Change "self-destructive" industry culture, Sky News boss tells NCTJ conference

Watch John's speech here, courtesy of Bournemouth University students Jasper Taylor and Tom Bennett:

 

News organisations must explain to young journalists that “negativity, fear and an ‘at-all-costs’ culture is ultimately self-destructive”, the head of Sky News told the NCTJ’s annual Journalism Skills Conference today.


John Ryley said the behaviour of a small minority had tarnished the reputation of all in an industry which is aggressive and competitive. “It’s probably true that we celebrate our rivals’ misfortunes more than our own successes,” he conceded.

“But we owe it to the next generation of journalists to explain to them that negativity, fear and an ‘at all costs’ culture is ultimately self-destructive.

“That success can be achieved by the application of talent, hard work, good judgement and integrity. That there are clear standards and models of behaviour that they are expected to follow.

“That they can stand up to their superiors without fear of retribution. And all of this can be put to the service of good journalism.”

Speaking at Bournemouth University which is hosting the conference this year, John said training for journalists should instil an understanding of doing the right thing. He added: “Training should also make it very clear that the truth is paramount, and that underhand methods are only very rarely acceptable.”

John said the world of news was in the middle of a revolutionary change and predicted a future of “bespoke, on demand news, accessed in your home or in your hand on televisions, tablets and smartphones”.

Technology allowed news to be reported faster and more accurately than ever. “Critics seem to think that professional standards are drowning in a sea of cost-cutting. I say that the situation is precisely the opposite of that,” said Mr Ryley.

“News-related technology will change all the time to offer even more choice. But the skill, integrity and sheer professionalism of the journalists who use it should never change.”

John said the recently-launched Sky Academy would work to develop emerging talent in media and technology, with a promise to create opportunities for one million young people by 2020. 

Newspapers had seen even more profound change as old deadlines had been abandoned for rolling publication in tune with the demands of readers. “Yet the increasingly unpopular papers are still the cash cows of the business.

“The model that supported the old ways has been broken. And new journalists need to understand that, too. But they should be warned.

“Reading golden-hued memoirs of the booze-soaked days of old Fleet Street, and listening to downtable meanderings about how it used to be, simply fuels nostalgia and breeds contempt for the modern age.

“That world isn’t coming back. Yet the core purpose of journalism remains.

“As we all know, good journalism costs money. The new model that will sustain the journalism of the future has yet to be created. But that isn’t for want of trying.

“We now live in a much more complicated and fractured world in terms of news. But that can make it more exciting than ever.”

The full text of John Ryley’s speech is below:

Good afternoon.

When the comedian Ken Dodd performed in Bournemouth he used to peer out at the audience and ask: “Are you all from the same home”?

And when the author Bill Bryson wrote of his time working at the local paper in the 1970s he painted a picture of a library-like institution where one colleague’s sole occupation was the opening of the windows while he spent most of his time subbing reports from the weekly WI meeting.

How things have changed. Imagine the comedian or the author taking a ‘selfie’.  

Dodd’s joke could never work now as this seaside resort of blue rinses has transformed into a vibrant student town with a party reputation.

Meanwhile, the Bournemouth Echo has undergone just as pronounced a transformation.

It is now a multi-media publishing entity complete with a website, video content and a Twitter feed.

The Echo is by no means alone among regional press in adapting to the demands of modern day news consumers.

Indeed, publishing a website with video content and promoting that work through social media might be considered the bare minimum required to satisfy readers nowadays.

But it is illustrative of the revolution that has taken place in media both broadcast and print in recent years.

Today’s NCTJ event is looking to address a number of the challenges facing everyone in this room who has an interest in recruiting, nurturing and training the next generation of journalists.

It’s a universal issue in whatever field you work. At Sky we have just launched the Sky Academy to develop emerging talent in media and technology. We have pledged to create opportunities for one million young people by 2020. A huge figure. But I suspect it was David Beckham as an ambassador that clearly helped the attendance numbers for the launch event . . .

So, how should journalists adapt to the new digital world?

What skills do they need to cope with the demands of a dramatically changing business model?

And what should we expect of young journalists in a post-Leveson world?

Overarching these questions is one larger query that will largely define our future:

How do we change in a way that best serves our viewers and readers while remaining true to the core purpose of our journalism?  

But first let’s look at the thing that gets all of us out of bed in the morning – the stories.

2013 has been another extraordinary year for news.

