Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Position vacant: watcher watcher

Striking Fairfax journos, April 2011; via ABC.
The media. Bleagh. Yuck.

(I've got a friend I talk with on Facebook who always goes "blur, blur, blur" when she wants to say "blah, blah, blah". In the present case I think her version of the spelling is most appropriate because we're dealing with blurred boundaries, the interstices between entities, the liminal, the uncertain, the new.)

The media landscape is changing. Plummeting share prices. Very low revenues. Bad management decisions dating back over a decade. Loss of revenue to online ad services. Staff layoffs. Restructurings. Sub editing contracted out to third party companies. Blur, blur, blur.

But remember that we hate the media. So who cares? Funnily enough, a lot of people seem to care because stories from mainstream media are the links most often shared in social media. So, yeah, well we read it but it's still shit. And we won't pay for it.

But that's not true either. New data shows that revenues from digital subscriptions in Australia are rising strongly even as print sales plummet. The Financial Times, the pink-coloured UK specialty newspaper, sees this year revenues from subscriptions overtake revenues for ads for the first time; FT was way ahead of the curve, putting up a paywall in 2002.

But still people grumble about the media. I suspect that newspaper editors are inured to this kind of criticism. Old hands. Skin like a rhino's. Gnarled. But the media is not like other businesses, being crucial for the proper functioning of democracy. In countries like Australia, the media predates democracy as a public institution by decades. Habermas. Public sphere. Contested space. Blur, blur, blur.

But there are sustained criticisms that are attracting attention, most notably David Horton's Watermelon Blog and Andrew Elder's Politically Homeless. Elder also contributes occasionally to the ABC's The Drum website. And then there's Mumbrella, the site that looks at Australia's media and marketing industries on a regular basis. Wouldn't it be great if Mumbrella could start talking to some of those ex journos with a view to telling people in the community more about the media business? I think a lot of the dissatisfaction within the community can be set down to a lack of understanding about how news gets made. These are real opinions from real people, and many of them voice their dissatisfaction online, although most do not do so with the consistency of an Elder or a Horton. Mumbrella is uniquely positioned in that liminal space between the media and the readership.

I'd love to see regular interviews on Mumbrella with people who used to work in the media, with the interviewer focusing on some of the complaints that regularly come from the community. What an interesting column (or video) series that would be. And where are all those hundreds of people working now? Are they in corporate communications, public relations, copywriting? How do those clever, talented people earn their crust now that they don't work for Fairfax or News Ltd? Updates, please!


Steve Clements said...

Great article, Matt. I think, however, that there are not too many complaints from the community, in general, regarding the quality of polical journalism because the average punter is just not interested in politics. Unitl it affects their standard of living.

Most are unaware of the quality blogs like this, Elders's, Horton's, and Independent Austrlalia (for all its 'quirkiness'). Margo Kingston. too, is fearless and dogged. Yet, most would adk "Margo who?"

The media barons WILL take not when advertising revenue falls. That the NBN affects Rupert's business model so directly is why, I think. we are seeing attacks on Labor, and a go-easy approach to the Coalition. Analysis of Turnbull's alternative to the NBM. What????

Matthew da Silva said...

Steve, I think the demand would be high considering the popularity within some parts of the wider community of Media Watch. Remember also the success of The Conversation, which is pretty high-end; I hear they're talking of opening up shop in the UK soon. The Guardian also thinks there's demand for higher-end material in Aust, seeing they'll start an Aus website here this year.