On journalism's past, present and possible futures: Notes from PINF's newest trustee
Alison Gow, PINF's newest board member, reflects on the evolution of journalism since she started her career in newsrooms, discusses trends that make her optimistic and those that concern her, and looks ahead to the work she's excited to support PINF in carrying out as a trustee.
Photo Courtesy of Alison Gow.
Among the incredibly sweeping changes in Journalism in the 30 years since I first walked into a newsroom, one of the most significant shifts is the rise of independent media.
Starting out on my hometown newspaper (arrived for work experience, stayed for the next 12 months), the only journalists I knew who worked outside of a mainstream newsroom were freelancers selling to larger publishers.
Today's thriving networks of independent journalists and newsrooms would have been practically impossible in the days of hot metal and news print - running a press was an expensive business - and this digital democratisation of Journalism is something to celebrate.
In my career I've worked for various news brands across England and Wales but the past two decades have been spent with Reach plc (formerly Trinity Mirror) working in the Liverpool, Cardiff and North Wales newsrooms in various news editor/deputy editor/ editor roles. In 2020 I became an audience and content director for Reach, initially for the North West region and then for Audio and Video across the company. However, last March I decided to step away and take some time to think about my future direction.
As a young reporter covering my local communities I learned the importance of accountability and working in a responsible, accurate and reader-focused manner - not least because people could (and would) arrive at my desk to remonstrate if I didn’t. There was rivalry with the other local newspapers but also opportunities for sensible collaboration, like splitting a busy court list or starting door knocks at opposite ends of a long street.
Those learnings - accountability and collaboration - have stayed with me through my career, along with the need to protect and find ways of ensuring public interest news finds its own space.
That's why I am so excited to be part of PINF's solution-focused approach to promoting public interest news and the organisations and individuals who work so passionately in support of it.
When completing an MA in journalism leadership in 2010 I looked at the shift in editorial leader competencies in respect to the digital culture change, and spoke to editors in mainstream and the burgeoning independent sector; it was striking how many common challenges and opportunities there were.
I’m fascinated by intersections of tech, Journalism, audience engagement and information transparency, and I'd like media literacy and awareness of the role news plays in democratic processes to be a standard and considered part of all school curriculums; the ability to critically question information and assess mis/disinformation is so important.
I am concerned about news deserts, news avoidance and audience fatigue, the retreat by some social platforms from serving news content to users, and the overwhelming noise of content masquerading as news.
But I'm pretty optimistic about the opportunities presented by AI (especially generative AI) although it needs to be closely connected to transparency and accountability. Ultimately the advance of AI could and should be a great tool for journalists.
In my career I've been a reporter, a news editor, an editor, and an editorial director, and President of the Society of Editors. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with and learn from journalists, academics and media figures across all aspects of the industry over the years, and one of the most enriching experiences being part of the consortium steering group of News Futures 2035, a foresight project into public-interest news in the UK, where I met Jonathan and became more familiar with the work of the Public Interest News Foundation.
I was so impressed by PINF’s ethos and achievements, and I am absolutely delighted to have been invited to support the work through becoming a trustee.