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

beyond newspapers v bloggers « Previous | |Next »
August 2, 2009

Michael Massing in The News About the Internet in the New York Review of Books takes up the issue of the relationship between declining newspapers and emerging internet bloggers. The conventional perspective from the world of the newspapers is a put-down of the Web and the bloggers in that the latter are held to contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth.

Massing points out that:

This image of the Internet as parasite has some foundation. Without the vital news-gathering performed by established institutions, many Web sites would sputter and die. In their sweep and scorn, however, such statements seem as outdated as they are defensive. Over the past few months alone, a remarkable amount of original, exciting, and creative (if also chaotic and maddening) material has appeared on the Internet. The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news. And unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they will hasten their own demise.

Blogging has gone beyond the snip-it-and-comment approach that riffs on the journalism of others while doing no conventional reporting of their own in the sense of gathering, presentation, and delivery of news. The commentary has broadened into a concern with subjects that newspapers are no longer interested in.

Massing is primarily concerned with news and investigative journalism than commentary. So we have the usual US blogosphere mentions, such as Talking Points Memo, ProPublica, FireDogLake, Informed Comment, Mondoweiss, Brad DeLong and Glenn Greenwald to make his case that new ground is being broken by those working in the blogosphere. With respect to the financial crisis he says:

For the most part, though, the coverage of the financial crisis in the daily press has been episodic, diluted, cloaked in qualifiers, and neutered by comments and disclaimers from businessmen and their paid spokesmen, to whom mainstream journalists feel obligated to give equal time.The bloggers I have been reading reject such reflexive attempts at "balance," and it's their willingness to dispense with such conventions that makes the blogosphere a lively and bracing place.

He argues that such initiatives suggest a fundamental change taking place in the world of news. Power is shifting to the individual journalist and away, by degrees, from journalistic institutions; that the emergence of the Internet is loosening the grip of the corporate-owned mass media and that a profound if unsettling process of decentralization and democratization is taking place.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:47 PM | | Comments (16)


re the Broken Hill example. Newspapers, such as the The Age or the Sydney Morning Herald, would give us a tourist travel feature that tells us about he places to see, stay and eat. These pieces written by journalists on a road trip are for us to read as tourists. So they are a tourist guide with some personal reflections.

We should not forget that the newspapers act to protect the interests of their parent companies and this shapes the reportage by the hacks accordingly. The line between large corporate interests and journalism is very thin.

Massing's article in the New York Review of Books is much more thoughtful and informed than the standard establishment journalism piece on this issue routinely dished up in Australia. The latter are largely negative----a mixture of consistent put down and snide demonization---that are really little more than a recycling of anti-blog clichés.

"Power is shifting to the individual journalist and away, by degrees, from journalistic institutions"

this is something I think has been happening for some time, which continues to happen regardless of changes in the way news media gets done on the whole. I think it's safe to anticipate it will continue into the future.

News organisations like to talk about being trusted brands, but I don't think your average news consumer knows who owns whatever news they consume. TV and radio broadcasters already know that the presenter is at least as important as the news stories. Reporters need to be seen to be trustworthy. The same thing goes for the press, as you can see in comments at Megalogenis, Jack the Insider, and Andrew Bolt, in comparison with Shanahan and some of the authors at Unleashed.

The dynamic changes with the shift from assuming power based on circulation and ratings figures, to the qualitative indicators of trust/distrust you see every day in comments. It makes sense for journalists to work on their own 'brand', if only because they can take it with them wherever they go.

The problem at the moment is one where journalists, even those with trusted brands, do not have many places to go.It has surprised me that there is no journalism blog in Australia that is part of the journalism community and is talking about what is happening to journalism. Wired Scribe is the only one that I know of.

The old news paradigm was one in which news was one-way traffic. As Roy Greenslade of The Guardian says:

We conceived it. We gathered it. We published it and broadcast it. It was justification enough that people bought our newspapers or tuned in to our radio and TV channels.

He adds that blogging turns that model on its head.
It allows people to question the information we provide. It allows them to produce their own information. It offers them a space to air their own views. The congregation is no longer in awe of the priests.

That is the starting point of the new paradigm. Adam Tinworth at One Man and His Blog takes it a step further when he says that most media people don't realise that blogging is a community strategy.
They think of it as a publishing process and, perhaps, as articles published with a particular tone of voice. They certainly don't think of it as a conversation.....But, to me, there's no doubt that blogging is all about personal voices interacting with one another, not about personal voices lecturing. And that's something that the media usually misses.

He's right about that.

An interesting interview with Chris Anderson of Wired about the new media landscape. It starts thus:

don't use the word media. I don't use the word news. I don't think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like 'horseless carriage'.

