Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Feature Article Draft

At the moment I am in the process of compiling information for my final journalism assignment. I am writing a feature article on the importance of local news sources for regional areas, with particular attention on answering whether or not a comprehensive local news source is a thing of the past.

From the information I have sourced thus far, a general consensus seems to be that the quality of locals news, particularly in rural areas, is diminishing. In July this year, Triple J's Hack program ran a feature titled 'Is Regional Media Losing Touch with Regional Communities?'. Their findings revealed that in many instances, local news is not actually being produced locally. For example, a Prime 'local' news broadcast for the Manning area, may actually be broadcast from Canberra. Further, some regional areas do not even have access to a comprehensive local news source.

So why is a comprehensive local news source important? Regional Manager for the Manning River Times (Taree), John Bulmer, said that "apart from word of mouth, local newspapers are the best and most comprehensive source of local news." David Ellery, editor of the Northern Daily Leader newspaper in Tamworth believes a comprehensive local news source is indispensable. "It particularly helps to form a real sense of community and plays an advocacy role for that community," said Mr Ellery.

But how can they guarantee this comprehensiveness, ensuring local newspapers keep in touch with the local people?
"We deal with the community every day. The journalists live in the community and I make sure I get feedback on our product on my rounds. From time to time we conduct community surveys gathering perceptions on the paper. If we didn't listen to the people, we would not have survived this long," said Mr Ellery.

So that is what the professionals have to say, but what about the local people? John Rawson of Port Macquarie, says the quality of local news in his region varies, but says he can only get good local television news coverage on one channel, NBN.

Mr Rawson was also able to point out a significant movement for local news in his area.

"We have just received news that the Port Macquarie papers, owned my Fairfax media, will no longer be printed in Port Macquarie, but will be printed in Newcastle and shipped to Port. This will have a negative effect on local news as it takes the local element away from the area. It will also have a negative effect on the Port Macquarie economy as many local businesses will be affected by this decision. Local areas are becoming no more than 'shop-fronts' for local news. It is a very disappointing decision," said Mr Rawson.

Tamworth resident, and town planner, David Maclean is content with the standard of news in his region.

"The standard of locals news in the New England North West area is very good, with excellent coverage in the printed and electronic media. The only criticism is the lack of weekend coverage by the TV stations. We have to wait till Mondays to catch up, although NBN TV may have some sports news on the weekend evening news something," said Mr Maclean.

Mr Maclean further exemplified the need for quality local news.

"Reliable local news is very important. Not only do we need to hear about local events and issues, but it gives people a means to voice their concerns, inform their community and record important stories in the lives of the local population," said Mr Maclean.

As I delve further into this assignment, I hope to uncover some specifics about what sells local papers, how local institutions benefit from having a good local news source and the threats towards local media. Please note, this is a very rough draft with a couple of key points placed haphazardly.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Seminar Report - Truth and Objectivity

Central to post modern thought is the idea that it is always necessary to inquire, reported third year journalism student, Kadey McIntosh.

McIntosh, reporting on truth and objectivity, focused on the idea that respect for the truth is fundamental for journalists.

"However, in the post modern era there are many perspective on what is true, so whose truth are journalists going to tell?" asked McIntosh.

McIntosh used citizen journalism to exemplify the need for the truth to always be tested.

Citizen journalists are not required to abide by a code of ethics so it is questionable as to whether they can be truly objective.

Notorious blogger, Matt Drudge, was a citizen journalist who has since admitted that some of stories may not have been true.

McIntosh argued that Drudge was not a journalist, but that he practice a form of journalism.

"Drudge's practice therefore dishonoured professional journalism," said McIntosh.

To further emphasise the role of inquiry for journalists, McIntosh referred to 'infotainment', a product of the post modern era which dominates the airwaves today.

She said infotainment was a product of one of the top news values, conflict, and referred to the coverage of celebrity deaths to display this value.

"Stories of conflict sell because readers relish in them," said McIntosh.

On the day that Michael Jackson died it was falsely reported by Nine's Richard Wilkins that actor Jeff Goldblum had also passed away.

By using this example, McIntosh was able to demonstrate one of many instances where misinformation had occurred in infotainment news.

McIntosh ended the presentation by leaving the audience to consider whether or not all has been lost or if there are journalists who do strive for truth and objectivity.

The next presenter focused on the blurring lines between public relations and journalism.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Privacy and Grief

Throughout my two and three quarter years of studying journalism, I've been constantly reminded of 'the death knock'. That is, approaching the home of a family who have just lost a loved one in order to write a story. Most journalists I've spoken to have agreed that it's one of the hardest things to do as a journalist. Despite this, the general view of the public is as though we relish in it.

As Kimberly quoted in her presentation: 'Journalists are sometimes accused of exploiting people experiencing the torment of grief" (Conley and Lamble, 2006, p. 386). Unfortunately, there are examples that suggest that journalists have gone too far when reporting on deaths (including coverage of the recent death of the boy from Mullumbimby who died after a school yard fight, as discussed in the presentation).

Often a family will be willing to share their grief with the journalist. However, there are many cases where families will outright refuse to be interviewed and should be treated with sensitivity at all times. Further, it should be respected that the victim's family have the right to say no to an interview.

The MEAA Code of Ethics says "journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude' (Conley and Lamble, 2006, p. 386). Journalists should use personal discretion when asked to do a 'death knock'. This is undoubtedly harder than it sounds. After all, could a cadet journalist really say to their boss 'No, sorry, I don't want to do that'? Probably not. However, I would argue that breaching the privacy of a grieving family is much worse than losing a story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What does it mean to be objective?

The topic this week is 'Truth and Objectivity'. It is my belief that telling the truth is the easy part. If you stick to the facts, quote correctly and provide a balanced account, you can't go wrong. Objectivity, however, can be quite hard to achieve. Can we really ever be 100 percent objective?

The definition of objectivity provided in class this week is as follows: "the ability to perceive or describe something without being influenced by personal emotions or prejudices" (Encarta Encyclopedia).

It is my belief, as was discussed in class, that the extent to which journalists can achieve objectivity is questionable. We will always have subjective influences. Whether it be the relationship we have with our coworkers, the connection we may have with a particular story or even our mood on that particular day.

These type of influences are hard to disconnect with. However, there are many other practices that can be avoided and will assist in reaching the goal of objectivity. These include conflict of interest, commercial interests and accepting gifts or personal gain.

Unfortunately many journalists do not strive to achieve objectivity and give the profession a bad name. You only have to watch Media Watch to get a taste of the many journalists failing to remain objective.

Just last month on Seven's Sunrise, a 'news story' was run about Jet Star's latest deals. Coincidentally (or not), Jet Star also happen to be sponsor Sunrise. The story was treated as news. I think this is a perfect example of a situation where conflict of interest has played its part.

Here is a story about it from Media Watch.

While we can learn about all about this at University, it won't be until we are out there in the industry until our ability to remain objective can really be tested.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Media Duped

This week was my turn to present to the class on the rule of the search engine for modern journalists.

I spoke of an incident that occured recently where internet marketer Lyndon Antcliff created a false story about a 13 year old boy from Texas who had allegedly gone on a $30,000 shopping spree with his father's credit card. And what did he buy? Hookers. The story was completely false, but thanks to Antcliff's skills in getting the story rated highly in web searches, it was picked up by media outlets around the world and is believed to have gained about 6000 links across the web.

The saga was labeled 'link bait' and demonstrates just how easy it is to get particular sites ranked highly in web searches and emphasises the need for journalists to be constantly critically assertive when using search engines in their news writing process.

Here is a segment aired on Media Watch about the link bait incident.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Globalisation and the Media

Here is a video I found on globalisation and the media.

It mainly focuses on new technology and its impact on the media.
Towards the beginning you'll see Chris Cramer, the president of CNN International News. He says, 'There are only two broadcasters who now have a large spread of international bureaus. One is BBC, primarily public funded, one is CNN, business, commercially funded. And they're too different types of organisations but they share a common goal, and that is to try and make the world a smaller place."

However, as the narrator points out, many argue that in fact these companies are not fulfilling their roles. That is, the world is becoming a smaller place but for all the wrong reasons - view points are narrowing. It's a really hard problem to comprehend, as how can we possibly hear everyone's view? Journalists aren't super heroes and can only act within the boundaries of which ever company they are working for, and then there's economic factors. As yet, I don't have an answer for all of these questions but I guess the main thing is to be as open minded as we possibly can. Baby steps!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who will pay for journalism?

As touched on in my previous blog, it cannot be denied that journalism as a profession has undergone many changes to date and is experiencing some of its biggest changes at present.

The future of journalism is uncertain, as outlined recently at the Future of Journalism Summit. Roy Greenslade, speaker at the summit, emphasised what we have been hearing for some time now, that the newspaper will soon be dead.

We are already seeing a great deal of convergence with the internet playing a pivotal role. If the newspaper 'dies' we can only assume this will be as a result of the move from print to online. But has this resulted in a loss of 'quality' journalism, and if so, will anybody continue to pay for 'quality' journalism into the future?

As Greenslade says, "All of us here believe in quality journalism, wish to see it sustained, wish to see it improve or whatever, but the truth is, can we fund it? That's the essential question."

How do we draw the line between what is quality and what is not? Campbell Reid proposes that quality journalism is journalism that meets the needs of what the particular audience on that platform wants. But does this necessarily make it good journalism? That is, in my opinion, journalism that's free from any kind of outside influence, bias, misrepresentation etc.

This is why the idea of increased advertising to keep the traditional news platforms alive is concerning, as it is often a compromise to quality editorial content.
However, it seems inevitable. Why would the modern day consumer choose to pay extra for a newspaper that they can so easily view online?

It is safe to say that traditional forms of media will continue to change. As discussed at the summit, newspaper companies such as News Limited are changing with the times and adopting means such as video for their online counterparts.

Whether the traditional means will survive is hard to say, but what's certain is that upon entering the journalism profession, my fellow University students and I will be faced with a much different landscape than generations before us and the importance of adopting new skills such as the ability to write for online is high.