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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is eBay being anti-competitive?

Online shopping site eBay recently made a decision that will see the company's online credit agency PayPal handle most of the purchase transactions made on the site. With this announcement has come claims the decision is anti-competitive.

Homepage producer Matthew Heffernan recently investigated the issue and the claims of anti-competitive business management.

eBay's user friendly chief, told Matthew the decision is based on improving user safety. PayPal is universally praised for its security measures and it makes good business sense for eBay to require sellers to give their buyers the option of using the safest method of payment.

PayPal allows a user to register their bank or credit card details to establish their online shopping balance. A user can then access funds from that balance to purchase items off the net.

eBay's decision to make PayPal the preferred option for transactions does not exclude other credit agencies from the service - but rather requires those credit cards be used through PayPal for greater security for users. According to eBay a user is four times less likely to run into a transaction problem if they use PayPal when shopping online.

eBay suggests the change to PayPal ensures better transaction security for buyers and sellers.

It's important to note that users can still pay for their goods in person for 'pick up' only purchases. So there is a cash payment option available for buyers and sellers who choose not to use PayPal.

The ACCC is currently investigating the eBay / PayPal case and has declined to comment at this time.

However, Matthew was able to speak with Jerome Fahrer from the Allens Consulting Group about the anti-competitive business claims. The Allens Consulting Group is an independent agency that examines cases like this and offers recommendations to clients on how to proceed in such cases.

Mr Fahrer suggests eBay is well within its rights to make this business decision. He further adds that because eBay is not the only online shopping site available, the company has the right to impose whatever payment system they prefer.

Jerome compared the eBay / PayPal issue to buying a car. When buying a new car you often don't get to choose what radio it comes with, but nobody is forcing you to buy that car and there are others available to you to buy.

Users shouldn't really be too worried about the decision by eBay to introduce a PayPal exclusive payment option, because PayPal offers optimum security features.

As for the claims of anti-competitiveness, we'll await the decision from the ACCC.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Invisible Web

For many of us, we peruse and search the internet using only our favourite search engine.

But did you know that by doing this, you are only covering a small portion of the web?

So, even though there may be thousands of websites popping up from your search, there could be even more vital websites you’re missing out on.

Basically, the internet can be classified into two categories – the surface web and the invisible web.

The surface web is what search engines index and dig up for us to see and what is easily found.

But the invisible web is an exception. Also known as the deep web, these websites are made to be much harder to find. They won’t show up in a typical search engine search, and if they do, they are hard to access.

These websites might be deliberately excluded by the owners using code, or the websites might be invisible because they don’t hold much significance.

It is expected that invisible web is several times bigger than the surface web, although it is hard to measure that isn’t clearly visible.

Amanda Spink, who is the professor of information technology at the Queensland University of Technology will be joining us on the program today to delve into the details of the invisible web and discover what kind of sites there are.

She says there are a number of websites you can’t access for many reasons. Organisations on the web might host their valuable company information online for easy accessibility for employees, but it usually restricted access with log-in protection.

Cyber criminals also convene online but these sites won’t be found easily.

These websites can be kept hidden embedding codes into the HTML, such as Meta Tags, which stop web crawlers from finding them.

Although there are some pages on the web that might not technically be made invisible; but become invisible as a result of narrow search techniques.

Amanda Spink says search engines don’t index every website and only cover a portion of the web. So one search engine might cover a portion of the web that another search engine might not.

There are ways to combat this and expand your searches, by using a unique and versatile type of search engine called metasearch engines such as Dogpile. These search engines are a quick and efficient way to do searches because they utilise multiple search engines.

Amanda Spink says the information on the invisible is in no way substandard to the information on the surface web. In fact the information is actually a lot more valuable.

So next time you do a search, keep in mind that there is more than meets the eye. What might be available on one search engine may not be available on another and the web stretches much further than what we normally see.

There are many other ways to do searches and get the most of what you’re looking for.

All you need is to find the right search tools, which may include federated search engines such as databases; or by using human crawlers instead of algorithmic crawlers such as StumbleUpon.

Religion Online

Religion for some has taken a back seat in our fast paced, technology addicted life styles – but now it’s making a come back.
Religions are embracing the online environment as we’ve never seen before – and it doesn’t stop there. We’re talking podcasts, social networking, SMS calls to prayer – religion at your fingertips and in a form that is second nature to many people today – particularly generations X and Y.
When you think about it, the potential for religion online is just about limitless. You can find about all kinds of religions, experience other cultures, participate in online sermons and in fact, there are now some faiths that only exist online.
In Insight, Homepage producer Amy Spear chatted to World Youth Day Spokesman Jim Hanna and Doctor Kathleen McPhillips, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of Western Sydney about religion’s shift into cyberspace…

So just to get us started today, Kathleen, are more people turning to technology to learn and practice religion?

It’s a good question. The answer is a little bit complex because part of the problem with the internet is that it’s so diverse and large, so it’s very hard to research. But I think what researchers have found is that there is an enormous amount of material on the internet, covering a very large area of topics and religious traditions and people are very engaged in virtual religion.

Is it all kinds of religion? Different religions?

Yes, it is. Well, major religious traditions, all of them have websites. Then you get new age religions, so lots of pagan websites and you get lots of witch websites and so on. Then you also get lots of religious healing sites, sects and cults are on the internet. There also very productive websites, such as interface dialogue discussions between faith tradition. So it can be a space where there is a lot of diversity and tolerance.

Are you able to tell a particular demographic that uses these? Or is it across the board?

It’s hard to know but it’s probably generations X and Y that are more active on the internet then other generations, particularly in relation to religion. I mean, one of things about religion on the internet is that it does probably encourage a more individualised use or attention to it. So the older generations may be used to going to church on Sunday or Saturday, or whenever it may be, and having a more traditional, physical relationship with their congregations. Whereas younger people are probably more adept at using the internet as a form of community and communication.

