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What are we going to do with the problem of news avoidance?

News fatigue is becoming as familiar a phrase as fake news is to beat the news industry around the head with.

Even journalists, it seems, are finding themselves becoming fatigued about the news narrative. Alan Hunter (ex-Times and co-founder of HMB Advisory) this week recirculated a post from Washington Post columnist Amanda Ripley, who confessed she was finding herself avoiding the news because of its negativity.

Alan’s take on it was that most of the news being served up “is too relentlessly negative and consequently a turn-off”.

Why does this matter? Because the industry is struggling with some big issues that if it doesn’t resolve – paints a worrying picture for the future.

I decided to revisit the excellent Reuters Digital News Report released earlier this year because there are clear lessons to be learned – and a pathway to a hopeful future within it.

First the bad news:

News avoidance is on the rise in the UK – this is news fatigue and not just fatigue around Coronavirus.

Trust has fallen back in most countries surveyed.

Where there is selective news avoidance – there is a correlation with low trust.

There is increasing disconnection with news in print, radio and TV, while digital is flat.

More bad news:

There is a levelling off in the number of people subscribing for news – and the average age of a digital subscriber is around 50.

A large proportion of people subscribe to just a few national brands – bad news for the regionals.

The cost of living crisis is having a negative impact on this strategy.

Only 9% of people in the UK are paying for their news – the smallest percentage in all markets – and people in the UK don’t think they will increase the number of subscriptions in the year ahead.

Even registration is a problem, with only 16% per cent of UK people prepared to register email addresses – this will be increasingly important with the phasing out of third party cookies.

Most websites don’t have a clear enough value proposition to persuade people to do so.

So where is the hope?

Well, I think laying out the bad news allows us to focus on what we need to do.

In my view we are not seeing enough innovation and enough bravery to do something radically different.

Even those publishers and broadcasters who say they are doing something different – I would ask them to look at the Reuters report and ask themselves are they doing the right things and radically enough?

Take just one example: 

Many people are choosing to ration or limit their exposure to news – in the UK this has doubled to 46% of those surveyed who now say they avoid news sometimes or often – citing its repetitive nature, being worn out, lack of trust and brings down their mood.

Reuters quotes topics on political crises, international conflicts, global pandemics and climate as the ones turning people away the most – especially the younger audience – and yet this is the daily diet of most national publishers and broadcasters.

So how do we turn news avoidance into new consumption?

  • We need to embrace the notion of telling news differently. Having a Solutions Journalism approach to the news agenda and embedding this in the daily decision making is just one way of doing things differently. It requires a radically different approach in a newsroom.
  • The celebrated work of Dmitry Shishkin’s User Needs theory ( and the FT Strategies development of it)  embedded into daily news decision-making will throw a different focus on how to tell the same news in different ways and for different audiences.
  • What he is yet to do, and something we were experimenting with at my former employer Archant, was further analyse which audiences come for which type of user need and through which channel eg search, direct or social. That has a markedly different approach to how you decide to present the news and at what times.
  • Vice is really demonstrating how it is cracking the Tik Tok platform to make the worthy, negative news agenda interesting to a younger audience.
  • There is the beginning of a migration away from web-based and app-served news sites (according to Reuters)  – particularly among the young – and Facebook is dialling down its news focus. But learning how to tell news via Instagram and Tik Tok will help to engage with a younger audience. Once again, this won’t happen by osmosis – it needs real experts bringing about a new decision-making strategy and new structures in newsrooms. Merely having people in charge of engagement will not cut it.

I note with interest the announcement by Reach plc to put a focus on how to reach a youth audience and develop a new video strategy. 

A project we kicked off with younger people (once again while at Archant) gave some real insight into their attitude to traditional news brands and their affiliation to them. These social natives are highly unlikely to develop the loyalty to these brands that our over-50s have. Something borne out by the Reuters research.

So Reach may need to think about how they engage and what new launches they plan that don’t link to their existing brands.

Finally, on the debate about text vs video or audio – Younger audiences say they are more likely to watch the news – but still 55% say they mostly read it – a surprising statistic for me. They cite quicker access to information, poor video experience due to pre-roll adverts and less control than reading.

And podcasts are coming back in vogue – particularly with younger audiences. Generally, 34% or people listen to one or more podcast in a month.

Tortoise are pivoting more towards podcasting – recognising a rich vein of audience engagement here.

So in conclusion

Publishers are still struggling to come to terms with the structural changes that have ravaged the industry – says Reuters.

There is an increasing disconnection with the news agenda, with interest in it and trust decreasing.

The overwhelming depressing nature of news is not helping.

And paywalls and registration gates are putting barriers in the way of the best content.

However, a radical approach to the way we tell the news narrative and understand what it is our audiences actually want from us and how to serve it to them will address this.

New newsroom structures need to be in place to reflect the emerging channels that are engaging with audiences and an acceleration of video and audio news story telling will help to attract a younger audience.

The trick here is that a massive change needs to take place in newsrooms rather than tweaks to the way they do things. Bravery will be rewarded by audiences who feel their needs are being listened to.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

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What are we learning from the inquiry to find a solution for the sustainability of local journalism?

What conclusions can we draw from this week’s select committee inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism?

