The future of newspapers: Metro with knobs on (and a hiring spree at Thomson Reuters)


Interesting post from Ben Spencer on a recent presentation by Ed Roussel, digital editor at Telegraph Media Group.

In a session at Sheffield University last week, Roussel outlined what we must presume is the Telegraph‘s strategy for ‘post-recession news media”. That phrase is Spencer’s; and here’s his take on Roussel’s presentation:

According to Roussel, newspapers will survive in a post-credit-crunch economy by employing more ‘premium’ writers (he cited Boris Johnson and Jeff Randall as examples) who give the organisation a brand, while getting the majority of its news content from agencies such as PA, Reuters and AP.

Nothing too revolutionary here: we’re talking Metro with knobs on. (And because this is the Telegraph, those knobs will presumably be highly polished.)

According to Ben Spencer, Roussel’s audience of young trainee reporters received the news while ‘slumped into their seats”.

No wonder.

Likewise, Roussel’s pitch (from which I’ve culled a Powerpoint slide reproduced above) will sound utterly depressing to the 12,923-odd school-leavers who have applied to study journalism at undergraduate level from September.

(To confirm: that’s 12,923 new journalists set to graduate during 2012 who hope to work in an industry that has lost at least 4,000 jobs during the past six months. And no, before you ask, this 12,000 doesn’t include the 21,034 other students who have applied for media studies courses.)

In a separate post, Spencer hoists a predictable counter-argument up the flagpole.

Newspapers need reporters, experts in their field, to provide insight, analysis and, to an extent, grace and style, to what makes up the bulk of their product.

Yep.  Spencer also argues that when newspapers cut back on ‘straight news reporters”, they will end up creating a ‘shrinking pool of star reporters’for the future.

This, too, sounds convincing.

Until, that is, you consider what’s going to have to happen at PA, Reuters and AP in order to cope with the predicted upsurge of demand from newspapers.

Inevitably, the wire services will need to expand recruitment. In doing so, presumably, they will become a breeding ground for ‘premium’writers and reporters who ultimately move on to the nationals.

In this respect, the Economist recently caught a whiff of what might be coming down the pipe.

So join the dots. For the graduates of 2012, the employer might be different. The overall number of jobs will decline (and some of them will exist in Bangalore). But copy will still need to be filed.

On this basis, things might not be as bleak as Ben Spencer thinks.

In any event, the logic of outsourcing is unstoppable. It’s already deep inside the economic fabric. As Roussel said separately in January:

ITN creates our video content, providing quality and value that we would struggle to generate internally; Brightcove handles our video distribution; Google powers our search; Escenic provides our web publishing tool; we use software developers in Bulgaria and India.

The other question that needs to be asked here is this: what will a newspapers’ roster of ‘premium’writers look like once they’re required to blog and Twitter with the rest of us. 

Getting the top knobs to take the web seriously and start interacting with their readers –- properly –- might be a bit of a challenge.

Boris Johnson? I can take or leave the idea of His Worshipfulness on Twitter. And I can’t imagine the excellent Jeff Randall making the switch, either.

So perhaps one side effect of Ed Roussel’s revolution will be to open up places at the top table for younger journalists who are happy to use new tools.

Who knows? Some of them might even have been in the audience at Sheffield University last week.

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