Ian Burrell: Tomorrow's journalists will be different animals

Media Studies

The media is eating itself. The BBC meltdown has been played out on the front page of every newspaper, just as the press itself is braced for an inevitably excoriating report by Lord Justice Leveson into its own culture and standards.

The McAlpine scandal did not merely take down BBC Director-General George Entwistle and leave the flagship current affairs programme Newsnight hanging by a thread – it also provoked an investigation into ITV by the broadcast regulator Ofcom and created a crisis which threatens the existence of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, regarded as a promising model for the future.

Who would want to join the industry now? Who would want to pledge their future to a cash-strapped sector facing so many accusations of rank bad practice? In classrooms and lecture theatres around Britain there are changes afoot, as a new generation of media students is forced to reconsider its career options as the industry's traditional employers struggle to cope with economic, technological and possibly new statutory-imposed regulatory pressures.

Quite simply, the students cannot rely on these traditional media owners any more. Instead, they are having to evolve into a new type of animal, one with a fresh skill set and a different relationship to money and employers. This new breed could change the very nature of journalism.

City University in London has just advertised for Britain's first Professor of Entrepreneurial Journalism. It is looking to appoint someone who can "lead research and education in business and innovation in journalism". Barbara Rowlands, Programme Director in the University's Department of Journalism, says students can no longer think of themselves simply as newshounds. "We felt we had to give our students a little business nous," she says. "They have to understand that journalism is in a state of disruptional crisis and they can't just study it in isolation from the economy and the market."

Core disciplines for cub reporters used to be 100 words per minute shorthand, along with a sound grasp of the workings of government (local as well as national) and a well-thumbed copy of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists. Today that's not even half of it.

City's journalism students must pitch to a Dragons' Den-type panel explaining their concept for a magazine "brand", including ideas for opening revenue streams through apps, events and commercial deals with retail outlets. At Bournemouth University, the blogger Fleet Street Fox was brought in to advise on building a social media profile, while freelancer Adam Lee-Potter was hired as a "Practitioner In Residence" to give students tips in entrepreneurial journalism. Karen Fowler-Watt, associate dean in journalism and communication, has no interest in hiring old hacks who wish to recount "war stories". "We have almost got to a point where [students] don't know what their predecessors' lives were like."

The traditional route into the industry was via the local and regional press. The introduction of enormous tuition fees has virtually put an end to that, says Michael Williams, senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire. "Above all, the pay is dismal. If a £9,000 course is going to take you into a job that's only going to earn £21,000 (a year), people are starting to question the value."

For many, freelancing is a better option. Philip Thickett, head of the school of media at Birmingham City University, says: "We are very much trying to prepare them for that portfolio career and think about how they can monetise some of the stuff that they're going to do."

Thickett's university is building the biggest television studio between London and Salford, and most of the leading journalism schools are providing extensive multimedia training. "You've got to be able to work in audio, video and be able to write and promote the lot through social media," says Tim Luckhurst of the University of Kent.

The new media students have the multiple skills that should make them attractive hires to media employers, if only they could afford to take them on. But many will choose to become "entrepreneurs", packaging their journalism (which they refer to as "content") for various platforms and multiple buyers. They will have a very different relationship with the commercial world, one that may place new pressures on editorial values. And, unlike those who have gone before them, they will have little loyalty to big media owners, a scenario which has major implications for the industry's future infrastructure and its collective voice.

Despite the pre-Leveson and post-Entwistle gloom that hangs above the media, many of the next intake are defiantly optimistic. As Ms Fowler-Watt says, many of them are "quite fired up by the prospect of having a freelance life".

I'm an MP... Get me into here

Time will tell whether the Tories were right to withdraw the party whip from Nadine "MadNad" Dorries. Eating camel toe and ostrich anus on television was not the "publicity gift" she had in mind when she signed up for I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

She believed she was stepping on to a platform which her Westminster colleagues could only dream of. "I'm doing the show because 16 million people watch it. If people are watching I'm A Celebrity, that's where MPs should be going."

Instead, those viewers have turned on her, repeatedly voting for her to perform gruesome tasks, such as climbing into a coffin filled with maggots and cockroaches.

The scene amused Nad's colleague Chris Heaton-Harris, the Tory MP for Daventry, who tweeted: "Wonder how long the bugs will last in Nadine's casket, before begging to be let out."

But now other Tories are not so sure. Unlike Big Brother, ITV's I'm A Celebrity... has always had middle-class acceptability. The involvement of an MP is a further excuse for coverage by posher papers such as The Daily Telegraph, with its many Tory readers.

Her dignity may have suffered but everyone now knows who Dorries is – and that counts for a lot in modern politics.

"When she comes out of the jungle she will be probably get invited on to the Jonathan Ross show," one Conservative tells me. "Which other Tory MP – apart from David Cameron – could manage that?"

Davie will try to hang on to his train set

What a situation for Tim Davie, the acting Director-General of the BBC! Described as "ambitious" by everyone who spends more than two minutes in his company, Davie is clearly keen on making the appointment permanent. He is an outside bet. But at least if he puts on a tie he might receive a fairer hearing from the Daily Mail than his chief rival, Ed Richards, the Ofcom chief executive and the object of irrational hatred from that paper. But what if Davie doesn't make DG? He has only just been chosen to run the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. To move to that role won't be easy after running the whole train set. Especially since some in the BBC believe Worldwide will be discouraged from making too much profit for fear of harming the chances of retaining the licence fee. Will Mr Davie ever be allowed to realise his ambition?

Twitter: Twitter: @iburrell

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