Cairncross Review Review (Part the Second)

The silence is deafening and so is the noise.

The problem with the Cairncross Review is that it tackles issues which should trouble us all, and deeply, yet I’m seeing very little discussion of it not only amongst former journalist colleagues and photographers, but also the wider public.

Much of the problem seems to stem from a general lack of awareness that it was even being undertaken. When I look through the list of organisations and individuals who submitted responses to the call for evidence, all the usual suspects are there (Johnston Press, Facebook, Google, The Guardian, News UK), but not a lot from individuals with specific interests in the industry.

From the general public there were 588 responses, but the report doesn’t publish more than excerpts of these submissions. On the one hand, that’s a larger public response than I was expecting. On the other, it’s pretty abysmal given the importance of a thriving local press sector for our freedoms and democracy.

This relatively low response will be a result of factors such as ignorance of the existence of the review, apathy and perhaps most understandably, an exhaustion brought about by the constant white noise of Brexit debate.

And even I am sitting here wondering why I care so much for an industry which has now given me less than half of my professional life. I’m too busy with keeping my own business running (as well as trying to expand my documentary work, which is in itself a response to the collapse in local journalism) to invest in a future which will be entirely out of my hands.

For now I just need to summarise a few points from my reading of a selection of the responses, in no particular order:

  1. Facebook and Google consider themselves innocent in all this, indeed they claim to be putting masses of cash back into regional journalism and it’s the publishers which are failing to take advantage of the new opportunities open to them.
  2. The publishers consider themselves innocent in all this and their sales were fantastic and revenues strong until the nasty digital boys came and smashed up their game.
  3. Neither side can quite bring themselves to admit the truth, instead pushing positions which are self-serving and often delusional.
  4. Government ultimately has no answer to this. Whatever they do will be wrong and will end in tears, corruption and a slow death for local journalism (followed some time later, probably a Wednesday afternoon, by national journalism).

Whatever happens though, I will try to keep an eye on developments. I can’t help it, and I really do believe that if you care for democracy and a diversity of voices in the many media available to us, you should at least make an attempt to bone-up on the broad outlines of the Cairncross Review and the developments which arise from it.

From next week though, I need to get back to talking about my own work and personal projects before the crashing silence and deafening noise get too much.

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?

Two Decades and a World Away

Yes, I was there too. Another press photographer who covered Diana’s funeral and because my words will be lost in the blizzard of articles and analysis on this the 20th anniversary of her death, I’ll point you towards this excellent article by Fleet Street photographer Brian Harris before offering a few brief thoughts of my own.

For myself, I was a lowly local news photographer at the time and was astonished to be assigned an official pass to cover the funeral from a position directly opposite the main door of Westminster Abbey.

Like Brian, I remember being hissed at by the crowd as I made my way to the position. I remember the weird atmosphere as people cheered the stars of music, TV and film as they arrived for the service. I also remember seeing the shot of the card on the coffin which just read “Mummy” and yes it was a cracking shot, but Brian’s was more graceful.

As for my effort, well it wasn’t the strongest image of the day, but I found myself focusing on the expressions of the pallbearers, members of the Welsh Guards who were clearly struggling to hold their emotions together. The shot summed up the occasion and emotions of the day in a fairly tight frame.

So considering it’s not a shot I had never wanted to have to take, I’ll live with it and leave it here as part of a much larger record of a sad day which changed all who were involved at least a little and for ever.

 

Routes in the News

Yes, Routes has been dominating my blog lately, but this has to be one of the most important projects I’ve worked on in a very long time, so I hope you’ll indulge me a little longer.

This is just a round-up of where we are with the exhibition, donations and stuff.

I’m pleased to say I’ve had some really positive feedback about the exhibition from people I’ve met in the street, through Facebook and twitter, but what’s even better is that Sarah, the Routes centre manager, tells me people have been donating on the strength of seeing the pictures in Cafe La Strada.

We were a little worried that the cost of getting the pictures printed and framed wouldn’t be met, but with a local grant and donations from individuals we’ve covered that now. Phew!

Now it would be valid to ask why Routes spent money on an exhibition when the centre so desperately needs cash to keep going, but the fact is the portraits and case studies and the exhibition itself have generated a great deal more local awareness than could otherwise have been achieved, especially in the few weeks they have before the funding expires.

Take a look at the local press coverage just this week. Imagine what it would cost to buy a full-page advert in a local paper, yet this week we made the front page and a full-page spread inside. This is in addition to the coverage we had in the last couple of weeks on the launch of the exhibition in both local papers as well as an online article in one of the most popular photography sites on the internet.

