If Newsquest ran a restaurant…

I have been wondering what sort of a restaurant my old employers at Newsquest might run. After all, no newspaper job is secure nowadays and everyone must prepare for new opportunities.

As it happens, reports have reached me of an exciting new venture based round a “simplified” dining process in the Newsquest Bistro.

I shall let the dining manager explain: “In an effort to get even more your food on our plates, we would like to invite our customers to cook their own food at home and then bring it along to our restaurant. Cook your food as close to the style of food that you wish to eat and then bring a container to our restaurant. We will then put the food on a plate for you and you can dine with us for a minimal charge.

“This streamlining process should give this restaurant the chance of a bright new future. Working together in this manner, we can bring food and diners together in an exciting new venture.”

As any passing journalist probably now knows, this story is true – expect that for food you should insert a different ingredient: news. Press Gazette, an online-only trade magazine, reports that in south London a Newsquest editor, Andy Parkes, has invited his readers to submit their own news and photographs for publication in his newspapers. These publications have been hit by “widespread editorial cuts, redundancies and industrial action”, reports Press Gazette, and are not in a good shape.

In a column for readers, Andy says: “…write your article as close to the style of a news story as you can, making sure you include details of the what, who, where and when. Attach any photos you’ve got to go with it and then click send.”

Naturally enough, the National Union of Journalists is not impressed, with executive member Andy Smith saying: “If Newsquest believes it can substitute experienced journalists, who understand media law and know how to put together a news story, with contributions from readers and produce a quality product, it must be very foolish and desperate.”

Foolish and desperate for sure – but experience shows us that this union, however well intentioned, has little effect in halting such unhappy ‘advances’ in the newspaper world.

Here are two ways of looking at this latest piece of nonsense. One: asking readers to write the news for a paper they then shell out money to buy (in some cases; free in others) is an act of evil genius brilliance. Two: Andy Parkes is a pragmatic man who has put a brave face on the only way he could see of putting something in his newspapers.

By chance, I met Andy on a training session for young journalists earlier this yet. From that brief acquaintance, he seemed like a decent man, so I suspect that the second point is more likely than the first. Nevertheless, this remains another step down into the damp of basement of newspaper decline.

In fairness, I should point out that none of the three Newsquest dailies in the north, including the one I worked for, are following suit. At least not yet, although something similar has already happened with photographs, which is why newspaper photographers are rare beasts nowadays.

The seeds of such thinly sprouted newspapers were sown in the early days of the internet. At the time, newspaper managements couldn’t decide whether the internet was a threat or an opportunity and this put them into a panic (understandably). In headless manner, newspaper bosses lost faith in newsprint too quickly, while never quite working out how to put the business online.

Early optimists saw great money-making potential in the internet, only to then discover than the likes of Facebook and Google had all the money sewn up, leaving more meagre pickings.

Facebook hoovers up the money – and then hoovers up the news, too. And as more people turn to Facebook for news, they are served clickbait news ‘chosen’ by algorithms designed to favour clicks over news value. The more people click, the more money is made by advertisers – so the truthfulness of a story can be of secondary importance.

In the social media world, if someone clicks on something it counts; and if they don’t, it fails to register.

In this value-free, unregulated sphere, fake news is as relevant as actual news, hence the rise of misinformation online, as illustrated by Mr Misinformation himself, Donald Trump, being elected president of the US.

Please take your seats now in the self-service canteen of news (health warning: the management accepts no responsibility for any upsets caused by the consumption of post-truth stew).

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