Regional newspapers do not produce good journalists…

…or at least that was the opinion of one desk editor from a national newspaper that I met during my London trip.

I had asked him why there were not more regional journalists breaking into the nationals.

His response was that staffing cuts at regional and local newspapers meant journalists at that level were not given the time to develop proper investigative and writing skills.

“We no longer see the regional newspapers as a source for staff,” he said. “We find that training graduates ourselves produces better journalists.”

He added that they had a few regional journalists who were trying to break in to London by working shifts, but they didn’t have the skills the newspaper demanded from someone with a staff job.

This had me reeling.

I had always been told that regional journalism was one of the best ways to cut your teeth in the trade and could – if you wanted it to and were good – pave a way for a career in the nationals.

Now it seems national newspapers may regard themselves as an entirely seperate industry.

Is it really the case that regional newspapers no longer train good journalists?

20 thoughts on “Regional newspapers do not produce good journalists…

  1. maybe there’s a space for journalists to prove their skills online, in addition to whatever experience they might pick up regionally… perhaps the combination would swing it 🙂


  2. I would start by asking what defines a good journalist – and I note that he doesn’t use that term in his comment.

    From a lay persepctive his comment seems true enough. Taking any two front page stories from a regional and a national is often enough to highlight differences in focus and style. If those differences reflect editorial structures, then I can see that the two segments would operate independently.

  3. My first instinct was “utter tosh”. But I’ve slept on it and I hate to admit the desk editor has a valid point.

    I’m glad I trained on a paper 20+ years ago and my first news editor (and his newsdesk team) remains one of the most influential people I’ve worked with. He was such a source of calm assurance and took the time and trouble to point you in the right direction. He would rather you got it right than endlessly cite deadlines at you.

    I admit I haven’t been in a newsroom regularly for a couple of years, but my last experience suggests that sort of environment is getting rarer. For a few years I was getting the impression that new journalists are plunged in at the deep end a lot more and largely left to sink or swim.

    Looking back to my own newsdesk years, I tried hard to take time with reporters and the stories they produced but with fewer people in the newsroom the pressures became far too much. Journalists are up against it a lot more these days because newsrooms are so sparsely populated, so you can double (treble?) that pressure for those on the newsdesk. The environment has changed a lot and the one I was fortunate enough to train in has long gone.

    But – and it is a big but – the talent is out there. I’ve worked with enough people and commented on their blogs enough time to know that there are regional journalists who can make the transition to nationals.

    To take things off on a slight tangent, I’d be interested to know how many actually want to make that transition. With new opportunuties springing up left, right and centre, I’m not sure the path to the nationals in London is (and hasn’t been for a while) the glittering prize for many journalists.

    You can make a national and international impact wherever you are and whatever title you are working on these days – as your blog probably proves.

  4. I do think he has a point. There used to be time and space on a regional or local paper to allow young reporters to try things and to be mentored (before the word existed). Training/honing was given by more experienced journos and subs who had the time to help.
    Now, after a decade of “professionalising” (which, while having positive effects, all too often means staff and cost cutting)there simply is not the time for this to happen. Couple this to the rapidly changing mediasphere and the demands for new skills it would be naive to think that regional are training grounds for developing journalists.
    In fact it is now the other way round. New recruits are expected to “know digital” and to train the older journos in the new skills.
    Not conducive to journalistic growth perhaps.
    There will always be exceptions – regional journalists who’s work (mostly in digital these days) is so good it breaks through and gains national recognition – but perhaps the days of a “natural” progression to the nationals are over.
    Is this necessarily is a bad thing?

  5. There is a huge difference between writing for a national like The Guardian and putting copy in to be rewritten by the subs on, say. The Sun. Different skills, different contacts, etc. Same with the regionals, where younger staff are firefighting and cut and pasting press releases all the time. The problem there is that those same releases, once compiled by reporters trained in local newspapers, are now being put together by people trained by rewriting press releases – it’s a downward spiral. And how often do subs call over a reporter to show them what they’re doing by way of editing and rewriting their work … it used to happen to me all the time – but that was 40 years ago. How many young reporters on the regionals get proper briefings by news editors and senior reporters these days? It’s all a numbers and resources game, and the wonderful world of the web is changing the playing field even more. There’s been much talk on blogs about children naturally following their parents into careers. I have two daughters, one a nurse, the other a teacher. Wonder why?

  6. I agree with the general tone of other commentators -is it really the only way to make an impact.

    His position seems to suggest that nationals are the top of a tree – that they are the pinnacle. Are they really? Are they really any better at nuturing and developing investigative skills.

