Cairncross Review Review (Probably part 1)

I’ve been trying to wade through the results from the Cairncross Review into the future of high quality journalism in the UK. I’m not very good at analysing dense, copious amounts of data, but I care and want to try to see where local and regional newspapers are headed (apart from down the plughole). 

What is striking is the content of some of the submissions to the call for evidence which are interesting (ish) reads, especially in the sense that they are a weird mix of kernels of truth and self-deceiving, massive pants-on-fire lies. 

Check out this particular example from the now defunct Johnston Press, written by the then CEO David King: 

“Legacy print publishers have struggled to adapt to the structural changes in the way content is consumed, limited by their geographic publishing models, falling ad revenues, circulation volumes and the need to increase cover prices. In some cases, constraints on investment have been exacerbated by the need to service legacy debt and closed defined benefit pension liabilities, as is the case at Johnston Press.

Yet despite this, to date the traditional publishers have sought to continue to invest in journalism, and remain by far the greatest investors in quality content creation, despite the need to reduce costs. The tech giants, who are the facilitators between audience and content, enjoy the revenue from surfacing this content while not contributing to its cost. These tech giants also control which content the audience sees and which audience a publisher can access. Moreover, they are largely unregulated.” 

There’s so much to unpick on so many levels, all packed into just two paragraphs. Bear in mind also that within JP’s submission, their “facts and figures” don’t examine anything earlier than 2008, handily side-stepping the fact that it was their greed and incompetence since the early 1990s which crippled the pension scheme and ultimately led to the collapse of the entire business in 2018. As for “sought to continue to invest in journalism,” in all known universes, this stretches credulity far beyond snapping point. 

Beyond JP’s corporate culpability it is too easy to dismiss the ‘traditional’ press as just a victim of progress, but whatever the causes, that which is displacing it does not have the same accountability, nor does it have any pretence to uphold democracy. All this is very dangerous indeed. 

Also, these changes in local and regional papers is already affecting the nationals who traditionally relied on a steady flow of fresh, diverse talent from the news rooms and photography pools of the local/regional press. We are now well beyond the point where people without independent means could afford to work for national papers given the collapse in wages and freelance shift rates. The majority of voices we hear are those who can afford to work for the fun of it and their viewpoints largely reflect their relatively privileged positions.

I fear with the likes of Newsquest using the same insane business model as JP, this review and its conclusions have come too late to do anything meaningful beyond arranging the funeral for an industry which has no reason (beyond mis-management) to be a victim of progress or change. The Government is supposed to make some kind of response later this year. Who’s going to put money on that response being anything more than laying on some warm sausage rolls and cheap wine for the wake?

Pink Elephants at Open Farm Sunday

The cliché of all clichés states that you should never work with children and animals, but I disagree. They can make excellent subjects and on Sunday 7th June I got to work with both as it was Open Farm Sunday, a national event and an opportunity for families to see the inner workings of farms all over the country.

I was booked to attend Meadowlea Farm in Somerset to capture a flavour of the day for sponsors ABP. The images were destined for press release and ABPs website and internal communications, so I needed to get a good variety of shots showing interactions between families, children, the farmers and animals.

I think my favourite shots of the day show a delightful young lad, Tom, doing some colouring in with one of ABP’s representatives, Robyn. The table was set up in one of the farm sheds, I just had it pulled forward enough to get the best of the daylight on them, then let them get going with pencils and crayons. After a few action shots I wanted them looking into my lens, so I told Tom if he looked carefully and smiled nicely, he might see the pink elephant that lives in my camera. It did the trick and Tom gave me a whole bunch of brilliant smiles, it was one of those moments you can’t help smiling at yourself. And of course Tom could see the pink elephant, children always can.

Case Study: PR photos for multiple titles.

Although I still take the occasional magazine assignment, I don’t deal directly with newspapers as often as I used to, their rates being low to non-existent. However, the many years I did spend working for newspapers means that when I’m commissioned to undertake public relations photography for a corporate client, I have a pretty shrewd idea of what’s required.

This case study centres on a recent assignment for EDF Energy, which is working with its charity partner ParalympicsGB to find ways to help reduce the environmental impact of multi-sports events and related training facilities. In this case, EDF Energy were working with ParalympicsGB athletes, coaches and managers and the University of Bath.

Over a period of two weeks in August, members of staff from EDF Energy sites around the country came to the ParalympicsGB preparation camp to assist as athletes trained at the rather excellent sports facilities of University of Bath.

What EDF Energy required of me was an individual photo of each of their volunteers that would go to the local paper in their respective home towns as a local interest story. Of course this would also give EDF Energy some PR too, as well as ParalympicsGB and the facilities at University of Bath Sports Training village.

For a couple of hours a day on three separate dates I attended the training camp and went around getting the required shots. We’d hoped to get pictures of the EDF Energy volunteers working closely with the teams, but for the most part this wasn’t going to be possible due to the tight schedules and the intensity of the training, so it seemed the best option was to work as inconspicuously as possible to get the job done.

What I ended up with was really a series of portraits with something of the training in the background, or a relevant backdrop to try to tie the portraits in with the context of the story.

The results, some of which I’ve featured here, got good showings in the regional press, so I’d say the whole exercise was pretty successful. I wish the ParalympicsGB teams all the best in 2012.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

Teams busy with training makes a good backdrop to the portrait.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

EDF customer service advisor from Hove, Louise Foreman of Newhaven, gets to chat with ParalympicsGB powerlifter Adam Alderman during a break in training.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

Sometimes a banner backdrop was all that was available, but a smile lifts the picture.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

These groovy banners also made an interesting backdrop for a simple press portrait.