Media

Archant sacks circulation boss for fiddling figures

The circulation director of Archant newspapers in Norfolk has been sacked for gross misconduct — falsifying sales figures. Don Williamson was about to retire and had enjoyed his farewell party before going on holiday. On his return, presumably to clear his desk, he was called in by chief executive Adrian Jeakings and fired.

 

Advertising rates are a reflection of circulation figures which are audited by a national body.

 

There has been puzzlement for a considerable time about Archant daily newspaper circulation figures which seemed to be holding steady when those of other companies were declining. It became widely discussed in March when figures for second half of 2011 were released.

 

This chart shows the Eastern Daily Press figures for three years

EDP circulation chart for three years

EDP circulation record for three years

A more typical pattern is shown by the Western Daily Press in Bristol which is owned by another group.

Western Daily Press circulation chart for three years

Comparative chart for the Western Daily Press

A memo to staff yesterday said the only titles where sales had been overstated were in Norfolk.

 

The next chart, for comparison, is for Archant”s East Anglian Daily Times in Suffolk.

EADT three year circulation chart

Comparative figures for the East Anglian Daily Times

In his memo to staff (reported by Press Gazette and Hold the Front Page) Jeakings said:

The only titles where sales have been overstated are in Norfolk.

We believe that this activity started in the second half of last year and we are working with ABC to review some bulk copies recorded in our ABC returns for the second half of 2011. These will be reported on in due course.

He added: “This does not change our strategy on circulation. We will continue to aim to maintain and grow circulation by all legitimate means possible.

It is likely that after criticism of Archant, when the figures for the second half of 2011 were published, the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) was looking at the numbers submitted by the publisher for the first half of this year with care.

 

In March, media commentator Roy Greenslade said in his Guardian blog: “I know I’ll be taking Archant’s PR claims with a pinch of salt when the next set of ABC figures are posted.”

 

Those figures appeared at first sight to suggest the EDP, the EADT, the Evening News in Norwich and the Star in Ipswich, had all bucked the trend of falling circulations.

 

It was only when the figures were dug into to show the numbers of papers Archant was giving away (bulks in trade jargon) meant that in reality the trends were in line with other regional dailies. Greenslade dissected the figures for the four papers and said of the News:

[It} had boasted a 7.5% year-on-year increase. But once the bulks were removed we discover that it sold 15,399 copies at full price compared to 17,839 before. That’s a decrease of 13.7% before

In his memo to staff Jeakings said the figures for the first half 2012 had been corrected before submission, so “the numbers to be reported next week will be clean.

 

“We can’t yet say what the numbers will be, but we do not expect circulations to be out of line with others in our industry.”

 

What raised alarm bells in March was the numbers of bulks in the Archant figures compared with other regional publishers which have been not give away many papers.

 

While not being open about it in a press release was dubious spin, bulks do contribute to the total figures given by ABC and are shown in the circulation certificates.

 

What is against the rules is to overstate the numbers of bulks and that is what is likely to have happened.

 

Archant is working with ABC to review last year’s figures, so when restated ones are available we will see the extent of problem. But it is clearly not one that could be swept under the carpet and required an instant sacking to demonstrate the company was taking it seriously.

 

County council failed to heed warning before pursuing blogger

A senior officer of Suffolk County Council did not follow internal advice which would have avoided it being accused of trying to “censor the free media“, a Freedom of Information response has revealed.

 

The incident arose from a Downfall video parody posted on his blog by James Hargrave who is both a governor of his village primary school in Stradbroke and a vociferous campaigner against a new Free School to be opened in Beccles.

 

Downfall videos are an internet meme in which sub-titles are added to a sequence from the film of the same name in which Hitler hears defeat is imminent. In this case the captions related to the Free Schools plans of the Seckford Foundation.

 

Hargrave explained in his blog what happened after he had rejected a request from Seckford to remove the video:

I received a phone call effectively summoning me to a meeting with someone from Suffolk County Council to discuss this video.

The matter had already been discussed with the Head of my children’s school where I am also the Chair of Governors.

I eventually spoke to this council officer who wanted to drive all the way from Ipswich with a colleague to talk to me about about the video. The officer refused point blank to discuss the format of the meeting and who would be present and eventually “closed the conversation down”.

Hargrave  also produced a new video putting himself in the Hitler role (it is on the same post as the above link). But he did remove the first video because he wanted to avoid involving his children’s school.

 

A freedom of Information response has now shown something of what happened.

 

The email trail starts with one from County Councillor Joanna Spicer to Tim Ryder, the Monitoring Officer, one of the council’s most senior officers. It reads:

I have just had an anonymous telephone call leading me to the latest Hargrave blog.