    Perhaps the fact that many where working shifts says more about the way the national newspaper industry is ‘using’ journalists than it does the quality of those journalists.

    This concept of ‘progression’ to the nationals is just one example of how the industry needs to get it’s act in order and get out of a structure that is nothing short of Victorian.

    Given the recent debate over on Seesmic about the way j-schools need to rethink what they teach this kind of attitude leaves me banging my head against the desk – no really banging my head.

    We get our act together. Good people in the regional media ‘get it’ and it all falls down when someone calls in the old-boy network structure and can cut the progression dead.

  7. I doubt this bloke’s viewpoint is representative of the entire national press. I have a friend who’s fairly high up at the Observer and believes very much in cutting your teeth regionally, although he is admittedly pretty old school.

    Unfortunately I think it is true that in times when jobs are being cut, people have a greater tendency to be less inclusive on all fronts, because it makes them feel more secure if there is less competition for jobs. It’s the keeping it in-house, going with what you know, conservative mentality that is so attractive to some people when they feel pessimistic, as opposed to the risk-taking optimism of prosperous times.

    I’m sure you also realise that even if the nationals’ general model shows a move away from hiring regional journalists, the truly talented (let’s spell it out: I’m talking about you) will always get where they want to be.

  8. The arrogance of the national exec was staggering. He may find it hard to believe, but many people don’t give a toss about working for them.

    I am one of – I am sure – many journalists who never even considered it.

    I much prefer developing close links with the region you work in and utilising those links responsibly over time – be that a village, town or city.

    To me it is much more rewarding than turning up with the cheque book and then buggering off once you have typed the final full stop.

  9. To be honest I’d judge someone on the basis that they accepted a job earning only 12k. Can’t be that smart…

  10. Pingback: An Olympic boycott, bedsheets, journalism and toppled trucks « Groves Media

  11. This doesn’t surprise me. People tend to hire in their own image: regional editors go on about NCTJ; national editors sneer at a media degree and warm up at PPE (politics, philosophy and economics – an Oxbridge staple). I’m caricaturing, but…
    What’s most worrying about this is that in an already London-centric media you will then have even less writers with experience of or an interest in ‘the regions’. Journalists will begin their trade in London, get their training there (homogenising the staff even further), and have even less insight or contacts for that.
    Add to this the fact that the only people who can afford to work in London on a journo’s wage are those who either have a family affluent enough to support them, or who come from the region anyway, and you get even more homogenisation.
    And that’s one very big reason why people outside the metropolis don’t buy the nationals – the Independent, I seem to remember, has an incredibly low percentage of its sales outside the capital.

  12. Great to see Neil’s post above. There are many, many journalists who never want to work on “Fleet Street” and are perfectly happy with careers in the regional press. I’m one of those.

    For people who do want to go onto a national, it’s certainly an ordeal. I know about a dozen journalists who went to try their hand on nationals over the last two or three years. To do this, they had to first do shifts while working full-time in their existing jobs, or, if they got really lucky, they landed a six-month contract – quite different to the secure contracts most regional journalists have.

    Yet all of those 12 – all from regional newspapers – have now landed longer-term contracts. All came from regional newspapers. One, Kate Mansey of the Sunday Mirror, was named the UKPG young journalist of the year. Perhaps it is easier to create a journalist of your liking from a graduate who hasn’t been exposed to other newsrooms, but surely that can’t outweigh several years experience?

    In my time on newsdesks around the North, I’ve found that, generally, the best regional daily journalists have worked previously on weeklies. They learn how to build contacts, look at a story from all sides and so on. I suspect many national desk heads feel the same about staff from regional dailies.

    Andy D is right, there is an old boy’s network to an extent, but none of the journalists I know benefitted from it. I still believe there is no training ground quite like regional newspapers – and as newsrooms become truly multimedia, I suspect that training ground will become even more attractive to nationals looking for new staff and therefore even more beneficial to the journalists involved.

    PS – Great headline to get people hooked in Jo!

  13. I’ve worked in the regional press for nearly 20 years and have never regretted that decision.
    I’d be interested to know what timescale your exec was thinking off when he said standards had fallen. The Gloucester Citizen, for example, ran rings around the nationals (broadsheet and tabloid) when it came to covering Fred and Rose West – we had exclusives they were scrambling after every single day. More recently the Ipswich Star produced consistently excellent, award-winning, copy on the murder of five prostitutes. As I remember, the lead journalist on that story was signed up by a national newspaper in record-time.
    The training (both academic and on-the-job) I received from my first weekly paper was second-to-none. Every daily newspaper I have worked for has invested in my development; could a national newspaper journalist say the same? I wonder…

  14. Pingback:   links for 2008-07-23 by

  15. Funny that nobody’s mentioned trade press – which has produced lots of specialists and, for that matter, generalists. I know of five people (myself included) who came from a computing trade paper to be in nationals or national TV (does Newsnight count?).

