- Category: Media Trends
After a decade or more of cuts and job losses a growing digital audience is holding out the prospect that local newspapers might soon be reaching a tipping point when online income outweighs the loss of print advertising.
At the launch of a new book on the future of local journalism – What Do We Mean By Local? – there was one overriding verdict: delivering news first to an online audience is not a threat to local newspapers but the only realistic way to drive up revenues for what should become the local news franchises of the future.
Ashley Highfield, chief executive of the Johnston Press, which has just completed the re-launch of nearly 200 websites attached to over 200 daily and weekly local newspapers, gave an upbeat assessment to a Media Society audience (10.10.2013).
“The only question is: ‘When is the tipping point when digital revenue growth outweighs the lost income on print?’ Perhaps it will be 2016.
“In some sections of our business digital revenue now amounts to 15 to 20 per cent of total advertising income; that is up from 10 per cent the previous year and 5 per cent the year before that.
“When that share of revenue becomes 20 to 30 per cent in the next eighteen months or so – a 30 per cent increase year on year – then the rate of growth in digital business will outweigh the decline in print income.
“And at that point we will reach a tipping point when we can achieve a profit without taking out costs; at last it will mean the business can grow.”
- Category: Leveson Inquiry
In one of the tetchiest exchanges during a select committee hearing before MPs, Lord Justice Leveson refused to get drawn into the way some tabloid newspapers continue to promise pay for information for news stories – a practice which represents one of the starkest ethical divides among British journalists.
Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, tried without success to get the judge to comment on the conduct of those national newspapers which “advertise openly to pay for stories”. Earlier in the exchange she had asked whether he thought there were circumstances where “payment for a story is justified.”
But she met a point-blank refusal from Sir Brian Leveson who was answering questions from members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Media, Culture and Sport (10.10.2013) about the wider impasse between politicians and the newspaper industry over securing approval for a royal charter on press regulation.
Although he had been asked by the Prime Minister to “inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press”, the judge’s report made no recommendations on evidence presented to the Leveson Inquiry about a deeply-embedded culture of cash payment for stories.
- Category: The Role of Spin Doctors
All too many political journalists were as complicit as the ex-spin doctor Damian McBride in helping to propagate his smear stories about the ministerial colleagues and opponents of the former Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Anonymous briefings have become a cancer that is eating away at the probity of British political journalism and unless party leaders insist that the “sources” who speak on their behalf are always identified in the news media, then the Westminster lobby will never have either the inclination or will power to clean up its act.
As McBride reveals in his mea culpa – Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin – political journalists were queuing up to be drip-fed exclusive stories which all too often were used to mount personal attacks on rival politicians.
One of the roots of the corrosive culture of un-attributable briefings was the decision of Tony Blair in 1997 to double and then treble the number of politically-appointed ministerial special advisers – or spin doctors – whose job it was to handle contact with the news media.
Profound changes in journalism in the 1990s worked to their advantage. Because of aggressive competition from radio and television, newspaper reporters and correspondents increasingly switched their focus from policies to personalities; ministerial aides of the Blair-Brown era found the press corps had developed an insatiable appetite for political gossip, news of back-stabbing and the like.
- Category: The Role of Spin Doctors
All honour to ex-spin doctor Damian McBride for trying to shield Gordon Brown from any blame for the numerous attempts he made to smear political colleagues and opponents of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister.
But Brown, like Tony Blair before him, cannot shirk responsibility for having encouraged a culture which created a generation of aggressive attack dogs for whom un-attributable briefings became a way of life.
Both Prime Ministers could easily have reined in their aides and advisers from the start if they too had not been so addicted to spin and the manipulation of the news media.
Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin, McBride’s insider account of his days as Brown’s chief spin doctor is another warts-and-all tale of the dark arts of British politics and one of the least attractive aspects of the Blair-Brown legacy.
New Labour’s all-consuming desire to manipulate political news reporting dated back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when Blair and Brown were up and coming members of Labour’s front bench team.
Jockeying for the best possible result in the annual elections to the shadow cabinet was the only game in Westminster for the party’s rising stars and their determination to promote themselves at the expense of their rivals was aided and abetted by profound changes which were taking place in the coverage of politics.
Ed Miliband’s running battle with union “barons” will overshadow build-up to potential strikes by fire fighters and postal workers
- Category: Trade Union Reporting
Ed Miliband’s first set-piece speech since the worsening disagreement over trade union financing of the Labour Party – and then the House of Commons’ “no” vote to military action against Syria – is likely to dominate news coverage of the annual TUC conference in Bournemouth.
But while the prospect of Miliband having to fraternise with union leaders like Len McCluskey (Unite) and Paul Kenny (GMB) will command the attention of reporters, photographers and television crews, those journalists with an interest in business and union affairs should not lose sight of looming industrial confrontation in two key public services.
News media coverage will portray the trade unionists’ annual get together (September 8-11), and Miliband’s speech (at 11.30am on September 10), as a dress rehearsal for what some commentators are predicting will be an even sterner test of his leadership later in the month at the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton.
A focus on party politics rather than employment issues will disappoint officials at Congress House. Nonetheless the TUC conference will be an important rallying point for both the Fire Brigades Union and the Communication Workers Union which are both gearing up for industrial disputes which will be fought out via a propaganda blitz in the news media and not just on the industrial front line.