Is it that religion is changing? Or is it just taking on a new form of communication?

This is a very good question and it’s one of THE questions – does the internet change the nature of religion and religious practice? I think the answer to that has to be yes. I mean, first of all, there’s the question of the internet itself. It is a kind of mysterious technology. It’s a form of virtual or cyber space – we can’t see it. It isn’t magic – so how does it happen that we can connect up with people that live so far away from us in less than a second? So there’s a question about whether the internet itself is a kind of religious experience and may encourage people to believe in something that doesn’t exist. Then there’s another question about whether people can have religious experiences on the internet using some of the sites. So these are really interesting questions to ask. I think we have to say that it does change the social context in which we practice religion.

Religion amongst younger people has, in some cases, lost relevance over the past few years. The internet, then, could be a way of bringing it back to them – communicating through their means and providing a whole range of info.

Absolutely and I think that’s one of the things that religious congregations are hoping for – that by using these technologies that young people are much more familiar with and comfortable with, that they will be able to reach out to them. Whether they’re successful or not is hard to define. I don’t know if there are any studies done in this area. I mean, one of the things is that there would be a significant group of young people, we know this from the census, that, while they may have been raised in a religious tradition, they don’t practice it. It’s their parents who continue to practice it. So there is an element of alienation amongst young people and the internet might be one way they can keep a connection with a religious tradition active, while not feeling so disoriented and alienated by the weekly practices of that tradition which may not speak to them at all.

In your opinion, what are the most common ways people are using the internet for religion?

What I know about is the New Age sites and I think they’re using them for a lot of different things. You can set up your own website for starters and you can advertise yourself and your religious preferences. But I think for information, to join a group, to do healing practices and also to have fun. You can access things like an Ouija board, so the black arts are there as well. I mean some religious groups only have an existence on the internet and there I’m particularly thinking about Jedi Religion. Now I don’t know if you recall but in the early 2000s (2001 Census) 70 000 Australian nominated Jedi religion as their religious practice and it was a phenomenon that also happened in other Western countries like Britain. From that developed a number of internet sites on Jedi religion so you can actually join a group and become a Jedi Master or practice some of the more esoteric practices associated with Jediism.

To take a closer look at how religions are using technology, I spoke with Jim Hanna from World Youth Day about the initiatives they’ve been using to get their message out there.

World Youth Day is targeted at young people all around the world and, especially in Australia, young people are more tech savvy then the older generations – then their parents and teachers. So we know that if we want to reach people effectively, we’ve got to use the communication tools they use. That used to be radio, TV and maybe some youth magazines but now it’s the internet, it’s mobile phones and it’s a range of different things on the internet. You can’t just say the internet anymore – you’ve got to talk about chat rooms, forums networking pages etc. So we’re looking at the whole range of things and we’ve come up with a few ideas that we hope will appeal to young people and be things they will use.

In what has been termed by some as the Big Prey Out, over 60 000 Aussies from outside of Sydney will join double that from all over the world in this years World Youth Day. So are more people jumping online to find out about it and to connect with other people?

Yeah, I think it’s more the second thing that you said. It’s more connecting with other people and I think a really effective way for young people to get involved in their faith is if they see and hear other people in their own age group taking part in it and this is a great way to see other people do something spiritual. If you’re not talking about a strict religious sense, it might just be looking for guidance and I think getting online is a great way to communicate with other people but still be yourself. There’s still a reasonable degree of anonymity and you can preserve your privacy – you can be yourself a little bit more than you can in a group situation, around a table or at a restaurant or something.

Has this level of communication ever been possible before?

Well that’s right. This is going to be a first for WYD. We’re going to have a social networking space called, that’s going to be launched this month, and for the first time Pilgrims from all around the world will be able to get online and become friends before they actually arrive here in Sydney. They can start meeting each other, getting to know each other and getting to know something about each other. We’re also going to have daily text messages from the Pope. The Pope will write something and we’ll get it out to people so it will be a direct communication to them from the Holy Father, which I think is going to be pretty cool. The other thing that I think most people are finding very innovative is an idea we got when U2 were out here the last time, where you could text your phone number to a particular number and you could see your name come up on the big screen at the event. Well what we want to do is do that in a Catholic sort of way. Often people want other people to pray for something, some intention or other, it could be world peace, it could be freedom from hunger, it could be for a sick relative, it could even be for their footy team to win – and Lord knows I’ve been doing a lot of praying for my team! They had a win last week so that’s good – it does work everyone! So what we’re doing is a Digital Prayer Wall where you can text your prayer to a particular number and it will come up on the screen where a couple of hundred people are gathered. It’s great to know that at least some of the people in that crowd would all being praying for that same intention. It gives people a sense of warmth and reassurance. So that’ll be a first and hopefully that will be something that continues on to the next WYD. We’re also going to be bringing people together who might live in regional Australia, by having some sort of webcasting (like a teleconference but on the internet) and we’re hoping to do one of those before WYD. So the Bishop here in Sydney will reach out to people further out in Australia. We’re going to work with Telstra on that.

Jim agrees that religion is now a lot more accessible, particularly to those younger people.

Yeah and I think it needs to be. I think the Church needs to enter the 21st century and I think it’s trying to do that. It needs to appeal to younger people who, as I said before, they just read and hear and see things differently. They still use the old media forms like TV and everything else but I think young people especially work in their own space. If the Church wants to be relevant to them it’s got to come to those spaces and be part of their lives.

Religion, in all its shapes and forms, is certainly taking on a whole new look. And it’s much more accessible in today’s lifestyle to boot. There is still much debate surrounding the issue, so keep an eye out for new developments.