Journalism dead? You cannot be serious?!

Mark Twain famously said that reports of his death had been grossly exaggerated. The same can be said of journalism.

There is a feeling that journalism is a sick patient and there’s little we can do to revive the old girl.

Where does this feeling of decline come from? It’s fairly straightforward, journalism and newspaper are too intricately linked and they need uncoupling.

Circulation figures show that since January 2001, the total circulation of the UK’s 10-major national newspapers has declined from 12.06 million copies sold on average each day to a daily average of 6.89 million copies sold in 2014.

That’s a decline of 42.84 percent. If the same number of copies were lost over the following 14 years, the total average daily circulation would be under two million by quite some way, at around 1.7 million daily copies.

Journalism needs to uncouple a little from the demise of newspapers so it is not viewed as being in decline.

Sadly, similar decline can be seen in regional newspapers…

The problem with these figures are that they are all about newspapers. The decline in newspapers has created a feeling that there is a demise in journalism.

However, I think, I know, this cannot be further from the truth and we need to instil this into the journalists working in the industry now and would-be scribes of the future.

The point I want to make is that journalism is alive and kicking because now more than ever there are so many outlets for the skills of a journalist from print, to web, social media, apps, a massive playing field for scribes.

Content is king and what we have to do is prepare for is a world where journalism doesn’t stop on the doorstep of newspapers, radio or TV.

Interestingly, and to back up this point, a social media trend report for 2015 which I read last week said: “Brands will invest a lot more on content creation, using multidisciplinary teams to produce stand out material.”

Secondly, it has become increasingly obvious that the press officers and public relations firms are becoming 21st century newsrooms with the decline in numbers across editorial.

I know journalists will turn in their graves at this view. However, there is now more than ever a realisation that this content has to be good, not some old flannel because consumers too easily recognise half-baked, unoriginal content.

Who are the people who will provide content of this quality? That, of course, is journalists, and the kind of journalism spoken about above is different to our traditional view of the profession being inter-linked with newspapers.

It doesn’t have to be a dumbing down and the web’s thirst for only original copy being ranked highly will ensure quality, I hope.

The days of mass media are gone, that’s where readers use to consume their media in one location ie a newspaper. Today it’s all about personal media, like going into the old Woolies’ pick and mix sweet section, we all dip in and out depending on our channels of interest.

And the skills which today’s hacks need have to reflect this disloyal consumption of content.

There will always be a demand for core journalistic skills. These involve finding a story, telling the story, structuring the story, making sure the right information is in the story.

But journalism has greater variety than ever, writers need to know how to produce content for different arenas and different readers who consume in various ways from indepth articles, to hundreds of photos with an eye-catching SEO headline to a Twitter or Facebook one-liner.

A newspaper report is a far cry from a first take on a breaking web story or a blog, a video story or slideshow. These are different journalistic skills which provide variety in the job which it has probably never been seen before.

Journalism is about multi-skilling, working on numerous platforms at the same time and more than likely in the future this will not be on a newspaper.

Journalism is: “The activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. ”

The art of journalism is the art of telling a story, where this story appears and in what form depends on where it can gain audience, this is what journalists both old and young are starting to understand.

Similarly, content which works in newspapers or TV, often does not perform well online or social media. Journalists will have to investigate and test different mediums and different content and how they interact together.

What was required of me as a journalist 30 years ago as is a far cry from what is needed now.

There are around 1.35billion people on Facebook, 100 million users of Twitter, three billions users of the web, then newspapers, TV and radio all scrambling around for audience.

And what links these three? It’s the desire and thirst to have content, which will be provided by the modern journalist.

So journalism is far from needing the kiss-of-life. We just need to be broader in our outlook, newspapers, TV and radio are just three areas where journalism works well, there are many other outlets and the demand for quality content is growing daily.

Why following my leader on Twitter can be unhealthy for council press officers

In the corridors of power, Twittergate has sent a shudder down the backs of all those who work in the press offices of local authorities. Thanks to a Freedom of Information request by BBC reporter Phil McCann, an uncomfortable series of emails has been revealed.

Council staff composed and posted Tweets in the name of the council leader, Michael Jones.

The Tory councillor approved messages written by Cheshire East Council’s media team.

Of course the problem is that the poor old communications gang, which is required to be politically neutral, then posted the Tweets under Mr Jones’ name. Rightly so, there are allegations of misuse of public resources.

Wisely, Mr Jones has said that he no longer uses staff to draft and post Tweets. Nevertheless, the Tweets were published on Mr Jones’ personal account, which has a disclaimer to say the opinions expressed are personal and not on behalf of the council.

While some of the Tweets look neutral, it is clear that many are not. The BBC quote this as an example:  “Moribund Miliband talks of a national mission. A mission to economic disaster.”

This is not only an issue of neutrality. The poor old taxpayer has effectively been paying for Mr Jones to put over his political messages  via the press office, obviously not great value for the taxpayers’ hard-earned.

The Local Government Act prohibits authorities from publishing “any material which appears to have an effect on public support for any political party”.

Thankfully, the BBC has taken its investigation further and found that Cheshire East Council’s constitution specifies staff, “should avoid being drawn into discussions of politically contentious matters.” It adds: “Any input should be consistent with the requirements for political impartiality.” So all this is pretty clear.

Why the media staff didn’t object to Mr Jones’ Tweets is unclear, they had every right too.

The question to be asked is whether press offices of local authorities should have their own enforceable code of conduct, similar to the Editors’ Code? You could argue that there are rules set out as mentioned earlier in this article, but is it enough?

There is a thin line between political propaganda and quality unbiased information. If you have five minutes, the emails between the press office and Mr Jones are a bit of an eye-opener, they are attached. Members of the opposition are slightly miffed about what has been going on. No surprise there then.

The emails between Cheshire East Council media office and Councillor Michael Jones.