Sunday, July 20, 2008

Blogging Future of Media 2008

Ross Dawson has a review of FOM2008 and a roundup of subsequent comment from a variety of sources.

This was the third FOM event Ross has staged and it went off very smoothly. The technology has been improving year by year so the cross-continental panel discussions worked better than ever.

I was on The Future of Journalism panel with Jane Schultz from the Australian, Jonathan Este from the Media Alliance and Stephen Quinn from Deakin University. We only linked across to Silicon Valley as an afterthought at the end of the session, but it was this topic that seemed to spark the most passionate responses of the day ... mostly on Twitter.

The Twitter streams focus some angry microbursts largely against Oz Media editor Jane Schultz whom the twitterers identified as representative of a counter-productive old media attitude.

Jonathan Este wrote a delightful piece a day or so later that encapsulates the problem as it was manifest last Tuesday. The problem of "Old Media", as such, is given full bore treatment by Stilgherrian.

What surprised me on the day was the attitude of the new media evangelists. They latched on to some generalised points Jane made and then made their own generalisations in turn to cover off the whole of the media. It's intellectually lazy, but it does fit some of the more wild-eyed enthusiasts' view that the MSM is broken beyond repair.

Once that line was off and running it didn't matter what the rest of us on the panel said.

I must admit, though, it was interesting to watch. Here was a bunch of passionate and intelligent new media consultants and proselytisers who believe deeply in the inevitability of the digital media future, who appear not to have the first clue about the way MSM actually works, and who cling violently to a set of pre-ordained notions about said MSM. So the minute any capital "J" journalist makes a disparaging remark about bloggers or blogging they leap on it and shout "told you so!"

It's a two-way thing, though. Of course ...

But it's still annoying how long this same debate has been going round in circles. Back in January 2005 Jay Rosen declared Blogging v Journalists is over.

In June that year I was writing the Media Blog on and I asked Tim Dunlop from The Road to Surfdom to guest blog and discuss some of these issues.

To my mind Tim personified the best Australian example of non-MSM blogger-as-journalist. I later hired him to write the Blogocracy blog on

It should be said that Tim resists the description "journalist", and although we discussed it at length from his perspective he is a political writer in the public intellectual mode rather than the journalist mode. He nevertheless mixes solid occasional reporting with high quality analysis and comment written in an engaging style. Does that sound like journalism?

It's fair enough that he should choose not to be described as a journalist, but my response to Tim back then was that the best journalists are also public intellectuals of one sort or another. The two things are in no way mutually exclusive. It may come as a surprise to some of Tuesday's critics that even in Australian journalism there is a strong tradition of public intellectualism.

I think this sort of example really shows how pointless the argument is.

Maybe one day we can all move past the schoolyard syndrome and just get on with the job of making, distributing and selling great material ... in whatever format.


* Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen have continued the discussion with particular reference to curmudgeons. Jeff's initial example of curmudgeonly attitude happened at a Blogging conference and came from an MSM news editor. By contrast, last Tuesday's panel in question was on the future of journalism, and while there was indeed some provocation most of the curmudgeons were non-MSM types. So, while I agree with Jay that there are entrenched curmudgeonly attitudes within newsrooms all over the country, I would also say that there are equally entrenched attitudes within the digerati that are simply antagonistic to journalism.

* I ruffled a few feathers by saying that the contributions from the floor last Tuesday displayed a negligable understanding of the way the MSM actually works. And I stand by that. Jarvis and Rosen have both spent a lot of time in and around newsrooms. By contrast being a "tertiary trained" journalist or a freelance contributor is a quite different type of experience. Ben Barren, on the other hand, certainly does understand the challenges facing major media organisations and he also knows a lot about some of the initiatives they are developing in the social media space.


Stilgherrian said...

Thanks for the linkage to my rant, Hugh. That rant was triggered by something we both believe: that this whole journalism vs blogging "debate" is getting tedious.

I think two things fired the passion at the Future of Media Summit:

1. All of the panellists in Sydney were from a traditional journalistic background. If we're discussing "The Future of Journalism", where was the "future" part? (Yes, I'm doing you personally an injustice there, but we're talking about perceptions here.)

2. I think this paragraph of yours...

Here was a bunch of passionate and intelligent new media consultants and proselytisers who believe deeply in the inevitability of the digital media future, who appear not to have the first clue about the way MSM actually works, and who cling violently to a set of pre-ordained notions about said MSM.

... could just as equally be turned around.

Here was a bunch of passionate and intelligent journalists who believe deeply in the sanctity and nobility of their craft, who appear not to have the first clue about the way blogging actually works, and who cling violently to a set of pre-ordained notions about said blogging.

I must emphasise, "appear to have". Perceptions. As I recall the triggers for the explosion from the floor was Jan Schultze's relatively narrow definition of journalism and the disparaging vocal patterns when she referred to "these bloggers" more than once.

My gut feeling, sadly, is that this "debate" is far from dead. I don't see many signs of bridges being built yet.

hm said...

You are quite right, it does cut both ways. It's certainly true that the MSM could do a better job embracing a range of new tools, not just blogs. And we could do a better job of promoting the broad benefits of digital media.

But it's also true that forums like Tuesday's pit an industry perspective against a consumer perspective. And as long as the MSM is focused on a mass audience, which all of Australia's big media companies are, their use of new technology formats will more or less anticipate that audience. It doesn't pay to get too far ahead of your customers.

It can be a frustrating reality for anyone who wants to push new ways of doing things. But it's quite logical.

If this debate still needs to find a conclusion I hope it can happen in an informed, civil atmosphere.

Chris said...

Hugh I wonder if you have ever watched a few episodes of the Daily Show or Colbert Report.

The last week of episodes are great examples of how the mainstream media - particularly the US 24 hour cable news channels - fail to do their job.

I believe this is a key driver for the younger generation to seek information straight from the horses mouth - from bloggers who are living the given story or inject real thoughts into the mix.

That being said, however, there will always be a place for story tellers who summarize and research stories for a more mainstream audience. But they will and must be influenced by Participants (bloggers).

hm said...

I'm a big fan of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. But I think you'll find Jon Stewart acknowledges his show is not journalism, per se. He promotes news and current affairs to an audience who would otherwise not be watching Fox or reading the NYT. His satire brilliantly uses the media as fodder, but it doesn't set out to bring new material to its viewers. On that basis I don't think it's information "straight from the horse mouth".

Chris said...

I'm not saying what he does is Journalism - I'm saying what he does is show the stark failure of the media to point out absurdities and inconsistencies in the talking points of public figures.

Tim said...

First up, thanks for the kind comments. There's a few reasons I don't identify as a journalist. First up: I'm not. Not by training or previous experience. What I have acknowledged is that I do "journalism related activities." There's obviously some crossover, but not enough to warrant a title change, I don't think. The other reason was precisely to avoid the sort of argument you are talking about. Journos seemed very protective of the tag (some still are) and I was quite happy to leave it to them. The implication was often that we blog types somehow coveted the position, and as I never did, I was happy to eschew the title. But it has became a stale discussion, as you suggest. In fact, it always was.