BUG London: The Future of Journalism
I honestly don’t think there’s a more exciting time to work in journalism, or in the media in general. For so long the media industry sort of tried to ignore the Internet, hoping it might just go away but obviously that was never going to happen, soz guys. In the last five years, we’ve gone from needing printed news (the websites were too shitty) to being introduced to a new whole world of social media – or social news, straight into the palms of our hands 24 hours a day.
And other media industries, like PR, marketing, advertising are all getting more “hip” and modern and undergoing massive structural re-shuffles, plus introducing new roles. People are now not just account managers but “writers”, “curators”, “chief brainstormers” (etc etc). Even though most millennials thought everything was a bit old-fashioned in their first graduate job (you want me to SCAN this?) turns out everything just takes a while to adapt to change. Finally, the companies, i.e. the people behind the companies, realised it’s actually much safer these days to take risks (before your competitors do).
So now we live in a world of many job roles that would make any grandparent go, HUH? YOU WHAT? Because journalism, I feel is currently having the biggest transformation of them all.
We’re having to re-train ourselves almost daily on new platforms, new formats, new delivery. Breaking old habits, learning new ones. Re-learning what people want, how they want it, when they want it. You don’t have one channel anymore, you have about 8-10, when you count up all the different social channels that your audience will no doubt search for and expect daily refreshed content.
Because what we’re mostly talking about here is the news. The thing that has always been around forever and ever and ever. Whether it’s village gossip down the pub (local news), or the 10’clock news on TV, or going to the shops and buying a newspaper, there was a really clear way in which we received our news, and who verified it. We have our different preferred trusted sources. The paper we picked up would be the way we would define ourselves.
But now – newspapers are drying up and the business models are changing. Printed news is slow. We’ve already heard it whilst the ink was drying. What does this all mean? Is the industry dead, as Seth Godin insists?
Earlier this week I went to an event put on by Bug London which is a night at the House of St Barnabus, a not-for-profit members club in Soho. The event was hosted in the most beautiful part of the building, in a chapel, candles everywhere. The question to the panel was “Do we get the press we deserve?” which was an interesting one, because of course the way we receive our news has drastically changed over the last decade. The Fleet Street glory days appear to be over. It’s now all about Silicon Valley. Briefcases away, iPads out.
Are we overly sentimental about household names when it comes to press? Miranda Sawyer asked this question to the panel. For example, Sophie Heawood, who had a column “Milf Teeth” in Vice I’ve been following for yonks, has now jumped ship to the Guardian as a weekend columnist. A fabulous job of course, but said herself that Vice really is taking over financially and broadening their offering in very savvy ways.
Given the choice, would you choose a household brand over a newer venture? Does a traditional paper even had more clout anymore? Is it a generational thing?
Matt Kelly, former head of features at the Daily Mirror was on the panel, reminiscing about the good old days (in the 80s) where the salary was huge and you could buy a house with your annual earnings, and have a never-ending budget to do some seriously high-rolling. (And he worked with Piers Morgan, nuff said).
Now, the budgets in newspapers are much much lower, the teams are smaller, and it’s even harder to get an entry level job at one of them.
Scott Bryan from Buzzfeed jumped in and everyone was completely engrossed in hearing about the behind-the-scenes, you know, being the hottest new website on the block. Buzzfeed was only founded in 2006 and has just received $50 million in funding. AKA, doing way better than Rupert Murdoch’s papers who lose millions every day. People sat in the audience were sceptical and asked Scott some difficult questions about how such a site would be sustainable but he made it known that the site isn’t just cat videos and lists. He also made it clear that the staff writers also have proper editing, as it appears that a few people were assuming that things just get slapped on the site within moments. It was really interesting to hear because I love Buzzfeed long reads and overall the business model is so interesting.
It seems as though the old school journalists aren’t happy with the idea of a “gimmicky website” like Buzzfeed taking over, taking eyeballs away from traditional news sources where you would normally pay for your content.
I asked a question at the end about the importance of the individuals who are profiled within the papers. I spend a small fortune every weekend on papers, but that’s because I want to read Caitlin’s Times column, Lauren Laverne in Observer, Katie Glass and Camilla Long in Sunday Times etc. Those writers have their own personal audience who enjoy their weekly words and trust their judgement – it’s the individuals who keep pulling in younger readers. Some writers have bigger social followings than the publications and could jump ship at any moment, taking that community with them. Then we all got sidetracked and spoke about Jenna Marbles for ages. But definitely an example though of a self-made platform with a mega audience. Everyone is self-publishing, it’s just that some grow to the millions and some don’t.
The night was full of debate, lots of reflectiveness, and a lot of questions. No one had all the answers. I think it’s fair to say that we all agreed that the media is in a total state of flux right now. But, as someone who is very much a “digital native” (vom at the over-use of those two words but you know what I mean) I am really excited for the digital future of the news. I think becoming more connected can only be a good thing, for everyone. It also gives everybody a reason to never become complacent.
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