Category Archives: Media Inquiry

Manufacturing Cross-Platform Debate

In my Media Inquiry submission I attempt to isolate a problem that is emerging involving the fabrication of debate in the specific context of the complex media ecologiez of cross-platform media enterprises. One way to think about this is that journalists or media personalities operating as part of different platforms address each other in such a way as to produce a micro ‘echo chamber’. I describe this as an ‘apparatus of capture’ as it is a way to use niche or specialist media channels and correlative media platforms to assemble a ‘mass’ audience from the aggregated niche audiences.

This can happen ‘accidentally’ as a ‘real’ news story can emerge that is actual news and to some nonsense propaganda produced for the purposes of shifting, for example, political discourse. An example of this is the current furor over Kyle Sandilands’s comments about a journalist. How is this an example?

Original story by Alison Stephenson published on

Sandilands abusive on-air comments. Sandilands writes for News Ltd platforms.

Story broke by mUmbrella, a non-News Ltd online media enterprise servicing the advertising and media industries.

There were a number of tweets about the mUmbrella story last night. If I have time when I am not at a conference, then I’ll add links to these.

David Penberthy (@penbo) at the News Ltd publication, The Punch, launches a resolutely vitriolic attack at Sandilands and his on-air behaviour. editor Paul Cogan publishes a ‘breaking’ story at roughly 10am the day after that addresses Sandilands’s comments.

As more is published I shall return to this post and add more detail. It will be interesting to see which media outlets publish stories on this.

On Bernard Keane and Communities of Interest

Political correspondent for Crikey, Bernard Keane, has an interesting piece published yesterday addressing ‘how the internet messes with the game of media and party politics’.

Below are some remarks on Keane’s piece. First, some context: I’ve been teaching my third-year Online News journalism students about how to address a similar set of problems. Their major assessment is to come up with a case-study length pitch for an online media enterprise that targets a niche audience. Their first task was to isolate a specific area of interest around which organises a community of interest, and then build on it from there. Targeting a specific area of interest is relatively familiar to the broader media industry; it is what most magazines do. It is relatively unfamiliar for an ‘analog’ news industry still operating with a ‘pre-Convergence’ mindset, however. I am not sure what a news-based media industry would look like when targeting specific areas of interest as there is no direct homological relation between the news-based content-audience relations and what happens in magazines, or at least there isn’t yet. Except, of course, in the financial industries…

I think some more focus on what Keane means by the ‘community-generating power of the internet’ is needed as it is not properly explained in his piece. He provides an example (Occupy Wall Street protests) and describes one of the qualities of such communities (no longer geographically anchored, or using a phrase from McKenzie Wark, they exist in a ‘virtual geography’). I want to describe two of the primary ways the internet is different from print or broadcast era media for directly contributing to the production of communities. Then I’ll look at how these apply (or not) to the news-media industry.

The first way the internet contributes to the production of communities is best explained by pulling apart what is meant by ‘interest’ in the phrase ‘community of interest’. There is a continuum of ‘interest’ from passing attention-grabbing interest that quickly dissipates to the enduring and sometimes agonistic practices of enthusiasts. This distribution of interest was described by community practioners researching local community groups in Britain in the 1980s as ‘Organising Around Enthusiasm’. Online communities form where enthusiasts search for useful information that will help them solve a problem (what I call a ‘challenge’) combined with an actual community of congruent interests. In terms of ‘community’, the now-classic ‘online forum’ is the established form.

A great deal of research into not only online groups but off-line and pre-internet groups indicates that there is a minority of participants that do the majority of work in these communities. These people may not be the most engaged ‘enthusiasts’ in the sense of the ‘best’ enthusiasts who know how to solve a large degree of problems, rather they are the most involved in communities. It makes sense to talk about communities with strong or weak ties (ala Gladwell, and the risks invovled in participation online vs off-line), but a community only makes sense if you know what challenges characterise a given enthusiasm. What mobilises enthusiasts into action?

