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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His Master’s Voice

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A common defence of Rupert Murdoch’s overwhelming dominance of the Australian media is that it reflects market forces. His papers account for 60%-70% of newspaper sales because they are popular, goes this line.

A second defence is that the multiplicity of new platforms for news and information and the proliferation of blogs make Murdoch’s stranglehold over traditional media, particularly newspapers, less of an issue for democracy. Continue reading

Media House of Cards

Proponents for the dismantling of media ownership laws rightly make the point that in age where everyone can publish across multiple platforms it is anachronistic to maintain regulations designed for a different age. But if we are going to deregulate, why not go the whole hog?

Discussion about Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s proposals to dismantle specific laws for specific media platforms overlook another consequence of new technology: While consumers are plugging into a global media market, current laws still are mainly designed to protect local media. And those tired and clueless oligopolies will only get more powerful with the inevitable consolidation that Turnbull’s changes will spark. Continue reading

Happy News

A rich vein of work in journalism studies is that existing norms and narrative functions of the craft are seen as obsolete by a new generation of media-savvy digital natives. This funky crew wants performers who mash up satire, news & popular culture and break the fourth wall between medium and audience.

It’s an exciting idea and one that draws as its inspiration successful US news/comedy/satire  hybrids like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert The Colbert Report. Continue reading

Old Empires New Legacies

Journalism isn’t like any other business. And that’s because journalism isn’t a business at all.  The great newspaper empires now being dismantled in Australia and elsewhere were actually advertising businesses supporting cultural institutions.

Industrial era journalism was a craft subsidised by the advertising. When advertising separated from the newspapers, the journalism lost its subsidy. Now, companies like Fairfax Media are seeking to put a market value on journalism itself. Good luck with that. Continue reading

Reinventing Journalism

It is a painful time for many journalists. Cast aside from the failing industry that used to provide them with a secure living, they are confused, frustrated and in some cases downright angry that society no longer seems to put a dollar value on the skills they worked so hard to perfect.

That the wounds of mass redundancies are still raw was rammed home to me last week when I took part in a panel at an inner Sydney hotel organised by the Public Interest Journalism Foundation (PJIF) to “share ideas and experiences around innovation in journalism”. Continue reading

Shrink Wrapped

“Buy a slice of history!’ The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age flooded the streets with old fashioned paper boys and girls recently to exploit the novelty of these long established broadsheets making the transition to tabloid (‘compact’ in Fairfax-speak).

“The compact print edition launch is a significant moment in the history of Fairfax Media, enabling readers to engage with both mastheads in a more user-friendly print format,” the company quaintly trumpeted in a news release which hailed a “new era” in newspaper publishing. 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

Down to the Crossroads

Hundreds of young people in Australia enter communication degrees each year in anticipation of securing jobs in journalism that no longer exist. How must that make a journalism educator like Margaret Simons feel?

Well, not as depressed as you might think. In fact, as the title of her new book attests (‘Journalism at the Crossroads: Crisis and Opportunity for the Press‘), Simons – the director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne –  paints a tentatively hopeful picture of the future of the craft which has been her living for most of her life. Continue reading

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