Please see the link – and if possible save it – I am not sure I know how to. It may get deleted if it is not saved

This is portraying the Beccles situation with a Nazi film. It is vile and it is unacceptable that the creator of this “film” on the world wide web is appointed by us as a school governor (and is chairman).

It shows Graham Watson as Hitler

Do school governors sign any form of code of conduct ?

Every journalist is familiar with the “it has been drawn to my attention…” intro. Spicer is a strong supporter of Free Schools and the Seckford bids. Her concern seems to have been to preserve the evidence, rather than the simple removal of the video

 

Ryder sought advice from Kate Thomas, the Governor Services Manager, who replies:

Having looked at the video – I think the fact that it names local schools and the video depicts Nazi characters and unfortunately its school related, this undoubtedly shows the governors (sic) actions to have been inconsistent with the school’s ethos/religious character.

She suggests as a first stage a meeting with the governor and letting him know “our concerns” regarding the inappropriateness of the video. Depending on his response “we could point out that we would advise the governing Body to suspend him for 6 months”.

 

But there is very different advice from Simon White, the Director of Children’s and Young People’s Services, which anticipates Hargrave’s reaction accurately:

I would be very wary of taking this course, Kate.

I think Mr Hargreaves would contend that his blogging is nothing to do with his role as a governor, but legitimate political activity that any citizen can undertake. It is not analogous to, say, membership of the BNP, where we make the argument that while no organisation is proscribed the published views of the BNP are inconsistent with activity in a multi cultural setting. Opposition to Free Schools is not like that, and so cannot be argued to be inconsistent with his office. The GB would be the judges of whether he is bringing his office into disrepute by posting a Downfall parody – which is an established form of satire – there are literally hundreds of them on You Tube, mostly about football. I very much doubt whether they would make that judgement, and so us getting heavy with them would not play well politically.

Jane Sheat, the Diocesan Director of Eduction, is also consulted as Stadbroke is a C of E primary school. She consults a lawyer and responds:

Given our views that it does not bring Stradbroke CEVCP into disrepute nor is it inconsistent with the schools’ religious character, I would not envisage being involved, although I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss

There is no evidence from the emails that the council’s communications and media people were consulted. If they were, I imagine, their response would also have been to steer clear and would probably echo Skeat’s comment: “The Seckford Foundation may, of course, pursue.”

 

The Freedom of Information response sheds light on what happened at the County Council but gives no indication of why, despite a warning that “getting heavy with them would not play well politically”, they pressured Hargrave.

 

In his blog about the response to his FoI request Hargrave writes that he  was amazed that these complaints were taken at  face value and the “clear political motivation” was missed.

 

I hope the county council will think carefully about its procedure for reacting to future social media comments which councillors or officers do not like.

How social media brought Trayvon’s shooting to world attention

The fascinating story of how the shooting of a teenager in Florida became an international news story, is told by Kelly McBride, a journalist working for the Poynter Institute.
 
She writes:

Ten years ago Trayvon Martin’s family would have had a hard time getting the national media’s attention. But with the help of a few bloggers, Change.org, and social media, they managed to put increasing pressure on the Sanford, Fla., Police Department to charge their son’s killer and release the 911 recordings. When they prevailed on that second goal a week ago, they got the break they needed.

When Barack Obama said yesterday that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon, a world audience on peak-time TV news was assured.
 
It was back on February 26 that Trayvon was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch person in Sanford, Florida.
 
The Orlando Sentinal carried a brief story the following day, but did not follow it up for 8 days. The paper used to have an office in Sanford. The editor told McBride he believed that if they still had that office they would have heard about the details sooner.
 
If this story of cuts affecting local news coverage by mainstream media sounds familiar, it is because it is happening in many parts of the world.
 
It is the people close to events who bring them the wider attention that gets things done. With regional and local newspaper reporters thinner on the ground the people who are close are often those who use social media.
 
But newspapers have been slow to harness this resource by working together with bloggers and tweeters.
 
In the country the Guardian has recognised that this must happen if the paper is to survive and recently launched its concept of open journalism. The BBC is also increasingly using what it calls user generated content.
 
The future of effective journalism will depend on these ideas developing through co-operation between “citizen journalists” and mainstream media.

Blogger told ‘we are monitoring you for defamation’

For any journalist to get a message from an organisation he or she is writing about saying they monitoring what is written about them for defamation, is an endorsement.