In January we saw Jimmy Savile posthumously declared by the police Britain’s worst sex offender, a scandal that led to the arrest of some of the biggest names of the 60s, 70s and 80s and a crisis at the BBC.

We watched as Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce were jailed for perverting the course of justice as a bitter divorce spilled into the courts.

We struggled to grasp the reality of footage that glimpsed the aftermath of a British soldier being hacked to death on the streets of Woolwich.

In scenes of high parliamentary drama, we watched a Prime Minister defeated for the first time in the Commons on a matter of war.

We witnessed Nigel Farage stake a claim to represent the silent majority of Middle England with his party of ‘fruitcakes’.

And we saw how the rising cost of living transformed into the defining political narrative of the 2015 election.

Abroad, we saw terrorists attack the Boston marathon and a shopping mall in Kenya, we saw tornados and typhoons devastate the Philippines and Idaho, chemical gas attacks in Syria and a military coup in Egypt.

In sport, Andy Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon in more than 70 years, Chris Froome became the second to win the Tour de France.

And on July 22nd, a day my friends at the BBC called ‘ a day without news’ , was in fact the day a future King of England was born. A date the Education secretary, Michael Gove would like our children to remember.

But amid all these extraordinary events, the conversations I have been having have been dominated not by the news itself but how Sky delivers it.

I suppose that the first thing the journalists of the future need to understand is that the world of news is in the middle of a revolutionary change.

Change driven primarily by extraordinary advances in technology and significant changes in consumer behaviour.

When Sky News was launched in 1989 the world was a much simpler place: BBC only had three TV bulletins a day; News at Ten was a major force in broadcasting; the web hadn't been invented.; there was no Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no apps, no mobile phones. 

For newspapers the change has been even more profound. We now see exclusives that would ordinarily have been saved for the first edition dropped at 4pm.

Old school hacks have been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world and are Tweeting and blogging with abandon.

The old cycle of deadlines has been mostly abandoned in favour of a rolling publication service in tune with the hour by hour demands of the readers.

Yet the increasingly unpopular papers are still the cash cows of the business. The model that supported the old ways has been broken. And new journalists need to understand that, too.

But they should be warned.

Reading golden-hued memoirs of the booze soaked days of old Fleet Street and listening to downtable meanderings about how it used to be simply fuels nostalgia and breeds contempt for the modern age.

That world isn’t coming back.

Yet the core purpose of journalism remains. As we all know, good journalism costs money. The new model that will sustain the journalism of the future has yet to be created.

But that isn’t for want of trying.

We now live in a much more complicated and fractured world in terms of news. But that can make it more exciting than ever.

I seem to have spent much of the last year talking about technology.

Technology that is both in the news but perhaps more importantly helps actually produce and broadcast the news that people want to watch.

Technology that means that GCHQ have already read this speech and corrected my spelling

After all we live in a world where Twitter – a company that has so far made zero dollars of profit in six years - can have a higher value on the stock market than BskyB, M&S and Sainsbury’s.

As you might expect, Sky News has not stood still in the face of this revolution.

Earlier this year we became the first British broadcaster to be included on Apple TV, allowing viewers in the US the opportunity to access our service.

We are also now a presence on the Roku on-demand set top box.

That is where I believe the future lies – bespoke, on demand news, accessed in your home or in your hand on televisions, tablets and smartphones.

And new journalists need to learn how to service these new platforms.

But perhaps the most important lesson we can teach new recruits is that all the technology in the world counts for nothing without the essential element – the journalism. 

Take Alex Crawford’s award-winning broadcast from the back of the truck travelling with rebels into the soon-to-be liberated city of Tripoli in 2011.

The technical success of those reports was remarkable, achieved with a small satellite phone, a producer adjusting its trajectory by hand and a 12 volt cigarette lighter socket.

But without the journalism that went beforehand, that broadcast would probably never have happened.

She and her team had risked their lives to report on the conflict in the months before that extraordinary Sunday.

In one memorable episode a local doctor smuggled her and her footage across the border in the boot of his car.

At great personal risk she bore witness to Gadaffi’s murderous onslaught on his own people. As a result the rebels trusted her.

And that trust led to her being the only British journalist who was part of that convoy. Great journalism, allied to great technology.   

So what do we tell our young recruits that their role should be in a world where everyone with a smartphone thinks they’re citizen journalists?

We tell them that journalism is what sets apart the work of professional news people from the broad mass of stuff that bounces around the ether every day.

It’s what separates reliable, trustworthy information from, well, just information.

This was illustrated dramatically two years ago during the Arab Spring.

