Last Ones Standing

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Photo by Nick Ryan, Fairfax

The slow-motion death of newspapers as a vehicle for quality journalism rolls on, with periodic announcements of new waves of redundancies prompting anger, soul-searching and recrimination.

For those of us who escaped the industry years ago, there are feelings of both relief that we got out when we did and sympathy for journalists laid off by companies who still appear clueless about how to make the business work in a digital age.

But while the journalists’ mass walkouts and calls for public solidarity are completely understandable, the market realities facing the industry that has sheltered them for long can’t be ignored.

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The Business of Anger

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A perennial tension in journalism arises from balancing the professional requirement to accurately inform the public and the commercial one to actively engage them.

The destruction of media business models, where classified advertising subsidised across a Chinese wall the quality journalism that attracted the eyeballs, has gradually swung that balance from the professional to the commercial imperatives. Continue reading

Approved Targets List

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One consequence of the death of the mainstream media’s business model and the commodification of news is a corresponding increased reliance on provocative commentary that generates page impressions.

News Corp’s Andrew Bolt is the poster child for the success of professional trollery as a revenue generator and brand differentiator. He has clear targets, strong opinions  and he succinctly expresses them. He has a fiercely loyal audience and equally fierce enemies who despise him with similar force. Bolt is now parlaying this approach of calculated outrage on commercial television. And good luck to him. Continue reading

The Counter Reformation

163821058“What is happening is…a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.”

When Rupert Murdoch delivered that speech to the American Society of Newspaper editors in Washington a decade ago, he was seen by some as a Martin Luther figure, challenging centralised authority and nailing his 95 theses to the digital wall. Continue reading

Stuck Inside of Mobile

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Photo Courtesy The Guardian

The digital revolution will not be televised. And it’s not in the newspapers either. In fact, media companies don’t seem to get the revolution at all.

A decade and half since newspapers started distractedly plastering their content all over the internet (mistaking the web as just another publishing platform), the media owners are getting whacked anew. Continue reading

The Civic Vacuum

A major theme accompanying the destruction of the mainstream media’s business model is what happens to our democracy when we lose public accountability journalism. We’re finding out.

Whether liberal or traditionally conservative, no champion of a vigorous democracy can be happy with the emaciation of the Fourth Estate to the point where it is reduced to being a passive cheerleader or booster for the well-heeled, the powerful and the connected. The civic function of journalism has been almost entirely eclipsed by the market function of commercial media. Continue reading

Dawn of the Dead

Breaking news: The news business isn’t dead. But that’s not because the news business was ever alive on its own terms. It’s because news was never a business. In fact, the idea that you can make a living out of news is a dream that many people have yet to wake up from.

Journalists leaving the industry – and there are hordes right now walking the streets like extras in a George Romero movie – talk up the prospect of setting up collectives that “sell” breaking news directly. The truth is, however, the audience isn’t buying. People won’t pay for general news. They never have….directly anyway. Continue reading

News Values

The gnashing of teeth in print journalism about how to save the industry is understandable. But like a shipwrecked crew on a melting iceberg, the victims might spend less time wishing for a change in the weather and more time building a boat out of there.

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Citizen Kane to Citizen Mayne

Ten years ago, online publisher Crikey under then owner Stephen Mayne fought a fruitless battle with the Howard government to win access to the budget lock-up in Canberra. Despite producing what  was unequivocally journalism, Mayne’s operation was deemed not to be a media outlet. It’s a snub our newly digitising established media companies might want to consider.

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Burying the Lead

Much of the discussion around the future of mainstream media journalism is about money. Who’s going to pay the journos’ salaries? What’s a viable business model? Will the revenue generated by the erection of paywalls be sufficient to make up for the loss of audiences?

ABC Radio’s Saturday Extra took that angle recently, in an item entitled ‘Newspapers and the Media of the Future’. Norman Swan, standing in for regular host Geraldine Doogue, explored the issue with a single guest – Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy, a representative of the advertising buyers. Continue reading