The two major reports of the excellent mid-2000s Newspaper Next initiative (2006 and 2008) framed what I am calling ‘challenges’ in a slightly different way. Basing their program for newspaper innovation on the work of business academics Clayton Christensen and Clark Gilbert, they discussed ‘jobs to be done’, rather than challenges:

The concept is surprisingly simple. It holds that customers do not really buy products, they hire them to get jobs done. For example, Intuit’s QuickBooks software made it easy for small business owners to accomplish an important job: Make sure my business doesn’t run out of cash. Some alternatives, such as pen and paper and Excel spreadsheets, were not good enough. Professional accounting software packages were too good — confusing and filled with unnecessary features. QuickBooks did the job better than any alternative and quickly took over the category. […]
Using the jobs-to-be-done concept requires first understanding the problems a customer faces in life or business. The most promising problems are those that people do often and consider important and where current solutions leave them frustrated. (20-21)

‘Jobs-to-be-done’ certainly makes sense for someone who comes out of a ‘business administration’ background. Translate this in a social or political context. Think about the most popular online communities, ‘jobs to be done’ stemming from parenting, working on cars, cooking and foodie culture, information technologies, etc. What ‘jobs-to-be-done’ are there for the Occupy Wall Street protesters? There is the everyday work of maintaining the protest spaces across the world and there are the larger ‘political’ jobs-to-be-done that haven’t not yet been properly articulated, i.e. a list of demands. One of the main jobs-to-be-done of the protesters in say Melbourne or Sydney is to perform solidarity for those in New York. That is, by the way, why I prefer ‘challenge’, as a ‘challenge’ can be articulated or repeated in a number of different ways and still be a singular event.

Secondly, online communities produce multiple publics, but not publics imagined following ‘public sphere’ discourse. The problem with the ‘public sphere’ discourse, adapted from the work of Habermas and others, is that ‘rational deliberation’ or ‘consensus’ is not a challenge — well, it is for people who are insane… — therefore understanding ‘civic engagement’ understood as a function of producing ‘connection’ only addresses one part of community building. The capacity to articulate and then service the challenges that mobilise populations into action is absent.

The current media industry assumes that the mechanisms of liberal representative democracy function properly, therefore their only task is to produce a ‘voice’ or a ‘visibility’ (in the Foucaultian sense) for a given population to air their views in a ‘public sphere’. Rational debate allegedly then happens and a decision is taken that is derived from this debate. Politics does not function like this, if it ever did. Politics is not a mission to produce consensus; that is the challenge of politicians, not the challenge of politics. To appropriate Plato, ‘producing consensus’ is a game of projecting shadows on a wall in a situation designed to fix subjects in a seat of citizenship. Here is the shadow of ‘participation’ produced by airing your views, etc. It is the myth circulated by Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and his comments regarding #OccupyMelbourne protesters having ‘enough time’ to ‘make their point’. Their challenge was to not to express a point, but to occupy a space in solidarity.

To reiterate this point: The shadow game is the challenge of politicians, but it is not the challenge of politics. Politics is a mission to articulate a given challenge that implicates an already concerned cohort of the population so as to mobilise the population and address the challenge, hopefully solving it. The Greens get this. Labor has tried to, but is terrible at articulating the challenges it is engaging with. I have no idea about what challenges the Coalition thinks it needs to address; they seem to be politicians devoid of politics, existing purely within the shadow game. Strangely, the only politician who has done anything innovative about this recently (and I don’t agree with much of his party’s social policies) is Bob Katter. To appropriate Waleed Aly, politics is not like professional sport. I couldn’t care less about what some foolish sportsperson got up to on the weekend and how this might affect their career, but I know others find this interesting. Politicians are tools for addressing the challenges that can not be addressed by individuals, they are not celebrities trying to address ritualised forms of challenge (i.e. sport). By covering politics like sport, the challenges that politicans are meant to address instead become ritualised into ‘goals’, ‘good moves’, etc following a meta-language that an audience is familiar with. By covering politicians like they are playing a sport, the media ritualises that challenges of politics.

Beyond the commentariat no one cares, and my language can not be too strong on this point, about the personal challenges faced by politicians (who will be leader, etc.). The utter stupidity of the MSM’s lampooning of Allan Asher and the Greens for the Senate estimates debacle is a classic example. The media narrative produced in the MSM focused on some alleged indescretion by Asher and Green’s Senator Hansen-Young. Is this the ‘challenge’ that the population is interested in? Some nonsense ‘sideshow’ political stoush? Why did Asher do what he did? What ‘challenge’ was he trying to articulate that lead to him getting ‘resigned’ by the Federal Labor government? Surely this is the only question worth asking for a serious political journalist? The rest is playing the shadow game.

In summary: First, talking about community without a discussion of the challenges that mobilise this community is missing the political point. Second, the current MSM seems content to focus on the challenges faced by politicians, and do not focus on the challenges faced by communities.