 

It usually means the journalist is getting things right and the organisation has poor media relations advice. And now it has happened to Suffolk “citizen blogger” James Hargrave. He has been writing extensively about Free Schools, some of which he opposes.

 

Today he publishes what he describes as a “curious response” from Graham Watson, director of the Seckford Foundation which is behind several Free School proposals:

 

Dear Mr Hargrave

 

We do not know Margaret Read or what, if any, interest group she represents. She may be, like you, someone who has no locus standi beyond having an interest in the subject of free schools. Please note that we do not intend to engage in any further correspondence with you but will continue to monitor your blog in case you publish any defamatory comments in the future.

 

Should we be approved to pre opening stage you will have an opportunity to raise any points you wish as part of any public consultation process.

 

Yours sincerely

Graham Watson

 

Margaret Mead’s email address seems to have been terminated and a search is now on for her through twitter. To understand this you will need to read Hargave’s blog pot today: Stoke by Nayland Free School: A ‘kick up the backside’ coasting neighbouring schools with inexcusable poor performance.

 

The Seckford Foundation runs the fee-paying Woodbridge School.
 
Later: Mark Valladares has a good post on this on his Liberal Bureaucracy blog

Churnalism: fine example from Archant Suffolk

Washerwoman

Churnalism: symbolised at Media Standards Trust

Churnalism is the habit of some media of using press releases without much added. There is a fine example of it from the Archant Suffolk newspapers and websites today.

 

The chairman of the new Industrial and Provident Society set up by the county council to run its libraries resigned yesterday and was replaced by the choice of the IPS board.

 

Eventually the board will be chosen by community groups involved in the running of local libraries but initially the board members are appointed by the council. So the decision of the board to replace the council appointed chairman is significant.

 

The county council put out a press release, presumably on behalf of the IPS although this was not stated. This is understandable as the IPS does not yet have the means to distribute its own releases.

 

The Archant Suffolk story (the two dailies, the Ipswich Star and the East Anglian Daily Times and several weeklies have a joint reporting staff) was simply a rewrite of the press release. Nothing added. Churnalism.

 

The Wordblog Suffolk story is here.

 

The Media Standards Trust, an independent charity aiming to foster high standards in news media, exposes the prevalence of churnalism, with a churn engine which helps readers identify recycled press releases in national newspapers.

 

Of course, press releases have a part to play in journalism. Sometimes it is right to use simple, uncontroversial, informative releases without additional material.

 

But the change of leadership at the libraries IPS is a topic where newspapers need to help readers understand what it is all about.

Daily Telegraph: awards dinner at the Dorchester expensive, shock

These days you can find a date, plan a weekend in Brighton, arrange your wedding, and insure your new house through the Daily Telecraph. OK, I invented the bit about arranging weddings.
 
Every newspaper and magazine is searching for more and more ways of bringing in cash as they try to cope with with declining sales and advertising revenue.
 
For trade publications, organising conferences and awards ceremonies is a lucrative part of the business now. Problems with the journalism awards organised by the Press Gazette were among the reasons that led it giving up print and becoming an online only publication.
 
Trade journals like the Local Government Chronicle still produce print editions although, increasingly, their sales are online and the journalism is supported by the various events they organise.
 
So you might have thought the Telegraph would have a little sympathy for the LGC which held its local government awards ceremony last week.
 
But no. It ran a story headed, Council chiefs’ five-star dinner for handling cuts. It detailed the numbers of people sent and the money spent by some councils.
 
The tone of the piece was set by the intro:

More than 1200 senior local government officers, many of whom have overseen redundancies and deep cuts to services, attended the black tie awards ceremony in the chandeliered Great Room of the five-star Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane, Mayfair, on Wednesday.

Some of the councils do seem to have sent more people than necessary but given the price of London hotels for those coming from distant parts they did not look particularly extravagant. And we don’t want council officials and councillors to cut themselves off from the chance to talk to others in their business and, perhaps, learn from them.
 
Suffolk County Council won the public/private partnership award for the Suffolk Waste Programme. So how much did it cost to pick up with award? This is what a spokesman said:

Two representatives attended (Bryn Griffiths, the assistant director responsible for the project and David Gazeley, our senior procurement manager who was the project director during the procurement phase).
 
Costs were of course kept to an absolute minimum. They travelled by train on day returns (standard class) and they did not stay in hotels. The tickets cost £225 each which included access to a conference to share good practice with councils across the country. No expenses have been claimed.
 
For info, the projected saving over the lifetime of this award winning project is approximately £350m – when compared to continuing to landfill.

That sounds like money well spent. And there are no cheap ways to organise an event in London.
 
