Is Print Media Heading For Extinction? Journalists Weigh In

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 28 September 2012
Category: Features
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At a lively session entitled "The Future Of Print Media: Does It Have One?", held as part of the 2012 Open Book Festival in Cape Town, four journalists from three continents debated whether print and quality journalism as we know it are still going to exist in a few years.

Journalists Kathryn Schulz (Rolling Stone, New York magazine, Slate, and author of Being Wrong: Adventures In The Margins Of Error) from the US; John Crace (writer of The Guardian's Digested Read column and author of, among others, Brideshead Abbreviated) and Eliane Glaser (The Guardian, the London Review Of Books, author of Get Real: How To Tell It Like It Is In A World Of Illusions, and a BBC radio producer), both from the UK; and Brent Meersman (Mail & Guardian and author of, among others, Reports Before Daybreak) from South Africa formed an Open Book panel chaired by Judith February (the head of Political Information and Monitoring Service at the Institute For Democracy In South Africa (IDASA)) that was tasked with debating the future of print and looking at the evolution that is taking place (both good and bad) in journalism, content quality, and reach.

No answers were forthcoming (because, of course, there aren't any) but opinions, which often weren't in agreement, were expressed on a variety of topics, including longform versus shortform journalism; the cultural and monetary value of the written word, journalism, investigative journalism, and the creative arts in general; constraints versus freedom; the attention spans of readerships; the value that the ever-shrinking newsroom team provides; the advantages and disadvantages of new media and technology; and the medium of delivery versus the message being delivered.

The result was a lively discussion that left the audience with much to think about and neatly encapsulated the confusing flux in which print now finds itself as it grapples with remaining relevant in a digital age.

Therefore, rather than report on the panel discussion I've chosen to transcribe (almost verbatim) the most noteworthy points and discussions that were raised as it was a very interesting session so who better to hear commentary from than the speakers themselves?

Is Print Media Heading For Extinction? Journalists Weigh In




The Death Of Print Media In Developed Countries Versus The Rise Of Print Media In Developing Countries
Judith February: Is the death of print media desperately overrated?

John Crace: It's certainly very well predicted. I think the short answer is that nobody really knows. There are a lot of people who will pretend that they know one way or the other and they will have various models that they are working towards - certainly my own newspaper, The Guardian [in the UK], works towards a model of open access: give away all your content for free, get as many readers worldwide as you can and just hope that the advertising comes. Other publications have adopted a rather different model of firewalls behind their Internet site and their readership figures have crashed as a result. I think there is a feeling that the Internet revolution is here, it's come, and there's nothing we can do about it. The question is whether you can make any money off it. I also think that there is something of desire for people to be right about things so there is a danger of people killing things off before their time. It does seem strange to have this message that print is dead and dying and that your readers are probably idiots for buying the newspaper when they can be getting it another way when actually so much of the revenue still does come from the print medium. It may have a slow death but I don't feel there's any need to kill it off prematurely.

Eliane Glaser: "Digital revolution" is a phrase that we hear all the time and the arrival of the Internet and the demise of print is accompanied by revolutionary language - it's enfranchising people, it's democratising us, it's flattening out hierarchies, it's harrowing us to be writers, musicians, citizen journalists, and so on. I'm suspicious of that rhetoric because I think that you have to look at who is actually using that language. What's actually happening is the corporate takeover of the Internet by a handful of new-media companies, Google and Amazon among them. I'm really worried about this because I feel that traditional print media is the form in which we hold power to account; we pay investigative journalists to report on stories about corruption [and so forth]. We talk about censorship being a top-down problem, which it is, but we have informal censorship and this kind of soft erosion of investigative journalism in the form of this tub-thumping revolutionary rhetoric that is actually the opposite of revolutionary: it's destroying the medium that we can use to change the status quo and really empower people.

Judith February: There's a surge of newspapers in print in places such as Chile and Brazil and it seems that when we talk about this [topic of the death of print] we really talk a lot about the United States or Britain and so on and forget that there is actually the rest of the world out there and this experience is perhaps not being matched. In developing countries, something different is happening.

"What I'm hoping is that [the UK and US] are going to take all the pain and go through this and eventually invent the model to deal with the digital age, which we can then leapfrog over in the developing world."Brent Meersman: I think that just within this debate itself it actually illustrates exactly what that is and that is the power of the global corporations that are British and American and how they can skew the debate. We can see the writing's on the wall and I think it will end up being like the theatre - the perpetual patient that never dies - but in the third world circulation is up massively. Print circulation in China is up 10%; in Brazil it's 25%; Africa is 30% overall; 40% growth in India, and this is because there's an increase in literacy and more money to buy newspapers. The Mail & Guardian has increased by about 5% in the last year and some of the Zulu titles have gone up by 7% in the last year. If the print media goes down in Britain and America that's going to have enormous implications worldwide because a lot of the news that's resourced there is fed [to the rest of the world, via syndication outlets]. What I'm hoping is that [the UK and US] are going to take all the pain and go through this and eventually invent the model to deal with the digital age, which we can then leapfrog over in the developing world.

Judith February: [In terms of becoming disenfranchised] is it giving rise to what some people refer to as "slacktivism", where people in the developed world are, many times, getting their news in this way? That this is like pressing a "Like" button on Facebook but actually for the rest of the time we're just doing very little.

Kathryn Schulz: Well, sure but I'm not sure that that's historically unique or distinctive. I think it's false nostalgia to imagine that there was some era of an incredibly thriving fourth estate that was thereby causing citizens to be supremely informed and active and so on. You get moments, of course, where you get an activated populace and you get the media contributing in very meaningful ways to make that possible but is that the status quo and is that how things operate on a normal basis? No, I don't think so. Clearly corporations have massive control over all kinds of information - they always have - but I don't think that this shift to distributing most information digitally is somehow a nett negative for our access to it, for activism, for progressive causes for any of these kinds of things, and, in fact, I think it's quite hard to make that case in a moment when we've seen real-world consequences for access to things like social media. No one disagrees anymore, except for maybe Malcolm Gladwell, that it had a major impact on the Arab Spring, that access to information was very helpful there. Are there negatives also? Yes, but I don't think there are nett negatives.

Judith February: Brent, you're saying that perhaps there will be a slowing down of the kind of news that comes from the developed countries to the developing world if we're going to have everything digital?

Brent Meersman: I'm not sure of what the implications are going to be but it's definitely going to affect us. For instance, what happens in Washington affects the world so who's reporting on that? Who's got the best coverage? Who's in there? You want those The New Yorker writers, you want The New York Times people in there who have the institutional memory, have the resources to know exactly what is happening in congress and have access to those corridors - and they feed us. I don't think that an Al Jezeera reporter is going to get as far as somebody who has been on that beat for a long time or is writing for The Huffington Post.

Is Print Media Heading For Extinction? Journalists Weigh In



What Is Making Us Anxious?
Brent Meersman: I think it's important quite early on in this discussion for us to try and define what is our anxiety about print and I think there is a very clear anxiety here that we need to explore. I suspect that it's about the fact that it's not so much that it's the print that will disappear but with that history you're going to lose the kind of in-depth reporting, you're going to lose the institution that supports that. The Ford Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation, has given a million US dollars to the Los Angeles Times just to try and support good journalism, which is otherwise going to be cut for economic reasons. With The Mail & Guardian the Open Society Foundation For South Africa [among others] supports amaBhungane, our investigative team, and that's the way we are able to do the kind of reporting that we do. It's not based on the sales, we are actually supported and funded to do the kind of in-depth reporting. So that's the anxiety and it's there because the worry is that the online media at the moment is not as good as the traditional, solid, well researched broadsheet and I think in time that is going to change, and in some cases has already changed, where online media is actually better than the print media or at least as good as the old print media and when that shifts then I think our anxieties are going to. At the moment it's in a bit of a nervous period.

Judith February: But it's going to up the online journalists' game, in a sense?

Brent Meersman: Yes because if they want people to pay for online the only way they are going to do that is by presenting something which is so valuable and of such niche and powerful journalism that people are going to be prepared to pay for it.

