The editor of the Independent has condemned the “dour tone” sometimes used to talk about journalism, saying: “We need to put a bit of fun back into our industry”.
Christian Broughton insisted there is still “romance” and a lot of “ideals” in journalism and suggested automation is a way of “buying back” time for journalists to do more “fun and exclusive” stories.
“There is a tendency in our industry to focus on a lot of the negatives and it isn’t that bad surely, or we wouldn’t all be doing it,” he told the Society of Editors’ annual conference in London yesterday.
Broughton, who has led the Independent’s website since 2012, said newsrooms should embrace the flexibility of the various platforms now available, including Facebook Live videos and podcast series.
“That’s great, that’s amazing,” he said. “I’m fully aware that it’s a very difficult industry particularly for people starting out, particularly for people affording London rents.
“I’m very aware of all of the difficulties, but also the upsides are brilliant.”
Broughton went on to discuss the impact of data on the newsroom, saying: “I think it’s good to be built around data. It can save so many mistakes if we do that, but we create a KPI [targets] soup for ourselves.”
Websites with a premium offering like the Independent have even more metrics to look at, he said.
“[There are] so many numbers that come at people,” Broughton went on.
“But what we are fundamentally doing is journalism and we’ve got readers and we are building a service for our readers and that’s the same as a local paper 20 years ago.”
Broughton later suggested that “the more slick we can make” automation the better.
“The less time you can spend doing that and the fewer people in your newsroom that are reporting basic stories that are of interest to your readers the better,” he said.
“Because you can buy back your time doing value-added journalism that no-one else is doing.”
Nonetheless he said the Independent is “still doing serious journalism and it’s working”, giving the example of a recent cash advance it paid to one of its two Beirut-based journalists to go to Syria.
Broughton also noted an “internal shift” over the past year with staff defining the Independent “more about where we are going to than where we’ve come from”.
This shows a “confidence in the future” among staff that wasn’t there when the title’s print newspaper closed in 2017, he said.
“I think that’s good news for everyone because it will inevitably happen to other publishers too and there is a big fear factor around it,” he said. “It isn’t easy but it’s exciting.”
Broughton and other editors also defended millennial (defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) journalists after Professor Lucy Keung of the Reuters Institute said research had showed an “intergenerational tension happening in many newsrooms”.
“It’s clear millennials do tick differently but one of the impacts that’s having is they are collectively demanding a different sort of leadership from their bosses.
“On the negative side they want lots of mentoring, feedback, lots of progress,” Keung said, adding that these employees wouldn’t generally stay long.
“On the positive side they are very values-driven and have a real sense of purpose,” she went on, adding that these people “are the path to growth”.
Sun digital editor Keith Poole responded: “I would like to stand up for millennials because I’m in awe of many of the people we employ.”
He remembered his time as a young reporter at the Press Association when staff did “two stories, two takes and done”.
Now, he said, the online publishing process sees journalists act as reporters, picture editors, SEO editors, add tags and other metadata, and then hit publish with “very little checking”.
“You’re often publishing to millions of people and that responsibility is put on you.”
Yorkshire Post James Mitchinson agreed and praised the “sheer level of creativity” of the journalists on his teams at JPI Media’s Yorkshire titles.
“Those moments when somebody comes over and says ‘we’ve done this and it’s working’ and you didn’t know it was in its inception, let alone published,” he said.
“We’ve had to give people room to fail in order to succeed.”