It’ll be journalism, but not as we know it

Just what is the condition of mainstream media in 2005? It’s a question addressed by in their State of the News Media annual survey. Their conclusions are illuminating and disturbing. First, the good news. Traditional journalism is dying, thankfully. When I talk of old-school journalism finally falling off its perch, I’m referring to the notion that increasing numbers of people no longer believe what the mainstream media is telling them, and they search for alternative viewpoints, log onto the web, read blogs etc.

A paper like The New York Times, while still respected in many circles, has taken a battering in the last years, and rightly so. Its failure to seriously question the WMD claim before the Iraq invasion has, in my view, irreversibly damaged the paper’s reputation. As Robert Fisk told me recently in Beirut, “when you read the New York Times, it’s always fun to see how long it takes for every statement to be attributed to ‘a government official or source, requesting anonymity.'” It’s a publication close to the establishment, and shouldn’t claim to be truly independent, when, in fact, it relies so heavily on “leaks” and “sources” within the government or the corporate world.

The survey also identifies five major trends over the past year. These include:

– There are now several models of journalism, and the trajectory increasingly is toward those that are faster, looser, and cheaper;
– The rise in partisanship of news consumption and the notion that people have retreated to their ideological corners for news has been widely exaggerated;
– To adapt, journalism may have to move in the direction of making its work more transparent and more expert, and of widening the scope of its searchlight;
– Despite the new demands, there is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences; and
– The three broadcast network news divisions face their most important moment of transition in decades.

Although the survey refers solely to the US, we can glean much for the Australian market. The days of relying on The Sydney Morning Herald or other broadsheets for the entire scope of the day’s news is over. And bring it on, I say. Reliable news sources are still vital, places one can read unbiased and accurate information, but these sources are increasingly on the web, on blogs, indy news portals, and far away from the ever-increasing pressure of corporate news “values.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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