Crikey.com founder, Stephen Mayne, gave a talk on Online journalism and its impact on traditional media, 29 August 2007 at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. He discussed how online journalism is changing traditional media and politics and if user-generated Web 2.0 content is journalism. An audio recording is available from the NLA web site (30 Mbytes).
Michele Huston, Director Web Publishing at NLA introduced the talk pointing out that early editions of Crikey.com are preserved in the NLA's Pandora archive.
Stephen talked about journalism as a noble profession on one hand and in the power of political office on the other. After being a journalist for a time Stephen said his job as a political spin doctor was to intimidate the journalists and distort the news. In response to this he set up crikey.com to get out as much information as possible. The Internet provides a deluge of information, raw, good and bad.
Stephen said that Crikey.com previously had Google AdSense advertisements which paid $1,000 a month and now sells its own web ads receiving $100,000 a month. Crikey.com advertises its issues on Google AdWords, spending $2,000 a month (their ads regularly appear on my web pages). Crikey now has 24 regular contributors, about 10 of whom are professionals journalists, with about half the content written by academic commentators and the like.
Stephen said Crikey provides a service in "join the dots" journalism, by pointing the reader to disparate sources to provide context and add value. Even so he argues that mainstream media in Australia is healthy and has a future. Radio is healthy. Free to Air TV is suffering and the quality of TV journalism is suffering. Newspapers are loosing advertising revenue to the web. Fairfax is diversifying to electronic and online media, with journalists filing online and then in print. The typical story is twice as long on the web version as the print edition of The Age. Online newpapers have more readers, but less revenue.
Stephen argues that the advertising model of quality investigative journalism is in decline and that in Australia the ABC's public funded model works well.
Stephen argues that Web 2.0 user generated content is not new. Letters to the editor and talkback radio are old forms of user generated journalism. Unfiltered anonymous online forums quickly generate into a mess. Bloggers don't break many major public stories. Due to compulsory voting, independent bloggers are unlikely to influence elections. The bloggers need a partnership with the conventional media to reach a mass market. Bloggs can also continue a public debate, in the place of declining public forums.
Stephen is skeptical of Google deciding what is good and what is not. He claimed that Crikey.com now pay for a higher ranking on Google. This is something Google are likely to deny, but I do wonder if my own web site's high Google ranking is due to my using so many Google services. He also said that many people do not understand that "sponsored links" are advertisements.
ABC came in for praise for their podcasts. Wikipedia came in for some criticism for the edit it yourself approach. Stephen said he was half contemplating running against the Treasurer at the next election.
I asked Stephen if the Internet had changed the political process, in the way that it is changing the way the administration of government is done (as illustrated by AGIMO's work wil web standards). He replied that the web was being used extensively for fundrasing in the USA and for recruiting people for campaigns. However, this answer missed the point of my question, which was about doing politics differently. What I had in mind was that the web could be used for formulating political positions, rather than just to help raise money to elect someone to go and sit in a room and talk about political positions.