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Features Panel

Alex Needham
Acting Arts Editor at The Guardian

I fills the arts pages of G2

The paper is put together the day before, which means pieces can be turned
around speedily if there is appetite for them

We look for a good mix of high and low culture – mindful that certain big
stories and exhibitions inevitably have to be covered.

We try very hard not to be London focused.

Currently, hot topics are Arts Cuts, Censorship, Spiderman the Musical…

Always looking for the story behind the obvious. Has to have some relevance
and wider hook – stories won’t be run just for the hell of it.

With people, there needs to be some element of zeitgeist with them. When
coming in with suggestions be mindful of how people are relevant or
connected.

Getting in touch.

For Films, 3 months in advance. Articles 4-6 weeks in advance. Good to


have flexibility on scheduling. But there is room for faster turnaround.

Best to email, followed by a phonecall.

Deadlines

Can go pretty close to the wire.

There’s competition between papers, which sometimes leads to PRs inviting


journalists in for shows before they’re ready. Try not to.

Editorial Decisions

Quite lo-fi about his. Even with the significant shows that need to be covered,
we try to think about different ways of doing them.
Editors are generalists rather than specialists

They speak to the experts and rely on them to deliver knowledge

We check off the must-do lists to make sure these events are covered, but try
not to be too slavish about this.

Competition

There is both internal and external competition for stories. Meetings are held
to try and avoid the former, but editors can still be caught out.

I don’t mind embargoes. Is better to know where things stand – although


embargoes should come with good reason.

Pressures

The pressures you’d expect with the fast turnaround of so much content. But
I love the adrenaline of pulling the paper together.
Harry Mount
Freelance Journalist

Lovely to see people who I’ve worked with on great stories before.

Am a freelance. Quite a few stories are given by editors, though about half
are suggested.

The obvious thing to start with. Have a peg. Have a story. Getting in touch
about 3-4 weeks before is great for a daily, a bit longer for a magazine.

Anniversaries are good, but try and stick to the big numbers, otherwise it gets
a bit tenuous,

Give me warning. If I can get in early I can get a post in the commissioner’s
diary.

Journalists aren’t the most industrious of people! Work out what they’ve
done, written and what they appear to like. Journalists, like everyone else,
love a bit of flattery. Study their interests and get in early.

Papers are fairly flexible (more than you think) if you can find a new angle, or
a different way of doing things. Eg. exhibitions can be turned into travel
pieces with the right hook.

A perfect pitch will be a couple of paragraphs with some juicy stuff in it. Will
then pitch one outlet at a time.

As many images as possible, both for pitching and as back ups for pictures
taken by the papers and magazines themselves.

Separate to the pitch, once agreed send through an email with as information
as possible.

The perfect example is the PR who got in touch very rarely, but when they did
always had something extraordinary. This is the ideal arrangement. Targeted
missiles backed up with great material.
Simon Stephens
Assistant Editor – Museums Journal

Museums Journal is published by the Museums Association.

In many ways it’s a typical trade magazine, publishing 8,000 copies with
25,000 readers.

News comes at the front, followed by comment, features and reviews.

Written by a mix of journalists and museum people. Features are mainly by


journalists – well researched and in depth they are still full of the knowledge
provided by museum people.

Timings – we can decide features up to six months ahead, with holes in


between to slot in shorter lead content.

Example January 2011 issue:

1 meaty feature over 6 pages.


‘Red Road’ used as a hook into people and artists working with social
housing. Links also in to Serpentine show.

2nd feature over 4 pages


Museum opening in Middle East

3rd feature over 2 pages

4th feature – profile piece.

Reviews
Written by museum professionals
Tend to steer away from the big shows as they’re so widely covered, and MJ
is uniquely able to look at smaller museums and events. Exclusivity not a
really a problem, and MJ doesn’t look for it. Readership will attuned to the
content and issues coming up.
Imogen Carter – Deputy Editor, Observer New Review

About Observer New Review

The intellectual heart of the Observer.


Not just about arts – also covers politics and current affairs
Newly expanded, so there are lots of possibilities for coverage
The important thing is getting the mix right within each issue.

Made up of six sections:


AGENDA – fun and fluffier than other sections, features Q&A’s and David
Mitchell’s column
FEATURES
DISCOVERY (science, with lots of potential for museums and cultural
organisations)
CRITICS
BOOKS
TV LISTINGS

Critics and Features discuss their content to avoid duplication

Images are absolutely vital and have been since launch. A lack of images
makes it very hard to place a story (although not completely impossible)

New Review tries to cover topics and venues outside London, and makes a
real effort to get out of the capital.

The weekly format, together with the size of the paper, mean that although
some shows have to be covered, there is often space for smaller or quirkier
material. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and see.