We need a news-based media worthy of the challenges faced by an entire population, not worthy of the personal challenges faced by professional politicians. I’ll be very happy if the internet is messing with the shadow game of MSM and party politicians.

Paul Kelly vs Chris Berg debate in the marketplace of ideas

Chris Berg, all-round great guy and neoliberal ideologue, has a post on The Drum that equates ensuring access to the ‘marketplace of ideas’ with the regulation of ‘debate’ (which he suggests is a bad thing) in the context of questions asked in the Media Inquiry’s recently released discussion paper. Chris writes:

Implicit in the marketplace of ideas theory is that freedom of speech has a purpose. It is utilitarian. The only way to come to the truth about an idea is to freely debate it. The best ideas – that is, those which are most true – will out-compete the rest.
Yet it’s trivially easy to demonstrate this ‘marketplace’ is distorted. Some have access to louder megaphones than others, as everybody keeps pointing out.
And if speech has a utilitarian purpose, it never quite achieves its ends – even once ‘truth’ has been obtained through free discussion, speech freedoms continue to allow wrong ideas to be broadcast.

Of course, that is why ‘political economy’ approaches are the best tool to understand precisely why the ‘marketplace of ideas’ gets distorted by people who have greater access to ‘megaphones’ compared to others. A political economy approach to the ‘marketplace of ideas’ would move in two directions at once. Firstly, map the ‘public sphere’ with the actual marketplace for media content. Secondly, examine who and what gets access to the public sphere via the ‘marketplace of ideas’.

I don’t agree with this approach either, mainly because I think the ‘public sphere’ is a myth. Admittedly, a useful myth, but a myth nevertheless. There is no public sphere. Inter alia there is no ‘marketplace of ideas’. The only way to come to the truth about anything is to research it, not through ‘free discussion’. I’ve never witnessed ‘free discussion’. There is certainly debate, however. What matters in ‘debate’ are words on a page or screen, screen time for comment, the rhythm of publication, the endurance of attention for focusing on specific issues across the entire media ecology, the capacity for an audience to engage and reflect upon what is discussed in a rational manner and so on. Chris is worried about the government regulating debate somehow. He says:

We do not want the Government managing public debate for all sorts of reasons. First among them is that any attempt to do so will necessarily abridge our basic right to freedom of speech. […]
For instance, the right to speak must be also the right not to speak; to determine the content of your speech. This principle is breached clearly by one of the major proposals of the media inquiry issues paper – a legally guaranteed right of reply which would treat newspapers as regulated common carriers.

Chris’s argument is strangely the opposite of a similar critique made by Paul Kelly in The Australian about Robert Manne’s Quarterly Essay. Kelly argued that Manne wants to shut down the capacity for ‘debate':

…the startling feature is Manne’s fixation on repressing stories and debates he doesn’t like…
For Manne, the paper’s crime was to stage this debate. He believes certain views have reached “uncontested” status and must not be contested. Books and views that contest Manne’s beliefs are to be met with silence and censorship. It is good that Manne’s technique of handling opponents is put on the public record…
Manne says that on climate change our democracy must rely upon citizens placing “their trust in those with expertise”. Again, the idea is that certain beliefs cannot be debated or contested…
Once again, the paper’s offence was its refusal to shut down debate. Period. Manne insists his view embodies Enlightenment rationality. During our interview to stress the gravity of his position on climate change he actually compared the issue with the Holocaust.
I told Manne that one reason for the public’s backlash making carbon pricing so unpopular was the precise attitude he took. While pretending to be rational his rejection of debate was really faith-based dogmatism and the Australian public didn’t like being told what to think by patronising experts…

Therefore I believe it is necessary, at this juncture, to ‘stage’ a ‘debate’ between Paul Kelly in favour of ‘debate’ and Chris Berg who is clearly a ‘debate hater’. Indeed, I hope that journalists working for The Australian will welcome what I am inferring Chris Berg is implying, that an outcome of the Media Inquiry will be that they will be forced to encourage ‘debate’ for voices from opposing ideological position if they decide to instigate a ‘debate’ in their own pages. Surely, as Paul Kelly writes, they would not want to shut down or censor debate? Worse, that by critiquing a view, position, scientific theory or what have you in the paper, that The Australian would, in effect, manufacture a relative silence in the ‘public sphere’ around opposing views by not strenuously encouraging their ideological opponents to enter into debate with them? Without supporting the regulated and enforced access to the public sphere via the ‘marketplace of ideas’ surely The Australian would be guilty of attempting to silence critiques and stifle debate? Surely Kelly would not want that…

Was that ‘debate’ good for you too?

