Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog

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Are journalists compromised by the commercial truth of todays media?

The 13 March 1986 edition of The Sun, with the...
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Roy Greenslade stoked some debate last week about the relationship between journalists and advertising sales. In todays media world there is often a cry for journalists to become more entrepreneurial.  Journalists worry that this pressure will compromise their editorial integrity.  If they sully their hands with the grubby business of generating money then they might find that they can no longer be critical of those with whom they also have a commercial relationship.  Well quite.  But this objection is to miss the point about the “church and state” debate.

Back in the eighties, when I was at Reed, we took down the office walls that separated the ad sales teams from the journalists.  Nobody was very keen at first, but quickly the benefits became obvious.  The two teams began to communicate and share ideas.  They even began to respect one another’s different contribution to the business.  Some ten years ago when we launched The Industry Standard we had the same debate.  The Americans on the team were set on having a wall between the commercial team and the journalists. We compromised on a large pot plant.  Soon even the sceptics began to recognise the benefits of everybody working together.

Keeping the church away from the state is no guarantee of ethical journalism.  Editors of magazines and newspapers are hired and fired on their ability to drive readership and circulation.  Online journalists must at least in part be measured by their ability to attract traffic and develop engagement with online readers.  The journalism in national newspapers is almost entirely coloured by this commercial drive.  Does every journalist at the Daily Mail, or the Telegraph share the right of centre politics of their employing papers?  Or do they adapt their approach to the market their papers serve? And what about journalists who take their skills to the world of PR?  Did Kelvin Mackenzie really believe that Freddie Starr ate a hamster, or was he trying to sell newspapers?

We can reasonably conclude that journalists have always at least nodded an acquiescence to the commercial realities of the profession. So what has changed in the digital post recession world?  There is now a much greater awareness that for journalism to survive, it has to be funded – and that funding is harder and harder to come by – so the pressure to adapt what is written to the commercial realities is greater than ever.  Of course that should be resisted.  It is as wrong today as it was twenty years ago to trade advertising for favourable copy without making it clear to readers that this has happened; but it is not wrong for journalists to be integrally involved in the commercial stratagem.  There may even be occasions when the best person to evangelise an idea to a commercial partner is someone with  an editorial bent.  And why not? Good journalists ask good questions, communicate well, can make a compelling argument – so lets use those skills.  Will exposure to the revenue generating relationships of a media business fundamentally undermine the independence of a journalist?  Not a good one.  And it is the very good ones who are learning how to embrace the entrepreneurialism of the digital age.

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October 11, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. […] View post: Are journalists compromised by the commercial truth of todays … […]

    Pingback by Are journalists compromised by the commercial truth of todays … | World Media Information | October 11, 2010

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