What follows will touch on two places that we’ve been before – the scarcity (or not) of media and the value of anything we, as journalists, do in this digital age.

Quotes.

If I was Paul or Charlie or Adrian or anyone of those boys entrusted with the education of the next generation of journalists, I would start my first term with a lesson on the treatment of quotes.

Given that in all likelihood we are now always going to be talking about quotes in their sound clip form – ie as held on a digital voice recorder not as an ineligble scribble on an reporter’s notebook – in a sense the classic meaning of the ‘treatment of quotes’ has changed.

You don’t ‘treat’ them at all; you have a perfect record of the conversation, of the interview; one that you could – and I’m not sure as to the argument why we don’t – simply attach the sound clip of the interview as a ‘source material’ link beneath your article.

It’s there in all it’s dropped ‘aitch, no sentence glory. But it’s fresh, it’s original, it’s untreated and, above all else, it’s yours.

And that’s key; that’s a fundamental. That possession of quotes is nine-tenths of our digital law.

And when we talk of the digital treatment of quotes, that’s what has changed – we don’t ‘treat’ them in the sense of smoothing out the grammar; applying the right tense to the passage – and we’re back to the whole ‘Who needs a sub?’ line here – instead we treat them as you would the family silver. Never let them out of your sight.

Every quote is a prisoner, there we go. Theme for the day. Every quote is a prisoner…

If you give them away, you only do so for a very good reason. Cash, ideally.

And if that fails, then it is a credit. ‘Blah, blah, blah…’ told MyFootballWriter.com.

And that’s your fall-back position; you don’t budge from that line.

Clearly it depends on the occasion of the interview. If it’s open season and the world and his media wife are there, then the argument shifts; then perhaps it is more a case of who’s first, who’s got the best analysis, the best intro…

But – as all locals do – if you know it’s the same old faces attending the same police calls, the same pre-match Press conference, etc, etc and, by the same token, you then know where those same quotes are head next – onto BBC Radio, the morning provincial paper 24 hours late(r) – then you have a fair chance of ‘tracking’ your babies. And watch where they go like a hawk.

And here’s another trick that we should all learn – insert the odd, quirky punctuation. Bit like an individual stone mason used to leave his mark.

Because in this age of cut and paste, that’s your ‘finger print’ – mine tends to be over-use of the semi-colon; I like a liberal dash of hyphens – anything that will lure some unsuspecting cut-and-paste clown into nicking your quotes complete with your punctuation… cos that’s so much harder for any news desk to defend; that not only are the quotes the same, so is the punctuation…

And it’s hugely important. If there are just two of us who have got off our arses to talk to a single football player in the West Country rain and you know who the other ‘local’ face is… then you know where those quotes are going; and where they shouldn’t be.

Or at least, not without either a cheque or a credit attached. Because a credit is a marketing device; it proves that you had the quote first; you were the one that got your hands dirty at the coalface; that you’re the one with the fresh, organic stuff – you don’t re-package and re-use for a living.

Back to the Piece Hall. By all means let people feel the quality of the cloth; that’s why you’ve built a communal space in the first-place; for people to see, to feel and – ideally – to trade.

But you don’t let people wander off with your hand-woven ‘pieces’ and then re-sell from the back of the dirty white van parked round the corner.

Value; you delivered value by sourcing those quotes yourself. And if you are selling your wares to a passionate, niche audience for whom those fresh quotes have a real value and interest, do not give them away.

Guard them with your life because, with a fair wind, they may just save yours…

Paul used the term in one of the headlines to his JEECamp look-back the other week. I can’t remember if the term ‘cottage’ ever crossed my lips or not – it’s usually a phrase that I’m rather wary of – so, I’ll give Paul his due.

Because, to my mind, Paul’s spot-on. Journalism has every chance of returning to a cottage industry as the next generation of local journalists finally find their feet in this ever-shifting digital landscape.

After all, there are three of us here in East Anglia who sit at our kitchen tables and churn out professional copy for a living; whether the coffee shop in Tesco’s counts as a ‘cottage’ might be a moot point as Mark looks for the best place to file his Portman Road Press conference pieces, but the fact of the matter is we all travel light these days.

A lap-top, a 3G data card and a digital voice recorder and we’re away.

And, for me, it is a case of ‘returning’ to a cottage industry. For way back when, ‘journalism’ could be achieved by writing your proclamations on a scrap piece of parchment and nailing them to the nearest church door. Ask Mr Luther.

OK, so in every likelihood it was only the print press that then allowed the word to spread, but – in essence – you could still publish from home. There was, then, no other means of production.