Maybe the point of ‘the press’ (the historically specific overlap of the social instution of journalism as the ‘fourth estate’ and the commercial media industry as a mode of distribution) is not to actually stage debates at all, but to report on the them. (I introduced Daniel Boorstin’s concept of ‘pseudo-events’ to my first year students a couple of weeks ago.) If ‘the press’ is staging debates are they then fabricating their own ‘marketplace of ideas’ where they get to control who has access to participation and therefore which ‘ideas’ will be reported on as having ‘value’? This line of argument — where freedom of the press is defined in terms of media controlled access to ‘debates’ that are actually staged by the media — therefore becomes incredibly fraught. Real issues and real news then become lost, and there is not much worth trying to salvage from that situation in the name of the ‘the press’ when the commercial media industry is using the image of fourth-estate journalism so as to serve its own interests.

CJR piece on whether Occupy Wall Street should be considered a social movement

There has been a bit of a discussion on Twitter and around the internet regarding whether or not the Occupy Wall Street protests have received ‘sufficient’ news coverage. Here is a good piece by Joe Pompeo where he crunches some numbers. Erika Fry at the Columbia Journalism Review has published a piece of meta-journalism also questioning the sufficiency of the press coverage. She should be lauded for attempting to bring an analytical frame to the discussion. She draws on the work of celebrated sociologist Charles Tilly in an attempt to ascertain whether the Occupy Wall Street protest should be considered a social movement or not. Fry writes:

They [sic] press coverage indicates that most journalists have found Occupy Wall Street a movement not significant to give much coverage. If Tilly were around today, given his criteria, he’d likely agree.

Unfortunately, Tilly is certainly not the most useful academic source to draw on in this circumstance. For Tilly, social movements should be thought of as attempts by a politically engaged population to effect change to a nation’s political apparatus. Is that what is happening here? I don’t want to get into too much political or media theory, but ‘Wall Street’ is an event in part constituted by everything signified by ‘Wall Street’. Does Fry understand this? The Occupy Wall Street protests are not protesting a building or even an actual street. The protests on the actual street called Wall Street serve as a resource for counter images, the locus for the production of counter-narratives and so on. They are not protesting against a physical location; the physical location is simply a locus of action. Just as ‘Wall Street’ itself is distributed across the social body in repeated and yet different ways. Fry writes:

For a perhaps concurring perspective from the world of social science, consider the canonical work of American sociologist and political scientist Charles Tilly (he died in 2008) who developed widely-accepted criteria of what constitutes a ‘social movement.’ Yes, the media is not academia—there is of course a place for things that are timely, newsworthy, and important—the police’s questionable use of pepper spray on protesters for example—but in deciding the extent to cover a nascent protest movement, to which national media attention is oxygen, it is worth considering his criteria.

Its been pointed out that Fry’s logic is circular (nascent social movement needs national media coverage — its ‘oxygen’ — but won’t get it because it is not a social movement). But that is relatively unimportant compared to correcting the misunderstanding regarding Tilly’s work. Firstly, if Tilly was ‘canonical’ at one point, his work has shifted in status to ‘seminal’. The difference is that a ‘canon’ is a political artifact within knowledge economies, its importance is sustained by agents who are invested in its importance (imagine scholarly ‘Tilly experts’ who want Tilly to remain important). A work becomes ‘seminal’ when it has real influence in a field because it inspires other scholars to produce critical work that engages with its arguments or points in a thorough manner.

Tilly’s seminal work has inspired other scholars such as Jeroen Van Laer & Peter Van Aelst who have published a paper that is particularly relevant: “Internet and Social Movement Action Repertoires: Opportunities and Limitations” (2010). Laer and Aelst draw on Tilly’s framework without necessarily agreeing with his arguments and present their own more nuanced perspectives. This is the real scholarly influence of ‘seminal’ work. How many times Tilly’s work is set as required reading, for example, would indicate its canonical status. This indicates that it is important but not why.

