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Ex-editor challenges universities to compete with local newspapers

Neil FowlerUniversities could establish their own media outlets to compete with local newspapers, a former regional daily editor has suggested.

Neil Fowler, left, who edited the Lincolnshire Echo, Derby Telegraph, Newcastle Journal and Western Mail, wants to see university journalism students producing weekly newspaper to serve their local areas.

Under Neil’s idea, the titles would be funded after set-up by local advertising, donations, grants from foundations and possible circulation revenue.

They would each employ a full-time general manager working alongside an editorial director, a senior academic, who would be the legal editor of the organisation and would be responsible for organising the students.

Neil was commissioned a number of years ago by an unnamed UK university to investigate the establishment of a charity-owned news enterprise which would largely operate with the support of the students and resources of its media school.

While undertaking his research, Neil suggested degree courses at universities involved in such a venture would move to a two-year cycle, while students would not have traditional vacations but would have holiday entitlements of five or six weeks a year.

In a piece for trade magazine In Publishing, Neil wrote:  “Cleary there are threats. Existing media business would object (but competition might make them improve) and the turnover of students means quality of output might not be consistent. But the opportunities are massive.

“The journalism degrees would have to become even more work-focused. Some degrees operate in this way but the best comparison is with the way that nurses are already trained.

“Nursing is a vocational module-based degree, with set skills being learned throughout the course, to enable the student to be fully prepared for paid work as soon as they graduate. Nursing offers a model that journalism training could follow.

“There is my challenge to a current-day university (I suspect an old-fashioned polytechnic would have jumped at this): expand this basic business plan (there is a great deal of thinking behind it) and make of it what you will. It has to be better than just doing more of the same – or worse, nothing.”

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  • August 3, 2017 at 9:24 am

    I pitched this idea to the Huddersfield University media department about 5 years ago – a fully costed working model with my company’s arms-length oversight. Students would all be paid, it could involve other Uni departments (business/creative/marketing) and it was summarily rejected. Why? Possibly because it would mean a tad more work/responsibility for lecturers of questionable quality whose main focus is turning over BOS (Bums On Seats) at £27k a time. As for the graduates? From the appalling CVs I receive, most seem barely fit for purpose.

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