Monday, October 22, 2012

Contesting the News

The fierce debate over perceptions of Julia Gillard's parliamentary speech on sexism - the press gallery take versus the public one - has touched a nerve among journalists for a simple reason. It has created doubt about the craft value journalists hold most dear - their nose for news.


Indeed, a flair for seeing "the story" is probably the most important cultural distinction in the industry when separating exceptional journalists from the ordinary ones. Recognising a story and priortising it, often when events are still developing and when time is short, are what great editors are made of.

That's why the storm over the Gillard speech - irrespective of the tedious arguments over the definition of misogyny - has created such a defensive reaction among some in the gallery. The public essentially is accusing them of being bad at their jobs.

Some of the more considered journalists, like Lenore Taylor, said the public fist-pumping about the speech was completely understandable, but did not take account of the context - that Gillard  was implementing a "deliberate, tested strategy of capitalising on the Coalition's relative unpopularity with women due to Tony Abbott's political aggression by conflating it with the unsupportable allegation that he actually hates females".

Well, yes. But sometimes you can be so close to a story that you don't grasp its wider impact. When a gallery member insists its job is not to "laud speeches" but to "make predictions about whether political actions will deliver votes", it rather proves the point that they don't get what's going on.

The fact is the media environment is becoming more diverse. The 'institutionalised' press - as traditionally defined - is finding itself less at the middle of things and more at the margin. New social media allows people to tailor and define news according to their own cultural norms, not those of a exclusive cadre.

This is a global phenomenon, by the way. We are moving away from the idea of an accepted "narrative" of public issues that is delivered to us all on the evening TV news as we eat dinner on our laps or in the morning as we pick up the newspaper off the lawn. It is a trend well articulated in an academic paper published early this year by the Brooklyn Law School in New York:
"Regardless of when the institutional press can be said to have come into existence, today we are witnessing an erosion of that entity, in favor of a more cacophonous and diverse media environment. At its most extreme, this cacophony takes the form of technological
developments that allow consumers of information to tailor the information they receive. This development completely erases, or at the very least severely erodes, the editorial judgment
component that marks traditional journalism."*
Of course, this emerging cacophony also raises the risk of there being no "accepted" version of events; that there are only perceptions and that people will gravitate around the sources of information that best fit their existing prejudices. Arguably, this is already happening. And not just with the new media. Rupert Murdoch's 'The Australian' makes no apologies about presenting a view of the world that resonates with its highly conservative, middle-aged, largely male readership.

Indeed, such is The Australian's propensity for mixing partisanship with 'news' that some commentators, like economist John Quiggin, question whether it can fairly described as a newspaper. In fact, as blogs more and more resemble professionally written traditional media, the old media looks more and more like blogs.
"I don’t see this as a problem requiring a regulatory solution, as suggested by the Finkelstein Report," Quiggin says. "Rather, we simply need to recognise that 20th century assumptions about 'the press' have ceased to be applicable. The Australian looks like a 20th century newspaper, just as Fox resembles a 20th century US TV network, but both are far more like political blogs in terms of their content and operating procedures."
So 'the news' isn't what it was. It isn't owned by anyone. It is increasingly contested. And as bloggers scale up and embrace some of the craft qualities of journalism, the mainstream media increasingly "moulds" news to satisfy the world views of its target markets.

The implications of all this we are just starting to grapple with.  


*'Going the Way of the Steam Engine: The Institutional Press, the Internet and the Paradox of the Press Clause," William D. Araiza, Brooklyn Law School

20 comments:

  1. http://www.smh.com.au/business/federal-budget/swan-empties-bag-of-tricks-to-save-his-skinny-surplus-20121022-281kj.html

    $1.1 billion is now a "wafer-thin" amount of money.

    Telepathic dumbing-down that only impinges upon senile minds.

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  2. Next morning I nearly destroyed a perfectly good television set, as every reporter had the same angle, on a story there were so many. Most journalists are taught just like a rainbow, every story has a spectral of ideas, Canberra just couldn't be bothered getting out the lens.

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  3. "$1.1 billion is now a "wafer-thin" amount of money."

    Beginner's mistake.

    In a budget with receipts of $367 billion, $1.1 billion IS a "wafer thin" surplus.

    (Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a different question.)

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  4. Since THAT speech:
    -The Nielsen poll has
    [a]PM Gillard increasing her popularity with the public [men in particular] by double digit %.
    [b] the government improving in 2PP to 48:52

    -The Morgan poll puts the government ahead in the 2PP.

    Or, in other words, lots and lots of Australians didn't buy the MSM version or interpretation of the prior events.

    Surely this will impact on the public perception and credibility of further punditry from the msm?

    fred

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  5. The decline of central, trusted, mainstream news sources and proliferation of 'narrowcasting' is a real worry...but an opportunity too. It's easy to see a future where political debate is carried out in thousands of conversational bubbles immune to reality or balance. The solution for me lies in a shared commitment to the importance of facts, whether that be expressed through a Finkelstein-driven Council or a people-power movement through the blogosphere, or something else. Facts have a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff, and in an environment where facts hold weight and are respected, it doesn't matter whether our media comes from a mogul or a pyjama-clad blogger.

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  6. New social media allows people to tailor and define news according to their own cultural norms, not those of a exclusive cadre.

    Well quite. In similar vein, Crikey (Bernard Keane) chews recent Essential Research polling that shows more and more people use social media as a source of news rather than newspapers

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/10/23/google-facebook-the-giants-of-australian-online-media/

    Kind of worrying when significant chunks of the population think Faceache and Goggle qualify as "sources".

    fractious

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  7. Anonymous, my observation that people are relying on social media more and more should not be sen as an endorsement of the reliability of Facebook etc; more an indictment of how completely unreliable much of the MSM has become.

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  8. You can't really use social media as a primary source but it is currently unbeatable as a way to share info from a range of sources, in my experience a much wider range than just the MSM. And it is also a way of sharing opinion and critique of events and media (mis)reporting of them. It has become a truism that social media puts readers in a bubble of confirmation bias and although this may be partly true it fails to account for the fact that it also subjects the MSM to constant fact checking against the original sources and the MSM bias can be easily exposed as it was in the case of the misogyny speech.This boils down to there still being a role for the MSM in reporting facts but just the facts, but that role may be better performed by a media run by a range of organisations like governments, universities etc who theoretically at least have less ideological baggage or will only succeed to the extent that they stick to the facts and back them up with links to all relevant original sources. A livelier version of the academic paper with footnotes and sources is probably a much better model of the media future than say the gory mess of exploded head that was dished up by Hartcher, Sheehan, et al last week.

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  9. Both social and MSM failed to adequately report the context of the Prime Minister's speech. The speech given by Abbott which preceded the reply by the PM was one of the most over the top and out of control speeches I have ever watched.

    At that point, Abbott believed he could say and do anything, including paraphrasing Alan Jone's disgusting remarks. Of course now we see the remorse of a bully who regrets being called to account for his behaviour.



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  10. A good current example of msm v blogs is the Craig Thomson story. All the msm have one angle on Thomson, guilty. The blogs on the other hand, do not pronounce guilt or innocence, just a whole lot of other potential interested parties and possible evidence.

    Now if Thomson is not found "msm guilty" then followers of the msm will be totally surprised.

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    Replies
    1. Yes.
      I am reminded of the carryings on over the utegate affair, as it was initially called, with daily headlines quoting Malcolm and others about Swan and Rudd having misled parliament and being in 'severe trouble' and the govt. being 'in crisis' and so on ad nauseum.
      All taking Mal's rantings as having validity whilst casting doubt on the denials [correct denials as it turned out] of Rudd and co..
      Then it became the Gretch affair and the full culpability of the media, including the direct involvement of a senior journo and a fake e-mail forged and mocked up in a Murdoch paper, along with the litany of secret meetings, previously denied by Mal and Eric, was airbrushed aside with the excuse that they were 'misled'.
      Oh thats alright then.
      No enquiry into the conduct of Mal or the media.
      During all that time the blogs were giving far more accurate, in-depth and less partisan, analysis.
      Today's tip off to the media by police about the raid on Thomson's house is an example of concocted media hullabaloo.

      We need a new mass media, this one is broke.

      Delete
  11. Just shows how brainwashed the masses have been under the programming from the mainstream media ( owned by only 6 corporations )
    Thank god for the internet , where we can be much better informed !
    For examples , i now know about the concept of a false flag , and the history of them ( operation gladio , the lavon affair , the plan of operation northwoods ), i now know the history of lies leading to wars ( lusitania , tonkin , iraq-wmds ), i now know about our non-representative "democracies" , i now know the lamestream media grossly mal-informs us .

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  12. Although this cartoon is from the US, it's fairly relevant here

    http://s3.amazonaws.com/dk-production/images/8808/lightbox/10-21-strip-KOS.png?1351009553

    I notice in the AGE (paper version) today there's an article buried WAYYYY down the bottom of page 4. It's tiny - just 3 paras. I thought it was extremely important - should have been on the front page!

    It wasn't featured anywhere on the AGE online front page. I finally found it via Google in the SMH site. Strangely enough, the online version was much longer. Do they think if I buy the occasional hard-copy paper then I must be uninterested in climate change? it's just weird.

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/clean-energy-target-drives-billions-in-investment-20121024-285rw.html

    To those of you who think Twitter and Facebook are just rubbish, who do you think disseminated the information better - someone who shares the online link via social media, or that pathetic performance in the dead tree paper? There are heaps of people I follow / "friend" who make it their business to link to interesting information like this. Social media opponents need to change how they use it rather than just dissing it on the basis of their poor usage.

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  13. That SMH article you linked to has a rather strange last sentence, Helen:

    "Recently Australian Energy Market Commission chairman John Pierce warned the renewable energy target was distorting power markets."

    Yeah, I guess every time you have to pay the cost of cleaning up after yourself, it distorts a market somewhere (and god kills a kitten).

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    Replies
    1. "Yes John Pierce, that was kind of the point...!"

      Delete
  14. Sue (12.15 24th)
    Not only will those who source their information exclusively from the MSM be surprised if Thomson is exonerated, they will consider it an indication of the deficiencies (if not corruption) of the judicial system. The relentless campaign of denigration has so poisoned his reputation and created a climate in which his "guilt" is a given to the point where the damage is irreparable.
    PJF

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  15. Replies
    1. try asking ABC to actually report and debate the big news issues like fukushima , gm foods , false flags , nato backed rebels in libya and syria , serfs bailing out gambling bank losses with austerity etc etc

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  16. The MSM have lost their moral compass. They are now so focussed on reporting the horse race that they have nothing to say when grubby tactics are employed. Their response hinges solely on how successful said grubby tactics will be, how they might change votes, rather than whether they are right ot not. In that context, how can you blam pollies for these tactics? It keeps them in the news.

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    Replies
    1. Their job is to maintain the illusion that we are not farmed humans on free-range serf farms .

      Delete