The two most trashed and misunderstood words in the agonising debate about the future of news are “quality journalism”.
Fairfax Media’s CEO and chairman were at it again this week, rolling out the QJ mantra like a halo in a helpless attempt to placate investors who were dumping Fairfax stock and subeditors who were being booted out the door.
“I think most people read quality newspapers in order to get a point of view… I think newspapers will have a great future … providing they have … outstanding journalism,” proclaimed Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett, a former supermarket boss who sold a lot of quality smoked salmon in his heyday.
“What we’re going to be doing is investing in journalism … journalism has never been more important to these metro newspapers,” said the new CEO Greg Hywood, a former journalist and government advisor with a more than passing familiarity with the shadowy world of codewords, spin and obfuscation.
Like “motherhood”, “quality journalism” is a meaningless phrase unless it is contextualised. And it almost never gets contextualised because that would require moving from under the soft light of the halo to be compelled to spell out, in nuanced detail, specifically what kind of journalism is being mooted, with dozens of examples, and how it should be conceived, written, edited and presented, with even more examples, and under which ethical and professional guidelines it will be practised, and how it will be resourced, and fact-checked, and the precise nature of the relationship between the masthead’s journalism and its commerce, and how its credibility and independence will be protected, and exactly which audiences it is being created for and how and why those audiences will treat it as being special or unique.
Perhaps the greengrocer could explain that.