Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Future of Journalism

Last night I attended "Has journalism a future" with presentations by
Caroline Fisher (University of Canberra), Stephen Matchett, (Campus Morning Mail), Matthew Ricketson (University of Canberra) and Lenore Taylor (Guardian Australia). This was at the new
Centre for China in the World, at the Australian National University in Canberra. The entertaining evening was chaired by Colin Steel, ANU Emeritus Fellow.
The new Centre for China in the World is so new, that the WiFi has not yet been installed, which is why I am posting this the next day. It also has a "new car" smell. ;-)

The first speaker said the good news was that the cost of production for news had reduced. However, there is a tendency for the new media to concentrate on that most ancient and popular form of news: gossip. The market for news is shrinking and the print media made the mistake of giving away their content free online while trying to survive on advertising. A few premium paid news services may survive, but most will not.

Many policy journalists now write for free for "The Conversation", with journalism becoming philanthropy, part funded by the state. But without real journalists chasing hard facts there will be less oversight of government.

The second speaker took exception with the fist speaker having a problem with taxpayers funded journalism, pointing to the work of the ABC.

It occurs to me that all the journalists speaking seemed to have the idea that journalism was a noble search for the truth, whereas in a business sense it is the job of the journalist just to fill up the spaces between the paid advertisements (which are the important parts of the publication). Perhaps James Marcus' book "Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut" should be required reading at journalism school. In this one of's early employees relates how they were hired to Amazon to write and edit book reviews. They saw their job as writing Amazon to write and edit independent and interesting book reviews, whereas Amazon saw them as helping sell books. Amazon worked out that a crowd-sourcing system which passed on recommendations from customers to other customers was more popular and more effective at selling books than professional reviews, at which point the journalist was out of a job. The same is likely to happen to almost all journalism jobs.

The result may well be a reduction in serious investigative journalism, if that turns out to be something readers do not value. As an example of this future, yesterday I was contacted by a TV news service asking about hacking of WiFi baby monitors over the Internet. When I checked I found recent stories about this, but also almost identical stories a year ago. I explained to the journalist that I did not think this was a real story, it was recycled from a year ago. The journalist explained their boss wanted a story and so there would be a story: they did not seem to be concerned as to if it was true or not. I declined to take part in a story which was pandering to parent's fears, with little  basis in fact.

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