It’s said that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch continues to confound orthodox opinion. At the age of 83 he has embraced the world of Twitter with enthusiasm. A little while ago he responded to the popular view that newspapers were being killed by the internet:
“Newspapers suffered more from radio (60 yrs ago) and TV (30 yrs) than Internet today. What happened to evening papers before dial arrived?”
Apart from demonstrating that there is still an important place for sub editors – it’s easy to miss letters on those glass phone screens – his tweet should encourage a little perspective. We are past the glory days of print, but a remarkable number of titles survive – and some even thrive – in defiance of those who forecast their closure.
I imagine Mr Murdoch is looking for a “git” where he writes “dial”, in which case he is right about that too: the circulation of evening papers was falling long before the internet. But death is not inevitable: the London Evening Standard found new life by going free to create a 900,000 circulation that advertisers could not ignore – and turned a multi-million pound loss into a growing profit.
Which is not to say that things are rosy. Newspapers aren’t making the money they did and most now work with a fraction of their previous staff. Rates of pay for journalists are depressing. Career paths are unclear.
While there’s great excitement about digital – a new world in which some entrepreneurial thinkers are making astonishing fortunes on the basis of future promise – there’s little comfort for the foot soldiers below who wonder whether any of that wealth will percolate to other reaches of the industry.
Yet there seems no end to the line of bright, energetic young people who want to get into that thing we still call journalism, who believe it can offer a role that is interesting, entertaining, stimulating, mischievous and – yes – even important. What are we to say? You’re mad – go and find something safer, with a clear pay structure and an obvious way to get on? Be an accountant, learn business, settle down?
Or do we take a different view? Well, if you are sure about this, then develop the skills that will help you make a living. You’ve got the passion, now make yourself employable. There are basic principles to reporting that apply whether you are writing a story, making a video or producing audio. The internet has changed the medium: it shouldn’t change those principles. As the NCTJ develops in the new world, we want to introduce the new skills that newsrooms are looking for, but not at the expense of core tenets to do with balance and objectivity that go to the essence of journalism.
So we talk to employers about what they want and to our students about what they need. We work with universities and training centres to adapt courses to new realities, whether that is greater emphasis on ethics or more practical work on writing for the web. As more and more words and images are disseminated on the internet every day, we believe there is additional value in the stories and pictures that we can trust, produced by people who have taken the trouble to train. We don’t make it easy, but we hope we make it worthwhile.
Read the 2013-14 annual report here.