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
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
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
Matt Peacock is a senior consultant at crisis management consultancy
Regester Larkin and a former radio journalist