‘Ramp up the volume’ on the importance of journalism

Dec 02, 2021 at 03:46 am by admin

The woman who led Britain’s 2019 inquiry into the future of journalism had one word today for those contemplating a similar probe: ‘Don’t’.

Academic and former journalist Dame Frances Cairncross (pictured) told a World News Media Congress session a driver of the government-sponsored report was the concern of MPs that local newspapers might not be around to report their activities, and “as a means of getting their achievements in front of people”.

Her advice: “I’d tell them not to have an inquiry, but read what exists.

“None made a huge difference to the general decline,” she said. “It’s unusual for old tech to survive, but we’re groping towards how to continue, and we will continue.

“We’re now learning to get individuals to pay for news as they always did. Either newsrooms will have to be smaller, cheaper and slicker, or we’ll have to get readers to come back and support it. The main thing is to realise the importance of having professional and trained teams watching what governments do. It’s a measure of how much (people) value freedom of speech.”

The Cairncross Review made nine proposals to save the news industry, while noting that newspaper advertising revenue had fallen 69 per cent and circulation revenue by 23 per cent between 2007 and 2017.

Since then, she says there have been “a couple of positives” in that far more high quality news, and more international news than ever before has become available, free or nearly free. “That is an enormous benefit,” she told the session chaired by UNESCO communication and information strategies and policies director Guy Berger.

She described as a “revealed preference” that people have switched “paper news for online news”, but said that an issue was how funding support could be funneled to news groups “without accusations of corruption or partisanship.

“I wanted a public news fund foundation, free of control,” she said. Another issue was why news organisations – which supported the review – should be supported when department stores were also closing, and she offered to “show you plenty of newspaper pages that indicate that no way should we go out of our way to help help”.

Other coverage – such as council, courts, and “incredibly expensive” investigative journalism – were a different matter, and the Scottish government had since reported “similar conclusions” and the need for “some sort of public interest foundation”.

“All eyes should be on Scotland,” she said.

But questioned by Berger on forms of support – including Australia’s bargaining code – she pointed instead to Google as “an extremely important” source of funding.

For her part, co-founder and executive director of Argentina’s SembraMedia Mijal Iastrebner spoke of the importance of diversification in media, “especially for digital natives” and should comprise between two and six 2-6 revenue sources. “And if we don’t train journalists, they won’t be able to have a career and we’ll miss important voices,” she added.

UNESCO has published a handbook of good practices in revenue generation, and Berger made “an impassioned plea” to publishers to “make use of these outputs”.

“Far too few people know what’s going on, and we need to send out this SOS. We need to ramp up the volume before it’s too late.”

Sections: Newsmedia industry


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