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Chief reporter accuses own publisher of taking ‘anti-politics’ stance

Martin ShiptonJournalists are in danger of becoming experts on burger bars rather than more complex issues, a daily newspaper’s chief reporter has warned.

Martin Shipton, left, of the Western Mail, has also accused elements within parent company Trinity Mirror and sister title the North Wales Daily Post of being “anti-politics” and assuming readers are more interested in “lifestyle type journalism.”

Martin’s comments came in an interview to BBC Wales in his role as chairman of the Trinity Mirror group chapel of the National Union of Journalists.

It follow the announcement last month that at least 15 jobs were set to be lost in Birmingham, Liverpool, North Wales and the South East.

In the same restructure, it announced plans to move the Daily Post’s political reporter from Cardiff to Llandudno, meaning the newspaper would no longer have a specialist based at the Welsh Assembly in the capital.

NUJ members at the Daily Post voted last week to hold a strike ballot over the proposals.

Said Martin: “I think there are elements within Trinity Mirror, and certainly within the Daily Post, which have a rather anti-politics approach, and they have convinced themselves that the public are more interested in lifestyle type journalism and that they’re more interested in reading about burgers than they are in reading about important decisions that are taken about their lives in the National Assembly.”

“That’s an extremely short-sighted view and it’s also a view that is driven by a very passive consumerist approach to what news is.”

“When I read set of redundancy criteria that say that one of the most important features of a journalist’s portfolio is their ability to effectively store pictures, and to get pictures out of an electronic file and provide the metadata in the correct format, I find that very sad.

“There doesn’t seem to be any credit given to people who have built up a lot of expertise over sometimes quite a long period of time and know what they’re doing as journalists.

“I think we get rid of such people at our peril and the danger is that we could be left simply with people who are staying for a very short period of time, who don’t have that specialist knowledge and who are more expert in writing about burger bars than they are about sometimes quite complex issues.”

As part of the plans, 16 new roles will be created in Birmingham, Liverpool and North Wales – which would result in a net loss of two jobs.

In repsonse to Martin’s claims, Trinity Mirror said it was working closely with the NUJ and was committed to “strengthening our newsroom to better serve our audience on an ongoing basis”.

A spokesman said: “We believe we are better placed to do this from the community in which we serve so we are appointing a politics reporter who will primarily be based in North Wales and will continue to write about the Assembly and local government issues that matter to our readership.

“We’re constantly reviewing what our readers want to read and adapting our newsroom accordingly. There is no move away from hard news or politics but we are producing additional content that we know readers are also interested in about the communities around them, including leisure, lifestyle and people stories.

“The changes announced last month will see some roles going, but a number being created, resulting in a net impact loss of two jobs.

“It is vital for the future of the media, in Wales and elsewhere, that journalism and publishing adapts to the fast changing ways readers access and consume news and content.”

12 comments

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  • June 23, 2016 at 8:14 am
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    I totally understand Martin’s concerns, but he’s living the past.

    Few people in North Wales care about what happens in South Wales, even less what happens in the Senedd. And politics doesn’t pay the bills, however much the ‘enlightened’ old hacks and academics think, or hope, it might.

    Sorry Martin, but burgers pay the bills. You can’t hide behind print sales any longer – the real world has arrived.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 8:59 am
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    Mr Shipton is perfectly correct. Trinity Mirror no longer believes in educating, informing and entertaining its readers. It assumes the only readers left are burger chomping chavs.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 9:08 am
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    Everyone knows I like a good burger! Or two.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 9:33 am
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    Shipton absolutely right. TM no interest in examining journalism, holding authority to account or scrutinizing public bodies. Shambles.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 9:40 am
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    Look I like burgers too but it’s becoming too common to hear in newsrooms that politics is ‘boring’ and not of interest to readers
    Really?
    I thought that the sort of people who go into the biz are inclined to take an interest in politics and write about it in such a way that it’s of interest to readers.
    Could it be perhaps that a skills gap has opened up here?

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  • June 23, 2016 at 9:51 am
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    “It is vital for the future of the media, in Wales and elsewhere, that journalism and publishing adapts to the fast changing ways readers access and consume news and content.”
    Ugh. The admen have won – we are all adfeature writers now. Thing is, articles about burgers don’t sell any more ads than real news does and the “consumers” do actually want to know what’s going on – they just don’t know they do until it affects them. There lies the art: how to persuade them to “consume” real news before they need it. And with ad-types & marketing types, who live in a completely different world, in control, what chance have you got?

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  • June 23, 2016 at 10:24 am
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    How apt that Martin Shipton’s comments are published on a day where up to 80 per cent of adults will turn out to vote on one of the biggest political decisions for decades. He’s spot on – politics does matter to people even if it doesn’t achieve the short term audience gains (at the expense of long term reputation/strategy) that the suits at the likes of TM crave.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 10:36 am
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    I have no idea what the situation is at the Western Mail, but we’ve found on our successful hyperlocal site that there’s room for both burgers and boroughs.

    Yes, when we run a story about a new restaurant opening it does really well, but so do stories about dodgy council officials, parking politics, school scandals etc.

    Political reporting is more time consuming of course – but we’ve found it’s been crucial to building trust and credibility. If you’re wading through council agendas etc, people are more likely to trust you as a news source. And it makes it more difficult for people to compete with you – any old idiot can set up a site rehashing press releases after all.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 12:48 pm
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    As I understand it, the Daily Post are moving their politics reporter back to their patch, not losing the role. So it’s not all about burgers, then, Martin.

    As triedandtrusted says, politics stories can do very well online. It’s about knowing how to present the story, which should surely be a core skill for any modern journalist.

    Newspaper editors have known for decades that news alone isn’t enough to attract and hold an audience. That’s why they devote around a third of the editorial space in every edition to TV listings, readers’ letters, puzzles, weather, horoscopes and so on.

    And research consistently showed that the three best-read items in any regional paper were the TV listings, the letters page and the BMDs – none of which is the work of journalists.

    Maybe Martin and Co. should focus a bit less on what interests them and a bit more on what readers want.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 2:49 pm
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    Political reporters have gone the same way as court, council, and coroners reporters – too time consuming, expensive and requiring specialist knowledge.
    It’s not straightforward news as such but informed, analytical and authoritative reporting with the opportunity of imaginative writing.
    Unlike rehashed press releases, Tweets, and user generated content, this bedrock of regional newspapers creates trustworthy and credible journalism which should not be sidelined in favour of “the fast changing ways readers access and consume news and content” – or burgers.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 3:38 pm
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    Worryingly, staff at the South Wales Evening Post have today been told of a ‘shared content’ merger between them and the Western Mail. I hear the South Wales Evening Post name will disappear from the website. It will be known as Swansea Online – an offshoot of the Western Mail’s Wales Online.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 5:32 pm
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    Spot on, and totally disagree with Observer.

    People aren’t tired of good journalism nor ere people who value good journalism living in the past, there has quite simply been a coup d’etat at the top of the three big firms and journalism has been thrown on the bonfire In favour of rampant commercialism.

    If people aren’t interested in good pictures and features why is WH Smith’s still stocked to the brim with a myriad of magazines? If people don’t value local journalism why are local sites and publications springing up all over the shop?

    This nonsense is disinformation spread by buffoons who value only the share price and their CV, the sooner they all head back to Carphone Warehouse or wherever, the better.

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