Press Gazette reported on September 4 that the Northern Echo wants to hire “30 members of the public as contributors to its ultra-local websites“.
The recruitment drive is part of a long-term plan by the Echo to “increase the amount of ultra-local content on its websites”, according to assistant editor Nigel Burton.
The new recruits, who range from 17 to 70, will file about three stories a week. They’ll get training in photography, story structure and the site’s content management system.
Each correspondent usually has a journalist mentor, who will be a staffer with several years experience, as a point of contact if they have any problems. And, yes, they get paid.
Not about cost
Nigel Burton was adamant that the project is not about cost, saying “this is definitely not a move to replace our writers with so-called citizen journalists”.
“I cannot see a time when a paper like The Northern Echo would resort to using news submitted by reporters who have no formal NCTJ training.”
He makes the point that the Echo has the largest circulation area of any regional newspaper in the country, and that the staffers just couldn’t cover an area that size in detail. The network of local correspondents will augment news coverage by providing “ultra-local news on our community micro-sites”.
And the community has responded positively, though he concedes that there’s a problem with churn, and the Echo needs to keep pushing for new blood.
But, hearteningly, he says that people are keen to write for their local paper.
He also said that this is another way to find good journalists, saying that “we have identified three correspondents who have the talent to go all the way, and have held discussions to see if they are interested in the NCTJ pre-entry course”.
What about the implications for journalism education? Does it mean we should look more closely at developing networking and communication skills, maybe even training and project management skills, as well as production skills?
Maybe, says Nigel Burton. But the production skills remain key, especially internet and multimedia skills:
“I think it’s more important to make certain students have a really good understanding of the internet and multi-media. The Echo always looks for people capable of filming and editing video/podcasts etc, as well as crafting a neat turn of phrase or two!”
This is obviously a development we need to monitor and respond to in our curriculum development. Note also the stress on NCTJ standards and web skills.
Perhaps we need a brief survey of other local newspapers which could include looking at content, talking to correspondents, etc.?
You can read Nigel Burton’s answers in full here: Read the rest of this entry »