Inside Story: News Agencies

Ever wondered how big stories make the journey from the provinces to the pages of the nationals? Ed Caesar introduces Britain's local heroes
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The Independent Online

MANCHESTER - CAVENDISH

Who are they?

Founded in 1979 by Brian Whittle, Cavendish quickly emerged as the biggest news agency in the Manchester area.

What's their beat?

Primarily targets national newspapers, but also supplies copy to locals. Features, too, have a national focus, but are mainly used by women's magazines. Increasing emphasis on celebrity.

Splash factor?

Harold Shipman. They uncovered the story, subsequently breaking the news that he killed three people in one day, and publishing his prison letters in the Sunday Telegraph. Released pictures of Shipman partying which made the front of the Sunday Mirror - and have the only pictures of the bodies.

BELFAST - LEWIS PHOTO PRESS

Who are they?

Daily Mail photographer Alan Lewis formed this agency in 1993, and has established strong links with local reporters to provide picture and words exclusives for all national newspapers.

What's their beat?

Until a couple of years ago, the Troubles kept the agency pretty busy, but the focus has shifted recently. Traditional news agency fare of court coverage and features have re-emerged, with Irish editions of the Mirror and the Daily Mail being regular clients.

Splash factor?

Lewis's photos from the 10th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire made the front pages of most nationals.

GLASGOW - ATOM

Who are they?

Formed in 1998 by Tom Finney and Ashley Coombes, this photographic agency has since built a portfolio of striking pictures which have been published nationally and abroad.

What's their beat?

Atom swim against the stream of mainstream news agencies thinking by avoiding stereotypically Glaswegian stories. There is, for instance, no football photography in their portfolio.

Splash factor?

Their photo of the Glasgow University fire was used on the front page of the Scotsman and the Telegraph, as well as appearing in all the other Scottish nationals.

BIRMINGHAM - NEWS TEAM

Who are they?

Nigel Iskander formed the agency in 1986, and it now has 25 staff. Two former News Team photographers, Paul Sanders and Kim Scott-Clarke, have gone on to the picture desk at The Times, while Paul Hackett has won awards for his work at Reuters.

What's their beat?

Iskander insists that "you don't have to be a bastard" to get by, and that thinking laterally is as important as persistence.

Splash factor?

Proudest moment was when a schoolboy on work experience took a photograph of Tony Blair campaigning in 1997, which made the front of three broadsheets. Its other big scoop was an exclusive interview with a couple who were held hostage by IRA bombers in 1989, while the captors were in the next room.

CARDIFF - WALES NEWS SERVICE

Who are they?

Formed by Tom Bedford and Paul Horton in 1990, has since gone on to provide news, pictures, and features for the nationals.

What's their beat?

Generally, coverage is limited to South and West Wales, but reporters travel as far as the story merits. Three-man features team works principally for women's magazines.

Splash factor?

This year broke the story of Michael Blake, a teenage father of six making a living from benefit payments.

LIVERPOOL - MERCURY

Who are they?

Terry Smith, now chairman of Emap, founded Mercury in the early 1960s. The agency is now owned by Chris Johnson, who after 28 years with Mercury still heads the 11-strong team of reporters, feature writers and photographers.

What's their beat?

Every national daily and Sunday paper uses Mercury, as do local papers, magazines and TV.

Splash factor?

In 1981, Mercury sold exclusive pictures of the Toxteth riots to every newspaper and television station in Britain, as well as overseas. It also conducted a series of exclusive interviews with the mother of murdered toddler James Bulger.

EXETER - APEX

Who are they?

Apex was founded in 1991. The agency now employs a total of 25 staff to provide news and pictures for the whole South West.

What's their beat?

Apex produces a wide range of material, from tabloid exclusives to broadsheet features. It also files to magazines and does a fair bit of corporate work.

Splash factor?Photographs of Pete Goss's super-yacht in trouble off the Scilly Isles made front page news in many of the red-tops. They also had an exclusive in the Sun with Swampy's A30 protests in 1997.

BRISTOL - SOUTH WEST

Who are they?

