Saturday, 17 August 2013

The PINK SOFA welcomes Matt Adams,editor

Matt Adams editor, at his desk

Today, the PINK SOFA welcomes a different guest: Matt Adams is the editor of the Herts Advertiser, my local paper. He is the ''lucky'' recipient of all my letters and press releases about our community's attempt to stop Harpenden Town Council from forcing a road across our playing field and building on our ex-allotment. For anybody running a public campaign, maintaining a good and close relationship with the press is essential, and I am delighted to welcome Matt to the blog. The PINK SOFA has been practicing its shorthand for weeks, and is now poised, pencil licked and notebook open, ready to take down his answers.

So Matt, how long have you been editor of the paper?
I joined the paper in April 2009 as the lucky 13th editor.

What does an editor do all week?
Mondays to Wednesdays I'm focused on production, putting together that week's paper and working out what stories and photos will go where. The remainder of the week I operate in more of an ambassadorial role, representing the paper in the community, meeting with contacts and working on long-term objectives.

How did you get into journalism? 
When I arrived at university in 1990 I signed up with the student newspaper on the understanding that I would provide photographic cover at student union gigs. I got in for nothing and had a chance to snap leading groups up close and personal from the pit. But then something happened - I stumbled across what sounded like a good news story through chatting with people on my course, and the paper's news editor asked me to look into it as he had nobody free to do so.

That was it. I was bitten by the news bug. I loved the idea of being able to make a difference through my writing and before long was running for the position of editor in the union elections. That year was to prove invaluable when it came to being a journalist. I cut my teeth on structuring the content of a paper, worked with a small team on coming up with innovative new ideas and learned how to design a newspaper page.

At the time I left uni there was no obvious pathway into newspaper journalism -  no internet, no way of finding out about training within the profession. Then my mum spotted a job ad in one of our local papers, a free title with the unassuming name of the Yellow Advertiser looking for someone to join their features team. I started off writing advertorials, puff pieces about bathrooms, kitchen fitters etc. It was boring work but it pushed me into creating solid prose after interviewing less than forthcoming tradesmen and I began honing my skills as a reporter. I did my training there and at the Yorkshire Post in Leeds.

What do you like about working in the Herts Ad?
I am driven by the desire to have a positive impact in a community. Newspapers wield immense power and it is amazing what a simple phone call to the council or a corporate organisation can do to solve a resident's long-running problems. I would argue that local journalism is the most important journalism in the world. We break stories that really make a difference to people's lives; we can help change local policy and we are the perfect platform for everyday heroes to get the recognition they deserve. I also enjoy the fact that you never know what's going to happen from one day to the next - and there are few jobs which offer that variety.
The new premises. Cat swinging forbidden.

The Herts Ad has recently shifted its location. Good move?
We've been in our current offices in the centre of St Albans since March 2012 and it's been a revelation. Before we were stuck on an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city and it would take 20 minutes to get into town and park. Now we are at the heart of everything that happens in St Albans and can react immediately to breaking news developments. We were first on the scene for a snatch-and-grab robbery last year, we have seen celebrities shopping nearby, and we are accessible to the people who count: our readers.

So in this fast internet age, is there really a future for local papers?
Regional newspapers are more relevant to modern day readers than they ever have been. People spend more than half their time within a five-mile radius of their home. They want to know about their own community and what's happening around them - they don't care so much about what's going on five or forty miles away.

I think the regional press is leading the way when it comes to setting the national news agenda. Many of the major stories reported in the national media came from regional news sources, and local papers will often lead the way in reporting these issues through their unchallenged connections within local communities.

Ultimately local newspapers act as independent watchdogs holding government and other powerful institutions accountable and enabling citizens to participate fully in our democracy. This is an essential function, much like roads, power and water, and without us the community would be that much poorer.

Anything else you want to say about the job?

The Herts Advertiser not only publishes two editions every week (Harpenden and St Albans) but also has to maintain a strong web presence and achieve all this with just a handful of reporters. We can't cover every single news story in the district, there simply isn't the time or resources to do this, and so we prioritise those items which are of the most relevance to the widest percentage of our readership. We're a business, and in this day and age we have to also rely on the support of our advertisers to boost our sales.

