The question occurred to me while listening to a Q and A session at the NCTJ’s Journalism Skills Conference. It was actually asked in a slightly different way of a panel of editors and trainers representing the BBC, STV, The Guardian, Newsquest, and The Scotsman by Bob Satchwell, executive director of the society of editors.
Mr Satchwell asked: “How can news providers make money to pay for [new journalists] when information is so freely available on the internet? And are there any implications for the way we train journalists arising out of that first question?”
This strikes me as a really key question, but the problem with the answers he got was that they circled around the seeming impossibility of charging for news online, and didn’t really get beyond that conundrum.
But, actually, things are not as gloomy across the whole range of media. If we go beyond the narrow definition of news, and think about journalistic content – or content produced by journalists - in general, then I believe some clear and positive answers can be given.
Because, while getting people to pay for general news online, whether locally or nationally, is hugely difficult, there are areas of growth in the media, and areas where there is a healthy market for journalistic skills, as well as the ability to pay for them. And all that despite the recession.
You can watch the conference discussion at http://www.nctj.com/resources.php The videos are long; a full record of a Q and A session lasting almost two hours. I’ll quote the main points the speakers made below, but first, I think its more important – particularly for trainee journalists who hope to find a job in the coming year - to look at where they can best aim their efforts.
My answer is that the pool of employers who will hire journalists, and those with journalistic training, is shifting. Here, in summary, is my list of who can and can’t pay.
Who'll struggle to pay for new journalists in future?
Who'll be able to afford to pay for new journalists?
Local authority-funded magazines
Who else will want those with modern journalistic skills?
With the growth in social media marketing, those who can marry journalistic skills with an understanding of this new area will find themselves in great demand
So, let me justify those claims.
Where the jobs will be in the future
Not on local papers
Local newspapers, where much training has traditionally taken place, will become much less important as an employer. I believe that in the medium term most regional press will disappear, to be replaced by small enterprises, a mix of hyperlocal sites from traditional publishers and from start-ups and very traditional old-school print publications. These enterprises will support very few journalists, and I doubt they’ll be able to afford to train many. Regional press ABCs have been dire, with an overall fall in circulation of 8 per cent.
Not on national newspapers
They’ve only ever taken on a few dozen college-fresh recruits annually between them, and that’s not going to change.
On the BBC
Social broadcasting will remain in rude health. The BBC was described as the elephant in the room during the discussions in
. I can’t see many people paying for local, national or international general news while they can get it free from the Beeb. Glasgow
The BBC will remain very rich and well resourced, and will continue to train people, and to give a journalistic home to those trained elsewhere
On consumer magazines
There are 9,000 or so mags in this country, and only 1,300 newspapers, and magazines in general are not suffering nearly as badly as newspapers.
The August magazine ABCs showed what Press Gazette characterised as a solid performance
Dominic Ponsford reported: “When total circulation of all the thousands of audited titles is totted up, it dropped overall by 1.9 per cent period on period and 3.8 per cent year on year.
“According to final figures from magazine industry trade body the PPA, yesterday’s figures show that total average circulation for all the weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies and so on amounted to just over 657.5 million in the first six months of this year. This compares with 683.6 million in the same period a year ago.
“So while the economy shrank by as much as five per cent according to some estimates – the magazine industry was rather more resilient, at least circulation-wise.”
Nicholas Coleridge, chairman of Conde Nast, spoke on BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show
(you’ll find the interview 20 minutes in on the linked podcast) of 2009 being a “bad year for advertising, a very strong year for circulation, especially in the last six months.” He predicted a rise of a 2 per cent in his magazines' circulation. Despite a fall in advertising, Conde Nast has been expanding, launching two new titles.
Some new journalists will get jobs on glossies fresh from their training courses, but many more will find a home in another growth area:
On customer magazines.
