“Journalism as a belief system is over” and reporters have to swallow the changed reality of their profession while protecting its principles in the age of new media, an ex-senior Fleet Street editor has claimed.
Professor George Brock, head of London's City University journalism department since September 2009, said in his inaugural lecture that in the current "chaotic period" for news, “the failure of journalists to see the whole picture is the worst thing of all”.
In the speech, titled Is News Over? Brock, the former international editor of The Times, said: “Journalists have to start by accepting that they don’t automatically hold the powerful place in the new information system that they held in the old.”
He told a 400-strong audience of students and professional journalists at City University, the fact that anyone could now produce, edit, publish news, and essentially claim to be a journalist, “brings an oligopoly to a brutal end”. He said: “That barrier to entry (to become a journalist) has of course gone.”
He gave as examples dramatic scoops provided by citizen journalist members of the public using their camera phones. These included the 7/7 terrorist bombings and last year the G20 protests in London and the violent demonstrations against the election of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Brock said his goal as head of the Oxbridge of British journalism schools was to rescue journalism’s ideals, which according to him were in need of help. In a world where journalism had become a “word wandering around in search of a definition,” Brock claimed that journalists were still crucial players in society as “independent, informed, editors, finders and defenders of facts”.
Therefore, he suggested four overlapping functions to be the “pillars of trust” for journalists: the verification of facts, making sense of facts, eye-witnessing events, and incisive investigation.
Despite technology’s uncontrollable impact on the way news is reported, where most of the time words, video and sound were combined - especially on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter - Brock pleaded that words should remain a vital part of the new journalism. He said: “We have to find a way to make sure that words survive in the equation.”
Brock reminded his audience that journalism remained an essential means by which the public was informed about important events but that the future in the new emerging communications era still held many challenges.
Young people on Facebook and Twitter expected news to "find them". So, traditional newspapers were not being bought by the public in the same quantities as before. And, as advertising was going online, newspapers were losing the revenue necessary for them to survive. Therefore, "new business models" had to be developed.
Media entrepreneurs bold enough to try out new models by throwing spaghetti at the wall would be the winners, predicted Brock.
He said: “The worth of journalism is real, and its case will need to be made often in the next few years.”
The man who played a key role in the Times Online’s launch during his 28 years at the newspaper, said: “If journalism is to be valued – and perhaps even paid for (as Times owner Rupert Murdoch wants) – that worth has to be clear to those who are not journalists.”