Until the print press, of course. Which changed the world for ever. And as said presses got bigger and better, so they became more expensive and that control of the means of production slipped out of an individual journalist’s hands for the better part of 500 years.

Just as the weavers that weaved cloth for a living found themselves enslaved to the mills, so those that weaved words for a living found themselves with a print press strapped to their back. Dark, satanic press halls and all that. The cloth barons and the Press barons; peas from the same pod. Both made fortunes from the industrialisation of wool and news.

The Internet, of course, changes everything.

For I now control my own means of production.

What I don’t, yet, control is my own means of making a living. And, for me, if we all don’t pull together soon, there is a very real danger that having shrugged that press monkey off our backs, we will find another one in its place. Its name is Google.

Hence the need to crack this advertising nut.

But the analogy with the weavers and the mills still holds true. Because for as long as a journalist continues to produce something of value – be it fetching out football quotes from a dressing room or making either a head or a tail out of a West 14th St planning application – then we have a chance.

All we have to do is organise ourselves; to build ourselves a ‘market place’ where we can, collectively and elegantly, display our wares. Most will just feel the quality of the cloth and move on; others might be tempted to buy. In bulk; en masse. From our journalistic co-operative.

And, for me, that’s what ‘mother’ does; that’s what www.myfootballwriter.com is – a market place for our home-produced wares.

Here you go; from Wikipedia. It’s a Sunday night; I’m self-subbing, so I’ll trust it’s right…

The Halifax Piece Hall is a building in the town centre of Halifax, England, originally built as a sales centre for woollen handloom weavers. It opened on January 1, 1779, with over 300 separate rooms arranged around a central courtyard. The term piece refers to pieces of wool that were sold. As factories started up in the early nineteenth century the trade in handwoven wool declined…

No different to MFW; it’s just that our ‘piece hall’ has – thus far – just three seperate rooms; just three hand-weavers. But we’re still producing pieces – two a day; sticky, 1,000-word pieces, to be precise. The ‘central courtyard’ – the place where people come to read and, potentially, buy – is the mother hub, www.myfootballwriter.com.

And if MFW can, eventually, be a 72-room hall as we cascade down the Football League ladder, www.MyLocalWriter.com can, of course, be a piece hall of many, many rooms.

At the end of next month, Rupert Murdoch opens a new, state-of-the-art print press facility at Broxbourne. It is likely to be the mill to end all mills – literally, if you’re a provincial newspaper group trying to compete in that contract print market.

Speaking in the City of London back in 2006, Murdoch all but admitted that the control of the means of production was slipping from his hands – http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2006/mar/13/news.rupertmurdoch1

“Societies or companies that expect a glorious past to shield them from the forces of change driven by advancing technology will fail and fall,” he said.

“Power is moving away from the old elite in our industry – the editors, the chief executives and, let’s face it, the proprietors.

“A new generation of media consumers has risen demanding content delivered when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it…

The mill owners are in full retreat. Time to build our piece halls, people…

When I was first cutting my journalistic teeth on that mighty organ of the west that was the weekly Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, the advertising department was something you tried to get off with pass seasonal greetings to every Christmas.

And it was the same when I graduated to my local evening paper; the advertising department was something that you wandered through en route to the accounts dept; it was another world; one that we journalists never knew anything about. Like I say, we’d try to build bridges come Christmas time – for the rest of the year, we went our way; they went their’s.

And I guess that’s true of 90 per cent of old newspaper institutions; more, probably. Even now, I don’t think habits and perceptions have changed.

But they need to. In fact, given what most reporters can – in theory – do with a digital camera these days, I’d ditch the old reporter-photographer combo altogether and send the reporter out into battle locally with an ad person at their side – you get the story, I’ll get an ad… and they’d sit next to each other in the office.

And swap contacts books. One would gut the other’s battered little black book for stories and leads; the other would likewise gut the list for ad leads… this parish councillor, doesn’t he run a garage…?

It’s funny, but doing what we’ve done of late you tend to bump into more academics than newspaper executives. Don’t know why… perhaps it’s something we’ve said.

Anyway, you listen to what the likes of Paul, Adrian, Charlie, Roy, Jeff and people are all up to with their students and they all seem to be grappling with the same big issue – what do we actually teach our J-School kids these days that’s going to be of relevance to their digitally-based journalistic lives?

What do you teach the next generation of journalists? Simple.

Advertising.

