NEW CLICKS: You’ll never guess what reporters today are being asked to write stories about… the fifth box made me cry

Like sunshine on magic, a fascinating photograph has been posted that instructs  what London’s Evening Standard reporters are encouraged to write.

The 10-box grid sets out the ingredients that make a story for the web in 2018.

It’s a mix of fear, anger, curiosity, drama, weather and natural disaster.

The internet has responded to it with drama, outrage, anger and resignation.

It is a ‘suicide note for journalism’ one commentator tweeted.

The list of what reporters are encouraged to write about is here


Is it fake? Surely? On balance, surprisingly not. It appears to be real. It even gets carried in The Guardian media pages with a picture credit to the Evening Standard.

The list of things I was encouraged to write about as a reporter

It got me thinking.

News desk requests are nothing new.

My career in journalism is behind me, so I’m not betraying any confidences when I say that the list of things I was encouraged to write about as a reporter probably didn’t bear close public scrutiny.

At various points in my career I was encouraged and discouraged to write about:

  • Yes, to stories about dead kids.
  • Yes, to stories about dog shit.
  • Yes, to stories about ‘happy ill people’.
  • No, to pictures of people in wheelchairs or with tattoos.
  • No, to damp flat stories.
  • No, to stories about three people from our patch held by the US military in Guantanamo Bay.

None of these edicts were ever written down. All were always passed on by word of mouth.  If you think they’re bad, there’s a couple of other passed-down instructions which I’m not publishing because frankly, they’re actionable.

But what is new about the Evening Standard pic is that someone has codified them, printed them and an image has been shared on Twitter. Their grid is driven by web traffic rather than prejudice or that elusive experienced-based judgement call of ‘news sense’. That’s the journo’s sense that people on the patch will be more interested in a campaign to save a hospital than a story about, say, a damp flat.

Without looking at the numbers of what works, newspapers are dead. But what if the numbers don’t point to what could be called journalism?

Good journalism

I’m a huge fan of good journalism. BBC reporter Emma Vardey’s brave, courageous doorstepping of the the Republican Saoradh leadership in the wake of the murder of Lyra McKee is truly magnificent.  There is still some good journalism going on on a local level although newsrooms are smaller places.

But on the other hand, Reach’s Black Country Live‘s 26 Facebook posts over four days have just four updates that could be called local news. Most of what is posted are memes, Black Country dialect and culture jokes and re-nosed national stories. To a former journo who got a bollocking for covering a story 100-yards off the patch that’s a slightly a weird feeling.

Newspapers are on borrowed time. Some are making the shift to digital well. But they risk this shift by setting fire to 100 years of hard-won trust by pimping extreme weather stories in short-term dash for numbers. I’m seeing a backlash against this from newspaper readers on Facebook tired of being conned that three foot of snow is coming.

What this means for comms people

It means, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

The local newspaper that prints verbatim every cough and spit and is widely read is a thing of the past.

Some remaining print titles rely on a stressed junior reporter cutting and pasting your press releases. But here’s a warning. Impressive print cuttings from those hollowed-out shadow titles is not a long term strategy.  It’s not even medium-term. If you’re spending five days on signing off a press release without thinking about it, I’d say you’re wasting your time.

It all points to the point that you need to educate the client. In this case, it’s the organisation and quite possibly yourself.

To paraphrase the Evening Standard grid, if your content doesn’t tick those boxes chances are you shouldn’t be targeting the newspaper.

Credit to David Grindlay for sharing the Evening Standard image. 

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1 Comment

  1. After resisting for a long time, I succumbed a couple of months ago to downloading my local newspapers’ app and allowing it to send me notifications. The main thing it has alerted me to is that there must be an average of 3 serious accidents on the M62 every day. And I wonder how useful that information is to someone sitting at a desk, or at home, in Huddersfield. It’s surely very unlikely to be getting through to drivers on the motorway?

    The issue in all this is that hoary old one of how to find a business model that supports positive and useful local journalism rather than that which drives clicks through fear and anger .

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