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?

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