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Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007: Media moves « Previous | |Next »
July 4, 2007

The 2007 Adelaide Festival of Ideas has a couple of sessions on the media entitled Digital Ink: the Future of Journalism on Friday and Media Malaise on Sunday.

afilogo.jpg The link between the two sessions is liberal democracy. It depends on the media performing a watchdog function and keeping citizens informed of what is happening in the polity. The Murdoch Press, for instance has tossed this tradition aside on the issues such as the war on terror and climate change. It is openly partisan and frames its commentary within the culture wars that treats social liberalism as the enemy within.

Robert Phiddian's program notes for Digital Ink address a key issue in the current changes in the media landscape due to the medium media players (eg., Rural Press, Southern Cross Broadcasting) being taken over by the larger ones (Fairfax, Macquarie Media, News Corp) pursuing new media opportunities with their sizzling cross-media deals. Phiddian rightly says:

The dead tree version of newspapers is not going to go away any time soon ... However, it has long lost its primacy as a source of information on the world and is no longer even the dominant forum for the digestion of the information into opinion. As the economics of newspapers (and of TV broadcasting in due course) weaken, the way ‘good journalism’ has been funded in the past comes under pressure. Does digital technology provide alternative ways of performing this function that are as good as or even better than traditional print journalism? Or has something that has been socially and politically useful for at least the last century withering?

I presume that ''good traditional print journalism" here means the truth telling investigative journalism of the media acting as watchdogs for democracy.

Well, that is fast disappearing with the rise of infotainment (video entertainment as the key to online businesses). Hence the turn to digital media. This looks promising as some political blogs do perform a critical function on some public issues. So how will they grow?

Phiddian acknowledges that some parts of the blogosphere permit deeper, more expert, and less ‘spun’ analysis than often occurs in the traditional media. But, he add, two concerns nag:

*Some digital commentary is good but a very great deal is ratty and ‘interested’. The conventions for locating the authoritative material if you are relatively uniformed on a particular topic are not at all clear.
*What is the business model for maintaining good deliberative analysis on the web for when newspapers and media organizations have laid off all their journalists and replaced them with ‘bots’ crawling automatically
through digitally available media releases?
In other words, is there a future for journalism in something like the form we have known it?

What we have at the moment is a hostile relationship between the blogs and the establishment media:---the establishment media's hostility towards bloggers is quite marked, and the former's endless reliance on caricature to belittle and demonize blogs. The scorn is obvious: you cannot trust bloggers ; they are not objective, they are merely uninformed opinions, they are a bunch of reckless amateurs etc. etc.

This "critique", which purports to be motivated by a genuine concern over journalistic ethics and responsibility, is made by those who steadfastly ignore their own breaches of said ethics and professional responsibility. The overwhelming sentiment towards the work of bloggers from the partisan media figures is to ignore them, in order to relegate the political blogs to the "unserious" fringes of the media.

My judgement is that much of the establishment media's hostility towards blogs is grounded in the role blogs play in scrutinizing their conduct and offering an alternative to replace the opinion-making monopoly the mainstream media held previously. The anti-blogger hostility comes from bloggers shining a light on the corruption (eg., the drip feed) in the journalistic profession which previously remained in the dark, and by the blogs increasingly rendering what the opinion forming journalists do as less important. The blogger's critique of the establishment media is grounded in a desire for less spin and drop feed and more independent journalism and commentary.

Despite the constraints of a small market blogs are now able to stand on their own two feet in the media world and they are developing and debating different ideas, narratives, and viewpoints from the increasingly corrupted public discourse of a partisan corporate media.

Jack Waterford in the Canberra Times addresses Phiddian's second point in a more realistic way than the use of bots:

The ultimate nightmare of the reporter in this technological age is of the day when she is sent to cover a matter of public importance to discover that she is expected to file something immediate for her newspaper's website, then do some breathy radio for the company's radio station, a stand-up, from a laptop, for the company's television network, a series of updates through the afternoon for all of the above, then a thoughtful and considered piece of analysis for the company newspaper that evening. Probably with some digital photos of the action.

Is it a nightmare?

Phiddian's blurb for Media Malaise or Agitators at work is based around the saying attributed to Voltaire that though 'I disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it’, and he points out that the proverb:

is a crucial principle of liberal institutions. It is a principle under pressure in the command and control world of modern government and corporations. Tell us how and why to resist the pressures.Nevertheless, you may also wish to consider the human cost of agitation, both to the agitators and to those who sincerely support the status quo being undermined (none of us cares about the cost to those who corruptly benefit from controlling dissent, I presume). It is easy wax sanctimonious about the ills and idiocies of the world, but harder to be clear-minded and charitable in seeking to address them.

Agitators need independent media (eg., Tasmanian Times, and National Indigenous Times) for their voice to be heard given the increasing concentration of the media in the capital cities.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:02 AM | | Comments (1)