Journalism's crisis is everyone's crisis
Can quality journalism survive the internet revolution?
Mr Eric Beecher, Chairman, Private Media
Wednesday 28 March 2012, Allan Scott Auditorium,UniSA City West campus, rear Hawke Building
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Although journalism matters a lot to civil society, the century-old business model that supports it is breaking apart. Journalism is facing an existential crisis because the media industry that funds it is in the midst of a revolution.
Ironically and almost perversely, journalism is not under pressure because there is less demand for it - in fact, there has never been more demand for it and there has never been more of it, due to the extraordinary growth of internet digital media in all its forms.
But while the internet gives - in the form of vastly more journalism across various platforms - it has also taken away much of the advertising revenue that has traditionally funded quality journalism. To the point where newspapers, the primary provider of quality journalism for the past century, have lost most of their classified advertising and much of their display advertising to the internet.
And without these deep rich veins of advertising revenue, newspapers can no longer afford to employ the armies of journalists needed to deliver the quality journalism that acts as the eyes and ears of a functioning democracy, covering politics, government, the courts, foreign affairs, business, the arts, education, health, defence and all the other planks of a civilised society. And in the face of this dilemma, editorial standards are falling as media companies try to do more with less and, concurrently, dumb down their content to try to keep their audiences.
But the biggest losers in this crisis won't be the journalists who don't have jobs or the audiences who get lower quality journalism.
The biggest loser will be the society that depends on well-resourced "public trust" journalism to do what no other institution can ever do: uncover corruption, scrutinise government, investigate maladministration, cover courts and parliaments, fertilise ideas, interrogate entrenched power, ask the hard questions and not accept the soft answers.
The crisis of quality journalism is becoming a fundamental crisis of the quality of a democratic society.
Eric Beecher started his career in newspapers as a journalist on The Age newspaper in Melbourne. He later worked at The Sunday Times and The Observer in London and The Washington Post in the US. In 1984, at age 33, he became the youngest-ever editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, and in 1987 was appointed editor-in-chief of the Herald and Weekly Times newspaper group.
In 1990 he became a founder, CEO and major shareholder in The Text Media Group, a public company which produced newspapers, magazines and books, which was acquired by Fairfax Media in 2003. In 2003 he formed Private Media Partners, which acquired Crikey.com.au in 2005. Since then he has been a founding shareholder and chairman of three further online media ventures: SmartCompany.com.au, EurekaReport.com.au and BusinessSpectator.com. He is also chairman of The Wheeler Centre. In 2000 he delivered the annual Andrew Olle Media Lecture and in 2007 was awarded the Walkley Award for Journalistic Leadership.
Horizon SA Forum Series
This Forum Series is proudly presented by The Hawke Centre to mark the 21st Birthday of the University of South Australia in 2012.
Horizon SA will traverse territory encompassing our economy and regional development, education, population and environment, culture and democracy. It will reflect the significance of sound leadership for the benefit of all South Australians and the fact that global connection and competitiveness are being embraced by our State.
Horizon SA will continue on Wednesday 29 August 2012 with Dr Wendy Craik AM, Deputy Chancellor UniSA and Commissioner of the Productivity Commission.
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