Tag Archives: training

Dear Peter Preston: universities shun the NCTJ too

I have an enormous amount of respect for Peter Preston, and much of what he says in Sunday’s Observer piece about careers in journalism is spot-on. But this line strikes me as just wrong:

“If you want to be a journalist, try to get on one of the 68 National Council for the Training of Journalists accredited courses, along with 1,800 or so other hopefuls, but in general beware courses the NCTJ shuns (of which there are far too many).”

There are so many assumptions underlying this sentence that it’s a challenge to unpick them, but here are the main two:

  1. That ‘being a journalist’ is limited to newspapers – regional newspapers, to be specific. Most other employers of journalists – national, broadcast, magazines and online – rarely ask for NCTJ qualifications. Even regional newspapers – the heartland of the NCTJ – do not recruit a majority of trainees with an existing NCTJ qualification.
  2. Secondly, that courses not accredited by the NCTJ have been ‘shunned’. I teach on a journalism degree which chose, a decade ago, not to pay for NCTJ accreditation. The decision was taken by the then-head of journalism, the redoubtable and wonderful Sharon Wheeler, for reasons both financial (the money that would be paid to the NCTJ for a shiny badge would be better spent elsewhere) and educational (the NCTJ  strictures make it hard to be flexible in a changing media environment). That decision was restated by our current head of journalism Sue Heseltine, and I agreed with it: I didn’t see what we would gain for the money we pay to the NCTJ other than a marketing tool that we do not need (we receive around 10 applicants for every place).

That decision was also informed by the problems universities have had with the NCTJ, which I’ve written about elsewhere (the comments to which are particularly interesting). I’ve also written about the assumption that journalism degrees are comparable to training courses.

I don’t have a problem with NCTJ training in particular – indeed, I wish more journalists had the sort of understanding of local government and law that their courses teach – but I do have a problem when it is seen as the only, or best, route into journalism (an image perpetuated by the NCTJ’s own marketing materials). The same is true of university courses, which vary wildly in quality and scope (the latter is not such a bad thing; a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be good for any creative industry).

The only good advice I can think of for aspiring journalists is to simply go out there and do journalism – because there’s no longer anything stopping you – me or Peter Preston included.

How can the government save journalism?

I had an interesting meeting recently with an MP who wanted to get a handle on the state of the media right now and how good journalism could be supported. Rather than just hear my voice I thought it would be worth starting something wider that involves more voices, and point him to this.

To kick things off, here are some of the things I thought the government could do to create an environment that supports good journalism:

  • Release of public data (I’ve made this case before – it’s about helping create efficiencies for anyone reporting on public bodies). He seemed to feel that this argument has already been won.
  • Tax relief on donations to support investigative journalism: a number of philanthropists, foundations, public bodies and charities are starting to fund investigative journalism to fill the ‘market failure’ of commercial news production. In addition, an increasing amount of investigative journalism is being done by campaigning organisations rather than news organisations, and there is also the opportunity for new types of businesses – social enterprises and community interest companies – to fund journalism.
  • Encouraging innovation and enterprise: as regional publishers reduce their reporting staff and shut down their less profitable publications, gaps are appearing in local news coverage. Local people are launching news sites and blogs to fill those gaps – but not quickly enough, or with the resources, to match what was left behind. Funds to support these startups are much-needed and might also encourage journalists who have been made redundant to put their experience into an independent operation. There is no evidence to suggest that subsidising existing publishers will subsidise journalism; indeed, I would suggest it will stifle local innovation and economic growth.
  • Reskilling of redundant journalists: related to the last point, I would like to see funds made available to help put redundant journalists (more Chris Browns and Rick Waghorns) in a position to launch news startups. They have a wealth of experience, ability, knowledge and contacts that shouldn’t be left to waste – give them online and enterprise skills.
  • An effective local news consortia: The Digital Britain-mooted local news consortia is a vague idea in need of some meat, but clearly it could go some way to meeting the above 2 by supporting local independent media and providing training. Allowing the usual suspects to dominate any new operation will see business as usual, and innovative independent operators – including those who work on a non-commercial basis – will quickly become disillusioned. The idea of putting some or all of the commissioning process in the hands of the public, for instance, could be very interesting.
  • Address libel laws: one of the biggest obstacles to investigative reporting is the potential legal costs. Most newspapers now make a hard commercial decision on stories: if the story is worth enough money to make it worth fighting, it gets published; otherwise, it doesn’t. Public interest or importance is not the major factor other than in how it affects likely sales. Likewise, startup operations are likely to shy away from edgier reporting if they feel they can’t afford to fight for it in the courts. Stopping councils from suing for libel was an important step; keeping libel laws out of science should be the next one – and it shouldn’t stop there.

So those are the ideas that occurred to me. What would you suggest this MP, and government, do to help journalism?

How the web changed the economics of news – in all media

UPDATE (Oct 9 2012): Following the reviews of a collection of journalism students, as well as other topical events, I’ve written a follow-up piece here.

Listening to news executives talk about micropayments, Kindles, public subsidies, micropaymentscollusion, blocking Google and anything else that might save their businesses, it occurs to me that they may have missed some developments in, ah, well, the past ten years. For those and anyone else who is interested, I offer the following primer on how things have changed.

Any attempt to create a viable news operation needs to recognise and take advantage of these changes. I will probably have missed some – I’m hoping you can add them.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen suggests reading this post alongside this one by David Sull: “newspapers are essentially a logistics business that happens to employ journalists”. He’s right – it makes some great points.

1. Atomisation of news consumption

In the physical world news came as a generic package. You had your politics with your sport; finance news next to film reviews. You might buy a paper for one match report. No longer.

It’s probably no coincidence that majority news consumption recently shifted from regular consumption to sporadic ‘grazing‘.

2. Measurability of users

If you placed an ad on page 3 in a newspaper with a circulation of 100,000 or a broadcast watched by 5million, you didn’t think about the readers who only bought that paper for the sport; or the viewers who popped out to put the kettle on – and that’s before we talk about circulation figures inflated by the assumption that every paper was read by 3 or 4 people.

Online you know exactly how many have looked at a specific page. Not only that, you know exactly how many have clicked on an ad. And you know exactly how many made a purchase (etc.) as a result.

There’s more: you know what page the user was coming from and went to; you know what search terms they were using; you know what country they are in, how high spec their computer; and depending on how much data they’re provided, a whole lot more besides.

There are two huge implications of this measurability (which many advertisers are only just waking up to).

Firstly, advertisers expect more. Online, advertising has moved from a print/broadcast model of paying per thousand viewers (CPM) to paying per thousand clicks (CPC) to paying per action – i.e. purchases, etc. (CPA).

Secondly, it means that editors and managers now know in much more detail not only what readers actually read – but what they want to read (what they are searching for). My name’s Britney Spears, by the way.

3. Mutually conflicting business models

In print you could have your cover price and your ads; online, any paywall means vastly reduced readership because you are cutting out distribution channels – not just Google, but the readers themselves who would otherwise pass it on, link to it and blog about it. You either square that circle, or look for other revenue streams.

4. Reduced cost of newsgathering and production

The technologies were dropping in price long before the internet – satellite technologies , desktop publishing. But the web – and now mobile – technology has reduced the cost of newsgathering, production and distribution to almost nil. And new tools are being made all the time that reduce the cost in time even further. When publishing is as easy as making a phonecall, that causes problems for any business that has to maintain or pay debts on costly legacy production systems.

UPDATE: Robert Brand takes me to task on this one in the comments but also on his blog, where I have responded in more detail.

5. End of scarcity of time and space

Sometimes people need reminding of the basic laws of supply and demand. From a limited availability of journalism to more than you can ever read, any attempt to ‘sell content’ must come up against this basic problem.

6. Devaluation of certain types of journalism

If a reader wants a book review most will go to Amazon. Music? Your social networks, Last.fm, iTunes or MySpace. Sport – any forum. Anyone producing journalism in those or similar areas faces a real issue.

7. The end of monopolies

Just as the scarcity of space has been broken; the scarcity of distribution networks has been blown apart. To distribute information in a pre-web era required significant investment. To distribute information in the web era requires an email account or a mobile phone. Social networks are more powerful and efficient than delivery vans, and you don’t need to sell a certain amount of information to make them viable.

Oh yes, and that makes news even more perishable than it was before.

Meanwhile, the monopoly on advertising has gone. Where before an advertiser might have had a choice between you and a local freesheet, now they can choose from dozens of local media outlets, national directories, international outlets, search engines, social networks, or spending money on becoming media producers themselves. This competition has driven the cost down and innovation up. What have you done to stay competitive?

8. Cutting out middlemen

Because anyone can publish and anyone can distribute, retailers can talk to customers directly. If Threshers can release a money off voucher directly to customers and it become wildly (too) successful, why should they advertise in a newspaper or magazine? If councils can publish news on their own website, or indeed publish and distribute their own publications, why should they publish announcements in a newspaper? If Coca-Cola can create a ‘brand experience’ on its website, and gather consumer data at the same time, why should they limit themselves to 30 seconds in the middle of Britain’s Got Talent?

