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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Future of News? It seems there is one...and possibly more than one...

I was invited last month to a conference in Toronto hosted by the Canadian Media Research Consortium and organized by Donna Logan, Professor Emerita and head of English radio at the CBC when she asked me to be Managing Editor of CBC Radio News back in 1991.

The aim of the conference was to gathering about 25 people for a day to engaged in trying to determine where we might be going as a news culture in general and in Canada in particular.

One of the most interesting people there was Michael Rogers, Futurist in Residence at the New York Times. Rogers talked about how technology will deliver information
in amazing and profoundly "Jetson" types ways...possibly as soon as next year.

We were slackjawed at the prospect that our cell phones will project a virtual keyboard onto our desks. We will "type" onto the projection and the cell phone will communicate that into email and onto the Internet. Cool...to say the least.

The Times is also about to aggregate its series from the newspaper into E-books, and
will make some money doing it.

Kudos to the Times for creating the idea of a "futurist-in-residence" and for hiring the very talented Mr. Rogers who presented his ideas in an accessible and available way.

We also heard from a number of top managers from Canadian news organizations who sounded a lot like their American counterparts in their complaints about why it's so hard to be successful.

It's the economy. Translation: (We can't make as much money as we once did).

It's the technology. Translation:(Everything is changing too quickly).

It's the employees. Translation:(They resist change and resent losing their cushy jobs).

It's the regulator. Translation:(The FCC - or in Canada, the CRTC, keeps insisting that we provide something more useful.

One of the participants was David Asper. Asper, who owns newspapers (The National Post)and a television network called CanWest Global, has been cutting editorial resources and complained that he would spend more on journalism if the Canadian regulator didn;t insist that he take some of his profits and put it into local news.

I suggested to Asper that if he spent more on giving his readers and viewers better quality journalism, he might find that his financial prospects might improve.

"Who are you to tell me what I should and shouldn't watch?" he replied.

"Only in the same way that you are giving me what you think I should watch on your networks."

"Then don't watch," snapped Asper.

"I may take you up on that," I replied.

The tradition of the British press baron seems alive and well in Canada.

But what might have been a depressing day of listening to media moguls petulantly complain, left me curiously upbeat. Most of what they appeared to be saying was that the mood of the public is shifting away from the traditional sources of news. But the barons seemed at a loss to know how to stanch the flow to the internet and to other sources of news.

Is it possible that public broadcasting in the US along with new forms of online news might now be prepared to replace them? A report in the New York Times on Sunday June 29th indicates just that.

But as these online news agencies with an edge (and I am working with one right now,
called The Real News Network, the difference with so-called mainstream news is remarkable. While old media are in decline and these new media are growing, the hunger for opinion journalism, anchored in fact-based reporting continues to grow.

I sense that some of the public's disenchantment with how journalism is practiced on the broadcast networks and in the newspapers is in the claims to impartiality, which usually means giving credence where none is merited.

As Robin MacNeil former of the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour once said of TV news: "it's the cheering squad for the side that has already won."

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