Moving online – not necessarily ‘open’….

Katie recently wrote a post, looking at defining open journalism based on the principles developed by The Guardian – which includes the encouragement of participation, being transparent and open to challenge, and facilitating the formation of communities around joint interests. Whether Fairfax and News Limited, Australia’s two major news providers, are moving to follow this model of journalism is another matter.

In Fairfax’s 2011 Annual Report, Fairfax outlines their position on a number of issues facing news journalism in Australia in the current climate. On working with communities, the company has to say:

The Company operates in partnership with a diverse range of charities and not-for-profit organisations to create shared value. These relationships exist both nationally and within the hundreds of local communities in which the Company operates. The satisfaction of simultaneously delivering corporate and social value through hard work is important to the company’s employees.

This is only a small excerpt, but in the report, available on the Fairfax website, there is no mention of the kind of community formation encouraged and facilitated by the Guardian. Working in partnership with charities and non-profit organisations will always be an admirable goal; one that Fairfax has accomplished (sponsoring the City2Surf fun run, raising millions for charities took pride of place in the report). In terms of forming communities of joint interest however, it seems that it only goes so far as that newspapers, and news websites, publish news in relation to a specific geographical locale. For instance, The Age is specific to Melbourne, and The Sydney Morning Herald is specific to Sydney. Fairfax also retains a strong regional presence, publishing several weekly papers for regions across Australia.

Fairfax do make mention of a model that does address much of what we would consider to be open journalism:

It is open to the web and is part of it. It links to, and collaborates with, other material (including services) on the web

Fairfax and News Limited of course, publish their news online, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a more open model of journalism. Indeed, it seems that rather than adopting a new model, these media companies are simply shifting all their content from one platform to another. Indeed, some online newspapers, such as The Australian are asking the user to pay for a subscription online (though the Australian currently offers a 28 day free trial and it is still possible to access some articles for free). These online papers, like their print counterparts, are also specific to a certain locale. In his article, ‘ Democracy, participation and convergent media; Case studies in contemporary online news journalism in Australia’, Terry Flew examines the case of News Limited’s Courier Mail vs. Fairfax’s online only newspaperbrisbanetimes.com.auFairfax launched the online only site in order to compete with the Courier, as both were aiming to cover the south-east Queensland market.

In both the of the sites ‘About Us’ sections, they claim to be dedicated to local news, affecting and of interest to Queenslanders of the region. They both claim to be intent on supplying quality journalism. The Courier even claims to include ‘controversial bloggers’ when reporting the latest breaking news around the nation (although they are not specific about what constitutes a ‘controversial’ blogger).

While at first successful, the brisbanetimes.com.au has lost market share to the Courier Mail over time. Flew identifies the reason for this as one of the problems facing online only newspapers in the current climate – extra resources must be invested into news production in order to build up a long term relationship with potential readers, in order to compete with counterparts that are both print and online. Despite the fact that the nearly all newspapers are moving into an online environment, print circulation still continues, and there seems to be greater opportunity for that relationship to be established. However, Flew also identifies an interesting alternative:

An alternative path would be for sites such as brisbanetimes.com.au to make more use of user-created content and citizen journalism to enable it to develop a lower-cost strategy for embedding ‘hyperlocal’ content into its news site than is the case for a more established competitor, which has a considerably larger staff of paid journalists.

This would seem to be talking about the same kind of journalistic model purported by The Guardian – a model that works with the community, with bloggers and citizen journalists. A model that curates and collects rather than simply uses their own journalists. The problem seems to be, in the Australian journalism landscape, is finding a model that is financially viable, or perhaps, an inability to let go of the old business models.

Interestingly, and as a final note, the Courier Mail has a link down the bottom of their homepage that simply says ‘Send Stories’. Once a user follows the link however, they are taken to this page, asking for story tips rather than pre-written articles.