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Trainer claims some journalism students ‘won’t pick up a phone’

Richard-HorsmanA journalism trainer sparked a social media debate after saying he is “terrified” by the number of journalism students who “won’t pick up a phone or challenge a press officer.”

Richard Horsman prompted current and former industry figures to take to Twitter and discuss the changing nature of journalism after posting on the site.

Richard, pictured, worked in radio and has also spent almost 25 years training journalists at Leeds Trinity University, as well as serving on the Broadcast Journalism Training Council’s board.

His post has been shared more than 200 times by other Twitter users since Sunday.

Richard wrote: “I’m actually terrified by the number of journalism students I encounter who can repurpose content across digital platforms like magic, but won’t pick up a phone or challenge a press officer.

“It’s what leads to the situation where a senior politician can visit a city in the North, ignore local journos and talk only to the travelling bubble pack. Because comms person says no. My day there’d have been a riot.”

Richard also added in response to comments on Twitter that the social make-up of newsrooms was also impacting the degree of challenge to press officers.

“Newsrooms are getting posher, all graduate. Less working class grit and chippiness in face of authority. Some employers putting schemes in place to tackle this, but a mountain to climb.”

Among those to respond was former Manchester Evening News journalist Simon Donohue.

He wrote: “What hasn’t been made clear is the extent to which cost cutting has taken people with those core skills – older, more experienced journalists – out of the game. It would be interesting to see the stats on age diversity in UK newsrooms. Bet they’re not pretty.”

Heart Yorkshire journalist Jen Thomas said: “I can see it from both sides. I’ve got no problem picking up the phone as I started on a newspaper at 16, but many press departments are aggressive or rude when they find out it’s ‘just’ a student calling and it puts them off trying again.”

And former Yorkshire Evening Post editor Nicola Furbisher commented that the “drive/demand to fill the box”and fill templates was “a subtle erosion of journalism.”

Speaking to HTFP, Richard said he was “surprised” by how much his initial post had taken off.

He said: “It suggests to me there is a latent issue in the industry which probably needs more thinking about.”

“I think there’s a general reluctance to engage in what we might call ‘persuasive discussion’. That balance between hacks and comms people seems to have been inverted.

“I see younger journalists often failing to challenge that.”


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  • April 18, 2018 at 9:08 am

    I wouldn’t disagree with any of the points made in this piece. People staffing PR offices and companies have increasingly become aloof and superior in their attitudes to Journalists. This likely stems from those people also being ‘posher’ graduates who’ve never seen the inside of a newsroom.

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  • April 18, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Richard Horsman is absolutely spot on with this observation. But it’s not just students. Plenty of seasoned pros seem unable to communicate over the phone or face-to-face these days.

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  • April 18, 2018 at 9:53 am

    I saw the tweet and wondered what ‘repurposing content’ meant. I’m a simple bloke and thought it was about writing stories.
    And the rise of the press officer has been happening for decades, initially to fill the gap left by reporters – as newspapers did away with the close relationships because they hadn’t enough scribblers, so organisations like councils, police went overboard to recruit press officers.
    Their job has long been to obstruct news, but way back when, we used to talk to police officers, council officers – people that knew what was happening – not simply throw in a call to a press office.
    It’s another ‘evil’ I think the newspaper bosses are to blame for.

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  • April 18, 2018 at 10:07 am

    newsroom routine circa 2000:
    Ring round contacts. Do or arrange interviews. If needed leave offcie. Write story according to how much it is worth. Present to news editor. Fix professional photographer to take good quality picture.

    newsroom routine 2018.: trawl emails. Perhaps edit press release (often not). Stuff something on website to keep up story count and provide click-bait. Put in pre-designed shape on pre-designed page for paper.
    Attach sent-in picture, regardless of quality. Trawl Twitter and Facebook to lift stories and quotes. E mail people to ask for quotes.

