The smartest media brands are still investing, evolving – and flourishing, says Andrew Tuck.
It was one of those moments when you wonder whether you should just give up. I was working at a national newspaper in London’s Canary Wharf and the title was going through another round of cost-cutting. Someone, it transpired, had come up with a genius plan that would solve everyone’s problems: journalists would now not only write their stories but also lay them out on page, add the headlines and find the relevant photography. It was a process conjured up by management consultants and directors more concerned with shareholder dividends than stories that people might actually want to read.
There were some dreadful training days and then a one-on-one meeting with the bean counter who asked me to explain how I allocated my time as a magazine editor. I talked about the process: working with writers on drafts of their stories, making sure that contentious stories would not lead to libel actions. “No, this has to change,” he said. “You should only ever use writers who provide ready-to-print copy and never use anyone who is going to get us into legal issues.” The project soon failed.
That was almost 20 years ago but accountants are once again wreaking destruction in some of the world’s finest publishing houses. And it can’t all be blamed on Google and Facebook or the pandemic. I have been hearing a lot of these stories first-hand in recent weeks as we have been interviewing for a series of vacancies at monocle. Again and again, people tell you how their current job is being deskilled, about broken morale, about the creation of teams that will work across numerous titles and must forgo all old allegiances. There are stories of great editors lost and not replaced; of titles forced to use content from other parts of the company empire (once again eradicating what made them special); of websites where stories are never edited. It’s definitely a recipe for lower costs – and guaranteed oblivion.
You might think that for plucky monocle this would have us rubbing our hands in glee. It does not. We want journalism and publishing to continue to appeal to the talented and determined. We want to see a competitive newsstand where publishers fight it out with the best writing, news, fashion reporting, cultural coverage, investigations and more. We want people to be allowed to be dexterous when possible (making a radio show, writing a book, filing for print and digital products) but also allowed to be pure specialists when it makes sense.
But. This issue we have also looked around and found that, actually, many traditional media fixtures continue to flourish, especially away from the Anglophone world. Some of the biggest news groups in Europe have diversified into other fields but also been determined to invest in physical newsrooms and state-of-the-art TV and radio studios to ensure that they remain relevant and their teams stay tight. You can see the bullish new HQ of Germany’s Axel Springer in our Expo this month (see here). There will be no press release coming out of Berlin about a switch to citizen journalism or the desire to never ask reporters to come into the newsroom again.
On our Culture pages we meet the TV news anchors with the experience and training to still hold their nations’ attentions. We also look at how news agencies – some of them centuries old – have flourished by keeping photographers and reporters on the ground. It’s a healthy reminder that investment, commitment, specialism and loyalty, are to be valued. Just a few days before writing this I met someone who is involved in the shake-up of a publishing house and I asked how it would pan out. “Perhaps some of it will work but some of it is terrible,” he said. “Let’s see where we are in a year.” Maybe he needs a little holiday in Germany before he does anything else.
Now there are a couple of other things that I need to tell you. First, I hope that we are going to see you in Athens for our Quality of Life Conference from 23 to 25 September. Not only will we discuss hot topics from tolerance to the future of media, city-making to meaningful entrepreneurship, but we will show you the city afresh and keep you entertained along the way.
And finally, from next month we have some changes planned for the magazine. Nothing too radical but as the world moves ahead so will we – and we want to make sure that we continue to bring you the stories that will help you to stay informed and navigate the times ahead. All will be revealed. As ever, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas, Athens enquiries or just some views that you wish to share. I’ll be here with my word engineers at the information hub – also known as a desk in London’s leafy Marylebone.