Laer and Aelst offer a nuanced perspective of social movements that are entirely or partially organised around internet-based opportunities for political action. Fry seems to miss the obvious point (and, well, it is obvious, surely??) that the Occupy Wall Street protests have developed in such a way so the offline protest provides ‘oxygen’ for the online protest. Fry is not stupid, she seems to admit this point, but without sufficiently engaging with its importance:

The group has many grievances, but what they want to do about them or achieve by occupying Wall Street is much less clear—both in those “unfair” media reports and the content churned out by OWS’s own media machine.

So the Occupy Wallstreet Protest organisational group has its own ‘media machine’, ok… this is not newsworthy? Maybe not yet?

It’s just not the kind of coverage the protest group—which produces a lot of media in its own right—was hoping for.

Fry admits that the protest group is producing a large amount of its own media content through its ‘media machine’. Does Fry ask if this is different from other social movement protests? Or what the protest group hopes to achieve by producing a large amount of its own media content? No, she does not.

They have also built a sophisticated social media infrastructure and communicate on Twitter. Yet, just by looking at the pictures or a livestream of events, aside from the presence of technology (lots of Macs), it’s so far hard to distinguish OWS from any other liberal protest.

They’ve also ‘built a sophisticated social media infrastructure’! So aside from the presence of ‘technology’ — you know, technology that can be used to produce your own media coverage of an event, and indeed produce a planned ‘media event’ of the protest, for which the offline protest serves as a resource — Fry finds it hard to distinguish the Occupy Wall Street protests from any other ‘liberal’ protest. Ok, this isn’t news. It isn’t even meta-news produced by a meta-journalist (a ‘journalist’ covering other journalists) from the CJR. I am not sure why Fry believes that her own inability to distinguish between liberal protests is news or even media commentary. That is why journalists should go speak to experts, instead of relying on Wikipedia definitions of useful scholarly research such as Tilly’s definition of primarily 20th century social movements. Hence, we arrive at Fry’s money shot — the line in any work of online news-based media content (I won’t call it journalism) which is designed to function as ‘link bait’. Trollumnists (columnists who function as internet trolls) will organise their columns around such examples of ‘link bait’. Fry’s link bait trollumnist money shot is that the Occupy Wall Street protests are ‘all hype':

Tilly explains this can come from participant demeanor and an air of seriousness. OWS seems to project by it’s worthiness by its own media machine, shrewdly developed in advance of the protests to steer the narrative and call attention to itself — the rather sophisticated websites, Twitter feeds, livestream technology, and thought that has gone into documentation and projecting an image online is impressive. OWS’s PR machine has not been matched by on-the-ground reality. OWS is all hype.

Occupy Wallstreet is all hype. Clearly. Fry says so based on evidence derived from Tilly’s Wikipedia page and her own inability to distinguish between protest movements as defined by her robust analytical journalistic mind. Why not ask a related question based on Tilly’s own understanding of internet-based social movements, one that is far more interesting and, dare I say it, newsworthy? Let’s frame it in a way that would be relevant for a meta-journalist such as Fry working at CJR:

Charles Tilly argued that internet-based social movements do not have strong enough social ties to constitute a viable social movement, does this observation apply to the Occupy Wall Street protests? If not, then how should journalists approach internet-based social movements? Are there any ethical or professional issues attempting to cover a social group that is producing their own media narratives that compete with the media narratives in the so-called ‘mainstream media’?

You see how that would produce actual news? It transcends the political divide not because it asks for representative opinions from various ‘sides’ of the protest (“he said, she said” journalism), but because it asks a question that anyone interested in the protests from any side of politics will actually want to know.

I hope there are not too many typos in the above, I’ve had to hammer it out before a three and ahalf hour drive to Sydney!!

Analysis of the terms of reference of the Independent Media Inquiry Part 2

This is part two of an analysis of the terms of reference into the recently announced Media Inquiry. Part one is found here. I am no sure how many parts there will be, but I have at least one more in the works.

The terms of reference of the Media Inquiry:

An independent panel will be appointed to inquire into and report on the following issues, while noting that media regulation is currently being considered by the Convergence Review:

a) The effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms;

b) The impact of this technological change on the business model that has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment;

c) Ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to on-line publications, and with particular reference to the handling of complaints;

d) Any related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest.

My students and I have already briefly discussed how the second entry in the terms of reference speaks to precisely what they are grappling with this semester regarding the existing business model of journalism, what it means for online news and what is required to produce a model of sustainable journalism. First critical sweep of the terms of reference made me think that the Inquiry was going to turn into a Mike Masnick and become online media business model engineers, but a more nuanced reading indicates less of a focus on ‘business models’ and more of a focus on how to save ‘quality journalism and the production of news’. I’ve isolated five key points need unpacking from the second term of reference:

1. the business model of traditional media organisations
2. quality journalism and the production of news
3. how ‘quality journalism and the production of news’ can be supported
4. diversity
5. changed media environment

I’ll address the first two points in this post. The crucial third point is in the next post in my series on the Media Inquiry’s terms of reference.

1. From a political economy approach the business model of traditional media organisations involved the production and consumption of an audience or ‘selling eyeballs’ as Martin Hirst and John Harrison (Communication and New Media: From Broadcast to Narrowcast, 2007) pithily describe it. They go on to say:

The media production process has an unusual relationship with its market. It is not simply a matter of putting ‘ideas’ into the public ‘market’ so that price can be determined by ‘supply and demand’. All media outputs are clearly commodities in a capitalist society. Newspapers are sold, magazins have a cover price, and the eletronic media are increasingly looking to narrowcast mrketing to realise a profit, but the real commodity that the media ‘sells’ is its audience, and the real customer is the advertiser. (33-34)

The real earner for newspaper up until the early 2000s or so was derived from classified advertising. In a journal article that explores what he decribes as the ‘fundamental question’ of convergence being the tension between the commercial imperative and the journalistic ethos, Stephen Quinn proffers this quote John Haile to explain why newspapers are adapting to incorporate ‘convergent’ practices:

I was on an ASNE [American Society of Newspaper Editors] new media panel in Dallas [in 1995], and I remember answering the question of ‘why do this?’ with two words: ‘classified advertising’. That is our largest single source of advertising, and it is the most vulnerable to interactive, searchable media. If ad[vertising] dollars start dropping, you can bet newsroom budgets will follow. That will dramatically affect our ability to do good journalism.

The classified advertising boat has set sale. (Apologies!) Mark Day of The Australian newspaper clearly states the problem in his opinion piece on the Inquiry’s terms of reference:

As to the business models of newspapers: You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to know that the loss of classified advertising has put a huge hole in newspaper revenues, and the rivers of gold that used to support journalistic endeavours has become a trickle.

Most journalism students only get a sense of the traditional role of journalists in this business model when they learn about the ‘news hole’ and their job to ‘fill it’. Not only have newspapers lost classified advertising the value of other advertising forms of revenue have decreased for general interest news sites. The value of advertising has radically decreased except when the content is ‘narrowcast’ to specific target audiences that only specific forms of niche content (or sophisticated use of site metrics and data derived from user tracking) can deliver. Advertising-based business models are not the only forms of income that commercial news-based media enterprises can and do utilise, and it shall be interesting to see how much time is spent in the inquiry with questions for existing news-based media enterprises about non-advertising-based revenue models.

2. There have been a number of commentators, including my colleague Jason Wilson, who have suggested that ‘quality journalism and the production of news’ cannot be regulated. Jason frames this in terms of measuring bias:

Even if we disagree with a newspaper’s editorial line, we should be extremely wary in arguing that they don’t have a right to hold it.
Any regulation aimed at policing bias in particular outlets would be abhorrent in principle, and very difficult in practice.

The response from most of the commentariat has similarly been framed in terms of a wariness to regulate ‘the press’. Mark Day suggests that regulation within the institution of journalism should be left up to those organisations with a commercial interest in the industry when he says:

Print media codes of practice in this country are internal – that is, produced and monitored by individual publishing houses or the journalists’ union. They carry no legal weight and have no status, except within their own organisations. They refer to work practices, ethics and responsibilities of journalists and are utterly unaffected by technological change. These codes spell out how employers expect their journalists to go about their business and in no way relate to whether the work of journalists ends up on paper distributed by a truck or is transmitted electronically to a screen.