"What I do care about is content, and quality.
I care about the information we get, not particularly how we get it."
Kathryn Schulz: Thank you for getting to the heart of the issue, which is: what is our anxiety about the notion that print media will vanish? To be honest I don't really have one. I have a kind of personal sense of loss because I do still consume all of my media in print and I love that experience and I think that there are things that are distinctive about it but I do think that the die has been cast - I think Brent's theatre analogy is a good one - I think that print media isn't going to vanish entirely but it's probably, basically, on its way out. And I don't care, actually. What I do care about is content, and quality. I care about the information we get, not particularly how we get it. For me, to the extent that there is an anxiety, it's about the economic model. What is the vision, whereby when we no longer have what we used to - which is basically print magazines and print newspapers that sell advertising in order to fund their paid, trained staff and have things like style [guidelines] and ethics guidelines and the basic things we think of as supporting a decent, functioning media. How are we going to replace those institutions and those guidelines in this new universe? That, I think, is the open question. There isn't one clear viable economic model. We are in a moment where our theory of how the media operates is falling apart, we don't have a new theory yet, so we're throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and what doesn't. My question is what's the model whereby we will still have big, international investigative journalism, long - many months long, years long - investigations, the kind of thing that really has been at the heart of how the media supports a healthy and thriving democracy? That is our focus and that's what we all really care about here.



The Value Of Content And Different Forms Of Journalism
Eliane Glaser: Content is the key and the issue is you pay money for a newspaper but it's a physical object. We pay lots more money for devices, which are form, they're not the content - they carry the content - but the vast amount of money that we pay to the makers of our gadgets, that money is not going into content. Journalists and people who create content in this brave new world are expected to work for free, such as bloggers for The Huffington Post - they're expected to be grateful for contributing for free to this forum. So increasingly what we're going to find is that the capital is going to the makers of the devices and the holders of the content and there's no money going into content. That's why we have a culture of mashups, of circulation of content. Twitter is essentially a parasitic medium. It's parasitic on old media, the articles that will circulate and get recommended to friends. What happens when we fast forward a couple of decades? We don't have that old media. What are we going to have? I think that there is an issue of monetisation - nobody has come up with a way to monetise content on the Web. This is the issue that needs to be solved. I was talking earlier about the revolutionary rhetoric. There's also the rhetoric of "free" - that things should be free, that somehow it's a sort of moral duty for creatives to share our work for nothing. We have this widening social and economic inequality, the accumulation of capital amongst our new corporate elites, and yet when it comes to culture and journalism everything has to be free, which I find very ironic.

"Newspapers are like a public square. If a politician is found out in a newspaper on the front page or in the comments section that matters because it's a form of record that people look to to see that somebody has been found out."I think there's another issue about the form of the Internet and the form of record. Newspapers are like a public square. If a politician is found out in a newspaper on the front page or in the comments section that matters because it's a form of record that people look to to see that somebody has been found out. The Internet doesn't have that kind of public square - it's too atomised. Lots of people are trying to make themselves heard on the Internet via Twitter but who is listening? I have this on Twitter, I have a great thought when I'm sort of drunk in the middle of the night, I put it on Twitter and in the morning I realise no one has read it. So, in the future, everyone's going to be talking and nobody is going to be listening.

Kathryn Schulz: I'm going to disagree with 80% of what you just said but the 20% that I agree with passionately is yes, absolutely, the work that journalists do is work, it should be paid. I'm infuriated by any implication, and they are abundant, that somehow the work of artists and creative people and writers and journalists should just be kind of this free gift to the universe.

I want to defend the Internet for a moment here. I think it is worth pausing to note that this is an amazingly creative and flexible and expansive new medium that I'm personally really excited about. To take one example, I love what The New York Times is doing online. I used to be a seven-day-a-week print subscriber - I got up in the morning, fetched it from my driveway, and read it cover to cover and that's great and I actually still do that - but what I can get online is better. The New York Times has done an amazing job with multimedia stuff, they've done an amazing job with linking, with access, it's great news. I can also go online in the morning and read Al Jazeera, which is not something that I could do 10 years ago and I'm unbelievably grateful for that. It is intellectually and politically and aesthetically and philosophically hugely important to me.

I also want to challenge the use of the word "parasitic" to describe Twitter and other media by which we get news in an aggregated form. Sources like Twitter are doing an incredible service to the world, which is that they are, in fact, making news more available, they're making information more available. Now, is mere access to information enough? No, of course not, but that's hardly new to our current moment. Are all of these mediums incredibly balkanised by political beliefs and so forth? Yes, but that's not even remotely novel to this political moment. If you compare the readers of The New York Times to the readers of the Daily News [a tabloid published in New York] you get approximately zero overlap. These, to my mind, are deep and long-standing problems concerning how information is shared within a society. They have new incarnations in new media but the new media itself is not to blame and there are real benefits to be gained due to the sheer range and rapidity of our access.

"There are all sorts of arguments that just can't be reduced to 400 words and inevitably things will become black and white and hopelessly simplistic and we have to be very careful."John Crace: I would like to distinguish between different forms of journalism because where I think the Internet and newspaper web sites work really well is in reporting instant news - elections, wars, Arab Spring - things where it's changing and it's largely factual and you can update it on an hourly basis. You're really writing history on the foot, hour by hour. You can't do that in print media where you have one thing every 24 hours. You can't also ignore the symbiotic effect that that has on print as well because I think people start to read the news very differently. You no longer really expect to read anything you didn't know in the newspaper anymore - at least I don't, I read it much less attentively. It's very hard to have anything that's actually current. What also gets killed off in this switch, which is the important bit, is the analysis because you cannot get away from the fact that the Internet as a forum naturally suits short pieces of information. Try and get anybody to read anything much more than about 400 words at a time and it's really, really hard. They just don't, they give up. Endless survey after survey of the way people read newspapers online tells you that you're lucky if you've got the reader after 400 words. I then start to lose the nuances of light and shade. I think that will be a loss and I think it will go. There are all sorts of arguments that just can't be reduced to 400 words and inevitably things will become black and white and hopelessly simplistic and we have to be very careful.



New Technological Mediums Of Delivery And Consumption
Judith February: So we become bloggers and not analysts in a way. You can blog and spew out something which is very quick and fits the screen and you can read that and it's like a fix but the kind of in-depth analysis [is lost]. In a world which is changing so rapidly, is there a danger of that getting lost, of us not really digging deep because we have this short attention span and we want to see what's on the screen and that's it?

Brent Meersman: That is a concern. If we draw together what everyone is saying, it's the old Marshall McLuhan - the medium is the message - and a lot of us are just disappearing into the medium and our identity is going into this in a way that hasn't happened before to people. We're not fully aware of what the implication of that is. Certainly the scientists are telling us that our brains are rewiring because if you don't use your brain in a certain way - and through Twitter and through all the various formats that we are using, your brain is a very plastic organ and it actually is rewriting itself in terms of short-term memory, in terms of attention, and all kinds of things in order to accommodate the way we now interact with the world.

Kathryn Schulz: I want to interject to say that every time a new medium comes along you get a scientific panic about what's happening to the brain.

Brent Meersman: It's not necessarily a negative thing. But that's why I subscribe to The TLS [The Times Literary Supplement] and the London Review Of Books because I can read a 6000-word article and I will never read that online. There's no way my eyes will cope. But then the technology's changed so we've got the Kindle and I can read a 500-page book on the Kindle but I can't read it on the iPad. So there are things changing that may make that possible for us. If I look at my iPad I thought the rescue for the newspapers was going to be subscriptions so I won't pay to go through a paywall on the Internet but I will pay US$5 [?] or US$10 [?] a month to get The New York Times delivered every single morning on my iPad - a beautiful, readable edition that you can really go through. In fact, The New Yorker iPad is better than the magazine.

John Crace: I know that The Guardian has done a lot of work on iPad subscriptions and apparently after seven months most people don't renew them. It's not an ongoing thing that once someone is hooked into an iPad and you've got a subscription going then it's a done deal. The medium is constantly changing in a sense that newspapers are looking for newer and newer ways to hook in their readers and every time they think they have found a financial model and a way out it tuns out to be more short term than they thought.

Is Print Media Heading For Extinction? Journalists Weigh In



The Problem Of Inequality
Judith February: I don't want to lose sight of Eliane's point around inequality as well.

"We are the commodity that is being sold to advertisers."Eliane Glaser: Inequality is an issue in lots of ways. It's an issue in terms of the work that investigative journalists do in exposing widening inequalities and iniquities in power and the way that power is emphasised and there is also the inequality between ordinary citizens and the increasing economic power of new media giants who are increasingly owning all our data. There's also the issue of online advertising and the social-media revolution is great in terms of sharing our photos and our data etcetera but actually what the social-media revolution is about is advertisers capturing our personal data and then using that to target personalised adverts at us. We are the commodity that is being sold to advertisers. There's a fantastic article by Zadie Smith in The New York Review Of Books in which she said we value ourselves as individuals with our wonderful photos of our families that we share with our friends on the Internet but Internet advertisers look at us completely the other way around, that we are the convenient individuals who happen to be attached to these worthless photographs but we are the units that can be bought and sold to advertisers. That is how the technology sees us and that's how capitalism sees us.

"Paper has survived for hundreds and hundreds of years whereas I can't get the data off a 10-year-old laptop in my cupboard."I have one more point to make about time and permanence. I don't know about my brain but I can testify that I have an Internet addiction and the last few months I've been trying to conquer this addiction and only check my Internet once or twice a day because, of course, it was getting to the point where I would be checking and rechecking, surfing in the evenings, and so on. It actually got to the point where I thought if this goes on, I'm not going to be able to read a book, read a novel anymore, I'm not going to be able to write another book because my brain will be so fragmented and it will be so addicted to this kind of refresh, refresh, refresh treadmill that the Internet puts you on. I think that there's something about a plastic and metal device that makes you think it's permanent, as opposed to paper - you can tear it, it's yesterday's fish wrapping, and so on - and that's an illusion. Paper has survived for hundreds and hundreds of years whereas I can't get the data off a 10-year-old laptop in my cupboard. Capitalism is all about built-in obsolescence, it's all about creating the latest iPhone 5 that five million billion people have rushed out to buy in the last few days. It's in capitalism's interest to keep us spending these huge amounts of money on this technology that then goes out of date and the thing about the information, the content that's on these devices, is that whereas you had newspaper archives where if politicians were shown up to be lying it would be in the archives but on the Internet, yes, in theory there is permanence and things never die on the Internet, but they do sink to the bottom and as the pace of information increases and increases there's less of an ability to [reference it and use it].

Judith February: In the South African context why must I buy The Cape Times every day when I could be reading The Daily Maverick online and getting very good stories, in-depth stories. Some of the best journalism is happening in real time.

"There's no reason to buy something in print unless you're someone who does not have access to the Internet, which is the vast majority of South Africa."Brent Meersman: I think what's happened is that a lot of South African [print] newspapers made a terrible mistake and that is that they've actually tried to copy the Internet model so they've gone for shorter and shorter articles, they're trying to go more and more for these sort of "grab-quick" reads. They've actually started copying the wrong way round. In fact, what they should go for is: what can't I get on the Internet? Give me what I cannot find on the Internet. Give me in-depth articles, give me proper research. That's a big mistake that a lot of our newspapers have made. There's no reason to buy something in print unless you're someone who does not have access to the Internet, which is the vast majority of South Africa.

Judith February: Which is the other side of our inequality point.

Brent Meersman: It has very important political and democratic implications for the country so that in South Africa one wants to see print and one wants to see print growing, and one wants to see literacy growing, because that is a form in which the majority of people will be informed. They don't have access to the Internet, they certainly don't have iPhones, they certainly don't have iPads, they don't have credit cards to subscribe. If you don't have a credit card you can't get online, you can't do anything.

Is Print Media Heading For Extinction? Journalists Weigh In




The Rise Of Tabloids And The Promise That Mobile Technology Holds
Judith February: In South Africa what we've seen is an increase in the tabloids, which is really snippets of news that some of us might find deeply offensive in some parts, but the majority of South Africans are getting their news via the R1.50 [?] tabloid. In Britain you have tabloid press and so on but how does that impact in a developing country?

Kathryn Schulz: I'm by no means an expert on new media and news media but I've been thinking about tabloids while you've been talking. Newspapers, literally the printed object, gave us this word "tabloid" and we use it to mean shoddy, sensationalist journalism, which is to say that that journalism has existed for a very long time. It's certainly not going out on a limb to say that no matter how we are getting our news we are always going to have a fairly established spectrum of what that news looks like, from very serious, credible, reported, fact-checked journalism on the top end to this kind of ridiculous, voyeuristic whatever. That is just human nature - we're interested in that range of stuff. I think the question of access to media in the developing world and what that is going to look like as the West shifts powerfully and quickly towards online models of information dissemination is really interesting and really important.

