I recently had a phone call from a wealthy philanthropist about opportunities for people to switch careers who asked if we could set up a news agency run by Thai prostitutes.
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
It’s not because they are Thai prostitutes, but because journalism is something that you can’t just get from a few weeks of a retraining programme.
First, it takes the right mindset, stubborn, quick-thinking hunters who don’t much like being told what to do. Then it takes years not just to learn how to do it, but also to understand the why – something which is often missing in modern on-the-job training.
But even if you have a group of people that know how to write and they can do most of the jobs related to creating a news item, it doesn’t help, because a newsroom is a community that needs to know each other, and in knowing each other, they need to be able to trust each other’s skills, which takes time.
They don’t need to have the same opinion, in fact, the heat created when opposites collide is much healthier in a newsroom because it ensures balance in the content.
But they need to be able to depend on each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses so they can help, or get help, when needed.
A sub-editor, which is the person that edits the final copy in the UK, will know which failings each writer has, a news editor will know who to assign a certain story for the best result, and so on.
I realise that Thai prostitutes is an extreme example, and in fact, if they all did internships and then worked together for a few years, they would have as much chance as anyone else of creating great content.
But that’s exactly the problem with most start-up ideas. If they don’t have much money, they just put people together and tell them to write. That doesn’t work.
If there is a lot of money, highly qualified people come together and you would think it would work. Yet that’s even less likely to work.
Everybody will have a different idea of what the style guide is, what a code of conduct is, what rules are acceptable, and if you take a global editorial team, everyone would have learned different rules and legal practices, which confuses it even more.
If anybody is starting up an editorial project no matter how qualified they are, if they do not have a newsroom that has worked together for years, they will have a problem.
It will cost twice as much, everything that is written twice the risk, and even then, it won’t have the strength of an established newsroom.
If you have one person in the team, who can do each of those things in the process of creating a story to perfection, at the end of the day, you have a perfect story.
To be a journalist takes years. To build a media entity around a newsroom takes even longer, and that is why every single lost media outlet is a tragedy for the profession, for the business, and ultimately for society.