Time off? What do you like doing to wind down?
I'm a self-professed geek, and love to immerse myself in graphic novels, sci-fi and fantasy. My biggest obsession is Dr Who, but I also enjoy a wide variety of genre material. Musical tastes are very eclectic although I'd highlight Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Luke Haines, David Bowie, Tori Amos, the Indigo Girls and Aimee Mann as particular favourites. However, I think my favourite means of relaxing has to be spending time with my beautiful 15 month old daughter Anwen. She truly is the light of my life and every minute with her is a precious joy.

Matt, thanks for stopping by and giving us some insights into your job and your philosophy. The PINK SOFA has now licked its pencil so much that it is in acute danger of lead-poisoning and may requite medical attention.
Matt is on Twitter at @Matthertsad. Stories from the Herts Advertiser can also be accessed via @Hertsad or via Matt is rushing back to his sumptuous (!) city centre office - but he will be dropping by later to respond to any comments ...


  1. Interesting interview, Carol - and fascinating to hear how someone with a Real Writing Job gets on with it, and why.

  2. was most delightful to meet Matt and to be allowed an insight into his world of all things newsy!...I was nodding my head in agreement to Matt's statement..."I would argue that local journalism is the most important journalism in the world"...I personally enjoy the intimacy of local news...and, dare I say...I consider the news reports therein more trustworthy too!
    Good interview...maybe Matt's next article could be based upon how he survived The Pink Sofa...( supposing that he has of course )...*chortle*

  3. I worked in regional newspapers for more than 20 years and loved it - sadly though I don't think there's much of a future for newspapers in a printed form. We're in the middle of a revolution at the moment and nobody knows how that will work out - but I would guess that big publishers with heavy costs and wage bills to service might suffer and small internet start-ups thrive. We will see over the next ten years, but I do believe it will be a disaster if local journalism does not survive and thrive in some form.

  4. If the internet ever (and I doubt it) makes local news a priority, then local papers are done for. Until that time, they should continue to thrive. Fingers X'd!!!

  5. A fascinating interview, Carol and Matt. I get the Advertiser electroically and have followed Carol's battle with local politicians. Without the Advertiser her fight would be ten times more difficult, and you're right, Matt, the power of the local press is greatly underestimated!

    1. Many thanks Richard! We do our best!

    2. Many thanks Richard, we do our best.
      Efforts to start up local news websites across the UK haven't been as successful as their creators would have liked, and I think that comes down to the issue of trust.

  6. Why is it that I expected the editor of Carol's local paper would be photographed in protective gear and with a large Mastiff at his side?

    People make a mistake when they assume that all the "big news" happens on the national level. Local = personal = passionate. Even here in Las Vegas, the best entertainment (if you have a taste for full-contact sports)is to be found at meetings of Homeowners Associations and planning committees.

    As for where local papers are going in this age of the, of course. I don't consider this change in medium to be a death knell. Journalism has survived the shift from quill pen to typewriter to word processor just fine. The next transition--largely paperless news operations--is just a natural evolution in a world where we have to consider production costs and wise use of human/environmental resources. The reporters and stories will still be local.

    Anyway, great interview.

  7. A very interesting interview, Carol, and Matt sounds pretty committed to his job and role on the paper. It must be quite challenging at times as well. I can imagine the pressure can be intense as a journalist on a local paper has to be more involved with local issues that people feel strongly about.

  8. Matt sounds like an amazing local press editor, available yet efficient. I think he's so right about the value of having his offices slap bang in the centre of town. Hope he can do something really positive to get those developers to see sense though.

  9. Where, in the centre of town? Used to live in St Albans - can't visualise an office space. Good interview, Carol. Not a job you read about every day, yet so important.

    1. Where the Thornton's toffee shop used to be. Opposite the old Town Hall, so very central. They're on the first floor.

    2. We don't have much room, but then we don't need a lot! The view out of my window is the entrance to the Tourist Information Office if that helps place us...

  10. I would imagine working for a newspaper has got to be hectic. I'm envisioning people rushing all over trying to get the paper out on time and trying to stay on top of breaking news. Matt, I don't know how you do it, especially with a 15-month old at home. Kudos to you! :)

    1. Caffeine certainly plays a big part Kelly!

  11. An interesting interview, Carol, and very different from the usual sort of blog interviews. Thank you for it.


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