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August 13, 2008

Press Gazette hasn’t demised yet Roy

By Dominic Ponsford1

The last weekly edition of Press Gazette has now been put to press – after 43 years of publication – to be replaced with a monthly magazine and a renewed emphasis on breaking news online.
The dawn of this new era led has to me to reflect on the one we are leaving behind.
And leafing through some early editions of PG this week made me realise that there has probably never been a time in this title’s history when the journalism industry was not under siege from commercial pressures and new media (from radio to high-speed broadband).
And that there has never been a time in that period when journalists have not harked back to an earlier halcyon age.
In 1966 Reginald Foster wrote nostalgically of his early days in Fleet Street 40 years before that!
He recalled the Daily Mail reporter’s room at Carmelite House where “A large coal fire in winter gave an atmosphere which cannot be caught in Fleet Street today”. And when “There were real boys in the taperoom. You could ring the bell and get tea, toast and marmalade, on a tray.”
He concluded: “There was more and less pressure, and one had more time to really live with and develop a story.”
Plus ça change, as they say.
Like the industry we cover, Press Gazette is changing fast.
But one thing that won’t change is Press Gazette’s mission, in whatever form it is published, to be devoted to the “problems, personalities and practice” of the craft of journalism as founding editor Colin Valdar put it in issue one, and to chronicle the extraordinary exploits of the people who make up this profession – journalists
Individuals who the great James Cameron described rather well in another early edition of Press Gazette as “rather hard-up, in a peculiarly well-off sort of way, and with very few illusions of authority… industrious, lazy, talkative, petulant, bothered, and introspective ­ in a permanent condition of what can only be called convivial anxiety”.
Media Guardian’s commentator Roy Greenslade seemed to strike an oddly triumphalist tone when he said Press Gazette’s “demise” was mainly caused by the success of his website which he says “is now the major forum for debate about newspapers, and also the site that breaks the big industry stories”.
Well Media Guardian is undoubtedly a very good website – and a lavishly resourced one at that.
But it is far from independent, as Roy would surely have to admit.
It also barely acknowledges the existence of the £3 billion a year regional press, it does nothing on B2B publishing and its journalists would have to be saints not to allow the fact they are owned by a national newspaper group not to colour the way they write about their rivals.
Most importantly Media Guardian is not, and cannot be, what Press Gazette tries to be – a champion, watchman, rallying point, community and critical friend devoted 100 per cent to serving the needs of journalists (from the News of the World to the Beccles and Bungay Journal).
As a broadbased media news website, Media Guardian is not (and why should it be) remotely concerned with telling its readers the best way to challenge a section 45 order in magistrates’ court, how to deal with your first death knock, or what’s the best way to pitch a feature to Country Life magazine.
I also doubt whether it would have the clout with journalists, or the inclination, to persuade nearly every national and daily newspaper editor in the country to join a campaign to save the Freedom of Information Act – as Press Gazette did last year.
But as Mau put it “Let a hundred flowers bloom”. There’s plenty of room for all of us in this ever more fragmented multimedia world.
Just don’t write us off Roy, Press Gazette hasn’t demised yet.

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