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

media futures « Previous | |Next »
January 5, 2012

Dean Starkman in Confidence Game: The limited vision of the news gurus in the Columbia Journalism Review takes on what he calls the future-of-news (FON) consensus developed by Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky, and Jay Rosen and others. This he says holds that:

the future points toward a network-driven system of journalism in which news organizations will play a decreasingly important role. News won’t be collected and delivered in the traditional sense. It will be assembled, shared, and to an increasing degree, even gathered, by a sophisticated readership, one that is so active that the word “readership” will no longer apply. Let’s call it a user-ship or, better, a community. This is an interconnected world in which boundaries between storyteller and audience dissolve into a conversation between equal parties, the implication being that the conversation between reporter and reader was a hierarchical relationship, as opposed to, say, a simple division of labor.

He states that the FON consensus is anti-institutional, as it holds that old institutions must wither to make way for the networked future. Its major flaw is that it little to say about public-service journalism; indeed in many ways it is antithetical to it as they extol peer production and volunteerism in a network society that is less hierarchical, more democratic, more collaborative, freer, even more authentic—from the world that preceded it.

With reference to public-interest reporting Starkman says:

Public-interest reporting isn’t just another tab on the home page. It is a core value, the thing that builds trust, sets agendas, clarifies public understanding, challenges powerful institutions, and generates reform. It is, in the end, the point.

Starkman's position is a Burkean one: a defense of institutional tradition as a store of embedded wisdom, arguing for the continued relevance of existing news organizations, especially newspapers, in something very close to their current form.

Consequently resources ought to be expended shoring up existing media institutions because journalism needs its own institutions for the simple reason that it reports on institutions much larger than itself. Media institutions not only provide reporters resources and backup, the best ones create valuable news cultures by aggregating people of a certain mindset.

The problem that I have with this kind of defence is that very few media institutions practice public service journalism -- its a rarity. Most journalism takes the form of infotainment or partisan political commentary; operates within narrow intellectual boundaries; favours 'he said she said' analysis; avoids public policy issues; and doesn't even bother with facts anymore. Honestly, not much public-interest reporting is produced in Australia's existing media institutions.

Starkman downplays this aspect of our media institutions, even though it the new normal.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:35 PM | | Comments (1)


Starkman is talking about somehow saving the familiar institutions, not inventing new ones, a strategy that has long passed for Plan A in the debate about the future of the media.