Former B2B editor Richard Siddle: Journalists can't do more and more with less without cutting corners - Press Gazette

Former B2B editor Richard Siddle: Journalists can't do more and more with less without cutting corners

Earlier this week a Press Gazette survey revealed concerns from B2B journalists about how commercial pressure was undermining editorial.

Here former editor of Harpers Wine and Spirit Richard Siddle explains why he thinks quality journalism is under threat in the digital age

If video killed the radio star, the internet is doing the same to the writing star.

Content online is fast becoming a race to the bottom.

Yes, there is still lots of quality writing and access to must have information online, the difficulty is wading through all the rubbish and the noise online to find it.

PR spin is increasingly taking over from quality journalism. Journalists are either too stretched or too under resourced, or most likely both, to have the time to do quality work.

A worryingly growing number of publishers are not prepared to pay, or see the point in costly investigative journalism. Particularly when they can rely on the PR world to provide them with cut and paste press releases. Commercial interests have taken over editorial integrity.

The ground breaking success of sites like BuzzFeed, that specialises in click bait stories, has had an enormous impact on the publishing industry since its launch in 2006.

Click bait style stories where the headlines are written to attract social media users to click, read and share

Take any industry and the most read story online is likely to have been driven by click bait tactics online.

Take wine. Whilst the wine trade might believe the average drinker will be influenced by grape varieties, how they taste, and what sort of food they are best served with.

Search for the most shared story about wine online and you come up with the following headlines:

We are now seeing elements of this click bait-style journalism enter the business press and wine trade media.

It pains me to say it but standards are definitely falling across the traditional wine media.

Increasingly at my time at Harpers there was a growing pressure from above to do more, both in print, and particularly online, but with less staff and smaller budgets.

Content pressures were exacerbated by the commercial need to put on more events, seminars, conferences, or roundtables. Where it was expected the editorial team would find speakers, chair the events and then cover them extensively in print and online.

Whilst all those aspects are now part of any trade journalist's role, particularly so for editors, they can't all be done without cutting corners unless they are properly resourced. And those days are long gone.

As a result we are seeing, at the extreme end, standards slipping so badly that I have known so called journalists on a rival drinks title actually take stories and direct quotes from interviews I have done and then pass them off as theirs on their own site.

Such are the pressures to find enough stories to get up online to feed sponsored newsletters that have to be sent out at set times of the day.

Or we are seeing the increased use of Top 10s and click bait tactics like putting One Direction in a headline designed to drive a huge spike in online traffic that, in turn, will convince a gullible advertiser, that does not ask many questions, to spend more money online.

But, I stress, those are the extremes.

There is still lots of great quality journalism across both the mainstream wine media, particularly the paywall sector, and personal websites and blogosphere.

I was able to see that quite clearly whilst chairing this year's Born Digital Wine Awards. The results of which I helped announce at this weekend's Digital Wine Communications Conference conference in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

The shortlisted entries and ultimate winners are all great examples of the diversity of work being created in the wine press and it is a genuine pleasure to see such talent rewarded.

But equally there were a lot of entries that either did not get to the final judging stage or fell by the wayside very quickly when they did.

It has always staggered me how many people there are trying to make a living out of writing about wine. I like a free drink like the rest of us, but surely there is not enough free wine to go around to justify the number of average writers out there.

Equally I am frustrated by the number of wine writers who have willingly spent hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds on taking professional wine courses, and yet have not spent a penny on knowing how to write.

Why would you think you need to know about wine in order to write about it, but not think you need to know how to write to make a living out of it?

As the traditional media is cutting back on the numbers of journalists and has smaller budgets for commissions, it is vital anyone serious about making money out of writing about wine is at the very top of their game.

Now I am also on the freelance trail I know first hand how hard it is get commissioned for articles that I would quite happily have published last year in Harpers. Such is the pressure on space and budget.

It is important to know the target audiences of the publications or websites you are looking to pitch stories to. You need to understand what their editorial needs are and where they might need some help to fill them.

Most importantly of all you might have to adapt your writing style to suit different websites or magazines. There is no room for a one size fits all writing style.

But I guess if all else fails if you can come up with 10 pictures of cats or kittens sipping wine then you might be on to a winner after all.

This article is part of the talk I gave at the DWCC conference in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. 

Richard Siddle has been a B2B editor for nearly 20 years covering grocery retail, travel and the drinks sectors and was most recently editor of Harpers Wine & Spirit before leaving earlier this year and setting up his own freelance and media consultancy business earlier this year. More details at where there is also a longer version of this article.