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Links for November 15th 2009 through November 17th 2009:
- Nose, face, cut, spite: Blocking Google [BuzzMachine] – Jeff Jarvis has a neat little summary of what the research suggests would happen to Google is Murdoch stops letting the search engine index his news properties: in short, not much damage to Google, and whole world of loss-of-revenue pain for News Corps. Interestingly, pulling Wikipedia out of Google searches would do more damage!
- Social media focus [BBC – The Editors] – The BBC appoints a social media editor. (This is the shape of things to come …)
- I’m Belle de Jour [Times Online] – “Meet Belle de Jour, the anonymous blogger and former prostitute whose explicit, funny, articulate, eye-popping online Diary of a London Call Girl has fascinated millions of readers worldwide. Here she is: Belle, the famous tart, whose books became runaway bestsellers, who was played on screen by Billie Piper in the television series based on them, whose brand is instantly recognisable to anyone who uses the internet or bookshops and who has stirred up a considerable amount of controversy through her writing-as-a-whore career, not least because she has always refused to condemn prostitution as being necessarily bad or sad: our very own second-wave Happy Hooker. […] She’s real, all right, and I’m sitting on the bed next to her. Her name is Dr Brooke Magnanti. Her specialist areas are developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and is now working at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health.”
On Friday evening I attended and spoke at the ‘Future of Journalism’, an event organised by the Media Alliance & Walkley Foundation which was styled as a “Blueprint for progress”, featuring healthy discussion and debate about the future of paid journalism and, amongst other topical issues, whether news consumers would actually start paying for content they’ve already been enjoying for free.
I was part of the final panel for the night, joining Ralph Nicholson (formerly with Reuters, now the publisher and editor of The Beach Times, a free newspaper in Costa Rica), Jo McManus (who has 30 years experience as a journalist and now lectures the next generation at ECU/WAAPA), and Australian political blogger William Bowe (the Poll Bludger) for a very spirited conversation chaired by Jonathan Este, the Media Alliance’s director of communication. We were briefed that the discussion would be pretty informal, which held true, but it was very wide-ranging, discussing everything from possible business models for online news through to the role of social media and blogging both by, and in opposition to, traditional journalists.
From the outset, I should by saying I have no idea what the best business model for journalism is in the online age, but I am quite certain it is not putting all content back behind a paywall. That way, I’d suggest, lies disaster, one the reasons for which I outline a little below.
There isn’t time to touch on everything that was discussed, but I wanted to re-visit three points that were raised during our panel (or earlier, and to which our panel then responded):
 The relationship between bloggers and paid journalists. For whatever reason, the ‘bloggers’ (or ‘amateur bloggers’ now, since so many journos write blogs) still attract the ire of professional journalists because the bloggers are seen as a vast, untrained, amateur army of low-quality content creators who aren’t bound by a code of ethics but do get read by people who should be reading proper journalism. To be fair, many of the people who spoke didn’t share this view, but at least a few did, and there were plenty of barbed asides to be heard. Let me reiterate what I said on the night: there are certainly some bloggers who write as well as journalists, are just as ethically-driven as good journalists and who can research and investigate as well as paid and trained journalists. However, the vast majority of bloggers do not consider themselves journalists, do not seek to compete with journalists and still value (and enjoy) quality journalism done by paid professionals. Despite what Rupert Murdoch might now believe, bloggers are not the enemy and those who do engage in debate with, or commentary on, professional journalism are usually amongst the strongest supporters of good journalism as a profession. Indeed, a blog post written by blogger and journalist Steven Johnson back in 2006 called ‘Five Things All Sane People Agree On About Blogs And Mainstream Journalism (So Can We Stop Talking About Them Now?)’ did a far more elegant job of making this point. Perhaps a few more people should read it.
 Digital media tools are not names to be feared, but rather processes than can be readily understood. There were a lot of comments from old hands in the industry about the difficulty keeping up with the latest new technology – the main mentions were MySpace to Facebook, and now to Twitter. MySpace, Facebook and Twitter all share many commonalities: they’re all about making sharing ideas, conversations, links and media (broadly defined). Rather than asking how Facebook is different from MySpace, or Twitter different from the first two, what might be more fruitful is to ask what the latest technology does that’s similar to something you are familiar with. Rather than treating Twitter as something new, and thus something alien, if it’s examined as primarily replicating the conversational style of Facebook, but without anything else from that platform (including those annoying applications) then you start to come to terms with what it is. Sure, it takes a little while to become familiar with a new tool, but starting to use these tools, rather than spending copious time fearing them and lamenting all these new-fangled technologies, is surely a better use of peoples’ time. Many journalists have embraced Twitter, for example, and it’s paying real dividends. It is, of course, important to verify any ‘facts’ gathered via Twitter, but that’s true of each and every source. During our panel I suggested that people interested in journalism can become part of the media conversation long before they become active professionals or even before any formal training using social media tools – tomorrow’s journalists can sharpen the skills they’ll need via Facebook, Twitter or whatever comes next, and that should, in my opinion, be seen as an asset.