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  • April 18, 2018 at 11:56 am

    @Paperboy – newsroom routine 1990 – go out and meet contacts. Write front page leads with no more than 300 words, NO turn. Go and see police for details of calls in previous 24 hours. Go to pub, talk to people. Find stories. No waiting for press releases. Understand patch. Know people with local knowledge. Know people on your patch.

    Newsroom routine 1980 – as above but more.

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  • April 18, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Amen Richard

    I do some PR these days alongside my main job and can get pretty much anything in there as long as I write it all for them and slap a picture on it. I’m glad in one way but sad in another.

    Agree on class too. Most of my old editors were hard as nails, one smuggled himself through a police line in a car boot when he was 16 and often had standing fist fights with subs in the office, wonderful stuff.

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  • April 18, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    The timeline of decline in person to person or voice to voice communication is sadly true and while you do see young people (a bit of a generalisation I know) with a phone in their hand, you almost never see them speaking to someone on it – more like tweeting, Instagram or Facebooking. I also have a telephone sat on my desk like a relic from a long distant past with email seeming to be the preferred method of communication. Even my own colleagues sometimes prefer to email me rather than speak – but maybe that’s just me!

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  • April 18, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    It works both ways. Our police force will now only deal with press requests that come in writing (email).

    The local police station now has no direct dial numbers for outside lines, you end up at a control room miles away.

    All the good coppers happy to help are retiring and the new breed is being taught not to speak to the press under any circumstances.

    It is pathetic

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  • April 18, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    Great piece, obviously setting lots of bells clanging. Another thing is that a lot of the newsrooms won’t have that ‘mentoring’ expertise available any more.
    The kind of colleague who’d give a young reporter the confidence to challenge by saying things like: “Okay, get back on the phone to them and just explain why you want the comment/interview; give them a few ‘concerns that our readers have raised'; explain that these will form the basis of your story and currently put their organisation/person in something of a bad light, so you’d really like them to put their side…etc”

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  • April 18, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    The problem now is all the experienced people have been booted out because they are too expensive. There’s no-one to train reporters any more, they are expected to write headlines, crop pictures, make copy fit, write sub decks etc. Actually doing some proper reporting and picking up the phone is way down the list in this ‘bright new world.’

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  • April 18, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Desker – you are right. I started as a journo in 1965 and one of the tasks was to go round in person to the police, fire and ambulance stations on a regular basis. Another task was to ring up all the local clergy and visit the undertakers for the BMDs. Even when I was “retiring” 10 years ago I could not believe it when a young reporter said he did not know where the town’s fire station was. When I reached Fleet Street the aim was to get reporters out and about. I generalise but today it seems that if the info is not in an email or on the screen then the story does not get written. Sad.

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  • April 18, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    Fortunately where I am in the back of-beyond we still have a ratio of learned old hands of many years experience (refugees from ex-LocalWorld papers) and a supply of new blood eager to learn and question those in ‘power’ – and I don’t mean the press officers.
    With councillors and council officers now hiding behind wall PR bodies (many of whom are poacher-turned-gamekeeper and should know better) holding public bodies to accountability has never been harder.
    Teaching our young bucks how not to take no for answer and ask those awkward questions that the public need answering is a pleasure. Go get ’em Tyler!

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  • April 19, 2018 at 9:29 am

    To be honest it’s not just journalists, I know a lot of reps like that where I am too.
    Most are ‘field sales reps/executives’ ( call then what you will) but due to the desperate panic to get revenues in and cost of car mileage are tied to a desk and told to ‘ hit the phones!’

    So much for discussing the clients needs, matching it with a relevant product, one to get best response and thus ensure regular repeat business, and giving the customer personal service, now it’s all the mythical late space,do you a deal or we’ve got an offer on.
    No wonder it’s easy for the person on the other end of the line to say no

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  • April 19, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Saddened journo. thanks for the extra reminders, all ring true. in earlier times trainee news reporters also covered some sport on a Saturday. Now about 95 per cent of local sport is sent in or pulled off club websites. My local football team of decent standard has not seen an reporter from a paper in months. All it gets is propaganda from the club.

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