Get Shouty

What is the role of a newspaper in a paperless environment?
October 20, 2007, 5:05 am
Filed under: Zeitgeist


I went to a forum this week : Is online media dumbing down journalism? Liz Jackson (Four Corners), Peter McEvoy, Catharine Lumby, Dylan Welch (Sydney Morning Herald Online) and Jacqueline Breen ( were on the panel put together by New Matilda.

I won’t summarise what was spoken about ’cause Tim does a great job here:

“What has happened to newspapers could be summed up as follows: once upon a time newspapers were sold as three course meals, and no one really knew what was being eaten – the entré, the main or the dessert (or all three?). Now we can measure readers, it turns out most people are just interested in the dessert. So does that mean you just focus on desserts and stop making nutritious mains? Or does it mean you have to work harder to make the mains more appetising?

It seemed to me the room last night was full of people that just love to eat vegetables. They know how good vegetables are for them and they’ve acquired a taste. Now they’re nervous – if people are only eating dessert, what does that mean for the health of democracy? or ‘public discourse’? And more importantly, if we’re the only ones eating vegetables, who’s going to be paying for them?”

My outtake was that it seemed to me that what was missing from the debate was any real vision of how the online medium might advance the essential offer of journalism which was put forward as ‘originality, credibility and analysis’.

The focus of the panel seemed to be on how online effects the economic model of a news masthead and then how that relates to the resources that are given to journalists in order for them to deliver their craft.

I’m into the notion that in the current explosion of data there is a valuable role to be played in an offer of synthesis of information, contextualisation with authority and transparency of agenda. In this scenario a newspaper might be seen as an umbrella brand with its journalists becoming brands of their own. The role of the newspaper is then to facilitate and add value to the relationship between the content created by the journalists and the audience.

An example of this might be a meme/topic tracker so that you can follow issues as they unpack over time or visualize how silos of news interact with each other (a finance story and a policy decision or a gossip piece and a media merger).

The Digg Arc model is a baby step towards this- imagine if you could colour code and navigate your way through topical information and see how it related and informed other silos of activity….

The ability of the online medium to tell stories and to allow journalists to create new ways of creating understanding and describing the agenda seems to be lost in the contemplation of dwindling revenue.

In response to will online “Shaft or Save?” journalism I come down on SAVE, so long as there is a willingness to innovate.

UPDATE: I watched the 2007 Andrew Olle Lecture given by John Hartigan broadcast last night on the ABC.

You can read the transcript here or listen to it here.(MP3 RealMedia 28k+)

Amazing. No really. Inspirational, visionary, passionate. Go check it out:

‘….journalism is in very good shape. In many ways, better than ever. There has never been a better time to be a journalist. And the value of good journalism has never been greater. ”

‘…digital technology is delivering a more diverse range than ever of wonderful journalism. Our audiences are capable of telling the difference. The one thing they don’t have is enough time to consume what’s available. This is why demand for high quality news from credible sources will grow, not decline.”

“Newspapers draw our attention to things we didn’t know we were interested in. The internet hasn’t induced passive browsing in the same way but I think the content that achieves this will attract a huge audience. As journalists we’ve never had more inducements to open our minds, stretch our imaginations or reach more people.”


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Awesome post, Katie! Interestingly, the publishing industry has been under assault for at least the last 20 years … and the standard response is to hunker down. It is a shame that there are not more responses that focus on out-innovating the competition (including “citizen journalists). There are huge opportunities for news and publishing brands that are going begging.

Comment by Gavin Heaton

Yes, excellent post. Actually, I haven’t read anything as insightful in any of the major Australian newspapers and I’m not peeing in your pocket. Gavin directed me to your post after reading my rant at the slide towards tabloid style news editing at The Age here:

“Find, filter, contextualise with credibility” is exactly why I would turn to professional media organisations.

Comment by David Koopmans

Katie, great comments. Your focus on the fundementals is the best place to figure out publishing’s added value: ordering chaos, telling a story. By separating this from the means of communication it becomes easier to see new technologies as options rather than threats. I’m advocating a similar approach in marketing where we have a need to tell a story to prospects. Your comments are great illustrations of this point:

Comment by DJHowatt

[…] blog, this one a MarketingProfs blog by Gavin Heaton includes a killer quote from a blog by Katie Chatfield She talks about how newspapers can evolve with technology, not against it. She suggests that […]

Pingback by More Storytelling « Simple Marketing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: