Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Future of News as We Know It

“Popular news papers, the ‘mass newspapers’ are dying and will die, they have got no future what so ever…” Roy Greenslade Future of Journalism Conference May 2008

The Future of Journalism Summit, recently held by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, together with the ABC, hosted journalists and media industry professions from around the world.

All forecast major upheaval in the media and news industries, with predictions like Roy Greenslade’s (a greatly respected journalist with the Guardian in the UK), that with the increasing influence of the Internet, newspapers are on their last legs.

I spoke with Jonathan Este from the MEAA and formerly a journalist with The Australian and The Independent (not The Age as mistakenly mentioned in the broadcast sorry!), about some of the issues raised at the conference, to try and gain a picture of what media consumption might look like in the near future.

Jonathan said he believes much of the fuss is without cause.

There’s a lot of pessimism about the future, and I think that’s a bit short sighted. … To say "its all done and dusted, the Internet’s here, news papers are dead" that’s a very pessimistic view.

Roy Greenslade said at the summit that the decline of newspaper consumption has a lot to do with changes in societal and cultural structures, rather than a lack of interest in news.

Young People don’t red news papers and have never read news papers… (People) didn’t really start to buy newspapers until they got married, the problem now is they’re not getting married, and therefore they’re not forming the family unit around which a newspaper was a key part.

Jonathan hosted a discussion at the summit entitled ‘Digital Natives in the Wild’, featuring three leaders in the new media field; Cinnamon Pollard (Youth Fairfax digital), Rebekah Horne (MySpace Australia) and Kath Hamilton (Yahoo7).

Jonathan explained that all three women spoke about the new audience’s desire to be a part of the process of producing and distributing news.

What they’re saying is that (generation Y) see media as being a conversation, not a lecture, they’re just as likely to be brought to stories by their friends as by newspapers, they’ll email each other saying “have you seen this story?".

They see this as an all round media experience, they’re creating media themselves, they’re creating film clips, sharing stuff, they’re creating their own networks to share news.

This new way of consuming news was referred to in the discussion as “information snacking”, I asked Jonathan if this could lead to a “malnourished” audience.

I don’t necessarily think that ("information snacking") is a reflection of disengagement, I think it’s more a reflection of convenience. People don’t want to wait 'til 6 pm to read the news. Jonathan said.

If you look at the election campaign in Australia last year, there was this huge push, the ‘Get Up’ movement, there were a lot gen’ Y people there, and they were very engaged and committed to the principle process.

I actually think that people are going to get a better quality news service, I just have the faith that journalists have the vision and the courage to maintain that investment.


Anther shift discussed at the summit was that of an increase in audience participation, as Jonathan Este said people are seeing news as a conversation, not a lecture.

This shift is making some journalists fear for their jobs, and audiences fear for the credibility of their news sources, so will more audience participation have this feared detriment on the profession of journalism?

Roy Greenslade at the summit said that Journalists roles are not becoming irrelevant, just changing.

I want journalists to think about the fact that they are no longer secular priests, who hold journalism to be some kind of mysterious activity. Anyone can be a journalist, anyone can contribute to journalism, but, that participation, cooperation, crowd sourcing, mash ups, all the other ways now of enlarging journalism, empowering people to be journalists, are very important.

Journalism, reporting on society, telling people about things they didn’t know, and also discovering things that people don’t want you to know, which is obviously what journalism is about, are not going to be things that only professionals do, in future, and they are already not things that only journalists do.

Jonathan Este pointed out there is still plenty of work for Journalists to do in this era of public participation.

You still need people who’s job it is and who’s skill it its to find things out, and I think you need people who’s job it is and who’s skill it is to edit and moderate that.

What’s different now is that what Jay Rosen calls “the people formerly known as the audience”, they’re no longer this big, homogeneous mass, they’re a whole number of different communities and they’re coming back to you.

In a sense there is this potential for journalism to get a whole lot better, because the feedback will throw back very valuable additions to stories, or corrections.

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