Industry Voices

Peter Clifton | Editor-in-Chief | PA Media Group

By Jess Browne-Swinburne

2 Sep 2020

As the national news agency for the UK & Ireland, PA Media Group provides a whole range of content for a whole range of customers. The likes of Sky and the BBC to regional newspapers and digital-only publications all benefit from the news, sports, features, real-life, entertainment and many other types of content created by PA. Editor-in-Chief, Peter Clifton explains how they have worked in partnership with their customers during COVID to help them "weather the storm" and the concept behind their new award-winning platform, PA Explore.

What made you want to work in the publishing industry?

Right from when I was young, the arrival of the evening newspaper, the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, was a great highlight for me. I had a fascination with it and had decided by my early teens that I wanted to work for a newspaper like that.

Chart your career from the start to where you are now.

I did work experience for the Chronicle & Echo during my holidays and once I had an NCTJ qualification, I got a job there. I was a news reporter and the cricket correspondent and after 7 years I went to the BBC to become a sub editor on its Ceefax service and then moved to the sports news agency Extel, which was then taken over by PA. I became the Editor at PA who was responsible for the Teletext service on ITV and then moved back to BBC Ceefax to be Editor. It was at that time that the BBC was starting a news website and within a few months we put Ceefax and the news website together and I became the UK Editor of the BBC News website. I then launched and ran the BBC Sport website, then had various roles until 2011 when I left to become the Executive Producer at MSN UK. During that time, I renewed my relationship more closely with PA and six years ago I became Editor-in-Chief here.

Explain the role of PA Media Group within the news media industry.

We are the national news agency for the UK and Ireland and largely based on subscriptions. Customers from the likes of Sky and the BBC to the smaller regional newspapers alongside digital customers like Huffington Post, take content from us and pay depending on how much content they want. Our services include a huge amount of words every day on the day-to-day news agenda, and we also have photographers, video journalists and reporters around the country. We have a big Sports operation, City coverage, Features coverage, Real Life and Entertainment coverage as well as a Page Production team who do the subbing and layout for our newspaper and magazine customers. It’s a big machine and while we travel extensively abroad, particularly for Sport, our day-to-day focus is on the news agenda in the UK and Ireland.

How is the PA Media Group of August 2020 different to PA Media Group pre-COVID?

We were fortunate because we had moved to a new office which was based on hot-desking, so everyone had their own laptop and was equipped to work from home. We still had reporters, photographers and video journalists who travelled throughout lockdown, but a lot of the work has been done from home. The thing that you miss is having the key people who run the operation being together in the heat of battle when a story is breaking. In the future there will be some teams that work more at home and some teams that work in the office, which will mean we have more people in more places which can be very beneficial for newsgathering.

In your opinion, how has the news media industry dealt with and adapted to the global pandemic?

I have been hugely impressed with how all our customers have adapted so quickly to an incredibly difficult set of circumstances. Nobody has dragged their feet because ultimately it is a matter of survival. At the start we asked our customers how they needed us to help so we have played our part by providing a lot of extra content. We were not trying to make a fast buck, but instead work together and cement those relationships.

PA Media recently won the 2020 EANA Award for Excellence in News Agency Quality for your recently launched project, PA Explore. Could you explain the concept behind PA Explore?

When I came back to PA, one of my observations was that it wasn’t necessarily easy for a customer to know what PA was producing. If you are in a busy newsroom, our PA content can be lost amongst other content. The concept of Explore was to produce a new platform where you could find everything in one place and use that platform as the sole way of finding our content. On Explore you can see all our most recent content chronologically, alongside other content that is relevant to those stories. It’s a one-stop-shop to see everything that PA has done and is available to you.

How many journalists have now on boarded to PA Explore since it was launched?

Around 8,000 since the start of the year. The lockdown played into our hands and allowed us to push the platform and its benefits for homeworking. As a result, we have seen an acceleration in our customers joining.

What’s on your Radar?

Our customers across lockdown have used PA more than ever and our reliable, constantly updated content is really important to those that are feeling the pinch and have had to furlough staff. Our success always relies on the success of our customers and if the impact of the virus continues then there is a knock-on effect for us. If publications cease to exist, that will also have an impact. Over the last 150 years we have faced many challenges, and I believe we can weather the storm and come out of this stronger together.

What magazine would you stockpile?

Private Eye. I have been a reader for a long time and I still love and admire the journalism they produce, as well as the laughs.