I'm really interested in what's happening with mobile technology throughout the developing world and especially in Africa. Mobile phones are astonishing and they have done amazing things throughout this continent. They are information devices and they have improved people's access to information radically. We are a step away technology wise from the kinds of mobile phones that are being used for these purposes, such as mobile banking or mobile information or what day can you take your sheep to which market, to more substantial uses but it's a small step. In the West we're already getting our information on our phones like that. My hunch is it's not going to be financially prohibitive to make that step because the technology is changing so rapidly in the West. Now we have an iPhone 5 - I don't know how much it costs but let's go with a fortune if you're living anywhere else in the world - but there is a trickle-down effect, which means all the earlier technologies become cheaper and cheaper and I think it's not unreasonable to imagine that, in the same way that there's been a mobile revolution in Africa that really has changed how information has spread, news information is going to piggy back on that relatively soon. That could be a really good development. Does it solve underlying issues like literacy? - no, we really need to work on those - but again we're in the situation where I have no reason to believe that that would be a nett negative for the developing world.

John Crace: I think this is where Kathryn and Eliane come together because I would go along with Kathryn completely. I think that access to technology and media will become cheaper and cheaper over time. I think that's inevitable but largely because it's in the interests of the providers to do so. You've got a huge market out there. The more people you can flog an iPad, and iPhone, or something to and advertise to and produce news for, the better. There is no advantage in keeping the market small. The market's natural tendency will be to be as large and as wide as possible. It's been slower here [South Africa] for obvious reasons because of inequality but I think that will shift regardless of what anybody does about it.



Longform And Shortform Journalism, And Access To Information
Question from the audience: Doesn't digital space open up the length of articles? You're no longer confined to the number of inches your editor will give you. I'd be interested in your comments on that and why maybe that doesn't happen. Second, from the reader's perspective, with printed culture you could buy a new book at full price, you could pass it on at a reduced price in a used bookstore, which makes it much more affordable for a lot of people to gain access, or you could give it away for free. Now it seems, especially with Kindle books, they're usually close to the same price as new, printed hardcover books or you can make digital copies and give it away for free. There's no middle point where people who can't afford it as a new object can access it at a more affordable price. Doesn't that encourage more digital piracy?

Brent Meersman: I'm just speaking from personal experience because I find it very difficult to read longform journalism. I would probably print out long articles and read them at home. You could have digital libraries and with proprietary software you'll be able to take a book out on loan; it will then disappear off your Kindle. They could make it one dollar for a book or something, they could make it extremely reasonable. These are just details, these are just a different kind of medium that were going to find and a different way that it's going to be implemented.

We were talking about South Africa and I want to go back to what we were talking about with print and access: I'm a journalist who two months ago got paid more for my online content than for my printed content but I cannot afford our data-roaming charges in South Africa and I'm white and rich so that is the biggest problem that we have.

Kathryn Schulz: I think [an audience member's comment about an electricity blackout in the entire United States Eastern Seaboard in 1965 and how easy it might be to do the same now] is a completely legitimate and interesting point - if, in fact, we become dependent on an information system that is dependent on energy and electricity we are creating a certain kind of vulnerability in the world and one that books are completely immune to. Newspapers aren't because they still need quite a lot of resources to publish them but once a book is an object in the world and in a library it's fairly inert, you can't turn it off. I think it's legitimate to think about things like what are the potential weaknesses of our entire information system, which can, in theory, be shut off now.

"If you have a deadline and you have a word length and it's in print then you produce the best thing that you can do within those constraints."Eliane Glaser: Just a quick defense of deadlines and length of articles. As a journalist and as a radio producer, when I'm producing a programme one of my first considerations is how long is this interview going to be? How long is this feature going to run? When I'm writing an article, what's the word length? It's not just about managing my work, it really structures the way that I approach the issue. We might think it's fantastic, we can write really long articles, or we might think isn't it great in the future when all the world's information will be one big searchable book that Google wants to produce. Isn't it great that on the Internet articles go up there, you can amend them, other people can amend them, you can create these sorts of mashups of shared articles. It's talked about as if it were a great thing that we have to celebrate but I don't think it is a great thing. If you have a deadline and you have a word length and it's in print then you produce the best thing that you can do within those constraints. I think those constraints give you meaning - shape and size, they give our lives meaning. If we fast forward to an age where there aren't any newspapers - I hope that won't happen - but when it's just the Internet all those values disappear. We don't have that structure, that shape that gives us meaning and urgency.

John Crace: I would go along without. On a kind of flippant note I often find I've got precisely as much to say as words I've been given to say it in and it's very convenient. I think the question of digital ownership is still up in the air. There's a court case on at the moment where [Bruce Willis] wants to hand over his iTunes collection and he finds out that you actually only rent your stuff from iTunes. He could make loads and loads of copies of them but that effectively renders him a pirate. The idea that the Internet always equals free, equals open ownership is far from sorted.