The  two sessions held in Cardiff heard initially from the largest publisher in the UK, Reach plc, as well as one of the smallest, Bedford Independent, with the panel also shared by the Media Reform Coalition. The afternoon was attended by the global behemoths of Meta (Facebook) and Google, and what many local commercial publishers questionably argue is their nemesis, the BBC.

My first conclusion is that misunderstanding of the media landscape and how it operates, which was apparent in the sessions, can be damaging to what opinions may form.

Myth One: We heard in the morning session that because publishers no longer had bricks and mortar offices in all of the towns and cities where they operate, they could not possibly understand and report on their local communities.

Myth buster:  So long as you have journalists operating in their local communities, whether they be embedded in offices, coffee shops, local libraries, or in  their own homes, then that connection is not broken. And it does not necessarily  (a key qualifier here) mean that news becomes the regurgitation of press releases and a failure to report critically on public interest news.

Recommendation: For the inquiry to form a proper view, they should commission some research to find out if this claim can be substantiated.

Myth Two: The demise of local newspapers in print means there are media deserts in the country.

Myth Buster: Audiences are choosing to “consume” their news on digital platforms. Our children will probably never buy a newspaper, but they will certainly be connected to their news via digital channels that reach wider audiences than they ever have done.

Myth Three: The drive for ever bigger audiences has led to more clickbait and the major publishers are guilty of this.

Myth Buster: Most publishers have a laser focus on engagement metrics with their audiences – that is how many times a user comes back to their sites, how long they dwell on an article or page and what level of commenting or sharing takes place. None of that happens if the content is clickbait.

What did resonate strongly, though, is that the independent publishers want to have a greater slice of the cake. They feel they are excluded from opportunities because they are not one of the now big three publishers (following the swallowing up of Archant by Newsquest).

Paul Hutchinson, from Bedford Independent – founded by three partners to bring independent, local news to the people of the town, set out how they are starved of Government and local authority revenue because they do not have a print element to their operation.

He called for a review of distribution of revenues which he said would enable them to pay themselves a proper salary and to pay for at least one trainee journalist.

Giving Independents a fair crack of the whip for public notices revenue and Government advertising, is a fair call, based on digital numbers, given declining print circulations. However, they will probably find that based on digital audiences, they will still be the minnows at the table.

That is why the big publishers are so keen to find an online solution quickly for public notice information  (with the support of Google funding by the way) to make sure they continue to hold on to that revenue.

It is fair to say that there are many titles, particularly those in London, who only survive now because of the level of Government and local council advertising they receive.

While I’m on the subject of funding:

Myth Four: The BBC Local Democracy Reporting Scheme – set up to provide free content to more than 850 partners across the UK – is a subsidy to the big publishers.

Myth Buster: Patently not true. Each contract has to be bid for along strict criteria in a fair and transparent process run by the BBC. The cost of running the contract sometimes exceeds the money attached to it, factoring in HR, management and content supervision; and thirdly, it is probably simpler for independents to receive the copy than to manage an additional member of staff, be monitored by the BBC, and be at the beck and call of other publishers wanting to direct how the local democracy reporter is deployed each day.

This brings me to the afternoon session and the role of the BBC and tech giants of Meta and Google.

Their arguments were highly polished, with an abundance of stats and figures, to make them look like the knights in shining armour for local publishers.

My question is this: If everything we heard from Google and Meta were to be taken at face value and believed, then why on earth are the commercial publishers, both large and small, so unhappy with them?

This is the challenge the DCMS inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism will have to get to grips with.

Tom Morrison-Bell, Government Affairs and Public Policy manager at Google, said that the revenue Google received from ads served on searches for news in the UK was less than £20m per year in the UK. Yet, the amount of traffic they sent back to local publishers was valued (by them) at £84m.

He also said that between 70p and 95p of every £1 of Google ad revenue is returned to local publishers.

John Severinson, Head of News Partner Development, Europe at Meta was equally at pains to say there was nothing to see in terms of unfairness. He said that their relatively new Facebook News tab in the US for example generated more than 90% of clicks that were incremental to US publishers’ traffic.

And they had signed deals with publishers big and small over here in the UK for this service. What he omitted to say, and this is something that the Digital Markets Bill really does need to look at, is that it is a take it or leave it deal. The publishers have no ability to negotiate a fair value for that content. I know, because I tried – and I was not the only publisher trying to do so.

One of the main cheerleaders for a fairer value exchange for commercial publishers, came from the BBC through Rhodri Talfan-Davies, Head of Nations. On repeated occasions he stressed that it was not the BBC that was to blame for the demise of the commercial publishing sector, and the route to a more sustainable future was through a fairer remuneration and value exchange based on the content Google and Facebook benefited from.

He called for regulation to be used to force a fairer value exchange for publishers big and small, citing that it was the publishers spending the money putting reporters on the ground to report on what is happening in their communities – and there is a need for “a levelling up” in terms of a fairer value exchange if a plurality of publishing is to be preserved.

Finishing up he said: “It is not beyond the wit of UK policy makers to find a balance that works for platforms and publishers.”

Bearing in mind that the call for evidence for this inquiry was heavily weighted at looking at what impact the BBC was having on sustainability of commercial publishers, it was probably not a surprise he was championing their cause.

But when questioned if the BBC could do more to support commercial publishers by providing more links back to their sites, he conceded that “was a live question”.

