Australians are not so much poorly served, as minimally served, by their mainstream media, according to multi-award winning journalist, Monica Attard.
Ms Attard is a former foreign correspondent who reported on the disintegration of the Soviet Union, returning to Australia to present the national radio current affairs program, PM. She left the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to found a new, independent quality journal, the Global Mail. She was speaking in Sydney at the launch of the UTS Graduate School of Journalism.
And then there’s the ABC, my spiritual home, beating the middle path, but with its own set of problems…not enough cash ever to mount new programs and experiment with different forms of journalism.
Without new ideas, what results was minimalist programming, she said. The first casualty of cost cutting when old media business models were under such financial stress, was international news. “That’s a pity, because no matter how hard the mainstream media tries to persuade us that all that is happening is in our own part of the world, we all know that’s not true”.
The Global Mail sought to report Australian news from a national affairs perspective, but speaking to a global audience. It also sought to experiment with multi media on the net, where deep, long form analysis could take new forms of presentation.
An investigation of aged care included long form text, video, photos and data visualisation. “Its basically about presenting facts and analysis in a dispassionate and bi-partisn way without boring the pants of anyone who comes to your site,” Attard said.
The mission is pretty simply put;
A to get people to think, B to make easy for them to want to think and C to not shy away from stories because we can’t think of ways to make them palatable.
The Global Mail deployed reporters in areas sometimes ignored ( ED : or stereotyped ) in the mainstream press. “We have a reporter whose brief is to solely to go out into immigrant communities to sit among these people and and allow them to feel our reporter is trustworthy”. A photo essay centred on an outer western Sydney hairdressing salon, run by African refugees. “Who knew of their terrible experiences, their religious beliefs and their cultural baggage, when we just brushed past them in Coles or Woolies [supermarkets]?” “It took us weeks to find these people and weeks to win their trust,” she said. It took time, money and resources which might not be readily available in the mainstream media.
“To me, that’s quality journalism,” Attard said.
The Global Mail, funded by a philanthropist , had a staff of 23 people, thirteen of whom were writers, two were web producers with the remainder made up by developers and IT experts.
Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Acting Dean, Jim Macnamara told the the gathering that the decline in readership, listenership and viewership of traditional media around the world, and the resulting decline in advertising placement in traditional media – the primary business model of commercial media – were presenting a major challenge to media organisations and to journalism.
While journalism provides much of the content that attracts people to media in the first place – the “juicy meat” in Marshall McLuhan’s terms – news reporting, current affairs and investigative journalism require investment that has been funded through cross-subsidisation from advertising revenue in the main. To date, no other business model, including paywalls for paid content, have proven themselves viable alternatives.
However he said that the faculty believed:
…despite the challenges – it is premature to write off traditional media. Notwithstanding the amazing growth numbers of social media, the largest audiences in the world are still reached by radio and television broadcasting and by newspapers. So we want and intend to continue to work closely with traditional media organisations in finding solutions to current problems and identifying new ways of working. Second, we believe good journalism is platform agnostic.