Derek Tucker, the outgoing editor of Aberdeen’s Press and Journal newspaper, today criticised the standard of would-be reporters emerging from journalism degree courses saying newspapers needed to again take the lead in training young staff.
Tucker told the Society of Editors Conference today that he wouldn’t follow the industry trend to do away with sub-editors and have reporters write into page templates over fears that the quality of his paper would be adversely affected.
‘It may well be that reporters writing direct to pages is the way ahead but I would be very reluctant to embrace that given the current state of the education system and our industry’s decision to handover to universities the training of the future generation of journalists,’he told delegates at the event in Glasgow.
‘It frustrates me – and I know many other editors feel the same – that a lot of the young people leaving so-called university journalism degree courses are totally not suited for coming into newspapers.
‘Very few possess the street cunning and inquisitiveness that is the hallmark of good journalists and it often appears that English is a second language.”
Tucker, who next year is set to retire after 18 years as Press and Journal editor, told the conference newspapers were ‘reaping what we began to sow years ago’after decided it was cheaper and more convenient to let academics train journalists on their behalf.
‘Unfortunately though we also washed our hands of the careful selection process which places the attributes of a good journalist above or at least equal to educational qualifications,’he said.
Tucker said newspapers needed to play a more active role in training if they wanted to re-establish themselves as the most trusted source of public information.
‘Tomorrow’s journalists must be identified and trained by today’s journalists not yesterday’s enthusiastic amateurs,’he added.
Tucker said it was a ‘huge undertaking’to produce the eight daily editions of the Press and Journal to serve its various audiences across rural north-east Scotland, but that its owners DC Thompson believed producing a quality paper was the foundation of the business.
He told the conference that while other papers had retreated from covering local civic institutions his paper had 12 reporters at court each day, two staff covering the Scottish Parliament, a Westminster reporter and others out covering local council and committee meetings.
In addition, he said his paper had not ‘sold its soul to make an all singing all dancing website’and instead adopted a strategy against the industry norm by imposing strict limits on the amount of content uploaded to its website.
The policy, he said, had been relatively successful as the Press and Journal was now the third biggest selling daily regional paper in the UK. It had an average daily circulation of 74,457 in the first half of the year according to the most recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Tucker said he did not fear competition from other online news sources as he did not feel they would be able to match the depth of coverage provided by his 150 journalists or gain the access his reporters received.
He said ‘remaining Jurassic’about the internet had served his paper well as it had managed to avoid the large drop in circulation being suffered elsewhere in the regional press.
‘Web traffic has not increased online revenues but has served only to erode offline sale,’he said.
‘I would suggest that if you study the sales performance of Britain’s regional dailies there is correlation in far too many cases between the enthusiasm with which they have embraced their web offering and the size of the year-on-year sales deficit.”