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Sep 1, 2011

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What kind of democracy would we live in if it didn’t include the work of a thousand-or-so newspaper reporters and editors who currently cover politics, government, justice, business, economics, social issues, the professions, the arts and other important subjects?

We may be about to find out.

Because it’s now apparent, as a result of the release of Fairfax Media’s latest financial report last week, that the print versions of three of Australia’s four “serious” newspapers — The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian — operate at a financial loss, while the fourth, the Financial Review, has seen its profits halved in the past two years.

That’s bad news for their shareholders. But it could be even worse news for the stakeholders in Australian democracy, who depend heavily on the independent scrutiny carried out by those thousand journalists (as well as hundreds more at the ABC and other serious media outlets).

The commercial model that has historically funded large-scale “public trust” print journalism is collapsing, and so far in the media revolution nothing on the same scale has emerged to replace it. Although this trend has been evolving for several years, it has reached a new inflection point this year due to a combination of cyclical and structural factors.

Which raises a seminal question: if the free market can no longer fund it, should quality civic journalism be supported by some form of government funding? As it is in countries such as France and Sweden.

Such a suggestion may seem radical. But if government support becomes the only way to maintain “public trust” journalism — just as government support is the primary funding source of the arts, culture, museums and libraries — surely that’s preferable to watching it disappear.

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27 comments

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27 thoughts on “Beecher: govt funding could stem loss of serious newspapers

  1. Rodney Topor

    Time for an Australian Publishing Corporation to complement the Australian Broadcasting Corporation?

  2. Gavin Moodie

    The Australian Government already funds quality civic journalism in the ABC and the SBS. There is no need for it to subsidise journalism on dead trees, papyrus, tablets or any other old medium.

  3. Michael James

    Beecher’s Crikey rightly derides rent-seeking industries seeking to suckle from the teat of public money, right up to the point where it’s their own industry threatened, at which time rent-seeking subsidies by industry becomes OK, as long as they approve.

    The stench of self righteous hypocrisy is overwhelming.

  4. Duds

    Eric, go and talk to Bernard Keane about his thoughts on protectionism and then come back and explain to the readers why newspapers deserve protection, for the sake of journalism, but manufacturing doesn’t. Good journalism, “public trust” journalism, has nothing to do with blank ink on white sheets of paper! Good journalism is about the ability to perform diligent research, make innovative connection, provide insightful analysis and last, but not least, to wrap it up with eloquent storytelling.

    I take your point that good journalists need employment and to feed themselves. But, hey, the music industry is coming out the other side of the same revolution. Broadcast television is starting to feel the revolution and will struggle with change over the coming years. Why are newspapers special? You and the other Crikey journalists are a case in point. Good journalists will adapt to new media and continue to wrap their unique blend of investigation, analysis and insight with great story telling that I will pay to read.

    I don’t agree with the conclusion of your analysis but I did enjoy reading it and will continue to pay for you to do so.

  5. GocomSys

    Please clearly define “serious” newspapers. Would you “seriously” include News Limited publications? Many don’t.
    Gavin Moodie, agree, let’s get rid of fish-wrappers!

  6. Bill Hilliger

    Ha, ha, ha. The Australian a newspaper? News Limited a serious media organisation in Australia… ha,ha,ha – groan.

  7. Peter Ormonde

    Aw strewth…

    There is only one way to resuscitate “quality journalism” … that’s with quality journalists, encouraged – even allowed – to produce informed, insightful and well-written news and analysis.

    It is not just the financial model of the newspapers that is disintegrating – it is their content, it is their very value to the communities they purport to serve.

    Should Andrew Bolt be made a protected species, or Janet Albrechtsen (not sure about the spelling and don’t care) declared a national treasure? Should Glenn Milne have his salary topped up by taxpayers?

    I’d rather protect seal clubbing.

  8. JamesK

    The answer to Ereeec’s question is a better one.

    Especially if The Phage is the first to go followed, please God, by the Fin Review.

