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

journalism + new media « Previous | |Next »
November 9, 2009

Derek Barry has a couple of posts on the new media, journalism as a critical public good and the Woolly Days weblog. It moves away from the old meme of the new media is bad, and journalism is dead "debate" that has gone for several years in Australia. Most of the spin aims to further the divide between old journalism and new media in order to shore up the journalist supremacy of the old media.

In his latest post Barry states:

With Murdoch-led paywalls on their way, it is crucial that ABC journalists have the right tools available to them to provide a useful free-to-net alternative for those unable (or unwilling) to afford to buy their news. .... social media, blogs and user-generated content are not replacing journalism, but they are creating an important extra layer of information and opinion. Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and provide a filtered view.

I concur with the layers account, but I'm not sure that the pay walls scenario is just about buying news. It is more corporate media's shift away from accountability journalism because the ad-supported newspapers can no longer afford the public good of accountability journalism. Hence the importance of public media and the creative commons.

As Clay Shirkey says in talk at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University:

What the Internet does is it makes all commercial models of journalism harder to sustain — not impossible, but harder. And it makes public models easier to sustain — partly because of the lowered cost, partly because of the [inaudible]. And it makes social models much, much easier. So we’re seeing, I believe, a rebalancing of the landscape in terms of the logic of the creation of public goods away from a market dominated by commercial interest into a market where all three of these modes of production are going to be operating side by side in different ways.

It is less a question of replacing newspapers than ensuring the continuation of accountability journalism in the new mediascape, given the decline in this kind of journalism.

Barry's understanding of this new mediascape in formation is that the old battle between old and new media is misplaced in that the blogging publishing platform and Twitter are becoming of new mediascape. Referring to the Media140 Sydney conference he says:

the battles that dominated the backchannels this week reminded me of similar warfare waged two years ago. In September 2007 I attended the first (and to my knowledge, still only,) Australian Blogging Conference in Brisbane. Much of that conference focused on blogs and political reportage. Bloggers and academics lined up on one side of the argument describing how blogs were a crucial part of the public sphere. On the other side professional journalists reminded them that blogging was a practice as well as a platform and their craft skills were still needed to provide proper context to whatever information being made public.The journalists had good reasons for their turf minding – they feared their role as sense-makers was about to be seriously diminished.

He adds that two years latter it is obvious that the old battle over blogs either saving journalism or walking all over its corpse has become history. I concur. It was a battle over nothing much. Barry says that it is Twitter that is now causing the most professional angst:
what did come out [at Media140 Sydney] was the same battle between new and old media along traditional lines but in a new technology. The early adopters and academics showed how Twitter was changing the news landscape. Once again the journalists asserted their right to provide an ethical, informed and contextualised take on the news in the new platform. It was the 2007 arguments all over again but with a new technology. I suspect the outcome will be similar.

As Sharkey points out it is it’s possible for people to agree about the irreplaceability of newspapers, but to disagree about how serious the change in the media environment is. Those changes and their future significance is where the core debates are.

My judgement is that there is a significant revolution is taking place in media production (its not just a cyclical downturn) and the old models are breaking up faster than the new ones are being put into place. What comes to the foreground with respect to public media goods is the nonprofit media organizations that operate in a commercial environment--eg., the ABC and small online magazines. The ABC is doing all right. It is the survival of the small magazines that is a concern.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:56 AM | | Comments (6)


For a hard core of media traditionalists the new media remains the enemy that should be ignored; or dumped on because they don't fact check. This is the voice of journalism as the closed shop or gatekeeper.

For them blogging is in no way comparable to the work they did. Blogging was just a bunch of wise-asses who couldn’t string a coherent sentence together if their lives depended on it. It was the overriding opinion that nothing could supplant good well sourced journalism – which blogging definitely wasn’t. Blogging was blamed for the decline of newspapers.

This seems to ignore that most newspapers in Australia have bloggers.So what is different re what the newspapers bloggers do and this blog ?

The response is that what happens online from people who aren’t trained journalists, isn’t journalism; likewise journalism dies if people like old style journalists don’t undertake it. Apparently, only they can rise above the noise of the web, snark, and uninformed blather that passes for opinion (ie.,the bloggers and twitters).

It is spin.

Those conservative media types who continue to further the old journalism and new media divide are seeking to hark back to journalist supremacy. Their argument is that some content is superior to other content because who wrote it, and not because of the not based on the content itself.

I read somwehere about “megaphone” journalism breaking down and the echo chamber of over-centralized media weakening. Nice images.

Hopefully we will see the rise of more smaller, online niche operations will arise and survive (if not thrive) in the coming years.

I believe we are witnessing a case study in the de-frocking of media at the moment.
For a month we have been subjected to a largely confected hysteria on 'boat people' culminating in the 'end of the Rudd/ALP honeymoon' motif of media pundits apparently, finally, belatedly, arriving when Ltd News published their shock Newspoll of 52:48 and the vultures, several species thereof, descended gleefully only to find the corpse was healthy.
We have now had about 6 polls, excuding the discredited Newspoll, that have shown that despite the beatup the Oz public are not changing their voting support.
Twas much sound and fury but signified nothing.
Today Gary Morgan, of all people, had this to say:
""....Yet the publication of News Ltd’s poll (Newspoll) in the first place had already had a major impact. The evidence showing the ‘error’ of Newspoll was literally ignored by media discussion (e.g. the Insiders on ABC TV and the impact of the ‘rogue’ poll was allowed to run unabated).

Pollsters and those who publish the polls have a responsibility to report the facts and the truth."

The last sentence is striking.

Nice post, Gary.

It is difficult to determine what the paywall scenario is "about". I chose the perspective of the users choosing how to spend their dollars, but I grant there are many others.

Would love to know what that inaudible Clay Shirky word is!

from the perspective of the marketplace it is about bringing media goods to the market to sell. If people want to buy what Murdoch is selling, then fine. Bit like Foxtel really.But this is more about profit flows for corporate media than journalism or the media commons.

Hence Murdoch's insistence on copyright, his attack on fair use, and attempts to roll back public broadcasters. They are seen as competition that needs to be crippled.

From the perspective of democracy we need information, interpretations and knowledge about the workings of government and policy formation to enable us citizens to deliberate and make our judgement about the political events of the day. This is the public good, which is what the ABC stands for, defends and serves.

As you point out in this post on Julie Posetti's talk at the Media140 Sydney conference, the public good function, is probably more important than either to the death of newspapers or the lack of profits online.

But we need lots of different voices in the media commons--not just the ABC.