Note to “old media” journalists: adapt, or stfu!

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[I promised Crikey that I’d write something about the Future of Media Summit 2008. This rant is what emerged. You can also read it over at Crikey, where there’s a different stream of comments.]

What is the future of journalism? To judge by the discussion at this week’s Future of Media Summit held simultaneously in Sydney and Silicon Valley (and every other “new media” conference I’ve been to lately) it’s endless bloody whingeing. Whingeing about how journalism has standards and bloggers are all “just” writing whatever they think.

The panels in both cities covered the same, tired old ground. The new “participatory media” and “citizen journalism” would never be Real Journalism, because Real Journalism is an Art/Craft/Profession. Real Journalism involves research and fact-checking and sub-editing. There’s a Code of Ethics. But “these people”, as bloggers get labelled, these people just sit around in their pyjamas and write whatever comes into their heads.


What’s tiring about this false dichotomy is that it compares the highest ideal of journalism with the lowest grade of personal blogging about what the cat did yesterday and — lo and behold! — they’re not the same. Gosh.

How much everyday journalism actually conforms to the high ideal? Not much. For every Walkley-nominated episode of Four Corners there’s a hundred tawdry yarns about miracle fat cures or shonky builders with a camera shoved in their face. For every investigative scoop there’s a thousand mundane little 5-paragraph yarns that merely quote what someone said at a press conference, and then quote their opponent. Or recycle a media release, putting the journo’s byline where the PR firm’s logo used to be. Or misappropriate statistics to beat up some shock-horror non-existent “crime wave”. Or either fawn or tut-tut over some “celebrity” and their antics — more often than not because that same celebrity is appearing in a TV show or movie that’s completely coincidentally owned by the journalist’s employer.

And you know, some “bloggers” actually know what they’re talking about, interview people, and link to their references to boot.

Dear Journalists, how can you spout all that stuff about “standards” and then go back to your mucky business?

Oh, that’s right. You’re a proper journalist. It’s all the others

Actually, I know why you’re so bitter about “those bloggers”. You worked hard on that student newspaper or street rag while living in uni-student poverty, put up with the abuse of grumpy old chain-smoking subs who bawled you out over trivial spelling mistakes, put up with the unpredictable patronage of editors who promoted everyone else to A Grade but you — you endured all of that hoping that one day you’d get the plum posting. But no! The newsrooms are now being decimated, and the masthead’s adorned with photos of celebrity chefs. And bloggers — bloggers! People with no professional training are leaping into the limelight. Some of them are even being paid! How dare they!

Dear Journalists, in case you hadn’t noticed, the internet and pervasive mobile digital communications change everything.

The shape of your craft and the form of your stories was determined by the technology used to deliver those stories. Newspapers, for instance, worked to their daily cycles, and stories had the length and structure they did, because of the physical and operational constraints of putting ink onto paper. Some bloke called McLuhan said something about this, ages back — but I wouldn’t know for sure, because I’m not a proper journalist. Still, it strikes me that the very industrial scale of printing a metropolitan daily or producing a 6pm TV bulletin also shapes the way you go about making your stories: all that mechanism between you the journalist and your audience.

Well, that’s all changed.

We all have keyboards now. We all have mobile phones with cameras, or soon will. We all have publishing and distribution tools like WordPress and YouTube and and Qik, or soon will.

[Update 22 March 2014: Technologies come, and technologies go. Qik is no more. Its video messaging functions have been absorbed into Skype, and Qik will cease to exist on 30 April 2014 — although videos embedded in websites are replaced with the message “video unavailable”.]

We don’t need a third party in The Mainstream Media to bring us mass-produced stories for mass-produced audiences when we can tell each other our own stories. Stories that are directly meaningful to us — like how niece Sarah did so well at the school concert (and here’s a video), or how the factory’s closing down (and here’s the lousy memo the bastards sent us). We’re only just learning how to connect myriad storytellers to myriad audiences, but we’re learning fast.

There’s still a role for Real Journalism, of course, with your research and storytelling skills and, yes, with your Code of Ethics too. No-one’s saying there won’t be. And you know what? You too can use all these wonderful new tools to create wonderful new forms of Journalism — if only you’d stop whingeing about how your world’s falling apart and actually learn to use them. A hint: You don’t have to wait for your grumpy old chain-smoking editor to show you, either, because he’s a dinosaur and will soon be dead.

But nearly every time I hear journalists talking about, say, real-time messaging services like Twitter, it’s about how they can mine it for data, not how they might adapt their craft to this new participatory delivery mechanism. Or they’re waiting for someone else to show them how to do it.

The people already exploring these new media forms will be the leaders. They may not call themselves “journalists” — and they probably don’t want to, since you’re held in such poor esteem these days — but they’ll be fluent in the new media. And you… well, you’ll be stuffed.

45 Replies to “Note to “old media” journalists: adapt, or stfu!”

  1. Stil – you use the term citizen journalist in a description of a discussion about new media. It’s para 2 in your crikey item.

    “The panels in both cities covered the same, tired old ground. The new “participatory media” and “citizen journalism” would never be Real Journalism, because Real Journalism is an Art/Craft/Profession. Real Journalism involves research and fact-checking and sub-editing. There’s a Code of Ethics. But “these people”, as bloggers get labelled, these people just sit around in their pyjamas and write whatever comes into their heads.”

