Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reporting news is no path to sustainable journalism, controlling the message is no path to successful governance

Below is a copy of a comment I have posted to the ABC The Drum in response to an Alan Kohler article, Big media inquiry, little industry change.

I thought I'd repeat it here as it covers some of the changing landscape that government communicators are facing. I recommend reading Kohler's article (or at least his initial premise) first.

Note that the implications, of a society that can report news as it happens, where it happens, significantly alter government's ability to control news distribution. Essentially governments can no longer rely on controlling the creation or distribution of news, about themselves, about their programs and initiatives, about public events or about disasters. We need to evolve new models for influence and curation, to become the 'central point of truth' if not the single point.

Anyway, my comment is below (with a few tweaks for poor iPad keyboarding):

Alan, I value your views (and not because you are paid to give them), however in this area you've based your argument on a false first premise - that news reporting has intrinsic value.

The basics of news reporting, collecting facts, arranging them into a story and distributing this story publicly, existed long before any form of professional and paid news 'caste'. The process, like story telling, is a skill that many people have.

With the means of news collection and public distribution now so close to costing zero as to make no difference - a phone with a camera, a keyboard and an Internet connection, news is essentially free. More than 2 billion people (add another billion when including mobile devices) have the tools to collect and report news, as it happens, wherever it happens - with global distribution.

As people now spend a majority of their lives within a metre of their connective devices, there is no longer the need to pay journalists to ride or drive around cities and countries to collect news, transport it back to a central location to transcribe and then distribute it through chains of distributors.

The value paid professional journalists can add to news is in expert analysis. This requires three additional skills to news reporting that are rarer and more expensive to procure - curation, expertise (in analysis and distilation of themes) and communication skills.

These skills have, and will continue to have value.

Unfortunately they are skills that most paid journalists, who are often trained in communication, PR or journalistic skills, lack. They do not have the indepth subject knowledge or ability to quickly determine facts from factoids - though they often have the communication skills (they sure write pretty!)

For journalist to survive as a guild, rather than as an activity, unlike reading and writing (scribes) or adding up (computers - which was a human job title until the 1950s), it must change the basis of the people it attracts and promotes through the profession.

Journalists must either sink into the depths of entertainment (those who write pretty, but offer no insights into world events) or rise into the world of expertise (with an ability to offer solid insights and analysis of events, using their expertise and curation skills).

Simply reporting news by chasing eye-witnesses, copying social media comments and photos or representing corporate and government media releases, is no path to sustainable earnings in journalism.

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