Industry experts asked “Is world journalism in crisis?”

Nairobi, New York, and London were just some of the locations linked together last week for a unique conference at Coventry University, in order to answer a much-asked industry question: is world journalism in crisis?

Chaired by Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism, October 28th’s conference boasted names such as Jeff Jarvis, Jeremy Paxman, and Nick Davies, who all spoke to a lecture theatre, and those watching live on the web, via a video call from their positions across the globe.

Each guest speaker’s image was beamed onto a projector as they gave us their take on the current situation in journalism.

Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News, talks to the conference via video link. | Photo: Shane Croucher
Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News, talks to the conference via video link. | Photo: Shane Croucher

“I think the future of journalism is entrepreneurial, not institutional,” said Jeff Jarvis, journalism professor at City University of New York and author of “What Would Google Do?”. He cited the expansion of hyperlocal bloggers in the US, some of whom he claimed are bringing in “between $100,000 and $200,000 in [advertising] revenue”. “We find that to be a very hopeful sign,” he said.

The University of Lincoln’s Professor Richard Keeble also spoke, although in person not by video call, and asked “Crisis? What crisis?” He said “there’s been a constant talk of crises”, pointing to concerns in the past over unions, new technology, and dumbing down.

“At a global level, mainstream newspapers are hardly in crisis, with circulations growing by 2.5 % in the most recent count. According to the World Association of Newspapers, the industry is booming. The industry in China, in particular. Indian circulations have risen by more than 11%, whilst advertising revenue [rose] by 65% in the last 5 years. Nineteen of the world’s top corporate newspapers are Indian.”

He spoke of the “patchy” performance of corporate UK newspapers, citing the various cuts in jobs and titles, despite rising profits for Trinity Mirror, Northcliffe Media and Johnston Press.

“The massive profit margins of the local media groups and their failure to invest properly in the industry were even the subject of a recent parliamentary debate,” he said.

He reflected on a recent NUJ survey which found that 80% of its members could barely afford the average mortgage, while newspaper executives lived on salaries of more than a million pounds a year. Journalism students are the ones facing the crisis, as they facing working for little or no pay just to get onto the career ladder, according to Keeble.

But Keeble also said that “this is a period of opportunity”, particularly for alternative media on the internet. “The internet and blogs only become interesting when they seek to challenge the mainstream.”

Jeremy Paxman, presenter of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, also linked money as a problem in journalism. “Crisis is a journalistic word and we love it. But is there a crisis facing the industry? Yes, I’d say so. What’s caused it? I certainly say… a shortage of money. I don’t know a single journalist who’s working for a newspaper that isn’t in trouble,” he said.

Paxman also noted the crisis in confidence that the public have with the industry: “Journalists, and journalism generally, occupy a much lower position than they once did.”

In total, ten professionals gave talks and answered questions on the conference topic. To listen to the whole conference, visit Coventry University’s website.

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