"Gittins says scoops bring traffic, but he's sceptical of whether being the first to break stories is what encourages people to pay up.""Most journalism is about reporting the news. We try to get exclusives, and try to write our stories better than the people down the road, but most of the time, we report news. The big thing that’s changing is that you can’t make money simply reporting the news -- it’s ubiquitous," he said. A genuine scoop is very quickly picked up by other outlets, which can do so entirely legally so long as they don't directly lift copy and say who first reported it, Gittins says. As news has become commodified, it's hard to make money off it, so newspapers should stop trying. With news covered off, and far fewer general news reporters employed, the quality press should focus on explaining, in depth, what developments in a city mean. Not in the sense of answering the traditional journalistic questions of what, who, how and when, but the more complex questions of why something happened, what the background to it is, where it might be going, whether or why it matters, and whether anything should be done about it. "I think there’ll be a lot fewer journalists, but they’ll be a lot more specialised, and they’ll be reasonably well-paid, because there’ll be some degree of competition for the services of the best specialists, who have good sources to tap to find out what things mean," Gittins said. "I think it’s also likely they’ll get much more research assistance. A very well-versed person in a particular area can’t possibly do everything that it would be good to do. So you give them a researcher who digs out a lot of the facts and figures. There's a tiny bit of that going on already, but I think it's the obvious way to go. And the simple commercial fact is that researchers don’t get paid as well as a really senior journalist." This might mean a very different class of people become journalists. "At the moment we just hire BAs, maybe with a few law degrees. We don't grab people with specialist knowledge -- those with backgrounds in business, medicine, economics ... who are much better placed to make sense of developments. It amazes me we don't do that. I've been predicting and expecting papers to do more of that for 40 years. But I think it will happen." And once those people get there, they can focus on in-depth, explanatory journalism, and genuine investigations. But few "scoops". The aim for the quality press should be paid subscriptions and interest from wealthy readers (to be sold to high-end advertisers). Gittins says scoops bring traffic, but he's sceptical of whether being the first to break stories is what encourages people to pay up. "I think it suits every journalist from the top editor to the newest trainee to believe that [scoops bring subscriptions]," Gittins said. "But if there is strong research evidence showing that’s what the market wants, what the customers want, and that’s what they're prepared to pay for, I haven’t seen it or heard about it. My guess is that editors don’t want to do market research testing that proposition because that would shake one of the fundamental drivers of the journalistic profession, which is that being first and getting exclusives is the meaning of life. "When we have genuine scoops that bring to public attention things the public needs to know and wouldn’t know without us, that is a genuine scoop and a very virtuous act. But that’s a tiny proportion of all the things labeled as 'exclusive'. Usually, and to a huge extent, these exclusives are things that have suited some vested interest, usually politicians or lobbyists. By focusing so much on scoops and exclusives, the media is playing right into their hands."
Kill the scoop, sack the journos: unpopular advice from Ross Gittins
Ross Gittins envisions a very different newsroom of the future.