Media in 2030

 

This is a series of discussion points I prepared for a Civics and the Media Workshop at the University of Auckland on  27 October 2015. I am posting them here to broaden the conversation.

  • A vision for news media in 2030 should not be based on guessing the technology that they will employ. A similar exercise in 2000 would not, for example, have forecast the effects of Facebook, Twitter and smartphones (none of which existed at the beginning of the new millennium). We cannot know where technology will take the industry over a further 15 years of rapid change. Hindsight, however, should provide lessons on the impact of profound change regardless of the form it might take.
  • It is reasonable to assume that news media will continue to exist in some formal structure and that it will continue to deliver information in some form.
  • A vision for news media in 2030 should address the role we wish journalism to play in civic life and the structures that will be necessary to sustain it.
  • Journalism may require re-definition as the traditional structures that dictated employment and production are already changing.
    • Fewer journalists are in fulltime staff positions
    • Reporters are writing direct to digital platforms, reducing hierarchical editorial decision-making (and checks and balances).
    • Members of the public have the ability to contribute directly to established media or publish in their own right.
    • ‘Citizen journalists’ may employ a publish-then-correct approach in contrast to traditional journalistic practices of check-then-publish.
  • News media may require re-definition because the business model that previously sustained the collection and distribution of news is already seriously challenged.
    • Media companies are being drawn to more lucrative areas of entertainment and, in time, may entirely eschew obligations toward costly news production.
    • New sources of funding are already being sought and journalism may become part of the not-for-profit sector.
    • Public attitudes toward news are changing, with people accessing it via third parties that filter content (aggregation or transfer via social media) and provide, at best, a selected sub-set of the news.
  • In order to contribute toward citizens’ ability to engage in civil society and participate in a democracy, journalism must continue to fulfil the functions identified by Michael Schudson[1]: information, investigation, analysis, social empathy, a public forum, mobilization, and the publicizing of representative democracy.
  • The ethical standards that have guided journalists for the past century are based on wider principles such as fairness and the prevention of harm. They should not require revision. It may, however, be necessary to devise new platform-agnostic forms of external oversight to address Onora O’Neill’s[2] admonition that “… the classic arguments for press freedom do not endorse, let alone require, a press with unaccountable power’.
  • The over-riding requirement must be to provide a system whereby the same democratically-significant message can be disseminated to the largest number of people in order to facilitate the creation of a consensus on important issues. The public impact of information will be determined by the size of audience targeted by the vehicle that delivers it.

[1] Michael Schudson, Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press. Cambridge, Polity, 2006

[2] Onora O’Neill, A Question of Trust: The BBC Reith Lectures 2002. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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