Is Print Media Heading For Extinction? Journalists Weigh In



The Value The Newsroom Provides - And Does It Have A Future?
Question from the audience: Wikileaks goes online and there's no one to redact it. The Guardian did a real service to the world with the work they did, and The New York Times, in putting it into some kind of shape that was trustworthy and as someone else mentioned there was ethics guiding it. Newsrooms have a big purpose in the world. It's not just the journalist writing the story or the people granting the interviews. I'd like to hear your thoughts on what can replace, if anything, the institution of journalism - the newsroom, the publisher, the editor - not just journalism, all media, books. Anything I read I want to have gone through some process before it comes to me.

Kathryn Schulz: It's worth remembering that journalism as we know it is very young. When we think about newspapers and the kinds of institutions whose demise we feel like we're witnessing, we're talking about a couple hundred years, a very novel, new innovation in human history. It is incumbent upon us to decide that there are elements of that and there are values within what we have developed over this relatively short time frame that we do believe are good to humanity and that we want to support and see incarnated in new forms as there is no question that the forms are going to change. I don't see any substitution for some kind of gatekeeper role. I believe we need editors, I believe we need people who are making writing better, I believe we need fact checkers, I believe we need people involved at every level of the production [process] to make sure that everything that is getting out there in the world is accurate and is of quality. Those are standards we've never lived up to - a tiny fraction of journalism lives up to them - but I think it's incredibly important to aspire to them. Those who flagrantly and willfully defy those standards as opposed to just slipping short of them, I don't think that's an epic phenomenon of digital media, I think that's an epic phenomenon of human beings, basically flawed, not necessarily terribly ethical with their choices.

John Crace: I think that predicting consequences is a bit of a mug's game - I'll go back to my original point that we just don't know. The Guardian backed the Internet very early on but it had no idea at the time just how influential that was going to become. We suddenly found, after the Iraq War, that we had five million regular extra readers in America that we'd never bargained on getting simply because there was no medium out there that was reporting the war in a way that made sense to those five million people. We never set out on the Internet to make a land grab for five million extra readers - that would have been seen as an act of complete insanity - but it happened anyway.

"On the question of editors, I would be lost without them. I would have been sued, I would have made more errors than I already have."On the question of editors, I would be lost without them. I would have been sued, I would have made more errors than I already have. I am so pleased to have great, great colleagues in the newsroom and in the features department to watch my arse so that I don't have to. I can just go out and do what I want and then they can decide how it's going to appear. I'm so glad that I don't have to make that decision for my own work.

Eliane Glaser: Just to answer briefly and return to my first point, the language of iconoclasm that's attached to the Internet revolution is borrowed from the 60's liberation movement - that sort of language, the language of revolution - and it's applied to so-called gatekeepers like those editors, those fact checkers. They're supposed to be part of the old guard and I think in the brave new world of the Internet we can say goodbye to those editors because they're not going to have jobs. In terms of the wisdom of crowds and the cheerleading that's going on about citizen journalism, we're not going to have those people and I think that's a real problem. The language of 60's liberation and freedom is applied to the Internet revolution but in effect what it means is that the people who are in my view trying to produce the conditions for real freedom, the conditions for real tackling of inequality and so on, are the journalists who are expected to work for free and therefore cannot afford to be journalists.

Brent Meersman: I'd agree with you and it just comes down to us having to stand up and fight for what are our values and to fight for what we believe in. I think that the liberation or the theme of the revolution rhetoric is hugely misleading around these things. I do think that, like all revolutions, there are going to be heads chopped and a lot of very good people get wasted in a revolution but I'm optimistic. All these different platforms that we've considered as journalists I use as enormous tools - crowdsourcing, even through Twitter - there's all kinds of things that I can do that you couldn't do before and access to voices that we never heard before, that you could not reach very easily. It's now, I hope, that readers will gravitate towards those sites that you can read because it has been edited and spelt correctly, there is some grammar, and that it's fact checked. We don't like being fooled. You want to read the best so you start by looking for where the best, most reliable, source is and you start gravitating towards those people who have got it right and then the rest are just the noise, the fuzz, which we're all really exited about at the moment but I think it will all pan out.

Mandy J Watson was a media guest at the 2012 Open Book Festival.


Tags: #books, #open_book, #technology






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