver I disagree. Local papers do have a clear and concise product – their town.

    People read 442 because they want to know about football, people read their local payer because they want to know about their town.

    Daily newspapers are doomed, nationals are doomed, weekly local papers aren’t, not unless they’re driven into the ground by people who don’t value them – which seems to be the case.

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  • September 13, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Jeff Jones, I don’t believe that many people actually want to know that much about their town. They only want to know what is of interest to them which is why I strongly believe in diverse, niche publications and personalisation.

    A prime example of what I’m getting at is demonstrated in local government. They provide hundred of different services but it’s unlikely that anyone would have much interest in all of them, yet their websites are crammed full of everything. I wouldn’t want to know anything about adult social care unless I had elderly parents or other relatives who needed this services so why provide me with information about this service. If I only want to know about bin collections and library events, then that’s what should be delivered to me. It’s the same for newspaper content!

    The key to all of this is gathering enough about your audience to deliver the right information at the right time and know when their interests change. There is a whole suite of digital tools at our disposal to do this successfully at a local level and these audiences can also be used to shape any printed publications, especially in terms of print volume and targeted distribution.

    Newspapers have a history of printing what their journalists think is worthy rather than letting the public inform them. This is why so many get grumpy about the web stats. However, regional publishers have cottoned on to this notion but their business models focus on readers at the national level. That’s why we have so many videos of dancing cats and galleries of vegetables that look like private parts.

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