John Ryley's keynote speech at the MHP Young Journalist Awards

Thursday 26 May 2022

May 25th 2022

Head of Sky News, John Ryley, gave the keynote address at the annual MHP 30 to Watch Young Journalist Awards in London.

“Speaking as what might politely be described as an elder of the journalism industry, there are few opportunities more rewarding than to address what can completely accurately be described as the future of that industry.

The most important thing for me to say is that I am resoundingly optimistic.

And I believe that my optimism is not blind but rather the reflection of a clear-eyed view of the state of British journalism today and its potential for tomorrow.

When you get to my age the tendency is to look back at decades past and to develop a rose-tinted reminiscence of a better bygone age.

So, it was when I first walked into the Invicta Radio newsroom in 1984 armed only with a Classics degree that enabled me to count backwards from 1000 in Latin, a skill that proved less than invaluable when scouring the mean streets of Kent for Red Hot Breaking News.

The older reporters in the newsroom were convinced that the best days of the world’s second or third oldest profession had died out sometime in the 1970s, together with their tailors.

As I moved through some of the greatest newsrooms in the world, from the BBC in the late 1980s to ITV News in the 1990s and finally to Sky News, the refrain remained the same.

Our best days are well and truly behind us.

But in many ways Sky News was born exactly because of a belief that the best days of journalism lay ahead as long as the industry was ready to adapt, innovate and stimulate.

Because the truth is that if we are ever to talk about the golden age of journalism, we should be absolutely clear about something:

The golden age of journalism is always ahead of us.

It is what we are all working towards, not moving away from.

And what makes me most optimistic is you.

I look forward to hearing the stories of our winners tonight, of the stories broken, the investigations worked on through endless late nights via false starts and refusals to comment.

With what I already know about the dedication and resilience, and sheer hard work that has brought you all here this evening, how could I not think that the industry is headed towards a glorious future.

I am optimistic because of how you have embraced and mastered technology in your storytelling.

The reality is that more than at any other moment in our history accurate, impartial and innovative journalists have the best possible tools available to them to report and analyse the news and then bring that news to a broad and engaged audience across numerous channels.

My generation tends to fear this opportunity or to misunderstand it.

Yours…must not.

We have all of the tools that we need.

And yet being clear-eyed means being able to see the problems in our industry and the frustratingly sub-glacial pace of change in addressing those problems.

Our newsrooms do not reflect the society on which they report.

Our newsrooms tend to be too white, too middle class, and just too similar.

I can assure you that this is not me trying to sound woke.

It is a problem that fundamentally affects the very nature of reporting.

It is hard to believe that the Brexit vote was six years ago.

But the passing of time has only served to underline what a seismic moment it was for the country.

Swathes of our current public debate still stem from the repercussions of that moment.

And at that time, British journalism underperformed.

Because our newsrooms were shocked.

They were not populated, as they may have been in earlier times, by people from all walks of life.

Even one generation earlier, newsrooms would have had more working-class journalists.

But by and large they would have been white.

Successful newsrooms need to understand, represent and reflect their audiences and what those audiences are thinking.

Otherwise, when it matters, they fail.

The NCTJ’s Diversity In Journalism report suggests the industry is crawling along in the right direction about as fast as a tectonic plate.

But still 90 per cent of editors are white.

90 per cent of journalists have a degree or equivalent.

It is clear that so much more needs to be done.

I hope that you all, as the future of the industry, will make it a personal mission, no matter where you work, to do all that you can to champion social mobility.

I am optimistic.

It is hard not to be when I see how many of you in the room tonight buck the stereotype that I have described.

The golden age of journalism is ahead of us.

And I wish you all the very best of luck as you take us there.

Thank you.”