In the week Cairncross reported, the London Press Club held a timely and excellent debate at Stationers' Hall: Can quality journalism survive in a world of fake news and social media?
In an intelligent and upbeat discussion, I was struck by a number of inconvenient truths: 1. Quality journalism is not synonymous with newspaper journalism. There is great work being done by people who have never worked for a traditional newspaper. 2. Regulation is not the silver bullet. We need to be careful what we wish for. A slew of new regulations could have unintended consequences for us all. 3. Complex problems have complex causes. The duopoly is not the devil. Beware simplistic narratives. We’re always looking for someone to blame; Instagram is not the reason why people self-harm and Russia is not the reason Trump got elected. 4. There was never a golden age when quality journalism paid for itself. It has always been subsidised by either advertising or wealthy benefactors. 5. We are not professionals. Yes, we have codes of conduct, but these reside at publisher level. Individual journalists do not have the same onerous obligations as dentists, lawyers and accountants. 6. We don’t look like our audience. To truly connect with people, we need to make our newsrooms more representative of society as a whole.
In short, there are no quick fixes.
Despite that, the panel was optimistic. Quality journalism will survive because there is a need for it, even if the industry might look very different in ten years’ time. Key to all our futures is improved education, to give the young the tools to make informed choices online – to make them confident digital citizens and consumers of the quality journalism we put out.
(Panel: Jane Barrett, Martin Bentham, Polly Curtis, Jodie Ginsberg. Chair: Michael Hayman.)