Alan Rusbridger's Cudlipp lecture.

This provocatively titled 'Does journalism exist?' lecture was delivered by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and is a fascinating read. I highly recommend going to it now and reading the whole thing. I'll quote only a tiny fraction of it below and that really does not do the whole text justice.

Although it suggests rather than provides any concrete solutions to the problems facing the world's media in the online digital environment it does lay out in a fairly clear way some of the interesting aspects of journalism's role and methodology in the online community.

He of course brings the problem of payment and funding into the frame, which has been at the forefront of my thoughts the past few days. He points out that you cannot currently talk about journalism without talking about business but also states that,

"If you think about journalism, not business models, you can become rather excited about the future. If you only think about business models you can scare yourself into total paralysis."

Which is of course refreshing to hear and reminds me that although money is (and has been and will be) an issue, it runs the risk of getting in the way of what should really matter, which for me is informed, intelligent reporting and debate, conducted in a varied and engaging manner.

Crucially he follows this with a point about payment for online content and it's potential effect on this matter.

"If you universally make people pay for your content it follows that you are no longer open to the rest of the world, except at a cost. That might be the right direction in business terms, while simultaneously reducing access and influence in editorial terms. It removes you from the way people the world over now connect with each other. You cannot control distribution or create scarcity without becoming isolated from this new networked world."

Of course, the key word her is universally. He admits that that model may work and may be right for some, if not all. Most media organisations seem to advocate some kind of staggered paywall, with some content being available for free, but his point of view on this is one I share: Let's keep it as free as we can. I'll say it again, as long as there is a credit based monetary system, we need to find a way to pay for and fund our lives and our jobs, but if this system is stifling our evolution and growth, maybe it is that system itself which we need to rethink. Did I say maybe? I mean, It IS that system itself which we need to rethink.

Anyway, getting back to the lecture, Rusbridger goes on to talk at great length about the issue of an online community and it's role in the news media, something he does not downplay, while still maintaining the position that we need professional journalists.

"It is not about replacing the skills and knowledge of journalists with (that ugly phrase) user generated content. It is about experimenting with the balance of what we know, what we can do, with what they know, what they can do.

We are edging away from the binary sterility of the debate between mainstream media and new forms which were supposed to replace us. We feel as if we are edging towards a new world in which we bring important things to the table – editing; reporting; areas of expertise; access; a title, or brand, that people trust; ethical professional standards and an extremely large community of readers. The members of that community could not hope to aspire to anything like that audience or reach on their own; they bring us a rich diversity, specialist expertise and on the ground reporting that we couldn't possibly hope to achieve without including them in what we do.

There is a mutualised interest here. We are reaching towards the idea of a mutualised news organisation."

I couldn't agree more. As I have said, I think that one of the beautiful things about the Internet is this inter-connectivity (the clue is in the name right?) and the blurring of borders and boundaries. By following the links on any given Internet page you can travel virtually around the world and through vastly diverging views and opinions. We are engaged in a great debate and perhaps the role of professional journalists and editors to become something of a moderator in that debate.

For me, a journalist's skills lie in part in the ability to ask questions, explore the answers and provoke further debate and investigation. For me, it is not about arriving at some absolute conclusion, but instead going from point to point in a manner that will hopefully progress our understanding of our world. I had a conversation with a journalism student the other day who complained about the fact that they were being pushed to go and explore stories with an angle already worked out, when in fact they were finding that the situation may in fact in itself provide the angle, and that may not be the one you assumed originally. How can you go in with a preconcieved notion and look for evidence to support only that notion? You will never learn anything that way. As Rusbridger states, in an online community it is about finding a "[...]balance of what we know, what we can do, with what they know, what they can do." Something I would extend to being applicable in any journalistic situation, or in any conversation at all for that matter.

In my more optimistic moments I think we have made great progress in opening up our knowledge and expertise to each other. I think it is a step in the right direction. Let's not blow it now with an argument over cash.

No comments: