There’s life in the old beast yet…just as long as we have a burst of creativity

CONVERSATION and news was becoming quite grim for my friends and I, training to be newspaper journalists at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism.

Back in September, only days into our studies, an already decaying Welsh newspaper industry was beset by further malaise with the closure of the Neath and Port Talbot Guardians. Almost every daily email from the Press Gazette seemed to bring news of more job losses.

For our broadcast and magazine colleagues, lectures from Mark Byford, Deputy Director General and Head of Journalism at the BBC, and Nicholas Brett, Deputy Managing Director and Group Editorial Director of BBC Magazines, extolled a buoyant picture in television and magazine journalism – at the BBC at least.

It didn’t instill too great a feeling of optimism among us newspaper junkies.  Envious about career prospects perhaps. It’s fair to say some of us were considering whether the newspaper route was still the right choice.

But two journalists – one at the start of her career, and the other who has achieved what most trainee journalists could only dream of – provided some much-needed positivity.

Peter Preston, editor of the Guardian for 20 years between 1975 and 1995, without the hickory pokery of a Powerpoint display, perched himself at the end of a table and spoke to us about the newspaper industry.

“The future is misty and in some ways utterly miasmic”, he said.

Oh, great. Here we go again I thought. More bad news. But while saying the future is uncertain, he quickly proceeded to say newspapers can distinguish themselves from other news outlets in the digital age. On foreign news for instance, while the television evening news can transport the viewer there visually, newspapers can explain what is going on in much greater detail.

Acknowledging the newspaper industry has perhaps been lagging behind the developments in social media creatively, he said: “Newspapers have got to have a bit of a creative burst.” Newspapers need to ask what they can do that the internet and other news sources can not.

We did leave with many questions unanswered. How do newspapers actually adjust to the digital age? How can a newspaper be different? But while having been honest about the challenges newspapers face, Preston seemed equally optimistic newspapers will come up with solutions.

Last week’s editorial shake-up at the Telegraph, which moved editor Will Lewis to head-up a new “entrepreneurial unit”, appeared to be a step in the right direction. Speaking to the Guardian on Monday, Lewis said “Euston is our future”. Commentators wonder what exactly this future will be, since Lewis was extremely coy about revealing details of the venture. But the soundbites of it being “customer obsessive” and working on “cutting edge ideas”, combined with the considerable resources being made available to Lewis, are exciting. For a trainee newspaper journalist, it is encouraging to see Preston’s “creative burst” taking off in practise, even if the details are vague.

Will Lewis (left), now group editor in chief and managing director of digital, and Ian MacGregor, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, who will continue to report to Lewis

Joanna Geary is a walking-talking advert for the potential of social media to the journalist. Geary is Web Development Editor, with Business responsibility, at The Times. This twenty-something-year-old, bright-eyed, enthusiastic journalist spoke to us recently about her career. In a relatively short time she has obtained an enviable job; working on, among other things, the future of Times Online. Her coyness about this was possibly a sign she knew more about Murdoch’s paywall plans than she was prepared to reveal.

Geary previously worked for the Birmingham Post, where she made her mark setting up her own blog about the media and one bringing together key figures from the local community. Then, using Twitter, she began talking to journalists in London. Through this she was head hunted for a job, which brought her current appointment. She still sounded amazed at the good fortune which had followed her determination and clear digital media insight.

The potential for building networks with fellow journalists did make me feel a little more positive about Twitter. In fact, only days later, my tweet during a broadcast of the BBC’s Question Time provoked a response from a BBC North East weather girl. And then I discovered I was being followed by Nick Clegg (no tweets from him yet though).

Twitter, I’ve found, is also a great way of tapping the brains of people more skilled than myself. I recently tweeted the following:

…and to my surprise and delight received responses from experienced digital storytellers…

…including one in Belgium!

It was the first time I saw the networking potential of social media.

This, and a gentle reminder from our lecturers to some on our course about the content of their tweets and blogs, reminded me whatever I tweet or blog is traceable and can be viewed by prospective employers. Life in the social media world is it seems a continual job interview.

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