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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

digital migration « Previous | |Next »
November 29, 2006

I've just found time to read 2006 Andrew Olle Media Lecture given by Helen Coonan, the Federal Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Minister. A quick scan suggests that it states the obvious and reinforces some media prejudices whilst trying to reach to construct a picture of the new virtual world. She looks at the new through the eyes of the old and replays some old cliches.

In the lecture the Minister talks about digital migrants, those who are living in a world that did not exist when they were born. That is me. Coonan says:

Digital immigrants are, on the whole, outpaced by the hoards of digital natives who do not see technology as technology but as an appendage. It's not technology to the teens – it's routine, it's run-of-the-mill, it's life.They don't marvel about how their mobile or their computer has made their life easier or more convenient – they can barely remember a time when these essentials did not exist.These same 21 year olds are more likely to access their news and opinion online, do research online and shop online. They date online and can even pray online. For advertisers they are fast becoming the 'lost generation'.

Oh well, I am a digital migrant living in a world of digital natives. So what is the significance of my successful migration to the shores of this virtual world?

Coonan says that

The ramifications of this new digital world are particularly relevant for two sectors that have traditionally relied on a static audience that listens to radio, watches TV and reads newspapers – the media industry itself and the political class...We are all grappling with how to remain relevant in the fast paced world of new media.Perhaps none more so than politicians and journalists who are struggling to maintain the foothold into people's minds and homes they once had.I think this is a quandary that should be of keen interest to both your mob and my mob and so an integration plan for digital immigrants is the theme I have chosen tonight.

The minister tells us what we already know. Though the newspaper can still qualify as a cash-cow but the Internet is increasingly providing a more flexible, accessible and targeted platform for advertisers. And with advertisers, comes the resources to support quality journalism.Traditional news organisations have recognised this and are trading off their mastheads as a launchpad for their lucrative online versions.

Okay, as a blogger, I read the online versions and I rarely buy a newspaper apart for work. So what? it's no big deal. Coonan describes the implications:

This metamorphosis from newspapers to online, has of course had significant consequences for traditional journalism. For while many may question the credibility of blogs, citizen journalism is now forming its own newsrooms and editorial policies. And steadily newspapers are moving their best reporters to write for the web in the first instance and then freshen their copy for the print version later.

What does that mean for journalism. How is that connected to blogging? I don't do citizen journalism a la Jay Rosen. Coonan says that we are moving to a new world of journalism, in the traditional sense of the craft:
Journalism will no longer be, as I have heard it put by one, 'a sermon, it will be a conversation'....anyone with a fast broadband connection and a laptop can create a movie or a blog and share it with the world.It is true that credibility, authenticity and quality are important qualifications when it comes to a critical assessment of online material.This is why many of the most popular news and opinion sites are linked to influential and established sources such as newspapers and television stations. But it is equally true that the value of the unedited information on the web is in the eye of the beholder.But are we in danger here of being too dismissive and elitist? Are we, in essence, trying to kill the threat by characterising it as nothing more than a rant by an unknown? And who are we – even if by 'we' I mean established commentators – to do so?
Oh dear. Public opinion is just a rant by an unknown.There I was thinking that I was performing the wartchdog function evacuated by the corporate media. Coonan qualifies her position:
It is clear there may be a way to go for Internet journalism to have the level of authority and credibility that traditional media has, and the respect that experienced journalists rightly command. But provided that professional journalists are afforded opportunities to make serious and considered contributions on the Internet, probability favours the view that the quality of journalism will not be diminished and readership will likely increase.

We amateurs will only gain credibility if the professional journalists blog. What I do diminishes the quality, authority and credibility of journalism? Give me a break. Where does Fox Television fit into this? It's full of rants and partisanship? Moreover, the Minister ought to know that a large amount of what is called journalism these days is little more recycling of her media releases. She makes sure it does by feeding the chooks. How does that kind of media management help democracy?

Coonan concludes on an upbeat note:

As journalism moves to the Internet, democracy can only be enhanced. No longer is debate shaped and limited only by mainstream newsrooms. Surely this is a healthy trend?As the Economist puts it: “The usefulness of the press goes much wider than investigating abuses or even spreading general news; it lies in holding governments to account – trying them in the court of public opinion – the Internet has expanded this court”..

So the court of accountability has broadened. Coonan gets there in the end. But she fails short as she doesn't look at the politics she is part of through the eyes of the best political blogs. How do they see themselves in terms of her world?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:09 PM | | Comments (2)


Gary, I read this and thought about you!

I would suggest that the failing credibility of traditional media is actually due to the blogger's ability to question the same, and perhaps this is the key thing that Coonan fails to see. Traditional media's authority has always been putative rather than actual, and the biggest proponent of the media's honesty has always been the media itself - hence, for example, all the TV ads telling us how that station's TV news is the "source you can trust". It's that whole "trust me, I'm a doctor" thing that an amazing number of people have fallen for.

Bloggers may or may not have more credibility and authority than the "traditional" media, but what they do have is the ability to point out the editorial bias that traditional media likes to pretend (to us) doesn't exist. 100 years of journalism school seems to have taught journalists that the "angle" is more important than the "content" and certain facts get omitted (rather than changed) in support of this. The authority exists, therefore, only because of a lack of alternative sources.

perhaps the most important point here is that with enough bloggers, the audience can make up their mind about a topic without the need for angles. the center of credibility moves away from single-source media and back to the audience, where it really belongs. In this world, the authenticity or credibility of a lone blogger becomes irrelevant.

yes you are right. Looking at the old media from the perspective of the new highlights the way the traditional media is place in question by the best political blogger's. That questioning appeals to the audience's distrust of the biased media that pretends it is not biased.

Again, as you point out the diversity of commentary is what is needed. Let a thousand flowers bloom as the Maoists said.