Monday, 26 November 2018

A tale for the times: legacy media versus indie media

People on Twitter have put up comments that rage against the Walkley Foundation in the wake of the award of a Walkley Award to Sharri Markson of the Daily Telegraph for the Barnaby Joyce infidelity story. As usual there is the complaint about the "legacy" media which got the award and the "indie" media which broke the story. But what are the facts in the case?

I saw a page published by an outfit called True Crime News Weekly which contained a story by Serkan Ozturk that included a picture of Vikki Campion. The story was dated 13 February 2018 but someone online implied that the story appeared initially in October 2017. The outlet told me later that there were stories on this topic published on 24 and 25 October 2017, and they showed me the links and the pages. Then I saw a letter from a law firm addressed to the website dated 13 February 2018 complaining about the story of that date, that had been sent on behalf of Campion and that denied all of the imputations contained in it.

Apparently the story was then picked up by Independent Australia, which is an outlet run by a man named Dave Donovan. The True Crime News Weekly account told me, “They called us up while putting theirs together.” IA published a story on 19 November about Joyce and Campion and the DT put theirs up on their website on 6 February 2018. IA also put out a string of related stories (21 March, 28 May, 31 May) in early 2018. The New England by-election that Barnaby Joyce was contesting for the Liberal Party was held on 2 December 2017. Markson has said that she tried to verify the rumour behind the story in October 2017 but couldn't manage to do it. If she had been able to, Joyce might well have lost the poll.

Enthusiasts tend to rail against the machine in the name of freedom, but the outlets that they praise are not everyone’s cup of tea. I haven’t read anything on the TCW site but I have read some on IA’s website. It tends to publish stories that contain a strongly partisan (on the left of politics) viewpoint and there are often structural and grammatical problems with them that would have been fixed before publication by a legacy media outlet.

I mentioned to one person I was talking to about the award that many freelancers don’t belong to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the journalist’s union) because they can’t afford the fees. To put forward your story for a Walkley you have to be a member of the union. Donovan then said that he was a member but that he didn’t submit his story for the award. I don’t know if TCW’s Ozturk is a member and if he thought about entering his story for the award, but it seems unfair to blame the Walkleys for giving the story to the DT if the other media outlets involved never bothered to put themselves forward in the running for the prize.

On the other hand, the existence of the indie media stories mentioned in this post should have raised a rad flag for the Walkleys when they were deciding who to award their prize to. It’s not valid for Markson to deny their scoop on the basis that they are “blogs”. Can we please get away from these outdated categories that characterise bloggers as unemployed misfits sitting in their pyjamas in their mothers’ basements? Clearly, the DT did not get the scoop (which was the award Markson won). But if indie media outlets want to be in the running for such awards, they will have to pay their dues and submit the relevant paperwork.

As a footnote to this discussion, I think it’s worth looking for a moment at notions like “indie” media and “legacy” media. I first wrote about the idea of indie media back on 26 March 2013. In that post I talked about the way that the different outlets behaved in order to contextualise them outside of labels like “mainstream media” (or its contemporary form, “MSM”) and “indie media”.

From what I can see the basic difference between the two types of media outlet comes down to the fact that the legacy outlets have more people to do things like editing and subediting, making the text read smoothly, and ensuring that the ideas are both contextualised properly and embedded in language that is accessible and engaging. This costs money of course, and it is probably also a symptom of the fact that legacy media journalists have mostly been to university to study the craft and so have some sort of grounding in the kinds of principles that will lead to the production of good, solid, well-written content. Having all of your journalists go through the same process of acculturation is not necessarily the best way to organise your fourth estate, of course. Having some diversity in the sorts of viewpoints that you encourage, viewpoints that derive from different sets of experiences, in an objective sense must contribute to adding depth (and value) to the ecosystem.

But the economics of the business has changed so drastically with the appearance of the internet, and with social media the smaller players get almost as much exposure as the majors. So money is the sticking point. It doesn’t matter if you pay money to an indie outlet or to a mainstream outlet, but you should be paying something to someone in order to ensure the stability of our democracy. 

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