Closing the virtuous media circle
It was Tom Rosenstiel, director of
the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, who said it
recently, though it’s been said many times before in restaurants, bars and
coffee shops and wherever hacks like to meet. “There are few things journalists like to discuss more than, well, themselves and the long-term prospects for their industry.” Forgive
me if I indulge myself. It’s
true, as another popular internet post has noted, that journalists are a
collection of strange spirits.
Some of us even believe that what we do adds
significant value to the world and its societies. Changing
though the world is, it is obvious that the world wants information. It is
ironic that journalists are questioning the future of their craft at the same
time that people everywhere are being bombarded by media and electing to spend
more of their time consuming it. It is
also true that non-professionals, or citizen journalists as they like to call
themselves, are changing the way news is collected and delivered.
of ordinary people to use modern media to broadcast news on events has
dramatically increased the speed at which events become known. That
does not mean that they have replaced career journalists. Our job is to dig
behind the events to explain why these events occur and what pressures are
building within industries and societies to provide an idea of directions that
is to organize the delivery systems – the media – in such a way that people
read/watch/hear our reports because they value the professionalism that we
best journalists are those who have not only the talent but also the range of
professional skills, many honed in the fires of experience and under intense
pressure, that are needed to do their job at a level of excellence that makes
you want to read their copy, whether it is about a horse race, the Russian oligarchy
or the collapse of the financial markets.
know where and how to probe to dig out the facts that otherwise might stay
hidden. They have learned to keep their emotions in check to retain some degree
of objectivity. ‘Citizens’ can certainly become journalists, but it is a steep
learning curve. John
McBeth, in his new memoir Reporter
, provides a useful quote from Harold
Evans, one of the grand old men of journalism: “It’s not the delivery vehicle
What matters is the journalism.” The quote carries force with me
because I virtually grew up with Evans. I was in London when he was editing The
Sunday Times, launching its famed Insight investigative team. He wrote a
multi-volume work on the craft of journalism; the volume on editing was my
bible when I entered the serious world of journalism on the Australian
Associated Press foreign desk.
sort of dedication – as I and many of my colleagues believe – deserves a
reasonable financial return. But rather than tearing out our hair about the
death of journalism, we need to work with new media, to market our products, in
a manner that will attract revenue. I’ve done it: with partners we have built a
successful internet-based media that employs a total of 20 people, by offering
information and analysis of a high quality.
We have utilized technology to
create a data base that allows us to provide the background to events and to
track shifts in behavior.
Delivering the content
point I disagree with Evans. The delivery vehicle does matter and, in fact, it
may well be that it has been the lack of an effective new internet-based
vehicle that has cast such a pall over the industry. Now I have hopes that
another technological breakthrough is about to complete a virtuous circle which
will make people more willing to purchase news, either on a ‘spot market’ or on
a subscription basis.
convenient and reliable payment system can be developed for the spot market,
subscriptions are the logical direction. The New York Times recently joined Rupert Murdoch’s
newspapers in blocking access to all of their sites to casual readers. Other
equally ‘establishment’ firms are also changing: Reuters is moving out of the
news business and into risk assessment, a radical shift for one of the icons of
the news industry. I
digress. The closing link in the virtuous circle of technology may well be the
I confess, I have not yet gone out and bought one, since my life
is so chained to laptop and PC that I don’t yet need one (perhaps I don’t know that
I need one!). Apple’s
iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy and a whole range of similar products now provide a vehicle
in which news, information and entertainment can be truly mobile. After all, up
until now, we have accessed the information of our choice either by sitting in
front of a static machine or one that is still so cumbersome as to make it
impossible to read a book in bed, a laptop.
Smartphones are handy adjuncts for
spot checks on information. The
tablet offers a degree of portability that you could envisage downloading the
fourth volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time
and struggling through another of his
laboriously, tortuously created worlds in the coffee shop, over breakfast on
Sunday, or in bed. You can hardly do that with a smartphone.
remain a book junkie, but while I treasure the feel of a good book, its weight,
design and binding, like many of my type I spend my life collecting books it is
unlikely I will ever read again, then buying new bookshelves and trying to fit
them into my life. A tablet and a library in the cloud would be so much neater.
music industry has been decimated by the internet, book publishing has been
irrevocably changed, film is in the throes of a revolution which includes
storage of movies in the cloud, making DVD machines and other devices
irrelevant. The delivery of news and information must also change.
changes occurring across the wider media industry are producing casualties.
Small and medium entrepreneurs selling music and video have gone to the wall.
There is no reason why journalists should have a right to survive, even if our
trade does stretch back thousands of years to the chroniclers who traveled from
village to village telling stories. As
journalism was created by the printing press, then the radio and television, it
is now being remolded by the internet.
challenge facing journalists is to maintain their relevance in this changing
That said, I see no end to the opportunities that present themselves.
What is important is the validity and the quality of the reportage that we
offer. Maybe it will be enough to put up paywalls, and in time people will
accept that to access good news, they will have to pay for it.
journalists of the world, whichever media they are working in – and more and
more are having to develop skills across a range of media – the most important
factor is that identified by Harold Evans. It is the journalism, in the end,
that will count. Abandoning the professional edge will be fatal. People do not
want to receive poor-quality information, and they certainly do not want to pay
for it. We have to be good at what we do, and hope the media entrepreneurs who
put up the capital remember us when they finally start to make a profit.