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There is still hope for print, says departing editor

A departing regional editor has declared that “long form journalism, analysis and investigation” remain the best hope for the industry’s future.

Publisher Newsquest confirmed yesterday that Mike Gilson had left his role as editor of Brighton daily The Argus after two years in the role.

Writing in a new book about the future of print, Mike hailed the paper’s role in revealing stories that would have remained untold, and pointed to “unapologetically intelligent” journalism as the way forward for the medium.

He said that while digital journalism must continue to evolve to meet the demands of readers, print must remain “an intrinsic part of the industry’s evolving strategy.”

The front page of Thursday's Argus, which revealed the figures
The book, Last Words? How Can Journalism Survive the Decline of Print? is due to be published in the New Year.

Some chapters of the book, including Mike’s, are being serialised on Press Gazette, while others, including chapters by former editor Alan Geere and entrepreneur Sir Ray Tindle, will be appearing on HoldtheFrontPage.

In his chapter, Mike sets out a series of case studies of stories covered by the Argus during his time as editor which would not otherwise have come to light.

They included:

* An attempted cover-up over five avoidable deaths at Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton

* The case of a homeless man on the streets of Brighton who was arrested for asking for 10p

* The death of five women with mental illness who died while in the care of Sussex NHS Partnership Trust.

Wrote Mike: “All these stories happened within 12 months in Brighton. They are perhaps not untypical of events which occur in towns and cities up and down the country every day. But what unites these stories and thousands of others like them in the communities in which we live is you might very easily not have known about them.

“The Brighton stories could easily have forever existed in a little orbit of their own, unheralded by anyone, unremarked. Journalists made sure this was not so.

“We know journalism is in crisis but very little has been said about the profound democratic deficit that would follow any meltdown?

“No amount of digitally empowered bloggers, many of them diligent thorns in the side on a range of issues, will make up for the loss of professional reporting.

“It goes without saying digital journalism must continue to evolve quickly and meet the technological demands of its users. That is taken for granted.

“But that does not mean print journalism’s decline should just be a matter of extending the graph until the figures fail to stack and crossing fingers hoping to get even that far.

“The printed product can be re-invented, or at least we must not forget it must remain an intrinsic part of the industry’s evolving strategy. Long form journalism, analysis and investigation remain the best hope for the printed product on all levels.

“A journalism which eschews the helter-skelter 24/7 news cycle might still find a place in the market.

“This would often be less frequently, from daily to weekly or even monthly, and it would have to be unapologetically intelligent, commanding of premium cover price, targeted more carefully than the centuries-old scattershot distribution models we still use.

“Everywhere we will have to take what might be called the Private Eye/Economist test when talking about print products’ role in any future. Is it exclusive, targeted and unavailable anywhere else?

“A compelling, in-depth, punchy, physical news product produced with panache which asks readers to invest time and rewards that investment might still have a role amid the communications white noise filling the air around us.”

The full chapter can be read on Press Gazette.

* Last Words? How Can Journalism Survive the Decline of Print? Edited by John Mair, Tor Clark, Neil Fowler, Raymond Snoddy and Richard Tait Abramis Academic Publishing Bury St Edmunds £19.95. January 2017. Available at special pre-publication price of £15 to HoldtheFrontPage readers from Richard@abramis.co.uk

7 comments

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  • December 9, 2016 at 9:57 am
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    To be honest, having worked across four decades in journalism, while I love print, I don’t care if it does survive.
    What I care about is the legion of talented journalists that has been cast aside by the bosses pursuing bean-counting dreams.
    I care about the once proud titles being reduced to thin rags produced by a handful of people, where once hundreds played their part.
    I care about the dearth in readership.
    I worry who will hold our councils, police, governments and other bodies to account.
    I worry that even now, newspaper groups aren’t understanding the web and how to best harness its offer.
    I worry about the death of journalism.
    I care about journalism.
    Print will survive if readers are given a reason to buy. Look at any WH Smith and the raft of magazines. Look at vinyl outstripping download sales once again. Look at the sales of books, despite kindles and the like.
    Print will survive, but only if the bosses and bean-counters let it. If they invest in journalism, in staff and give people a reason to read, then that will be enough in itself. Online, in hand, whatever.

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  • December 9, 2016 at 10:50 am
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    Whilst there is a long term future for journalists there really isn’t in the country’s regional presswgich is in its death throes, that’s the crux of the point surely?

    With regards to ” ….little has been said about the profound democratic deficit that would follow any meltdown?”
    That’s not due to print v digital that’s the result of mismanagement and short termism by the owners who ignored print in the chase to monetise digital and failed.

    Also all the stories mentioned above are all very well and good but they aren’t unique to print in fact they would be seen by more people on line if their web traffic figures are to believed so bit of a flaky argument

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  • December 9, 2016 at 11:52 am
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    While print may not die – the content will keep it alive – what of the quality, and of what relevance?
    The democratic deficit is already here as far as I am concerned – little consistent investigative journalism, council, court and tribunal coverage almost totally ignored, and who would turn to their local paper for help when they have Twitter?
    And apart from some stuff about the campaign against Section 40, the Society of Editors seems to be fairly relaxed about the democracy bit.
    The meltdown has probably already happened – just look at the disgusting untruths the national press is reporting.

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  • December 9, 2016 at 2:02 pm
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    The printed product
    ” … we must not forget it must remain an intrinsic part of the industry’s evolving strategy”
    A little bit late for that old chestnut, he should have made a point of telling the bosses that some time back as print in the regional press is now to all intents and purposes a dying or dead beast which will never recover from years of neglect and dwindling readers, next year will see vast numbers of unloved titles and those who’ve lacked investment over the past 3-4 years finally collapse ,fold, of go on line only.

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  • December 9, 2016 at 3:47 pm
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    If that’s the case we need to train staff to be better equipped for the real world they’ll find themselves in and it’s not one where printed weekly newspapers will continue to be published, this just gives young journalists false hope and is very misleading. An example of lazy on line journalism can be seen every day where whole Facebook posts are lifted verbatim with just a top intro and passed off as ‘news’ on the local publishers website, if that’s the future of journalism any untrained copy and paster can do it and it paints a more accurate picture of the ‘skills ‘ used in some quarters and passed off as journalism , it’s no wonder copy sales are so shocking if people are expected to pay good money for content lifted from the public sown social media postings

    A sad and sorry excuse for journalism and the reality of the future of regional publishing

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  • December 9, 2016 at 8:53 pm
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    Journalism is what matters, not the medium on which it is published. Hankering after print is akin to the town crier shouting he was still relevant after the printing pres had been invented.

    Online is the means by which the vast majority of local readers now consume news, a tiny minority still buy newspapers, and that minority is ever dwindling.

    The challenge is how to persuade readers, and advertisers, that quality journalism is not only still desirable but essential. Social media is absolutely not reliable or to be trusted, local online news has to sell itself as reliable and trusted. If it does so then readers and advertisers will see the value and follow accordingly.

    Charging for news at local level is a non-starter, it matters not how good the journalism is, readers have become accustomed to consuming news online for free, and hence the business model needs to accept reality and find alternative revenue streams.

    Like it or not, news rooms have to be streamlined and overheads reduced because without paying readers something has to give.

    In June 1998 I started an online only local news site covering the borough of Rochdale – over 18 years on and it is still thriving, it does so by remaining at the very heart of the community and giving local readers the trusted local news service they clearly still value.

    Audience size is very impressive and has grown continually:

    http://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/local/advertising/statistics

    Any recently made redundant journalist wanting to start a similar site locally, and crucially get the advice and support needed to help make it sustainable, should contact Rochdale Online on 01706 523583.

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