Archive for the ‘NUJ’ tag

Whatever local news funding model you support, if we don't know what's out there, we won't know what's working

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Arguments are starting to solidify. Camps are starting to coalesce. Policies are being set.

Now that many people have realised the seriousness of the crisis in local journalism in this country, we are – finally – moving briskly into the ‘what can we do about it?’ phase.

And already there are three camps forming:

1. The ‘Free the Corporations’ camp, as represented mostly by the senior executives at news corporations and by the recently created ‘Local Media Alliance’ – set up to make sure the government is aware of the desperate need to liberalise competition and ownership rules (though the Alliance stresses it is not a lobbying group). This week the F-the-C camp gained a considerable filip when the Conservatives came out in support of such liberalization and the CMS Select Committee announced it would look into ‘the desirability of changes to the regulatory framework for print and electronic local media, including cross-media ownership and merger regulations’.

2. The ‘Don’t Free the Corporations Camp’ as represented by the NUJ, 90 MPs who signed an Early Day Motion, and assorted others. Their argument is that deregulation would simply allow the Corporations to continue what they have been doing for the last few years, i.e. reduce editorial resources, make more journalists redundant, and centralise editorial and production. It’s not clear exactly what this camp wants as an alternative (the NUJ has called for politicians to come up with ‘big ideas’), though some are starting to argue for government subsidies. Roy Greenslade, for example, has proposed the State commit funds to a central pot which can then be distributed by a semi-independent body (similar in some ways to OFCOM’s ‘Public Service Publisher’ idea, dropped back in 2007). But the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport has, for the time being, rejected the possibility of subsidies.

3. The ‘Survival of the Fittest’ camp, as represented mostly by people like Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis. They take the Darwinian evolution line – experiment and experiment then let the free market decide. This approach doesn’t necessarily exclude future public or private subsidies for news, but argues strongly against government support for ‘old industries’.

Needless to say the three camps are not necessarily mutually exclusive (though (2) and (3) would probably have a hard time agreeing).

Given the urgency of the situation it seems highly likely that this government and/or its successor will liberalize to some extent. And with or without liberalization, number (3) will necessarily happen by default – some newspapers will die, and some news organisations probably will too.

Which leaves (2), and this is where we really do need some more thinking. One of the most interesting ideas so far is Matthew Taylor‘s suggestion building on Martin Bright’s plan for a ‘New Deal for the Mind’. Taylor has proposed providing small scale start-up funds, of around £30,000 each, for hundreds, if not thousands of new journalism ventures. This way you not only take advantage of the low start up costs of the net, but you release enormous amounts of creativity at relatively little cost (everything’s relative, of course).

But if this idea, or others like it, are going to happen, we need to know more about what is and isn’t working now. We need to explore new, small scale models in this country and abroad. We need to do some research, and fast.

Written by Martin Moore

March 27th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Journalism past and future?

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Beside one another on my RSS feed:

“Up to 500 editorial jobs could be cut from ITV regional operations, the National Union of Journalists said today after Ofcom endorsed ITV proposals to slash its local and regional news services” (from Media Guardian)
and…
“The Teesside Gazette is to increase its roster of ultra-local contributors to 1,000 in the next year, building on the 400 it already has across 22 postcode-related sites (from Journalism.co.uk)”

Written by Martin Moore

September 29th, 2008 at 10:53 am

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Avoiding a bloody revolution

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There’s much to agree with in the NUJ’s ‘Shaping the Future’ report published today, but it is also underpinned by a flawed assumption which, I think, undermines its central message.

The report is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of quality journalism, and the significant erosion of public interest journalism that has come partly as a result of our ongoing technological revolution. And you can sympathise with their criticisms (if not the comrade style language) of ‘short-sighted media employers’. It’s true that, with media changing so fast, many senior media figures don’t seem to be able to see past the end of their nose. Although whether its fair to say they are simply using new technology ‘to reduce costs and boost profits, with the erosion of quality journalism [considered] an acceptable price to pay’ is certainly arguable

But back to the underlying assumption. The report – and presumably the NUJ – conflates journalists with journalism. It assumes that not only is there a clear line between a professional journalist and a non-professional (itself a generalisation that can be challenged) but that journalism can clearly be distinguished from non-journalism. It can’t. Or certainly not on the internet.

- If the same photograph is published on a blog and on the front page of TimesOnline is one journalism and one not?

- When Melanie Phillips published her blog, is that user-generated content or journalism? Is it only journalism if it’s published in the Mail?

- If I write a report of an event I’ve just been to and stick it online – is it journalism?

In its section on ‘User Generated Content’ the report writes:

“The issue of user-generated content is not an issue of technology; it is one of defending quality journalism. This is not to say that all user-generated content is bad or that there are no quality blogs, but professional journalism, adequately funded and resourced, plays a role in society and democracy that needs to be defended.”

This assumes there is one big bucket called ‘user-generated content’ and another called ‘professional journalism’. It’s just not as simple as that anymore. And though I’d entirely agree that public interest journalism ‘plays a role in society and democracy that needs to be defended’, that is not the same as saying ‘professional journalism plays a role in society and democracy that needs to be defended”.

It seems to me that rather than try to erect walls around ‘professional journalism’ we need redefine the role of the journalist and reconstitute the Fourth Estate (which in itself will protect the professional journalist).

The blogs, photos, videos, podcasts are going to be published – to try to stop them would be King Canute-like. Much better to harness some of the remarkable energy of self-publishing and integrate more people and organisations into the Fourth Estate (which means starting by telling them what it is). Channel their energy towards public interest issues. If there’s a bunch of people that really care about local services but believe funding is being terribly misused, help them to investigate it. Give them the raw materials and tools.

In any revolution it’s entirely natural that the old guard will try to defend their ground. But this tends to end bloodily. Much better to work with the revolutionaries – especially when there is a common cause worth fighting for.

Written by Martin Moore

December 6th, 2007 at 12:41 pm

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