 The relationship between social media and news. Many more entrenched journalists seem to think that social media tools, like blogging or Twitter, might be valuable since they let journalists talk to their audience, but they still seem to see the gap between themselves and the audience as a chasm; their audience, by contrast, is increasingly thinking of themselves as participating in a conversation, and often a conversation amongst equals. That doesn’t mean everyone thinks they’re a journalist, but the era when journalists were set apart by their training and ethics has by and large ended thanks to a lot of very bad journalism in the world and a lot of very smart people in that audience. Indeed, the word audience might just need to be rethought altogether. As Dan Gillmor, amongst others, have eloquently described the change: “Journalism is evolving from a lecture to a conversation, and the first rule of good conversation is to listen.” This, incidentally, is the main reason I think putting news behind a paywall will fail: stopping people from participating in the conversation about the news you report or create will reduce the impact and spread of that news.
A different way of thinking about this is that many people engage with news not by visiting a newspaper’s website, but by coming across a link via Google or, increasingly, a link that a friend or contact has posted using a social media tool. These are conversational contexts, and any media links posted in these contexts are seen as things to be discussed. In the coming months, this will be even more pronounced thanks to Google’s newest invention, Google Wave. As I understand it, Google Wave is about taking all of the disparate bits of conversation that can happen using online communication tools and making it possible to retain and continue the conversations, regardless of where it starts (be that email, a blog, or wherever else). Thus, for Google Wave, conversation is content. While we’ll need to see how Google Wave works once it’s officially launched, we know today that newspapers are already put in a lot of effort into trying to gain solid Google rankings. In the coming months, that may very well involve being more conscious of news as a conversation rather than a lecture. I can understand how that might sound daunting to journalists and the industry, but figuring out how to be part of more conversations may very well be part of successful business models for the quality journalists of tomorrow.
Those points aside, I must admit I enjoyed that Future of Journalism event; the very fact that the night was organised shows that news journalists in Australia are trying to figure out new, sustainable ways of plying their trade in the digital age. Moreover, while there were definitely a few dinosaurs in the room, some of the newer faces of journalism, including Tim Burrowes from mUmBrella (his response to the event here), and Stephen Brook from the Guardian, showed that many journalists are definitely already in tune with the tides of the digital world in which they operate.
Local citizen journalism evangelist, Bronwen Clune, often describes the news media corporations and mechanisms as ‘control media’. While this is certainly a striking expression, and no doubt fair when thinking about the likes of Rupert Murdoch, I’ve wondered if it’s at times a bit of a harsh brush with which to paint the news media in general . However, the Associated Press (AP) seems to be doing out its way to take the idea of control media literally, which has not been embraced by the interwebs at large; AP recently described a system of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to police the uses of its news content online. Their explanatory graphic and been, how shall we say, reinterpreted by the public they’re expecting to pay for AP’s services:
[Source for the top half of the image: AP’s Press Release “Associated Press to build news registry to protect content”; source for the full image: “What the AP really meant to convey”. Via Boing Boing]
At the same time, Chris Anderson on the promotion trail for his new book Free, has been enjoying himself by being as provocative as possible in interviews (conducted, oddly enough, by journalists). For example:
In the past, the media was a full-time job. But maybe the media is going to be a part-time job. Maybe media won’t be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby. There is no law that says that industries have to remain at any given size. Once there were blacksmiths and there were steelworkers, but things change. The question is not should journalists have jobs. The question is can people get the information they want, the way they want it? The marketplace will sort this out. If we continue to add value to the Internet we’ll find a way to make money. But not everything we do has to make money.
While change is definitely in the air, suggesting that journalism is a redundant profession is going too far. We need good journalism; we need people who are willing to take risks and invest huge amounts of time into investigative reporting; and they need to be paid. I’m not suggesting the status quo even means anything any more, and the last few years have definitely forced the news industry to decide whether it’s just an entertainment business or something more, but amongst all of that I think we need to try and figure out sustainable models that support journalism (but not sensationalism). I think unpaid citizen journalism and random acts of journalism by netizens will definitely play a significant role in the news media landscape that’s developing, but I don’t every think the culmination of citizen journalism will ever be enough by itself. I can’t live without the ABC or SBS, and I’m delighted they’re mainly government funded, but I know that’s not the only answer. And I also realise that answers aren’t readily available yet. We should, however, be looking for them. While the news industry is definitely having a rough time, and the future is uncertain, I also don’t think AP’s approach hard core ‘lock it all up’ approach, or Anderson’s dismissive suggestion the all journalists need to get real jobs and write news as a hobby, are really helping the debate. Not one little bit.
