Hard News by Russell Brown


Reimagining Journalism

Five o'clock on a Sunday is not generally thinking time for me, but yesterday was different. That was the kick-off for Reimagining Journalism, a WORD Christchurch panel discussion I chaired with Cate Brett, Paula Penfold, Duncan Greive, Morgan Godfery and Simon Wilson.

As I have noted previously, we're talking a lot about journalism at the moment – because journalism faces unprecedented challenges. The challenge of sitting in a newsroom not knowing who's going to be raptured up next. The challenge of working out what we're here for and how we can do it. The challenge of paying for it all when it appears that the two principal philosophies of funding newspapers online – paywalls and the "Daily Mail" model – are both in trouble, and public-good funding for broadcast journalism has been frozen here for the past eight years.

It's not all gloomy. As Simon Wilson noted in the discussion, good journalism not only continues to be done, it seems there are more than ever good, often young, journalists doing it. But whether or not you want to call it an existential crisis, it is clear that things cannot go on as they are.

Hence, the book behind the talk. All the panelists have written a chapter for Don't Dream It's Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand – with the exception of Duncan, whose achievements with The Spinoff are considered in two chapters, mine and a fascinating essay by Naomi Arnold titled Brand news: Testing our appetite for sponsored journalism.

It's a feature, not a bug, of the book that its various authors do not always agree on their diagnoses or their prescriptions, but there is a a hell of a lot of thinking in it. That's a testament to the publisher, Project Freerange and to the editors, Emma Johnson, Giovanni Tiso, Sarah Illingworth and Barnaby Bennett.

My chapter traces the two trends – technological and corporate – that were in train already on the day I started work in a newsroom, 35 years ago: each inexorable in its way and profound in its impact. The upbeat mood of the final paragraph isn't out of place or an accident:

The journalistic penchant for bleak humour is getting plenty of exercise in 2016. We joke about our poor career choices. But journalism itself is far more acute than it was when I started. Back then it was a low-threat environment. It was comfortable and confident of its place. It didn’t have to think too much. Now, it has to think constantly about what it is, how it relates and what it contains. And there’s something exciting about that.

The panel discussion was recorded by Radio New Zealand and will be edit and broadcast at some point. But right now, today, you can buy the book.

PS: The discussions with Guyon Espiner, Kirsty Johnston, Alex Casey, Mark Jennings and Tim Murphy from last week's Orcon IRL have been all nicely clipped out and tidied up by Hugh and the team at 95bFM. You can watch them here.

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