Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Investing in Journalism Innovation: towards a petition for Government support for training

Evidence that the local & regional newspaper industry (amongst others) are in crisis isn't hard to find.

Just take a quick glance at the Media Guardian timeline of media job cuts (below). And while, as Ian Burrell pointed out recently in The Independent, not everyone thinks it matters. Others, like me, do.

And in those circles the view that Government has a more active role to play in the way ahead is also gaining support, as recent comments by the culture secretary and the establishment of the new Local Media Alliance) show.

However, while any interventions should necessarily help ensure the industry survives the cyclical economic downturn, that's not enough. The industry needs support for the structural changes essential if it is to thrive in the 'Networked Age'.

Or, to draw on an old adage: Government should not only give the hungry industry some fish and ensure that the legislative environment is conducive for fishing - but it should also help the industry build the knowledge to devise new ways of fishing.

Training and re-training newsrooms for the (not so) new media media environment is certainly happening (my colleagues and I are engaged in a quite a bit of it ourselves).

But it's not happening enough. And it's not happening fast enough. And, with few exceptions, it's not happening broadly enough - particularly at the higher levels of organisations (as Hugh Stevenson and I have noted before).

With that in mind, I've been circulating an idea amongst some colleagues, which I'm now considering posting as an e-petition to No 10.

But before I do, I'd welcome any feedback or advice on the proposal which would read something like:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to…enable media companies to invest in building the much-needed capacity to innovate- including editorial and commercial management skills - by providing corporate tax relief for training of up to 1% of payroll per annum.

This investment, which would be subject to review after three years, would supplement, not replace, support for digital skills training available through current initiatives such as Skillset ."

What could this mean?

Well, a back-of-envelope calculation based on the premise that payroll comprises around 40% of the budget of a typical newspaper (cf the Independent). And let's work with a modest operation of 100 people that, using Frederic Filloux's rough calculation, means a payroll of around £5million. That would make around £500 available per person to invest in capacity building.

That may not be a great deal - but, I suspect, that it's a great deal more than most training budgets are likely to have right now. And would go a long way to helping the cash-starved news organisations build their capacity to innovate.

How does that sound?

NOTE: It's probably worth pointing out this is my personal blog and that these views are my own and that I'm am not speaking for my employer. Or anyone else.

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