laments that Australia’s major TV networks and publishers are gutting
their staff of journalists and that this will lead to weaker journalism
and less journalistic scrutiny, debate and perspectives. Actually, the
reverse is true and here’s why.

We’ve all heard of Big Business,
the Big End of Town and Big Pharma (the giant drug companies). We even
have Big Tobacco … all names created by journalists. What we never
(or hardly ever) hear about from journalists in large news companies is
Big Media – but Big Media is every bit as insidious as Big Pharma and
Big Tobacco.

Crikey readers of all people should recognise as
misinformed those people who continue to equate Big Media employers
with “journalism”, because it’s Crikey and other start-ups like it
which are continually sidelined by governments and Big Media, not in
the interests of journalism, but of business.

The trouble with
Australian journalism is precisely that Big Media continues to assert
that it “is” journalism, hoping like hell people will believe this
nonsense. We journalists for decades have defined ourselves through our
employers: “the working journalist” is more important (it is held) if
he or she works for a large metropolitan publisher. Audience numbers
have been spuriously held up as equating with accuracy, importance and
most of all, influence.

But now it’s Big Media which is on the
move. Just as Big Tobacco is moving out of the cigarette market under
enormous commercial pressure, so too is Big Media moving out of the
news market. Has been for years: witness the inexorable closure of
newspapers, regional radio and TV newsrooms, and the consolidation of
news services into fewer hands.

Where it’s going is still up for
grabs: reality TV, more game shows, sports extravaganzas, talk shows
… who knows. But it’s clear that news and journalism no longer hold
the commercial appeal they once did for these corporations. However,
this leaves a vacuum for real journalism, real debate and real
scrutiny. And this scrutiny is made possible by well-educated (some
trained in journalism, others who mimic the skills) individuals who opt
for the new ways of communicating such as websites, mobile phones,
email and other narrowcasting media.

These individuals can be –
and often are – more capable, more ethical and more watchful than the
apprenticed journalists of the 20th century, and they are certainly
more independent. They are also more determined to have their say, and
have no qualms about offending Big Media, Big Government or any other
Big Business.

So I urge you not to worry too much about the
demise of the Laurie Oakes, Kerry O’Briens or Jana Wendts, or any of
the other “senior journalists” who say they maintain the watch-dog role
of journalism in our world … the real watch dogs have actually got
out into the yard and are already barking and making themselves heard
in the neighbourhood.

Mostly they’re young, upstarts, keen and
willing to pry … they make us uncomfortable and make us turn our
heads. In fact … they’re doing journalism!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey