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Blog from the WorkWorlds Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Alex Brummer

Authors: The Work Foundation Alex Brummer

19 January 2011

It is with mixed feelings that one picks up a lifetime award.

After all, one would like to think that older (not elderly) journalists go on forever. Indeed, energy levels still seem strong and the keyboard is always busy. I am currently working on a new book Britain for Sale to be published by Random House before the end of 2011 and my last effort The Great Pensions Robbery is just coming out in paperback with some additions.

The good thing about 37-years or so on national newspapers is that one has perspective. My coverage of the ‘great panic’ and the ‘great recession’ on the Mail was very much coloured by my experiences of the 1970s, by Competition and Credit Control – Tony Barber’s ill-fated economic revolution and by the collapse of the secondary banks.

Watching a dozen or so small banks collapse into the sea and the official response was a great learning curve for a young journalist on The Guardian in the 1970s, and incidentally, it won me my first award. What was really useful was the accounting training picked up at business school which sent me straight to the notes to the accounts where all the sins are buried.

The other lesson of this period was to better understand the role of the Bank of England as the ‘lender of the last resort.’

One of the results of Gordon Brown’s changes of the regulatory architecture in 1997 was the Bank lost its traditional market role and became a monetary institute modelled on the old Bundesbank. So when Northern Rock came along for help in August 2007, Mervyn King was like a deer caught in the headlights and tied himself up in legal knots.

Fortunately, by the time of the far more serious Lehman meltdown in 2008, he had learnt the lessons and interestingly becoming hugely suspicious of the bankers.

One of the difficulties for the younger reporters covering the 2007-2010 period is that they had never before lived through recession. It was hard to accept that the super heroes of the golden age of finance - Sir Fred Goodwin, Andy Hornby and the like had clay feet. The reporting of the recession, however, has been very strong with people taking the trouble to get out into the hinterlands of the country to test the mood in industry. The real difference between the recent recession and those of the past is the way employers and employees adapted their work patterns, a point well picked up by The Work Foundation winner from BBC News, Emma Simpson.

There is a view, which was kind of endorsed by Will Hutton last night at the awards ceremony, that the print media is in a downward spiral. I would disagree. In much the same way as it adapted in the 1980s and 1990s when the grip of Spanish practices changed the economics of newspapers, the same kind of transition is happening now.

It looks to me as if the major news groups are learning to live with the digital age. In the US, Atlantic magazine, which was a huge loss maker, is back in the black as a result of its digital offering. The Guardian’s great leap forward is still the internet as it is at the Daily Mail – where the paper is reconquering America after years of UK focus. The new third and fourth generation mobile devices from the hand held Blackberry to the iPad offer great new income opportunities and the media is taking them up.

This should be a great plus for the post-graduates currently emerging from programmes at Cardiff, City, Lancaster and other universities.

Alex Brummer is City Editor at the Daily Mail.