So as the Industrial Society’s new chief executive I really welcome one part of its calendar; the annual media awards for journalistic excellence in business, industrial, financial and labour affairs. The idea is to celebrate good journalism, and in this year’s Work World awards Ian Ross, the great BBC and Channel 4 industrial correspondent, won an emeritus award for his lifelong services to industrial and business journalism.
He came from a particular generation; the correspondents brought up against a background of union militancy, boom and bust, inflation, oil shocks, steel and pit closures and the rollback of industrial Britain. It was a eventful backdrop against which to report, and Ian Ross was always thoughtful, balanced and professional.
But what was striking, especially as chairman of the judges, is how much more placid the subject matter of business reporting is now – work-life balance or takeovers are the staple diet. As a result the profile of business reporting has inevitably declined – rather a good thing if the byproduct is less turbulence – but a bad thing if the willingness to give it resources and projection has declined as well. And this seems to be the trend. The competition for awards from radio and television was as intense, but while some newspaper writers and columnists cleave to continuing high standards the centre of gravity of newspaper business journalism had declined. The unanimous view of the judges was that there is a drift to less detailed, hard reporting, and an increasing number of features and comment pieces seem to be written under pressure.
I loathe the term “dumbing down” – any article, film or radio report has to be accessible, and critics alleging dumbing down are really criticising techniques to make information more assimilable. What is happening in some parts of business newspaper journalism mirrors trends across the press as a whole. There is less attention to detail and less care to impart fact.
There were great winners in the newspaper category, but we were not able to name a business feature of the year. TV and radio continued to impress, but the worry is the same blight will soon infect them. Next year may be better – but if it is the start of a trend we should worry. Quality business newspaper journalism is something in which we all have a stake.
• Personnel Today’s regular feature writer Stephen Overell was commended in the Newspaper Journalist of the Year category of the Industrial Society awards.