    You then conclude …


    Are you not defending such a term as being valid, and moreover, by not clearly renouncing claim to being such yourself, then it is a reasonable assumption to conclude that you support such terms as being valid and might even see yourself as such.

    It’s an extremely loaded term “Citizen Journalist” and no where in your article to you attempt to deconstruct such a debased term.

    Now when challenged over such a term you resort to 101 Blogger tactic – the Straw Man – it’s the sort of fascicle response that one expects from faux journalists like Tim Blair and faux bloggers like Andrew Bolt and most of the rightwing blogsphere.

    That a small l liberal like yourself then reaches for the same box of matches so quickly – only highlights to me that the political blogsphere is full of it, and no better than the drivel being served up by the SMH or the OZ.

    Much mainstream media today is crap, but bloggers like yourself – and especially ones claiming to be social researchers – should stop pretending that the blogsphere is doing any better and is somehow intrinsically better due to it’s participatory nature. As I said before they are both quickly merging into the same realtime feed of nothingness.

    Good media is good media. Whatever the medium it doesn’t matter. If it makes money and can publish or produce another version or rendition again tomorrow or next week etc then it’s got something working right.

    Otherwise it’s just static.

  2. Cassy ST wrote:
    > And let’s face it, most of us still watch TV and buy newspapers and read
    > magazines and listen to radio.

    As a source of mainstream journalism? In Aus? Only true for 1 out of those 4. And in the youngest demographic 0.

  3. I am settling in to enjoy a magnificent selection of local and imported cheeses, antipasti and red wine…as the approaching bloodshed unfolds.

  4. @Christie: You’ve found the very core of my essay. This is indeed yet another stupid binary opposite: journalists good and noble, bloggers bad and lazy. Pure rubbish, of course. Or, as I put it, “Bollocks”. And indeed at the Future of Media Summit there was a slanging match over how “journalist” was defined when finance journo Jane Schulze started using what many people though was an overly narrow definition.

    @Simon Mansfield: I’m not making any point one way or the other about the “validity” of the term “citizen journalist”. I was just quoting the terms which came up in the debate. I didn’t deconstruct the term because that’s peripheral to my main point, and I was already at 800+ words.

    As it happens, I’m not a fan of the term “citizen journalists”. Adopting the tag “journalist” will inevitably annoy the folks who think they are journalists. And we are, as you point out, all citizens. We need another word for people doing reportage who are not “officially” journalists. Suggestions, anyone?

    You do keep repeating this notion that I (or is it someone else?) am claiming the blogosphere is better than journalists. I’m not, and I’m not seeing anyone else who is. I think you’re reading way too much into what I write. I’m happy to clarify, but I’m starting to get annoyed that my position is being repeatedly misinterpreted.

    @Michael Meloni: News’ feed of Papal happenings onto Twitter is a brilliant experiment — simply because it’s being done at all. I love that it’s written in the first person. Quite engaging.

    Someone from has invited me for a beer to explain how they’re changing. I’ll take him up on that soon.

    @Everyone else: Again, lots of good material, thank you! I’ve also asked Jonathan Este of the MEAA if I can republish the response he wrote for Crikey yesterday: Bloggers: the biggest whingers since journalists. It’s a hoot. [Update: He has given permission, and you can read it here.]

  5. The only poster who is making any kind of sense here is Simon Mansfield. Seriously, these bloggers just complain too much. Let’s see you lot actually write or break good stories. Well c’mon! Stilgh and that other one, whatshername — SilkCharm, keep spouting about oh-how-so-good are we that we’re such precious bloggers. Puh-lzzz… Let’s see you actually produce good and original stuff.

  6. See, as a blogger myself I really hate the idea that (1) blogging should be about Journalism and (2) one should “break stories”. See John Quiggin or P Z Myers as an example of academics who share their knowledge and opinions in ways the rest of us can understand. That’s not “news” as I understand it, but it helps us understand the world. But I digress, kinda. I see a log of the best blogging as having NOTHING TO DO with Journalism. A really good blogger is an essayist — think Helen Garner, Charmian Clift, Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux, Bob Ellis, Lester Bangs… Yes these people have nothing in common stylistically, but I think you get my drift: NOT journalism. (And people, please note I said really good blogger — if you pop up with some throwaway comment about some idiot writing about their cat, you haven’t read for comprehension.)

    A great many blogs, also, are close to op-ed, not journalism. And when I look at some of the crappy op-ed that gets into the dead tree newspapers, well. We have nothing to be ashamed of!

  7. Should have read, a LOT of the best blogging. (We don’t have sub-editors. Although that doesn’t seem to do much good at The Age. 😉 )

  8. @Helen: Your post raises some excellent points regarding the state of flux in the definition of Journalists / Essayists / Bloggers.

    But aren’t the best Journalists often great essayists too? And aren’t the best Bloggers as adept at research and analysis as great Journalists?

  9. @Helen and @Stephen Stockwell: When I had that stroll and chat with Jonathan Este, he told me he saw this as a Venn Diagram with two big circles. One was “journalists” and one was “bloggers”, and there was a big overlap — what you’ve identified as essay-writing. Then out at one side is the “hard news” that journos do, and the other side is the fluffy personal stuff that bloggers do.

    What we should be celebrating is that both groups of people, when they’re at their best, produce wonderful material which illuminates our world and entertains us. Alas, the arguments focus on the disjunct parts of the diagram… [sigh].

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