Thousands of people used their mobile phones to send information to Twitter and Facebook.

But before this flood of new information gets on TV, you need independent journalists to sort through all this information to filter it, check it and analyse it.

We should be tremendously excited that new technology allows anyone with a camera phone or a consumer digital camera to contribute to news coverage.

But as journalists we cannot simply put out everything which appeared on the internet. 

We have a sophisticated system for checking and validating everything before we use it. 

If we have any doubts, we just don’t use it.

There is another modern tendency that new journalists need to be aware of.

People are far too ready to believe what they see online. 

Several years ago the Think Tank, Demos, published a report entitled “Truth, Lies and the Internet.” 

They concluded that, despite a myriad of trustworthy journalism and accurate information that is available, there is also – and I quote  “equally unprecedented amounts of mistakes, half truths, mistruths, propaganda, misinformation, disinformation and general nonsense.”

Demos says that many young people are unable to distinguish between the reliable stuff and the rubbish. – and they do not check multiple sources.

This makes them vulnerable to ignorance, falsehoods, cons and scams. That makes good, trustworthy journalism more important than ever.

Just because the provision of news has become democratised doesn’t mean that our expertise is somehow less valuable. In fact, just the opposite.

The brand of the best British news organisations is underpinned by trust in our journalism and our ability to analyse information accurately and put it into the right context.

Without that battle-hardened professional ability, we would be just another voice in the noise of the digital world.

I believe that journalism can – and indeed should be – a force for good by shining a light on things which the perpetrators would prefer to stay hidden.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that the work of journalists telling the world about the atrocities in the Middle East and elsewhere has been a powerful counterbalance to the damage done to journalism by the phone hacking scandal.

Reading the headlines over the past few years a neutral observer might have got the impression that a job in journalism is equivalent to gold prospecting in the Wild West.

The behaviour of a small minority has tarnished the reputations of us all.

Journalists are by nature mavericks, outsiders, mistrusting of authority and questioning of the establishment.

As an industry we are aggressive and competitive.

With our misanthropic outlook, it’s probably true that we celebrate our rivals’ misfortunes more than our own successes.

But we owe it to the next generation of journalists to explain to them that negativity, fear and an ‘at all costs’ culture is ultimately self-destructive.

That success can be achieved by the application of talent, hard work, good judgement and integrity.

That there are clear standards and models of behaviour that they are expected to follow. That they can stand up to their superiors without fear of retribution.

And all of this can be put to the service of good journalism.

Training is not just about teaching young journalists the basic skills of news gathering and the essentials of media law.

Training is what separates professional journalists from so-called citizen journalists.

It is what the Figaro journalist Yves Eudes means when he says that the citizen only sees what he wants to see, not the bigger picture.

Training should also instil an understanding of doing the right thing – the rights and wrongs of journalistic practice.

And training should also make it very clear that the truth is paramount, and that underhand methods are only very rarely acceptable. 

So in many ways the core skills of journalism apply more than ever.

Curiosity, persistence, an unflinching willingness to question authority in the pursuit of facts.

Accuracy, clarity and insight in the broadcast or publication of those facts.

Everything else is just about delivery. A little panache ..will take you quite a long way.

I’m very often surprised by how uncurious trainees and sometimes even experienced journalists can appear.

As a journalist if your first question when told something by a figure in authority isn’t “Really?” and your first thought isn’t “I don’t believe you”, then you may have chosen the wrong job.

And if your first instinct isn’t then to question them further, to test what they are saying, to try to establish the facts, then you definitely have wrong job.

We should tell our new journalists that if they’re not the most interesting person they know, then they’re doing their job wrong, I do have  a confession to make….which may surprise you.

I still get excited when I see News done brilliantly. It is a privilege to have worked in this industry for 30 years.  

Critics seem to think that professional standards are drowning in a sea of cost cutting.

I say that situation is precisely the opposite of that.

For broadcasters, the equipment is better, lighter and cheaper. In print, the size of online audiences numbers in the tens of millions and stretches across the world.

Our audiences can read our stories, watch our video on their phones and their tablets, as well as on their televisions. And share it with each other.

We can get the news out faster and more accurately than ever before.

News-related technology will change all the time to offer even more choice.

But the skill, integrity and sheer professionalism of the journalists who use it should NEVER change.

I remarked recently to a colleague that those outside of journalism regard us with a mixture of awe and contempt.

That seems to me about right. We just need to make sure it’s the right amount of each.

Thank you very much.