For the Telegraph, I think it was one of those easy stories. Posh hotel, council officials eating well, redundancies, and the Taxpayers’ Alliance to make the expected comment.
 
It is far too convoluted to suggest they were worried about some of the profits going to ease the losses at their rival newspaper, the Guardian. But the LGC is part of EMAP which is 30% owned by Guardian Media Group as one of the investments made specifically to support the newspaper.
 

Free Schools: a blogger’s determined investigation

On the educational merits and demerits of Free Schools I don’t have an informed view. But I have been following the campaigning journalism of James Hargrave on his blog as he slowly unpicks details which have been hidden from public view.
 
I have been following his sustained series of stories as he slowly unpicks details which have been hidden from public view.

 

As a journalist I do have a view on this. Making public information that someone wants to hide is journalism. One of the definitions of news is, something that someone does not want printed or broadcast.

 

As we have seen the Guardian’s phone hacking stories, it is determined and sustained investigative reporting that gets results that are very much in the public interest. As stones are turned-over there are always surprises.

 

This week Hargrave is starting a series of posts about what he has learned from 1,400 pages of papers released to him by Suffolk County Council as the result of Freedom on Information request.

 

We learn today from him about the Ixworth Free School proposal where proposers talked to education secretary Michael Gove but did not share everything with the local education authority.

 

This fills in a gap in out understanding and, as Hargrave comments:

Sadly the politicians involved appear to prefer to make all these decisions in private and we only get to find out about them after through freedom of information requests after the event…

 

Representative democracy seems to be falling into the gap between Whitehall which is directly financing more and more schools and a county hall that is increasingly powerless. Finding the evidence is what journalism should be about.
 

While national newspapers and broadcasters still have the resources for sustained investigative reporting, in the provinces the job is increasingly falling on bloggers, like Hargrave.

 
Later: The continuing investigative work of bloggers in Barnet is impressive. Mr Mustard reveals today that a council employee who took early retirement in 2008 is still employed as a consultant with the money paid into his limited company.

Archant Suffolk dailies and the digital gap

Thanks to a tweet from Tim Youngman, head of digital marketing for Archant newspapers, the world knows that he was in Ipswich today with editorial staff of the East Anglian Daily Times and the  Ipswich Star  (Evening Star until it moved publication to the morning last year).
 
I wonder what he had to say to the staff of papers which seem to be in denial about recognising the digital revolution and its impact on newspapers.
 
After reporting that the four Archant dailies in East Anglia had bucked the trend of declining sales, media commentator Roy Greenslade tweeted: “Archant suckered me into believing its papers had increased sales. But things were no quite so rosy after all.”
 
His second look showed that the sales figures included much higher bulk sales than most other regional dailies. Taking these out, sales of the Star dropped by 10.7% in a year and those of the EADT were down by 7.9%.
 
Looking at the papers websites (they have a joint staff so the content is very similar) there is little sign of awareness of the way things are changing. Yes, stories have social media buttons and there are blogs.
 
But look at those blogs and start wondering why they bother.
 
The two Suffolk papers have six blogs that appear on both sites plus two with appear only on the Star site and two at the EADT. Here is a list of them with the dates when they were last updated:

  • Dominic Castle, Deputy Editor EADT  (Dec 22, 2011)
  • Penelope Parker, EADT only (Jul 11, 2011)
  • Nigel Pickover, Editor Star (Jun 22, 2011)
  • Paul Geater, Political reporter, Star (Nov 4 2011)
  • Anthony Bond (July 11, 2011)
  • Wayne Savage  (Mar 12, 2012)
  • Dan Gooderham (Nov 21, 2011)
  • Josh Warwick (Jul 27, 2011)
  • Mike Bacon (Feb 15, 2012)
  • Mark Heath (Feb 14 2012)

The papers have clearly been hit by reductions in staff. So you might have expected them to do a lot to encourage what the BBC calls “user generated content“. Blogs with rare posts do not encourage reader engagement.
 
The Guardian has a new advertising campaign based on its concept of open journalism. Editor Alan Rusbridger explains here.
 
In Suffolk there are many active blogs covering and reporting news. Ipswich Spy has four authors of various political hues and has adopted the Press Compaints Commission code of conduct.
 
Many of the sites in the county are written by politicians, some are good and some are tedious. There are village news sites, small town news sites. A wealth of material for the mainstream print media to tap into.
 
But Archant seems to pretend that they don’t exist. Over the past year there have been several major local stories in which bloggers and tweeters have been heavily involved.
 
There was the debate over the New Strategic Direction and the influence of the County Council chief executive Andrea Hill. The Archant newspapers covered this very heavily producing many good exclusives but there was no meeting with the work of bloggers who also broke stories.
 
This story ended with the resignations of Ms Hill and of Jeremy Pembroke, from his role as leader of the council.
 
A year ago the council was consulting on its plans to close many libraries unless communities came up with plans to save them. This has now moved to a promise that no libraries will close, although the management of the service is being passed to an Industrial and Provident Society to be controlled, eventually, by local library groups.
 
Much of the campaign to save libraries developed on social media — Facebook, twitter and blogs — which have broken many of the stories. Tomorrow I expect the EADT will carry a story that appeared in the Suffolk section of this blog six days ago and has been followed up bother bloggers locally and nationally but I will be surprised if the paper mentions its source.
 
Another story I wrote recently was about council tax fixing meetings in two districts. Wordblog reported the outcomes the day after the meetings, but stories did not appear in the EADT for several days.
 
I know that a lot of people read my story first. That cannot do the reputation of the regional morning paper much good.
 
James Hargrave brands himself a “citizen blogger”. I would simply say he is a good journalist, although that is not his paid occupation. He had written much about libraries and the new strategic direction/Andrea Hill and is now demonstrating his “journalism of engagement” skills on the topic of free schools.
 
And it is not just comment. At the weekend he live blogged a report of a public meeting. That is now a standard technique, but I have not seen it tried on any story in an Archant website.
 
People in Suffolk are increasingly getting news from social media with twitter often guiding them to fuller reports. Suffolk blogs are frequently quoted in national media, but not in the local papers.
 
Ian Katz, the Guardian’s head of news, give an excellent of explanation of how open journalism works in this video (Archant, please watch).

 
What Tim Youngman has been saying to journalists in Ipswich today, I have no idea. I just hope it more than tips on how to use twitter better to bring readers to their news sites.
 

East Anglian daily paper sales increases debunked

Sales of East Anglian daily newspapers are not as good as they claimed. I reported sales increases yesterday. I also pointed to the high levels of bulk sales but could not access comparative figures to show that full price sales had actually declined.
 

I should have waited before posting about sales of the Archant-owned titles.

 

Today media commentator Roy Greenslade provides the comparisons, after being taken to task over his previous report.
 

His new story shows that full price sales of the East Anglian Daily Times were 7.9% down in the second half of last year, compared with the same period in 2010. The Evening Star was down 10.9%, the Eastern Daily Press, 8.25% down and the Norwich Evenng News down by 13.7% instead of the 7.5% increase claimed.
 

These differences are considerably greater than I suspected when I wrote that the Archant titles had substantially higher bulk sales than most regional papers.
 

Like Roy, I will be taking Archant PR claims with a large pinch of salt in future.

Guardian TV ad introduces a concept of ‘open journalism’

Under the headline Brave new dystopia on the Guardian website today I expected to find the news organisation’s advert which was shown on TV for the first time last night. Instead it is a series of animated drawings imagining England along the route of a high speed rail line. Another innovative approach but not what I was looking for.

 

The two minute tv ad starts with the three little pigs being violently seized by robocops. As the story develops tweeters and bloggers get to work alongside journalists to question and uncover the full story. Welcome to the Guardian’s open journalism.

 

The images are striking. The pace fast. This is a a newspaper preparing for a world without print. A world in which journalism becomes a networked activity.

 

Editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger writes:

The newspaper is moving beyond a newspaper. Journalists are finding they can give the whole picture better. Over a year the readership grows – a little in print, vastly in digital. Advertisers like it, too.

This is what we mean by open. The newspaper is the Guardian.

The concept of open journalism is different. Ian Katz, the head of news, explains it well on a video in which he describes changes in the way in which stories are got and told.

 

The Online Journalism Blog says of the advert:

It’s an image of journalism utterly different from how it presented itself in the 20th century, different – if we’re honest – from the image in most journalists’, and most journalism students’, minds.

Over the past year of blogging I have watch this fresh approach as it develops. Most journalist now watch blogs and tweets as news sources and the blogger can often see how what they have written influence coverage.

 

But the Guradian’s approach has been different, “more open” is a good way of putting it.

As stories of turmoil at the top of Suffolk County Council and the campaign to keep libraries open developed, the Guardian was not only using our material but acknowledging the source, quoting posts and sending readers to us.

While most news organisations make their websites as sticky as possible the Guardian has been acting more like a part of a network.

The ultimate aim (many years down the line) appears to be to make online journalism financially stable without print. It is a brave new world of journalism they are seeking.

There is more about what open journalism means to the Guardian and the TV ad here.

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