Media managements who are making ruthless cuts in editorial budgets that undermine quality in journalism contribute to an erosion of public trust in media and weaken the economic prospects of the industry, warned the International Federation of Journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Speaking at a panel session on the crisis facing mainstream media, which is being challenged by new and increasingly independent voices, many of them through the Internet, the General Secretary of the IFJ, Aidan White, said that business-driven journalism was increasingly incapable of upholding public interest.
“Blurring the lines between commercial and editorial interests together with cuts in spending on jobs and journalistic work is killing public confidence in traditional media and creating low morale in journalism,” he said.
While some employers were still committed to the proper balance between good journalism and economic imperatives, in much of the industry a form of paralysis had taken over in the face of future challenges. “But as recent scandals have shown, cutting corners is not working, we have to get back to quality journalism,” he said.
In a debate with Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Chairman and Publisher of the New York Times, James Kelly, Managing Editor of Time Magazine, and Hu Shuli, Editor of Caijing Magazine in China, White called for a restoration of values in journalism – “the communication of good, reliable information, as near the truth as it can be and collected by principled people.”
Sulzberger supported this view of journalism, but disagreed over the impact of the current economic models of media organisation. “Capitalism is a self-correcting mechanism,” he said, rejecting White’s charge that the current business model was not working.
White welcomed the commitment expressed by Sulzberger and Kelly to keep the faith with top quality journalism as a key to success in an uncertain future, but he said more media owners and managers needed to change their ways. “We must convince these industry blockheads that cuts which damage quality also accelerate the decline of the traditional industry,” he said. “That will be disastrous for everyone – for journalists, for people who invest in media, and for the public at large.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries