keep the standards up

Yesterday morning I was woken up by a text.  Quite a normal occurrence so I rolled over and fumbled about with my terribly old Sony Ericsson to find out what one of my friends had to say.  But wait, this was no ordinary text, the sense of urgency crept into my layer as I began to read, “Ruth. Rory Cellan – Jones. Birt Acres Lecture Theatre. 4.15pm. Be prompt.” That got my attention immediately and got me out of bed.

Having been off ill for a week, I was slightly daunted about returning to the world of Bute. My escape had lasted a while but now it was time to return – voice, or no voice.

As I strolled into the lecture theatre, I took up a place in the front row which I was sure to regret in a matter of moments.  Oh joy – a photograph; a journalist’s dream. I thought part of the job description was that we get to be on the otherside of the camera, closely aligned to the photographer:


Rory Cellan – Jones told us to smile and wave; apparently I am one of the only ones that did.

So, what did he have in store for us new journalists of the future?

In awe of someone who has made it so far in the field of journalism I was very eager to learn about what Rory had to tell us about social media.

Claire Packer sums up Rory Cellan-Jones’s lecture very succinctly in her blog.  And I agree with her that,

“contemporary journalism is undoubtedly a much slicker operation than the journalism of the 1980s.”

Rory went onto explain how modern journalists are multi-skilled and heavily involved with their audience.  His blog now demands an increasing amount of his time.

Time As he finds himself less on TV, he now has the ability to interact with his readers personally when they send him leads.

Being proactive in developing his relationship with his audience gives Rory a credibility and an honesty that people at home can relate to, which is now increasingly important in modern journalism.

Rory commented on how nowadays, one of the scariest things for news editors is that the audiences have a say in what they think is the most important story. Their input has become as essential to a running order as the editor themselves. The audience demands news in a certain format, at a certain time and in a certain way.

To demonstrate this, I thought I would just do a quick comparison of the most read stories on a couple of reputable news websites to illustrate the power that the audience now has, compared to the “mad people” that 1980’s journalists used to interact with.

On the BBC at the time of publishing this post:

Picture 1

Today is Armistice Day, however the people of Britain are more interested in sharing information about “the perfect vagina.”  I can’t imagine news editors of old ever entertaining such a thought. But if this is something the majority of the public wants from a public broadcasting service that “gives added value to the masses,” should it be?

Next, onto the Daily Mail

Picture 2

Apart from the near to ridiculous headlines, people seem to be reading across a wide range of stories.

However, when we look at what people are reading in most detail we get a completely different story, which is not quite as pleasing but maybe more realistic.

The usual offenders are there: Katie Price, Li-Lo and Coleen.  A slight whiff of adultery.  And a tragic accident involving German goalkeeper, Robert Enke.

Read in most detail:

Picture 4

Surely there are more important things going on in the world today, such as Armistice Day and the plight of our soldiers worldwide and past,  the food shortages in El Salvador, or the risk of cancer for 9/11 workers.

In a day where the user is the source, as well as the audience, perhaps it is not up to a journalist or even an editor to decide what is newsworthy.

Recently, Rupert Murdoch has unveiled a scheme to introduce paywalls to News Corp’s websites in order to generate revenue from the news. In his quest to make more money, does he really think that people will be willing to pay for their news, especially when the news they apparently want involves Coleen, and the quest for a perfect vagina.  I doubt it.

As I was writing this post, one of my colleagues, Alex Smith kindly shared a link to a testimony given to a Senate Committee by the creator of The Wire, David Simon on the challenges facing journalism in the age of new media.

He said that,

“It is nice to get stuff for free, of course. And it is nice that more people can have their say in new media. And while some of our internet commentary is – as with any unchallenged and unedited intellectual effort – rampantly ideological, ridiculously inaccurate and occasionally juvenile, some of it is also quite good, even original.”

More than anything I think that journalism needs to get its self respect back.  It needs to be valued.  It needs to be trusted and it needs to be respected by its audiences.

If the public thinks that anyone can be a journalist, then we need to prove to the public that this is false.

What we don’t need, is this:

Picture 5


Filed under journalism, online

4 responses to “keep the standards up

  1. I think you make some really good points here Ruth, especially about the top read stories on the BBC. It certainly goes back to what Rory was saying about how the choice of stories is reader influenced.

    It has got me thinking though about how “journalism needs to get its self respect back”.

    Are some stories simply more popular because the people reading them are members of the X-factor obsessed, WAG loving community? Maybe the top stories would be different on The Times’s website…

    I guess it goes back to what Duncan was saying about “public interest” vs. “what interests the public”.

    Damnit Ruth you’ve got me thinking! Hehe 🙂 xxx

    ps. thanks for the link to my blog 🙂

  2. News is “stuff I care about, stuff I want to pass on”. Sometimes people are reading for the stuff they care about (is their kid going to get poisoned by that capsule? Is Microsoft going to cut off their Xbox?) and sometimes just to pass it on (every celebrity story you’ve ever read). It’s a social function.

    As to the “anybody being a journalist” thing – anyone can be a lawyer or a doctor, for about five minutes in a specific setting. You can. I can. However doing it for any sustained period of time will show you how rubbish you are at it, unless you’ve trained at it. Same with the trade of carpentry, plumbing and journalism. The tricky thing is that it’s getting hard to get paid on the journalism thing just at the moment. We hope it’s a passing phase…

  3. Thanks for commenting on my blog, Charles. I find it very interesting how the world of journalism is changing and I think I am entering it at a point of excitement!

    In order to get paid, I guess I will just have to be an accurate, good journalist, eh?!

    Thanks again.


    • katiemcgonagle

      Really great post Ruth!

      I find it a scary concept to think that in the future, our news agenda could be determined by what is most popular rather than what is most newsworthy. I’m sure this goes on to some extent now, but with hard data to encourage the trend, it will become even more difficult to stick up for the less glamorous but ultimately far more important stories.

      Of course there’s room for a bit of celebrity gossip or light-hearted stories, but that can’t be at the expense of the stories that really matter.

      I think this fits in with your point about journalism getting its self respect back. I’m fully in favour of citizen journalism but I think we need to reaffirm the case for trained, professional journalists who are consistently working a beat and keeping up contacts. One of the ways we could do this is by showing readers that we’re out there investigating real stories, not just writing PR fluff about celebs.


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