What Does the Future of Journalism Look Like?

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The outlook is (as these things tend to be) a little bit of good and a little bit of bad. There was a broad consensus among panelists that newspapers – in their current form, at least – have an impending expiration date. Philip Meyer, who will be speaking at the conference today, pins that date – somewhat arbitrarily – at 2043.

That’s not to say "quality journalism" will disappear altogether, though. Conference star attraction Roy Greenslade, of The Guardian, predicts that even post-decline, each major city will continue to have a "paper of record" (whether that paper of record will be distributed on paper is another matter). The biggest newspapers – the New York Times, The Guardian and so on – might even go fully international, expanding their coverage beyond their home cities and countries. The Guardian already has more online readers in the US than in the UK, Gleensade said.

Greenslade’s sentiments were echoed by Crikey‘s Eric Beecher, who predicted that Australia’s two-newspaper cities would soon turn become one-newspaper ones, like most cities in the US. (That’s already the case in all but Sydney and Melbourne.)

One theme that kept recurring throughout the day – raised by Greenslade and Off The Bus‘s Jay Rosen, among others – was that of the divide between the information rich and information poor, closely mirroring the divide between the money rich and money poor. Information will still be recorded and reported, it will just be reported to those with the will and the means to pay for it.

It’s no coincidence, then, that one of the easiest forms of journalism to monetise is that catering to investors and financial markets. Newspapers like the Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times were in no danger of dying, Greenslade assured. Beecher, meanwhile, charges subscribers more than twice as much for the online investment publication Eureka Report than for Crikey.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though – there are plenty of opportunities in the new media sphere for creative and resourceful journalists. It’s near the point of cliché to say that the role of journalists in online media is to facilitate conversation, but Rosen has taken this beyond mere rhetoric, hiring a campaign organiser rather than a journalist to coordinate Huffington Post‘s Off The Bus project, which tracks the 2008 US Presidential campaign.

In the new media world, it seems, journalists are community builders and facilitators as much as they are reporters – something Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington knows well. This flies in the face of the gate-keeping journalist or editor most of us are accustomed to, where gravitas is conveyed by being distant and aloof. Now, effective journalists are those who actually engage with the people reading them.

Another key role for civic-minded new media journalists, according to "Australia’s new media queen" (as declared by conference chair and South Australian Stateline presenter, Dominique Schwartz) Margaret Simons, is to draw out the connections between niche interests and larger state, national and international issues. A third key issue was convergence: or getting the same journalist to write, edit, film and present the one story.

The one question no one seemed able to answer was how media companies were going to pay for all this. Print revenue is in decline, and while online news consumption is on the up and up, the revenue associated with it isn’t yet close to making up for the drop (although it’s interesting to note that newspapers have traditionally made quite significant profits – up to 50 per cent, according to Greenslade).

If the final panel – featuring ABC Managing Director Mark Scott, NineMSN editor-in-chief Max Eucharist and News Ltd Editorial Operations Director Campbell Reid, and Greenslade – is any indication, the key seems to lie in convergence – companies producing across television, print and online and selling ad packages across multiple mediums – and/or subsidising journalism through other, more profitable, enterprises.

The Washington Post, for instance, provides just 10 per cent of the revenue for the Washington Post company, even as it serves as the company’s flagship. But where does this leave the smaller media outlets that the web seems to foster so well?

Still, the overall vibe of the day was positive, and inspiring. One attendee told me at the post-conference drinks that she felt like stabbing herself during that final – rather heated – panel, but I walked away feeling excited by the possibilities for both newmatilda.com‘s future, and that of the journalism industry as a whole.

The Future of Journalism conference was organised by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Walkley Foundation.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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