Regular newspaper readers will perhaps have become aware of how much more reader input is encouraged these days – reader’s tips, reader’s pics, even reader’s articles in some cases.

This can on rare occasions result in something worth reading or viewing, but on the whole it’s a bit like Nissan offering ‘customer’s mechanical tips’ in their garages or your local plumber asking for ‘client’s advice’ to put on his website – neither Nissan nor the plumber would bother because they’re the acknowledged experts in cars and leaking taps and don’t need some amateur advising them how to do it, whilst their customers probably wouldn’t hold such free advice in too much regard either.

And, of course, they’d lose business through it.

Newspapers are different though. Many no longer appear to give a toss about the quality of reader contributions because all they want to to is fill news or web pages for free.

For instance, I recently read a reader’s tip that was several paragraphs in length on the website of what was once my favourite newspaper that was hackneyed, inaccurate and misspelt. But hey, it cost bugger all so the editor of the paper in question had absolutely nothing to lose by posting it, apparently unedited.

And even when readers are offered prizes for their work they essentially get next to nothing even if they win (a £200 digital camera, for instance, no doubt given to the paper for free by an advertiser); what the paper gets in return is a stack of pics with which to populate its pages both in print and online, some of them maybe half decent, which it promptly copyrights for its own free use worldwide forever.

The obvious loser in all this is people like me – freelance journalists and photographers (well, why else would I be having this rant?). Why pay people who are actually capable of penning a few lucid words or taking a properly composed photograph when you can get a second rate version of the same material free from Joe Public?

But that said I feel that readers DO lose out. Do you really want to read badly constructed, unedited copy from some bloke who sees himself as the next Bill Bryson but can’t spell Mediterranean? Or the next Ansel Adams’ slightly out-of-focus digital shot of the nice view from his hotel room?

I certainly don’t. I buy newspapers to read quality copy and study excellent photography presented by professionals (not so with the Internet – I usually expect drivel on the net and am rarely disappointed).

In no other professsion are punters provided with material supplied by rank amateurs. You wouldn’t allow the 12-year-old next door to fix your car’s brakes because he like watching Formula 1; and you wouldn’t take French lessons from your neighbour because he’s been going to the Dordogne for the last five year; but you’ll happily read 350 words in a national newspaper or on its website provided by those same people whilst professional journalists are forced into taking on jobs in bars as a result.

The newspaper owners are happy – they get copy for free and you’re presumably happy because you’re not discerning enough to realise that you’re ingesting rubbish.

Let this state of affairs continue for too long though and newspapers will become like ‘reality tv shows’ – cheap rubbish fed to people who are too lazy to use their brains.

Is that you?



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