Public service model will be the savour of ‘quality’ journalism. This controversial statement by Professor of Communications at Goldsmith’s College University of London James Curran opened the Future of Journalism Conference in Cardiff today.
He discounted the four major views on the future of journalism:
1. Media organisations who stick their head in the sand and just claim that they will be ok despite the migration of advertising to non-news websites.
2. Liberal academics who claim that internet will transform traditional journalism in positive ways by creating more ‘grass roots’ sources and therefore less reliance on the establishment. Also central within this school of thought is that it allows the public to be more engaged through citizen journalism.
3. The radicals who see the demise of traditional journalism as a cause for joy because from its ashes new radical and alternative media will emerge.
4. The media workers who say not enough attention is paid to the carnage this new age of online journalism is wreaking in the newsroom. This group claims that as as newspapers close and journalism jobs are lost so to is the public understanding of and engagement with democracy.
But Curran said all of these points of view were wrong because they didn’t really provide a viable option for the future of news. In particular, he pointed to the liberal educators, of which I am probably one, whose Utopian view fails to recognise that as journalists are stretched even further, then they actually increasingly rely on the establishment as a source (my answer to this is education, but that is an aside). Equally studies show that those who engage in citizen journalism sites are not representative of all classes and segments of society.
He suggested instead a public service model where public service broadcasters are sufficiently funded to provide innovative low cost online journalism to offset the decline of other news mediums. This point-of-view is surely aimed squarely at James Murdoch who in an address claimed that the future of journalism in the UK relied on the regulation and funding, which protected the BBC from the commercial factors faced by others, should be removed to ensure a vibrant media industry.
It was put to Curran that this public service model does have inherent problems, where public service broadcasters become highly politicised by being linked to the budget cycle. An issues that we in Australia know all to well given the war waged by the Howard government on our ABC.
Curran answered this by suggesting that a hybrid of both market driven and public service media was needed to ensure journalism’s future. This view was to some extent echoed by Global Forum for Media Development Director Bettina Peters who said that the developed world could learn from developing countries to make media viable. She pointed to examples in developing countries where the advertising market is not big enough to support media so a hybrid of advertising and public support is used to ensure journalism exists and survives.
More to come, but you can see a live stream of the conference here.