Press Association’s editor-in-chief has said that while people might now want to consume news in different ways, moving away from newspapers to digital devices, “they still want it from organisations they can trust”.
Peter Clifton said journalists should “draw comfort from the fact that people are still fascinated by what is happening around them” regardless of the changes taking place across the news industry.
Clifton was speaking at an annual service commemorating journalists and media workers killed or imprisoned in the course of their jobs worldwide, which was held last night at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.
He said: “It is a great honour to be here and to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in delivering the news from the world’s most perilous places.”
But the focus of Clifton’s speech was on the state of the news industry.
He said: “There may have been bumps along the way, but this remains a profession full of honest, decent people who work way beyond the call of duty every day to find stories and serve their communities by shining a light into the dark corners.
“Our industry faces the significant challenge of declining print revenues, and digital services undermined by the enormous amount of advertising revenue being sucked away by social media and search engines.
“Great minds are now looking at how this imbalance can be redressed, and no doubt many of us will await with interest the findings of the Cairncross Review into the future of the UK media.
“In the meantime, we should draw comfort from the fact that people are still fascinated by what is happening around them.
“They might want to consume the news in different ways, but they still want it from organisations they can trust.”
Turning to the issue of “fake news”, Clifton said the press faces “more pressure than ever from those who dismiss news they don’t like as fake”.
He went on: “So we must re-double our efforts to stand firm, find the truth, champion freedom of speech, challenge authority, serve our audiences, and continue to irritate and undermine those who heap abuse and bile upon us – because they are the real enemies of the people.
“Those siren voices ignore that trust in the news media is rising, particularly locally, and is far higher than the trust consumers have in news they search for randomly or find on social media.”
PA is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Clifton said the idea for the national news agency had been hatched by “a group of cigar-smoking regional newspaper owners” in the back of a London cab.
But, he added: “It’s certainly a romantic notion, and it may well be nonsense.”
Clifton paid tribute to the Manchester Evening News, which also turns 150 this year.
He said the daily paper’s coverage of the last year’s Manchester Arena terror attack and its aftermath “showed the role a local publisher can play in reporting with calm sensitivity, then taking a pivotal role in the community coming together to build for the future.
“And it could do all this because it was trusted.
“So we must stick to those principles, and know that amid all the noise, confusion and upheaval, our integrity, energy and pursuit of the truth will stand our industry in good stead for the next 150 years.”
Former British Vogue UK editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman gave the address at the service.
The annual Journalists’ Commemorative Service first took place in 2010 at St Bride’s Church with an address by war reporter Marie Colvin, two years before she was killed reporting from Syria.