Ideology

After the invention of the printing press there was a long period of societal restructuring as the technology facilitated mass communication for the first time. Ideas were shared more widely and faster than ever before and all forms of society were re-organised by this communication revolution; government, education and religious organisations were all disrupted. The internet is as revolutionary a technology as the printing press and we are currently experiencing a period of change on a scale comparable with the scale of the societal reorganisation that accompanied the printing press. How far we are into this period of change and how much change lies ahead of us is hard to gauge, but I believe that when it comes to our news media and journalism we are really only at the beginning of the revolution. Given how young this change is, I don’t think we are at a point where we can understand the mechanics of how journalism is going to look going in the future. As Greg Jericho of Grog’s Gamut told a lecture at The University of Canberra, “it would be like looking at news on the TV in 1959 and predicting that we were going to have 24 hour news channels”.

When we began researching for this project we thought that we might be able to uncover models for journalism; defining what open journalism is and how it will work. But as our research progressed it became apparent that what we were looking at was not a mode of journalism, but a way of conceptualising journalism. The public perception of journalism has long been one of the “journalist as a hero” where the journalist is the ‘fourth estate’ which holds the powerful to account. This is a view that journalists have internalized, forming what Mark Deuze describes as “a consensual occupational ideology”. Deuze lists the concepts, values and beliefs of the journalism ideology as:

  • Public service: journalists provide a public service (as watchdogs or ‘newshounds’, active collectors and disseminators of information);
  • Objectivity: journalists are impartial, neutral, objective, fair and (thus) credible;
  • Autonomy: journalists must be autonomous, free and independent in their work;
  • Immediacy: journalists have a sense of immediacy, actuality and speed (inherent in the concept of ‘news’);
  • Ethics: journalists have a sense of ethics, validity and legitimacy.

Deuze discribes how this ideology is used by journalists to justify the decision they make and to reinforce their authority.

Ideology has also been identified as an instrument in the hands of journalists and editors to naturalize the structure of the news organization or media corporation one works for. Especially when faced with public criticism, journalists apply ideological values to legitimate or self-police the recurring self similar selection and description of events and views in their media.

The use of this ideology by journalists to justify their work is most evident in the journalistic defence of ‘objectivity’. Where being attacked from both sides is seen as a sign that they are doing their job properly. Jay Rosen describes this as the view from nowhere; or creating a sense of false symmetry. A belief that if two sides make competing assertions both sides must be wrong and that the truth must lie somewhere in the middle.

It would be wrong, however, to suggest that just because this is the dominant ideology (or discourse) held by journalists, that it is the only one.

This criticism also comes from within the profession, as, for example, supporters of the public journalism movement blame this ideological way of thinking for the news media’s inability to engage citizens (Merritt, 1995; Rosen, 1999).

This criticism of the dominant journalistic ideology has proven to be an accurate prediction of the crisis that currently faces political journalism in the digital age. Because the dominant journalistic ideology sees only journalists as holding the attributes of impartiality and objectivity, they see their account as the authoritative and final “correct” account. This has prevented many journalists and news institutions from engaging with their readers.

The current journalistic ideology values balance and objectivity; it encourages a sense that because the journalist has spoken to “both sides” in a story that the journalist’s story is the authorative account. As the barriers between journalists and readers are broken down, readers are able to challenge this binary take on objectivity. However with the advent of self publishing on the Internet, the audience have been able to offer alternative narratives, interpretations and even challenged the facts reported by journalists; no longer is a story finished when it is published and there is no longer one single “authoritative” account of any political event.

On blogs, as on Twitter, authors are aware that they are part of a larger dialogue and that a story is never finished; the story is only the beginning. Barthes describes in his essay “From Work to Text” a move away from a static ‘work’,with fixed meaning, to a more fluid ‘text’, which defers meaning. I think something similar is happening to journalism; there is no singular meaning or narrative and no authoritative voice. The current ideology of journalism fails to account for this discussion. The current journalistic discourse sees the journalist as the prescriber of meaning due to their value of objectivity and balance. But the audience is taking the journalist’s words away from them, prescribing their own meaning, discussing, republishing, responding. The audience is creating their own stories whether the journalist wants them to or not.

I think we need to start a new discourse for journalism; a new ideology. Open journalism.

This is not a view that has emerged only in the digital age, the dominant journalist ideology has been challenged for years. Terry Flew and Jason Wilson quoted Daniel Hallin from 1994 in their article Journalism as social networking: The Australian youdecide project and the 2007 federal election.

Hallin argued for new forms of journalism that aimed to be in dialogue with the wider public rather than ‘mediating between political institutions and the mass public’, and a professional practice where ‘the voice and judgment of the journalist … [are] more honestly acknowledged’ (1994: 176).

Flew and Wilson go on to add:

Hallin’s diagnosis of a crisis in journalism, arising from a growing disconnect between journalism and the communities it intends to serve, was developed at precisely the moment of the mass popularization of the internet, but almost a decade before its full implications began to permeate the culture and organization of journalism and news media.

We are already seeing the audience reject the journalist’s authority. The mere existence of self published blogs should be enough to prove that the audience does not accept the final authority of the news profession. Narratives, interpretations, assumptions and assertions are all now challenged in an online discussion. There is no one singular meaning or one single way of distilling meaning from news; there has never been. Through technology the dissent has found an outlet and a voice. The people formally known as the audience are expressing their dissatisfaction.

If the old ideology values public service, objectivity, autonomy and immediacy; what of the new ideology? What are the values and beliefs of open journalism?

I suggest a different set of values, ones that I believe will allow journalists and journalism to thrive in the social age.

  • public engagement: the news doesn’t stop and the story isn’t complete once a report is filed. The journalist should be involved in the ecology of reporting that exists outside of their news publication. Informing and being informed by community discussion;
  • accuracy: objectivity constructs a false sense of symmetry, excludes actors and obscure the truth. Instead journalists should use their skills and judgment in checking facts and pursing the truth (or truths);
  • transparency: building trust through honest dialogue with the community; about their judgments, their doubts and their opinions. Sharing documents and source material for stories so that the community can build on the work of the journalist and ensuring the accuracy of the original report.

This is not a complete list, nor is it a final one. It’s only where I am at the moment, I have my doubts and I am certain that it will change.

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Trust, the missing link

At the moment Australian journalism seems to be at odds with its audience and it all seems to come down to trust. The Finkelstein report, released earlier this year, names journalists as the fourth least trustworthy professionals, above only real estate agents, advertising people, and used car salesmen.

Though it’s not as though journalists themselves are too blind too see it. In a study conducted in 2004 by RMIT and Roy Morgan a sample of journalists were surveyed. And it seems there are mutual concerns for both journalists and audiences. The report identifies accuracy, bias, and ownership as key contributors to the public’s lack of trust in journalists. With 56% of the surveyed journalists admitting to ‘often’ making mistakes, and 62% say these mistakes are ‘sometimes’ corrected. Further, 73% agree that media proprietors ‘use their outlets to push their own business and/or political interests to influence the national debate’.

Accuracy, bias, and ownership all contribute to the lack of trust that has created the gap that divides news producers and audiences. Since the rapid increase in the usage of online media outlets and the decline in newspaper readership, this gap seems to have grown. There have been attempts to address this in other countries such as the United Kingdom, with The Guardian. Editor-in-cheif Alan Rusbridger identifies the web as being a crucial factor in bringing a higher level of transparency to world affairs. He says “Our approach recognises the importance of putting a newspaper at the heart of the open eco-structure of information so that you can then harness different voices and link to an array of other sources.” This quote does more than establish The Guardian’s change in journalistic practice it also highlights a change in mind set. The notion of an eco-structure that works through a reciprocal collaboration of recourses, that allows for a relationship between news-producers and those formerly known as the audience; a relationship rooted in and encouraging trust.

Deni Elliott, in Essential Shard Values and 21st Century Journalism, claims that the social responsibility of the journalist in a democracy is to “notice and report the important events and issues that citizens need to know so that they can govern themselves effectively”. Yet with the rise of digital media it seems that the role of the journalist has changed, and that in order to notice report important events and issues journalists need to adopt this notion of an eco-system that collaborates with others (such as bloggers), curates material, and encourages debate. However, insofar as Australian journalism, this change is seen as more of a threat than a benefit. James discusses the attitude of the journalist towards the changing dynamics of the news industry in Authority?. This perceived separation between journalistic ‘professionals’ and those formerly known as the audience is no longer viable.

I find myself perplexed, given the current state of the relationship between the Australian public and Australian media outlets, it begs the question, what are we waiting for?

Defining Open Journalism

Rather than considering open journalism a mode of journalism or as a type of journalism, we consider open journalism a system, or a form of organization including different forms of journalism that are often produced by a third party. Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-cheif of the Guardian, describes open journalism as:

journalism which is fully knitted into the web of information that exists in the world today. It links to it; sifts and filters it; collaborates with it and generally uses the ability of anyone to publish and share material to give a better account of the world.

The Guardian, as one of the leading examples of how open journalism can function successfully, developed these ten principles of what open journalism is:

  • It encourages participation. It invites and/or allows a response
  • It is not an inert, “us” or “them”, form of publishing
  • It encourages others to initiate debate, publish material or make suggestions. We can follow, as well as lead. We can involve others in the pre-publication processes
  • It helps form communities of joint interest around subjects, issues or individuals
  • It is open to the web and is part of it. It links to, and collaborates with, other material (including services) on the web
  • It aggregates and/or curates the work of others
  • It recognizes that journalists are not the only voices of authority, expertise and interest
  • It aspires to achieve, and reflect, diversity as well as promoting shared values
  • It recognizes that publishing can be the beginning of the journalistic process rather than the end
  • It is transparent and open to challenge – including correction, clarification and addition

From the above points it is clear what The Guardian sets out to achieve with open journalism. It is important to recognise that without those third parties participating in open journalism, the system would seize to exist. In the article Anyone Can Know by Sue Robinson and Cathy DeShano, there is extensive discussion about citizen journalism and its contribution to mainstream press.

