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

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August 7, 2010

A quote from a comment on a post by Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing on claims by the editor of the Financial Times defending newspaper paywalls whilst attacking the old slogan that information wants to be free:

I suggest that much of today's media like to refer to as "journalism" resembles that craft much in the same way that a McDonald's meal resembles a healthy diet. Which means that even when distributed free, much of the corporate spam that some would pass as journalism is overpriced and indeed harmful.

Few would disagree with this in the context of the media's coverage of the current federal election. Most of it is junk that is best avoided if you hold that a healthy conversation over issues in a vibrant public sphere is a good thing for democracy. There is both a public disgust with the white noise of the press, and an intellectual crisis in journalism.

James Carey, the media theorist, argued in his Communication as Culture that democratic politics was born in the domain of oral exchange in a public sphere in which there is face to face discussion and conversation, as in the townhall and public square meetings. Democratic politics and reason are the products of an oral tradition that embraces discussion and argument, relies on the devices of memory and is free from the domination of experts and elites who seek to protect special interests and monopolies of knowledge.

The term conversion applies to speech, stylized writing, journalism and scholarship. Journalism, Cary contends, is more akin to storytelling and argument; a process of making society intelligible, which also means inhabitable by all.

Our conversation is now technologically mediated, and our modern electronic and digital systems of communication have drastically altered our experience and practices, and shaped the ordinary structures of interest and feeling. The media has made possible the grafting of the vivid democracy of the Greek city state on a continental scale and it is protected so as to amplify the debate of democracy, to serve as a check on government and to help bind the nation together.

Strong press, strong democracy is the argument. Carey wrote:

The press justifies itself in the name of the public,” the press scholar James Carey wrote. “It exists—or so it is regularly said—to inform the public, to serve as the extended eyes and ears of the public, to protect the public’s right to know, to serve the public interest.

That was then.

Now we are no longer one nation under television. The media fails us in terms of facilitating the conversation amongst citizens and, as a result, there is a decline of the audience for journalism. Journalism suffers from a credibility crisis and the growing cynicism about the media's role in liberal democracy. All terms of the political equation—democracy, public opinion, public discourse, the press—are now up for grabs.

One pathway is to uncouple "journalism" from "media," while recoupling "journalism" to the keyword "democracy." The sign indicates deliberate democracy and that implies a core commonality of shared information.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:58 AM | | Comments (14)


Maybe the "news” has always been heavily partisan and often colored by the rhetorical vitriol?

Today we have a movement toward the narrower interests of the niche: partisan political platforms, narrow-topic outlets, hyperlocal and microlocal sites, RSS and Twitter feeds, mine magazine, etc.

Newspapers, general-interest magazines, and broadcasters, on the other hand, are generally shrinking, splitting, or refashioning themselves as specialty outlets. When, that is, they’re not dying out altogether.

Maybe we are returning to the freewheeling days before radio and television launched the very idea of mass media—the era of partisan newspapers and pamphleteers.

Beschizza says:
A successful paywall reinforces the notion that information monopolies and the quality journalism that result are more valuable as private services for professional and cultural elites than as something you might read for free on a train.
There's nothing wrong with that --but it's a clever escape hatch for a screwed business model.

James Massola in a column on the media and bloggers--- Hobby writers keep pros on their toes in The Australian refers to Grogs Gamut's recent post on the media.

Massola highlights the aspect of 'conversation' that eventuated from Gamut's criticism of the media's focus on politics and ignoring policy:" Some of the most influential journalists in the country were discussing the post and evaluating their own approach to news reporting."

However, Massola calls bloggers hobbyists (not citizens), makes no reference to the public sphere, and fails to link journalism to democracy. He has no memory of the roots of journalism and has forgotten its ethos---that news serves the public not only by feeding it information, but also by fostering the habit of mind required to connect one’s private concerns to the “public issues” that give rise to them.

In the context of the election... would the existence (or not) of paywalls make that much of a difference?

