Question time panel debate the future of quality journalism

The skills needed by journalists today and the impact newsroom staffing levels have had on quality journalism were two of the controversial topics discussed during a lively question time panel debate.

Aasmah Mir, presenter of Radio 5 Live and Good Morning Scotland, chaired the question time panel debate which took place at the Journalism Skills Conference in Glasgow.

Members of the Question Time panel were Alex Gerlis, Head of Training, BBC College of Journalism, Tom Happold, Head of Multimedia, Guardian News and Media, Tom Lowe, Newsgathering editor, STV, John McLellan, Editor, The Scotsman and Margaret Strayton, Group Editorial Manager, Newsquest.

An audience of heads of journalism, tutors, trainers, examiners and editors put questions to the panel in a vigorous conference session.

Aasmah welcomed delegates to the debate, before inviting the panel to comment on the most important skills students need for the newsroom.

John McLellan replied: “Guile, curiousity, rat-like cunning, the ability to write a sentence, use of the apostrophe and good manners as well.

“People need to get past the image of pork pie hatted journalists being rude and if you haven’t got curiousity you haven’t got anything.”

Alex Girlis, answering the same question replied: “It’s absolutely crucial to have a grasp of the fundamentals of journalism, the writing, the desire to tell a story and how to tell it. It is important to have resilience.

“Anyone can get excited about a big breaking story but when it’s a wet Wednesday afternoon and you have to write a story about traffic in the town centre, you need resilience.”

The panel then debated how professional news providers can make money when information is free on the internet.

Tom Happold said: “The growth of the web has allowed a publication like the Guardian to be a global news organisation.

John McLellan replied: “Which loses vast amounts of money every year. Those of us that have to work in a commercial environment can’t do that.”

The panel were asked if they thought the newspaper industry employs enough journalists to practice quality journalism.

Margaret Strayton said: “In some areas staff levels have dropped but we have 279 newspapers with over 1,400 journalists working on those newspapers.

Tom Happold said: “Unless the resources are there I don’t see how regional newspapers can compete with free news.”

The panel were also asked about the role of photographers in multimedia newsrooms.

Tom Lowe said: “Quality pictures, it’s as simple as that. We are trying to get more photographs on our website and the best pictures are taken by trained photographers.

The panel were also asked how the journalism trainers gathered could be sure that the syllabus they are delivering to pre-entrants is relevant to the fast-changing world of news gathering.

Alex Girlis replied: ”Many people today are so multimedia they don’t realise it, for them its journalism, some radio, web, broadcasting. The key thing is to train people to be adaptable and learn new skills.”

The question time debate was filmed by three students currently studying at each of the NCTJ’s accredited centres in Glasgow: Clare Carswell at Glasgow Caledonian University; Natasha Radmehr at University of Strathclyde and Lesley Quinn at Cardonald College.

With the professional help of BBC staff, the students filmed and edited the session. To view the video click here.