Working for a tabloid – Part 2

I have now taken on more of a defined role in the office at The People. The News editor has decided that the article about haggling down the prices of school holidays worked very well and he wants a similar consumer story for this Sunday’s paper.

For the editorial team, investigative articles are a source of the most original stories for their section. Though they are also the source of immense frustration because they take a long time to research, facts must be meticulously checked and checked again (unlike stories coming through the Press Association or other wire agencies) and are quite likely to be pulled if they are deemed to be too risky or inaccurate to go to print.


However this week they don’t have any ideas so it’s left up to me to find a consumer story. The first thing I think is: ‘what major events are happening this weekend?’ and ‘what are consumers looking to buy at this time of year?’ A few minutes thought and I have jotted down a few ideas in my notepad:

  • Pub company Mitchells & Butler to sell off pubs.  Is there an investigation there? Not enough information yet.  There isn’t a buyer yet so don’t yet know what the consequences will be for the pub industry. No lead.
  • Fantasy football leagues.  Is there an investigation into the popularity or the size of the business in the UK? After scanning the internet becomes apparent that this isn’t a story to knock up in a few hours. No lead.
  • Cheap barbeques. Any supermarkets offering reduced prices on gas BBQs as it is the end of the summer? A quick search on price comparison sites suggests not. No lead.
  • School uniform prices. Can I compare the cost of a whole school uniform for kids? This would be useful information for parents looking to save cash, and matching the target readership of the newspaper? Lead followed.

So there’s the story – prices of school uniforms. Firstly I check this idea over with the deputy Editor and News Editor. They are keen to go ahead with it and I do a quick check to see who else has covered it in the last few days. Apart from a couple of short articles in The Daily Mail and The Mirror, there isn’t a story that compares the prices at different clothing outlets.

Next I build a list of supermarkets and high street retailers to phone. I also look at the deals they offer for a polo shirt, trousers or skirt and plimsolls. However, by phoning the outlets I can get to know the latest offers. I spend around three hours phoning around trying to get the latest deals, browsing websites before writing up an article. It is only at this point that a find an article on Which? with a more comprehensive comparison of school uniforms, which includes range for sizes and cost of  delivery online.

So after spending a substantial part of the day researching school uniforms, the story is pulled to my great frustration.


About benwhitelaw
Ben is Communities Editor at The Times

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