ABC Managing Director Mark Scott opened the Future of Journalism conference yesterday by talking about emerging “areas of market failure” in the new media world. He said these included the production of Australian drama, and the support of serious investigative journalism.

Scott, of course, was making his pitch for the relevance of the ABC as an answer to market failure in this new world, but his remarks set the scene well for some fascinating debates, including leading industry figures from Australia and overseas.

New York University professor Jay Rosen, the man who founded the civic journalism movement and who is behind leading experiments such as newassignment.net, spoke from the Big Apple by satellite link-up.

He had a powerful metaphor — journalists as migrants to the digital age. Not all of us will make it across the ocean. When we get to the new continent we will find that others are already there. We cannot claim exclusive ownership of the new media territory.

Like all migrants, Rosen said, we need to think carefully about what is really essential to us in our old traditions and culture, and what we should leave behind in the old country. We should not abandon our principles and ideals, because they are the things that give us identity.

Because the way ahead is uncertain those in countries with a tradition of a free press should launch lots of boats, lots of experiments and brave ventures, in the realization that not all of them will make it.

The idea of the press, he said, as a social institution of importance and worth, must continue after the presses have fallen into disuse. Journalism as an idea, a construct, will exist both within big media, and elsewhere. Rosen, of course, has been talking in these terms for many years. Look at his Pressthink blog for more.

The future of journalism is the subject of much discussion and experimentation overseas, but until recently the debates has been largely absent among Australian journalists.

The Walkley Foundation can take a great deal of credit for changing this situation — putting on the Future of Journalism gig, and also using the Walkley Magazine as a forum for new media.

The result, of course, is a confrontation with a future that is both frightening and exciting. Past time, though, for the Australian journalistic profession to be getting to grips with the issues. The issues are not only to do with the business of media. They are to do with the ideals of journalism. And in the new world it will be clear that media and journalism are not necessarily the same thing.

Declaration: I was a participant as well as an observer yesterday — being interviewed by Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance secretary Chris Warren in the morning, and doing my own “in conversation” with Roy Greenslade in the afternoon.

In other rather pointedly relevant remarks, Mark Scott also talked about his career as having been largely about explaining boardrooms to newsrooms and newsrooms to boardrooms. There was a need for this still, he said — rather pointedly, I thought, given his present job and his past one as a senior Fairfax Media executive. Boardrooms needed to understand what drove journalists, and the reverse was also true.

This opened one of the major themes for the conference: how is good journalism going to be paid for, when the business models of existing big media are all under threat? How do journalists and their managers protect the values of journalism in the heart of a living business?

In my own session I said that while many journalistic forms of the present and the past will die, new ones are emerging. What we have to work out is how to carry the important values of the past into those new forms.

We are living through technological change at least equivalent to the invention of the printing press. The printing press not only made possible modern media and the profession of journalism, but also gave rise to the notion of the “public” and “the public interest”, and modern democratic forms.

We would be crazy not to think that technology will change all this all over again. I think one of the continued roles for journalism in the new world will be finding ways of linking the fragmented audiences, and keeping democratic forms alive. We have always done it. It has always been a bi-product of the media.

I believe we now need to make this explicit as part of the purpose of serious journalism.

But enough about me. If you are interested, and at risk of self promotion, it’s all in the book.

Sadly, although yesterday and today’s conference sessions are being live streamed here we will have to wait until next week for downloads of sessions. Crikey will let you know where they can be found as soon as we know ourselves.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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