Always be aware of online content. Look for extras that can appear on the
website (eg, unique behind the scenes access)

The editor of New Review is Jane Ferguson


There are 4 senior editors, and 2 commissioning editors: all work across the
sections, with some area of specialism.

Sarah Donaldson is Arts Editor


Kasper Llewellyn Smith is Discovery Editor

Different slots require different levels of access and time.

Page 3 – really popular for interviews. Eg actors/actresses a week or two


before an opening. Short interview, not much time required.
On My Radar. Can be done in ten minutes over the phone. Doesn’t need to
be the biggest show – access is key

Q&A – a good slot – again can be done over the phone. Not always arts,
although this is the norm.

The 10 Best – a great page to find link ins for.

Discover – can be hard to fill. There are lots of opportunities here for
science/art tie ins.

Can be hard to find room to feature new talents, but there are creative ways
around this. Eg established artists nominating new.

Pieces are image led more and more. Often stories that would probably have
been cast aside make it because of striking images.

Interesting articles usually find a new angle on the well known, whether
subjects or people.

With enough notice the paper will do the research to flesh out comprehensive
pieces.

Timings:

Go to press on Thursday/Friday

Best to call on Monday/Tuesday

Tuesday afternoon – ideas meeting held, discuss Agenda, interviews. Front


pages decided nearer to press day. Also a longer lead meeting for fuller
features.

Editorial Decisions:

Hard to answer exactly how these are made. Decisions are very much made
as a team, looking at getting the mix right.

Lead times. Slots a filled up until April, but there are always holes to slot
material in.
Always come with ideas.

I used to work in PR and am surprised, from the other side, how few people
pick up the phone and send emails directly.
Exclusivity:

For big interviews we ask for the first. In truth we always want to come first,
but there is flexibility. Be honest about what you’ve set up, and we can see
what can be arranged. An honest relationship on both sides is the best way
to work

Prioritise journalists. Answer their queries as swiftly as you can – always get
back to them!
Questions

How do the panel feel about running features and stories on the same
day as other outlets?

I.C. As a rule of thumb we want to come first. It depends on the outlet. For
example, something appearing in Sunday Times Culture will scupper a
feature for Observer New Review. There are scales of competition. Indy on
Sunday is less of a threat.

H.M. It’s not impossible, if the angles are different or the subject strong
enough. For example, I did an interview with Ronald Searle for the Spectator.
Valerie Grove had run ahead with a piece in The Times, but the interview still
ran.

Do these rules apply in the same way with broadcast competition, eg,
with the Today Programme?

I.C. We will want to be the first broadsheet. Broadcast isn’t necessarily an


issue.

H.M. Often a broadcast feature will spark off further news in other outlets.

A.N. The thing to remember is that no-one wants to feel part of marketing
campaign, so if the same material is put out in a number of outlets it’s less
appealing.

Would you run features (and Agenda pieces) for one off events as well
as exhibitions?

I.C. We would.

How do the panel feel about exclusivity against the freesheets?

A.N. For us Metro is less of an issue. The Evening Standard are a


competitor.

I.C. All is negotiable. Honesty is the key.

A.N. Yes, please avoid surprises. Always better to know what is going on.

H.M. A story can be split to give two outlets very different accounts of same
subject,

Do media partnerships with other outlets affect your editorial decisions?

I.C . Not an issue if a show is partnered by another outlet. But if the media
partnership is our, we’ll want first run.

How do you see the effect of funding cuts?


A.N. Mark Brown runs a cuts watch blog on the Guardian website, which is
an interesting source and outlet for cuts stories and information.

S.S. There is a constant flow of ‘threat of closure’ stories at the moment, well
covered by Museums Journal. There are a lot of members of A.M. suddenly.
There is a lot of interest understandably, and the website reflects this.

H.M. Sometimes silver linings can be found. There are many pieces written
around buildings under threat.

How do your features link up with website content?

A.N. We’re expanding our offer, so there will be more opportunities for online
features and link ins.

I.C. There’s good depth of engagement from people interested in the arts
online.

How soon should we get back in touch with you after getting a feature?

I.C. Get in touch!!

H.M. Quality of the story is everything. If it’s a good story, get in touch. Don’t
worry when it comes.

I.C. We go back to PRs who make things happen.

SUMMARY

1. The conference has given a real sense of the different timings of


different journalists and their different needs. Interesting to hear of
conferences – Wednesday is the new Monday!
2. Top tip for contacting editors. Simple but sound – email then phone.
3. Images are more important than ever.
4. Remember there is a command hierarchy. The key is to keep the
enthusiasm running along this chain.
5. Think about what is topical. Anniversaries etc.
6. News generates news!
7. Honesty is everything. Let people know where they stand. Always
better in the long run.
8. Flattery! Journalists are like everyone else, and like to made to feel
special. Be nice and be heard.