Is there a future for the press? It will be a struggle. But so long as people want to be informed, entertained, outraged and amused, I am sure that the press will survive in one form or another – and probably in several forms at once.
There is another big question, however, about the content of the press of tomorrow: amid the creative cacophony of the web, is there a future for a serious tradition of critical journalism with professional standards online or in print? That is something we will have to struggle for, too. Which is why, eight years ago, some colleagues and I set up the Young Journalists Academy (YJA), a not-for-profit outfit that has since run high level annual journalism summer schools for London state school sixth formers as well as many other events.
Our commitment to fight for the future of journalism also explains why the YJA has now signed up to partner with News UK in the corporation’s new initiative, the News Academy, the launch of which was reported in Press Gazette. Over the next three years, the News Academy plans to organise conferences, master classes and workshops involving schools and colleges across the country.
The aim is to engage with a new generation of potential newsmakers and broaden access to the industry. Students will be able to see their writing, podcasts and videos published on the News Academy website, and earn work experience and intern roles at News UK titles. Partnering with News UK in the News Academy will enable us to reach many times more students.
We know from organising past YJA events how inspiring it can be for young people to meet and mix it up with top journalists. At the Future of Journalism conference held at the News UK HQ in June, students queued to question and connect with the speakers. As part of the News Academy programme, journalists and executives from The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and Sun on Sunday will be going back to their old schools to lead events.
So what do we hope to teach all those young people through the News Academy? The explosion of web publishing and social media websites has created something of a free-for-all online (albeit one where free speech is strictly limited, and you can find yourself in shtook or even in prison for tweeting the wrong words). In a febrile atmosphere of shrill twitch-hunts and troll-baiting, there is a crying need to sustain a body of serious-minded journalism in print and online. Our hope is that the News Academy will help to instil that approach in a new generation of writers.
We aim to give the students the nuts and bolts of good journalism, from media law to reporting techniques and headline-writing; for example I have previously led workshops on the ABCs of the art – Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity. (It should perhaps be Accuracy, Conciseness and Clarity, but the ACCs of journalism doesn’t really work.)
We also hope to inspire them with some broader key values of good journalism – not all of which are very fashionable today – such as the importance of freedom of expression and of the press, and the need to value facts above feelings in reporting.
It has never been more important to fight for the future of professional journalism. I mean professional in the sense of serious, meticulous and (hopefully) paid. But not in the sense of turning journalism into a closed profession such as medicine or the law, as some in the industry proposed around the Leveson Inquiry. On the contrary, we want to open up journalism in all of its forms to far wider participation, recognising that it is the practical exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
The YJA is partnering on the News Academy to help promote a vision of vibrant journalism and a free press as the lifeblood of healthy public debate. The lesson of recent events is that we cannot afford to leave its future survival to chance.