The media is not the place it was. There’s the fall in both jobs and salaries... the decline in influence and status... the insecurity surrounding almost every major media brand thanks to digital upheavals.
Brian Hitchens, former Editor of two national newspapers, goes even further. “I feel sorry for journalists today,” he says. “They sit at their desks like battery hens, sipping Evian water and eating half-frozen sandwiches from the vending machine. Many are the product of half-baked courses of journalism and have no news sense and the same goes for their news editors.”
You have to ask why someone smart enough to study at Oxford would want to go into the media today. So I did.
Sarah Poulten is reading English at Keble; News Editor of The Oxford Student, she’s just completed her stint as joint President of the Oxford Media Society.
The Society has managed to attract a stellar cast of speakers, from newspapers, TV networks, radio and advertising, and from editors and writers to TV presenters and publishing executives. One of their most recent alumni visitors was Roger Alton (Exeter, 1966), now Executive Editor of The Times. In the past they’ve attracted speakers like the science writer Ben Goldacre (Magdalen, 1992); the writer and columnist Toby Young (Brasenose, 1983); and broadcaster Libby Purves (St Anne’s, 1968).
The Society’s success demonstrates that there’s enormous interest in contemporary media among current undergraduates. And while Sarah is not necessarily representative of them all, she gave me an interesting snapshot of someone keen to pursue a media career today.
“Initially for many,” she told me, “I think the idealistic external view of a media career still holds. It seems like a dream to get paid to write, potentially on whatever subject you like, to travel and to meet interesting people.”
She’s very aware of the insecurity in today’s media, which most of the Society’s speakers mention. But her take on the opportunities which it offers reflects a generational difference in attitudes.
Digitalisation to her offers “the chance to produce journalism on a range of platforms, using different techniques, skill-sets and voices for print, broadcast and online content”. That’s an exciting prospect which was never open in my day.
And the very things, like financial insecurity and technological competition, which make the media now seem daunting to my generation, offer new avenues of entry for Oxford’s current undergraduates. “These things are potentially making journalism more accessible - interning, blogging and freelancing allow anyone to have a shot at becoming a journalist, and perseverance, innovation and great ideas still pay off.”
Perhaps most reassuring of all, she retains the youthful belief which my own generation held: that journalism can potentially “make a difference”. Some issues which concern her, like questioning politicians, are those of my own day. But others, like transgender issues, or corruption within the media itself, are those of today.
And if that commitment remains, along with that sharper understanding of digital opportunities, within our next round of Oxford graduates, then whatever the technological platform it occupies, there should be a future both for — and in — media.