Sunday, 20 November 2011

Future of the press in Wales conference: a hard pill to swallow

Yesterday I went to the Future of the press in Wales conference at the Universityof Glamorgan. I wanted to see what people had to say about the problems with the press and what kind of solutions are realistic. As someone who is job hunting at the moment I think it’s good to have an awareness of what you’re getting yourself into. 

The day was split into four sections:

1.    What is the current state of the press in Wales?

Andy Williams gave a very informative analysis of the state of the press in Wales. The outlook seems bleak with the number of editorial and production staff at Media Wales having dropped from 700 in 1999 to 136 in 2010. Circulation was deemed to have fallen from 55,000 newspapers in 2000 to 27,000 in 2011.

2.    Do we need a press in Wales?

Speakers included:

-       Ken Skates, a Labour AM who is participating in the National Assembly’s task and finish group on the future outlook of media in Wales
-       Bethan Jenkins, a Plaid Cymru AM and spokesperson on heritage, media and sport
-       John Osmond, Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

Ken emphasised the link between having a national newspaper in Wales and having a feeling of citizenship, and suggested public funding might be a way to support the press. Bethan felt more research is needed into what kind of press valued in Wales, before taking action . John said the Western Mail in its current form is not going to survive.

3.    Is there another way?

This section involved Stewart Kirkpatrick, Duncan Higgitt and Ken Smith; all of whom have launched news sites which are aimed at providing local and regional news to certain areas.

I found this section frustrating. Whilst all of the speakers are making a valiant effort in maintaining good quality news sites whilst having a day job; none of their sites are making money. None of the sites will be sustainable without making money. The idea of paywalls was not considered appropriate for the content being produced. In summary, from this session, there doesn’t seem to be another way.

4.    Where do we go from here?

Ideas stemming from the group discussion included; crowd funding, mobile phone apps and public funding, among other things. The idea of public funding was controversial as some thought it could work as it does for the BBC, while others thought this risked introducing government influence into the press.


I think this tweet sums up the conference:

I felt nothing was said about the state of the press that I hadn’t already heard, but that nonetheless; the truth hurts. When I asked speaker Martin Shipton if I should focus on applying for newspaper jobs at regional papers, or if my future would be more secure on a national; he responded: “My advice to you is to switch to broadcast. There is no certainty whatsoever in a future in print journalism”

In some ways this was hard to swallow. But in others, I felt this showed an outmoded way of thinking. I am not a newspaper journalist, I am a journalist. I may not know how to use technical equipment, but I can learn. This is what I want to do, and if it means putting a few extra hours in maintaining two blogs, and learning to shoot video, and improving my photography skills, AND learning to edit audio AND all the other things that haven’t even been invented yet. Then so be it.