Guest Column with Margaret Simons

August 12 / 93

In the winter of 2012, many citizens came to grips with the implications of the changes in news media for the first time, because over the course of an extraordinary fortnight both of our big newspaper publishers - Fairfax Media and News Limited - announced substantial restructures and redundancies.

Fairfax Media announced that it would sell its big printing plants, and that its broadsheet newspapers, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, would move to a tabloid format. As well, after having given contradictory messages for a year, Fairfax took the plunge and announced that, like News Limited, it would in future ask readers to pay for accessing news content online. Fairfax also announced big staff cuts, with 1,900 jobs to go, including redundancies for journalists.

The senior editors at Fairfax, Paul Ramadge at The Age, and Amanda Wilson and Peter Fray at The Sydney Morning Herald resigned, all on the same day. News Limited, as is often the case, was better at handling the public relations, but its changes were no less far-reaching.

Both the announcements at Fairfax and at News Limited made it clear that the future for Australian news-media organisations is smaller, and less profitable - with fewer journalists employed. Both organisations were attempting to stabilise the news-media parts of their businesses at a level of sustainability. The problem is, nobody from Rupert Murdoch down knows what sustainability means in the new-media universe. Everyone is experimenting, at least, with size of the newsroom, and with delivery of the content.

For those who have been paying attention, none of the changes in big media should have come as a surprise. Yet they amount to a potential civic emergency - a big decline in Australia's professional journalistic capacity.

Yet for the most part, the fundamental changes in news media and journalism are discussed, not with the people who matter most, but within the industry and, to a lesser extent, within academia. Even academics and industry figures rarely meet, for which both sides are the poorer.

That is the reason that the Centre for Advanced Journalism, in partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Melbourne Press Club, has organised the New News Conference.

Now running for the third year, the New News Conference has become one of the nation's leading venues for the issues that influence news media to be discussed by the people who matter most - the audience. What are the threats to an informed public, and what are the opportunities for the journalism that matters? How will technology affect the future of news, and should journalists accept more regulation?

For the full program presented by the Centre for Advanced Journalism, visit:
http://caj.unimelb.edu.au/public_program/new_news

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