The Future of Journalism

Less than ten days after our latest post, UK focus on Reform, the BBC hit the headlines with a spectacular own goal or boob. The Director General, George Entwistle, in post for less than 8 weeks, tendered his resignation largely as a result of being badly mauled on the BBC Radio 4 morning ‘Today’ programme by one his own reporters. Basically, the respected TV evening programme ‘Newsnight’ which had pulled a story less than a year ago about a now dead, but long-serving BBC Disc Jockey, entertainer and fund-raiser in an apparent conflict of interest with another part of the BBC, then went ahead last month with a story that suggested that an unnamed cabinet minister of the Thatcher era was also guilty of pederast activities and that this person’s name could be found on the internet.

The BBC scandal, which seems to more about complex layers of mis-management than chronic corruption – after all two basic editorial mistakes on the same programme (albeit a flagship daily news show watched avidly by the Westminster cognoscenti) – should not condemn the 90,000 plus other BBC programmes produced without much complaint and with a lot of admiration.

The BBC story has further derided public trust in the media, just ahead of the publication by Lord Leveson, a British High Court judge, who has been inquiring into the misdemeanours and alleged crimes committed by some of the UK print media. The British Prime Minister’s former Head of Communications, and his erstwhile boss, Rebecca Brooks, a friend of David Cameron and previously a senior executive in Rupert Murdoch’s News International, were both arrested this week on charges of perverting the course of justice.

However, having spent some time on the travails of the British media, one should not forget to note that all is not sunshime and roses in Germany. After the practical demise of the second largest German press agency DAPD in October, it is now reported that the popular daily, the Frankfurter Rundschau filed for bankruptcy last week. This week, Deutsche Welle, reports that FT Deutschland, which lost some 10 million euros in 2011, is now considered at risk. This in Europe’s biggest, richest and stable media market: where readers spent 22.8 million euros in the third quarter of 2012 on 333 different newspapers.

It is fair to conclude that the flight of classified advertising revenues which has devastated the print sector in the USA in recent years is now having a similar effect across Europe. For too long many print publishers seem to have thought that the digital revolution would somehow pass them by and that even if there was a decline in ad sales that the ‘good ole times’ would soon return. This fading hope now looks forlorn.

There are still some success stories within the print sector: while Newsweek recently disappeared into the online jaws of The Daily Beast, The Economist, which also prides itself as being a newspaper commenting on the weeks political, business and cultural events goes from strength to strength. How is this possible? According to chief executive Andrew Rashbass, it is a combination of being lucky and appealing to readers who are prepared to ‘lean back’ to read serious articles that aspire to the ‘mass intelligent’. Despite the continuing success of sales of the print edition of The Economist, it is also apparent that this is flanked by a substantial investment in the digital version and daily online updates.

The future of journalism is digital, but in an age when the latest news appears around the globe in nanoseconds the winners will be those who can convert and package raw information into ‘intelligence’ and really ‘save busy people’s time’ from having to wade through the information overload.

Julian Oliver, Brussels.

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