The UK’s industry paper for journalists has been closed down, the announcement coming on the website reportedly before the staff had been told. Owners Wilmington say a website will continue as a “resource” but will contain no news. Some resource.
No doubt this will be taken as further evidence of how print is dying and the only future is online, but the reasons go deeper than these shallow generalisations. One major problem for PG in its latest incarnation was the frankly suicidal subscription policy, requiring potential readers to pay a year’s subs at £10 an issue before they could even see what they were getting. I did see an office copy of the first issue of the new mag in my old job, and it wasn’t good. Poorly-designed and paced, and very flat. The print version may well have improved, but at that price I wasn’t going to take the risk.
It is a sad day when any publication goes out of business, and it’s always worth remembering when picking over the corpse that the real effect of a closure is that people lose their jobs. But I suspect I’m not the only person who has liked the idea of a Press Gazette more than the publication itself. This is perhaps something to do with having spent most of my working life in magazines, rather than newspapers, the area the PG has traditionally been strongest in reporting. Getting news from journalists is probably one of the most difficult jobs there is, but to many of us in the magazines world the PG used to be well behind events.
Quite probably because of the frequent changes of ownership, PG never quite seemed to develop into the kind of vibrant, engaging voice covering all aspects of journalism that I still think would be a positive contribution to our trade. Some years ago Robert Maxwell’s short-lived Journalist’s Week looked as if it may be the thing we were looking for, but it never got time to establish itself. And so PG went on, largely unopposed and, rather like BBC football coverage before Sky, largely complacent for too long about what it was doing.
What remains in print is the British Journalism Review, weighty, academic and – while an important publication – narrowly-focussed, and the Guardian Media section, not what it was and even then not what it could’ve been, although of course it was never aimed solely at media people. The NUJ’s magazine The Journalist is taking some steps towards the kind of regular professional analysis and commentary it has long eschewed, but it will always need to reflect the specific interests of its members more than the general interests of the trade. Sometimes the two differ.
Online there are many well-informed and original voices on the media industry, which is perhaps no surprise. But while there is variety and diversity, there isn’t the impact and authority a central platform for genuine debate and discussion about our trade needs. Perhaps this is the challenge before us now – to develop, probably online, that living resource about the way we do our job, and the ways we could do it. Something that provides informed opinion, research and analysis, which enables us to step back from the day-to-day pressure of just surviving as journalists and to think about what we do, why we do it and how we could do it better.