Tim Luckhurst: Demise of news barons is just a Marxist fantasy

Among people who claim to know the future of journalism a consensus is forming. Western democracies stand on the brink of the decade in which professional reporting will die.

There will be no further need for newspapers or broadcasters to host debates and represent public opinion. The internet will let every citizen speak for themselves. The masses will seize the means of media production. We will witness an era of revolutionary change.

New media prophets pore over the evidence, and find it thrillingly compelling. Circulations of UK daily national newspapers are down by a fifth since 2000. Sunday and local titles have fared worse. They wonder who will have the honour of sacking the last newspaper journalist and whether, with even the BBC cutting jobs, their siblings in broadcasting will be culled first.

Granted, the economics of the news industry is appalling, and the law is making things worse. Celebrity scandal, long a source of income for Britain's least lovable press, is threatened by the courts' increasingly restrictive interpretation of the balance between privacy and public interest. Super-injunctions abound. Libel tourism gives Britain a deplorable reputation among people who appreciate the symbiotic relationship between democracy and freedom of expression.

And so media futurologists predict the end of independent capitalist media barons such as Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere and the Barclay brothers. They will go the way of the dodo: they have no defence against the technology that has come to kill them

But there is an elementary delusion behind the idea that amateurs can report accurately and a colossal fallacy at the heart of the prophets' vision. The delusion was illustrated during Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Obama felt secure at a meeting with supporters. No reporters were present, so he admitted that he was not surprised that small-town voters "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them".

Days later, Mayhill Fowler, a blogger who attended the event as a contributor to the Obama campaign, reported his comments to a citizen journalism website. To people who forecast a glorious future without professional reporting this was an example of new-media democracy in action. No longer could politicians say what they believe in private and dissemble in public. A blogger would always expose the truth.

Wiser counsel acknowledges that a political reporter who did not tell his editor about such a story for so long would be sacked. Nor can the public right to know depend on the dictates of an individual's conflicted conscience. Such decisions should be guided by professional priorities and ethics. The fallacy rests on the delusion that private ownership by capitalists has damaged journalism. The facts suggest the opposite. Since the first American newspaper baron, James Gordon Bennett I, created the New York Herald, and his British disciple Alfred Harmsworth followed with Britain's Daily Mail, profit-driven ownership has liberated reporters.

Before the barons, journalism readily succumbed to direct sponsorship by political parties. Impoverished publications were bullied by powerful litigants. They could not afford professional reporters and printed opinions not facts. Afterwards, while journalism has often exercised power without responsibility, it has done so in the name of a version of the public interest that is gloriously independent of the state.

So, what will the second decade of the 21st century mean for this tradition of cussed, unlovable freedom-enhancing journalism? Clearly the technical ease with which words and images can be circulated around the globe has changed everything. Information is available from a plethora of sources. They range from government websites to company portals and activist blogs.

Therein lies part of the problem. Democracy cannot thrive if state or commercial power is left free to scrutinise itself. It needs honest, authoritative reporting of the kind Britons have become accustomed to receiving from newspapers and broadcasters. And the internet makes surveillance and intrusion as easy as it makes information sharing. That creates a greater need for the scrutiny only professional journalism can guarantee.

It can, of course, be delivered online in glorious multimedia detail and at unprecedented speed. The internet is a superb storytelling tool. Multimedia journalists use it to deploy audio, video and text in previously impossible combinations. In the right hands it makes reporting, investigation and analysis clearer, faster and more inviting than ever. It may also make it cheaper. It certainly makes reporting interactive. Discussion with and accountability to the community they serve is now one of a journalist's core duties.

Online consumers are blissfully accustomed to recommending stories and columns and sharing them via links. The internet makes real the relationship of trust between reporter and consumer that was previously asserted but only occasionally tested. This is good for honest journalism.

The relationship will deepen as more news consumers become comfortable with online technology. But, in common with all machinery, the internet is morally neutral. As it matures in an era of nigh-universal broadband and wireless access, it will not automatically make journalism better. That will happen only if professional journalism's values, and the economic models necessary to support them, adapt to thrive online. Intense thought and experimentation dedicated to devising these models is under way in news corporations, good universities and hyper-local news collectives.

There is not yet a single one-size-fits-all model for profitable, professional journalism in the 21st century, but a powerful alliance of commerce, conscience and intellect is converging around the certainty that such journalism is essential if representative democracy is to endure.

Citizen journalism's most devout evangelists are wrong. Their wisdom is purely ideological. In fact, the people who now predict the end of professional journalism's reign of sovereignty have attacked edited, fact-based reporting for decades. They think it is as an ideological invention created to sell myths to the masses.

Students of media studies have been force-fed this anti-democratic bunkum for decades. Now the internet is exploited as an opportunity to invite the population at large to swallow it too. Forget it. Professional journalism will survive because it is necessary and the market will find a way to supply it. People who claim otherwise only pretend that their mission is prediction. In fact, they are working to mould the future to match a postmodern Marxist fantasy.

Tim Luckhurst is Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Senior Account Executive / Account Executive

£25 - 30k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are looking for an Accoun...

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

£25k Basic (DOE) – (£30k year 1 OTE) : Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright A...

Resourcer / Junior Recruiter

£15-20k (DOE) + Benefits / Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright R...

Web Designer / Digital Designer

£25 - 40k (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Web Desig...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits