The Tribune Office

The Tribune Office
...hard at work as always

Friday, 11 July 2008

The snowball that started with a phone call

WHEN a reporter starts working in a new town they normally research and get in touch with local organisations and politicians to get themselves known and make a few contacts.

It was while I was doing this a few months ago that I stumbled across the website of Keith Kondakor of Nuneaton Friends of the Earth.

We had a quick chat and just as we were saying our goodbyes he asked me if I knew anything about plans for a hazardous waste materials plant at Judkins. I asked him to send me whatever information he had and said I'd look into it.

Little did I realise what a juggernaut this story would later become. The response to our Dump It! campaign has been incredible, attracting the support of three MPs, numerous borough and county councillors and, most importantly, thousands of people living in the town.

All of us here at the Trib would like to thank the people of Nuneaton, Bedworth and North Warwickshire for sending in their pledges and bombarding us with your letters about this deeply unpopular plant.

The passion and pride you have for this region makes me glad I picked up the phone all those weeks ago.

Like any job, being a reporter has its frustrations. One of the biggest is meeting people who have a go at us about not covering an issue in the area.

A lot of the time it's something we can't do a story on for obvious reasons ("My neighbour keeps putting his rubbish in my bin! I want you to DESTROY him by telling the WORLD what an utter, remorseless **** he is") but sometimes a valuable story will pass us by because no one dropped us a line.

We monitor the area's events thoroughly but still need residents to get in touch with us if something important is happening in the borough.

I've had phone calls from people blasting me for not reporting on an event or issue and when I ask them why they didn't call me up earlier they say: "I thought you'd know about it."

There's plenty we do know, but we can't know absolutely everything, so please do call us and let us know what's going on.

At the Tribune, our door - and phone line - are always open.

~ Sam Webb

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

It's time to suck up to a new boss

AFTER months of waiting, speculating and gossiping, the Tribune finally has a new editor - hurrah!

Surprisingly, it's not John "Scoop" Harris, who has been making some strong claims for the hotseat over the last few weeks.

These have consisted of only being five minutes late for work every day instead of 10, colour co-ordinating his ties, and taking long "lunch meetings".

He also promised to advocate new working hours which would see us start at 10am and finish by 3pm.

Alas, we don't work to set shifts, so he was always on to a loser.

Our working practices are far more ad hoc. Some days we might start at 7.30am and work right through to 6.30pm.

Other days we might start at 8.30am.

Then of course there's the night meetings and other evening jobs to factor in, plus sport commitments.

For instance, last Thursday I started at 8.30am, went home at 5pm, then headed off to the elections at 9pm.

I was there until 1.30am when it was back home to input all the results so they could be uploaded to our website ready for when everyone else was getting up.

A few hours sleep later and I was back in work to write up all the interviews from the night and start work on the next week's paper.

Working like this means on Thursdays and Fridays, our least busiest days of the week, we have less people around because we're all catching up on our time owing.

We do have an unusual way of letting everyone know it's time to go home, though.

Instead of the message going up that sufficient work has been done for the day, Mitch Irving, office stalwart, gets instructed to "blow the whistle".

This involves him sounding a referee's whistle as if it is full-time at a football match.

A couple of Christmasses ago, Mitch's secret Santa bought him an old-fashioned bike horn - one of those ones with the rubber ball on the end that you squeeze - so he likes to have a good honk on that intermittently as well.

Yes, we're a little bit strange, but we're creative people so we can get away with it.

Hopefully, new editor Simon Holden won't be changing the going home hooter - although those 10am to 3pm days sound interesting...

~ Emma Ray

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Creatures of habit

JOURNALISTS are creatures of habit. We like our coffee just so, we only use certain types of pens, and we've got a mental note of the best people to ring when news stories are thin on the ground.

Our habitual nature doesn't always extend to working practices, though.

Like any other office, we have the neat freaks and slovenly slobs.

