Journalists will have to think outside the ‘capitalist box’ and come up with new business models, media commentator and blogger Roy Greenslade told an NUJ meeting in London last night.
Former BBC correspondent Nick Jones, another speaker at the NUJ Left debate on media ownership, said the current model for the big four regional newspaper publisher was “as bust as the banks”.
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Greenslade said: “Not since the Seventies have we had a genuine chance to imagine the possibility of a different business model for newspapers, a business model that doesn’t involve making profits.
“Journalism is a not-for-profit activity – employers like to call it an ‘on cost’ activity.
“It is labour intensive. Journalism costs money. It alone may not turn a profit but it provides a kind of framework to let others make profits.
“We have grown up believing the privately owned commercial enterprise is the only way of delivering journalism.”
But Greenslade said the coincidence of the digital revolution and the economic downturn meant “we have a chance and a need to explore other ways of funding journalism”.
He said publishers were hoping to consolidate further – with the Government hinting strongly that it was prepared to relax cross media ownership laws.
In his interim Digital Britain report, published last month, communications minister Stephen Carter asked the Office of Fair Trading and media regulator Ofcom to examine the case for an overhaul of the media merger regime.
Greenslade argued this would “create even larger national newspaper chains, still greater monopolies and geographical monopolies across a variety of platforms”.
He claimed that even in terms of cost savings and economies of scale, there was little proof that it would work in terms of creating great profits on a long-term basis.
“It will herald more closures and it is really about the survival of those companies, not about the survival for journalism. So, I think now is the time to think outside the capitalist box.”
Greenslade said two assumptions needed to be made: that journalism is good for society and democracy, and that newspapers are worth preserving.
He admitted that the idea of state subsidies for local newspapers, floated by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, had been met with huge scepticism.
But he noted it had been vehemently opposed by publishers, such as Sly Bailey, because, he claimed, the companies would not be the beneficiaries as it would have to come via a separate body.
Greenslade pointed out that in France and Denmark there were state subsidies for newspapers and in the US there was talk of newspapers being turned into charities via endowments from rich philanthropists.
He urged journalists to “think locally, think of small start-ups and on the web, think more about grassroots and getting back to basics”.
Nick Jones, a former BBC industrial and political correspondent, suggested that the NUJ should campaign for local authorities to provide start-up money for new local media initiatives.
He was also scathing about the way in which “traditional” broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV were using video from stories such as Jade Goody’s cancer and the 13-year-old father, provided by tabloids such as The Sun and the News of the World.
He described the videos as “Freak TV” and said it was the type of material that the BBC would never have commissioned itself.
He also accused the regulatory bodies of being “asleep at the wheel”.