Is this the last generation of journalism?

I don’t know how many people have realised it yet but we’re about to tip over the precipice of a new journalistic world. We are bearing witness to the last generation of the great ‘paper journalist’. At no other point has one media generation had to seriously concern themselves about the longevity of the industry, now they do.

NewsCorp and Fairfax both announced multi-million dollar losses recently in their newspaper divisions and there is irony in knowing that they will be amongst the loudest voices when their final print run is decided.

Perhaps one of the best lines to describe the power this generation of paper journalists has comes from the Spiderman comics: “With great power comes great responsibility”.

The awesomeness of the task ahead of this generation of journalists can’t be emphasised enough. It will shape media as we know it for possibly, I believe, decades to come. The responsibility I speak of of course is the passing of the torch to the next generation. And they will have to do it or journalism as we know it will crumble.

Newspaper readers trust the opinion of the journalists they currently have available to them. Whether the reader thinks they’re right or they’re wrong is irrelevant, the point is the reader trusts what the journalist has to say and listens to it. They do so because the journalist has the experience.

I was present once when Alan Kohler said that “the great thing about the internet is that good journalism shines through”. And he’s completely right of course. I would also add that it helps immensely when you’ve got a lifetime of experience and a solid reader base from decades of newspaper exposure before you launch yourself wholly online and your devoted crowd of readers follows you there.

If you don’t think experience makes any difference I’d ask you to take a moment to re-read this post so far, but re-read it thinking that one of Australia’s best journalists, Robert Gottliebsen, wrote it and that it is a think piece about the future of media.

Now I ask you, when you re-read it with Gottliebsen in your head everything seemed more valid, more ‘real’ didn’t it? The words suddenly had an extra gravitas. An extra importance. You could almost hear Gottliebsen’s whispery yet powerful voice at your ear as he told you this story. Why? Because you know him and you trust him.

It is of course far removed from the reality of the situation: a 29 year old sitting on the floor of his apartment typing this into a laptop and listening to Josh Pike on iTunes.

For a moment, lets go back to the 70’s, 80’s and the early 90’s. There was either no internet or at the least a young internet very different from the one we experience today. Where did people turn for the news? They watched TV, listened to the radio and they bought the paper. They bought the paper religiously.  It wasn’t a way of getting the news, it was the way of getting the news. You had to read the newspaper to keep up to date. There simply was no alternative.

But today there is. Today we have the internet. Tens of millions of websites, millions of blogs, tens of millions of words everyday, trillions of words every year. I note as I write this for example that wordpress.com has over 201,000 bloggers. And if that number isn’t dizzing enough try these WordPress numbers on for size:

173,695 new posts and 42,806,482 words. Today.

Yes, today. Over 42 million words today. And that was recorded on just one of the worlds blogging companies. Goodness knows what the total number is for all blogs daily globally.

Are you starting to see where I’m going with this yet?

This last generation of paper journalists who are now themselves shifting online have a responsibility like no other before them and perhaps no other after them.

Not only do the wise and experienced have a responsibility to their current readers but they have a responsibility to the next generation of both readers and journalists. They need to choose who will be the next generation of Alan Kohler’s, Robert Gottliebsen’s, Malcolm Maiden’s, Stephen Bartholomeusz’s, Michael Pascoe’s, Adele Ferguson’s, Glenda Korporaal’s etc , the list goes on.

It will be their voices and actions that breed the excellence required to be heard above the masses. It will be their ‘hand on the shoulder’ that will let readers know that the few new journalists that appear next to their name are worthwhile and can be trusted. This is, as I’ve said above, a truly awesome responsibility.

The next generation of journalists won’t have newspapers. They won’t have the exclusive, and comparatively luxurious, format reserved for the privileged few that their predecessors did. They may not even work for a company that charges for reading their content.

The next generation of journalists will be competing to be heard along with everyone else on the internet.

The new generation’s 600 words-per-day-column will be competing with ten’s of thousands of media outlets and hundred’s of millions of word each day. Each media outlet will be as desperate as the other of finding a group of eyeballs, clicks and ad impression revenue.

How will the next generation of journalists find their voice? How will any one of them distinguish themselves from everyone else. How will they make sure they’re trusted by readers?

What makes anyone’s opinion more valid than anyone else when everyone has a loudspeaker and a wooden box upon which to stand?

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One comment

  1. The scale of material on the internet has ramifications for readers, as well as marginalised journalists trying to find their voice.
    There was once an authority with saying “I read this in a newspaper” that may never be extended to the internet.
    The trust hasn’t quite extended into the online versions of great journalism institutions, partly because people are inherently distrusting of the intangible qualities of the internet and because they also wonder what to make of it.
    The question becomes, what are the next generation of readers going to be like, and how is that going to define the next generation of journalists?
    Old-school journalists are trading on their reputation developed in print, so there’s little they can pass on to the next generation when it comes to defining their own place in the media.
    The fickle and highly-reactive nature of the internet is going to require the next generation to have a heightened sense of marketing than their predecessors. Ultimately, I think the next generation won’t have the same devotion to material because their time requires a commitment to content in numerous media formats and promoting those endeavours.
    But I’d also suggest that the next generation of readers need to be empowered with a heightened ability to scrutinise. We get the media we deserve, and as much as we can blame the media for being reactionary and shallow, it’s merely a reflection of the readership. If readers can more readily identify good writing, it’ll flourish.
    Granted smarter writers can make smarter readers, but progress is far quicker if it’s the other way around.

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