    Not only would our democracy suffer from less misinformation and leftist activism but the Gaia would see her human children happier enjoying a better quality of life with less evil big government stealing from their wallets and less misery because aforesaid media makebelieve misery peddlers creating completely unnecessary planetary angst.

    Perhaps the SMH might be slavageable if Fairfax rids itself of lefties Grattan, Marr, Coorey, Hartcher, Gittins, Taylor…….

    Aww what’s the point?

    The SMH would be best gone as well.

  9. CHRISTOPHER DUNNE

    Recall the diatribe against “protectionism” when the Australian book publishers argued against letting our own local industry get mugged by the MacDonalds types?

    Irony, or what?

  10. Steviate

    Here, Here, Michael James – You nailed it.
    The type of Hypocrisy that Crickey so regularly derides is so evident in this piece by Eric Beecher.
    Now to adopt the non hypocritical line that Crickey so tries to maintain (and rightly so) – the News Limited and Fairfaxes need to change their business models and stop running their businesses like they have in the past.
    The most obvious way is to stop making their content free online. Although, if they did that, people might find far higher quality online journalism like Crickey and not read their trash, because no-one wants to pay for trah, but they will read it if its free.

  11. Steviate

    Here, Here, Michael James – You nailed it.
    The type of Hypocrisy that Crickey so regularly derides is so evident in this piece by Eric Beecher.
    Now to adopt the non hypocritical line that Crickey so tries to maintain (and rightly so) – the News Limited and Fairfaxes need to change their business models and stop running their businesses like they have in the past.
    The most obvious way is to stop making their content free online. Although, if they did that, people might find far higher quality online journalism like Crickey and not read their trash, because no-one wants to pay for trash, but they will read it if its free.

  12. Frank Campbell

    (We’ll draw a veil over minimogul Eric’s naked conflict of interest here…)

    what sort of model does Crikey offer?

    How much journalism is there on Crikey, “public trust” or otherwise?

    There’s some, but not much. Crikey is mostly comment (nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t journalism). Crikey spends much time pursuing those in the commentariat it detests (Miranda Profane, Alan Toad, et al). Fine, but it isn’t journalism.

    Journalism is about source and penetration, but Crikey is not a mole farm. It should be.

    Crikey also promotes its own agenda. Fine, it’s Eric’s possession, but that distorts both journalism and free comment. Climate millenarianism is a case in point: blind devotion to the cause infects every policy zone. I’ve warned for two years about this myopia, and the results are plain to see. Progressive politics is in a shambles.

    So openness can’t be detached from “public trust”.

  13. Peter Ormonde

    Mornin’ Frank….

    Now look – you’re an interesting and clever and respectably old chap I reckon, so tell me something – how do you KNOW that this “climate millenarian” stuff is all myth and fantasy?
    What have you read that disproves it definitively?
    Why are all these scientists telling fibs?

  14. calyptorhynchus

    I don’t see why the government shouldn’t fund 1000 journalists to produce high quality journalism.

    The only problem is that most current journalists would probably need extensive retraining.

  15. Frank Campbell

    PO: no one’s fibbing-the key distinction is between the social movement of climate millenarianism and the science it grew from.

    In other words it’s perfectly possible for a cult to develop from science- the cult does not in any way debunk the science.

    The frenzy generated by Gore (which reached its zenith in 2006) was a Doomsday scenario built on Mann’s “hockey stick” projection (that global temps were skyrocketing exponentially). This is now discredited by empirical observation. For now.
    Mann et al are now struggling with new hypotheses (eg Chinese sulphur emissions) to explain the post-plateau in warming.

    Anthropogenic global warming is an immature hypothesis. Most likely outcome is that it will be weakly confirmed.

    But the real story is in the response to the Gore crusade. Social democracies fell over themselves to “take action”. That action has been (mostly) catastrophically stupid: class-biased, incapable of affecting global temps, wasteful of scarce capital etc.
    Much of the impetus has come from Greens who see AGW as a short-cut to smash rapacious capitalism, hyperconsumption and environmental degradation. Too tempting to resist. But disastrous. Self-defeating. I’ve been saying this for years and the evidence is now starkly obvious: progressive politics is in a shambles. Climate extremism has speeded up the collapse (there are other causes of the malaise on the Left)…

    The irony is that nothing useful or rational can be done about AGW while the climate millenarianism holds the commanding heights of power, which it still does in some countries like Australia. The cult has to die.

