Dr Stevie Spring: Is there a future for paid journalism?

In three years’ time I’ll be 24. I will have finished my degree and I’ll officially be a grown up. Perhaps not unlike any other first year undergraduate, I find the prospect frankly terrifying; all I wish for upon my graduation is to wear one of those stupid hats, walk down the cathedral aisle without slipping on my backside and know I’ve got my dream job ready and waiting. Yet perhaps also just like every other student, I know I’m being incredibly naïve.

In reality it’s a big scary world beyond the safety of student halls and a degree programme pandering to your every need, and there’s no shortage of people quite willing to stab you in the back. With the threat of a double dip recession looming, now really isn’t the ideal time for job hunting.

For aspiring journalists the problem is even worse. If you put to one side the increasing culture of redundancies, falling profits and squeezed margins and look past the smears of the phone hacking scandal and gross malpractice, we’re still faced with the very tangible fear that our profession is dying.

In an open lecture last week at the University of Kent, Dr Stevie Spring, CEO of Future Plc, the largest exporter of licenser of magazines in the UK, attempted to address these problems. To put it bluntly, she observed how the innovative world of technology has both innovated and decapitated journalism. Whilst the internet has opened news to everyone and offered instant updates, it’s begun to breed a dangerous culture that news comes for free.

With the emergence of twitter and blog sites as news sources in their own right, it’s tempting to fall prey to the sensation of doom. It was only last week that news of Whitney Houston’s death was broken, not by a newspaper or even a news website, but by twitter. But sites like twitter are very much in their infancy and whilst talking to staff and students at the Canterbury campus Dr Spring made a compelling argument. Twitter is changing. And so is journalism.

Already the language of twitter has become less about what you can cram into those 140 characters and more about what you can share. Whilst we may have become our own editors, choosing what and when we read, we still swarm in our millions to the conventional news hubs. People don’t trust the Syrian national smuggling out messages from their bedroom in the same way they don’t trust the citizen journalist who blogs every day; they trust verifiable, accountable sources like the BBC, Sky and the newspaper industry.

Whilst it might be true the waters ahead are somewhat stormy and innovation is necessary for survival, this does not mean journalism is dying. For as long as trust in professional news sources is ingrained within the public mind set, there will always be paid journalists. For now it’s just a question of how we adapt.

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