I was on a panel at the MEAA backed Future of Journalism conference in Brisbane on Saturday. Bronwen Clune and Cam Reilly have covered a lot of what was discussed. The Twitter feed from the day fills out some gaps.
As usual at these things, there was a lot of circular discussion, some confusion, and much furious agreement.
It seems to me the future of journalism relies heavily on the future of publishing. And it's in connecting those two things that the debate constantly gets lost.
But here's a practical idea - and a serious challenge to Chris Warren and the MEAA:
The current Fairfax layoffs will probably put more than 100 experienced journos on the market in Sydney and Melbourne. Many, if not most of them are not interested in turning themselves into publishing entrepreneurs. They want to keep doing journalism.
Most of them will be offered company redundancy packages. But rather than simply accepting a redundancy offer and hoping for the best, as some have suggested, why not take the opportunity to organise as a start-up publishing operation on a digital platform with a combination of syndication and display ad revenues? As an employee-owned, equity backed arrangement it could be a unique and imaginative attempt to find an alternative solution to the publishing challenge.
But this would really only work with the MEAA's complete involvement in getting the members to consider a proposal. It would also require the MEAA to broker some sort of equity support - they'd need to find the partner. But the contribution needn't be a prohibitive amount. In fact the best PR Fairfax could get out of this situation is to support exactly this sort of initiative themselves.
But if Fairfax weren't willing, others might be. The creative and journalistic talent is there, it just needs a publisher with reasonable pockets and a willingness to take a risk. There are a few around. Eric Beecher is one who has put his money where his mouth is. In fact Crikey Blogs is not a bad model for exactly what I'm suggesting.
At the Brisbane conference, discussing tools and techniques for digital journalism are, l-r: Bronwen Clune from Norgmedia, John O'Brien from the Courier Mail and David Higgins from News.com.au. Moderator is Peter Lewis from ABC's Landline.