In fact, I’ll even get the ball rolling with a simple, multiple-choice question for their Fall ’08 module on ‘Enterprise and journalism; making ends meet when the local newspaper goes t*ts up…’

Johnny Smith’s family furniture store half-way up the Sprowston Road was one of your early launch advertisers. You join your ad-man for what you presume to be a straight-forward re-booking. Johnny Smith, however, has had a re-think. ‘To be honest, we’re going to give it a miss this quarter,” he says. “We’re just not seeing any response…”

Do you…

(a) say: ‘How the f*ck do you know that? What, do you ask everyone who walks through the door where they heard of you? What about them over there, you asked them?’

or (b) say: ‘Look I know you’ve only had six click-throughs this month, but how many f*cking click-throughs have you had off that ridiculous taxi you had painted last month? Who’s ‘clicking through’ on that, twat? And while we’re on the subject, how many people have clicked through that half-page newspaper ad you’ve been running for the last 30 years… eh?’

or (c) say: ‘Johnny, that’s fine. We’re just grateful for all your initial support; maybe we can pop back in again in a couple of months when you’ve got your new autumn cane furniture range in…?’

If you answer either (a) or (b) you are a journalist.

If you answer (c) you’re our Kev.

But if, as a journalist, you can learn and/or be taught to answer (c) then you’ve got a chance.

Even if you still think (a) and (b). You’ve got a chance.

Teach the kids how to sell; at a local level certainly. They sell, they survive.

With Kev hanging out of his back bedroom window, Ian slaving over a hot addiply cms in his mum’s spare room and Neil off proofing the history of art, it was time for the boss to treat the rest of the MFW troops to lunch.

Both of them. It should have been three, but Tom was down with flu.

Mark does Ipswich, Nick does Colchester; both do MFW like a dream.

There was a time when we thought we might go the franchise route with MFW; build a football reporter starter-pack and let people take the ‘kit’ off the shelf and off they go; it’s where we think MLW might be able to go.

But go down the franchise route and, as far as I could ever work out, I’d have spent the last six months slaving night and day writing a training manual.

So instead when first Mark and then Nick joined the party, their ‘kit’ was a 3G data card, one of those digital voice recorders with the UBS thing that makes them a radio station and a decent, second-hand motor off Col’s Cars in Acle. £120 a month over three years; works out OK.

Like most 20-somethings, they come with a lap-top attached.

A quick chat about remembering they’re a local; that it’s great to get a headline one day; not so great if that same headline doesn’t talk to you the next… and that was about it, I think.

I showed them once how to upload the Action Images stuff off the CMS; Neil bunged them the link to their site stats to keep track of their hourly circulation figures and neither of them have missed a trick. Or a deadline.

They’ve had to change; to adapt. We all work Sundays. For until the provincial newspaper industry start producing Sunday newspapers – or flooding out the post-match quotes and copy ahead of their Monday print editions – we’ve got that day to ourselves; but they don’t seem to be bothered.

Write the piece on a Saturday night before you go out; time the piece on the CMS to go up at 10am on Sunday morning and these boys can still be sleeping off the night before as they publish to the waiting world.

During the week, minus deadlines we have this deal that they aim for the whole ‘My first coffee break…’ market sometime around the mid-morning; then hit the ‘One last look before I log off…’ brigade some time around 5; 5.30pm. And all the time, you’re about to roll out stuff as and when anything breaks.

Because these days punters call the shots; they access their news when they want to – and where they want to. Not when we tell them. It’s on your door mat at 4.40pm. Take it or leave it…

And we’re not going to get everything first; ask most football reporters these days and they get sweet FA first – not ‘news’ wise. News belongs to the clubs; that’s why they run their own TV stations; hire ‘club journalists’… the rest of us just mop up afterwards.

That’s why we run the RSS feeds from elsewhere; look here’s the news from the local newspaper, Sky, BBC, Telegraph football… just get it off our site while you’re here… And look, before anyone starts to complain, here’s your branding on our site…

News is everywhere; me, Mark and Nick can’t be. So we link.

And this is the thing; they get all of this; the fact that all we can ever do now is aim at this ‘When I get a mo…’ market; the fact that they need to work slightly different days; be slightly more flexible in their thinking.

But they’ve been flexible in their thinking since the first time they set a finger on a keyboard. When they were five, probably. In school.

This generation of young journalists embraced the web years ago; they know what it can deliver; they don’t need a training manual; it’s in their DNA.

Podcasts? Yeh, fine… Upload pictures? Whatever…

We got 72 CVs through for the Colchester gig; good CVs; nigh-on all were the same age, same background; journalism courses, year or so on a local weekly; a good few on an evening sports desk. All can clearly see the writing on the wall.

