I'm dropping one of those internet 'lists' today. If you want to scroll past my rant about why, then be my guest, the listicle (cracking out the fancy words here) is a few paragraphs down.
Otherwise, this: I am sick of hearing about how bad the media is. The rhetoric that journalism is doomed is getting old. It may still be as valid and yes, I'm well aware of the commercial shitstorm our industry is in. I'm well aware of the funding issues and the lack of government support for quality journalism that's investigative and fulfills its fourth estate role, and the work place pressures that journalists face these days. But really, we all know that. Excuse me for pointing out the obvious but that's old news. Tell us something new!?
Last night I went to the Auckland launch of book Reimagining Journalism and heard a diversity of opinions on the above sentiments. And the pattern I'm beginning to recognise at such journalist/academic/public gatherings on how to 'save/salvage/change' journalism goes a little like this:
Panel moderator: So what's going on in the journalism industry?
Panelist 1: "Things aren't like they used to be. There's no time, no money, no hope for rescuing quality journalism from its heydays. When I was a young journalist, we used to do full investigations, sub-editors checked our work, we understood what grammar was and we took seriously our role to hold truth to power. Mainstream journalism now is just clickbait and crap about real housewives. Young journalists these days aren't careful with what they say and how they say it. They are being trained for an industry with no jobs. And if they do get jobs, they're lazy and just interested in trawling twitter to get sources."
*JOURNALISM IS GOING TO IMPLODE. WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE.*
...Just kidding on that last line, but you get the idea.
Audience question 1: So, what should we do?
Panelist 1: "It's all about the money. We need government intervention and more investment in publicly funded journalism. Essentially, what I'm saying is it's about the money. I don't know how to get the money, but that's what we need."
Audience question 2: "Um, so is there anything else going on? Are we starting to see any examples of people producing good journalism in the current environment?"
Panelist 2: "Actually, there are some new models developing where people have been able to finance their work and produce quality reports, like..."
Panelist 1 (interrupting): "YES BUT ...that won't save journalism. It doesn't guarantee us sustainable funding for the future of industry and even if it does, the values and ethics of journalism are being eroded in an environment where bloggers think they're journalists, activists think they're journalists, and we can't rely on our these people to be critical and objective with their reporting..."
*AWKWARD SILENCE IN ROOM*
...and back and forth we go. Try something new, but don't erode the foundations of an industry that is only half a century into it's professionalisation. It's like one step forward, two back.
We really need to start moving on from rehashing this same argument, the same lines that get pulled out by a certain demographic at every talk, event, panel discussion on the topic. It's really not getting us anywhere. I say this with no disrespect to the journalists who are neck deep in an awful working environment, who have seen what the industry used to be and how it's fallen, who have lost jobs and seen colleagues go through hell at the expense of managers who see news as a product to sell. Documenting how bad things are is important. The knowledge of experienced journalists is also invaluable and essential to carry forward. We need to know where we came from in order to know where we're going. Valuing good journalism as a craft is something I think most people agree that we want in society. But if we constantly repeat the same lines then we're not actually going to make any progress towards this.
People in audiences at these events want to hear what we - as an industry - are doing about this shitstorm. Audiences are already critical of mainstream journalism. They don't want to hear us complain. You don't pay to go to a panel discussion and be told what you already know. The collective awkward silence we heave on hearing these complaints is, well, awkward. Our public wants to see innovation, creative problem-solving, and a bit of just working with what we've got.
Things are starting to change. I saw this at a constructive 'from #slactivism to #activism' discussion this month at LATE at the Museum. And at Word Christchurch's Reimagining Journalism panel discussion, where Simon Wilson reminded the audience that we have an abundance of talented emerging journalists in New Zealand. And at the launch last night I was told by an AUT j-school student that most of her classmates aren't there because they're interested in breaking news. No, many want to freelance and work for the outlets that are producing the innovative reports. The Spinoff, the Pantographic Punch, Metro, The Wireless. And these new journalists are coming into a world where generally, the rules for work are changing rapidly too. Ideals of the 9-5 daily grind and nuclear family are being challenged. We're in an age of the share-economy. The way we live in our (western) societies is shifting with technological advances. People don't have the same expectations on work/life as they used to and perhaps the rigid ideas of what is 'good, quality journalism' need to be questioned in this environment.
With out further ado, because I've written enough, here are some examples of people and initiatives in New Zealand that are challenging the status quo of journalism:
1) Investigative journalist Paula Penfold and Greenpeace investigator Tim McKinnel both worked on gathering evidence, and campaigning on, the Teina Pora case.
2) The Pantographic Punch's pop-up event series. Using talks as an entry point for creating discussions on topics of societal interest. And a clever marketing strategy to push a 'membership drive' for their website.
3) White Man Behind A Desk. New Zealand's answer to John Oliver. Say no more. If you haven't already, watch the media episode.
4) Hashtag500Words. Challenging the patriarchy's hold on critical art and culture review in Aotearoa New Zealand. Nui voices and new voices. Smart voices. Oh, and funded by Creative New Zealand.
5) Radio New Zealand turning off its comments section. One to RNZ nil to the trolls. Seems the short-lived experiment of comments as a marker of audience engagement over.
6) The Spinoff’s War for Auckland crowdfunding drive. Evidence that audiences in New Zealand can be motivated to directly support journalism via a one-off donation. On the assumption that they will receive quality, critical reporting, that is.
7) Speaking of, the Spinoff in general. I saw on their homepage today a Press Council ruling. Turns out that there are other emerging forms of journalism that – despite challenging the status quo of funding and audience relationship models for media – still adhere to industry regulation. And are held accountable to it.
8) Pubic Address. Following on from the above thread, seems there is an ecosystem of critique emerging where all these alternative (or whatever you want to call them) outlets are watchdog to each other and the industry bodies themselves. We're definitely not without critical view points in this current climate, as this article questioning the Press Council ruling on the Spinoff article, observes.
9) Pacific Media Centre. A hub for news and analysis from across the Pacific region, running content that most mainstream outlets a) overlook b) don’t rate c) don’t have the resources to investigate. Run by veteran journalist David Robie out of AUT’s Department of Communication. Don’t tell me journalists become academics just because they’re out of a job. J-Schools also have an important role in the future of our industry. And I’m not even going to go into the importance of including academics in this conversation.
And as a bonus, 10) Reimagining Journalism. The book where all of these initiatives, and more, are talked about. A collaborative effort by Freerange Press that, I was reminded yesterday, as a hard copy object is an anchor for conversation. And one that brings many different people – not just journalists – into the discussion about how journalism is changing. Because as it was also pointed out to me, this topic is about more than just journalism. It’s about democracy and society and how we live our lives and actually, that’s something we all can relate to.
So. You’ve had my rant and my fancy list. Drops mic. Or something like that. But I’m not done yet. Maybe for now, because I’ve tried typing this fricken blog post three times and it keeps only saving half of it. RAGE.
Point is, people are asking our industry what are we going to do and if we’re just complaining and producing awkward silences in response then guess what? People are just going to start filling in the gaps with their own take on what journalism is and who can be a journalist. If you don't want that (I'm looking at you, journalists) then let's have some constructive conversation about what we can do. Starting Now. And I'm going to keep waving this idealist flag because there are enough people talking about the money, money. Cue that Tay Tay song. (Is that who sings it?)
So watch this space. More rants and lists and celebrations to come.