Leigh fears for future of reporters

Veteran Guardian investigative journalist David Leigh fears that the ‘proper reporter’is under threat in the age of the internet.

Speaking at the inaugural Anthony Sampson lecture at City University, Leigh said: ‘I expect we’re going to see a completely new model of newspaper production in all British nationals within the next year. The future is for a newsroom to put out a series of themed websites – one for each traditional department. Environment, education, investigations et cetera.

‘Then – working in multimedia nodes or clusters – we will range up and down the new journalistic spectrum – sometimes conversing back and forth with our own nerdy online specialist audience, sometimes breaking news quickly on the main website, sometimes doing it in the daily print version, sometimes at length for, say, a Sunday outlet at the weekend.

‘And there’s a whole new global online outlet we’ve developed in the English language in – for instance – Guardian America. People can select from our news output whatever works for them in their busy, fragmented, international lives. And we hope by doing that, we’ll keep afloat.

‘I hope we do. Yet my fear is that today everybody is rather too obsessed with new platforms. But not enough people are talking about values.”

‘Top-down fascism”

He said web culture ‘degrades valuable things’such as ‘the idea of discrimination, that some voices are more credible than others, that a named source is better than an anonymous pamphleteer (that’s what they used to call bloggers in the 18th century, when they published, for example, the politically dangerous Letters of Junius). The notion of authoritativeness is derided as a sort of ‘top-down’ fascism. I fear that these developments will endanger the role of the reporter.”

He added: ‘Of course, there’ll always be room for news bunnies – to dash in front of a camera and breathlessly describe a lorry crash, or to bash out a press release in 10 minutes.

‘There will probably also be hyperlocal sites – postcode journalism fuelled cheaply by neighbourhood bloggers. But not proper reporters.”

He said: ‘I wish we could spend less time fretting about platforms and more about the loss of honesty in our trade. There is yet to be a proper accounting for the disgraceful loss of journalistic integrity on both sides of the Atlantic that cheer-led us into the Iraq war on a false prospectus.”

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