So you go back and say: ‘Right, given a choice…. given your contacts, location… what club would you like to do?’ And they’re all there; the six for Watford, four for Preston, eight for Palace. Cos they all get it; like I still don’t most of the time.

Twitter? Me? Behave.

But my boys will. Stand in front of that JEECamp and listen to Paul talk about what his kids are up to and, boy, are they going to have fun.

Someone, somewhere, just needs to set them free. That’s why we want to beta MyLocalWriter through the J-Schools, the colleges, the universities. Cos the kids know what they’re doing; they know where their world is going.

Most of the time, we haven’t got a clue.

Actually it’s more a case of trying to work out how this thing works…

Anyway, welcome to Out With A Bang.

For which you need to blame-stroke-thank Paul Bradshaw, Pete Ashton and Banks’ Brewery who – quite correctly, with hindsight – pointed out a gaping hole in MFW’s armoury, a blog in the beery aftermath of last Friday’s JEECamp.

But one early word of warning, Out With A Bang is not going to touch on all things football. Or not much, anyway. That’s the day job; this is the late-at-night musings bit.

This is bit where we work out – in public – what on earth we’re ever going to do with MFW’s new big sister, www.mylocalwriter.com; how we can spread the gospel of www.addiply.com and, how, in short we can ever hope to make a difference when it comes to the survival of quality local journalism.

Hence the title. Cos if we are all engaged ‘in a race to the bottom’ as I was cheerily told by some BlogAds lad at Jeff Jarvis’ NewsInnovation.com bash in New York last autumn, let’s at least go down kicking and screaming; let’s not walk quietly into the night.

Let’s ask some awkward questions of our former lords and masters now that – perhaps – we’ve got one or two answers.

Or rather, got one or two answers as to what doesn’t work. As for what does, let’s just say that that, for now, remains very much a work in progress.

Doing the day job I do, you get to see an awful lot of the A14; hence you turn the music up loud. And on Thursday as I headed off to Paul’s JEECamp, it was The Smiths banging out of the dashboard. ‘Typical me, typical me… I’ve started something… and now I’m not so sure…’

Which probably is a good a theme tune for Out With A Bang as any.

That said, me and Martin Stabe agreed on one thing way back when – that if there is a message for our troubled times, then it comes from the lips of Clay Shirky.

And probably it is worth quoting in full as we go out with a bang. Because it changed my life. Whether it was the fact that I read it on my 40th birthday; whether it was because, at the time, there was a one-in-three redundancy process going through the sports and subs desks at Archant; whether I was just over-due a mid-life crisis… I don’t know.

But I know, one way or another – be it commercially or physically – Shirky’s words will follow me to my grave…

“In the same way that there’s a split between the music industry and the recording industry, there’s a split between writers and the newspaper industry.

“The recording industry is in trouble but the music industry is not, because musicians still make music and people still care about music enormously. The people who sell plastic circles with the music on it, on the other hand, are in real trouble.

“So if you base your business model on producing plastic circles, or, by analogy, staining wood with ink, you’re going to be in trouble.

“Do people care about good writing? Of course they do, and it’s the writers who can adapt to the new technologies. The only technological innovation that the newspaper industry is waiting for is a time machine so that it can turn back the clock.”

That’s it. That’s the straw we all need to cling to; that’s why I look at all the numbers we’re churned out at MFW over the last couple of years and cling to 436 seconds like you wouldn’t believe.

Why? Cos that’s the average visit time to www.myfootballwriter.com/norwichcity in the month of January ’08. We had 33,000 of them; on average visiting three and a bit times. And every time they visited they stayed for over 7 minutes.

Why are they staying for that long? It ain’t rocket science; we’re giving them a good read. About a subject that they love. A passionate niche that commands their attention for at least seven minutes of their frantic lives.

Because we deliver it to where they want it. On their office lap-top, their home PC and, above all, into the palm of their hand. Onto their mobile.

We don’t ask them to waste seven minutes of their lives going to find a newspaper…

Crass advertising slogan, but as you will come to know, I suspect, I’ve got an eight-year-old boy.

I look at him and you just know it’s not in his genes with a ‘g’ to read a local newspaper; what’s in his jeans with a ‘j’ is a mobile phone.

Or rather, will be. When his Mum says yes…

The trick that we’ve all got to pull as professional journalists is to get our words and our news to his mobile phone by a means that can earn us all a living.

But if there’s one first thought to cling to, it is to take Shirky’s words to heart. It’s not us that’s in danger of becoming an endangered species… it’s newspapers.

Sure our own reticence, our own conservatism is part of the problem, but some way down the line we will still be part of the solution. We just won’t need those who still insist on staining wood with ink.