The top three magazines in the
are given to subscribers by Sky. Of the top 20 magazines, only five are actively paid for UK
The analysis, again from Dominc Ponsford shows:Skymag: 7,545,510 (0.0%)
Sky Sports Magazine (
Sky Movies Magazine (
Asda Magazine: 2,524,175 (0.0%)
Tesco Magazine: 1,998,407 (0.0%)
Sainsbury's Fresh Ideas: 1,499,499 (0.0%)
TV Choice: 1,335,894 (100.0%)
What's on TV 1,270,032 100.0%
The Somerfield Magazine: 1,003,795 (0.0%)
Radio Times: 961,114 (99.9%)
Morrisons Magazine: 934,535 (0.0%)
Take a Break: 914,109 (100.0%)
Sense Magazine: 821,895 (0.0%)
Sky Kids: 755,141 (0.0%)
Saga Magazine: 652,055 (98.1%)
Very few falls in circulation there.
But how many journalism courses prepare students for this market, and urge them to equip themselves for a first job in it? When I’ve mentioned this to tutors on such courses they tell me their students wouldn’t wear it; that they aren’t interested in this area. So, to answer Bob Satchwell's question, point them to areas such as this, where the jobs are.
Many tutors also say that students aren’t interested in B2B magazines. They should be encourged to think again.
On B2B magazines
Not all of them will survive, but most will. The survivors will be those that offer information people will pay for: information that helps them make or save money, and do their jobs better.
On local authority magazines
This is a burgeoning area, but one that is much-criticised because of the impact on local newspapers. Local council magazines will remain in rude heath; a whole new platform of social media, funded by the council tax payer.
OK, the journalism won’t be objective, but with 95 per cent of local authorities producing them
there are jobs to be had.
On social media marketing platforms
Social media marketing is going to be a huge growth area. Organisations from the biggest corporations to the smallest family firms want to use Twitter, Facebook and whatever platforms emerge in the future. And to do that well they need people who can create good content. That means journalists, or those with journalistic training and skills.
Journalists deride PRs and delete most of their press releases unread. Quite right; virtually all of them are poorly targeted, poorly written rubbish. But, increasingly, journalists who can handle multimedia can create a release with stills, audio and video that is extremely useful to the outlets it is targeted at. Those trad journalistic organisations that can’t afford nearly as many journalists as they used to lap the stuff up. Want to write for a local paper or get yor reports on local TV? Increasingly, you'd best go into PR.
What the panel said
But enough from me. Here’s what the panellists at the NCTJ’s Future of Journalism conference had to say for themselves.
The session, on December 3, was chaired by Aasmah Mir, Presenter, Radio 5 Live and Radio
. The panellists were: Alex Gerlis, head of training, BBC College of Journalism, Tom Happold, head of multimedia, Guardian News and Media, Tom Lowe, newsgathering editor, STV , John McLellan, editor, The Scotsman, and Margaret Strayton, group editorial manager, Newsquest. Scotland
Bob Satchwell asked them: “How can news providers make money to pay for [new journalists] when information is so freely available on the internet. And are there any implications for the way we train journalists arising out of that first question?
The videos can be seen in full here. If you want to pick up on just this part of the discussion, it begins at 7.50 in the embed below. The debate was filmed by three students studying NCTJ accredited courses: Clare Carswell, Glasgow Caledonian University; Lesley Quinn, Cardonald College; Natasha Radmehr, University of Strathclyde.
Tom Happold, head of multimedia, Guardian News and Media
"If I knew the full answer to this question I’d be several pay grades higher in my profession and much more successful.
"I suspect the answer isn’t one big answer it’s a lot of answers. I suspect we are going to have to look at a number of ways of raising revenue as we increasingly become online publishers.
"Touching on the Murdoch question [paywalls for Times Online and other titles] I’m really curious to see how they do on that. …I find it really hard to imagine who’s going to subscribe to read the Times online. … Its website isn’t as good as its newspaper…it’s not a particularly pleasurable experience reading that website, and it’s not true to the behaviour of people who…get news online.
