Your blogging correspondent, Stilgherrian, seemed like such a nice bloke at the Future of Media summit in Sydney on Tuesday. On the way from the venue to the pub afterwards we shared a few yarns and war stories and I bought him a beer.
He could have been a real journalist.
But his piece in yesterday’s Crikey betrayed his outsider status in his very first par:
What is the future of journalism? To judge by the discussion at this week’s Future of Media Summit … it’s endless bl–dy whingeing.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Whingeing, old son, is the past, the present and the future of journalism, as you’d know if you’d spent much time in the newsroom. It’s what we do. Journalists love whingeing and we’re pretty damn good at it.
But to judge by the wrangling during the Future of Journalism panel, on which I sat alongside Jane Shultze of The Australian, APN’s Hugh Martin and Professor Stephen Quinn of Curtin University, bloggers are certainly catching journalists up when it comes to the culture of complaint.
Their complaint appears to be this: “Journalists don’t take us seriously enough. They won’t let us play in their sand pit.”
Much debate raged about how to define journalism and journalists. Shultze copped a barracking for insisting that, as far as she was concerned, being a journalist had involved getting to know a beat (in her case, media business) extremely thoroughly, building a list of contacts around that beat and using it to break stories in the newspaper and — lately — online.
(With the greatest respect to a former colleague, I take exception with this, as it appears limited to reporters. To me a journalist is engaged in any or all aspects of journalism, there is just as much of the craft — yes, craft — of journalism in finessing a story for publication and the other roles involved in the production of a newspaper or bulletin as there is in reporting, but that’s another issue.)
Shultze’s definition was greeted by a howl of protest from the bloggers’ brigade: What do you think bloggers do? We break stories as well! What we do is just as valid as what you do, etc, etc.
And they are absolutely right. The best in the blogosphere are right up there with the best journalists, while there can be no doubt that some journalists practise the craft with more talent and diligence than others (you know who you are).
One of my favourite media stories this week is the Pounds 30 million purchase of ContentNext, the tech blog group, by Guardian News & Media. I’m a big fan of GNM and their online strategy as it is optimistic and aggressive. They are forging ahead into new markets in the belief that “reach will equal revenue” down the track.
And ContentNext has a high net worth readership in India of which the Grauniad wants a piece. GNM is not falling into the trap some other media organisations are in of circling their wagons, putting their fingers in their ears, singing “la-la-la” and hoping it’ll all go away if they cut staff savagely enough.
Perhaps Rafat Ali, the brain behind ContentNext, is technically a blogger, but what he and his people are engaged in is high-quality journalism. It is finding things out and keeping their market informed. So, can bloggers do journalism? Absolutely.
Stilgherrian reminds us of our faults and, yes: you do read barely altered press releases, there are sloppy errors and bias has been known to creep in, from time to time. One of the most recent comments you read about falling newspaper readership is: “If they gave us something worth reading, we’d buy their newspapers.”
So, less people are buying newspapers and more people are reading blogs and getting their news through informal social networks. As long as they still want the news, then there will be work for those of us whose job it is to find things out, whether it be by old-fashioned door-knocking, by monitoring Twitter feeds or by crowd sourcing. And we all get to share in the wonderful new online tools being developed.
So, yes, Stilgherrian, you can play in our sandpit. And we’ll be duly impressed when you come up with something better than the castles in the air you built yesterday.
Jonathan Este is the director of communications with the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. His views are not necessarily those of the Alliance.