With that in mind, I have to give full credit to Sarah for having the foresight to suggest the exhibition.

The latest news I have is that grant funding for at least a proportion of the running costs is on the cards. Fingers very much crossed that this comes through and for the balance to be covered by other funding bodies, but in the meantime if you would like to donate, you can do so by Texting MEND41 an amount from £1 to £10 to 70070, or by a cheque made payable to YMCA Mendip to ‘Routes’ Drop-In Centre, 1A Palmer Street, Frome, BA11 1DS. Donate online by clicking on the BT Mydonate button at http://tinyurl.com/j9jukt9 and select Routes as your chosen project.

Paws for Thought

Sourcing photos for a local charity fundraiser is the kind of thing which all too easily falls into the “an iPhone snap will do” category, but when you’re aiming to gain PR exposure across a range of publications, there’s no point wasting good public relations effort with poor imagery.

That’s also the view of Jennie Wood of Avalanche PR, so I was delighted when she came to me for this particular project.

On Friday June 10th 2016, the fifth annual Kennel Break Challenge will be hosted at the Bath Cats and Dogs Home and Jennie was tasked with getting the word out to local business people encouraging them to get involved.

The idea is that participants get locked in a kennel with nothing but a laptop and mobile phone, which they use to raise pledges from their contacts. Once they reach £1,000 in donations they get released, ideally in under an hour, but up to a maximum of three.

For the press release photo session at Bath Cats and Dogs Home, ambassador for the home and former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE, came to the Claverton Down centre so we could get a series of photos of her in kennels with rescue dogs.

Jennie and I arrived ahead of schedule so we could work out the best angles and options for the photos. I also wanted to ensure we had a choice of larger and smaller dogs to work with, so I liaised with senior fundraiser at the home Zena Jones who checked which dogs would be suitable.

Sharron arrived promptly and after introductions, and a few moments discussing what I was after in terms of photos, we got on with the task in hand.

In true April style the weather was a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers and bitingly cold, so I had to work fairly fast to ensure Sharron didn’t leave with hyperthermia. Even so, within half an hour we’d generated a selection of upright and landscape-oriented photos, with and without dogs and with a choice of large and smaller dogs (which created a choice of tighter and looser compositions). Job done!

This week’s gallery includes one of the cutest photos I’ve taken in a long time as well as some of the cuttings showing how the photos got used in both local and national publications, helping to raise the profile of this great cause.

A Wee Bit of PR Goes A Long Way

At the start of last week I was asked by University of Bath to come into the Department of Chemical Engineering for a photoshoot with a difference. They needed pictures to accompany a press release for their research into urine-powered fuel cells (see what I did in the headline? So droll…) So, forget rechargeable batteries, these new cells take a trickle charge!

It’s not easy working in gown and goggles (a prerequisite of being in the lab) and there was some time pressure and not a huge amount of space to work in, it being a working lab, but by the end of the session I’d captured a range of shots suitable for different outlets.

What I perhaps hadn’t appreciated was just how far and wide the images would go. I knew they were being distributed by the university press office and Press Association, and they appeared on the BBC and Sky News websites, many newspaper sites (as well as in print) and on industry and tech-oriented websites.

So next time urine the need for some PR, why not give me a call? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Below is a selection of hits from around the web. Click to enlarge.

No Snow Now

We’ve not had a real Winter for a few years now; no prolonged, hard frosts or heavy snow falls, but then I think snow fall has always been a bit special in England (unless you live north of the Watford Gap, in which case you probably spend most of your year digging your car out of 6ft drifts). That’s why when it does happen, everyone tweets about it and all transport grinds to a halt.

So when I got my first, ancient photographic portfolio down from the attic the other day, I was delighted to stumble across this snow picture which I must have taken circa 1988 when I was freelancing for The Bath Chronicle.

It must have been a slow news day when the flakes started to fall and I recall being sent out in rather un-promising conditions to go and get a photo to illustrate the “blizzard”.

The snow really was rather light, so I had a bit of a heavy heart, but as I made my way to Victoria Park in Bath, it started to get rather heavier. I recall this would have been mid-morning and the deadline for the last edition of the paper would have been imminent, bearing in mind I had to get back to the office, process and print my photos and get them to the subs desk before I missed the last deadline.

Thankfully, by the time I got to the park there was a decent covering. At least enough to show it had snowed, even if it wasn’t a white-out. I remember lifting my camera to frame the scene and being vaguely aware of the sound of a cyclist coming up behind me. I didn’t have time to look round, so just waited for them to pass into my frame, which is when I got this frame.