    The primary deception (far worse than any fib) is that “clean green renewable energy” is ready to take over. It isn’t, and “taxing caahbun” will have little effect on the fossil fuel boom that Gillard extols (“coal has a fantastic future”), but a carbon tax will, over time, exacerbate current structural economic problems while discriminating against the poor and the remnant industrial working class (handing back cash can’t mitigate the eventual effects).

  16. Frank Campbell

    that should ‘post-1998 plateau in warming’

  17. michael r james

    PETER ORMONDE Posted Friday, 2 September 2011 at 9:24 am

    Doncha know that Frank likes tilting at windmills? I think it might be his sole “reason to believe”.

    Anyway, just posting so as to disambiguate myself from my namesake. I might have to do a Stilgherrian.

    Actually I wrote a post yesterday and submitted at just the point the Crikey website went down (again, and again..).
    My point, put briefly, is that a government funded approach will not work because–looking at how the ABC considers what it calls “balance”–any such body will be mostly concerned with not upsetting the funders (or the future funders if you know what I mean). What we need is an intelligent, apolitical, benevolent billionaire to set up a thing like the Scott Trust that keeps The Guardian going. (The G has its weaknesses but it is independent.)

  18. michael r james

    As proof of my thesis that anything government funded–even via statutory authority like the ABC–I give their attempt at online journalism, The Drum. (Not that their radio and tv news is not sufficient to prove the point.) Where was Glenn Milne given a prime spot for the year after he was fired from The Australian? Despite being a violent drunk and having a record for inventing nasty crap, and getting sacked by The Australian (how bad do you have to be…) but Drum editor Jonathan Green (along with Stephen Mayne & Christian Kerr; back then a Crikey triumvirate) had an unprintable opinion of Milne. (It has since been expunged from the web though someone smarter than me could probably find it.) Since Eric Beecher is presumably the one who chose or approved J Green as Crikey editor (and a good choice it was), he would be just the type who would be funded by Beecher’s “quality civic journalism”. Yet the evidence of The Drum is overwhelming: wall to wall utter know-nothings like Jo Nova and Gavin Atkins, paid-for-comment IPA boys and for a whole year it seemed Milne was given a gig as daily political commentator! That kind of striving for “balance” is a travesty of journalism (Gavin Atkins even laughed about it in his Oz column because Green had begged Atkins to write a piece to “balance” some piece by a scientist. I laughed too, then I cried.)

    Eric, I hope you become a billionaire and fund it yourself. That just might work.

  19. Joceyln Tan

    This has been Beecher’s theme for years. Why, you might ask, does he say so persistently that taxpayers have to subsidise news reporting? Could it be that Eric wants to be Mark Scott? And why? Could it be that Eric has never been able to sustain any quality journalism under his own steam?
    Now that I think of it, does anyone have an impressive Eric Beecher-bylined piece at hand? Just one would do?

  20. Frank Campbell

    PO/MRJ

    The following has just come in. It’s symptomatic of the crisis of progressive politics- a symptom that Crikey would never allow editorial space for:

    “Unfortunately I have to inform you of what is happening at the Oaklands Hill Wind-Farm near Glenthompson in South West Victoria.

    The turbines next to our northern boundary started operation for the first time on the afternoon of the 23rd August 2011. I believe these turbines were turned off for much of the following night, and were not noticed even though the wind was from a northerly direction.

    The next day these turbines were started again along with a couple of extra ones, my wife who was at the house was experiencing problems by lunchtime and left the farm for a few hours in the late afternoon. I was marking lambs East of the down-wind path from these turbines and did not experience any discomfort till after tea.

    Because of my wife’s complaints I checked at the Works Site Office for a complaints phone number, and discovered there was no such thing.

