Telling the Daily Story of Britain ; NEWS AGENCIES ++ THE PRESS ASSOCIATION ++ Formed in a Taxi in 1868, the Press Association Is Dedicated to a Mission of Feeding Stories to the Rest of the News Media. Raymond Snoddy Learns How the Agency Is Being Revolutionised by Embracing Moving Pictures and Even the Weather
Snoddy, Raymond, The Independent (London, England)
One of the many characters of journalistic legend is the reporter at the scene of a disaster who has spent too much time in the pub but still manages to dictate a couple of paragraphs to his copytakers before adding "take in PA." The face-saving instruction meant that the rest of the story would be lifted from the reliable reports of the Press Association, the UK's national news agency.
Nearly 140 years after its formation by four regional newspaper owners in the back of a Hackney cab in London, media organisations - broadcasters as well as newspapers - are still taking in PA. Now its services go to 18 countries and range from the latest sports results from around the world to international weather reports. And on top of the conventional text and still pictures, there are multi-media offerings from a growing band of PA video journalists.
At the beginning of this month the main ITV evening news led with the resignation of Lord Browne as chief executive of BP, complete with pictures of him leaving his office. The pictures were from a PA video journalist rather than ITN.
"We were there, ITN wasn't, and our footage led their news bulletin. We are starting to get into that space now. As volume and quality grows we are being taken seriously," says Tony Watson, PA's editor-in-chief, a former editor of The Yorkshire Post.
The main outlet for the PA's moving pictures is the web and bulletins for internet operators such as AOL, but the news agency plans to offer audio for radio stations as well as breaking news for the main broadcasters.
The video journalists edit their stories on their desktops in the PA newsroom on London's Vauxhall Bridge Road, but among the latest lightweight Sony television cameras there is still room in this building for tradition.
On the walls there are posters of Sir Winston Churchill and what he once said about the Press Association: "Without your help the public would be uninformed and without your integrity they would be misled and defrauded." The help and the integrity takes many different forms these days. For Chancellor Gordon Brown's last budget, the PA collaborated with The Times to create a live multimedia presentation online. In one window of the screen there was a live version of the Chancellor speaking. Along the bottom of the screen, "PA snaps" were running with the latest details from the House of Commons while, to the right, specialist Times journalists added their views by writing into text boxes.
"It was a really neat application. Everyone talks about video being the end in itself. It's not. It's an ingredient in the whole mix of the story-telling process. It's how you integrate all those assets that's important," Watson explains.
At the moment the PA has a backbone of 16 video journalists, a number that will rise to 25 by the end of the year. Now all PA trainees are receiving training in both written journalism and "how to hold a camera", so in theory the new cohorts should, in time, transform the skills base of the organisation.
However, the mainstream broadcasters have started to poach PA's newly trained multimedia journalists and the agency is now racking its brains to come up with methods of retaining them a bit longer.
The move into multi-media journalism is just one of a number of initiatives launched by the PA Group's chief executive Paul Potts to take the agency beyond its roots in text and still pictures in the UK and Ireland.
The former deputy editor of the Daily Express under Sir Nicholas Lloyd, Potts became editor-in-chief of the PA in 1996 and chief executive four years later. Since he took over, the search has been on for new opportunities and revenue streams, a number of them outside the UK. It marked the end of a period of chaos that could have spelled the end of the agency.
In 1994, PA was challenged by a new player, UK …
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Publication information: Article title: Telling the Daily Story of Britain ; NEWS AGENCIES ++ THE PRESS ASSOCIATION ++ Formed in a Taxi in 1868, the Press Association Is Dedicated to a Mission of Feeding Stories to the Rest of the News Media. Raymond Snoddy Learns How the Agency Is Being Revolutionised by Embracing Moving Pictures and Even the Weather. Contributors: Snoddy, Raymond - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 28, 2007. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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