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‘Make physical meetings between journalists a priority’, publishers urged

Paul WiltshireRegional press bosses have been urged to make physical meetings between journalists a “priority” after a raft of office closures across the industry.

Journalism trainer Paul Wiltshire, who teaches at the University of Gloucestershire, has called for newsroom leaders to find new ways of getting their staff “to breathe the same air again” following the coronavirus pandemic.

The Covid-19 lockdowns have accelerated a trend for physical newsrooms to close, with publishers including Archant and Reach plc citing a preference for home working among journalists in decisions to shut the majority of their companies’ offices.

Paul’s call comes after his colleague Sophie Flowers launched a partnership with Reach website Gloucestershire Live, which has seen journalists from the title work in a “mini-newsroom” on the university campus.

In a blog on the issue, Paul praised the experience his students get from the partnership but added that the Gloucestershire Live journalists also seem “to be glad to be here”.

He wrote: “They get some things that can be quite rare for many journalists: company, a place to go – and hopefully a bit of laughter.

“Plus – we hope – the occasional warm glow that they’ve helped to develop other people’s skills and confidence.

“We’re hoping we can make the scheme a permanent fixture – and not just because it’s good for us.”

Paul, pictured, added: “Newsroom leaders have come up with some amazing ideas to keep their staff feeling good about their jobs while working from kitchens, bedrooms and dining rooms.

“But it’s so difficult to replicate the spontaneity and serendipity of a lively newsroom.

“It’s clear that newsrooms aren’t going to return in the way that we’ve been used to them. But we need a flavour of them on a regular basis.

“Journalism is about people. It’s a team sport – it always has been, and it always will be. So finding ways of bringing journalists together to breathe the same air again has to be a priority.”

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism last month predicted hybrid working arrangements would “become the norm” for journalists in 2022, adding it expected to see more publishers “closing offices entirely, or at least moving in that direction” by the year’s end.

However, Newsquest journalists have since been urged to spend some time each week working from newspaper offices by the company’s chief executive Henry Faure Walker.

Paul previously warned, prior to the pandemic, that the issue of office closures would hit journalism students seeking work experience.

Speaking to HTFP about the new partnership, he said: “We’re really pleased with the weekly partnership we’ve established with Gloucestershire Live, and we hope we can make it a permanent fixture. It’s so important to find ways of recreating the special magic of a real newsroom whenever possible.”

The University of Gloucestershire also runs similar partnerships with BBC Radio Gloucestershire, the lifestyle website SoGlos, and Cheltenham-based brands firm SLG.