My brief is not overly prescriptive: blog about a set list of events. I do this in whatever way I see fit. This is good. Blogging allows and often calls for a mixture of styles, registers. I can be opinionated or digress at length if I like. I can provide links to a lot of extraneous information, if I am so inclined. Or I can keep it real.
(The event ends with Robyne naming me as festival blogger in front of the audience, and saying ‘what’s the address Derek?’ I call out ‘typingspace‘. Is this enough though? Will people google it, anxious to hear the thoughts and interpretations of this person they don’t know?)
The Sustaining News Stories panel seemed to me to be loosely based on these questions: what makes news news? What place do writers have in the process? Has journalism changed recently, or will it in the future (you know… technology)?
Chris Masters is the Murray Festival headline act. He deserves the title I guess, having had a long career in investigative journalism and having published a number of books, including the controversial Jonestown. He deserves his status even though, as he initially informs us, he is at the ‘fag end’ of his career. Masters asserts to the audience that at this time, journalism has ‘moved from being a public service, to a business.’ It is to be an ongoing discussion point. What is wrong with journalism, or, ‘the news’, today?
Masters outlines three key concepts of journalism. They are news judgement, research, and narrative. He is knowledgeable and clever. These three areas are very important. But I am still wary, in the way you always are when someone outlines what is wrong now, what was better then.
Nick McKenzie emphasises the journalist’s twin skills, research and writing. He claims the combination of both is rare. Is it? Money is the issue. It comes up. More money needs to be pumped into investigative journalism. This would perhaps create the time to write.
Scott Monk, YA novelist and subeditor for The Australian, is more optimistic. He believes ‘there will always be journalists around.’ And I think yes, but what will they be doing? This is entirely his point. Monk says that if we really want investigative journalism of a high quality, someone will have to pay for it. The issue for him is the way people are these days obtaining their news content for free. Who will pay people to write and research when this is the case? (I am positioned straight away. My news consumption is located at the newer end of the spectrum – I get my news as it happens via the journalists who tweet. I follow the links and I obtain my news – at least the majority of it – for free. I attempt to formulate a question that will revolve around this, around me, but as is often the way, I fail to do so. I keep thinking of this blog post, what I will write, etc etc.)
Di Thomas is deputy editor with the Albury local paper, The Border Mail, and despite her admitting many things are changing she remains ‘foolishly optimistic.’ Transcribing this right now, I wonder at her use of the word ‘foolishly’… She also reiterates the concern with time. Maybe it is the way with all writers, but these journalists claim they are peculiarly time-poor. Increasingly they are finding they are not allowed the time to do the meaningful journalistic work that needs to be done. It is the pressure of the online new cycle.
What’s the solution? What will the new paradigm of ‘news’ be in the near future. Perhaps solving this problem was beyond the powers of an hour long panel session. I can present to you some quotes that at least gesture at the future. This, from Chris Masters: ‘The ABC is not going to solve all of our problems [despite being well funded] if newspapers fold.’ An interesting suggestion from Scott Monk that perhaps Rupert Murdoch’s passion will be a sort of saviour for the news business, this man who has been ‘demonised for years.’ And from Nick McKenzie, in response to an audience member questioning why there is still so much ‘bad’ news on tv: ‘We get the news that we deserve.’
All in all, what I left thinking was that the writer is important. A good writer, someone who has the time to research the story and write it well, will remain a pivotal figure in the business of ‘the news’. How he or she will exist is not clear. How they will be paid, or if they will be paid, is not clear. But there will be a change of form, and even process.
Chris Masters: ‘People communicate in a lot of ways… It’s not just what people say, it’s what’s on the mantlepiece, what’s out in the backyard, what the neighbour said as you went into the house…’