Are British journalists stuck in a retrogressive groove?

June 12, 2009

It would appear so, according to this today.

The interview with newspaper proprietor David Montgomery is superb, and highlights the pressing need for many journalists to wake up and recognise the commercial realities of producing content offline and online today.

Yes, the traditionalists will be up in arms, screaming against the need to be commercially-savvy, and hoping for a return to the old days when a newsroom lived in its own content-wrapped bubble, unaffected by nasty words such as budgets, dropping readerships, or cutbacks. But the reality today, as we’ve seen, is vastly different to 20 or 30 years ago.

I remember working, on my first regional newspaper, with a News editor who had been born in the news patch, grew up there, took a teaboy position, and worked his way up over the years to report on the region for the same newspaper across South Wales for 24 years. He loved the newspaper, the community, and all the stories which benefited people’s lives each week.

Whilst this kind of media veteran plays a vital role in cementing and informing a community, without an understanding of why global recession and the drive for faster, more diverse, online news in conjunction with newspapers now exists as a major consumer driving point for the media, he is likely to become another redundant journalist. If he isn’t already.

I am all in favour of Montgomery’s proposition of journos becoming content managers rather than story finders – after all, in all other areas of commercial activity in the UK, products and services are successful in the  marketplace based solely on customer demand. if newspapers are not meeting customer demand, why don’t they change their model of production and distribution?

What’s stopping them? It’s not because of hugely-unprofitable trading conditions: I saw statistics in this month’s NUJ magazine, highlighting profit margin increases of between 15 and 30 percent for Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Gannett UK and the DMGT over the last 12 months.

As a versatile journalist, I have no issue on the production of content to be used across multiple channels if it benefits readers and increases the profitability of the parent organisation.

My objection is when media managers hide behind a Recession and use it as an excuse to give more editorial work to fewer employees, whilst also freezing benefits and pay increases.


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