Journalism to rise to the challenge of the News Normal

Keith Gladdis

Covid-19 has presented the media with its biggest challenge in generations, what does that mean for journalism, politics and business?

The media has played a critical role in keeping us informed and holding power to account during the coronavirus pandemic but journalism itself has become part of the story like never before.

As we enter the News Normal, MHP invited some of the country’s leading journalists to discuss the political, economic and societal challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Watch our "News Normal" webinar

Polly Curtis @pollycurtis partner and editor at Tortoise and soon to be Managing Director at PA_Media said the lockdown has been a ‘bittersweet’ period for the media.

There has been the most fantastic journalism produced during this period but what Covid has done is accelerate every trend that has been putting our industry under pressure for a very long time.

The commercial impact of Covid has been felt across all media with budget cuts and job losses at new digital titles as well as traditional print and broadcast outlets. Polly added: ‘There are particular concerns about local journalism where the business model is really very broken’.

Polly said if journalism is to avoid being ‘written out of the story’ it is ‘incumbent on all journalists coming into the industry to understand the business pressures’ as the commercial model of news organisations shifts from advertising revenue to reader revenue in the form of subscriptions.

Chris Williams @cg_williams business editor at the Sunday_Telegraph said journalists were now ‘in a market where quality thrives’. He said young journalists needed to focus on their ‘writing, sources and expertise’ because there will be less demand for ‘jobbing reporters who can turn their hands to everything’. Chris said:

Being an expert is becoming a saleable commodity as a journalist.

‘Being an expert is becoming a saleable commodity as a journalist’.

Chris said the pandemic has ‘underlined that all our assumptions about what is going to happen to advertising and people’s propensity to pay for quality journalism were correct. It’s just accelerated it.’

He said the average reader of the website is more than a decade younger than the average print reader, ‘so the type of journalism you see on a Sunday, which is exclusive, which is in-depth, which is expert, that’s what daily newspapers need to be doing every day now to serve a digital audience.’

John Pienaar @JPonpolitics the former deputy political editor at the BBC and now drivetime presenter at Times_Radio said ‘quality, reliable journalism has become more important and more and more valuable’ after Covid.

John said people have been ‘locked in, soaking up enormous amounts of news media’ but he warned ‘an awful lot of it is coming through online, much of it unfiltered, an awful lot of it in varying degrees of reliability. He said in this ‘blizzard of news information’ people needed an ‘anchor they can turn to’ a ‘gold standard of information’ they can rely on. John added:

The expansion of social media and the increased importance of digital media has had the net effect of raising the bar for the quality of our product and the quality of our journalism.

The News Normal media panel was held after the winners of the MHP+Mischief 30toWatch Young Journalist award winners were announced. We had almost 300 entries and we asked them all about the impact social media has on their work.

Nine in ten of the young journalists who entered our awards said they needed to use social media for their work. Two in three said they had suffered some sort of abuse online and 12% said they had considered quitting journalism because of the abuse they’d received. That increases to 22% for political journalists.

John Pienaar said ‘colleagues and friends have had appalling volumes of abuse and it’s difficult to say to them to keep a sense of perspective because you don’t have to live through it. And if you did you would know just how painful it is.’

John said ‘that’s the nature of political twitter. It thrives on argument it thrives on confrontation. So, it draws the attention on the minority of people who thrive on hostility and also on hate and abuse.’ He said it’s important to remember ‘this is not the British public hurling abuse’.

On social media Chris Williams said: Journalists need to have a presence there for their own career but often it is just journalists showing off to other journalists with a small audience of people who are too engaged in the news. He added that journalists work for their readers not twitter, he said: ‘This is not your audience, they’re not necessarily buying the paper or subscribing to the website.’

Chris added: ‘One of the recommendations I make to journalists is to set up their tweets to automatically delete after a month, these are cast off thoughts, you don’t want them following you around or you being held to account on them.’

Speaking about the government’s effectiveness at communicating during the coronavirus crisis Polly Curtis highlighted the ‘unprecedented’ nature of the times. She said: ‘There is no handbook for this and the handbooks from other countries do not necessarily translate’.

She added: ‘One of the biggest problems is the scale of the noise in the digital space. Most people, and increasingly younger generations, are not going to one trusted source. They’re watching streams coming through on different platforms.

‘The biggest thing the platforms could do at the moment would be to much more prominently label the sourcing of information and indicate a hierarchy of whether something has been checked so that people know what to trust more.