9. Creating new monopolies

Google rules this space, not you. Amazon rules this space. iTunes rules this space. eBay rules this space. Facebook rules this space. Craigslist rules this space. If you want to thrive in the new environments you have to understand the contexts within which users operate. Search Engine Optimisation is one aspect of that. Social Media Marketing should be another. Understand how one website’s domination of a particular space of the web impacts on your strategies, and acknowledge you no longer control your own destiny. Yep, Google stole the delivery trucks and Amazon stole the newsstand. Oh, and you gave away a whole lot more too.

10. Digitisation and convergence

When everything is digital, new things become possible. Audio, video, text, photography, animation – all becomes 1 and 0. You need to understand the efficiencies that makes possible, from broadcasting live from your mobile phone to releasing images on a Creative Commons licence or publishing raw data to allow users to add value through mashups. The value of your organisation lies not just within its walls but beyond them too.

11. The rise of the PR industry

The PR industry is often overlooked as an economic influence on the news industry.  Its first influence lies in the way it has provided cheap copy for news organisations, meaning an increased reliance by news organisations on fake events, reports and releases. This will become increasingly problematic as the PR industry starts to cut out the middleman and appeal directly to audiences.

Secondly, the PR industry has an enormous effect on recruitment and retaining of talent in the news industry. In short, news organisations have become a training ground for the PR industry. Journalists who cannot live on newspaper wages have been leaving for PR for some time now, meaning increased costs of training and recruitment (partly because there are few older journalists able to train informally). Furthermore, good graduates of journalism schools are often recruited by PR even before they enter the news industry, meaning the news industry has a problem attracting the very brains that could save them.

12. A new currency

Oh yes, and that money thing? It has competition. The rise of social capital is a key development that must be considered. Anyone who thinks nonprofessional media is not important because it doesn’t have a ‘brand’ or because people will lose interest, doesn’t understand the dynamics of social capital. Many people read blogs and other UGC because they trust the person, not the ‘brand’; many people self-publish because of the benefits in terms of reputation, knowledge and connections. And many people link to news articles or contribute user generated content because a journalist invested social capital in their communities, or an organisation built a platform that helped users create it.

That’s it. Unless you can come up with some more…?

Letter to Govt. pt6: “How to fund quality local journalism”

The following is the last part of a series of responses to the government inquiry into the future of local and regional media. We will be submitting the whole – along with blog comments – to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. This post, by Alex Lockwood, looks at:

“How to fund quality local journalism”

The bottom has fallen out of the traditional publishing business model–and with it goes the hefty dividends expected by shareholders (e.g. £48.4m in 2008 for the Trinity Mirror Group). The future of local quality journalism can only remain with the current crop of regional newspaper publishers if they radically change their expectations, and innovate.

That might not happen. If it doesn’t, they will die off, and the future of quality local journalism will take a huge – but not definitive – blow. Then the future lies with new initiatives and the local communities themselves – passionate and entrepreneurial people, only some of whom will be journalists. What about local council initiatives to publish newspapers and local information? That’s not the way to go – covered in Part 3.

But how to fund it? Here are eight suggestions for the future of local journalism funding: Continue reading

What news employers want and what they get – research on the journalism skills gap

I recorded this at the Society of Editors conference in November, so forgive my tardiness. This is Donald Martin, a representative of UK training organisation NCTJ talking about the results of a survey they and partners PTC, BJTC and Skillset conducted into employer and university perceptions of skills needed by journalists:

Gap between what news recruiters get and what they want from Paul Bradshaw on Vimeo.

More about the panel this was part of on the Society of Editors website.

Journalism training orgs combine to form Shovelware Alliance

The UK’s three leading journalism training bodies have finally announced that they are to work together as part of a new ‘Joint journalism training council’.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists, the Broadcasting Journalism Training Council and the Periodicals Training Council – who have traditionally provided training for regional newspapers, broadcast journalists, and magazines respectively – have been encroaching on each others’ territories for a while as the industries converged.

It’s early days yet, but the statement doesn’t make encouraging reading for anyone with an interest in the potential of online journalism as a separate medium: the three “new skills and awareness that are and will be required of journalists aiming to work in multi platform news organisations” include:

“b.    Developing ideas for repurposing and adding to print or broadcast news material for use on websites including the use of links, background material, writing for the website, the basics of search engine optimisation and use of basic content management systems. [my emphasis]

“c.     Using video and audio equipment to produce content for websites and other platforms and publishing it.”

In other words, treating the website as a place to shovel – and possibly add to – content produced for another medium.

The statement does go on to say “It is recognised that this is not an exhaustive list”, but it’s not a promising start.

More about that social-media-for-news training next week

Being the sort of person who puts all their work online, I thought it might be useful to put the agenda for next week’s one-day training course up, along with useful hyperlinks. As always, contributions welcomed. Here’s what I’ll be covering: Continue reading