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

two types of media « Previous | |Next »
December 30, 2010

In Murdoch's search for an answer to content theft in The Age Gordon Farrer, the technology editor of The Age, says that if Murdoch's model of restricting access to news content spreads to most (if not all) traditional media outlets, then journalism could split into two camps. This argument is initially plausible.

He says that in one camp there:

will be the content produced by professional journalists, backed by large organisations and traditional news-gathering structures that include several levels of editing and fact-checking, plus researching resources. This content will have to be paid for by consumers and — thanks to technological restrictions — it won’t be easily shared in social media or aggregated by search engines. It will become niche-focused news: in-depth and difficult to produce at one end; sensationalist and entertaining at the other.

In the other camp there:
will be citizen journalism: free of charge, easily searched, easily shared, more reliant on the individual writer's skills and news sense, probably shaped as much by popularity (sensationalism and entertainment value) as newsworthiness.

So we have two different types of journalism, each with their own pluses and minuses. It is a useful starting point. The most obvious flaw is that it ignores the public broadcasters who provide professional content free. And that causes problems for Murdoch and Fairfax.

Farrer then goes on to comment:

Because of the evolving restrictions to accessing ‘‘old media’’ news content — paywalls and apps that don’t allow searching, sharing or cutting and pasting of content — the citizen journalism camp will not be able to rely as much as it has on professional journalists’ content for inspiration. That is, the bloggers and tweeters and Facebook posters who riff/comment on/analyse traditional media journalism will have to go elsewhere for fodder.

Farrer's assumption that Murdoch and Fairfax provide quality assumption that bloggers then riff off is undercut by what passes for professional journalism in the mainstream media today. A lot is infortainment, much is recycled press releases, public relations junk and deception. Public opinion surveys on honesty and ethics reveal that journalists, advertising personnel, and public relations practitioners score at the bottom of those surveys.

Only some bits and pieces of professional journalism can be considered quality journalism, often from the same journalist. Newspapers are becoming more opinion and comment based, often with a political bias since it is the 24 hour television channels that deliver the news to us.

Secondly, some bloggers provide quality commentary and analysis that mainstream journalists riff/comment on--- the latter rarely analyse. Thirdly, Farrer has no idea of a dialogic public sphere in which the deliberation about issues gives rise to the ongoing conversation in the public sphere---such as the one about the changing nature of the media in a digital liberal democracy.

A deliberative democracy represents an attempt to counteract the deficits of representative democracy, particularly in terms of legitimacy.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:47 PM | | Comments (5)


There is distrust of journalists because the practice of public relations can certainly be used to control human beings through deception, rather than to stimulate exchange or communicate ideas. Murdoch's papers are about power, control, manipulation. They work from a closed adversarial standpoint.

These monologic forms of public relations do not allow more than one perspective to ask questions or influence debate.

The Sydney Morning Herald charges $4.50 for a weekly iPad subscription. Why bother when the ABC is free?

George goes straight to one fundamental problem with Farrer's reading of the entrails, and in the process demonstrates why the destruction of public news organisations will be one of the main objectives of the Murdochs of this world. It's already apparent in the strident demands to stop funding NPR in the USA.

Farrer's piece rests on laughably flawed assumptions. It's highly unlikely that any large organisations will be able to fund the resources he describes as 'professional journalism', unless they are organisations run for reasons other than profit-generation. It's much more likely that the MSM dinosaurs will not generate enough income to fund anything like their current operations - they are struggling now. We've always had 'niche-focused news: in-depth and difficult to produce at one end; sensationalist and entertaining at the other' - think AFR and Truth - so what he is really predicting is the demise of the conventional news media.

His sneer that citizen journalism will probably be 'shaped as much by popularity (sensationalism and entertainment value) as newsworthiness' is hilarious. Is he seriously pretending this isn't a very apt description of how the MSM already operates? But his implication that the role of the media should be to decide what is 'newsworthy' regardless of whether it is popular is an interesting one. Surely the normal interpretation of newsworthy is something that lots of people find interesting; popular, in other words. Yet Farrer gives it a different meaning, and the reason becomes clear later.

Like most of his colleagues, he no longer distinguishes between news and opinion. 'Newsworthy but unpopular' then, in his mind, presumably refers to stories invented or promoted by the MSM for their own reasons, as actors in the political process. The endless polls, the eternal in-group gossiping about politicians, the stories based entirely on anonymous sources ... these are the stuff of the contemporary news media, all narrated within a frame of the authors' choosing to present a particular ideological or aesthetic point of view. This is what the Farrers of this world see disappearing, replaced by a chaotic mass of raw, unfiltered, uninterpreted information where anyone can don the mantle of analyst and reporter.

No wonder he's got the shits. His profession is screwed. Tough.

As you correctly observe Gary, online writers (I think 'bloggers' has become unnecessarily limiting) have access to virtually all the data that is available to the MSM, and collectively they have infinitely greater expertise to report and comment on it.

In summary, public news organisations will continue to tell us all we need to know about bushfires and cricket tests and the like, and Australian progressives should be pressuring the government to give the ABC more secure funding and absolute freedom from political interference. As far as the future of the MSM is concerned, I expect it will morph into something else that nobody can truly predict now, but the Fox News model may well be viable. No need for expensive fact checkers in that organisation.

There is certainly a sense of a defacto censorship situation evolving.
If only the coul stop people knowing about the establishments dirty wars and shabby business dealings.
Why, with Farrer's system evolved, no more uncomfortable questions about governments proroguing their parliaments or the reasons why, for example. Go to Brit Spears without even the need for, let alone an effort at, thought.
Better still, why not just lobotmise eveyone at birth?

I agree that we should say online writers as 'bloggers' has become unnecessarily limiting. A good point.