Time for an industry clean up

Prospective journalists might be put off by phone-hacking but there's never been a better time to cl

It has been a few weeks since the phone-hacking saga sent reverberations across the journalism industry but the uproar that ensued has yet to die down. With allegations of computer hacking and mass deletion of emails at News International, the scandal is continually growing.

The thought of what is happening to the industry we aspire to break into has sent shivers down the spines of burgeoning young journalists such as ourselves. What will this fiasco do to journalism? And has it tainted the name of journalism for good? However, it seems the tumultuous events have actually had a profoundly positive effect: instead of damaging the industry, it has forced it to change the illicit practices endemic within many newspapers. We caught up with some of the leading names in the industry in our research.

Steve Richards, Chief Political Commentator at the Independent said:

Regulation of the media will be more robust after this. No editor will ever again risk being associated with law breaking -- and already one newspaper has closed as a result of hacking. However, young journalists will need to be more alert to responding to the changing economic demands on the media than to any of the consequences of the hacking affair. There will always be paid journalism in Britain but finding the route towards it is more challenging now than in any of the last few decades.

According to a report entitled "The Future of the News and Internet" by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (June 2010), the UK saw a 25 per cent reduction in newspaper consumption during 2007-2010. Furthermore, the latest statistics from the National Readership Survey covering the period April 2010 to March 2011 saw a marked decrease in newspaper sales. It is with this in mind that aspiring journalists have been weary about potential jobs in the industry. It has become clear that without possessing great talent and acquiring a plethora of work experience, there are no jobs in journalism industry.

Anna Mckane, former chief sub-editor at Reuters and undergraduate director for journalism at City University, said:

Journalism is in the throes of the biggest revolution since Caxton invented the printing press. This is not to do with phone-hacking scandals, it is to do with the vast amount of content which is available free online.

In an age of unmediated blogging and micro-blogging, where everybody seems to be an "expert" on current affairs, we have seen traditional media come under threat. Many young people these days ascertain the latest news through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

An increasingly digital youth has been emerging for some time, shunning the conventional print/broadcasting form of journalism, and has backed a copious web culture. With the sales of newspapers constantly declining, the question of whether such an industry will still exist in years to come looms upon us aspiring journalists. The idea of doing work experience at a print newspaper is slowly losing its appeal as the future of the industry remains in doubt. The closure of the News of the World and subsequent speculation about the future of other newspapers has only added to our concerns.

The ubiquity of the cyber world amongst young people has become so ingrained within the subconscious that four out of five students have been shown to suffer from mental and physical distress if deprived of it. A study published by the International Centre for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change concluded: "most students [...] failed to go the full 24 hours without media".

In the words of journalist Will Self, there seems to be a "tectonic shift" taking place within our culture. The full ramifications of this tectonic shift - although yet to be completely established - will mean that the journalism industry we aspiring journalists end up in will have a completely new face.

So what can be done to prevent such illicit practices from taking place again? Many readers will doubtless be hoping that now that all this information is out in the open, it will encourage parliament to pass ever more draconian legislation limiting the ability of the press to do and print what it likes.

Almost against our better judgment, we must state our opposition to any such new rules and regulations. A free press is one of Britain's finest traditions and indeed one envied by the citizens of countless authoritarian dictatorships around the world. However, the issues raised by the current fiasco are more a matter of journalists failing to abide by laws already on the statute book than of a need to make new ones.

The press should be allowed to write whatever it likes about issues currently in the public domain: while this can obviously lead to hurtful lies and smears being printed, victims of such misrepresentation have recourse to the law, and should have all legal fees paid by the state, up to the point where they can be proved right or wrong.

The most important issue here is less to do with the hacking scandal itself and more to do with the world that most journalists move in. It is well known that most prominent journalists live in prosperous London suburbs, mix only with fellow members of their trade and seek to cultivate links and contacts with the rich and powerful rather than the "great unwashed" (ie their readership). This has a distorting effect on their worldview and leads inexorably to a situation in which they parrot the opinions of the powerful rather than standing up for the rights and interests of the majority.

George Brock, head of journalism at City University said:

However dispirited some journalists might feel about phone-hacking and the conspiracy to cover it up, those revelations don't destroy the value and importance of journalism. Aspiring journalists should take heart from the fact that the scandal wouldn't have been dragged into the light at all if it wasn't for one very determined reporter.

The best way to remedy this problem, it seems, is for the press to seek to cultivate and recruit new talent from a less restricted social and geographical spectrum. And principled, ethical newspaper proprietors and editors (although probably a small minority) should bunch together and launch a Britain-wide recruitment drive to pick out the best up-and-coming journalists from less conventional backgrounds. This, surely, would go a long way towards severing the links between the interests of the powerful and the journalistic instincts of those of us theoretically committed to exposing their abuses. In fact, I can think of two young journalists in particular who would be obvious beneficiaries of such a scheme...

Without doubt, journalism is entering a new paradigm, one which is more innocuous, cleaner and hopefully more prosperous. And this is the industry us aspiring journalists should be looking forward to.

Rahul Verma, freelance journalist and senior youth mentor at Live Magazine, said:

Personally I feel the phone-hacking scandal will be good for journalism as the industry must clean up its act and practices, otherwise public mistrust will translate into plummeting sales, which will be the nail in the coffin of the British newspaper industry. Hopefully it will also be the catalyst in ending the age of celebrity -- who really cares who Siena Miller is dating or who Hugh Grant hangs out with? This is not news and how it has become news over the last ten years is a tragedy for newspapers and journalists. I'd hope hackgate has focused the mind of newspaper proprietors in terms of what their newspapers write about, what is news, the lengths that you go to get 'news' and what is in the 'public interest'.