Alan Oakley

Alan Oakley began his career with Home Counties Newspapers and after working on weekly and evening newspapers, he left the Daily Express in Manchester and moved to Australia in 1985. He has since been the editor of five Australian newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald and the Herald Sun. He is currently network editorial director for News Corp, based in Sydney.

Why would anyone want to be a journalist?

Everyone knows newspapers are dying, TV news and current affairs is dumbed down and anyway, there’s an endless torrent of digital news and information from bloggers, aggregators, “churnalists,” social media pundits and content thieves that’s fast, furious – and free.

Why would anyone want to be professional journalist? Hopefully, for the same reason I embarked on my career at the wonderfully titled Leighton Buzzard Observer in the early 1970s - because it was the start of a love affair that’s given me a life-long and meaningful career (and taken me to the other side of the world.)

The next time you read an “obituary” for newspapers or journalism discard it to the bin, real or virtual. Be confident that the profession you’ve chosen transcends platforms and the means of distribution. Journalism is essentially about trusted and credible information, community advocacy, entertainment and enlightenment; a powerful contribution to society.

How, when and where you deliver it is secondary.    

My love affair of course began with print. I learned about accuracy writing cattle market reports (get the weights or price wrong and some huge farmer would have words) and I learned about the value of campaigning journalism at the micro level (saving rail lines, exposing slumlords, shining a light on the pompous and the privileged).

I polished my craft through the NCTJ at Richmond College in Sheffield and I sincerely wish those magnificent lecturers, who were of the newsroom and not the classroom, could be replicated today. 

I loved and still love print because it’s a reference point, a once-a-day fixed moment in our daily lives that seems to make sense of the firehose of ubiquitous digital news and information. It makes us pause and think. I love that it is finite and the sense of satisfaction gained from saying  “I’ve read the paper today.”

The power of the front page is now extended to online, but it’s what the mastheads represent that empowers them to start the conversation and be a permanent and habitual marker in our daily lives.  Why else would all other media wait for the paper like a starting gun in the daily race for news?  Here in Australia, the biggest single media audience is still the Sunday newspaper market.

The newspaper gives certainty, trust and affirmation and most importantly, a beginning and end. It is overflowing with familiar and habitual reference points – from news about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, to the weather, crosswords, letters page, sports results, cranky / lovable commentators and even the ads for fresh food and cars.

Deconstruct a newspaper and there is, and always will be, demand for its constituent parts (so says PWC in its latest Global Media Outlook, 2015-2019).  Every day, it is a reference point in a 24-hour news cycle that’s often manic, sometimes distracted and occasionally trivial. The daily news cycle often still builds on the work of a single professional newspaper journalist.

The audience may consume it in print at the kitchen table or on a tablet or smartphone on the train, but what they’re immersed in is compelling journalism, not the channel.

That’s what makes it a career to cherish.

September 2015