He robustly argued: “I don’t believe the BBC is the root cause of newspapers’ structural problems” and that its commitment to serving local news was part of their Charter requirements. To that end, he reiterated a reprioritisation of the local journalism network with a commitment to invest more journalists into the local online service – something which will frustrate (to put it mildly) the big publishers.

And so to my opening question – a long time ago – what conclusions can we draw from the inquiry?

For me, it is that Julian Knight who is chairing the DCMS inquiry, has his work cut out to cut through what is myth, data, misinformation and corroborated evidence to come up with any recommendations that differ from what has already been laid out by Dame Frances Cairncross.

The Digital Markets Bill will not be the panacea for the industry, but it is at least a starting point for regulation of the tech platforms that may lead to a fairer revenue share for publishers who pay to produce locally relevant and trusted content.

The BBC is not the cause of the demise of the commercial publishing sector (if indeed you subscribe to the fact that it is in demise) – but does have  an important influence in its future and its ongoing challenges.  

The Independent sector needs to have a stronger voice to be able to compete for revenues.

The tech platforms need to stop being in denial that they are a problem to the industry and be more transparent in the way they can offer support both monetary and through innovation – they are pivotal to this debate.

And the commercial sector needs to spend far less time blaming others and look to themselves about how they can work together and with the Independents  to share ideas and innovation, while still accepting they compete in some territories, so that collectively they can improve the quality of local journalism provision.

Finally, the Government – if it is to help to ensure a continuing plurality of news in every local community – needs to forge a working coalition of all the players to find common ground.

It’s a tough challenge for Mr Knight and his inquiry team.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

How one regional media business is finding a new audience through Tik Tok

Last month, I wrote about how news outlets are trying to reach a younger audience by engaging with them via Tik Tok. Here, Social Media and Engagement Manager Autumn Lewis talks about the recent successes she has been having via their Tik Tok platform at the Norwich Evening News.

Tik Tok home page

TikTok has quickly risen through the ranks and is now the third-largest social media network, it’s no wonder that businesses are moving into this platform to target the younger demographic and to increase the longevity of their brands. 

As the Social Media & Engagement Manager for Archant, I am certainly looking at TikTok to take our social media to the next level. There is a huge gap in the market for regional news to takeover TikTok and get local community news in front of a younger audience. 

Regional news has found a comfortable place with the traditional social platforms such as, Facebook and Twitter. However, these channels have uncertainty around them as to whether they are sustainable amongst a younger demographic. With the rise of Instagram and TikTok, it’s time that regional publishers start putting more efforts into these other platforms.  

60% of TikTok’s audience are 16-24 years old and national publishers such as BBC, The Telegraph and Daily Mail have shown the hunger for news on this platform which is proven by their large following and view stats. They have shown that publishers don’t need to change their branding to fit in with a younger audience, we just need to package our news up and present it to them a little differently to what we are used to.  

At Archant, we’ve seen the benefits of using TikTok to reach and engage with not only a younger audience, but a brand-new audience to us. 

In March this year, we constructed a social strategy for the Norwich Evening News to make its debut on TikTok. We launched the TikTok on International Women’s Day and celebrated the local women working in our newsroom and even did a viral TikTok dance.  

From there, our goal was to increase brand visibility amongst our new audience. We posted twice a day, every day, for 30 days and we then started seeing big results.  

Our content varied between jumping on TikTok trends, celebrating Norwich and what’s on content. We’ve kept it light-hearted and fun to showcase everything you can do in Norwich with a few playful trends here and there. The more we posted, the more we understood what our audience wanted to see from us and from there we built our TikTok from the ground up.  

In our first month, we accumulated over 1,000 followers on this platform and multiple videos were watched by over 30,000 people.

TikTok can be difficult when growing your following as the visibility comes from the FYP (For You Page) in the app. Users spend the majority of the time on the FYP as the feed has been curated based on what TikTok suggests what the viewer may like. There is so much content going into this part of the app by multiple users so you really need to make an impact and grab their attention. With social media platforms now just a place to scroll, we aim to capture their attention within the first two seconds and keep them on our video and profile.  

TikTok is an exciting platform for publishers because there is so much opportunity for growth and trying something a bit different to typical social media practice. We’ve very much kept our Norwich Evening News TikTok fun and enticing initially and it’s working well for us, but it’s not to say we won’t move into sharing harder news on this platform. With the potential virality of TikTok there are unlimited opportunities with what publishers can do and I think it’s an exciting chance to see something different from local publishers.  

With the fast results we’ve seen from Norwich Evening News on Tiktok, we are now looking to extend our efforts for our other daily newspaper titles. 

Why can’t everyone work together to find answers?

This week saw the opening of the inquiry led by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport into the sustainability of local journalism.

This is not the first time an inquiry like this has been held, and exasperatingly, it will not be the last.

And yet, we are still rehearsing the same old issues, challenges and failing to find the answers.

The seminal report by Dame Frances Cairncross (Feburary 2019) appeared to set out a roadmap for the industry, calling for a number of initiatives to be put into place.

Publishers warned that there was no time to lose and unless action was taken immediately, titles would close, leaving gaps in coverage across our communities.

She called for a system of regulation for the tech and online platforms and for them to be compelled to work constructively with the news industry; The Government should explore direct funding for local news and new tax reliefs to support public interest journalism; And an Institute for Public News to be set up to oversee a new innovative fund for the future of local and regional press.

Three years later and we are sill waiting.

The only real measure that is finally looking like working its way onto the statute books is the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill that may force the Tech platforms to give a greater proportion of revenue earned on the back of journalism created by publishers, back to the commercial sector.

And so to the inquiry led by Julian Knight MP in which industry experts were invited to give their views about what should be done to support the sustainability of local journalism.

Owen Meredith, chief executive of the News Media Association, representing 900 titles gave evidence and his views about the threats to the local industry he represents.

In the firing line was the BBC and the Tech platforms.

He bemoaned the fact the BBC was intending to recruit more digital journalists into regions well stocked by the local commercial sector which would present a competitive threat to those titles.

While he acknowledged the success of the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme, the key delivery from the Local News Partnership set up between the BBC and the NMA, he said the BBC was now planning to encroach on territory they should not be entering.

Asked what should be done about it, we heard from Owen saying that an agreement should be struck between the BBC and the commercial sector about what sort of news the BBC should produce.

Responding to a question at the inquiry he said: “What the BBC has proposed is to recruit local digital journalists directly competing with what my members are doing. The BBC is coming into a space and by having a presence in the digital space, they stifle the passive demand for news.”

He went on to say that trying to negotiate with the BBC was problematic. “We can come up with a much better model. We are asking them to come to the table but they are not forthcoming in terms of genuine negotiation.”

So, my first point is why on earth is the NMA and the BBC still unable to find agreement when the Local News Partnership, which I had played a leading role in setting up at the time, is acknowledged by both sides as “a force for good”?

Publishers cannot agree among themselves about how to deal with the BBC and meanwhile, the BBC appears not to be able to work with the NMA on these policy decisions.

The inquiry then turned its attention to the likes of Facebook and Google. And once again, we heard the same old complaints.

Mr Meredith quoted a figure of £1bn of news value being redirected by Google and Facebook away from the commercial sector with an unfair balance of power meaning that there was not a fair return of that revenue back into the newsrooms.

The inquiry asked if the Digital Markets Bill would help to resolve this issue to which Mr Meredith said it needed action now.

Yet, there is once again a failure in getting the whole of the industry together to find solutions.

Meanwhile Rome continues to burn. As Mr Meredith told the inquiry: “I would very much like to see the bill published as soon as possible. We have had seemingly endless consultation. The consequences of delay and not seeing a level playing field will be the closure of more smaller titles.”

In his opinion, Google and Facebook are supportive of the concept of regulation.

So, if a Bill is coming, the NMA want urgent action and the Tech platforms are supportive of some kind of change, then it does beg the question, what is preventing them all, including the BBC, from getting around the negotiating table and finding a solution?

This is where the DCMS needs to step in and demonstrate leadership. They have all the cards. They can bring the BBC to the table through the mechanism of the Charter and its renewal. They hold the power through the Digital Markets Bill to bring the Tech platforms to a discussion, and they should be asking tougher questions of the key players within the industry about how co-ordinated they actually are in finding solutions.

This is not a problem of the BBC and Tech platforms against the news industry. This is a problem of a massive failure to find a way of working together to find a solution for the long-term sustainability of our industry.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

Is Tik Tok the Instagram of the future for newsrooms?

This week the Society of Editors held its Future of News annual conference — where there was a definitive shift towards debate about how to solve the future needs of our audiences.

Kicking off the day and setting the theme throughout most of the sessions was the question of how newsrooms , from the big orthodox brands, such as the BBC, through to start-ups like the new News Movement, embrace new platforms and integrate them into their news distribution operations.

It seems most publishers have barely got to grips with the impact Instagram can bring to their brands when there is already a new kid on the Block — Tik Tok.

Since its launch in 2016 Tik Tok has essentially been seen as the preserve of the young — with around 43% of its global audience between 18 and 24-years-old. And 32% between 25 and 34. (Source: Social Shepherd, quoting Tik Tok’s press information)

And its popularity exploded during the pandemic lockdown as the app reached one billion active users, allowing it to provide entertainment to its community all around the globe.

But now it is being taken seriously for its ability to reach the holy grail of a younger audience by news brands.

While many traditional newsbrands had previously written off the younger generation as being news atheists and difficult to reach, there is a growing and rapid realisation that this generation really does care about news — just not the way they are served it at the moment.

As Kamal Ahmed (Editor-in-Chief of The News Movement) offered up as he chaired the panel session on Engaging with the Future, “There is a thirst for trusted and engaging news” And “there is an under-supply of trusted and engaging news on social channels even though that’s where most young people live.”

It is this realisation which is now forcing the news providers to think again about Tik Tok.

As Naja Nielsen, Digital Director, BBC News, and panel member said: “There is a reason why we, as an old media, have been left by the young crowd and we need to adapt.”

The question is how do we do this. It shouldn’t be by replicating the mistakes we have made with Snap Chat and even Facebook by creating news to mimic their platforms. We need to adapt our news provision to those channels while maintaining our brand values and identity.

In her opinion, and one that is generally shared, it is not about trying to get the younger generation to identify with your mature brand now, it is about getting them used to interacting with your brand on the platforms of their choice and then developing that relationship with them.

The challenge we have in attracting a younger audience is not about journalism, it is about making it accessible to them.

Nabihah Parkar, Video Producer for Vice World News, offered this advice: Be authentic and natural to the platform, by using tools such as emojis, pop ups etc; Experiment with different formats and have fun with it.

She told how she was able to tackle a serious issue such as the Ukraine War and what NATO was through a 40-second explainer from her kitchen.

“We have seen in Ukraine there is an appetite for news. We know we need journalism. We need to know what we want to be best at — and that is informing everyone about what’s really happening.”

The bottom line is that social platforms, such as Tik Tok, will be transient by their nature but they should be seen as a place of discovery for orthodox news brands to discover how to interact with a younger audience of the future.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

Breaking the bias in the newsroom: International Women’s Day 2022

TUESDAY (March 8) sees the marking of International Women’s Day, where countries all over the world unite in the celebration of women’s achievements. 

This year’s theme is “Breaking the Bias” – where we are being asked to imagine a gender equal world, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. 

We know that across all business sectors women leadership is under-represented – and that is certainly true in the media industry. And with that comes a bias in so many areas of our work. 

Gender imbalance leads to content imbalance – lack of diversity and lack of inclusion. And to complete the circle, with this lack of balance, diversity and inclusion, there is a lack of female role models in the media, which perpetuates the problem. 

Over the past decade, we have seen an improvement in women leadership at the top of content functions, with far more female editors than previously. 

Here at Archant, I am pleased to see how the number of female editors has increased – yet I am the first to admit we have more to do. 

One of the keys to that is ensuring there is a development plan in place for up-and-coming talent. Over the past 12 months we have promoted more women to managerial positions than ever before, creating new roles and seeing the talent come through. 

If you look at female leadership at other major publishers, it is a similar story. 

However, the facts speak for themselves. According to research conducted by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2021, across 240 brands in four continents: 

  • Only 22% of the 180 top editors across the 240 brands covered are women, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in the 12 markets are women. Looking only at the 10 markets we covered in 2020 and again in 2021, 23% of top editors are women, the same percentage as last year. 
  • In the UK while there was around a 50-50% split in the number of females working in journalism, just under 30% of women were occupying editor positions in 2020.  

But merely having women in charge does not guarantee a shift in the type of content we produce and the right amount of inclusion. A flick through the pages of most titles’ print editions will reveal a gender imbalance towards white, middle-aged men occupying the columnist spots. 

The leader of a news organisation cannot single-handedly change the tone of news coverage. 

As Suzanne Franks says in her book, Women and Journalism, there are still enduring stereotypes in the media industry. There is still a bias towards women in features and lifestyle sections, rather than in crime or sport. Women are far less likely to be seen on the front page or homepages of news brands. 

She quotes in her book that this leads to a tendency of belief that “Men’s news is to write on the front page that a fire happened, women’s news is to write inside why the guy lit a fire. “ (Johnson 2003). 

And this imbalance in leadership roles in our newsrooms means there is a missing perspective of women in news. 

What should we be doing to pick up the challenge from IWD this year?

To quote Alison Phillips, chair of Women In Journalism, and Editor of The Mirror: “The media is the prism through which the world sees itself. For it to be fair and accurate, we need all kinds of people from a host of diverse backgrounds telling all sorts of stories. That makes great journalism.” 

We need to make sure more women’s voices are heard through the content creation process. 

Even if we don’t have women editors, why can’t we ask them to lead news conferences, so that (1) they gain experience in the decision-making process and (2) they can influence the type of content that is created and, more importantly, how it is sourced. 

We should conduct a regular audit of our titles and websites for male/female imbalance – through the number of faces, people quoted, and opinion pieces being published and work harder to ensure it is more representative of the population split. 

Sport remains the bastion of the male journalist with an embarrassing paucity of female sports writers. What can we learn from the likes of Sky and the BBC who have managed to break this vice-like grip of male sports reporting? 

The National Council for the Training of Journalists has been trying to tackle this issue for several years now.   

Back in 2019/2020 it secured a partnership with NIKE to provide a free women’s sports journalism course, which delivered the Certificate in Foundation Journalism qualification to twenty students. 

It is also in talks with Sky Sports News to find ways to encourage more women to participate, too.  

Joanne Butcher, NCTJ chief executive, said: “It is still very much a topical issue for us and something we are really focused on.” 

We also need to work much harder in ensuring we don’t fall guilty of unconscious biases. We should screen our job advertising for male-preference vocabulary. Interview panels should ensure there is even gender balance, we can and should monitor the attrition rate through the recruitment process of women from job application to appointment. 

I am not an advocate of positive discrimination. I believe people should succeed to roles based on their capability. But unless we monitor things like these, the prospect of change will be glacial. 

And that does nothing for our ability to challenge the bias – conscious or otherwise – in our profession – which fits the theme of International Women’s Day 2022. 

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

How’s the Working From Home going?

It was great wasn’t it? No more commute, relaxed dress code, home comforts… 

And then it started getting boring, once the novelty wore away, and away and away. Interminable video calls, sat at the desk all day, lack of spontaneous chat with colleagues. Sound familiar? 

But while these may be the downsides to home working – there are other more deep-seated and fundamental ones that businesses and publishers still need to address in my opinion. 

I attended a “conference” – a virtual one of course – the other week about the collaboration culture in driving creative transformation in 2022 organised by Salesforce.com. The panel session quickly focused on the issues around Hybrid Working – how to accommodate the balance between those working from home and those with access to offices. 

It is what has prompted me to write some thoughts about the challenges we face. My caveat to this is I am no expert. However, I did listen to quite a few experts which has fed my thinking. 

