When journalists of a certain age get together the conversation goes off in a familiar direction: the job’s changed… the fun’s gone…there’s no money any more.
Then, usually after another drink: no one likes us…we don’t get time to knock on doors…the office expects us to work all hours – and wouldn’t know a real story if it walked in with its hands up.
My goodness, the industry must be in a state – except I first heard these lines 35 years ago, at the end of my first shift as a cub reporter on The Star, in Sheffield.
It’s reassuring to have heard them so regularly since, for there’s nothing like a good moan to keep a journalist cheerful.
The only change is we’ve all gotten older, so these days we throw in the clincher: “I tell you what – if a child of mine wanted to go into journalism, I’d say think again.”
Well, judging by the number of sons and daughters of journalists who come into the business, children are either avoiding the career conversation with their parents or being very disobedient.
That is good, for without a sense of contrariness they – you – are better off looking for something more reliable than journalism.
Now that’s not to say things haven’t changed. The internet has challenged the old economic model and transformed the newspaper world forever.
Why buy a paper if you can read all the news free online? Why spend money advertising in a paper when the internet allows readers to click and come straight through?
The regional press is no longer making big money – though it is still in profit – and some of the big national names are losing a lot.
Journalists are the main cost, so they get cut in a squeeze.
So do we give in? Or can we turn those negatives of the last paragraph on their head?
Sure, many of the old certainties have been swept away, but so have many of the old bores.
You got bright ideas? Then you can flourish.
Stories are no longer constrained by the space available on a page and a print deadline.
If you are clever enough to get stories you’ve got more space, more ways of telling them.
As for the economic model, there are signs that internet advertising may yet rise to the level that compensates for the decline of print – at least for some titles.
The Mail Online is now making a profit. Will your job be secure? Probably not – so you better make yourself indispensable.
Just remember, if the old guard go all gloomy on you, that there is no decline in the appetite for information.
On the contrary, we are reading, watching, listening to more and more news, opinion and entertainment.
Our new question is how much of it we can actually trust – which is where good journalism comes in.
Rumours are fun, but in the end we will go to copy that is created by people who know what they are doing, who understand the difference between comment and fact, who take pains to tell us something that is true.
These are the people we want to follow, these are the people editors want to pay.
That’s why there is still a big future for journalists – and particularly for those who take the trouble to get some proper training behind them.