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NUJ responds to Montgomery's vision of journalism

26 November 2013

In a 2,000-word-plus "essay" David Montgomery, chief executive of Local World, spelt out his vision for the future in a jargon-laden mission statement which reduced newspapers to notice boards and has killed the sub-editor, photographer and investigative journalist.

Barry Fitzpatrick, NUJ deputy general secretary, said:

"This is a very dangerous vision. What he appears to be suggesting is that the police, schools, Tesco and other organisations can put their press releases directly into the local paper, without verification or comment.
"To take copy in this way denies readers a balanced coverage of the story and is an open invitation to vested-interest journalism. All organisations will be able to promote their propaganda unhindered. I cannot see that the public would want to pay for a notice board of organisations' press releases and there are already signs that advertisers are not convinced either.
"It is deeply offensive to our members and workers on Local World titles for him to describe what they do as a 'medium-grade craft' which can be done by 12-year-olds. Journalists have a vital role in the local community, reporting on what is happening in people's lives, holding to account local politicians, businesses and local services and providing court reports. It was a local journalist who exposed the scandal at the Mid-Staffs hospital.
"Presumably Montgomery's 'content harvesters' will be too busy producing a 20-fold increase in content, supplied by readers and non-journalists, to do investigative journalism. They will be expected to 'skim online content' and put it into pre-determined grids, without the time to check for accuracy or balance.They will not be expected to do time-consuming investigative journalism. He makes it clear that he thinks producing a paper this way can be done by a handful of people or in the case of smaller newspapers single-handed.

"It also appears there is no place for professional photographers in Montgomery's vision. Readers will be able to tell the difference between pictures taken by their local photographer who works within their community and random snaps taken on mobile phone cameras sent in by the public.
"He talks about 'the dynamic evolution of content to suit the needs of the community and also its business and advertisers'. This implies that 'content' will be viewed through the commercial prism of what attracts hits and brings in advertisers. Stories which challenge the consensus (if there was any time to produce them) would not be welcome. So campaigns against unwanted supermarkets and unwanted building developments would not be covered.
"Look behind the jargon and all we have is Montgomery of old. This is not a brave new vision of journalism, this is just his hackneyed trick of cutting editorial to the bone.
"The NUJ wants to be part of the future of the industry and its technical developments. That is why we putting together a digital charter that makes sure that changes are made through consultation and that high quality journalism remains at the heart of all newspapers and their websites."

Excerpts from Montgomery's essay:

"After training the journalist will assume control of a segment or segments of content. He will singly be responsible for sourcing this content, collecting it and publishing it across all platforms.
"The majority of this content will be produced by third party contributors and some examples are given below. The senior journalist will negotiate with the providers of the content and organise its collection usually by self-serve by the provider. The journalist will have the task of providing attractive formats for this third party content in the first instance online and for constantly monitoring the content to instigate its promotion to a position of prominence on any platform or in some cases eliminating it.
"The tradition of journalist shifts will be abandoned. The specialist segment journalist - and there will be no other category of journalist excepting content managers - will cover his content territory autonomously within the brief of the local publisher and he will work remotely. Clearly neither the content nor its providers are situated in the newspaper office.
"The journalist will embody all the traditional skills of reporter, sub-editor, editor-in-chief, as well as online agility and basic design ability, acquired partly in training but in the case of on-screen capability this is expected as a basic entry qualification as it is now generally present in most 12-year-olds……
"This same model can be applied to all content segments: hospitals and general health and care, education and every school, businesses large and small, sport at all levels, entertainment and culture. This is very different from the traditional perception of UGC, usually associated with individuals who will still have a part to play but usually as professionals inside an institution like a college, a company or a leisure or sports activity."

See the full text and reaction in the Press Gazette

Tags: , Local World, local newspapers, David Montgomery, digital media, newspapers, social media, subeditors, photographers, investigative journalism