    Trade papers give a better chance to do investigations at times – and you come to the notice of the nationals because you know more than they do, and they can’t (generally) one-up you quickly.

  16. Really interesting – and comments.

    I’d say that what this national newspaper man had to say is a real shame, having not worked in a regional newsroom for nearly 10 years, I can’t say that’s he’s right or wrong, but I have to say, I suspect his experience is not typical – surely a local reporter battling the competition on the big stories of the day is still going to be well-palced to make the move?

    Like Paul and Sid, I trained during a time when working on a regional (and especially one here in the Midlands) opened doors in London – when we trained with the Express & Star, we were told that all you needed to get shifts in London was to say you worked there – and there still are enough senior staffers at the nationals or even in the higher echelons of the editorial staff whose experience bears this out.

    I remember a close friend (long since quit journalism for PR) getting three months at the NoTW after being told at interview she had worked at some good papers – she thought they meant the E&S and Shropshire Star, but the editor who interviewed her (long since quit for PR:)) said he meant the Worcs Evening News too.

    Being a “good” reporter or journalist seems to mean so many things to so many different people. For me, the bit that possibly gets overlooked and is definitely made to prosper on a regional title (still, surely?) is a strong work ethic, people skills also have to be ‘up there’ for those who have trained or spent time on the regionals.

    Time spent on a regional Sunday – where all stories had to be off diary has definitely helped me sell stuff in to the nationals. Time spent on regional dailies – and covering the amount of ground you have to in a given time – are all solid support for working on a national paper.

    Even as budgets and readerships are shrinking I still cling on to a belief that the best regional reporters can come up with the goods – during my time – though of course that was a while ago – there was a real sense of competition between rival papers and between colleagues – and that spurred people on to the nationals where they can swim rather than sink as a staffer.

    From a freelance point of view, speaking from my own experience, I did have a bit of an inferiority complex, thinking it would be hard to ‘crack’ the nationals but it has been okay. Of course being freelance is a million miles from being staff. I hope that regional reporters can still hack it on the nationals, they can’t all be staffed by nepotism, surely? 🙂

    There’s a related piece here:

    All best.

  17. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Media Future#2 - Why Do Regional Journalists Not Make It To Nationals?

  18. I do think it largely depends on the paper, and how far they value basic reporting skills as opposed to what might be described as “fine writing.” I have no hard evidence to back this up, but I would hazard a guess that the papers that are more into “news” such as the Sun, Mail and Telegraph are far more likely to recruit from the regionals than papers such as the Guardian that are more into “writing.”

  19. The Sun – into news?

    Regional newsapapers and journalists have greater respect and integrity; trying to report the truth in more than 4 lines of babyish trash.
    I can not see that a journalist trained at a tabloid would be better equiped to work on a proper national, his hard spent years turning his/her journalistic head to mush. ( I presume the desk editor in question is from a reputable paper, I can see no relevance in his contention otherwise!

  20. Let’s get one thing straight: there are some excellent journalists in the regions, and some god awful journalists on the nationals – and, of course, vice versa. In fact, you don’t even have to be a journalist to get yourself a column on some nationals. Look at Anne Widdicombe. There are many more.
    In the old days, it was considered more or less essential to get provincial training before joining a national. This was because the national press had a genuine national mindset.
    Nowadays, the nationals are basically London papers with very thin distribution in the regions. It’s interesting to note that one regional daily outsells all the nationals combined on its own patch and continues to dominate its market, even in these straitened times. Hence, the regional connection is not considered so important on the nationals anymore. If you’re focused on Posh Beckham and Peaches Geldof, or think Jonathan Ross is a national luminary, you’re unlikely to want proper stories, are you? It is, incidentally, one of the many reasons that national circulations are in free fall.
    When I was working on a respected daily abroad, we rarely if ever took Fleet Street applicants because they were always considered less productive. The people we wanted were from big regional dailies. They were better professionals with a superior work ethic.
    Papers like The Guardian – a terrible paper, in my opinion – float in aspic because they never have to turn a profit. However, its elitist attitudes were not always so evident. If you go back far enough, when the paper still kept touch with its northern roots, many of its journalists were solid operators trained on provincial weeklies and dailies. It was a much better paper in those days and commanded genuine respect.
    A final point: it is a myth to suggest that those who went to national titles from the regions were the best of the bunch. They weren’t. Those who were destined for senior rank on the regionals were simply not interested in Fleet Street.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *