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

the media is a business « Previous | |Next »
September 30, 2007

In Goodbye to Newspapers? in the New York Review of Books Russell Baker says that it is on the ownership and management side that the gravest problems for mainstreaam newspapers exist. He quotes from a recent speech given by John S. Carroll, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, who states that in the post-corporate phase of ownership:

we have seen a narrowing of the purpose of the newspaper in the eyes of its owner. Under the old local owners, a newspaper's capacity for making money was only part of its value. Today, it is everything. Gone is the notion that a newspaper should lead, that it has an obligation to its community, that it is beholden to the public....
Someday, I suspect, when we look back on these forty years, we will wonder how we allowed the public good to be so deeply subordinated to private gain....What do the current owners want from their newspapers?—the answer could not be simpler: Money. That's it.

Baker says that the Wall Street theory is that profits can be maximized by minimizing the product. The relentless demands for improved stock performance has resulted in a policy of slash-and-burn cost-cutting that has left the media landscape littered with frail, failing newspapers which are increasingly useless to any reader who cares about what is happening in the world, the country, and the local community.

The implication is that the new-style corporate owners are indifferent to, and often puzzled by, their editors and reporters making the traditional argument that journalism's business is to provide a public service by supplying the information the citizenry needs for democracy to work. Maybe this democratic function is more than the press can bear, whilst a lazy Canberra Press Gallery, like its Washington counterparts, has tacitly given up its obligation to keep the public informed without fear or prejudice because of their tendency to defer excessively to political power.

So we have the tendency to repeat the narrative of government as the powerful tell it.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:04 PM | | Comments (7)
Comments

Comments

Gary,
There is a review of Margaret Simons' new book---The Content Makers: Understanding the Media in Australia ---- by Bridget Griffen-Foley in the Australian Book Review.

The latter says that Simons is concerned to distinguish between the content of media and the business of media. For Simons, ‘content’ implies the plastic solider and not the packaging. Her interest is in journalism, drama and any kind of content that ‘really matters’, and the opportunities and risks now confronting content makers.

Rupert Murdoch:

"All newspapers are run to make profits. Full Stop. I don’t run anything for respectability. The moment I do, I hope someone will come and fire me and get me out of the place – because that’s not what newspapers are meant to be about."

Nan,
One of Simon's worries is that mass audiences are declining because journalism is no longer credible and its output no longer useful. She repeats Jay Rosen's argument that the decay of journalism is occurring largely because journalists have lost their connection with the public. Rosen is an advocate of the civic journalism movement--sometimes called public journalism in the US.

Lyn,
The stark contrast to Murdoch is The Guardian----the editor's blog.

Murdoch undermines the Simon/Rosen thesis about the decay of journalism occurring largely because journalists have lost their connection with the public. Murdoch's Australian and his capital city tabloids are deeply connected to the conservative or right of centre electorate that is hostile to the ALP.

However, that doesn't mean that journalists don't need to undergo transformational change so as to develop a set of tools that can help them adopt techniques and ideas more apt for today's digital world.

Gary,
in the sample chapter of his book What Are Journalists For? Jay Rosen quotes from John Dewey's 1927 book, The Public and Its Problems:

The newspaper of the future will have to rethink its relationship to all the institutions that nourish public life, from libraries to universities to cafes. It will have to do more than "cover" these institutions when they happen to make news. It will have to do more than print their advertisements. The newspaper must see that its own health is dependent on the health of dozens of other agencies which pull people out of their private worlds. For the greater the pull of public life, the greater the need for the newspaper. Empty streets are bad for editors, despite the wealth of crime news they may generate. The emptier the streets, the emptier the newspaper will seem to readers barricaded in their private homes....

Every town board session people attend, every public discussion they join, every PTA event, every local political club, every rally, every gathering of citizens for whatever cause is important to the newspaper—not only as something to cover, but as the kind of event that makes news matter to citizens.
That is the roots of civic journalism in terms of the modern public and the public sphere when the public can no longer be assumed to be "out there," more or less intact. Consequently,the job of the press can no longer be one of informing people about what goes on in their name and their midst.

Rosen argues that if journalists are to start to think about their contribution to a healthier democracy, then this line of thinking needs to be connected to the survival of their craft, and they need to ask: 'What does it take to make democracy work and what should be asked of the press? '

This is not really happening in Australia is it? Murdoch rules here--and the Guardian's approach is pushed to the media fringe.


Nan
what I like about Rosen is the way he undercuts the cartoon US debate echoed in Australia that bloggers are the destroyers of the mainstream media.

Rosen distinquishes between bloggers and journalists. He says that journalism is another universe.

Its standard unit is 'the story.' Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned......Bloggers are speakers and writers of their own invention, at large in the public square. They're participating in the great game of influence called public opinion. And they're developing, mostly through labors of love, what I've called an extremely democratic media tool.

He adds that:
Big Journalism frustrates and matters for the same reason: it's an institution, with the machinery set in place for extracting, checking, editing, packaging and distributing news and information over earthly expanse. By maintaining this machinery through time, and disciplining themselves with a code, the big organizations involved create an asset--trust, reliability, credibility, visibility, brand, icon--that is very hard to match or overcome. Blogging is not journalism. When we separate these two things, we honor both.

I couldn't agree more: blogging is not journalism. The public now is no longer that inert thing on the receiving end of the mass media, a as it has been from 1860 till now. If bloggers give rise to different public voices, then weblogs and journalism exist in a shared digital space. Every form of digitized media (photographs, audio recordings, videotape, newspaper and magazine layouts, movies, radio, telephone, and television) flows through the Web into homes and offices. So the Web has become central to journalism and blogging.

If the journalist's authority to monopolize the news is eroding,and they have become Web journalists, then the challenge for the press is to find a form of authority that is more interactive, more transparent, and more open. It is the bloggers who are developing the web as a digitial medium for journalism .

Gary
that lin you provided to the bloggers v journalist debate in the US has some interesting on the public. It is commentary on the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility: Battleground and Common Ground, conference held Harvard in 2005.

Jay Rosen says that:

there has been and there is a power shift going on: from the producers of media to the people formerly known as the audience. That's what I like to call them, because they're not really an audience anymore. And terms like "audience" and "consumer" and "viewer" and "reader"--which have become threaded into journalism--aren't really that accurate for the people on the other end of the process. So there has been a power shift from producers to users, mostly because of the Internet.

As Rebecca MacKinnon points out a digital world where the power of weblogs as a new form of citizens' media means that we are entering an era in which professionals have lost their monopoly over information--not just the reporting of it, but also the framing of what's important for the public to know.