Since the early 2000s there has been a dramatic increase in trust that the public has for ‘qualified’ bloggers, sending the message that journalists need to move over and make room. This trust increase has been good for society as the it encourages citizens to participate in their democracy now that they have a say in the news production. And for those that are doing it well, there is no shortage of recognition from the public. In 2005 it was shown that over half of American’s who read blogs believed that bloggers should have the same rights as traditional journalists. This information shows a clear shift from traditional consumption of news into the digital age.

The case study that was observed and reviewed in this article concludes the necessity for citizen journalists to work together with traditional journalists. This is where open journalism comes into play and recognizes the traditional journalist as the curator of information. There seems to be a competition between the objectivity, credibility and accuracy of the traditional journalist and the connections, freshness, volume and transparency of citizen bloggers. Open journalism is an opportunity for the competition to turn into a collaboration. Both journalists can use their set skills in order to work together and create journalism that encompasses all of the aforementioned skills.

Open journalism is an ecosystem where in all the parts must function together to work effectively. Open journalism is the tool that manages, filters, links to, and collaborates with all parts to create a platform for anyone to share or publish material.

Why are we here?

This year, when The Finkelstein Report into journalism in Australia was released, it confirmed what many of us already knew: people no longer trusted journalists.

A basic criterion of media performance is accuracy. Public perceptions of the performance of Australia’s media on this criterion are not flattering. These are the findings of several surveys.

  • Only 35 per cent of respondents to a 2011 survey by Essential Media agreed that ‘the media usually report the news accurately’. As with trust, however, perceptions varied for different media.
  • A 1976 survey by Saulwick found 66 per cent of respondents believed ABC television presented political news accurately; 51 per cent believed commercial television did so. Only 39 per cent believed newspapers presented political news accurately. In a subsequent survey in 1990 by Saulwick 76 per cent of respondents said television (undifferentiated between ABC and commercial) presented news accurately, but only 50 per cent said the same of newspapers.

In fact the Finkelstein Report confirmed a lot of what we already knew but is worth repeating.

New technology, particularly the internet, has revolutionised access to the news. The result has been a reduction in the circulation of newspapers and a reduction in revenue from classified advertising. The advertising expenditure is now spread across platforms. Main news organisations are recovering only a small proportion of these revenues by moving to online publishing

Much has already been written about the role of the internet in the declining readership and profitability of Newspapers and journalism. Research in the US from Pew Research Centre tells us that newspapers are losing $7 of print revenue for every $1 of digital revenue they gain. There is nothing to suggest that a similar trend is not occurring in Australia. It is easy to see why newspapers have been slow to adapt to online when a majority of their income is still coming from print. But the trend shows that print revenues are fading and show no sign of slowing down, while online revenue is rising but not fast enough to replace income lost in print.

Journalism is Australia is suffering two seemingly unrelated crises. One of trust and credibility among audiences and one of financial viability. Exasperating this situation is the growth of “Web 2.0” and the growth of participatory culture. The barrier of entry for publishing is lower than ever and “the people formally known as the audience” are interacting with their news like never before. Blogging platforms are allowing people to self publish, and even newspapers are integrating blogging into their newspaper websites with many prominent columnists also blogging on a daily basis.

Journalists have long viewed bloggers and the internet with suspicion and have news organisations have been dragging their feet when it comes to adopting true participatory conversations with their audience. While suspicion between old media journalists and the new media are easing, it is still mostly an uncomfortable relationship.

But while the internet age threatens the dominance of previously dominant news organisations, it also presents a great opportunity for journalism to explore new models of participation, news gathering and publication. What forms these new models might take are the subject of much discussion, research and experimentation. Open Journalism is one model that is being explored by The Guardian in the UK.

Open Journalism is a model of journalism that places journalism at the centre of an open eco-system of information and news gathering. Rather than treat bloggers and readers with suspicion it seeks to engage them in the process of news gathering. Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, has this to say about the Guardian’s Open Journalism project:

We are developing an idea of a newspaper that is very different, Our approach recognises the importance of putting a newspaper at the heart of the open eco-structure of information so that you can then harness different voices and link to an array of other sources.

“We are reaping the rewards for breaking out of the old mindset of journalism and understanding that we can harness, aggregate, curate and report, which is a distributive model of journalism that has a richness and diversity of content.

Over the course of our research we will build a workable definition of Open Journalism and how it relates to other related concepts such as “citizen journalsim” while exploring the forms that Open Journalism currently take and how they might be improved. is it financially viable and will it address the issues of trust that currently exist in Australian journalism?