Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood delivered the A.N. Smith lecture at Melbourne University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism last night (Tuesday 15 November).
I’ve never quite understood what ‘advanced’ journalism is supposed to be. Maybe I’ll look it up one day.
According to the mission statement, the CAJ is attempting to improve the quality of journalism through ‘knowledge transfer’
The Centre for Advanced Journalism will contribute to the University’s goal of knowledge transfer through interaction with the public and with journalists and media companies.
The four key questions posed for research at the CAJ are also admirable, if a little unremarkable:
- How will new media technologies impact on the future of journalism?
- What is the role of public interest journalism in a liberal democracy?
- What is the nature of the relationship between government and the media and how does this relationship serve the public interest?
- Is “the public interest” a concept that is understood by the media and the general public?
I have no problem with that at all and I wish the centre’s new director Margaret Simons all the best. Improving journalism is something that I’m passionate about too; so in that spirit, let’s engage with Greg Hywood’s comments.
I’m not sure of the title Greg gave to his talk, on the National Times site the headline is ‘Rumours of our demise exagerated’ and on the AFR site (behind a Fairfax paywall) the headline is ‘Internet the reason journalism’s future is bright’. So, presumably that’s what the talk was about.
I’ve read the edited transcript of Mr Hywood’s speech on the National Times website and I’d just like to address a few issues.
Strong and trusted journalism has never been more important.
Yes, that’s absolutely right, but it always has been. In any day and age there needs to be a robust public debate informed by accurate and honest information. In a mass society when we can’t all gather in the forum for the daily senate meeting the public sphere is highly mediated. We get our information – on which we base our opinions – from the mass media. A reliable and trustworthy news service is absolutely essential to that process.
I believe the future of journalism has never looked stronger.
This statement needs to be addressed in several ways because Hywood’s qualification is important:
And this is because of the internet, not despite it.
We’ll come to that in a minute, but first a question to Mr Hywood: How can the future of journalism look ‘stronger’ to you when your own company Fairfax Media is busy cutting jobs and the number of working journalists in major news titles is falling around the globe?
This was the situation at Fairfax mastheads in May this year:
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are preparing for a wave of industrial action after new Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood wielded the axe this morning, sacking over 100 production staff to achieve annual cost savings of $15 million under the cover of an announcement spruiking “quality journalism”.
Perhaps Mr Hywood had this in mind when he said in his speech last night:
What has changed is the workload. Forget filing once a day. In this crowded, chaotic environment you have to provide the best, independent news and analysis all the time.
Yeah, that’s right: the old bosses’ mantra of “doing more with less.” Simple physics and quantum mechanics tell us that it it almost impossible to do more with less.