The big issue is the imbalance we now have in many workplaces because of hastily put-together home working practices. Now it is becoming permanent, the need to readdress so many working practices is becoming more evident. There is a need for a “levelling up” in the hybridity of home working. 

Let me give a couple of examples.  

Do we have meeting equity? 

How often are meetings now held where some people are in the room and others are tuning in from home. It used to happen a fair bit with people dialling in from offices and that was hard enough – but now it is the norm. What are the issues? 

1) Those in the room have far more say in the meeting. 

2) Those at home struggle to get their say, struggle to be heard, and find it hard to put their point across. 

3) Body language is difficult to read and to interrupt to have your say means you must alter your normal style and behaviour to be heard. 

Equality of access 

Do companies with hybrid working give equality of access for those at home and those with access to the office? 

1) Are you less visible to managers and those who can progress your career if you are not in sight? 

2) Do you have the same opportunity as someone who is sat in the office when your manager wants a volunteer quickly or wants to get something done? 

3) Do you have the same access to the leadership who may be walking the office floor? 

4) And do you have the same access to spontaneous coaching, mentoring or just plain help. 

We are also seeing a shift in the balance of power. Now employees are more “portable” – they can move jobs without moving location – and that gives them more bargaining power and companies more of a retention problem. 

This has had me thinking. Have we really designed our working cultures for a remote working environment? 

We had some big company brands at the conference, and it would be reasonable to say none could really hand on heart say they had got this right. 

One thing is for sure, there is no one-size fits all solution to the future of where and how we work. The pandemic has certainly revolutionised the model and the way we need to think about offices, remote working, and employees’ workplace needs. All this means there is no standard way of working. 

But maybe there are some norms that are common to all businesses. 

Leadership and management 

Do we need to see a new kind of leadership? We need to bring more humility and humanity to leadership – as opposed to a relentless focus on results. We will need to train our leaders and managers to be more empathetic. Do they know how to ask the right questions? And if someone says they’re not alright, do they know how to deal with that? 

One of my editors told me only today that their job seems to be nearly 60% about counselling – but have we equipped them to safely take on that role? 

There is a need for a changing style of leadership and an obligation for leaders to demonstrate where there are inequalities that they can tackle them. 

Why? Because talent is now more mobile – and if you don’t create a level playing field there are more opportunities available. 

Performance management: 

Have we tackled how to do performance management in a hybrid environment? We all have the tools to manage performance and underperformance in an office environment. But how do you deal with it in a hybrid world? How do you know – when you terminate the video call – that your employee is ok?  

And who does the employee have to talk to? If they go back to their desk at work, they have the spontaneity of a chat with a colleague. But the inequality of not having that choice could be mentally disastrous. 

How do we tackle training: How do we encourage people to be creative, have we thought about psychological safety. 

My point is that we need to be intentional in designing remote working practices – rather than assuming we will establish the right norms by a process of osmosis – gradually assimilating ideas and practices. 

If we leave it to chance we will build in inequality and a lack of inclusiveness and a set of values that we would never have dreamed of having if we had intentionally designed them. 

Global companies are wrestling with this and there are solutions. It is now a duty and a necessity for us as business leaders to consciously review our hybrid working practices. 

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this, please feel free to email me jeremyclifford@celebratingjournalism.com

Is there any point to the social media boycott?

Media organisations across the country signed up for a social media boycott in support of the Premier League and English Football League action this weekend.


The football leagues launched the blackout in exasperation at the failure of the tech giants to act to eradicate racism and hate directed against their players from their platforms.
It would have been incongruous for media companies not to support this action – effectively condoning the racism by continuing to stream reports about the players and games that the leagues were imposing a blackout on.
So, in effect, despite a loss of significant revenues for most publishers, they had little choice to support the boycott.
The questions that have exercised my mind this week in the lead up to the boycott, are these: What is the boycott going to achieve? What will the media companies achieve by imposing a blackout that will impact their businesses? And what about our staff who are routinely abused on social media – how do we square that circle?
I came to the conclusion that it is right to support the boycott for the following reasons.


What will the boycott achieve?

It has already achieved a lot. It has further raised the stakes for social media companies to take action. The power and influence of football cannot be overstated. Just look at the powerful backlash from the fans last month who scuppered the ambition of some of the most powerful football clubs in the world to create a European Super-League.

The campaign by Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford to fight for better funding for school children’s home school meal support, forced the Government to perform an embarrassing U-turn. It was only after his intervention that the Government crumbled – having ignored all previous pleas from parents, schools and lobbyists.

And so, I may be naiive in this hope, but where Governments and media companies have failed in their attempts to regulate tech platforms or bring them to the table to coerce them to control commenting, irresponsible and dangerous posting and hate-inciting content on their platforms, the multi-billion pound influence of football clubs may succeed.
No doubt, there are already behind-the-scenes conversations taking place between Facebook, Twitter and other platforms with the football leagues as a result of the embarrassment being heaped on them and potential damage to their corporate brands. No company can ignore image-damaging publicity – no matter how big they are.


What will media companies achieve by supporting the boycott which comes at a cost to their own revenues?

Unlike the football clubs’ principled stance, this is also a business decision by the media companies to back a boycott. Referrals via social media to websites are still an important part of the business model for media companies. And with audiences following links to websites, comes revenue either through programmatic advertising revenue or people subscribing or paying directly for the content.

