Media in its traditional form is a radically changing field. We can no longer rely on the ‘traditional’ model of reporting to tell us what we need, want or should hear about any topic. The role of the ‘expert commentary’ truly needs to be put to rest, before it invades every section of our news world and becomes the dominant force in reportage.
I’ve long been a supporter of independent media. Outlets such as New Matilda, Online Opinion, Larvatus Prodeo, The Global Mail, Crikey and others started out with such laudable aims – to provide commentary and coverage of an ‘alternative’ viewpoint to the mainstream press. But slowly, surely, each of these have fallen into the trap of commentary over unbiased coverage, of becoming prey to the allure of catchy headlines and provocative over-personal interpretations of events and news.
For me, it’s a simple solution – we need to inject a bit of truth back into journalism. I crave nothing more than trusted, social, community coverage and commentary. What’s the golden bullet for this problem? In many ways it pains me to say this, but I truly believe that social media is the answer.
The hyper-involved place that social media plays in our daily lives offers a true alternative to ‘informed’ (read: biased) journalism. Over the past few years, I have switched to receiving close to 90% of my news via a range of social media platforms. I utilise my social connections of politically interested, knowledgeable intelligent friends, colleagues and associates to deliver me the information that is truly relevant to my life and understanding of the world around me. This serves as a much more effective relevance filter than anything else I’ve encountered. I rarely know anything that is happening in the world of competitive sports, because it is a topic of which I have no interest in. In fact, I wasn’t aware that the Australian Open was occurring until my GPS notified me to avoid the South Melbourne area during match time.
Yes, there is the issue of the source material. If no-one is at the helm to receive the initial news, it cannot be filtered out to the public. But advances in technology have largely eliminated the need for the middle-man of the journalistic machine. Far be it for me to say that politicians are, or should be, the definitive source of political news (that can be the topic of another article), but we have seen a dramatic shift in the way they are able to communicate with constituents directly via social media and other digital means. Politicians, staff and their associated parties are pumping more and more resources into developing independent lines of communication that not only negate the need for the traditional press conference, media release or newswire, but in many ways actively seek to circumvent it. It’s no accident, either – they know full well that despite best intentions on behalf of the initiator, the substance of the story will be chopped, changed, manipulated and twisted to serve the motives of the news outlet who publish it. The sad fact is that this is not limited to the large Murdoch papers – it’s happening across the board. And yes, before the inevitable flood of comments, there is certainly a major issue with the intentions and aims of those companies who own and run our most popular social media platforms. That’s a debate for another time – here I am referring to content, not distribution method.
In many ways, projects such as The Conversation are a logical way forward – independent of any financial pressures, they mix the editorial, literary and publishing knowledge of the journalism sector with the actual experts in their field. Why would I want to read a four paragraph synopsis of a new medical breakthrough from a journalist when I could read an eight paragraph version from the actual scientist who invented the bloody thing? Slap in some experts who can assist in wordsmithing, formatting and promoting the piece and everthing you need is right there.
The argument is always thrown back that you need politically astute people to cover political issues, to have journalists embedded in Canberra to cover the goings-on of Canberra and the seats of power. Why? What great importance we place on something of so little consequence. The decisions made in Parliament are minute to say the least when it comes to the actual 1% of work that results in actual impact around the nation. And the coverage we are offered of this is hardly focussed on that actual impact – instead it is obsessed with the soap opera play-acting of politicians and leaders. Our political coverage has become just as opinionated, loaded, partisan and useless as the performative bile that is produced every Question Time.
I’m not saying that the majority of the Australian public feel the same way as I do. I’m not even saying, as some have provocatively stated, that traditional media is truly dead. Newspapers (or whatever specific format becomes the norm) will always have a place in the dissemination of news stories to the general public. But they really truly do not have to do this with such an opinionated mandate. It IS possible to cover an issue, a moment, a story, a person, a topic or a concept without becoming your own personal spin machine. The majority of the time, the spin has already occured before the story is even released. Why do we need our news outlets to add to that momentum? Before long the stories are spinning around so fast that they lose all relevance to the people consuming them. I know. I’m there right now, and I’m stepping off the merry-go-round before the migraine sets in.