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Ex-deputy editor warns of ‘rose-tinted’ nostalgia over regional daily film

Paul WiltshireA former deputy editor has warned journalists against viewing regional press life through “rose-tinted spectacles” after the re-release of a video depicting the workings of a daily newspaper 26 years ago.

HTFP reported earlier this month how the film showcasing a day in the life of the then Coventry Evening Telegraph in 1991 had come to light after being posted on YouTube.

But, since watching what he called the “captivating” piece himself, ex-Bath Chronicle deputy editor Paul Wiltshire says he is “not so sure” whether he would turn back the clock if given the chance.

Paul, now a journalism lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire, has explained the reasoning behind his thinking in a post on his personal blog.

He outlined factors including a lack of women in the Telegraph’s 1991 newsroom, overly-long conferences and production processes, and senior management spending too much time in their own offices instead of leading “from the front”.

Paul also recalled the paraphernalia of the pre-internet age “when you could miss a splash if the post was held up”, and singled out a quote from the documentary in which former Telegraph editor Neil Benson said the paper sold 90,000 copies a day “more or less irrespective of what’s in it”.

On his blog, Paul wrote: “Oh happy day. Oh happy day when, in a city of 300,000 people, you achieve something close to total penetration, no matter what you did. When you have to beat a radio station or two, and your two regional TV newsrooms, but never have to worry about people-powered news websites, or Twitter, or football clubs cutting you out of the equation altogether.

“I’ve argued strongly before that the reporters of today have to work far harder than I ever did, 26, 16 or six years ago. And I think the discipline of having to cope with a multimedia, transient, hypercritical audience means our journalism is better. I know much of the writing certainly is, having seen some of the tortuous rubbish that passed muster in my youth.

“So, while it’s tempting to hark back to those so-called good old days, I’m resisting the urge. On the surface of it, life in those packed newsrooms producing papers snapped up by entire communities feels like a golden age.

“But the joy of journalism can be as real now as it was 26 years ago, with new ways of telling stories, and new platforms to reach audiences undreamed of in 1991. And there’s certainly never been a greater need for what we do.”

In a previous post, Paul has previously criticised claims that there was “once some golden age of journalism” and defended young journalists as having to work far harder than their counterparts in previous decades.

Speaking to HTFP, Paul added: “It would be easy to long through rose-tinted spectacles to return to a time of full newsrooms, the reader loyalty of 90,000 sales a day and relationships with official contacts that allow you to ring stories in from their phones.

“But apart from the fact that those days are well and truly gone, such nostalgia also sweeps an awful lot of awkward issues under the carpet,”


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  • July 26, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Bloody hell, Paul. Can we not just view it for what it was – a delightful insight into where we all came from to get to where we are?
    I’m pretty sure there is plenty for your students to learn from the heritage of their industry. Those days had a wealth of positives amid the great craft and skill that was honed in those dirty old newsrooms.

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  • July 26, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    ‘…overly-long conferences and production processes, and senior management spending too much time in their own offices instead of leading “from the front”…”

    Does he think anythings changed?
    Not sure when he was last in a newsroom but that pretty much sums up the business as it is now

    And I for one would welcome the huge copy sales numbers we were all used to,then there was no need to scatter our focus or resources chasing clicks web traffic or social media popularity and likes ,the paper was king but yes those days are long gone and with them a time when local journalists were well known on their patch and the go to people for news leads the public knew would be followed up,unlike now where what few readers remain would be hard pressed to name or care who the local papers scribes are
    Enjoy the ‘good old days’ for what they were and let the younger generation know that journalism and local publishing were once things with a future and were well their communities

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  • July 26, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for the comments.
    Darren: Actually, I don’t disagree with a word you say. And you’re absolutely right that the film offers a delightful insight into an era that I remember with great fondness.
    South side Johnnie: Your points are well made. To answer your question, I last worked in a newsroom for any length of time in March, and will be spending a week as a reporter at Gloucestershire Live in August.

    It would have been all too easy to have focussed purely on the obvious positives of that time: the huge sales, the full newsrooms, and the face-to-face relationships. I was tempted to write a blog along those lines. And there are still lessons for our students, and for young reporters to learn from those days. But I passionately believe that the journalists of today could teach their counterparts from the 80s and 90s a thing or two, too.

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  • July 26, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    These ‘journalists of today’ might be able to teach me a thing or two, but they certainly don’t have as much fun as we had. The job was a joy and that was reflected in the newspapers we produced. I don’t see much of that in evidence these days.

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  • July 26, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    I get the point here but it’s not a then and now, on and off switch, whatever our individual opinions. As technology changed on a continuum, with some lurches, from hot metal onwards, more tasks (and control) found their way into the hands of journalists, many of whom, as now, relished the new challenges and possibilities.

    The increasing pace, spread and reach of production, coupled to declining numbers of workplace bodies has been an ongoing source of individual stress – socially as well as technologically generated, with responsible social solutions needed to be continuously sought by managements, not just in the media, but across society. Whether they did so or not is open to debate.

    Notwithstanding that, freeloaders, showboaters and the like will always find strategies to get others to do their share of the graft – yes conferences and meetings to debate anything from splash of the day to overuse of paperclips were a favourite hiding place. But then, for example, along came emails which wasters could spend endless happy hours handling and then of course, social media. ‘Engaging with our audience’ sounds so much better than ‘chatting with my mates’ – and so it goes on.

    But in my recollection the vast majority of media workers, then as now, were fully extended, worked hard and played hard, I know I did. Yes, the aforementioned stress issue is likely to need attention in many, if not most, offices, but if that’s addressed it’s not, in my view, a case of better or worse, tougher or not, in the workplace – it’s different.

    PS: As for, to paraphrase, ‘fill it with anything and it’ll sell’ you could equally say ‘load up anything and it’ll click’ – same message different medium, different times.

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  • July 26, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    Back in 1991 there were plenty of female reporters, subs and photographers at the CET, so Paul is very wide of the mark there. You had female news editors, brilliant female designers and writers at the CET.
    As for ‘overly long’ conferences? Well, doesn’t it show to day that decisions about news are made in a matter of seconds, without any thought about audience or story worth?
    As regards senior management spending too long in their offices? Not at the Cov Tel. And I’m sure many other good newspapers.

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  • July 27, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    In my decade working in regional press I can say the job has got a lot harder.
    The days when you can just shove something in to fill a hole on p12 are fast becoming a distant memory.
    Digital means there are no hiding places or room for laziness. If you haven’t got the drive and energy it’s even harder to succeed.
    It used to be easier to be a journalist but I agree with Paul – there are so many new and exciting ways to tell a story now.

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  • July 27, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    the big difference then and now is that a local paper with a population of 120,000 plus can have NO reporter working or living on the patch, instead of four of five. (I know at least one JP miserable offering).
    If it ain’t in an e mail, the newspaper doesn’t get it. And it shows.

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  • July 27, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Not quite sure where Paul Wiltshire is coming from with regards to working harder now than before – I joined a weekly in Nottinghamshire in 1971 and worked up to four evenings a week – average three – (with copy filed that night) and did three out of four Saturdays until 2pm!
    Still loved it. . .

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