In the immaculate corner is Sam Dimmer, who has the tidiest desk I think I've ever seen.

At the opposite end of the scale, John Harris is the poster boy for chaotic mess.

You'd think that this discrepancy might have something to do with the relative amounts of work done by said individuals.

Not so. Young Sam is a prolific writer with no less than 10 stories on the go at any one time. John...well, John's on sport.

I fall between two stools. My desk fluctuates between regimented tidiness and complete anarchy.

I let it get to a certain point of unruliness and then have a mass tidy-up. This generally has to happen every week.

It's really hard to keep track of everything we have on the go at any one time.

Take the process of writing of story. I may get a tip-off from a member of the public.

I'll take notes on their views, then have to investigate the issue. That could entail internet research, phone calls, consulting our archives.

It's pretty inevitable there'll be another side of the story, and I'll then have to try and get that.

If it looks like that could take a while, I might start writing the story with what I've got, then leave it waiting for a comment from someone else.

And that's just one story - there'll be many more like that in a day, so at any one time there'll be lots of news sitting around on my desk or computer in various states of completion.

Keeping track of everything means a little bit of organised chaos.

But there are times when I'm ultra organised. One of those will be tonight, when I go along to cover Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council's elections.

I will have all the wards and the candidates typed out so that I can just write in the results - it's crucial to make sure everything's taken down properly, and there's no point fiddling about with a notepad when the numbers start geting read out.

~ Emma Ray

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Butting heads with the press office, by Sam Webb

IN MANY professions there exist friendly and not-so-friendly rivalries - cabbies often butt heads with bus drivers, builders may groan when the building inspectors turn up and I've heard landlords of traditional pubs sometimes don't think kindly of 'hospitality managers' at national chains.

Journalism is no different. Our bete noir, our nemesis, and the Bluto to our Popeye is the press officer (anyone who thought I was going to say 'everyone else', see me after class).

We roll our eyes when we get press releases that are jargon-filled, poorly-written or lacking vital information, and we gnash our teeth when a PR man takes his sweet time when we ask for a comment or denies an interview with a VIP at the organisation at the centre of a story.

Angered by a lack of co-operation from a press officer, reporters may go out of their way to make their lives difficult, often by blowing stories involving their clients out of proportion (needless to say, this doesn't happen at the highly-professional Tribune!)

This attitude can spark a vicious circle as some press officers come to regard journos as untrustworthy muckrakers who twist the facts and stitch them up - hence the lack of co-operation.

Having done both jobs, I have seen that regarding the other side as 'the enemy' is counter-productive and, frankly, immature. There are many press officers I have a very good relationship with, even when dealing with a contentious issue, and they can even be a good source for stories when deadline looms.

Likewise, as a PR I was on good terms with a number of journalists, some of whom asked very difficult questions of my clients.

Reporters cannot blame a press officer for attempting to protect the reputation of their client - it is their job - and PRs cannot be angry when a journo attempts to bring their client to task when it is in the public interest - because that is theirs.

There will always be rivalry. Sometimes a newsman will have to hit a story with both barrels when faced with an unreasonable wall of silence and sometimes a PR will have to close ranks when hit with unfair accusations from a bullish reporter.

I still occasionally roll my eyes heavenward when faced with an obstructive press officer and my sympathy will always lie with the press, but I believe both sides can benefit from a little less hostility.

As Ralph Charell once said: "It is through co-operation, rather than conflict, that your greatest successes will be derived."

~ Sam Webb

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The finer points of grammar

JOURNALISTS have to face many obstacles in their quest to become a good reporter.

Learning how to conduct incisive interviews, mastering 100wpm shorthand, nurturing the ability to drink beer.

But for a whole generation of scribes, one of the most difficult has to be learning correct grammar.

Unlike esteemed elderly - sorry, older - journalists like Steve Evans at the Nuneaton Telegraph and our grumpy yet eloquent sub editors, some of us were never trained in the finer points of split infinitives and past progressive tense.

