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Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007: Digital Ink « Previous | |Next »
July 7, 2007

This session of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on the future of journalism took place in the Bonython Hall. Kerryn Goldsworthy attended the same session. I previously explored some of the ideas in the Media Moves post, which was from a blogger's relationship to the corporate media.

The session was chaired by Sarah Warhaft, the editor of The Monthly, which was launched at the last Festival of Ideas. Warhaft, to my surprise, is definitely old school print journalism, as are Ryan and Wheen. All loved newspapers dearly, and though they mentioned reading blogs and finding them useful, they did not critically think about their significance in terms of the development of the media or journalism in relation to democracy. What was clear from the talk was the identity crisis being experienced by journalism and their retreat into old style journalism.

Journalism was defined as print journalism (there were no TV journalists on the panel), which was then tacitly interpreted as high quality investigative journalism in the mainstream broadsheet media. This gold standard was the criterion to evaluate the changes in the media landscape. No mention was made of the bad journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery who do not read books, have no knowledge of public policy (nor are they remotely interested), never venture beyond writing about the surface party political conflicts and are indifferent, if not hostile to the world of ideas, and rely on the drip feed and planted leaks.

The gold standard as the normal meant that a narrative of decline was presented as a result of the internet and the digital age by people who lamented the passing of good old days of journalism and professionalism.

Collen Ryan argued that the business case of the narrative---the old economic model that underpinned mass circulation newspapers has been destroyed by the shift of the classified advertising to the web, and the minimal cash flow from online advertising no matter how many clicks. Newspapers are in decline and that means they cannot afford to support the expensive investigative journalism.

Ryan said that one solution is the New York Times option charge a realistic price of the product (subscription) and increase the quality of the product with opinion, good writing and good information. The Australian Financial Review is attempting this though unsuccessfully. The other option is Murdoch's global strategy across all platforms by leveraging off the journalist and owning the cannibalizer (Youtube).

Francis Wheen distinguished between newspapers (dying as the younger generation turns away) and journalism. He argued that the decline of investigative journalism predated the digital age, as it is the shift to entertainment that downgrades reportage and investigation which are seen as too expensive and unable to life circulation. The implication was that good journalism could survive in other mediums.

Thankfully, Paul Chadwick was the dissenting voice on the panel and he, more than the others, linked the media to democracy. He agreed with Ryan that the old economic model had been shaken and new one had ye to develop. He then gave the internet substance in terms of a new transparency that is imposed on the old media by the new media and bloggers.

He did so by taking a historical approach. He sketched the history of print and pointed to the similarities in the stages with the new digital media. Newspapers started out as rough pamphleteers (blogs); struggled for legal acceptance ( ; developed a market model (Google are working through that) ; depended on mass literacy (visual or ipod literacy); technology (telegraph, printing presses, trucks) drove development ( portable computers wierless, ipods); collaborated with public relations and spin (Drudge) ; developed watchdog truth to power with the Pentagon papers (???) and distrust between journalists and audience (that is expressed by blogs).

What we can infer from this, Chadwick argued, is that the Internet places the tools of disclosure in the hands of everybody. The bloggers have digital skills that sift and order information that is dumped on the net by government to overwhelm the public on an issue and to evade accountability. What bloggers do is a textual analysis and deconstruct public documents (and op-eds in the mainstream media). So we have the formation of a critical discourse--- a counter discourse to the Murdoch style cross media ownership which closes things down.

Chadwick argued that bloggers use the skill of journalism to dissect journalism (their secret sources said in the spin and publicity column) and the journalists have lost their monopoly on selecting the key themes from a complex flow of information and then publishing it.

Journalists and the old print magazines are now running interference (denial, confusing the issue; bullying bloggers who tell the truth etc).

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:48 PM |