Founded in 1966 by four freelance journalists, the agency operated as a words-only news service for almost 20 years before integrating photo-journalism. As numbers swelled in the 1980s, South West started to employ feature writers as well, and it now claims to be the biggest independent agency in Britain. A host of young journalists have cut their teeth there, most notably Stuart Higgins, former editor of the Sun.

What's their beat?

South West provide features, hard news, and photographs for every publication imaginable.

Splash factor?

Broke the Camilla Parker-Bowles divorce story to the Sun as an exclusive which ran for three days. They also took the first pictures of Hungerford murderer Michael Ryan, which hit all the nationals' front pages.

SOUTHAMPTON - SOLENT NEWS

Who are they?

Formed in 1969 by Peter Wightman, it now covers Hampshire, Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight, while its sister agency, Bournemouth News, covers Dorset. Employs 20 journalists.

What's their beat?

The agency provides reporters, feature writers, and photographs for most national newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, and has a good relationship with a number of magazines.

Splash factor?

"We are still waiting for the big one."

INVERNESS - NORTH PIX

Who are they?

In 1988, after 25 years with the Daily Record, Ian Jolly set up his ownpicture agency in Inverness. He operated on his own until his son Peter joined 12 years ago. They cover the whole of North Scotland, and are used by every national newspaper.

What's their beat?

Ian Jolly claims that his patch is "one of the best news areas anywhere", with regular mountain rescues, boat sinkings, naval and air bases, and extreme weather. The agency provides hard news photographs for national editors, who can often take two or three days to send their own staff.

Splash factor?

An impressive record of front page exposure, exemplified by the picture Peter took of Madonna inspecting Skibo Castle before her wedding.

ABERDEEN - NEWSLINE SCOTLAND

Who are they?

Having been a freelance photographer in the North East of Scotland for 15 years, Derek Ironside established his own news and picture agency five years ago.

What's their beat?

Oil rigs and royal castles are the two natural centres of interest for this region, but owing to the decline in interest for royal scoops since the death of Diana, the agency has taken on a more varied remit.

Splash factor?

Ironside discovered a self-portrait photograph that had been taken by the Dunblane killer, Thomas Hamilton. The following day, the Daily Star bought the exclusive and showed it on their front page, almost every other national daily to do the same.

EDINBURGH - NEWSFLASH

Who are they?

Established in Stirling by Frank Gilbride in 1993, Newsflash has grown sufficiently to warrant three offices across Scotland (in Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow) and a staff of 20 journalists.

What's their beat?

The agency started working with London-based red-tops, in particular the Sun and the Mirror, but, like most agencies, it is happy to cover anything and everything. Gilbride, though, puts a premium on news and picture exclusives targeted at big-spending clients such as the Daily Mail.

Splash factor?

The Dunblane massacre. Newsflash was on the scene within 15 minutes, and its pictures were used first by Sky News - and then by every national newspaper the following day.

BRADFORD - ROSS PARRY

Who are they?

Jeff Ross and David Parry, both photographers, co-founded this Bradford agency in 1983, initially as a pictures-only operation. In 1988, they bought the Leeds news agency Melia, and overnight became a words and pictures agency. Their alumni include Mick Booker, news editor of the Sunday Star, and Niki Waldegrave, the former 3am girl.

What's their beat?

"We're a tabloid agency", says Parry, but they also frequently accept magazine and broadsheet commissions. Strong links with the Mail and Express.

Splash factor?

Broke the arrest of one-legged kidnapper and murderer Michael Sands to every national tabloid. Aerial pictures of the Scarborough hotel which fell into the sea were used worldwide.

NEWCASTLE - NORTH NEWS

Who are they?

Co-founded, originally in Middlesborough, by Ted Ditchburn and his wife Jane in 1984. The agency has a stranglehold on the North-East.

What's their beat?

As a fledgling agency, Ditchburn concentrated on the 'qualities', but has since branched out to provide copy for every publication from the Sunderland Echo to Time magazine.

Splash factor?

North News' coverage of the Cleveland child sex abuse scandal in early 1987 established the agency as a serious player. Its most enduring image, however, is of a beleaguered looking Margaret Thatcher walking among industrial ruins during her misguided inner-city regeneration initiative, which hit every national broadsheet.

