Saturday, July 09, 2011

The world needs new forms of journalism and news distribution

While this post is a little outside the usual topics I cover in this blog, I thought it touched on enough to publish it. Also it is so long that The Drum may not publish it as a comment on their article Murdoch kills paper, bodycount continues - and note that if it is published, I am not the only one that uses that particular username either. Other comments at The Drum or other news sources under the same username may not reflect my views and comments.

As I am a former paid journalist and author and a card carrying member of the Media and Arts Alliance (my card says 'journalist' as their membership system doesn't yet support the term 'blogger') I reckon that I have as much right to comment on this topic as anyone else.

I have also made a few edits that I could not do in the system for The Drum, so it is not quite the same as my article comment. Call it journalistic license.

The world needs new forms of journalism and news distribution.

Past models, such as small independent papers in each geographic region and, more recently, large international centralized machines with a focus on revenue not facts, do not work in an age where every individual can report and distribute to a global audience.

What must be preserved is the goal of journalism, to inform and enlighten people about the important events shaping their futures. Not the formats - news 'papers', 'radio' 'stations' or 'television' 'channels' or the funding system - advertising.

Where advertising is focused on influencing people through half-truths, opinion and spin, bright colours and sounds, sitting it alongside responsible, factually-based reporting of news is particularly dangerous. In my view the dominance of advertising and the gradual degradation of factual 'news' into 'infotainment' has a lot to do with the difficulties of placing facts and spin side by side on a daily basis.

News collectors and distributors in the future need to have a commitment to truth.

They need to be able to get their content to a global audience. Use relevant channels.

Licenses for spectrum or for citywide news distribution are dead. Cross-media laws are dead. I watch more television on newspaper sites than on television channels.

Governments have (and continue to) push media laws and licensing schemes which attempt to avoid anyone gaining too much power across mediums. This brings them enormous revenue and gives them implicit control over who may criticize them (too negative and we revoke your 'license', then the facts you distribute are suddenly illegally distributed and you can be prosecuted for distributing them).

Governments need to change this position. Separate the functions of the infrastructure (bandwidth and broadband) and the news gatherers and distributors (journalists).

The public merely needs to do what it is already doing - voting with its feet.

Regardless of the efforts of media moguls to increase their global reach and build news empires to control the messages people receive, or the efforts of government to manage and message messages to reflect what they wish believed, people now have the means to bypass the massive journo-political machine and source their news from anywhere at any time via the web.

The reality is that media organisations, as they exist today, are zombies - dead but still walking from their momentum, in search of new brains.

Governments, particularly repressive ones, are resorting to more and more drastic means to control their populations' access to the true free media - the Internet. Today they shut down services or cut the Internet to prevent the truth from spreading. Tomorrow they might ban universal literacy to limit the number of people who can read or think. They will also fail to contain journalistic freedom - which involves the freedom for any individual at any time anywhere in the world to report and analyze the events and happening of today and distribute it to anyone else in the world.

Journalism has ceased to exist as a profession of the type typified by lawyers, doctors and engineers. Today 'professional journalism' is literally defined by whether you are paid to write news for distribution to others. It does not represent a critical set of skills, a body of study or work or even a quality level that is met and must be maintained. in fact more degree-qualified journalists work on what journalists often consider 'the dark side' - corporate or public communications, spinning messages to journalists rather than reporting news.

All the claims of journalists that they perform an important function of interpreting current events for the common person is simply a way of saying 'we are smarter and more articulate than you - you cannot understand your world without our intervention'. That kind of arrogance in an age of almost universal literacy and high school education, simply because paid journalists have more time to read and write news, is both ludicrous and affronting to 'common people'.

Journalists need a better way of defining their profession if it is to remain one (potentially based on the quality of their writing and thinking and their independence from commercial concerns).

Media is an amazing mess at the moment, and has an enormous transformation ahead. The question is whether governments, media organisations and journalists will write and carry out this transformation, or it will occur regardless, dragging them reluctantly into a new world that none of them would choose.


  1. don't most blogs also have a relationship with systems of advertising in order to fund their hosting?

    what is the new business model?
    how does it avoid marrying subjective competitive values with objective truthful reporting?

  2. The Guardian might be a model worth looking at - a trust-based approach.