Friday, May 08, 2009

Great writers

Just heard that one of our journalists - Lee Marlow - has won Feature Writer of the Year at the regional press awards in London today! Fantastic news and a deserved accolade for Lee who writes a great feature - in fact I was just enjoying reading some of his work for tomorrow's paper when I was told the news. Watch out for his double page interview with some of Leicester's homeless people tomorrow.

Lee was also shortlisted for the sports writers award.

Our Deputy Features Editor, Jeremy Clay, joined Lee on the shortlist for Feature Writer of the Year and was also shortlisted for the Columnist of the Year award. Congratulations to them both.

The features team, headed by Alex Dawson, certainly adds a massive dose of quality writing to the Mercury. To find two of the top six features writers in the country on one newspaper says something for that quality and, as Lee said, any member of the features team might have won the accolade!
Don't believe everything you hear!

The local state-funded radio station in Leicester has been on the phone again wanting to run stories saying that the end is nigh, the Mercury is moving out of Leicester and we've taken the first steps towards becoming a regional newspaper published in Nottingham but covering Nottingham, Leicester and Derby.

It's all drivel.

There are no plans to move out of Leicester. Full stop.

Everybody who creates the Leicester Mercury is here in our office in George Street or in one of our district offices around the county. That is all the writers (news, sport and features), the photographers, the editorial managers who make decisions and, of course, me. The news editor, the picture editor, the sports editor - they're all in Leicester. The main page designer is in Leicester. We decide what we are covering, how we will cover it, who will cover it and what it will look like here in Leicester. Once all of that is done and the pages are produced, we proof read those pages here in Leicester.

So what's all the fuss?

Well, in common with lots of businesses, we are finding it tough in the current economic downturn and we've been looking at ways of producing better papers with fewer costs. We looked hard to see which parts of the process don't affect the outcome of the paper and decided that actually putting the completed articles and photographs on to the pages and adding headlines could probably be done more effeciently (ie we could do more with fewer people) if we pooled our resources across more than one newspaper. This is because our papers have different deadlines and the work flows at different rates.

So we took that part of our work out of our three newspapers in Nottingham, Derby and Leicester and put it into a central pool ... which happens to be based in Nottingham. It could just as easily have been in Leicester or Derby, but Nottingham is slightly more central for staff moving into the new set-up.

The real problem for us is that we call that part of our work 'production' which allows the likes of BBC Radio Leicester, funded by the taxpayer and unaffected by the downturn, to say we have moved the production of the Leicester Mercury to Nottingham or, worse still, that the Leicester Mercury is now produced in Nottingham.

Neither statement is true - we have moved a small part of the back end production to Nottingham. The vast majority of our journalists are unaffected by the changes and remain here in Leicester or in one of our district offices.

Incidentally, after these changes we still have six or seven times as many journalists in Leicester than any radio station - we still cover dozens of stories every day that never get anywhere near the radio and we still have complete control over our content ... unlike our state-controlled friends.

I sat in a meeting recently with a number of community leaders from Leicester. The discussion got round to coverage of the upcoming European and local elections.

Somebody asked whether the local media would give space to the BNP during their election coverage. Radio Leicester said they would - they had no choice. It doesn't matter what the local managers think, they are given their rules of engagement centrally.

For the Leicester Mercury, on the other hand, this is a local decision. I first worked for the parent company way back in the 1970s and I have never been instructed by anyone about how we should cover politics and whether or not we should give coverage to the various extreme parties - I'd go further than that and say that I have never been given guidance or had anyone even discuss it with me.

Will we give coverage to the BNP? I haven't decided yet, but going on my past decisions, it's unlikely. The point I am making, however, is that this is a local decision - at the Leicester Mercury, we'll make the decision that is best for the newspaper and for the city, and they are usually the same thing.

Of course, it also means that if you don't like the decision, you know who to tell!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

We re-launched our Leicester City website yesterday - if you've got time, take a look at and let me know what you think! Thanks.
We've had a couple of interesting debates about Colin Pitchfork recently - Pitchfork is currently in jail for the rape and murder of two 15-year-olds in Leicester in the 1980s, but is appealing against the length of his sentence, a fact that has stirred up understandable emotions amongst family and friends of his victims.

You can find our stories about the case here on thisisleicestershire and you'll see that a lot of local people have commented on the articles. Under our article headlined 'Families anger at Pitchfork secrets' one of our readers, Kulgan, commented that he thought the Mercury was wrong to allow any comment on the case as it is sub judice. While he is technically correct, the issue is really whether or not our allowing comment was likely to pervert the course of justice and it is generally accepted in law that judges in the higher courts are not going to be influenced by public discussion or newspaper articles and, therefore, there is no danger of Pitchfork not getting a fair hearing.

Which brings me on to today's article, 'Number 10 bans Pitchfork petition.' In this we learn that a petition on the Number 10 website calling for Pitchfork to be kept in prison has been removed because Downing Street officials say that it is not appropriate.

So, the law tells us that the judges cannot be influenced by public opinion and No 10 says that they don't want to know about this case. While it is obviously right that the Government cannot intervene in individual court cases, it doesn't seem right that they won't accept a petition which might help inform them as to public opinion on the argument of the rights of victims vs the rights of perpetrators. The judges - who will not be swayed by public opinion - do, however, enforce the laws as set out by the politicians and it doesn't seem right that No 10 doesn't want to know that thousands of people are not happy that the laws they have passed may well allow Pitchfork to walk free before the end of his sentence.
Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack finished off my point for me on respect and fair play. Enough said.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More respect

Did you notice Toby Flood's reaction to a pretty shocking refereeing decision in the heat of the battle, as Cardiff Blues threatened to overhaul Leicester Tigers' 14-point lead in Sunday's Heineken Cup semi-final? The match was on a knife-edge and the Tigers' No 10 stepped up to restart the game, only for the ref to give a penalty to Cardiff for off-side as he thought he saw a couple of Leicester players stray in front of the kicker. TV replays clearly show that both players were onside.

How did Flood react? "Oh come on Ref," was all he said as he trotted back into his own half! No histrionics, no pressure, no nothing ... I'm not even going to wonder what would have happened in a football match!
Up close and personal

Spent Saturday afternoon/early evening with my son watching Leicester Riders in the semi-finals of basketball's play-offs. I watch a lot of sport, but there is something special about basketball and it's to do with the closeness of the players and fans and the way the fans are invited into the game. Ok, it's very American - and very loud - but you do feel part of what's going on.

The players are no more than a few yards away and you can hear everything that is being said - and like rugby, there's no reason to worry that your 11-year-old can hear it as well! The respect between the players and that shown to the referee is also clear - I watched as a couple of Riders' stars went up to the refs before the game started: it wasn't a perfunctory shake of the hands, it was a genuine mutual respect, a hand-shake, a hug, a shared joke and a shared wish that all would go well.

Earlier in the year I went to the BBL cup final - the Riders were there as the support act - and enjoyed my day just as much. I've also been to a couple of games during the regular season. Tony Paternostro has done a great job hauling the the Leicester team to a top 4 finish - he and the players deserve a lot more support from the city.

Don't get me wrong: the Riders were the best supported team at the play-offs by a country mile, but it was interesting to note that both the Newcastle team and the Everton team were sponsored by the same big businesses as their premiership football teams. Leicester have great local sponorship from Jelson Homes and DMU, but a few more fans and some more cash from our major sponsors would be welcome.

Well done Riders - and thanks for a great day out.