A proposed takeover of the London Evening Standard by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev will bring much-needed investment into journalism and could be good news for the industry, according to Nick Davies, the author of controversial bestseller Flat Earth News.
Davies made the remarks as a guest speaker at a Coventry University media lecture yesterday – only hours after it emerged that the former KGB spy looked increasingly likely to reach a deal with the Daily Mail and General Trust to buy a controlling stake in the paid-for London paper.
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Davies welcomed the prospect of print journalism receiving fresh investment – but aired a note of caution about Lebedev’s true intentions for the paper and whether cost-cutting measures will be introduced.
“This [sale] could be good because the great problem for journalists all over the developed world is that the business model has collapsed,” he said.
“We need money from somewhere, so if a very rich man is willing to put in money – and if he will do that without interfering in the editorial line, without cutting all the staff and trying to put the newspaper out on the cheap, then it is a good thing.”
Davies added: “His money is very welcome, but those other two questions remain unanswered as to whether or not he will interfere and if he will cut his staff.
“We have to wait and see, but I wouldn’t reject anybody off-hand who is willing to put money into journalism.”
Throughout his talk, Davies was scathing of the negative impact owners of media titles are having on the integrity and truthfulness of news reporting that features in newspapers.
He also suggested that the Independent and Daily Express were “right on the brink of death” because no one had taken an interest in finding out how to “finance serious journalism” in the future.
“Just as we need information and rely on reliable information, we are running out of it,” Davies said.
“This is essentially about the importance surrounding the profession of journalism.
“There are skills in journalism which need to be preserved. It has to have resources in order to run journalism as a profession, and if you don’t have that, you receive a mass of unchecked churnalism.”
Davies suggested this uncertainty was having a detrimental impact in newsrooms around the world because it was “eating away at journalism”.
And he said that the role of the National Union of Journalists was as great today as it ever was.
“Potentially, the union is very important in fighting all of these things in an office where journalists are being made to do things which are unprofessional,” Davies told students.
“We know what we don’t want to happen which is more and more journalists being sacked and more churnalism, but we don’t quite know what the solution is.”
He added: “This is the way we are heading unless we can find a way to protect this industry – because there is money draining out of the profession.”
The NUJ believes investors in newspapers need to provider greater transparency about their plans for the titles and any guarantees regarding editorial independence.
NUJ head of publishing Barry Fitzpatrick said the union was critical of the way new owners can take over titles “without publicly setting out any long-term plans for the future”.
“[This] is yet another example of sealed bid deals with no transparency about the new ownership’s commitment to the future of the only paid-for title to cover all of London,” he said.
“Investment is clearly needed, and a long term strategy to serve Londoners in a more impartial way would be welcome.
“Once again no declarations have been made about editorial independence.”