“The Way I See It” – Richard Sambrook, director of the Centre for Journalism, Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies
In this interview series, we ask digital media professionals, innovators and commentators to share their perspective on approaches to comprehensive newsgathering.
Mar 23, 2017
What’s your prognosis of commercial news organizations?
To survive, news organizations must do what they do and do it better, not be blown off course by crosswinds. Instead of pandering to opinion and switching sides, they should do the fundamentals more clearly and better.
They should report from the ground up, not the top down. Because of cuts and the loss of resources, far too much is done from the desk not on the ground. News businesses have to find an economic way of getting out more.
It used to be thought that the immediate value that newspapers can add is opinion, because the internet does instant reporting. But to avoid being accused of bias, they also have to separate news from comment and opinion more clearly.
In a broadcast interview many audience members won’t understand that playing devil’s advocate is a way of challenging your interviewee – they see it as a sign of bias. There are lots of journalistic short-hand techniques which aren’t understood by the audience.
So I would advocate stripping it back to basics – sticking to the knitting and reporting events that matter.
Would you subscribe to the idea that social media is a positive force, moving us from hub to network?
Now social media seems rather a malign force. But a lot was wrong with the old model of foreign reporting in an un-networked world. The internet does break that open.
Where does comprehensive newsgathering fit in?
To survive, broadcasters have to add value to the audience’s consumption of news and information by not simply reporting the same half dozen stories that appear on the nightly news.
TV is still too modelled on breaking news, which now happens online.
They need a different proposition – a broader agenda covering stories that you can’t find elsewhere and reflecting the views of a greater number of people by expanding the news agenda
The economic question, of course, is that reporting that stuff costs money.
How do you avoid the accusation of bias if you’re analyzing?
Show your workings. If a specialist editor is being interviewed, they must explain. Not: ‘What this means is x’, but: ‘I believe this is the case because…’
They need to spell it out a bit more to avoid the accusation of personal bias.
There’s also a media literacy issue. Most of the public is not sufficiently media literate to understand the impact of the internet on dissemination of information. They see stuff on Facebook, they read it and believe it.
News organizations make the mistake of assuming that their audience is more media literate than it actually is.
What about monetization?
There are now two markets for news and information. Instant breaking news has been commodified and for credibility you need to be able to perform in that lockscreen place.
But people will also pay for in-depth specialist news (provided by the FT and the Wall Street Journal). What’s dropped out is the middle, and most newsrooms have been configured to serve that. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘the Quartz curve’. [add diagram]
In the current eco-system Reuters is hugely important. It’s one of a handful of global news brands out there and its importance grows as resources shrink in other news organizations.
People will also pay for in-depth specialist news. What’s dropped out is the middle, and most newsrooms have been configured to serve that. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘the Quartz curve’.”
Are your students, the next generation of journalism talent, savvy about social media and identifying trustworthy sources?
My students are fairly savvy and actively interested in news and current affairs. They are paying a lot of money to build a career in that field. The job is changing but at a time of disruption so there is also a lot of opportunity. Jobs may be lost from newsrooms but they are migrating to digital services and sites. There are fewer sub-editors but more online community managers. Different skill sets are now needed.