Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Broken news

I was lying on a beach in Fiji last week (had to throw that tidbit in somehow) so I missed this announcement about Fairfax buying Essential Baby. But it wasn't news. I reported it here 6 weeks ago.

Now, I don't say that just to be a smartass. I seriously believe there is a valuable place for honest reporting on blogs as independent voices in the mediasphere. I've argued this for quite a while.

Back in early 2005 I ran a few pieces on that dug into this debate. Funnily enough The Age's blog editor James Farmer revisited it 16 months later. James' take, though, was that "Journalism is a profession and journalism provides for the quality and breadth of content that keeps an enormous number of readers coming back for more. Sites that are based around "citizen reporting" are unlikely to ever have appeal outside of uber-niche areas".

I couldn't disagree more.

Anyway, as it happens I no longer work for a major news organisation so I don't have any obligation to break stories for an employer. On the contrary, as a newly minted independent publisher I'm going to be doing my best to break them via blogs.


James said...

There was a little more too it than that though :)

I don't 'not believe' in this stuff by any means - but I do reckon that it's pointless for citizens to start trying to be journalists (and often vica versa!)

It's like YouTube - users aren't trying to act like Channel 9 - they're doing their own thing. Or Huffington - it's not like a regular news opinion site (or Comment is free for that matter).

All I'm really saying is that journalists are different beasts to non-journalists - necessary ones that aren't going to be wiped out by non-journalists trying to be journalists - sidelined a bit perhaps, but news or fairfax aren't going to be going out of business to perthnorg any time soon.

hm said...

James, yes you're right, there is a lot more to the debate than the quote I used from your piece. However, it does seem to me to be indicative of where you where taking it.

And I do still have to disagree profoundly with the statement that "it is pointless for citizens to start being journalists".

It's true that many don't want to be journalists. In fact many citizens hold journalists and journalism in contempt - which I think is a tragic state of affairs. But it's also true that many citizens make natural and highly talented journalists, and the advent of blogging tools and other digital formats has made this obvious.

Someone who would agree with you, though, is Tim Dunlop. Tim and I have debated this point before and he maintains that he is not doing journalism, ether via Road to Surfdom or currently on Blogocracy.

Tim's viewpoint relates more to a public intellectual approach. But I've always maintained that this is splitting hairs somewhat as many of the best public intellectuals over the years have actually been journalists.

Journalism is a profession that has no extended technical training requirements - analogies with medicine and law just don't work - anyone who chooses to do so can call themselves a journalist. It's always been this way.

Journalists are not "different beasts" to non-journalists at all. Simply having a job with a Fairfax or a News Ltd newspaper does not set them apart from the rest of the population. It never has.

As soon as a journalist starts to see themselves as somehow better than the general population they've lost the plot in professional terms. (And that is despite the extra large egos floating around newsrooms the world over.)

I don't think the Youtube analogy quite works either, for different reasons. That said, though, there actually are people using Youtube for journalistic endeavours.

A comment space is not the right place to list examples to support this argument fully, but I have done it elsewhere on this blog over the years so the evidence is there.

James, do drop me a backchannel note some time. I know you've got an abiding interest in this area and I believe it is an important debate to have.

It might be that traditional journalists won't be wiped out entirely by non-trad journalists, but it is going to be a very close call. And a major contributing factor will be the legacy media's ongoing inability to engage with this challenge in a meaningful way.

Edublogs said...

Thanks for the response Hugh you've got some good points regarding the public intellectual aspect and you're quite right that deterring people from journalistic activity is quite the wrong thing to do... some will do it bloody well (although most wont, but that's another argument).

You're right about this being a bigger discussion too (I'm on 774 tomorrow talking it over) Hopefully we'll get to talk more over a beer sometime.

Cheers, James