The speakers were split between the yeas, nays and dunnos at yesterday’s ‘Is World Journalism in Crisis?’ live-streamed video conference at Coventry University (full audio and video to follow soon), chaired by the head of the BBC College of Journalism, Kevin Marsh.
In the optimists’ corner we had CUNY’s Professor Jeff Jarvis (no surprises there) and a buoyant Professor Richard Keeble: despite witnessing the plight of his local, the Lincolnshire Echo, he was confident new opportunities and techniques were emerging for journalism of the future.
More cautiously, Dr Frederick Mudhai, senior lecturer in journalism at Coventry outlined challenges in world markets and emphasised the increasing ‘tabloidisation’ and celebrity content of African news, citing that a Nigerian newspaper had now introduced page 3.
Dr George Nyabuga, managing editor at the Media Convergence Group and speaking from Nairobi, said that media is in very few hands in Kenya, which can lead to a crisis in trust. There’s a disconnect, he said, between journalists and public, with news organisations producing content that interests the market, not the public. State and commercial pressures increasingly put on media organisations to conform to ways of doing things, he said. Nonetheless, he said, he was encouraged by citizen participation online and the opportunities that afforded.
Likewise, Professor Adrian Monck, former head of journalism at City University, saw potential for journalists to work in new fields, but emphasised that there was a crisis of confidence and jobs in the industry of which new students needed to be aware. Dr Suzanne Franks, director of research at Kent University’s Centre for journalism was err-ing more on the glass half-empty, with little faith in the growth of citizen media (she wouldn’t trust ‘citizen dentistry’ either). But, while cautious about releasing money from the public purse, she could see the potential for some top-slicing of the BBC licence fee.
In-between camps, her colleague Professor Tim Luckhurst deeply regretted ever letting content go free during his time at the Scotsman, criticising the way newspapers had blundered into the online market. But he said, new online agency models were very likely to emerge, and he was ‘also optimistic that others will make more innovative models‚ funded by sales and advertising’.
Meanwhile, renowned BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman, sipping (what looked like) a coffee in a room at BBC TV Centre, was despondent about the level of press-release generated content from ‘the sausage machine’. A saturated news market essentially recycles press releases as an ‘extremely partial version of the truth’ – with too much comment over investigative journalism. His wish for the industry? “I think I would plea for more time, and more originality.” But while he tries to put off people who want to enter (it’s a good test of whether they’ll make it) he still loves the job.
Nick Davies, author and Guardian journalist, was a truer pessimist, stressed the seriousness of the crisis for quality journalism, with theories familiar to readers of Flat Earth News (the various commercial pressures on newsrooms have led to journalists manufacturing a ‘consensus’ version of the news). We need professional journalism (and no, he’s not a citizen journalist of sorts, he told chair Kevin Marsh) ‘Punters’ can’t do it alone, he said, claiming that a lot of citizen journalism content was rubbish. For Davies, it’s all about the truth, and trust-funded journalism (such as the Scott Trust) is our best hope of that.
Lastly, me, an in-betweener. I tackled the UK newspaper industry, deeply in crisis in its current state, I think. But we can be more positive for journalism at large, with truly exciting online projects emerging – not necessarily branding itself as journalism (MySociety, data-mashing projects etc). We can look bravely ahead, whilst accepting that the Sunday Times Insight Team of the future may not be newspaper-based.
Event producer and Coventry University lecturer John Mair didn’t elaborate his view fully, but ended on an upbeat note: They said a world video conference couldn’t be done, he said. “But you’ve had some of the best in journalism beamed into Coventry”.
In an email to participants after the event Mair said that it ‘should not have worked’: “Distinguished speakers from across five continents, an audience of students, academics and real people, three-and-a-half hours of exciting intellectual debate and more, breaking new frontiers with videoconferencing and webcasting and Twitter and more: this has put Coventry and Coventry journalism on the world stage.”
All audio and visual material will be available in due course. Covetnry University’s ‘Is World Journalism in Crisis?’ was supported by Journalism.co.uk and sponsored by Camelot plc.