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Weekly’s story about lost pants prompts debate on industry’s future

A weekly newspaper’s story about a discarded pair of pants has prompted an online debate about the “death” of the regional press.

Senior industry figures were among those to defend the Derbyshire Times after it ran a story about a pair of black undergarments and a pink sock which were found dumped on a footpath 150 yards from the newspaper’s office.

The story became the most-read on the paper’s website over the weekend, and was even picked up by BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine.

But it also prompted an online backlash from some quarters on social media, with one respondent describing the piece “pathetic trivial garbage” and urging Michael Broomhead, senior reporter on the Chesterfield-based Times, to report on stories affecting the Lincolnshire coast instead.

Former Matlock Mercury news editor and Nottingham Post production manager Andie Darlington, who now runs a local food website, also criticised the Times, posting “RIP local journalism” on Twitter in reference to the story.

Andie wrote: “This is considered ‘news’ according to the Derbyshire Times these days. What an absolute shambles – clickbait nonsense. God knows what Mike Wilson [Times editor for 22 years] would have thought of this.”

“I don’t blame you at all for trying to get hits on the website. I know that’s what’s demanded these days, but it’s very sad. Pair of skiddy pants and a smelly sock found on path ain’t news, mate.”

In response, Michael described Andie’s claim as “utter nonsense”.

He wrote: “Look on our website and in our newspaper and you’ll see countless examples of great journalism. This was one light-hearted piece I published over a weekend in which I wrote 17 hard news stories.

“I reported on an alleged attempted murder recently. I’ve also been covering ongoing issues with homelessness and crime in Chesterfield town centre. And tragically I’ve reported on a number of suicides lately.”

The discarded pants and sock which prompted the debate

The discarded pants and sock which prompted the debate

Support came from Reach plc digital editorial strategy director David Higgerson, who tweeted: “Perhaps proof that anyone who thinks they can call the death of local journalism based on one article doesn’t really know that much about local journalism.”

John Furbisher, former editor of Sheffield daily The Star, urged Michael to “keep up the good work”, while other Twitter users claimed those criticising the piece had a “missing sense of humour”.

Michael told HTFP: “It’s good to see people coming to our defence. While some readers thought the item about the underwear and sock was pants, many people have contacted us to say it raised a smile and was a welcome brief read after recent doom and gloom.

“I think it’s ridiculous to say ‘RIP local journalism’ on the back of one piece – one light-hearted piece I published over the weekend when I wrote 17 hard news stories.

“Our newspaper and website feature countless examples of fine journalism – and of course we’ll continue to report the hard news people need to know about as well as the soft items which, judging by our web stats, many people relish.”

28 comments

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  • July 25, 2018 at 9:17 am
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    What gets me about the newspaper world these days is that the current crop of youngsters think they are God’s gift to journalism.
    It’s the same attitude we see from Donald Trump.
    ‘Countless examples of great journalism…’
    ‘Countless examples of fine journalism…’
    And what does writing 17 hard news stories in a weekend have to do with anything?
    Except it’s the job. Journalists write stories.
    And the list of stories this young man says he’s tackled recently also seem like standard fare – from press releases or ideas everyone else has had.
    I’m afraid I’m with Andie.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 9:44 am
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    The Derbyshire Times have missed a real trick with this riveting tale of Twitterish times.

    Surely they should have put their crack team of investigative journalists on the trail of the missing pink sock.

    Such a move would give the story a veracity it currently seems to be lacking.

    They could even run a reader competition: Five (k)nicker(s) to the first reader to find the sock.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 10:09 am
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    What surprises me most is the number of people trying to dignify this garbage by describing it as “a story”.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 10:56 am
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    Local papers are dead.

    It’s quite sad; quite cringe.

    I’m glad to be out.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 11:00 am
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    The reason for the high number of clicks is because it was shared by ‘angry people in local newspapers’ facebook group. No other reason.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 11:40 am
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    Fascinating that people are up in arms over this innocuous and entertaining story, yet local papers publish hundreds of bland, barely-rewritten press releases and charity stories that interest no-one every day, but no-one bats an eyelid.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 11:42 am
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    Instead of shooting the messenger, I would be more inclined to be concerned about a dumbed-down audience obsessed with trivia which would even bother to look at rubbish like this. People are obviously interested in it, aren’t they.
    I may be too Machiavellian, but in an age where clicks are king to bring in revenue, it occurs to me it would have been a brilliant strategy to deliberately create a row with a non-story like this to bring in even more clicks from the outraged on either side. I’m sure that’s not the case here, though…

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  • July 25, 2018 at 12:21 pm
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    I wonder if the readers of the Cleckheaton Guardian on Friday November 25, 1870 considered this item the death of local journalism:

    “The fact that Parliament is not now in session accounts for the circumstance that monster eggs are putting themselves forward for the admiration of the public.
    “A white Aylesbury duck belonging to Mr Christopher Smithson, after laying 12 days in succession, recently produced an egg that measured nine inches by six and three quarters.”

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  • July 25, 2018 at 12:28 pm
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    Can’t see the news value in this particular story, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that every published story in years gone by was real hard news. I certainly wrote a few stories as a young reporter that could best be classed as ‘quirky’ and they would have taken a real slagging off had social media existed at the time.