Our pollies are intent on making a grab for the swing vote. In the majority of cases, these votes are not going to come from politically-engaged news junkies. Hence the slogan-fest we see today.

Or am I just being a bloody elitist... again?

If The Australian was behind a paywall it would be disconnected from the digital public sphere. Only its e-subscribers and print consumers would read it.

Its public impact would be less. It would not shape the political agenda so much.

So... it would essentially risk preaching ONLY to the converted.

Bring on the paywalls, I say!

Policy clarity should be the aim of journalism in the context of democratic elections, providing voters with an unbiased analysis of all their choices.

I am especially interested in the idea of distinguishing between media and journalism. Perhaps this means that enlightened political bloggers are now the true journalists?

Mention of the pamphleteers of old is very reassuring. They have influenced democracy to a far greater extent than media proprietors.

The Australian would have very low impact on this election even if it was given away with burgers.

some say that the content (information) is not that important in itself--what is more important is that when:

most people learn or read something interesting, they want to take that material and pass it along—tell friends about it; debate and discuss it; link to or write about it. People want to interact with information insofar as it enhances the way they interact with other people. And what Web users value isn’t primarily the information itself or any instructional value it might hold, but the opportunity to discuss that content—via links, blog posts, comment sections and so on.

A paywall lessens that interaction or conversation.

The Australian will increasingly become niche news like Fox News For instance, people who read the Australian aren’t just fed a different perspective on current events from people who watch ABC; they’re fed entirely different information.

If facts are just dominant perspectives (news is constructed from a particular perspective and bias ) then what is happening is that we no longer trust standard the newspaper story:this is how it happened, and you can basically trust us on this, because we are professionals and we take our jobs seriously.

That view is dissolving and so we have different perspectives on what happened.

something strange is happening to journalism.

Journalists believe they are working in the public interest and are trying to be fair and independent in that cause. This is their sense of professionalism. On the other hand the public distrusts journalists--worse than car salesman.

The mistrust Australian apparently feel toward their media isn’t rooted simply in the products of journalism—the news reports put out every day in text and image and sound—but rather in the producers themselves.(The Australian or the ABC) Mistrust in our media is as much a matter of the who as the what.

The news narrative is not to be trusted because it is produced by people who are not to be trusted.

The CEO of nine said sorry for Lathams stunt but didnt sack him. What does that tell you? I notice that 60 minutes is not far behing Dancing with the stars in the ratings and with Masterchef gone with some nifty marketing could win the night. Sunday night is a very good revenue raiser.
Journalism is more about selling Toyotas and Telephones than truth and honesty nowadays.

The debates about the media kept on getting caught up in the debate about old school journalism versus new media. Old-school journalism wants to blame the web for the collapse of their business model: the once-mainstay source of income for newspapers, the classifieds, has migrated to the net. The advertising and eyeballs model of web journalism can’t pay for good reporting. Yet clearly the main platform is becoming the web.

Blogging has killed journalism In the wake of journalism come all these blogs that just comment upon what real journalists do. If it weren’t for real journalists, the bloggers would have nothing to comment on. And increasingly bloggers come to be taken as journalists etc .

But well before web 2.0, newspapers were in crisis. Ten years ago we lamented that two newspaper towns were becoming one newspaper towns. Soon there will be towns with no newspapers.

The distinction between professional media and citizen media is probably less helpful than the distinction between journalism (which one doesn’t need to get paid for to do) that engages the public in its work and news coverage that does not.

The old school journalism rhetoric about bloggers is misleading. What I do here in public opinion is to comment on the news, not report the news or break stories.

The blogosphere is more like the op-ed pages of the press. Those op-ed pages function to give a particular perspective on the events that happened. My commentary at public opinion is a thinking out loud as I try to to make sense of the news that I find on the ABC news streams or the Fairfax Press.

So there is no pretence on my part that my interpretations of political events at public opinion gives the reader the truth of the matter. However, the interpretations are considered and informed and not just made up.