Platform: Why broadcast’s youth factor is bad news for PR - As broadcast journalists become younger, PR people will have to work harder to make up for their inadequacies, says Matt Peacock

Beneath the familiar landscape of broadcast journalism in Britain there are enormous seismic forces at work. A few years from now that landscape will be altered beyond recognition, alien and hostile to all those concerned with protecting corporate reputation who fail to anticipate its upheaval.

Beneath the familiar landscape of broadcast journalism in Britain

there are enormous seismic forces at work. A few years from now that

landscape will be altered beyond recognition, alien and hostile to all

those concerned with protecting corporate reputation who fail to

anticipate its upheaval.



Some of the predicted changes are widely understood. Digital radio has

already been launched, digital TV is imminent, and the internet is

becoming a broadcast medium in its own right. The digital revolution

will undoubtedly bring many benefits to PR professionals - at least to

those with the technological skills.



But the explosive growth in new radio and TV channels has a bleaker

side, one which I believe few have yet understood. Instead of wondering

which technology will drive the broadcast newsroom of the future, we

should be considering something far more important - who will be working

there?



When I entered broadcast journalism a decade ago, several of my senior

colleagues were in their early to mid-50s. These were not senior

managers, nor distinguished on-air talent. They were the chief engineers

in the engine room of broadcast news, and their collective knowledge

guided - not to say moderated - their younger colleagues’ response to

each news story.



A few years later most of these veterans had left, dismayed by the

direction of the broadcast news industry, to be succeeded by men and

women in their mid- to late-40s. In turn, they too found themselves

weary of the pace of change, giving way to a handful of senior

journalists in their early to mid-40s. An unwritten formula emerged,

whereby each expansion in the broadcast news industry triggered a

reduction in the mean age and experience of those working within it.



When I left the profession last year, the threshold was approaching the

late-30s and sinking. I know of an alarmingly large number of radio and

TV journalists in their early-30s who expect to leave the industry

within the next half decade. At this rate, a broadcast news journalist’s

career will be as brief as that of a professional footballer.



The new digital services, each with a minuscule audience and consequent

wafer-thin profit margin, will have great difficulty paying a living

wage to anyone other than the most desperately ambitious recent

graduate. Nor will the public sector be immune to these changes. Last

year the Irish state broadcaster RTE set up its first all-digital

newsroom to supply its Gaelic language service. The average age of the

staff it recruited was 23. Some were too young to hold driving

licences.



So where will this new generation of early-20s journalists find their

wily old newsroom lags, able to put a breaking news story in context, to

distil fact from rumour and filter out last-minute misunderstandings in

the rush to get on air? The answer is that, by and large, they will not

be there. I believe this could pose serious problems for many in PR.



If every food scare, oil spill, air crash or consumer boycott is

reported with no background knowledge or sense of historical perspective

- beyond at best a quick trip to the cuttings library - the task of the

PR professional will become immeasurably more difficult.



Fulfilling that task will require an ability to work at the same pace as

these new broadcast journalists, emulating their techniques and using

their technology to pour information into the knowledge void. In short,

to inherit the role vacated by those wise and cautious veterans of

newsrooms past.



Matt Peacock is a senior consultant at crisis management consultancy

Regester Larkin and a former radio journalist



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