Editing the Birmingham Post. The kind of job that most could only dream of, yet for Stacey Barnfield that dream is very much a reality and our day pretending to be journalists was all the more enjoyable for being hosted by a talented man who clearly loves his job.
Our day began around 9am with a tour of the enormous newsroom, where tens of people were already beavering away with a passionate efficiency which has led to our regional print and online media becoming the all-encompassing hub of information it is today.
Within the mass pool of human talent were a number of very technical bits of software and analytical equipment which, I must admit, captured my imagination and got me thinking about how I could stretch the marketing budget just far enough to cover the cost of such things… short of cutting all electricity and water to the offices for a little while, I think I may have to return to the drawing board.
The over-excited FleetMilne team then took a few minutes to take a range of insightful and embarrassing pictures before our news conference with the Regional Head of Business, Graeme Brown. This is where things took a serious turn.
To his credit, Graeme knew every inch of the paper inside out. We were presented with a breakdown of what stories and features would be making up each page of the paper and Graeme explained every single one in detail, with an expertise which led us to believe he could very conceivably have hand-crafted every word himself.
We were asked our opinion on the stories, asked what we would like to see in the paper, asked about what we thought of the layout and whether story A should go on page 4 or story B and all sorts of other things which really made the whole trip an immersive experience.
Following our conference and an in-depth chat about business in Birmingham, which spiralled off into debates about the current state of the property market on more than one occasion, we made our way over to the building where the magic after the magic happens.
Intelligence comes in many forms and seeing the inside of a printing unit is an experience which oozes intelligence on every level. The head of the unit, Nick Cohm, gave us a wonderful tour and introduced us to the staff that are responsible for the printing of millions of newspapers – millions. They see things happen at a speed which would make the average eye water and yet, purely by sight, they can spot a mistake and fix it – not that there are often any mistakes to spot.
The staff are incredibly skilled and essential to the smooth-running of the unit, however the machinery and artificial intelligence at work is truly something to behold. Robots of all shapes, sizes and functions hold key positions of responsibility throughout the printing process and, if they are ever left with nothing to do, they quite calmly take themselves off to find a quiet corner and recharge. The robots that can’t move, for example the ink units, monitor their own performance, advise the right people when they are running low on ink and then order refills for themselves. By his own admission, Nick has no idea when ink deliveries are coming, they just happen. Personally, if I were not there in a professional capacity I fear I may have allowed myself to get a little carried away marvelling in the spectacle of flawless technology.
That said, it was bordering on becoming a little I,Robot and we did find ourselves breathing a collective sigh of relief when we made it out of there without provoking some sort of Rise of the Machines-esque uprising.
After that, we made our way back over to the newsroom for the most important part of the day – lunch. A delicious spread didn’t survive long and we wrapped our day up with a final tour of the famous Fort Dunlop roof before heading back to FM HQ.
So, a summary. The Birmingham Post is a special place and we, as a region and a city, should be very proud and thankful to have such dedicated, talented professionals in our midst. The technology that goes into running a regional paper is more impressive than you can probably imagine and, if you ever get the opportunity, please take a tour of the newsroom and the printing unit. You’ll thank us at the end of it, it really does have to be seen to be believed.
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