Opinion: Digital giants harmed journalism - Corbyn's right that they should be taxed

Opinion: Digital giants harmed journalism - Corbyn's right that they should be taxed

Thursday, August 23, 2018

talkRADIO's digital editor Thea de Gallier, who was a freelance journalist for three years, explains why digital companies should put money back into the media. These are her views and not talkRADIO's.

Earlier today, former Spiked Online editor Ella Whelan labelled Jeremy Corbyn a ‘hypocrite’ for calling for reforms to the press while his deputy Tom Watson remains buddies with media-gagging advocate Max Mosley.

Admittedly, it’s not a great look for Watson to be keeping such company, but he wasn’t the one making the speech, and nothing that Corbyn said suggested that he wanted to exert such control over the media.

He stressed that, if money was to be taken from tech giants like Facebook and Google, to whose algorithms digital media is at the mercy of, it would be an independent fund, so it can be assumed that he doesn’t want to see tech companies dictating what appears in the press.

He called for the government to have less control over the BBC - something that should surely welcome the vocal Twitter commentators who regularly accuse it of bias - and for investigative journalism bureaux to be given charity status, making them eligible for grants so they can continue exposing wrongdoing, and have the financial ability to do it properly.

None of that sounds like a dastardly plot from a man who wants to control the media’s output.


One in three freelance journalists on benefits

What really resonated with me as a journalist, is his recognition that 24% of journalists earn less than £20,000. That statistic is from 2011, and actually, it’s even bleaker now.

Press Gazette found last year that one in three freelance journalists (from a polled sample of 526) were on state benefits.

Not only does this make it difficult for journalists to chase the stories that matter - they have to go where the money is - it means it’s increasingly becoming a career only accessible to those bankrolled by their parents who can justify being in London on a low wage or unpredictable freelance earnings.

From the inside, bits of the industry seem to be falling away like chunks of ice from a glacier.

Online ad space doesn’t bring in the big bucks - bad news in a world where print titles are closing with alarming regularity. NME and Look’s print editions were canned this year, Glamour’s in 2017. Cosmo, Marie Claire and Men’s Health have all seen their circulations fall.


'Rush to go digital made media unstable'

Then there’s the actual day-to-day life of a journalist. Salaries at the bottom and middle of the industry are often only just enough to live on in London, where much of the industry is based, and freelancers face ever-decreasing rates for their work. Receiving just £100 for a 1,000 word piece, and having that £100 turn up six weeks after it’s due, sounds ridiculous, but that’s the everyday reality, save for a few established titles that pay better.

Some outlets have a ‘payment on publication’ policy, meaning they do their damndest not to pay you if your article - through no fault of your own - isn’t published. Would you ask a plumber to fit you a bathroom, and refuse to pay until you’d taken a shower?

One of the main reasons for such an unstable industry is the rush to go digital, so it’s only fair the companies that have contributed to crippling the industry do something to give it a leg-up.

Providing that fund is truly independent, as Corbyn stated, and the money ends up making journalism a better-paid and stable career where reporters have the financial support to work on agenda-setting stories, it’s a suggestion worth considering when it comes to rescuing modern journalism.