    We both then had an uncomfortable night experiencing problems with our ears. The problems could be best described as an unusual build-up of pressure in our ears similar to what one would except in a very noise environment. Noise levels with-in our house that evening did not appear to have been any different to usual, but if you turned every-thing off the turbines could occasionally be heard in the lounge-room. The outside noise levels from the turbines were very noticeable, and probably would have exceeded the Victorian SEP Guidelines (N3-89). The wind was generally from the north, varying from about 5 Km per hour to 20Km.

    Thursday morning early we left the farm returning in the afternoon after the wind change for a rest. The winds have not been constantly from the north since while we have been at home, but we believe that when this happens our problems will be more severe with turbine 24 the closest one to the house now working. Turbine 24 is about 1670 metres from our house, there are two more just under 2 kilometres, with 15 in total to our north with-in about 3 kilometres of our house, and 32 in total in the windfarm . Our house is on the southern part of our farm, which means when out working we shall usually be more exposed to the effects of these machines that come with-in 200 metres of our boundary.

    Because our problems start to disappear after we remove ourselves from the vicinity of these turbines, I believe they are causing these problems. It takes many hours for the effects to become apparent, and the problems do not disappear as soon as we leave but takes hours for this to happen.

    In brief, since turbines near our boundary have started operating we have experienced ear discomfort, and a general decline in wellbeing, which includes lack of sleep when the wind is from the direction of the turbines. Yes another Wind-Farm creating problems.

    We have given a written complaint to Mr Greg Walcott a consultant that works for the Wind-farm as a Community Relations Specialist, but as yet have had no response.

    A written complaint was also given to the local Shire which is the of Southern Grampians Shire, and the response from the Manager Planning Systems (Lucinda Peterson) was a phone call claiming that the Shire is not in a position to do anything, and that the problem is for the Victorian Planning Authority.

    The wind is about to blow from the north again, so if anyone is undecided about giving permission for turbines near their property, feel free to contact us about coming to experience what they are like.

    We are looking for a house to rent, which is not to far away so I can return during the day to work on the farm. Unfortunately there is not much around, so if anyone knows of houses that might be available for rent with-in 50 Km of Glenthompson please let us know. “

  21. green-orange

    You mean like supporting every daft war (Vietnam, Iraq 1 and 2, Afghanistan) Australia has been invlolved in in the last 45 years ?

    You mean like needlessly delaying colour television, cable TV, broadband and FM radio to prop up their advertising revenues ?

    You mean like supporting every ultra-right moron with the capability of cut and pasting Liberal party and lobbyist press releases and getting paid a million a year for the talent (eg Padriac McGuiness) ?

    I think we can do without them.

  22. Edward James

    Erick Beecher you bought a good thing as we all understand, and now it appears with this article, you want to stick it to it! I first read the term “public trust journalist” as a start out political activist on Crikey.com I became a subscriber years ago because I wanted to link to another have a go fighter in the person of Stephen Mayne. Perhaps I was too defamatory I do not really know? I have still not been sued. I am again a subscriber to Crikey.com after turning away because it seemed to have lost its balls. I am back again because I expect more from Crikey.com than Fairfax and News Limited rags are able or game enough to offer their subscribers. I understand these giants of the print media have had it all their own way for what seems like a hundred years and perhaps it is. But Erick what sort of lazy bastardry are you indulging in to attempt to take the very good descriptive term public trust journalism from us people who have had no choice but to self publish when and where we can. We are the public trust journalist! Because the bought and paid for journalist who are subservient to the Fairfax’s and News Limited media empires of this world wont touch grass roots reports of what happens in our local communities. The term public trust journalist belongs to all those people right around the world who have only their own house and personal reputation to back up what they promulgate! That discription belongs to the people in the grass roots community who write the story or allegation no matter what the risk, because they believe the truth belongs to everyone. Not just those with enough money to prove in a court of law that the truth is not always a defense against a defamation action. Bought and paid for journalist have no claim at all on the use of the description Public Trust Journalist. Particularly those who spend their lives in the pay of those print media giants!
    Edward James 0243419140

  23. Peter Ormonde

    Frank …

    As you know I am no fan of windfarms as they are being done here… we are putting them where the land is cheap and the people powerless to object. The availability of consistent wind is very much a secondary consideration. Cheap nasty tinker-toy stuff.