SPIEGEL: Which other words would you use? Anderson responds:
There are no other words. We're in one of those strange eras where the words of the last century don't have meaning. What does news mean to you, when the vast majority of news is created by amateurs? Is news coming from a newspaper, or a news group or a friend? I just cannot come up with a definition for those words. Here at Wired, we stopped using them

Chris Anderson says about the new paradigm:

"In the past, the media was a full-time job. But maybe the media is going to be a part time job. Maybe media won't be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby."

You see the same pattern emerging all over the place, fewer people getting media from traditional sources and more getting it from personal connections or accidental exposure. Plenty of people get all their news through Facebook.

My 15 year old was recently thrilled to learn I had Led Zepplin II on vinyl. He'd been listening to it on his friend's iPod for ages but didn't know what it was. I first heard it when my parents brought it home after hearing about it on the radio at the same time as half of the country. It's a different world.

the community turn or Citizen journalism," blurs the lines between objectivity and subjectivity, paid and unpaid labor, news and opinion. It undercuts the objectivity ethos or convention of the professional "both sides balanced" journalist.

The community turn suggests that the objectivity convention should be replaced by integrity or trust.

Snurb at Gatewatching says that if no easy commercial solutions are available to support the ailing commercial news organisations and prevent the collapse of a number of major newspapers, then this places an increased emphasis on indirectly or directly government-supported news operations, and especially on the public broadcasters (and their online operations). He says:

As the role of public broadcasters becomes ever more central as a result of such tendencies, it must also be noted that their online operations are of particular importance now: with the - possibly permanent - decline of newspapers, online becomes the other key medium for news access, next to the broadcast media. In our submission to the Government’s review of ABC and SBS in late 2008, we have therefore argued in favour of a reconceptualisation of these organisations as public media organisations rather than simply as ‘public broadcasters’. Online must be considered to be of equal importance to broadcast in these organisations, and the two must be tightly integrated.

Online news sites operated by trusted public media organisations such as the ABC and SBS, and under the governance of clear and progressive guidelines for public media and their role in modern society, also provide the best opportunity for citizen involvement in news, opinion, and public affairs.

Even more so if commercial news starts charging for online content.

They cannot charge for the news when is free elsewhere--eg., on the ABC or SBS. So they are going to have to develop quality niche markets --markets where they add value to the Internet and so find a way to make money.

Chris Anderson gives an example:

The Wall Street Journal uses free content to attract large audiences and then convert some of them to paid content. The idea is: Don't charge for the most popular stuff. And never charge for exclusives because if you wall off the exclusives and other people report on your exclusive, they'll get the traffic and you won't. Instead charge for the niche stuff that some people will pay for

Is that finance? sport? holidays? I'm sure News Ltd is exploring these kind of niche markets.

I wonder the same thing Gary. Finance most likely. Putting a wall around sport wouldn't make sense. It's hard to think of anything that isn't freely available anywhere else.

Well, well well Rupert Murdoch says, when unveiling News Corp's 32% profit downturn for the past financial year, that:

We intend to charge for all our news websites. Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting.

He is convinced from the success of The Wall Street Journal's online subscription offering that consumers will pay for news online that differentiates itself from the mass of information available free on the web.

Charging readers to read News Ltd quality journalism---eg speculation that the Liberals are planning to replace Malcolm Turnbull with Andrew Robb--- would ensure that I only read the Fairfax newspapers. And I would not be alone.

The reason for the decline in newspaper revenues from the US, UK and Australia (they dropped 24%) was the plunge in classified advertising (jobs, cars, real estate). These won't come back to levels that they were before the economic crunch started. Therein lies their problem with their business model. Newspapers are no longer the money machines they once were.

Alan Kohler in Business Spectator makes the following observations:

the thing that’s really killing the traditional media is not the fact that online content is competitive and free, as Rupert Murdoch seems to think. After all many of his newspapers – suburbans and commuter rags – are already free, and where they exist cover prices go nowhere near covering the cost of the product.It is the fact that the price of advertising has collapsed.

Kohler goes on to say that:
Murdoch’s real problem is that the balance of power between publishers and advertisers has entirely flipped. Advertisers and their agencies now rule the roost. They refuse to pay more than a tenth or so per unit of what they pay in print, and they demand much better service, such as only paying for actual new customers, not simply for “branding” that can’t be measured. And why shouldn’t they act this way? The publishers have been screwing them for a hundred years, charging outrageous prices to access their treasured audiences. Technology has now turned the tables.
Murdoch's answer to this is to screw his readers.