Local World chairman David Montgomery has told Press Gazette that he sees a ‘stimulating’ and ‘challenging’ future ahead for journalists as all reporters become editors in their own right.
The former chief executive of Mecom alarmed many journalists earlier this month when he told MPs that much the “human interface” will disappear from local journalism in future years.
He said: “We will have to harvest content and publish it without human interface”.
But talking to Press Gazette, Montgomery said that his words should be seen primarily in the context of regulation (MPs were quizzing regional press publishers about proposals for a new Royal Charter to regulate the press).
He said: “Local journalism is moving more online and more towards self publishing – by journalists and by an increasing number of self-serve contributors.
“Journalists will not be going through antiquated editing processes in future, they will be publishing directly on to different platforms…
“I was talking in terms of regulation needing to develop to meet those challenges – of content published sometimes by journalists and sometimes by others and not moderated.”
Local World was created in November 2012 by the merger of the Northcliffe regional newspaper group and Iliffe News and Media. It is now the third biggest local newspaper publisher in the UK, and the biggest publisher – Trinity Mirror – has a 20 per cent share.
Montgomery said that the qualifications for journalists are going to be raised in the future as “as more tasks are going to be undertaken by individual journalists, gathering in content from all sorts of different sources”.
He said: “The breadth of skills and depth of experience needed would increase because journalists will take on more and more responsibility as generators of content, managers of content and publishers of content without intervention from their colleagues or senior editors.”
Although Montgomery has previously been quoted as saying that he wants to do away with editors (in the conventional sense), he said: “All journalists will be editors in their own right”.
So while the “human interface” in terms of people who edit other people’s content will disappear in Montgomery’s vision for the future of Local World – journalists will remain. And he says that the job for those who can make the transition could be a more enjoyable one.
“The job of a journalist is becoming much more stimulating, more challenging of course and it involves shouldering extra responsibility in every aspect of the job. But if you talk to some of the people working in the transformed operating model you’ll see that that their job is highly creative and they are getting much more job satisfaction.
“There is no point in trying to deny the fact that the world is changing.”
Is there still a role for old-fashioned journalistic staples like the exclusive story and the face-to-face interview in Montgomery’s vision?
“Everybody wants to get exclusive stories and we in Local World are getting exclusives all the time through a great deal of diligence and through mining sources of content more expertly.”
Montgomery used the example of the North Devon Journal and the story it carried earlier this month about attendees to a WI meeting who dressed up as pirates to hear a speaker who it turned out had been held hostage off the coast of Somalia.
“That story went global”, Montgomery says, “It boosted our audience by a huge extent”.
He uses it to make his point about the importance of journalists curating content from other sources to find stories, because the story was found in a report sent in from a local WI meeting.
Montgomery said: “Face to face to interviews are part of the job but they will be a smaller part of the job.”
He told Press Gazette: “When we were confined to newspapers published in print there was a limited amount of content we could carry. There’s no limit to what we can get online which means journalists’ jobs are going to change because we get more content all the time.”