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The Fourth Estate – Renovation in progress?

June 23, 2009

Over at RWW, Bernard Lunn has written a great (personal) opinion piece on the future of journalism with respect to digital media; “Don’t let yellow press standards define the future of journalism”

He also links to a previous story, “Journalism 2.0: Don’t throw out the baby”, where he talks about the difference between professional journalists and citizen journalists (bloggers), the ‘traditional system’ of delivering news and the value of that news to different people.

For someone who’s proclaimed that “I do not come at this with a long career as a journalist” (but is, COO of one of the most widely read tech blogs in the world), he’s mostly hit the nail on its head… with a rather huge hammer.

The current ‘newspaper and journalism’ crisis is a much more complex web of problems that will take time to solve although generally, most media companies do ‘get it’ (refer to the NEAP report by the American Press Institute, and the recent industry meetings by the Newspaper Association of America) – in response to Bernard’s final statements that journalists need to accept that the traditional economic model for news delivery is broken… which leads me to another point; as Bernard admits himself, it’s quite clear that he hasn’t had a long career in journalism if he thinks that it’s the journalists that need to accept the reinvention of the media economy.

If you’ve ever worked for a news media outlet, you’ll know that the conflict and tension between editorial and advertising still exists today. Editors and journalists of serious news outlets generally don’t care much for advertising – and no, don’t try telling them they have to write what an advertiser wants or hold back a breaking piece of news at your client’s wishes… because if you ever did (and while I would like to insert some random act of violence here the reality is that) you will simply be told to “Go away. It’s not going to happen.”

One of the reasons journalists do what they do best (ie reporting factual and unbiased news) is because they keep themselves unattached to the parties that holds the purse strings. They are the fourth estate and they are critical to the sustenance of any democracy. Without credibility, without reputation and without trust for this estate, democracy will be in peril.

Obviously in my line of work, this is a topic that’s close my heart. While I champion the future of digital media, it is not without full realisation that the cornerstone of the future is set in the evolution of the present. Working for an organisation where the view is that of an integrated future for media, I find myself constantly immersed in the many dynamics of both the traditional and new media side of the business – and constantly cracking our heads as to how best to marry up these disparate parts to form a cohesive, long term strategy.

News (factual, trusted and unbiased accounts) will remain news. Everything around it will change.

Do not kid yourself into thinking that blogs are the sole future of news media… it might be the new vineyard on the estate but it is not the house. No blog that exists today has an online audience that is larger than its domestic metropolitan paper’s online audience. Credibility is still the key factor in the provision and consumption of news – and newspapers have had 400 years of shaping this.

No doubt that this is a topic that I will find myself writing about on this blog. As I mentioned, there are many finer and more complicated aspects (what form of evolution isn’t?) involved and hopefully, some of them will interest you as much as they interest me.

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