By Lisa Nelson, Journalism Diversity Fund intern
This year’s Society of Editors conference in Belfast took place during one of the most eventful weekends for the media in recent memory.
The timing of the conference, overshadowed by Lord Justice Leveson’s pending report and coupled with the resignation of the BBC director general, prompted Ed Curran, former editor of the Belfast Telegraph, to quip that The Troubles once brought journalists to Belfast, but now the journalists were bringing the troubles to Belfast.
This set of circumstances was something I didn’t anticipate when I was given the opportunity to help at the conference. Apart from the obvious appeal for me of going home to Belfast, it was an opportunity that any student of journalism would be loath to pass up.
As well as getting to grips with how much organisation goes into such an event, it was a chance to sit-in on a series of discussions and debates involving a who’s who of the media industry. Topics covered included generating revenue in the digital age, the growing ‘control culture’ surrounding public bodies and funding investigative journalism.
Lord Hunt of Wirral, PCC Chairman, and the Rt. Hon John Whittingdale MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, also weighed in on the way forward post-Leveson. While Lord Hunt insisted self-regulation of the press had not failed because it has never been tried, Mr Whittingdale, like many in the room, was wary of Lord Leveson making recommendations for statutory regulation.
The Journalism Diversity Fund, of which the Society of Editors is a keen supporter, also got a mention at the conference from NCTJ Chief Executive Joanne Butcher in her speech on maintaining standards in journalism. She said that journalism training shouldn’t be the, “narrow exclusive preserve of an elitist finishing school for the rich and affluent”.
Incoming Society of Editors President Jonathan Grun used his closing address to galvanise members for the year ahead, urging delegates not to tolerate bad behaviour or bad journalism. He also highlighted the most important contribution of a free press, defending the freedom of expression, and insisted a press free from statutory regulation was vital to upholding this fundamental right.
While delegates braced themselves for the conclusions of the Leveson Inquiry, those assembled were clearly not prepared to meekly submit to overzealous statutory reform. The industry may be wounded following recent events but, if the conference showed me anything, it is that journalism is not dead yet.