The MEN opens the doors to Manchester bloggers

I have previously been to three print publications (all in Russia), and in England I spent two years at the BBC Manchester newsroom. The impression of the vibe has not effaced, but in comparison to all four The MEN newsroom is living at neck breaking speed. First established in 1868, the paper has now got several formats, including online edition, and works closely with Manchester’s own TV station, Channel M.

Thanks to Sarah Hartley of The MEN, on the evening of September 17th 2008 a group of Manchester bloggers got the chance to visit the site of Manchester’s main print publication. The tour of the newsroom included quick stops by design editor Peter Devine, assistant news editor Paul Gallagher, the chief sub Paul Coates, before we all migrated to an auditorium for teas&biscuits and a Q&A with deputy editor Maria McGeoghan. Throughout the two hours of brainstorming the modern news environment (in all applicable senses) we were guided by the wonderful Helen Read. After that we went to The Old Grapes and spent another two hours debating all things online, though not forgetting of the crossover of the new and traditional media.

Sarah has already posted about bloggers coming in to The M.E.N., and Jon Clements made interesting observations about the brave news world for The MEN. Both posts contain some pictures, so absolutely visit them, and also keep an eye on The Mancunian Way for a round-up of posts and pics from the night. Also, for all who reads this, may I reiterate what Sarah has said about Flickr tagging: whatever tags you use, do include “menblogmeet”, or even create a special set for your pictures from the night, to email to Sarah as a link. That way the task of collating all the effort will be easier.

I thought of how best to describe my impressions and decided I best blog about the pictures I took at The MEN. You can find them all, some with my comments, in the MEN Blogmeet September 2008 set on Flickr.

The new environment.

The MEN in Scott Place stands just behind the glass Royal Bank of Scotland building, which also houses Wagamama on the ground floor. Although the building itself boasts the fashionable glassy look, its very location is a curious indicator of the position the newspaper occupies vis-a-vis Time. If you face the building, behind it you will see Spinningfields, an uber-contemporary business-cum-residential site in Manchester. But if you are approaching Scott Place from John Dalton St/Deansgate, you are walking past the original John Rylands Library and many old edifices. Turn your back on Scott Place, and in the distance you will see the pseudo-Gothic spire of the Town Hall. The nearest Quay St is again the place for many old buildings, not to mention The Old Grapes pub which nicely reminds one of the Victorian Manchester. The story of being a crossing point for different timelines continues inside, where through the window of a light and vibrant newsroom one can see the brick walls of an old building. The past and present never separate, and The MEN is bridging the two, extending the path into the future. And so for 140 years.

How do you read your MEN?

If you are observant of how people read newspapers, you will have learnt by now that they usually read it either from the first (editorials) or from the last (sport) page. Gender and age don’t really matter, although for men the paper often tends to begin from the end. The sports desk is therefore an extremely important corner of the MEN newsroom, with the majority of coverage naturally focusing on Manchester’s two competing teams: Manchester City and Manchester United. And this was what Helen Read was explaining, before adding that, when joining the desk, one has to declare their “religion”. The question from one of the bloggers followed: “Is it true, would you say, that The MEN is more biased towards the City team?” As you can sense from the picture on the left, the question was very daring, if not outrageous.

 

However, reports, stories and features are obviously printed before the sports section. Peter Devine, design editor, related a few examples of mashing up the front page design in no time, which topic was later elaborated by both Paul Gallagher (left) and Paul Coates (right). The decision about the story’s focus and length is greatly dictated by the crossover of media and the story’s better suitability to the print, online, or TV format. Last but not least, headlines are the Tantalus labour, and writing them is just one part of the story. Sometimes a mock headline is produced in order to design the page, and so the other part of the story is not to forget to put in the correct headline.

Saving the news.

“Old news is no news” we are told, but the librarians who work on storing the paper archives would certainly refute this. And not only because, by accumulating the archive of paper clippings and microfilms, the paper’s history is thus being created and preserved. Surprisingly, it is easier to refresh the memory of the story by going through the clippings rather than by browsing articles online. The three “outstanding” sections of the MEN library are dedicated to the Moors murders, the Yorkshire Ripper, and the Harold Shipman case.

The library also holds a selection of front pages, and I snapped the monochrome one, from the Wednesday, March 26, 1980 edition. I had only just beginning my life in my mother’s womb. But it was not this that captivated me. It was a front page note of His Royal Highness Prince Philip not going to attend the Olympic Games in Moscow. Somehow the tour of the newsroom turned out to be practically all about sport for me.

Your Comments, Please!

Everyone would agree that the biggest achievement of the online collaboratory media happened to be in the opportunity for the readers to voice their opinion. Voxpop is no longer just a talk to a lonely passer-by on a rainy Friday afternoon. Today it often presents itself in the guise of a reader’s comment on an article, and during the Q&A with deputy editor Maria McGeoghan the pluses and minuses of opening up the comments were discussed. What has just been called “the biggest achievement” can deal a duff hand to the paper, as well as to the journalist, if the two ignore the basic rules of conduct. But readers’ comments can also shed more light on the story, or be the stories in themselves. Even the critical comments are the blessings in disguise, for they keep the paper and reporter in check for errors and, if anything, can drive the excellent results.

P.S.

I wholeheartedly agree with Sarah that the next blogmeet should happen soon. In fact, the closest one will be the Manchester Blog Awards. In the meantime, thanks a lot to all who responded and attended. It was great to see you all, be that new or old faces. Thanks also to The MEN, Sarah Hartley, and all journalists who volunteered their time to meet with what now seems to be “the sixth power”. And the best to all of us!

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