Tuesday 16 February 2010

'How the local press was undermined and why newspapers are still important'

There's a horrifying story about the management of a regional newspaper group in a new book - Newspaper Journalism by Peter Cole and Tony Harcup - which the authors give as one of two examples of the attitudes that undermined the local press.
It tells how reporters on a Home Counties weekly were emailed by their editorial director and told their delivery of  national newspapers was to end - and in the future they should rely on Google and newspaper websites.
As the authors say: "The irony of the instruction was not lost on journalists trying to sustain a printed weekly newspaper."
The second example is a BBC interview in 2008 in which Tim Bowdler, then chief executive of Johnston Press, described the group's newspapers as "profitable cash generation units".
Cole and Harcup. who are both based at the University of Sheffield, claim: "The majority of the weekly newspaper owners owned by today's dominant publishers exploited the high penetration of their titles, regarding them as secure and not in danger of suffering from cuts in editorial budgets."
The result, they say, was "Tiny, inexperienced editorial staffs meant fewer reporters to cover the courts, and the council, the villages, local societies, golden weddings and funerals."
Newspaper Journalism is not just about what's gone wrong with the industry but in many ways a celebration of why newspapers continue to be important and fascinating.
For example, on the question of why newspapers are still seen as so influential, Newspaper Journalism says: "Rival media are to blame for deferring to newspapers and sustaining their reputation for remaining the most influential medium.  So radio and television constantly review newspapers, rolling 24-hour news channels at length and repeatedly, with newspaper journalists doing it; current affairs programmes discuss the content and views of newspapers, late-night phone ins discuss issues they have read about in the press, print journalists appear on Newsnight, Question Time, Any Questions, anywhere a view is needed."
The book adds: "It is of course partly because the electronic media are obliged to be impartial whereas print journalists take positions. None of this is good for the egos of the print journalists who are so magnified across the electronic media."
On celebrity journalists, it says: "The car is not the star on Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson is. When Piers Morgan turns his charms on tabloid celebrities in his television interview show, there is no question who the real celebrity is. Not the WAG or the supermodel. Both Clarkson and Morgan were once simple newspapermen."
And on media studies: "Studying the media is a Mickey Mouse subject, suitable only for wasters and charlatans. We know that because the media keep telling us so."
Cole and Harcup say newspapers are sensitive to crticism and don't like admitting mistakes. "Most dislike and disparage analysis and crticism of their practices, particular when it comes from media academics."
They might be media academics, but Cole and Harcup have enough experience of journalism to spot the absurdities of the newspaper industry  - like journalists being told they can't have newspapers and should use the internet - as well as its continuing importance despite the difficulties it faces.
Newspaper Journalism by Peter Cole and Tony Harcup, is published by Sage, price £19.99.

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