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Too soon for an obituary

“Reuters is dead.” Hyperbole in the extreme, surely. When the writer of those contentious words is someone who once commanded high office in the organisation, who was instrumental in making it an Internet powerhouse, and who helped over two decades to burnish the Reuters brand, the thought behind the assertion requires close examination.

The author is Andrew Nibley, hired as a correspondent in Washington more than 30 years ago, later a senior editorial executive in London and New York, and president of Reuters’ new media and television enterprises. Now CEO of a digital publishing corporation in the United States, he keeps in touch with colleagues from his Reuters years and still takes an interest in the state of the organisation, as do many others (they number in the thousands) who are proud to boast they once worked for the Baron.

Following recent high-profile departures from the Washington bureau, from New York, from London and elsewhere, he writes [Departures]: “I’m not sure what Thomson is trying to accomplish with its current purge of any Reuter journalist who has shown more than a decade or two of loyalty to the company, but it is creating a vibrant marketplace where highly competent and experienced reporters and editors are up for grabs.”

don't write Reuters' obituary just yet. Reuters is not dead

What is to be made of this forced and unexplained exodus? That so many long-experienced  people have been let go in short order is a matter of fact and inevitably invites speculation. Perhaps they no longer fit the image of what Thomson Reuters wants for its news business. Or maybe they are thought to be blocking career paths of the large intake of editors and writers who have joined over the last year or two from outside news agency journalism. At any event, the absence of any expressed rationale for the haemorrhaging of so much distinguished talent is bound to encourage conjecture.

But don’t write Reuters’ obituary just yet. Reuters is not dead. True, the old, pre-merger Reuters has gone. Some might argue its demise was inevitable in an era of free-for-all, cut-and-paste, anything-goes “citizen journalism” in which anyone with a smartphone can build a social media fan-base by posting a blizzard of snap-like snippits of information about anything at all. They pay little regard to relevance or the immutable editorial principles of accuracy and impartiality that made Reuters the great news organisation it became. Grown-up news organisations check and measure relentlessly against those tried and tested editorial principles.

So, the news business is no longer what it once was and, to the old guard at least, the new Reuters looks and feels strange, fashioned as it now is by people who owe nothing to traditional wire service journalism.

Whether Reuters is in the right shape and healthy enough to thrive in this new media world remains to be seen. What’s certain is that many of the thousands of Reuters people past and present who take an interest in the health of the organisation will be watching and hoping it pulls through, as will The Baron. ■