    It should all be offshore where the wind is. And we should wait for the next generation of wind turbines that are far more suited to Australia’s variable climatic conditions.

    But I don’t think it’s a symptom of a crisis in progressive politics – just arrogance and a NIMBY attitude coupled with some carpet-bagging corporations operating in a massively distorted market.

  24. michael r james

    Peter O. at 6:12 pm

    I couldn’t finish reading Frank’s secondhand whinge. I am satisfied the scientific analysis of this has never shown any credible medical problem. On the other hand there is a very significant correlation between those who have not materially benefited and/or refused from the beginning to be involved, and these claimed medical issues. It is either fraudulent or it is a kind of Münchausen syndrome, or Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP).

    But I can agree with you about offshore installations. I believe I discussed that in a Crikey article I wrote on renewables. Offshore wind is both stronger, more reliable and blows longer. Thus offshore turbines have tended to be bigger capacity (4.8 MW; now 7.5 MW is available and Vesta are working on their next advance, 20MW!). The problem of course is that they cost a lot more; and while the Europeans (Denmark, UK, Nederlands, Norway) can build on relatively shallow continental shelves that extend a long way offshore, I am not sure we can do that in many places. So they will be even more expensive.

    [And we should wait for the next generation of wind turbines that are far more suited to Australia’s variable climatic conditions.]

    Or, heaven forbid, we didn’t wait and actually did some R&D ourselves. (No, of course not, Denmark with one quarter of our population and one sixth of our GDP is obviously much better placed…….).

  25. michael r james

    Peter O. at 6:12 pm

    I couldn’t finish reading Frank’s secondhand whinge. I am satisfied the scientific analysis of this has never shown any credible medical problem. On the other hand there is a very significant correlation between those who have not materially benefited and/or refused from the beginning to be involved, and these claimed medical issues. It is either fraudulent or it is a kind of Münchausen syndrome, or Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP).

    But I can agree with you about offshore installations. I believe I discussed that in a Crikey article I wrote on renewables. Offshore wind is both stronger, more reliable and blows longer. Thus offshore turbines have tended to be bigger capacity (4.8 MW; now 7.5 MW is available and Vesta are working on their next advance, 20MW!). The problem of course is that they cost a lot more; and while the Europeans (Denmark, UK, Nederlands, Norway) can build on relatively shallow continental shelves that extend a long way offshore, I am not sure we can do that in many places. So they will be even more expensive.

    PO: “And we should wait for the next generation of wind turbines that are far more suited to Australia’s variable climatic conditions.”

    Or, heaven forbid, we didn’t wait and actually did some R&D ourselves. (No, of course not, Denmark with one quarter of our population and one sixth of our GDP is obviously much better placed…….).

  26. Liamj

    Print media is failing because it is 98% repeats – everybody knows what the neoliberal lapdogs from News Corp and Fairfax are going to say, the same pro-war pro-cannibal capitalism lies they’ve been copypasting for decades. There is no point hoping for better until the current generation of selfregarding syncophants are flushed from the system, let the broadsheets fail and the rich can pay for their own press releases.

  27. Frank Campbell

    MRJ: There never has been any scientific analysis of low frequency noise/infrasound from wind turbines. That’s the point. I have no idea if physiological disturbance occurs- makes no difference: fundamental planning principles have been ignored.

    The contemptuous way you dismiss this family’s suffering is symbolises neatly why progressive politics is in such a mess. How could it be “fraudulent”? They have no redress. Nothing to gain. All they can do is leave. Which is what they’re about to do.

    As for offshore wind- far more expensive and the same terminal problem of intermittency. Not one fossil fuel power station will be replaced by wind turbines.

    Just a colossal rort.

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