It would also be damaging for our brand reputations not to support the action of our football clubs – an important part of our content model – but also a partnership on which both rely. How could we possibly justify merrily tweeting running commentary or posting links to our reports on a platform that for this weekend the football clubs had declared persona non grata.

It does raise the question, if the clubs shout, do we have to mindlessly jump? The answer, of course, is no. We have to weigh every decision on their  individual merits. But to my mind, it was right to partner with them.

This should act as a spur not only to support football in its campaign against racism, hate and homophobia, but to widen the campaign to every other aspect of irresponsibility made possible by an unregulated social media world.

As Stuart Brennan, Manchester City reporter for the Manchester Evening News, said on the Behind Local News website: “We at the Manchester Evening News stand with the players, the fans and everyone else who – when they go on social media – are met, on a daily basis, with horrendous abuse based simply on the colour of their skin, their religion, their gender or their sexual orientation.”

This is not just about football, this is about the everyday victims in every community who are exposed to abuse because social media exists. 

We have made repeated entreaties to the tech platforms to act which have largely fallen on deaf ears. If this was happening on the streets, in pubs, in classrooms, or in workplaces, people would be arrested. Yet because people can hide behind the anonymity afforded by social media and post with impunity, without fear of consequence, they are emboldened to do so. We need a powerful momentum shift.

Just as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have made those issues mainstream, we now need to ensure this is not a flash in the pan.

We, as media organisations, need to collaborate and work together to build on the momentum. And if there is a powerful organisation we can partner with – the football industry – maybe this is just what is needed to coerce the tech platforms into action.


And so to my third question. What about our staff?

If we are prepared to impose a social media blackout in support of football players, why do we continue to expect our staff to use social media knowing they are opening themselves to similar type of abuse.

I do believe it is right to expect staff to continue to use a valid business tool to market and promote our content to as wide an audience as we can. We put journalists in harms way to report without fear or favour. That is what we do. We send journalists to war zones, we send them to demonstrations and we send them to front up unsavoury characters in pursuit of our craft.

Social media has become an essential part of our business as technology has shaped our profession. So we need to ensure our journalists use it. But with that comes responsibility. And this is where we need to be confident we are taking the appropriate measures.

The Government last month issued its Plan to safeguard journalists from danger and from abuse. However, it is just that – a plan. Every strategy needs execution to be successful. If we expect our journalists to use social media and recognise that this means they will be subject to abuse, we must do everything we can to protect, safeguard and act to support them.

As a corporate organisation, journalists should know that we will take up instances of abuse with those platforms that allow it to be surfaced and force them to take it down. As employers, we need to put in place reporting mechanisms and support systems to help our staff who become victims of abuse. And as an industry we need to collectively call out every instance of abuse when we see it, no matter if it is directed against someone who is not on our payroll. We need to educate our journalists about how to block, mute and report abusive users. And we need to continue to lobby those tech platforms to take action – but now form more powerful alliances outside of our industry and even Governments.


There should be a zero tolerance to abuse – we would not stand for it in any other walk of life, but in the ether of the internet, it appears that it is ok. This has to change. And I hope that the action this weekend can force a sea change in opinion to galvanise a powerful coalition of organisations to shame Tech platforms to act.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this, please feel free to email me jeremyclifford@celebratingjournalism.com

How we will need to adapt to the demise of the traditional newsroom

Last week Reach plc announced plans to close all bar 15 of its newsrooms – signalling a confirmation of the “temporary” situation where journalists have been working from home.

The decision to keep open only its biggest newsrooms has sparked a lively debate – from those who have left the industry and hark back to days that are part of our history and from those still active today and battling with the everyday challenges of media publishing.

Reach has merely made a public statement about the reality most publishers are grappling with – and, indeed, most businesses. I was told only last week that very few banks will return to their offices in London – having learned how to operate remotely – and therefore make savings to their bottom line.

There is a real debate to be had about the demise of the newsroom and the impact that will have on the way we work, set against the benefits.

For the past year we have learned how to publish from our bedrooms, spare rooms and kitchen tables – in a way one of my former editors described as having no crease between working from offices and suddenly decamping to home.

As with almost everything in our lives, we will never return to the normal we were used to – and nor should we.

There are many benefits to home working. It will force managers to consider more flexible working requests – something many had previously resisted or begrudgingly accepted on the advice from HR.

Accommodating the realities of working parents, child care, more flexible working arrangements, brings with it many benefits. A better work-life balance, less commuting, the ability to attract a more varied and diverse workforce who couldn’t otherwise work for us – will all help to improve diversity in our newsrooms.

Reach is not the only publisher to have conducted surveys of staff asking them their preferred mode of working for the future and will have found many will have reported a preference for working from home.

A Reach spokeswoman said: “We carried out a survey of all colleagues that showed a majority found home working suited their needs.” The question being for how long.

And publishers have to take some tough decisions about keeping offices open – with all the expense that comes with it – balanced against the need to maintain a presence in our localities.

So what are the downsides to closing offices?

Uppermost in my mind is how we can continue to mentor and develop our staff remotely. Working remotely is one thing – managing remotely is a completely different ball game. Spotting signs that people are struggling is hard enough in a newsroom, let alone via a video call.

Providing an office working environment to people entering work for the first time is essential to help them to acclimatise to a new chapter in their lives. Giving quality training and support to new entrants, learning the ropes of the job, is so much easier under the watchful eye of a departmental manager – and when they are not on hand, the colleague sat in the nextdoor seat.

Then, let us consider the loss of spontaneity that a newsroom offers. The spark of an idea, the callout for help for a headline or an intro, the casual conversations from which great story lines emerge.

These, of course, can be replicated to some extent – but not totally. We  have to be honest about this and face up to the fact that the traditional newsroom was a hothouse for great ideas, camaraderie, support and teamworking that will be diminished – despite any use of technology, such as Slack, Teams, Google or whatever you choose to use.

No publisher that I am aware of is advocating closing all offices. But focusing on a hub and spoke newsroom structure will disadvantage some people from progressing if they are not part of an office environment.

And while I am at it, most of the debate has focused on the loss to trainees of not working in newsrooms. However, the old hands I find, learn just as much from the new entrants about how to learn the new tricks our industry demands of them – something that will also be lost.

On the plus side, we will see reporters more visible on their patches, working in their communities, out and about – or at least I hope so. The risk of reporters becoming invisible by working from home is a challenge we are going to have to tackle head-on as we break the habit of lockdown reporting.

To successfully transition to more remote working, we need to build a flexible model. We need to classify those people who we want to be office-based, those who can easily operate remotely from home, and then build in an agile working arrangement for those falling in the middle.

While offices may close, publishers need to recognise a need to bring teams together from time to time and to budget for temporary office space. Hot desking will be the new norm, and this needs to be encouraged. And, as I said, we need to work really hard to ensure those journalists who should be out and about, are actually out and about and being visible in their communities.

The debate will continue for some time to come and especially as the lockdown restrictions are eased. We need to consult with staff, ask them about how they would like to work and for those of us running our businesses, have clarity about the benefits and disbenefits of remote working.

One thing is certain, traditional newsrooms are a thing of the past. This change is nothing new – from the days of typewriters, smoking in offices and decamping to the pub, which was when I started, to nowadays when the phone hardly rings, computers silence the atmosphere where typewriters provided the soundtrack to newsrooms, and shouting and hollering at reporters for making simple errors were de rigeur.

Change is ever present. It is how we adapt to it and how we introduce it into our businesses that will determine how successful we will be.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this, please feel free to email me jeremyclifford@celebratingjournalism.com

How the Society of Editors did a disservice to journalists over Meghan

I write this with no joy, but the Society of Editors has got its position on the racism debate surrounding the Meghan and Harry interview on Oprah so very wrong.

The press this week has been accused of racism and bigotry in the way it has portrayed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – and particularly its coverage of Meghan.

Watching that interview on Monday I was shocked by the headlines selected to contrast the way Meghan has been reported upon compared with similar stories about her sister-in-law Kate.

Within the wider context of whether Harry and Meghan have endured racist treatment at the hands of the Institution of the Royal Family the couple levelled serious allegations about the racist and bigoted coverage they had suffered from the media.

I am not going to wade into that debate – and I am pretty sure the leaders of the SoE regret the way they did, too.

A firm and, in my opinion, arrogant rebuttal penned by Executive Director Ian Murray has made our industry as guilty as other sectors in our society of making a blanket denial about the existence of racism in their organisations.

The furore over the manner of his riposte has forced the SoE to backpedal and to say it will now reflect on the reaction it has provoked.

No doubt this was as result of the incendiary style of Mr Murray’s performance on the Victoria Derbyshire show this morning.

Contrast the flat denial of any problem with racism by Mr Murray with the rather more eloquent response penned by 160 journalists in reaction to the SoE statement issued on Tuesday.

His “nothing to see here” denial was an inflammatory response and missed the chance to discuss a very real issue in the wider media industry – representation.

The authors of the letter deplored the comments made by the Sussexes and held out the path the SoE should have set out.

“The SoE should have used the comments by the Sussexes to start an open and constructive discussion about the best way to prevent racial coverage in the future, including through addressing lack of representation in the UK media, particularly at a senior level.”

The sad thing is, the SoE has, in recent times, attempted to throw a focus on the lack of racial mix in our industry. I do not know what progress they have made on this, but I do know Mr Murray had contacted a number of senior editorial leaders to set up a working group to look at the problems we face in increasing representation in our newsrooms.

And so his response, which at times bordered on aggressive, on the Victoria Derbyshire interview, was a missed opportunity to say that we, as an industry, are acutely aware of the issues we face, and need to try a lot harder to face them.

Look at the facts, there is less than 10% representation of non-white journalists in our industry according to the Reuters Research Institute.

And that percentage dwindles even further when you look at the number of non-white people in managerial positions.

The Society of Editors, instead of embracing the issue of racism, portrayal and representation, have merely tarred our profession with the same brush that other institutions have used.

Have we learned nothing from Black Lives Matters and the need for balance, sensitivity, openness and humility?

Many journalists are distraught at the way they have been misrepresented and the way this issue has been mishandled.

Whether or not the press is guilty of racist coverage or not – it should be playing a far more educated and sympathetic role to inform, shed light on and campaign against racism and under-representation in all walks of life.

And that is why journalism has not been well served this week.

If you have a view, write to me at jeremyclifford@celebratingjournalism.com

Postscript: Ian Murray has now resigned from his position – however, the written response from him was approved by the SoE and therefore, I believe the issues raised are still relevant and need to be addressed.