What is journalism for?

The fourth post in my series taken from Katharine Viner’s speech, she is teh deputy editor of the Guardian and editor-in-chief of Guardian Australia.

It was an impressive display of perspicacity from a mainstream editor about online news and opinion. Some old-fashioned members of the judiciary would do well to read her thoughts about what is media and what is not…here is a clue, newspapers and TV and radio are just a small part of the world media environment.

But what is journalism for?

I guess it all depends on what you think journalism is for.

If you think it is for speaking truth to power, if you believe that the role of the journalist is as an outsider, then you will be in favour of the open web, open journalism, the free flow of engagement and challenge and debate with the people formerly known as the audience.

But if you think journalism is instead for brokering power, influencing power, keeping power, then you will want to close down the web as much as possible and keep debate to a minimum. More about your own interests, less about the public interest. 

My personal views on this are an amalgam of the two. Mainly taken from my perspective of having to fight constantly with perceptions, mainly from mainstream media employees who are happy to steal stories unattributed but refuse to acknowledge sources. Bloggers and those who have learned the craft via blogging always attribute. So there is a happy medium to aim for, where you are speaking truth to power by challenging not just the establishment of politicians and the powerful but also challenging the media elites and their selectiveness in reporting…let the audience choose I say. But in doing that you amass your own power and power meant to be used, to influence, to manipulate and change perceptions. Present the information, let the readers choose…people are voracious for information and frustrated by the constraints of “the press”.

This is where the issue of media ownership is the crucial underpinning. In my view, the Guardian’s ownership is the secret to its digital success and rapid growth to 40m users as the third-most read English-language newspaper website in the world. The Guardian is owned by the Scott Trust, and our lack of a proprietor or shareholders gives us real editorial freedom: all money must be reinvested back into journalism, and being open to readers and the web fits the ethos. It means that people come to us with their stories because they know we are independent, whether it’s Edward Snowden or Julia Gillard; it means that readers are more likely to trust our motives, trust that we’re not running something for commercial gain or political purchase.

The Guardian has momentum and size…people ahve tried this model in NZ and frankly there simply aren’t enough people to support such an endeavour.

But many media owners don’t like the open web, which undermines hierarchies in such a dramatic and visible way.

The increasing concentration of ownership in the media provides less diversity and less breadth for readers; and, arguably, more complacency in those who are left. Australia has the highest concentration of newspaper ownership in the world, dominated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and with the top three newspaper companies taking a 98% share of daily circulation, compared with 26% in the US and 62% in the UK.

As we saw at the beginning of this lecture, the digital revolution is not just a technological change. It is a shift in power. The open web has the potential to be a huge democratic space; even better than that Grecian town square, because now respectable women go there to talk, and slaves too. The doors are open anyone with the internet, currently 39% of the world’s entire population, up from 16% just eight years ago.

Power has shifted, and those who have garnered, stolen and built an audience will be at the forefront of the revolution. Being nimble, robust and networked will get you first…or at least in the leading wave…having massive bricks and mortar costs are eventually going to drag the old media into the gutter.

But it might not go like that. The web has been fragmenting for a while: instead of one internet, there are many different products and platforms: desktop, Android, iPhone, tablet. As Jonathan Zittrain has written, “tethered appliances” like iPhones have led to a closing down of web innovation. Anonymity online is now harder to pull off. We know that every page we look at can be monitored by international spy agencies. And, in light of these revelations, there is a new issue: countries such as Brazil are talking seriously about a ‘national internet’: so instead of the world wide web, we face the prospect of a Brazilian internet, an American internet, maybe an Australian internet. What a loss that would be.

If tech companies, media owners and some governments have interests in shutting down the flourishing open web, it may not lead to the democratic utopia some are imagining.

These liberals do tend to worry a bit too much about big government, but then again they are the proponents of big government themselves. The human race is pretty clever and routing solutions around ratbags…information cannot be unlearned, and people will not be silenced…a way will be found.

People want news, now, immediately. They don;t care about production quality, they just want it now. This is challenge for now for old media, competing with the immediate when they need to hold information back for their archaic news schedules of the morning paper or the 6pm news. Their model is broken and we all helped break it.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.