I loved scanning the papers to see how they were different. I would read the front and back page of each one after pulling it out of my luminous green shoulder satchel.
There were red-topped tabloids full of celebrity glitz and glamour with bikini-clad models on page three, which was quite the professional perk for a 14-year-old boy. These papers also published the best football gossip, which is what interested me most at the time.
Then there were Sunday broadsheets the size of picnic blankets that had to be folded several times to stand a chance of squeezing through the post box.
It was a good and honest job for the most part, except for when I made my dad give me a lift if it was snowing or if I’d snoozed through my alarm.
The tips at Christmas time were great too, and were most welcome on a weekly wage of £20. Mine would often come in an envelope next to the milkman’s.
Things were simple back then. People read the news to stay informed. And if they wanted to read the news, they had to buy a paper.
The good (bad) old days
I definitely look back on that period of British journalism with rose-tinted spectacles, but I was reminded recently of just how abhorrent some of the practices were.
Watching the new Beckham documentary on Netflix reminded me that the tabloids really pulled no punches. When they had a victim in their crosshairs, the abuse was merciless.
Beckham was vilified after being sent off in England’s defeat to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, but it was the coverage of his wife, Victoria, that really shocked me.
As a Spice Girl, Posh Spice had also signed up for a life lived in full view. But one headline – after Victoria had given birth to their first son through a caesarean section – said: Too Posh to Push.
This helped me recall that a lot of the British press was in the gutter at the time, and I don’t even mean figuratively.
Rifling through people’s bins, hacking people’s voicemails and offering brown envelopes full of cash in exchange for sensitive information were all common occurrences.
These practices are no longer accepted following the Leveson Inquiry.
However, there is still so much work to be done if we are to ensure a fair and just press.
That job has become even more difficult since Donald Trump’s “Fake News” invention.
This tactic created a lack of not only responsibility, but also accountability, from those in positions of power who are meant to serve the public.
To be honest, we need a whole book on this topic, and for that I recommend Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. He does a better job than I ever could, and it also saves me from getting angry.
Show me the money
What’s more difficult for the newspapers themselves, however, is how to monetise the product.
If people no longer buy newspapers, publishers must explore alternative revenue streams.
There are paywalls for premium outlets, as we see with The New York Times, or The Athletic for sports fans like me.
Here, there is an overarching focus on the quality of the journalism and the user experience of the product – but consumers must pay for the privilege.
This is my preference as a customer, but there is a negative element of gatekeeping content with this model. Not everybody has access to it and not everybody is able to afford it.
On the other side, you have free news outlets that monetise their product through online advertising, which again has pros and cons, the obvious benefit being you don’t have to pay to access the content.
The biggest drawback, however, is the impact this has on UX. Pop-up ads are often intrusive or overwhelming and worst of all, they distract from the main event.
iGaming NEXT is a slightly different model as a producer of news for a B2B audience, but this is a dilemma we also wrestle with.
As you might have noticed, we are currently exploring both avenues, but we haven’t got the balance right just yet.
If you are reading this, please rest assured that we will strike the right balance over time, as we believe it is crucial to put the customer first.
A local angleI have touched on national news and trade media, but the area I fear for most is regional news.
Local news should serve a critical purpose by keeping people informed in the areas in which they live. Twenty years ago, this was an essential public service.
Local news is even more difficult to monetise, however, as the papers were always cheaper and would run daily, instead of weekly, meaning there was often less to write about.
Or let me put that another way – you need more resources to be able to unearth stories on a daily basis, and these are resources that local publishers simply don’t have.
The starting wage for a junior reporter on a local newspaper is between £16,000 and £18,000, which is nowhere near enough to live on, especially when considering the events of the last few years.
Local reporters don’t have the freedom or the time to be able to go out and investigate stories, because their employers can no longer afford it. This means they have to find stories elsewhere.
With local news reporters confined to their desks, this results in an over-reliance on press releases, which are not always independent sources of information.
To bring this back to gambling, I was horrified to read a news story in the local newspaper from where I grew up. I used to deliver this paper daily on my beloved paper round.
The story centred on a local resident who had won £1m on the National Lottery. Traditionally, this is a feel-good story, but this one was extremely frustrating to read.
Not only did the piece explain that readers were able to buy a National Lottery ticket each week, it advertised the price of a ticket and explained the difference between each draw in detail.
Worst of all, what followed was a step-by-step guide on how to create an online account with the National Lottery – including instructions on how to set up a direct debit for recurring payments.
I was gobsmacked. Here was nothing short of an advert for the National Lottery, that had clearly been copied verbatim from a Camelot press release.
The paper confirmed the story was not an advertorial and explained it had no commercial agreement with Camelot.
You could perhaps forgive this from an intern, but the story was penned by the region’s chief reporter, who probably earns three times more than a new starter and should lead by example.
Sadly, this isn’t a one-off. Close to where I now live in Manchester, there is a fantastic community-run village hall that licenses out retail space to external food vendors.
This keeps rent low and ensures that vendors are able to concentrate on producing delicious, authentic food from all over the world, without having to worry about spiralling costs.
There is a Caribbean kitchen called Soul Shack, which is my personal favourite. But there is also Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Italian and whatever takes your fancy.
A recent Instagram post said the future of the venue was in jeopardy.
The council, which keeps a share of the profits generated by the project, is seeking a new commercial partner for the building.
It is currently being run as a not-for-profit food hall, which means the council is losing out on lining its own pockets.
While they may still find a credible suitor, I would imagine that returns to the council and its stakeholders will now take priority over serving the local community.
This should be front page news, but the only information I could find was on social media.
I contacted my local paper to make sure they were aware of the story, and they ran a piece several days later, which revealed the concerns of the existing food vendors.
But nowhere had they bothered to ask for the views of local residents. The piece instead quoted a council brochure that was seeking applications from prospective commercial operators.
Address the balance
It is important that journalists don’t get obsessed with the concept of balance. This became a major issue for the BBC during Laura Kuenssberg’s stint as political editor.
Kuenssberg would platform comments from politicians she had strong relationships with, only without ever challenging whether they were true.
This should not happen at a public service broadcaster, especially one funded by a licence fee.
The BBC must remain a trusted source, but its coverage during this time helped to drive a wedge further between an already polarised British public.
As journalists, we need to get back to basics. This means looking out the window more often:
“If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the window to find out which is true.”