I am not sure if Mark is arguing for an Inquiry or not solely based on this passage (he is against ‘regulation’, has assumed that the Inquiry is about ‘regulation’ and is therefore against the Inquiry), but considering he is clearly stating that the current codes do not appreciate the medium by which the products of journalistic practice are delivered to an audience, then maybe they should? The concern of the ACP and of various researchers within the academic field of journalism studies is that convergence is based on business decisions and not the ideals of journalism that are enshrined in such standards. So what are the standards of ‘quality journalism’?
The APC lists nine ‘general principles’ that relate to more or less nine areas of specific concern relating to the maintenance of the professional ethos of journalism:

1. Accurate, fair and balanced reporting
2. Correction of inaccuracy
3. Publishing responses
4. Respect for privacy and sensibilities [‘Privacy’ has a set of an additional seven principles.]
5. Honest and fair investigation; preservation of confidences
6. Transparent and fair presentation
7. Discretion and causing offence
8. Gratuitous emphasis on characteristics
9. Publication of Council adjudications

It would seem that those arguing in opinion pieces for ‘media freedom’ are not actually offering a defence of the professional ethos of journalism. The institutions of the ‘media’ and ‘journalism’ are not the same thing. You can have a mdia organisation that produces news-based content that is congruent with the ideals represented by the APC’s standards without necessarily being works of journalism. Why? Because actual news is a precious resource in the current media landscape. I am discussing part of this problem with my first year students this week. We are looking at ‘pseudo-events’ and the literal and practical production of news. I haven’t yet seen someone come out swinging in support of a radical defence of the institution of journalism (except for perhaps Wendy Bacon in her piece where she notes that an inquiry into online business models for the sake of journalism would be welcome).

In this analysis I am therefore making a distinction between news-based content and works of actual journalism. Collapsing ‘quality journalism’ into ‘media freedom’ by erasing the difference between media content, news-based media content and works of journalism is a rhetorical move to frame an investigation into the state of democratic institution of journalism and the industry that once supported it as an attack on freedom. The ‘attack’ is a strawperson used to argue the case for an unfetted media industry that may or may not be related to the institution of journalism. The existing (legacy) composition of the media industry and the democratic instution of journalism are not necessarily the same thing. ‘The Press’ refers to a specific composition of the media industry where the commercial interests of the industry were congruent with the ideals of journalism being a democratic institution.

If the term ‘the press’ represented a historically specific period where the media industry and the institution of journalism did overlap, then one question that needs to be asked by those who are concerned about journalism, is regarding whether or not this historical relation still holds. In the era of convergent media, do we have a ‘press’? Is there an overlap between the operational composition of the existing legacy media industry and the democratic institution of journalism? For Hal Crawford, head of news at NineMSN, there isn’t.

There are at least three levels to this distinction that can be deduced from the different ways codes of practice/regulation work:

1. A distinction between different kinds of content. First, excluding exemptions born of ‘parliamentary privilege’, defamation law in this country sets up a distinction between ‘honestly held opinions’ of a ‘public figure or event’ and ‘news’. This distinction has existed in practice if not law for decades. Now, however, online media content throws a few other distinctions into the mix. For example, is aggregated ‘news’ still ‘news’? Is a tweet of a link to a piece with a defamatory imputation ‘publishing’? The APC is concerned about the oversight required to maintain journalistic integrity when media content is assembled from the work of others. Second, within critical journalism studies there is a distinction between reporting on newsworthy events that produce news — the ‘gathering of news’ — and the process identitifed by Daniel Boortsin in 1962 as ‘creating news’. The current news-based media industry is awash with ‘pseudo-events'; events designed to manipulate the ‘news hole’ hunger of the media industry and exploit journalistic practices for purposes of generating exposure. (Boorstin’s critical assessment of the news industry was appropriated by Jean Baudrillard for his theories about ‘media events’ and ‘simulacra’, see William Merrin’s work.) There not only a distinction between ‘news’ and ‘opinions’ but the coverage of ‘pseudo-events’ compared to covering actual newsworthy events.
2. A distinction between journalistic practice and the product of this practice. The ACP standards and most codes of practice I have seen for journalism deal mostly with the practice of journalism, rather than what is produced. This is a common way to critically engage with journalism. For example, the ABC’s Media Watch is based around reading work produced by news-based media enterprises in terms of an inferred failure of journalistic practice. For example summarising the critique of a recent Daily Telegraph piece that Media Watch accuses of cherry picking data about pokie reform and problem gambling: ‘This article doesn’t present a contrasting view, due to an apparent failure to seek comment, hence the article is not a product of ‘balanced’ and ‘fair’ reporting. Why is this important? Journalistic content has become more complex. A single journalist filing a single story may have been the way journalistic practice was imagined but the historical role of sub-editors and contemporary role content editors changes this. Journalistic practice has been bolstered by editorial ‘fact checking’ but how appropriate is it to frame the work of online content editors in this way? Are they ‘fact checking’? It will be interesting to see if the Inquiry drills down to this level of distinction and how the existing representatives from the press respond.