Links for March 13th 2009 through March 18th 2009:
- Fake Stephen Conroy lashes out at Telstra [SMH] – “Telstra’s attempts to cover up the fact that it tried to silence Fake Stephen Conroy have backfired spectacularly. The Telstra employee who created the satirical Twitter profile has told his bosses not to “throw me under the f—ing bus just to make Telstra look social-media savvy”. After it was revealed that the popular Twitter profile impersonating Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was written by senior Telstra employee Leslie Nassar, the postings stopped. Nassar refused to speak to media, saying he was told to direct all comment requests to Telstra’s public relations unit. The Fake Stephen Conroy profile was also disabled for a period before reopening late yesterday. Telstra’s social media adviser Mike Hickinbotham came out to declare that Telstra did not try to shut Nassar up nor tell him to cease making the Fake Stephen Conroy posts. This directly contradicted earlier comments by Nassar, who said he was told by Telstra to stop.”
- Telstra man behind Fake Stephen Conroy [SMH] – “A web prankster impersonating Communications Minister Stephen Conroy on Twitter has been outed as a Telstra staff member. The staffer has now been silenced by the telecommunications giant, perhaps out of fear that the revelations will further increase tensions between Telstra and the Government, which has excluded Telstra from the bidding process to build a $10 billion-plus national broadband network. The satirical “Fake Stephen Conroy” profile, which has now been wiped, sparked almost as much discussion online as Senator Conroy himself. It primarily lampoons the Government’s proposed mandatory internet filtering scheme. Following an online manhunt that turned up a long list of suspects, Fake Stephen Conroy decided to turn himself in before he could be outed.
“OK, so here it is; Fake Stephen Conroy = Leslie Nassar,” he wrote yesterday.” (‘Twas fun while he lasted! 🙂
- Journalism students ‘don’t read papers’ [ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)] – “The journalists of the future are rapidly moving away from traditional news services, saying they are impractical compared to new media. A survey of Australian journalism students found 90 per cent of students do not like reading the newspaper, preferring to source news from commercial television or online media. Professor in Journalism and Media Studies at the Queensland University of Technology, Alan Knight, conducted the survey and says despite an aversion to newspapers, 95 per cent of students are very interested in following the news. “At this stage commercial television is still the favoured source, but online is rising pretty rapidly,” he said.” (I read most of my newspapers online, too. That said, i really hope some of the journalism students of today and thinking of ways to ensure that quality journalism is economically viable in the future!)
- Gervais + Elmo = Hilarity on ‘Sesame Street’ [YouTube] – The funniest thing you’ll see today – Ricky Gervais and Elmo taking an interview to a place Sesame Street realyl shouldn’t go! And, as Waxy says, they have the same laugh!
Clay Shirky’s ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’ has been getting a fair amount of attention in the past few days and his central point is ringing true for most people: the traditional revenue model of the newspaper is so dead that it might just be time to admit that in many cases news will need to find (a) new platform(s) of choice. It is worth noting, though, that Shirky is not downplaying the important role journalists have to play in our society; what he has resoundingly challenged is whether collecting their daily output on printed paper has much of a future. Indeed, Shirky’s conclusion is worth noting:
Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.
When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.
I concur; the world at large needs good journalism, but many good journalists will need to find a new home and it’s likely a new medium, too. On March 12, the New York Times posted this visualisation:
You’ll have to click and see the enlarged version to read the text, but the brown and beige circles show declining circulation numbers for US newspapers; blue circles show increases (there are very few blue dots). The US is a country of brown and beige dots. The fact that neither Shirky nor anyone else knows what should come next is an important tension. For those currently making a living working for newspapers who are laying off staff, this is a really immediate tension and, to be honest, I’m glad I’m not in those shoes. For society more broadly, the question of where we get our news, and whether we’re willing to pay anything for it – either personally or through an organisation we support, or even through government funding – is something we do need to consider. I have to say, I’m feeling more protective than ever of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and SBS and have no qualms whatsoever about some fraction of my taxes supporting both. And sitting at a point of convergence of the best traditional journalism and web 2.0 platforms have to offer, I’m glad that people like Margaret Simons are finding new ways to keep the fourth estate alive and well. (And to be fair, there is still a lot of quality journalism out there … it just too often gets buried behind the bleeding leads.)
For Perth folks, the paucity of our current choice in newspapers has been obvious for a long time; we only have one and it has spent almost all credibility it ever had. A new editor is on board now, but it’ll take a lot before The West holds any serious sway or has most people read it for anything other than the TV Guide and Saturday classifieds. In a well timed move, Perth’s citizen journalism advocate, Brownen Clune, has just relaunched her own web presence, hitting the ground running a provocative post entitled ‘The Emperor’s New Media’ which argues that many journalists lack credibility, and the profession overall is in disrepute, leaving little wonder why so many folks don’t want to pay to read it anymore:
Can we be so quick to blame the business models of newspapers (selling advertisements) when people won’t miss the service (news) they are providing? For years journalists have been regarded alongside used-car salesmen as the least trustworthy profession and every journalist has certainly experienced the polite disdain from strangers when you tell them what you do.
There is something very wrong with the media and the quality of journalism has a lot to do with it. “News” has become so devalued that people are not willing to pay for it.
Bronwen’s post has attracted some spirited comments from Fairfax journo Nick Miller (continuing an older debate, really) who does remind us that Perth certainly hasn’t really developed much of an alternative model as yet (and Bronwen’s PerthNorg, which is valuable, relies a great deal on filtered content created by the mainstream newspapers). But to return to Shirky’s point, we need more experiments, like PerthNorg, which are willing to try and find new ways to connect journalists of various types with audiences.
In terms of the quality of journalism out there, there’s definitely appetite for more transparent reporting and for reporting that returns more clearly to the notion of the fourth estate; keeping the average citizen informed is, after all, the aim. If nothing else, the fact that Jon Stewart and The Daily Show (a comedy show!) managed to get so many tongues wagging in the US recently when they went after CNBC’s ethics, and then Jim Cramer in particular when he took issue with Stewart’s criticism, shows that there is real desire for a more robust sense of the fourth estate (even if many people don’t recognise the term any more). As The Washington Post put it:
Jon Stewart has amassed a passionate following over the years as a sharp-edged satirist, the man who punctures the balloons of the powerful with a caustic candor that reporters cannot muster. As public furor over the economic meltdown rises, the Comedy Central star has turned not just his humor but also his full-throated outrage against financial journalists who he says aided and abetted the likes of Bear Stearns, AIG and Citigroup — especially those who work for the nation’s top business news channel. Stewart morphed into a populist avenging angel this week, demanding to know why CNBC and its most manic personality, Jim Cramer, failed to warn the public about the risky Wall Street conduct that triggered the financial crisis.
Okay, ‘avenging angel’ might be a bit over-the-top, but Stewart has, in my opinion, re-energised the question of journalistic ethics and, if nothing else, we can see responses like Fix CNBC http://fixcnbc.com/; while the sentiment is noble, perhaps, like, Fix the Newspapers, we need to hope for more?
Links for November 23rd 2008 through November 25th 2008:
- Film studios to become ‘police, judge, executioner’ [The Age] – “Internet users would have their connections terminated summarily on the whim of the film and TV industry should it win its landmark legal battle against iiNet, legal experts have warned. Seven of the world’s biggest film studios and the Seven Network last week filed suit against iiNet, Australia’s third largest ISP, in the Federal Court. They claim iiNet authorised copyright infringement by failing to prevent its users from downloading pirated movies and TV shows. iiNet, and the industry body, the Internet Industry Association, say ISPs should not be required to take action against any customers until they have been found guilty of an offence by the courts. ISPs argue that, like Australia Post with letters, they are just providing a service and should not be forced to become copyright police.” (No, they really shouldn’t!)
- de_vangogh – A Van Gogh Counterstrike Mod [YouTube] – Running around in a level of Counterstrike entirely made out of Van Gogh paintings? Tripping, and actually visually quite amazing! [Via]
- Journalists warned of two years of carnage ahead [The Australian] – “Journalists have been warned they cannot be spectators if they are to survive the new world of media fragmentation and digitalisation … . “A report, Life in the Clickstream: The Future of Journalism, released today by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, warns that the Western media industry faces “two years of carnage”, squeezed by the global economic meltdown and the unravelling of traditional economic models. The report reveals that more than 12,000 journalists worldwide have lost their jobs so far this year…. While newspaper circulation in Australia is “holding up remarkably well” with aggregate circulation of metropolitan dailies falling only slightly in the past six years, television remained the dominant source of news for most Australians. The country also boasts one of the highest percentages of online news visitors in the world. … new technology and shrinking workforces has resulted in more than 70 per cent of journalists reporting increased workloads…”
- SF Sunday: Happy 45th Anniversary, Doctor Who! [Hoyden About Town] – “Yes, it’s 45 years since the world first saw a man travelling through time in a wooden box.” (Happy Birthday Doctor Who! I hate to think how many hours I’ve spent watching, discussing and generally being a fan of the good Dr … although I’ve enjoyed every minute. Well, except a few of the Colin Baker hours … :P) io9 also have an amusing (if a bit random) top 45 moments in Dr Who … 33 was, to say the least, amusing!