Kim Fletcher with an unusually gamesy optimism amongst the gloom infecting some newspaper boardrooms about the future of the newspaper industry. It is, amidst all the fear and gloom it kicks up, an “opportunity for some excitement and fun along the way”.First, what’s getting them down:
A powerful newspaper executive took me out to lunch the other week and looked despondent: “What do you say when friends ask you to advise a child who wants to go into journalism? Can you really tell them it is a great life? Can you recommend it any longer?”
It is true that things don’t seem as rosy as they did on Fleet Street 25 years ago. In the old days at the Sunday Times, when the new owner Rupert Murdoch was still to address the largesse of the Thomson years, they pushed first-class rail tickets into our hands and dispatched us on three-day assignments with photographers. Three days on a news story! Staff photographers! Cashiers shovelled out hundreds of pounds in “advance expenses” in return for vague chits signed by the news desk and accountants obediently signed outrageous accounts for late-night drinking in hotel bars.
What a foreign country compared to the Sunday Times today, in the grip of a three-year spending freeze. Senior journalists used to the modern economics of Fleet Street – managing editors derive a certain pleasure from scoring out hotel bar, laundry and late night video bills on expenses forms – say they have never known a financial straitjacket like it.
The ‘up’ story is that the sale of Northcliffe Newspapers was expected to attract huge interest:
But it is not a vote of confidence in newspapers as they are. It is a vote of confidence in the ability of the newspaper industry to evolve. More than anything – and this is why it is time to stop walking around with such long faces – it is a vote of confidence in journalism.
In all this talk about the end of papers, no one suggests that people don’t want news or information or entertainment any more. On the contrary, they seem to want more and more of all three. That demand will be met by an expansion rather than a retraction in journalistic output. Naturally, with so much information flying about, there is a premium on stuff that you can’t get anywhere else and on stuff you can trust. Both local and national papers are already set up to offer both.
What are all new companies desperate to create? Brand recognition and trust. What do newspapers have in spades? Brand recognition and trust. Those qualities give them the basis not only to retain their existing audience but, providing they show some imagination, the ability to create a new one. Provided they have an audience, they can build new revenues.
And on the innate conservatism of some journalists:
Given that it is their job to report news and to make a different paper every day or every week, many journalists are remarkably resistant to change. They cling to tradition, want the world of print to be as straightforward as it was 20 years ago and will think of five reasons to stay the same rather than one to change. For some, it is enough that the newspaper industry in its present form will last long enough to see them out.
They should be ashamed that even older men are thinking ahead. Press Gazette asked Murdoch if the internet should make journalists fear for their future. “Not at all,” he said. “Just become better journalists. Great journalism will always be needed, but the product of their work may not always be on paper – it may ultimately just be electronically transmitted … There will always be room for good journalism and good reporting. And a need for it, to get the truth out.”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty