Friday, October 16, 2009

Is journalism a meta-brand?

Nick Brett, the man in charge of BBC magazines, came to talk to Cardiff School of Journalism students this morning. He gave a great, thoughtful, thought-provoking presentation about the bright future that magazines can still have, provided we are all prepared to adapt.

In the Q&A that followed someone asked whether would-be journalists should now attach themselves to a brand rather than a platform (ie newspaper, magazine, television, radio). I had never heard this question asked before and the very fact that it was asked indicates a change in the mindset of the people who will be our future journalists. (Yes, I realise that extrapolating this from a single question is quite extreme, but read on.)

Students who apply to our postgraduate courses in journalism have to specify a strand (newspaper, magazine, broadcast) and to date most of them have no problem with this because they seem to come with a very conventional, and perhaps not very well informed, view of what journalism is and how it works. The newspaper applicants want to be published in print, the magazine applicants want to get long stories about their interests printed and so on. In short, applicants come with quite a conservative outlook.

But perhaps that single question indicates a change, the t of a tipping point. The fact is that if you are a newspaper journalist you will be expected to write stories for print, for a multitude of online services, you may have to create a podcast and, on the Daily Telegraph, you should be prepared to contribute to the video output. The brand you are working for demands this versatility.

This also leads on to questions about journalists and personal brands – Martin Lewis of is a good case in point (as well as being a Cardiff postgraduate alumnus). Robert Peston (sample quote: “the traditional distinctions between television journalists, radio journalists and print journalists are quite close to being obsolete”) might also fall into this category, but it works at a much less elevated level too. The young journalists on our courses are all expected to run their own blogs and encouraged to explore all manner of Web 2.0 technologies. When it comes to getting a job, such activity can have a very positive effect on their personal brand, and its absence can also have a negative effect.

So perhaps the meta-brand in this instance is "journalist": all the things we have regarded as extras are now part of the landscape, a simple given. However much we yearn for a past of typewriters and hot metal we're all part of a bigger brand now.

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I wonder if before too long, there will be a lot more blurring of all the three disciplines in your courses.

I have to make videos/sound recordings every week as part of my job, and I use Web 2.0 every day. Still I think the lessons I learned from the 'traditional' background allow me to apply that theory to the new technologies we are using every day.

It would have been helpful to have more broadcast (and especially editing, as you can get over your presenting phobias pretty easy in the right company, editing stuff takes longer to master) though, so maybe it might be a good idea to mix up the courses some more as time goes on.

Logistical nightmare for you I imagine though :-)

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