Saturday, October 22, 2011

Traditional media insiders are the least qualified to comment on the future of traditional media

With the release of News Ltd's Future of journalism 'discussion' I've submitted a 'Your view' to the site which may, or may not, be published at some point in the future.

On the basis that traditional media is no longer the gatekeeper for participation in public debate I have posted my submission below.

I see a lot of the debate over traditional media relevancy and business models being very 'fiddling on the edges' stuff, attempting to use technical or legal barriers (such as copyright) to preserve an industrial era view of media which media consumers, now also media producers, are rejecting in droves.

Today any individual or organisation can create and maintain its own media platform capable of reaching 95% of Australians, and over 2 billion people worldwide.

The Internet, by merely existing, allows entrepreneurs and agile organisations to question all previous assumptions about the collection, collation, filtering, distribution and monetization of content. As a global playing field, the importance of geographic boundaries has been further diminished.

Being agile, efficient and effective is no longer sufficient. Organisations must be prepared to destroy and reconstruct themselves under entirely different models to remain competitive and relevant.

The jury is still very much out as to whether traditional newspapers, radio and television media organisations will be able to do this before they see a substantial amount of their profitability dry up.

My submission:

It is no surprise that people who work in traditional media, who have a financial and emotional stake in its future, are supportive of their organisation’s future (provided they are agile, efficient and effective).

I can see expert blacksmiths believing the same with the arrival of mass-produced cars and metalwork.

However what those beholden to traditional media cannot see is the viewpoint from the outside world.

Yes access to information is a requirement for liberal democracies. Yes quality news is a tool used to stabilize societies and promote understanding.

However there is no law of nature that states that profitability must be at the root of quality news coverage and reporting. Nor is there a causal link between professional journalism and professional news reporting – journalists, as humans, are as prone to reflecting their own biases as others and, even when trained to be objective, are at the mercy of sub-editors (where they still exist), editors and the overall political ambitions of for-profit media concerns.

Now I am not saying that government-run media (with no profit objective) is the answer. These systems bring their own control and bias issues, they still need cash and still have oversight from humans who may be influenced by political views.

Nor am I saying that for-profit, or even not-for-profit independent media outlets do not have a future. They do.

However the vast expansion in expressive capability that has been realized through the Internet has offered a second model to news gathering and reporting that will seriously challenge the biases of distribution systems with tacked on news collection and reporting facilities.

There is no reason to assume that industrial news services will continue to be the leading players in the media market – certainly the impact of the web on other industrial era centralised industries has been profound. When the means of production and distribution are diversified, some necessary changes and adaptation is required.

However those who have financial and emotional connection to the old models, while the most prolific commenters on new models, are not the gatekeepers to these new media forms, nor are they objective and impartial observers, able to assess the changes without bias.

I would challenge News Ltd and all other industrial-era news industry players to look outside themselves and their orbits (bloggers who are, in effect, news people) to the broader changes occurring in society.

We need to consider new models – perhaps the disaggregation of news collection and distribution, creating an open market for people to write news, have it submitted to, paid for and distributed by strong distribution channels, or for citizens (who are now all journalists, so we can drop the ‘citizen journalist’ tag) to be paid based on views, likes and reputation when submitting their work to an open news distribution platform.

News is no longer the news, access to distribution is the news and there is a pressing need to experiment with new approaches to opening up news distribution rather than locking it down into professional guild-like channels.

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