The technological revolution will never eclipse the need for good journalists and consumers will always be happy to pay for quality content, according to the head of one of the world’s biggest news organisations.
John Ryley, who has been head of Sky News for the past four years, said there was no substitute for quality reporters at the “coal-face” and that demand for trusted news sources was as strong as ever, although the ways in which it has been delivered may have changed.
Mr Ryley, speaking ahead of delivering the annual Baird Lecture at University of Birmingham to the Midlands branch of the Royal Television Society (RTS), was responsible for helping to deliver the candidates’ debate at last year’s General Election and is now leading the charge for allowing television cameras into courtrooms.
As far as he is concerned, news organisations must innovate or fade away, and he is under no illusion about the challenges the industry faces, particularly given the mass of information that is freely available as news providers strive to stay profitable.
He said: “The pay versus free debate is one every news organisation has to consider and there is no right or wrong answer.
“I firmly believe that premium content should be paid for – like Sky News for iPad or Sky News HD – and trusted news brands who employ the very best journalists and commentators have a loyal following.
“Consumers rarely rely on just one news outlet anymore and often they choose a mixture of paid for and free outlets. I think paid for and free content can sit happily side by side.”
As to whether technology and journalism can coexist, Mr Ryley is unequivocal in believing they can but remains convinced good journalism will always rely on real human input at the ‘coal face’.
“They can certainly coexist happily and technology is most definitely an asset to journalism,” he said.
“I firmly believe that front-line journalism can never be replaced and having a reporter live on the ground in the midst of the action is the best way to bring the latest news to viewers across the world. What technology can do is make that process easier.
“Mark Stone brought the London riots to our viewers via his iPhone, and Alex Crawford’s trip into Tripoli on the back of a rebel truck was enabled by a camera plugged into a cigarette lighter.
"Technology should never be underestimated, but live reports by a human being in the thick of it are what make journalism.”
Asked whether he feels there is a danger that news coverage might become increasingly patchy given the climate of media cuts, Mr Ryley remained optimistic.
“Good old-fashioned journalism is still very much present in our society and I don’t see any shortage of scoops and investigative journalism,” he said.
“Despite what has happened over the past few months, I genuinely believe that journalism can be a force for good in this country and am sure that will continue for decades to come.”
A passionate believer in transparency, Mr Ryley believes allowing television cameras into courtrooms can only be a good thing and will help bring a rather old-fashioned aspect of British life bang up to date.
He said: “Quite simply I believe justice should be seen to be done and currently the only branch of our democratic system which broadcasting has not penetrated is the courts. Our judicial system is a complex one and I believe allowing cameras into court rooms will shed light on how the system works and how the sentencing of criminals is reached.
“Members of the public are allowed to enter a court and watch proceedings so why should we not bring it to them via television making it accessible to everyone?
"As rioters looted high streets in August and MPs were prosecuted for fiddling their expenses earlier in the year, it seems only right to have a transparent system that allows the public to see the outcome of their criminal behaviour.”
Mr Ryley also helped pioneer the televised party leader debates in the last general election.
He said “It led to the public feeling more informed and engaged in the political process, particularly in the 18-25 age group. It certainly offered the public more transparency but I fear the public might still be disaffected by some politicians.”
* The Baird Lecture takes place at 7pm on Wednesday November 30. Admission is free but anyone wishing to attend needs to register in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.