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David Montgomery’s ‘robot’ journalism will terminate both jobs and local news
Hello there all you journalists in the "twilight world" of subeditors and reporters stuck in "medieval" times. What a bunch of losers you must be. Perhaps you should follow the example of one-time sub David Montgomery and, instead of making all those unnecessary corrections, reinvent yourself as a media mogul hellbent on destroying journalists' jobs and putting paid to empires such as Trinity Mirror and Mecom.
After all, what's the point of labouring over shorthand and media law and then going outside the office to meet your readers and getting an exclusive story? Why not sit at your computer on an industrial estate and become a human interface content harvester. Because that's the future according to Monty (or "Rommel" as his former colleagues called him, because Monty was on our side).
As he told MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee earlier this week: "We have to be truly digital, so that in three or four years from now, much of our human interface will have disappeared. We will have to harvest content and publish it without human interface, which will change the role of journalists. Journalists collecting stories one by one is hugely unproductive. They will have to have new skills, greater responsibility for self-publishing on different platforms." The words of a man whose speeches clearly need a good sub.
When Montgomery became chairman of Local World, which owns more than 100 local paper titles created by the merger of the Northcliffe regional newspaper group and Iliffe News & Media, he said the "modern editor" would be the manager of content, disseminating on the platforms of print, online and mobile.
He said: "It's about getting people to organise themselves sufficiently to manage the amount of content a local publisher exploits. Not a two-fold increase but a 20-fold increase in the amount of content a local publisher exploits."
It's not surprising then that journalists will no longer have time to be involved in that medieval model of going to council or planning meetings or having a cup of tea with a local whistleblower. So last epoch!
Amid the management-speak, Montgomery's vision is a chilling one. Does he really have so little inkling that it is high-quality journalism and top-quality writing that is the key to successful newspapers and websites? His thinking is sadly not unique; it is a pattern we are already seeing. Journalists are being reduced to pouring words – sorry content – into pre-determined grids, with the danger of turning newspapers into open sewers.
The National Union of Journalists is supporting members on regional papers who are struggling to the best job they can, on low wages, with a minimal staff. They care desperately about producing good local news and serving their communities – but there isn't a slot for that on Montgomery's balance sheet.
Readers are not stupid. They can tell when their newspaper is being produced from a different county – and in some cases country. They can tell when they are served up rehashed, reconstituted fare. They feel robbed when they can no longer speak to the local reporter on their patch and when their voices go unheard.
Steve Aukland, Local World's chief executive, may have stepped in to "clarify" Montgomery's robot model of journalism: but Montgomery means what he said and this puts British journalism in a very dangerous place.
Michelle Stanistreet is NUJ general secretary