[He’s asked by the chairperson whether, if all newspapers together chose to charge, people would subscribe. He answers:] "There is one very big text news organisation that is financed by the licence fee [the BBC]. That is the elephant in the room. Also, pure news in the text form is very easy to replicate. ..It’s very easy even if something is behind a paywall to pick up on that story and replicate it and report on that story. It’s why papers often hold stuff back to the last edition.
"To go back to the question; a number of answers. Advertising is still going to be a big part of it, creating a strong relationship with your users online so that you can sell services to them, get them to pay for events, … Also maybe journalism in the future is going to have to look at other sources of funding to do big investigations. …There is no reason why news organisations shouldn’t … appeal to your readers to help you do stuff.
Margaret Strayton, group editorial manager, Newsquest
[She is asked by the chair whether the Johnston Press paywall trial is that the right way forward.]
“I wish I knew, and I wish
’s every success because if it worked for them then I’d bloody well make sure that it works for us. …We have allowed the search engines and the aggregators to come in and to steal our stuff…put there by professional journalists for which it is the publishers who pay to train these, not the Googles of this world. ..I honestly don’t see that people will pay … the perception is that it is free information…we were hoping that we’d have the eyeballs and once we had the eyeballs the advertisers would follow. Well, you know, the advertisers aren’t following in great droves and certainly not paying [what] they would pay to advertise in newspapers. Johnston
John McLellan, editor, The Scotsman
"I think you can probably track it back to the 1980s and the free newspaper explosion …we have since that point steadily devalued news and its reached its peak with the giving away of the London Evening Standard, and online is basically an extension of that. As an industry we have devalued what has cost us a lot to produce …as an industry we do have to try and roll back the years and collectively get back into a position when we do start putting a value on what we do and are not prepared to throw it away.
"We chased audience and Scotsman.com was very successful; we built up three million unique users…but print still represents 95 per cent of our revenues and we have to put 95 per cent of our effort into maintaining where the money’s coming from.
It may be that the future for us is in some kind of PRS [performing rights] setup. If someone plays a Paul McCartney song in
then Paul McCartney gets a payment. I do think we need to start talking …to the likes of Google and… start getting money from them. [referring to the BBC, in whose Glasgow HQ the conference is taking place he goes on:] ..The best way of making money is to ensure that people are threatened with jail if they don’t pay up for your services." Taipei
"We are in danger of sounding like loom weavers in industrial revolution
"Google and the other search engines are creaming off vast amounts of the advertising online but that is because they are providing a service that people like to use. And actually the growth of the web has allowed a publication like the Guardian to become a global news organisation. There are opportunities as well with that and I think."
"The vast majority of us working in a commercial environment cant lose the amount of money the Guardian loses every year. We can’t do it, or we’d be out of a job."
"Some people have experimented with charging. The New York Times put a paywall around its comment section and then took it off because the New York Times stopped being part of the cut and thrust of political debate in online American journalism.
"The idea we could have gone back in time and put a paywall around our sites, [if we had] we wouldn’t have the huge audiences that publications like the Guardian do have online.
"In reality what we are going to have to face up to is a contraction of the industry".
Alex Gerlis, head of training, BBC College of Journalism
"Obviously from a BBC point of view we cannot charge, people are paying a licence fee in the
. In one sense it’s a debate that we are slightly separate from, but we can’t ignore it and we can’t pretend that we’re not part of it. United Kingdom
"When Murdoch is using, the kind of rhetoric he is using around Google, he’s also got the BBC in mind as well. I can’t think that it is commercially helpful to talk about Google in the kind of language that is being used about it. …because for an awful lot of people Google is now part of the English language, so to suddenly demonise it, an awful lot of people aren’t going to understand what you mean, about why is Google stealing things when its simply a way for us to find out about your information.
"…Maybe once you get past the rhetoric, and you start thinking about what sites you would pay for maybe it’ll change, maybe some specialist sites maybe people would do."