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Fairfax Vs PerthNorg … sort of, anyway!

As Axel and Mark have noted, Brisbane will get its turn to debate the The Future of Journalism this Saturday at a one-day symposium bringing journos, media makers, academics, students and more together to debate the issues. If only it wasn’t 3,500kms away … I’d love to be there, and I doubt the Future of Journalism roadshow will be stopping in Perth any time soon. That said, I’m delighted that Perth citizen journalist and citizen media advocate Bronwen Clune will be presenting on Saturday, bring a little perspective from the West coast. In anticipation of that even, I thought it worth pointing out that earlier this month, in the wake of the news Fairfax was axing more than 500 of their staff, Bronwen (who is the creator of PerthNorg) wrote a provocative post entitled ‘A Letter to Love-Stricken Fairfax Journalists’ which asked whether Fairfax was actually the best place for committed journalists today:

If you are one of the journalists standing in a picket line outside The Age and SMH, I have to ask – do you realise how pathetic you look? … David Kirk has made you an offer and is calling for volunteers before compulsory redundancies. Your relationship is clearly strained and here he is giving you a dignified out and you choose to beg him to take you back? Where is your backbone, your fire, your passion for news? Has Fairfax got you so wrapped around its finger that you think the only way you can be a good journalist is to stay with it? Guess what – people produce good news outside of news corporations everyday. And you can too. Take the divorce settlement and learn to stand on your own feet again. You are better off investing in a relationship with your audience – you’ll find it infinitely more rewarding.

Clearly Bronwen wasn’t pulling her punches, and in the heated discussion which ensued the full spectrum of opinions were heard, from those in total agreement to those who completely disagree (with the oft-heard but fair question: where is the business model for citizen journalism?). However, for my money, the most interesting thread was when Fairfax journalist Nick Miller joined in. Miller, also originally from Perth, didn’t bring a knee-jerk reaction, but instead pointed out that journalists are well aware of what’s happening in the industry, but they still need jobs! An excerpt from Nick’s argument:

I get it. You’re on the forefront of digital journalism. You reckon everyone else should be here. Um… they’re not. Yet. And we’re yet to see any proof that this medium can financially support the extent of investigative journalism that mainstream media currently supports. … I challenge you to go through Perthnorg and remove every link to, and every reference to, a story that originated or was sourced in a Fairfax or WAN or News Ltd report (or wire story, which are paid for by mainstream media). Then see what you’ve got left. A lot of gossip, sure. And gossip is often the start of a news story. But it’s not news.


I am passionate for news. And at Fairfax I have found an organisation that backs my quest for good investigative journalism with all the resources that that requires. Time, money, opportunity, logistical support, etc. The luxury of being able to say ”I didn’t file a thing today, but you should see what I’m working on”. I don’t see any online organisation in Australia that will support that kind of journalism – beyond simply giving it a place to be published. Therefore, I think it is the right thing to fight Fairfax in its attempt to reduce that support. I suggest the Norg concept is just as likely to be an online evolutionary dead end as Fairfax’s. We file for The Age online, too, after all. … The medium isn’t the issue. It’s the search for commercial support for the often highly uncommercial occupation of journalism.

While I agree that a lot of what appears on PerthNorg is more like a Digg-style take on other news sources, there is some original content in there (probably around the 10-15% mark, I’d estimate) but Nick does beg the big question of how any citizen journalism portal can support journalists financially (sure, there’s embedded advertising, but that’s more likely to pay the hosting bills and give a modest income to the site’s creator rather than anyone else creating content). Also noteworthy was the point made by another commentator that people employed by Fairfax Digital are not subject to the rights and conditions afforded even normal Fairfax Journalists, suggesting that even the digital portals for big media companies are becoming the cyber-sweatshops of the twenty-first century. There are, of course, a lot more issues at hand so I’m looking forward to hearing reports from the The Future of Journalism in Brisbane … I hope there are some optimistic answers about citizen journalism and mainstream media working together … and at least some people getting paid!

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