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Panpa Bulletin : Oct-Nov-December 2007
32 PANPA Bulletin October-November-December 2007 Those who did not read the June issue of The Monthly missed a thought- ful article by Eric Beecher sub-titled "The future of journalism as a public trust". Beecher, a former editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald and Herald and Weekly Times founder of Text Media and now, with Di Gribble, owner of the crikey.com news and comment website, drew on Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the Wall Street Journal in a persuasive argument that the owners of the world's major newspapers are not prepared to fund responsible journalism if it means diminished profits. Beecher asks whether journalism is a public trust or a business. He draws on two American media com- mentators, Gary Weiss of salon.com and Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss of the Washington Post to confirm his opinion. "Much of what newspapers do has no clear investment rationale," Weiss argues. "Entire segments of the business such as foreign bureaus and investigative reporting are inimical to profitability." Maraniss claims that "newspapers ap- pear to be dying so quickly that they may disappear as a serious part of our lives". The Australian media writer Mark Day is quoted by Beecher as has having writ- ten that there are "so many forces working against this kind of journalism (reporters digging into questions of misconduct or the unlawful deeds of public officials ) that its future is clearly threatened". I wonder whether the future of Australian journalism is as sombre as Beecher claims. He draws on the actions of Sydney Morning Herald journalists who launched industrial action over the company's decision to cut 35 editorial jobs despite a speech by the chief executive, David Kirk, in which he said that Fairfax is "concentrating on the editorial quality of our newspapers". Could the reason for the redundancies be that Fairfax newsrooms were overstaffed? The 'rivers of gold' that financed the broadsheets and to a large extent deter- mined the daily pagination available for news and features has dried up and the internet has drawn readers from newsprint to the screen. Although internet publications are cheaper to run, in Beecher's opinion they are unlikely, in the foreseeable future, to generate sufficient revenue to sustain the cost of running a serious, full scale editorial operation for a metro- politan daily newspaper. How can the metropolitan dailies save themselves? Beecher quoted the suggestion of Steven Rattner, former New York Times reporter now investment banker, that proprietors turn themselves into philanthropists and run their papers as a not-for-profit essential community service! (Ha, ha!). Or, as Beecher suggests, they can stave off their demise by being more 'populist and simplistic, celebrity-focused and entertain- ment based: the kind that attracts large audiences and doesn't need too much time, thought or money'. Add to that my personal view that the metropolitans need to be more innova- tive and more at one with the communi- ties they aim to serve by following the example of community and specialist publications --- both of which are pros- pering because they stay close to their demographic catchment. That last sentence is at odds with a view expressed by Mark Day (about which I wrote last month) that community news- papers have 'limited horizons and precious news' despite research showing that 69 per cent of the population think their commu- nity newspaper is the most relevant media for them. But, according to Day, even the commu- nities are in danger of being taken over by the internet if an American website, Backfence, is emulated in Australia. Backfence publishes online, in a local area, the type of news which usually comprises the editorial of a good community newspa- per plus people, people, people. Beecher closed his article in The Monthly with two quotes. From blogger Tim Blair: 'Technology is giving us the tools to bring about the death of a delivery system called print but not for some time yet. I think newspapers will get smaller and more expensive'. And from that well-known newspaper- man Rupert Murdoch: 'All newspapers are run to make profits. I don't run anything for respectability'. Maybe that last quote is what is wrong with newspapers (and journalism) today. CONNECT Peter Isaacson is a former publisher and is a life member of PANPA email@example.com Beecher and the future of journalism publishing matters Peter Isaacson joins the conversation about quality journalism versus pro tability in newspapers. "The 'rivers of gold' that financed the broadsheets has dried up and the internet has drawn readers from newsprint to the screen". "All newspapers are run to make profits. I don't run anything for respectability" --- Rupert Murdoch
August September 2007