From memory I believe I took two or three more pictures in quick succession, but the first one was the best.

Happy that I had something I dashed back to the office and got the print to the desk on time.

Sadly I don’t have the cutting, so I can’t say which page it appeared on, but I do remember there was a letter from a reader a week later saying how much they enjoyed the photo. Bearing in mind they had to write and post a letter rather than just clicking a Like button and saying “wow” I was very pleased to have got some appreciation for the photo.

It’s not a super-dramatic weather photo, but I still like how I lined it all up and got lucky with the extra element of the cyclist. Even better that she was all wrapped up in black on a black bike, which just adds to the atmosphere of the scene.

Well now that Winter is over and we’re into spring, maybe I’ll get a good, contemporary monsoon-style downpour photo soon. Something for people to Like and say “wow”.

Film vs Digital

This isn’t another article about whether film is better than digital. There are plenty of those out there and I’ve never read one which came to any kind of concrete conclusion. No, this is about the realisation that I’ve now been shooting digital for more than half my professional career. In fact I crossed the 50/50 threshold a couple of years ago and didn’t even realise it.

Let’s chart my film/digital timeline then. I started freelancing in 1988, went digital in November 2000, and pretty much committed myself to digital ever since.

With film I’d started with developing and printing black and white in the darkroom at the Bath Chronicle. When I became a staff photographer on The Portsmouth News I had to switch to colour, processing using a minilab in the office and having my work printed by darkroom technicians. Then with the march of progress, newspaper production got computerised and the photo department lost its print technicians.

Photographers then had to process their films in the usual way, but we then scanned the negatives on a Kodak scanner, captioned them on a Mac and stored the images on Zip drives, which were slow, unreliable and couldn’t store many photos. I remember the digital archive getting very quickly out of hand.

I left The News in 1998 before they went fully digital, but while I was there I did get to try a Canon EOS1 with a Kodak digital back at Wimbledon one year, so that really was my first experience with digital SLR photography. But digital SLRs back then ran to something like £15,000 just for the body, so I couldn’t afford one as a freelance.

At first I was shooting film and scanning using a portable Canon scanner and wiring pictures via my Nokia 6310 mobile phone connected to my Apple 1400c Powerbook. It was slow and unreliable to send data back then, but it mostly worked ok. I even got the odd scoop with that setup.

Then in 2000 the Canon D30 was released. A 3.4 megapixel SLR which could just about do a news job, but which cost a mere £1,600 for the body. It wasn’t really up to the task of fast news, but it was fine for features and objects that didn’t move, like the exterior of a country house I shot for a News of the World story. Thankfully my current digital SLRs are far better, far more responsive and the images produced are a world away from the early models and the price, while not cheap, is far more accessible.

I’m glad I started my career with processing film and printing in a darkroom. It taught me so much that you can’t learn if you start with digital. I still carry the lessons I learned back in the late 1980’s and it often helps me work faster by knowing what’s going to result from a particular set up even before I put the camera to my eye. I do sometimes use digital like a polaroid to check settings and lighting, but I’m usually pretty close to what I want before I even do that.

I’m keen to get back to shooting more film though. It does remind you of certain fundamentals and makes you work in a different way so I’m going to look for clients or projects which will allow me to get back to film once in a while.

Whether that will actually happen depends on many factors, time being a critical one, but I know the vast bulk of my work will be digital for the foreseeable future. As ever, watch this space because you’ll be the first to see if I shoot film for anything serious again.

Cold, wet and Poldark

Filming for the TV series Poldark is due to start in Frome this week and since yesterday was an admin day (boo hiss paperwork) I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a couple of shots in the street where crews are currently at work making sure all signs of modern life are removed or obscured.

The weather was pretty dire with high winds and plenty of rain and I didn’t have a great deal of time to work up a broad selection of photos, but it got me thinking about all the times I’ve ventured out with my camera when the weather is bad – mostly in the past in order to get extreme weather photos for national newspapers.

I still enjoy the challenge of getting pictures in adverse conditions, even if I’m not venturing into the world’s extreme regions. Seeing how people interact and cope with the weather is often interesting in itself. Sometimes the weather is just a distraction, as in the Poldark pictures. Other times it becomes the focus of the story (the 2001 Trooping the Colour is a fine example). More often now the weather is the story, as when there is flooding or gale damage.

Here’s a quick gallery round-up of extreme (or sometimes just mildly difficult) weather photos I’ve done over the years, from Trooping the Colour to yesterday’s preparations for Poldark.

Please click to enlarge and scroll through the photos.

My 2014 In Pictures

This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.

The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.

I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine