6 May 2008

The changing face of journalism

A recent conference in Australia on the future of journalism in the digital age has predicted a bright future for user-generated content, but at the expense of traditional newspaper journalism.

Speaking after the conference, Roy Greenslade, a former editor of Britain's The Daily Mirror and now a columnist for the Guardian's media website, was blunt in his assessment of newspapers' future when he said they were a "dead duck." He, and other industry experts who spoke, said those who traditionally advertised in newspapers were now simply finding it cheaper, easier and more effective to advertise on the web. The so-called "rivers of gold" of classified advertising revenue in particular were drying up.

For newspaper journalists, this is something of a concern, not the least because they could soon find themselves out of a job. Newspapers, especially flagship publications, were able to fund large editorial teams, with foreign and specialist bureaus, through these hefty advertising revenues. While newspaper sales are still holding up well in Australia, they have fallen significantly in Europe and North America. The cash will soon simply not be there to pay for them.

The next concern is where does this take the quality of journalism? What if the money isn't there to fund teams of investigators to analyze events and look beyond the obvious? The Australian TV program Media Watch, produced by the ABC, the publicly funded national broadcaster that also hosted the conference, stated pieces covering celebrities, entertainment and other "fluffy" subjects were far more popular on the web than the "latest dispatch from parliament."

The program showed how one flagship publication in Australia published three celebrity articles and a "funny animal story" on the front page of its online edition while not featuring one of these pieces in its print edition.

The message seems clear that models for professional journalism are going to have to adapt very quickly if it is to survive. This is where the good news comes in for budding journalists. Greenslade said in his interview on Media Watch that these new models would most likely end up involving smaller, core teams of professional journalists, funded by smaller advertising revenues, shepherding content generated by users; a host of "amateur" journalists.

And while this may bring concerns about falling quality, Greenslade says the digital format allows for mistakes to be picked up and corrected much more quickly. He pointed out most newspapers at present are very slow and hesitant about correcting and apologizing anyway.

Digital technology also allows publishers much faster feedback on what people are reading, and want to read about – even if it is about the rise in hemlines and not food prices.

Watch the full Media Watch program here.
The Guardian's media website
Roy Greenslade's blog



Anonymous said...

Interesting one Mark. We have Steve Smith coming over from the US to speak at one of our own events this week talking about this particular fate.
Smith is editor of the the US local newspaper, the Spokesman Review. They're seeing the shift to the web and they're also working on the user-generated idea but partially. Here they're webcasting live their editorial meetings and inviting th e public to attend and even comment on the angles they're working on for stories.
So, they're extremely transparent, getting closer to their readers and also making some use of the amateur journalists but still using the pros to write the stuff. Hats off to them I say.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, as media debater Jonathan Marks put it:
- Some people tend to overestimate the UGC-trend; most user generated content is useless content.

It is also true that the most viewed clips on youtube are actually produced by professionals. I think it is wrong to assume real journalism will die out, the question is how it will transform.

Anonymous said...

Agree with that. The question is of course how you use the content. User-generated content can lead to tips on stories and new story ideas and angles.
The craft of writing will always be a craft, just like the craft of film making won't get easier because the equipment is more accessible. But users can be in the right place at the right time and have some information that can result in a pro using the material and turning it into something great.
I spoke in fact to Steve Smith this morning. The numbers are dropping on their print newspaper but with their mobile, internet and radio channels, they actually have a larger audience than ever. It's as you say, a question of how it will transform, not a question that real journalism will die out.

Anonymous said...

Seems like we agree again then, Colm!


Anonymous said...

Yeah. I could have been more concise but there's nothing better than a few long-winded comments!

Interesting enough though is that the Spokesman Review is starting to get non-journalists - Joe Citizen - to work alongside journalists on stories to ensure that the journos really get a feel for what's happening on the ground. So, user generated content is happening but the journo is still the person crafting the piece - just in a more accountable way.