Part of my role at the Future of Journalism Conference in Sydney yesterday was to be “in conversation” with the respected British media commentator, Roy Greenslade.
No-one knows the British journalism scene better. And of course, he knows British journalism’s exports.
We spent most of our time talking about the future of newspapers and journalism, but given that he is in the forefront of proclaiming the importance of maintaining journalistic integrity in the new media age, I thought it fair to ask him if he had any comment on the dispute over editorial independence at The Age currently embroiling his former colleague, editor Andrew Jaspan.
It was an open question, and Greenslade could easily have batted it away. Indeed, he said he didn’t know enough to comment on the particulars of the dispute. But he went on to say that Jaspan was a friend, but he had nevertheless watched his career with interest and wondered: “how a man of limited talent had risen so high”.
Greenslade also revealed that after he made this reference to the dispute on his blog a couple of weeks ago, he received a cross e-mail from Jaspan who protested that it was merely a “rump of left wing journalists” behind the fuss.
Greenslade commented to the conference that he understood that there had been a unanimous vote of about 230 journalists and that he would have thought that this was more than a rump.
Clearly thinking better of his remarks, he joked that he hoped there were no journalists in the audience noting down what he said – but the ABC cameras were trained on him. (Sadly the footage, while streamed live on the ABC site, is not yet available for download.)
Greenslade is planning to meet Jaspan in Melbourne this weekend. If the meet still goes ahead it would be great to be a fly on the wall.
Greenslade has a special place in media debates. His 44-year career has included stints as editor of the Daily Mirror and senior positions at most other British newspapers that matter. His blog at the Guardian is read by media professionals all over the world.
Meanwhile, for all those wondering what is going on at The Age, the journalists are keeping their heads down and staying quiet in the hope of engaging management in sensible discussions on the issues. Strategically, outside media interest is very much a double edged sword, with management still using the leak of the Age tapes as an excuse not to talk.
But I understand that behind the scenes, serious work is being done by the Independence Committee on a protocol to manage the various conflicts of interest of the newspaper, its board and its commercial entanglements. In this, the committee has the help of senior outside advisers. We can expect to hear more before too long.
For Greenslade’s own take on the Future of Journalism conference, including a mention of your very own “iconoclastic” Crikey and an interesting debate with American journalism pioneer Jay Rosen, see his blog here.
Greenslade has been debating the future of journalism for many years – long before terms like citizen journalism and audience fragmentation entered the lexicon. Recently, he has pronounced the mass circulation newspaper as dying, if not dead. See this piece from the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday for the drift.
In other comments yesterday of particular relevance to the current Australian scene, he said that it was important that a newspaper’s presence online was of a similar character to their hard copy editions. “If there is a disconnect between your publication on the web and in print then it will fail,” he said. It was a mistake to think that online serious newspapers could “get away with” a bit of tabloid gossip. This just trashed the brand.
Advertisers like to know who they are advertising to.
Greenslade wasn’t consciously commenting on Fairfax, but it was clear the audience understood the relevance to the way those mastheads are managing their online presence.
Meanwhile it was much commented on among attending journalists that while Sky News, Channel Nine and News Limited were sponsors of the conference, Fairfax Media was not.