Sunday, May 16, 2010


This week my work helped host the annual conference of the organisation of News Ombudsmen.

To be honest, I'd not heard of a news ombudsmen before this. They are one level of news monitoring, a representative, sometimes called the 'reader's editor,' who people can complain to. Part of the ethos behind their role is to uphold ethical practices of journalism.

While the weeks leading up the the conference have been busy for me, I was able to sit in on some of the sessions during the days of the conference, and they were fascinating.

It seems that journalism as we have known it is in a rapid state of flux. The old is crumbling, and everyone is still figuring out what the 'new' looks like. 'The digital age' as it has been called throws up new challenges for the press watchdogs.

The speakers at this conference were all addressing the changes that have arisen with declining copy sales for news, wider news readership than ever, and the event of '24 hour' online news, citizen journalism, blogging, and social media, and what this means for Ombudsmen. The thing that struck me was the way in which postmodernism is linked to technological advances.

According to the source of collective truth, Wikipedia:

Postmodernism is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the rejection of objective truth and global cultural narrative. It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations; in particular it attacks the use of sharp classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial. Postmodernism has influenced many cultural fields, including literary criticism, linguistics, architecture, visual arts, and music"

it goes on to say: "Whereas Modernism is often associated with identity, unity, authority, and certainty, Postmodernism is often associated with difference, plurality, alterity, and skepticism"

Without going too much into philosophical nitty gritty, the changes in journalism dovetail pretty neatly with this philosophical trend. It doesn't seem like a deliberate ideological change, rather one that is grounded in both changing social norms and new technologies.

Previously, the voice of 'factual authority' has been held in news readers, news channels, newspapers,the few broadcasting to the many. The rise of affordable technology, tiny cameras in cellphones has meant that now often 'citizen journalists' provide the evidence, the facts or the reporting of incidents. News posted online is often more interactive, with readers able to leave comments and discuss issues.

Chris Elliot of the guardian newspaper gave a number of excellent points about

'mutualised media'

1. Mutualized media encourages participation. It invites and/or allows a response.

2. It is not an inert "us" to "them" form of publishing.

3. It encourages others to initiate debate, publish material or make suggestions we can follow, as well as lead. We can involve others in the pre-publication process.

4. It helps form committees of joint interest around subjects, issues or individuals.

5. It is open to the web and is part of it. It links to and collaborates with other material including services on the web.

6. It aggregates and curates the work of others.

7. It recognizes that journalists are not the only voices of authority, expertise and interest.

8. It aspires to achieve and reflect diversity and shared values.

9. It recognizes that publishing can be the beginning of the journalistic process rather than the end.

10. It is transparent and open to challenge - including correction, clarification and addition.

How very postmodern I say!

Is it possible that while on one hand, news is suffering from 'celebritization' 'soundbitation' and a general devolution towards 'infotainment', the print papers now have the opportunity to do greater in-depth analysis and in-depth reporting, while the internet provides the forum for the 24 flow of facts and news. Or is it the reverse? The online news-sites provide the analysis while the paper copies of newspapers become mindless fodder for the daily commuter?

I discovered in a conversation about newspaper readers and their ownership and interaction with 'their' paper of choice, according to one of the conference delegates, I am the ideal Sunday paper reader. I only buy one paper a week, it's a the Sunday Times, and it lasts me all week, more or less. I love the supplements. To my slight chagrin, they are where I source most of my information about contemporary music/culture and the goings on of the world. There isn't a much nicer way to spend a Sunday afternoon, inside or out, with the paper, some nibbles and a drink (tea or beer, or wine, if I'm feeling particularly extravagant). We do get the Guardian at work, which is great, but i don't really enjoy 'the news'. I follow things more because I think I ought to than because I really want to. Partly it's deliberate, news can get me really down and angry. Most of my news from NZ comes from Frogblog, the green party blog.

Interesting stuff. My dilemma is between being informed and being in a state of information overload. I probably read the things that back up what I already think more than I'd ideally like. I'm quite excited about the way 'news' is going. it feels more uncontrollable than ever before, by governments, by corporations and by spin doctors. It seems more likely, that in these technological times 'truth will out'. and when it does, that it will be more diverse, open to correction and more of a conversation than a statement.

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