In My Opinion: Shaun Milne: Journalism isn’t dead, it’s just moving on

THERE’S something of a slow handclap thundering through Scottish media at the moment, a ferocious banging-out ceremony for the nation’s yellowing newspapers almost as loud as the print presses themselves.

The worst thing, the apparent glee that so many seem to take in predicting the imminent death of journalism as we know it. The same folk who have been predicting it for more than a decade, by the way.

For those new to the trade, wide-eyed and in the first flushes of their careers, it must be painful to hear the wail of how they have all missed out on the good times as they dash off on a story armed with nothing but an iPhone and fresh enthusiasm.

That newspapers in particular, and journalism, are all but finished.

But here’s the thing… perhaps it is they who will really inherit a golden age.

For those of us weaned on print, fingers still engrained with ink and scalpel cuts, it has been a painful transition. Not least for those who lose their jobs, watch colleagues depart or are forced to cull friends.

Yet, as circulations shrink and experienced hands are lost, in their place is a new era of opportunity.

Bigger potential audiences than ever before, technologies making jobs easier, a moving deadline that’s always live.

We’re in the midst of major transition, albeit one that, in Scotland at least, has been moving at glacial speed. Full stop, in some quarters. With it comes the inevitability of uncertainty and occasional mistakes.

We’ve been here before, though: journalism.

From scorching hot lead to digital page make-up, from copytakers to smartphones, and taxi cabs waiting on first editions outside rivals to marketing on Twitter.

Each turn resisted and then embraced. Today is no different.

We have teams of strong, smart and talented people in charge of newspapers who are doing their best to try and adapt their businesses and colleagues to digital.

But we forget, it’s been new to most of them too.

They have had to learn on the hoof with no hiding place or time to breathe while satisfying shareholders and boards on costs throughout the evolution.

Being an editor today must be an amazing privilege. But I bet every cover price from here to London and back again that it must be the loneliest place in the world too at times.

Adapt they must, though, and adapt they are. If you watch closely, you can see the pace quickening.

The cuts will stop and budgets will transition too. Investment in digital will come as those parts of the business become the alpha in the newsroom and print is reappraised, remodelled or retired for a different kind of market.

It must be hard to imagine for those caught in the eye of the current storm.

As a ‘beneficiary’ of two redundancies, I know full well the fear and frustrations that come with the process.

But even now, I am glass half full. I remain optimistic that there is a bold future for journalism in this country.

Our character demands it.

Look at the large swathes of content currently being produced. Listicles, best places to, food reviews, viral videos. All have their place.

Hard-forged link bait, low hanging fruit to try and comfort the money people that potential audiences are really there to be had.

Quality will absolutely out, though. Of that we should have no doubt.

Good writing, factual interpretations, strong comment and opinion, beautiful photography and a truly massive increase of mobile video consumption.

All of which will require publishers not just to adapt, but to invest. Speculate to accumulate.

There may very well be mergers, closures even. We have to hope not. But the fact they are even being mooted should serve notice to all in this great trade.

And it is a great trade, still.

Why has a nation with an appetite for more newspapers per head of population than any other suddenly start to fast?

If you stretch a print team to cover digital too, if you cut them off at the knees by trying to do it on the cheap at the same time, then the only thing that is going to suffer is the output.

And if audiences don’t like the output, if they can get what they want somewhere else in a socially-friendly environment they much prefer, the problem will only become worse.

Which brings us back to that pesky next generation, the ones who missed out on the long lunches, who go to the gym rather than the bar, who can put a story online before the print newsdesk has time to answer the phone.

They are digitally native. The editors of tomorrow.

What we must do is arm them with the confidence – and crucially, experience – to grow and flourish, and to help those veterans who manage to cling on to do the same.

Emerging leaders who understand the way we use and consume media alters between morning, noon and night; who learn how to understand the stories that work from the analytics; how one size no longer fits all.

For them, a brave new world beckons.

Because journalism isn’t dead, it’s just moving on, with or without us.

Shaun Milne is a former print and digital journalist with the Daily Record, the Daily Mirror and STV. He is now PR and digital media director with Lucid PR. This op ed can be also found here.