In fact, most of us have trouble with a simple apostrophe.

I can clearly remember when I learnt how to use those tricky hovering commas correctly and it sure as hell wasn't at school.

The generation of reporters coming up behind me isn't much better, which shows how education standards have stalled.

Having said that there are a couple of people in the office who have no trouble - John "Scoop" Harris on the Bedworth Echo is meticulous when it comes to grammar, while southern softie Ed Stilliard is pretty good as well.

One comes from Beduth, the other from Sandhurst, so it's clearly nothing to do with wealth or where you live in the country.

Grammar and spelling are things we have to master.

As much as getting the story in the first place is important, you also have to be able to package it in the right way.

That means writing clear, succinct, "clean" copy, free of the kind of mistakes there's no excuse for.

If a reader can't understand your story, they'll just stop reading, and if they spot a grammatical or spelling error, they'll lose their faith in you.

And when your reputation as an honest reporter is one of your biggest assets, you can see how important the humble apostrophe can be.

By the way, anyone pointing out you shouldn't start sentences with "and" or "but" take note - there's still a thing called journalistic licence!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Cubby learns the trade

MY CAREER as a cub reporter hasn't always gone as smoothly as I planned.

Despite all the fantastic advice from more established reporters - and by that I mean everyone in the office - and studying journalism at the University of Sheffield, it still seems that I can bungle the simplest of jobs.

You might not believe it but remembering to ask everyone you ever speak to their name, age and address is quite a task.

Well, you might believe it now you know I'm a student but I swear I am trying hard.

I've wanted to be a reporter, despite my better judgement and the pay situation, for as long as I can bear to think back.

My mum always used to tell me that I was good at business studies and I could get a really good job in the city, lots of money there.

But I decided that, although I would love not to have to worry about money, I would probably shoot myself in the head after a day in the world of business.

Saying that, journalism is not the least stressful of jobs.

There are deadlines, people who clearly don't want to give you the time of day and then, of course, there IS the time of day when you're trying to juggle 15 stories that just refuse to come together.

And then there's that sinking feeling you get as a cubby - which, by the way, has become my office nickname - when people are clearly running around you trying to clear up whatever mess you might have made this time.

My hat is definitely off to the amazing staff here who put so much time into teaching youngsters like me the tricks of the trade despite having work coming out of their ears.

But, after all that moaning, I wouldn't pick any other job in the world.

What other job lets you in on the secrets the rest of the world are waiting to hear?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The People's Tribune

IT'S always nice to have time off, and this Easter we gladly grabbed the chance to have Good Friday and Bank Holiday Monday away from the newsroom.

The down side is that none of our papers get any smaller. In fact, this week's Tribune is one of the biggest in a while - a bumper 144 pages.

So while we've had two days off, we don't have two days less work to do.

The situation was compounded on Tuesday when we came in to find computers dying to the left us, and computers dying to the right of us.

We got it sorted out eventually, but it put us behind even more.

Still, it's an exciting time to be a part of Nuneaton's number one newspaper.

We've been working on our blog to give some added value, and I touched on this in last week's dispatches.
There's now a message board, mailing list, polls, guestbook and, best of all, a community calendar.

Anyone can add information to this, so if you've got anything from a fete to a gig to let people know about, it's the place to go.

We're trying to be as interactive as possible to make sure we're giving you the service you want and deserve.

On the paper front, we've got new business and entertainments sections, and our news service is also expanding.

This paper, in various formats, has been around since 1895. In fact, when it was first launched, it was called The People's Tribune, which shows you what our ethos is.

You don't survive in the newspaper industry for more than 100 years if you can't cut it.

We've been doing that since the 19th century and our paper has always been pushed forward by innovation and a commitment to balance and accuracy.

Over that time we've become part of the fabric of the town. If you need to know something, you turn to the Trib.

We hope you like the new things we've got in store - either way, let us know. We'd love to hear from you.