An extract from Emily Bell's 2015 Hugh Cudlipp lecture. Read the full text here.
I was a tabloid journalist for one day.
This is not the beginning of a Daily Mail confessional but a statement of fact.
I did one shift on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard when I was a student. The highlight of the day, and probably my career, was lunch in the pub with Keith Waterhouse - for the students here looking bemused, in those days lunch in the pub with Keith Waterhouse for a student journalist would be the equivalent today of Taylor Swift liking your tumblr post and sending you a box of biscuits. Despite bonding with Keith and writing a lead item after three gin and tonics, I was sacked. Or rather not asked back. Not it seems for being drunk at my desk, that seemed entirely expected, but for not being posh enough.
I had a posh name, I went to a posh University so they assumed I would be posh - a conduit for the goings on in Eton Square. So before you say what does a Guardian journalist who teaches at an Ivy League university know about tabloid journalism, I just want you to know, I was once a tabloid journalist but not posh enough to make a career out of it….
Tonight I want to talk to you about the ‘Digital Tabloid’.
What is happening to popular journalism on the web. Tabloids always had the biggest reach, the largest impact, the most flexible standards. On the web, however, we are seeing the tabloidisation of everything. I don’t mean this as a negative. Far from it. All news outlets need numbers in the web economy that are vastly greater than they had in an analogue world firstly to make the economics work and secondly to have an impact. The demands of web scale economics have torpedoed the local news model; they have also driven great invention and a new set of entrepreneurial skills into journalism.
But attaining size in the world we are going into means surrendering control to the systems that deliver it. Going viral is a goal in nearly all newsrooms. The protocols and networks that deliver it were never conceived with the idea of journalism in mind.
I think this has brought us to a very interesting and challenging moment in the press and in broader society. The ‘too long didn’t read’ version of this speech is journalism needs a lot more journalists who are technically proficient, and the new gods, the platform companies, social networks and search engines, need to hire a lot more technologists who are proficient in news. Because at the moment we have a situation which is not working for either of us.