David Levy
Dr David Levy speaking at last night's RISJ book launch in London. Photo: RISJ

Job losses in journalism are not always a crisis for democracy, the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said at the launch of a new publication last night.

Speaking at the launch of the institute's new publication 'The Changing Business of Journalism and Its Implications for Democracy', Dr David Levy said it was important to understand when an industry is in crisis and then be clear about policy focus.

The book, which looks at recent developments in the news media across seven countries, outlines the issues facing different countries and challenges common assumptions, such as the impact of the rise of the internet on the industry.

Levy said it was important to focus on what was trying to be achieved and gain an international perspective to the issues, rather than focusing on job losses alone.

"While these clearly represent very bad news for the journalists involved, we can’t assume there is a direct link between every job loss and a diminution in the democratic functions of news," he told Journalism.co.uk.

"Instead, if we argue that journalism matters because of its democratic function we need to assess the current changes through their impact on that democratic function, more than the personal impact of job losses per se.

"After all, many industries go through painful transformations but the policy arguments for special treatment of this industry in general rely on the special democratic functions of journalism."

During his speech to the forum, Levy said while the loss of jobs in journalism is "painful" in some cases it is not necessarily a "crisis for democracy".

"If we do intervene we need to be clear about the focus. In my view if we intervene in this sector rather than others then it's because of the democratic functions of journalism rather than simply preserving jobs for journalists.

"While job losses in journalism are painful we must not assume that all of them reduce the power of journalism to deliver on its public policy goals. 

"If there were 20 per cent fewer journalists at the Prime Minister's press conference I'd argue that's not a crisis of democracy."

"Not every reduction means an incremental piece of damage done to journalism," he added.

"We need to be very clear if we're going to intervene, to 'save journalism', we need to be very clear about what it is we're saving and why. My view is it's the journalism that serves democracy, thats not all journalism."

Also speaking at the launch, the institute's new director of research Robert Picard said while the industry was not going to "dry up overnight" there is good reason to be concerned.

He added that people must appreciate that the industry is in a "continuation of decline".

"We must not confuse short term economic developments with the fundamental long term trends that are transforming media, those we should be worrying about.

"The reality is that because of their [past] wealth news organisations created large structures and complicated financial arrangements. They will not be able to sustain those in the future as the revenues will not be there. This is where we have to become concerned in looking at news and news provision.

"They have to become smaller and more agile, and much more focused on news than they have been."

Hear more from the publication's editors and panel members at the launch event in Journalism.co.uk's #Jpod.

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