    The difference back then was such content would be merely a filler, usually deep inside the paper, rather than as a key means of helping attract traffic to the website.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 1:24 pm
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    Can’t wait for the heart-warming reunion tale when the other pink sock is found.
    Could be one for Davina McCall, surely.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 3:36 pm
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    Personally, I agree with the majority of contributors. It’s a race to the bottom (no pun intended), but if the powers-that-be are happy with this type of story, then fair enough. But I do take issue with Mr Broomhead’s assertion that there is great journalism elsewhere on the site. Woodward and Bernstein were great journalists, as was Paul Foot. What’s on his website is passable local fare. No more than that.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 4:58 pm
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    It’s this sort of twaddle that is leading to further declines in readership. The “journalists” defending this just bring shame on us all.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 5:22 pm
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    senior reporter? You dropped a mild clanger here that a junior would have avoided.This piece (it is not a story) might have got a few hits but it is indefensible rubbish. Having said that the only harm done is to the job of journalism (it is not longer a profession). You and the ed need to think again about what journalism is I am afraid. But good luck in your career anyway.

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  • July 25, 2018 at 10:14 pm
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    Sutler says “Surely they should have put their crack team of investigative journalists on the trail of the missing pink sock”.

    Surely the crack team would be more likely to specialise in the other garment

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  • July 26, 2018 at 5:39 am
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    I think my next exclusive will be about how this light-hearted piece has made it on to HTFP – and it’s attracted some bitter comments from former hacks who hide behind fake usernames and simply wouldn’t cut the mustard in a modern-day newsroom.

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  • July 26, 2018 at 7:25 am
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    It’s hyperbolic to say it is the death of local news, but it’s pretty dire – it’s barely an anecdote.

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  • July 26, 2018 at 10:34 am
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    So we bitter former hacks couldn’t cut the mustard in a modern newsroom, eh, Mr Broomhead.

    Surely, more to the point, it is the hacks who deem this arrant nonsense to be news who could not cut it in old-fashioned newsroom.

    Most of those bitter hacks write out of sadness not bitterness, I suspect.

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  • July 26, 2018 at 11:16 am
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    Mr Sutler, please feel free to email me and I can send you a list of stories which show that local journalism is not dead. That might help ease the sadness.

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  • July 26, 2018 at 12:39 pm
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    Michael, I understand the reason this was written. I also understand the reasons that some people take the mickey and others defend it.

    This is an age-old issue and every reporter has experienced the ‘slow news day’ jibe at some point in their career despite working their backsides off on countless other great stories.

    I am, however, slightly disappointed by your trolling of ‘old hacks’. You defended your position on this very well in the article above but you have to accept that everyone from ‘old hacks’ to the public are entitled to give their opinions too.

    Most of those ‘old hacks’ can handle criticism without taking it so personally so please don’t turn this into some sort of vendetta. Just accept that some people don’t like the story and others do, then get on with all the ‘good work’.

    My advice, though, is to think hard about publishing some of these light-hearted stories to simply fulfil the ‘click requirements’ for TM et al. Your byline will remain on these for years to come!

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  • July 26, 2018 at 12:42 pm
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    michael broomfield. the experienced “bitter” hacks would not want to work in a newsroom that put out this bilge as journalism. Whilst, as pointed on HTFP, in the “old days” some filler stories could most certainly be weak they were at least soft news of some kind (eg flower show results). Your piece fails on every count, except click bait. I am sure you do a fine job, but this piece really is laughable for the wrong reasons. Good luck anyway, the ed should have kicked it out.

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  • July 26, 2018 at 12:47 pm
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    Michael B. In the heat, I got the head mixed up with the field, apologies and good luck.

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  • July 26, 2018 at 4:37 pm
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    Interesting that Mr Broomhead is quick to suggest the older brigade couldn’t cut the mustard in a modern-day newsroom (the same Mr Broomhead who suggested there was ‘great journalism’ elsewhere on the site in question).
    Maybe if he’d asked a journalist with greater experience to look over his post before he sent it, he would have been told that he didn’t know any of the people he was responding to, so couldn’t possibly know if they could or couldn’t cut it in a modern-day newsroom. And that to send it would immediately put his argument on weak ground.
    But what do I know? Your site is the one touched by greatness.

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  • July 27, 2018 at 2:23 pm
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    I’ve worked around modern newsrooms and every digital journalist knows clickbait when they publish it and they lnow its purpose. I know because during my time I had to publish a lot of it under orders. It’s soul destroying crap that makes a laughing stock of regional journalism and every decent journo knows it.

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  • July 28, 2018 at 1:31 pm
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    Oliver – I said ‘former hacks’, not ‘old hacks’. I’m not ‘turning this into some sort of vendetta’ – I’m simply responding to comments. Also, you can remove bylines on online stories so they won’t necessarily remain on there for years to come. But why would I want to remove any of my online bylines?! 😉

    Paperboy – thank you for your best wishes.

    Ex-sports hack – maybe some of the ‘older brigade’ (your words) will want to return to the modern-day newsroom at some point. I could do with a hand with SF, FB, PB and evergreen stuff! :)

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  • July 30, 2018 at 5:29 pm
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    I’m sure Mr B’s district is brimming with news so there’s no good justification for using this weak piece.
    Just go out and get the tales to tell and fill columns with them. You’re an absolute shower. No excuse or justification for using such tosh. Get a grip.

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  • July 31, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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    Michael, your first comment was not really a response. It was an ad hominem attack on ‘former hacks’ but it’s easy to get caught up in the moment when it’s your story.

    I guarantee that you will feel differently about this sort of story over time. Maybe not enough to remove your byline, but you will think about it again. It’ll just depends what you want to do and where you want to end up. Good luck with the follow-up though :)

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