EAST - HULL NEWS AND PICTURES

Who are they?

Founded in 1996 by Sean Spencer, Hull News and Pictures originally consisted of only one photographer and one reporter. The agency remains very much a small agency covering hard news.

What's their beat?

Crime stories are plentiful in Hull and Grimsby, and the agency's material reflects this, with doorstepping and court coverage the key components of their output.

Splash factor?

The blackmail case involving former butcher and millionaire Julian St Quinton was broken by the agency, and was a front-page exclusive for the Sun under the headline 'Sex, Pies and Videotape'.

READING - INS

Who are they?

Established by Neil Hyde and Chris Felton in 1980, INS now employs 25 journalists, including features team headed by ex-Mail on Sunday features editor Tom Hendry.

What's their beat?

Covering 18 counties, the agency has a wide range of stories and clients. Every national newspaper and many magazines use its copy.

Splash factor?

The Sunday Mirror bought exclusive rights to Sophie Wessex's hospitalisation, and it was later covered on the front of the Daily Mail and the Mirror. Also sold the 'Cheriegate' story exclusively to the Mail on Sunday.

LEICESTER &DERBY - RAYMOND'S

Who are they?

Raymond's started life as a court recording agency shortly after the Second World War, and is now a firmly established news agency with a staff of 15 journalists.

What's their beat?

The agency has stayed true to its roots, continuing the traditional news agency tasks of court coverage, local interest stories, and sports reporting. The East Midlands provides a constant stream of hard news.

Splash factor?

Its in-depth reporting of the Shinolle Taylor murder provided copy for many national red-tops, just as its reporting from the 1984 miners' strike had done 20 years previously.

CAMBRIDGE - MASON'S

Who are they?

Mason's has been operating in Cambridge for 25 years, providing news, photographs, and TV packages from Eastern England. It has grown from a one man team to a staff of four reporters and five camera men.

What's their beat?

Cambridge and the University provide a natural focus, but the real interest is often found in rural areas. Prides itself on being able to offer words, pictures and TV footage on anything from features to news exclusives.

Splash factor?

The Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman story was on its patch, and it reported on Soham for all the nationals, notably the Sun.

OLD BAILEY - JOE WOOD AGENCY

Who are they?

Joe Wood began reporting from the Old Bailey in 1978. His two-man agency is one of a dwindling number of specialist court operators, but still files to every national newspaper.

What's their beat?

Old-fashioned, unglamorous court reporting with an emphasis on consistency and quality.

Splash factor?

Joe has had a ringside seat for the biggest trials of the last quarter century, including those of Jeffrey Archer, the Yorkshire Ripper, and the Brighton bombers. His biggest exclusive was the case of Ralston Edwards, the last trial in which an alleged rapist was allowed to cross-examine the alleged victim. It was front page news in the Sun and the News of the World.

KENT - KENT NEWS

Who are they?

Chris Eades used his experience on the picture desk at the Evening Standard to form his own news agency in Maidstone in 1993. The company now has three offices, 21 staff, and gathers news from the South-East and abroad.

What's their beat?

Like many agencies, has seen a shift away from court coverage and hard news to a more varied and celebrity-driven agenda. Employs three reporters purely for showbiz stories.

Splash factor?

Having sent a small team to Iraq, achieved its biggest scoop when reporter Grant Hodgson was inside the UN building as it was bombed on 20 August 2003. His first-hand account was front page news in the Mirror and the Daily Mail.

KENT - FERRARI

Who are they?

The agency was founded in 1945 by Lino Ferrari, who ran the operation from his sitting room. Ferrari soon expanded, becoming the place for up-and-coming journalists (and future editors) such as Kelvin Mackenzie and Richard Stott to cut their teeth.

What's their beat?

The agency's focus has become both thematically and geographically diverse. Ferrari admit it cover s increasing numbers of celebrity stories, while venturing far outside its traditional Kent stamping ground to find news copy for the red-tops.

Splash factor?

Ferrari broke the story of Kenneth Noye's flight from justice (after the murder of Stephen Cameron) to the News of the World.

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