Is it really 24 years since Geoffrey Goodman wrote the leader for the first edition of this magazine? “The business is now subject to a contagious outbreak of squalid, banal, lazy and cowardly journalism whose only qualification is that it helps to make newspaper publishers (and some journalists) rich.” Not much change there then, though we might attach the “some” to “publishers” and – thanks to the internet – reduce the number of wealthy journalists to “a few”.
Geoffrey died in September.We print some of his leaders in this edition. If one of the founding ambitions of the BJR, which Geoffrey served as editor, chairman and chairman emeritus,was to improve British journalism, then his work was incomplete: the whole world has noticed a big trial going on at the Old Bailey; the fighting over regulation continues; reporters operate with funding that is much reduced.
We had better pass over the trial, except to say that, by the end, the jury promises to be as well-informed about a period in the popular newspaper industry as anyone who worked in it; oh, and that whatever the verdicts reached next year, the activities of a group of journalists will have been properly scrutinised by a criminal court in accordance with existing criminal law.
As for regulation, there is little sign of reconciliation between two angry camps (for only members of this journal’s editorial board seem capable of taking opposing positions without rancour). The debate has increasingly come down to a binary notion: should the press by subject to any element of parliamentary control? This writer cleaves to the proposition that politicians must have no such power, however remote the possibility of their exercising it is claimed to be. This is, for those of us who adhere to it, a point of principle on which any new system must be based.
In a few months, complaints will be in the hands of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the body designed by the industry to replace the Press Complaints Commission. It looks unlikely that that body will apply for the recognition envisaged by the Royal Charter – indeed, it may take the politicians a year even to set up the Recognition Panel to which Ipso will refuse to apply. Publishers clearly hope that, the longer things go on and the more established Ipso becomes, the less politicians will wish to confront them with the Recognition Panel, particularly with an election due in May 2015.
That leaves us with the problem that has recently become less discussed, but which threatens in the long term to be more serious than the criminal and regulatory matters that have replaced it as a topic of conversation. Where is the money for journalism to come from? The print titles are making increasingly impressive fists of online, but, with many privately estimating the life of print at between 10 and 20 years, they must make digital pay if reporters are to have a future. It is remarkable that we still have no consensus on how,with the Mail and Mirror titles papers opting for free, the Times and Sun going subscription and the Telegraph somewhere in between.
But it is not all bad news. When things become as bleak on every front as they have for newspapers, it is time to restore some pride and fight back. The Sun’s editor has set his staff knocking on doors again, The Guardian seeks to make our security services more accountable, the Telegraph challenges
politicians, the Mirror presents a populist left-wing agenda with renewed conviction, the Independent wears a new suit and the Mail strides on unbowed. If they can only stop moaning about the world being unfair to them, avoid turning their guns on each other and maintain this renewed conviction in the proper role of the press to challenge and expose, we may again have an industry to admire.
Our founding editor defined the purpose of this reviewin simple terms. He said it should be “a forum of analysis and debate, essentially by journalists for journalists (in the first place); to monitor the media, submit the best as well as the worst to scrutiny, and to raise the level of the dialogue”. Geoffrey Goodman’s gone, but the dialogue continues.