Mainstream journalism has failed the public interest, reckons author, Martin Hirst. Citizen journalism is too feeble to provide a viable alternative. The future looks grim.
Fortunately, Dr Hirst believes that pessimism of the intellect should be coupled with optimism of the will.
Dr Martin Hirst is an Associate Professor of Journalism at the Auckland University of Technology. A former Sydney journalist, he’s previously co-published a book on journalism ethics.
Hirst’s new book,News 2.0, asks whether journalism can survive the internet? His brief is broad and his arguments impeccable. But ultimately he provides only qualified answers.
The convergent future had already crashed into our present, he wrote. Digital culture crossed over everything; economics, politics, our social lives and even the way we think.
Newspapers have a half life that is still uncertain; radio and television while weakened, seem to have a future; but long term it is the digital and( and portable) screen that seems to be the dominant media platform.
News may linger as a commodity, marketed by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, who has transformed News Corporation, into a cross promoting multi-media company, which Murdoch sees as the role model for the 21st century.
Murdoch has driven far-reaching changes to reach his corporate objectives. He was an early applier of new technologies, computerised editing, satellite broadcasting, broadband, throughout his long media career. He created the national daily, The Australian, to challenge the Australian news establishment, which he later purchased. Murdoch’s British Sun endorsed Thatcherism, which overturned the post war political consensus on mixed economy societies. Murdoch’s decision to offer the bastion of journalism tradition, the Times as a tabloid was not a conservative move. Fox News claims of “fair and balanced” reporting may seem laughable, after even the most basic analysis. But perhaps Fox News might instead be seen as a radical re-definition of News; as an entertaining exchange of skewed prejudices rather than an intellectually attractive, assembly of authorised facts.
Professional Journalists would hope to be be differentiated from unprincipled emulators on the web. Many citizen journalists, while embracing free speech, operate outside mainstream conventions of civility, accuracy and even literacy. They do so while scrutinising their more conventional counterparts for apparent errors, conflicts of interest and contradictions. Viral campaigns waged against mainstream journalists can as a result, be vehement, defamatory and even life threatening. In that sense, some citizen journalists might have more in common with Murdoch’s press, than they might care to admit.
But according to Hirst, citizen journalism may be more ephemeral than the “digital optimists” proclaim.
Most blogs and UGC sites (outside of the blog brands like Youtube ) have a limited life online, and some research indicates that most blogs will disappear after a couple of posts. Most Twitter acconts are inactive… Despite the utopian sentiments and digital mythology, perhaps we don’t all want to be amateur journalists or talk to each other constantly, but we are interested in regular and reliable content online.
Its’ clear that citizen journalists’ moves to establish embryonic codes of practice indicate a seminal recognition of a need for more responsible practices. However, a lack of consensus, minimal if non existent training, an inability to enforce standards, anonymity of correspondents and the disparate and unfolding nature of the web itself make such efforts ineffective.
According to Dr Hirst, journalists won’t be able to act as gatekeepers, when the fences containing mass communication were already down. Rather they might become gate watchers, making sense of the megabytes of dross on the web. He wrote that it might not yet be time, but collective control of the news process, news producers and the people we used to call the audience, might be the only long term way to defend and extend public interest in news. Hirst remains an optimist:
The journalistic field is a contested terrain of power relationships and real social forces – including those fighting for more ‘bottom up” control and influence. Developing an alliance of progressive forces inside and outside the new industry, offers the best chance to realise a vision of a motivated and engaged public capturing control of the journalistic means of production.
Digital technologies were losing their novelty and newness. When they lost their mystique, Dr Hirst said, everyone could begin to use them to their advantage.
Listen to Martin Hirst on Soundcloud:
Hirst by Alan Knight
- Murdoch to erect paywalls at Australian papers (guardian.co.uk)
- iPad ‘newspaper’ created by Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch (guardian.co.uk)
- Citizens Vs ‘Journalists’ (72point.com)