The future of the media

As a committed, lightly seasoned journalist a fair way (I hope) from retirement, I must confess to being somewhat dismayed when ever I read pessimistic articles about the decline of the media industry. After assiduously reading such articles, I find myself drawing deeply upon my mug of cappucino and wistfully casting my mind back to the 1970s, when I was but a wee toddler. The days of Fleet Street, when surely journalism was a much finer profession to be in. Much more of a challenge, much less prone to plagerism, and much much better paid. When editors thought nothing of letting even the most junior of reporters charter a jet, if the story was juicy enough. Journalism just seemed so much sexier back then. I’ve seen the movies.

Now, of course, the explosion of the Internet and the prevalence of junky though free newspaper has somewhat undermined the predominance of established outlets such as The Times or The Telegraph.

This seems to have led to an industry-wide cult of mourning, which just drags on and on. Now, on any given day, open the business pages of a mainstream newspaper and most of the stories are going to centre on one of two things: the callous way in which the financial industry has dealt with other people’s money, leading to the ugly mess the world’s economy is in at the moment; or how, by the year 2020, the newspaper industry will be effectively dead. It is as though business journalists have this great desire to write their own epitaph – either that or to persuade the world what forward-thinking journos they really are, to accept that traditional media is no more.

We all know that we were due for a recession – and the shrewd among us knew that creating money without a quality product was never going to work in the long-run. We can weather this storm.

But the decline of the newspaper industry seems a much more worrying eventuality.

In a lovely self-written epitaph that I recently read in the Observer, one newspaper commentator praised the Internet for freeing journalists’ stranglehold on information (after all, why should they be the only ones privy to information, which they can choose how to disseminate?) and for creating an open forum for debate.

But I would argue against this viewpoint, and not only because my livelihood depends on the public not having free access to information. My argument is very simple, and is one that I wish I was hearing more. It is truly great that the Internet provides a forum for wider debate, and prevents people from having a monopoly on information. However, this is rather like the average Joe Bloggs looking up information on the Internet for how to put out a fire or how to perform open-heart surgery. Firemen are trained to tackle fires. Surgeons are trained to perform surgery. The same is true of journalists.

It is all very well to say that personal blogs and Internet forums are doing a fine job at disseminating information, but most people that keep blogs or administer forums do not know the first thing about news-gathering. Sure, they have good opinions and often often write very well, but understanding what news means? Well…

But I, too, am an optimist. I believe that the upheaval journalism is going through at the moment is a good thing. It means, for one thing, that a lot of the dead-wood the industry is dragging around at the moment can be got rid of. It means that journalists must think much harder about how they can add value to what the public knows already. It may even give rise to a new wave of investigative journalism – which has been sorely lacking recently, as celebrity gossip has been disappointingly winning column inches from more important news, even from the broadsheets. As one media commentor, Wolff, recently wrote: “[the current newspaper editors] are fucking imbeciles. They deserve it [the decline of the newspaper industry] and they deserve it in a profound way.”

Wolff, though, is one of those that believe in the 2020 armagedon. I am not so certain. I like to think that, after the dust has cleared, we will have a much more robust media industry – and one where good journalism takes pride of place, and traditional newspapers exists happily alongside the Internet (both sites that charge a fee for news and the inevitably lower-quality free sites that are essential for fostering democratic and open debate).

(I should be back in Sudan within a couple of weeks – ready to update this blog with the goings-on in that particular part of the world)


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2 Responses to “The future of the media”

  1. Achiak Deng Says:

    Dear Mr Blake

    This is brilliant clever insight… I am trainee journalist in Sudan and with this can see clearly direction of the media future. I think now I must write better for the internet as this is the way of the future even for paper news and soon everyone will use internet. Seems like you start journalist very young and have lot of experience and you are good teacher.

    Maybe you can write article on this blog to advice trainee journalist in the internet age???

  2. Alhadi Surrah Says:

    Agree with Mr Deng comment, about it shows the future with very brilliant analysis… The newspapers are dying and that is deserved by them. Look at Sudan Tribune – it is the best “newspaper” in Sudan but it publish on line and based in France. Also I agree it is very useful have advices on journalism for internet from experienced English journalist with big smart internet blog site like we need in Sudan. There is no training in Sudan and national government does not like it or want us. You must be busy person, but please think if you will share understanding with us. Inshallah! May you go in peace.

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