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The digital revolution: Is it destroying good journalism?

There was a fervent yet entertaining discussion about the plight of journalism in the Feros tent on the first afternoon of the Writers Festival. Three seasoned journalist gave insights into the dilemma that traditional journalism is facing due to the burgeoning digital revolution.

According to the panellists, the main problem is that newspaper sales are dwindling, as younger generations are seeking all their news online, where they also expect it to be free.

Veteran journalist and author of Come The Revolution: A Memoir, Alex Mitchell believes that traditional journalism practices are inevitably suffering, and standards are dropping.

“The industry is going through a real crisis,” Mitchell said.

“We haven’t successfully made the transition to new technology.”

Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Peter FitzSimons agrees. And he believes that the face of the media is changing radically.

“We are in a transition phase,” FitzSimons said.

According to FitzSimons, the situation is ironic: as news is becoming increasingly sought after, yet its revenues are dwindling.

“There’s more eyeballs on Fairfax articles than ever before,” he said

“There’s just got to be a new revenue scheme.”

Political journalist and author of several books, George Megalogenis argued that traditional news struggles to respond to the instantaneous flow of information that modern consumers expect.

“The constant need for news has stopped the paper’s ability to hold the public attention,” Megalogenis explained.

However, Megalogenis believes that one of the benefits of the online media boom is that it has forced journalism to become more transparent.

“Even if you have a word out of place, you’ll get pushback [from readers],” he said.

Mitchell also acknowledged the benefits of this newfound transparency, which has also enabled readers to actively participate in discussions.

“Readers are now equipped with the technology to challenge the media,” he said.

However despite these benefits, Megalogenis reiterated that online media is having a negative impact on traditional news formats.

“It’s great for journalism, but not for newspapers,” he said.

Technology is also effecting the way that journalist write about events. All three panellists agreed that news is becoming more partisan and less objective.

“We’ve got underbelly in crime [reporting] and the political is all scandal and speculation,” Mitchell said.

FitzSimons believes this is because everything is on TV or online before the newspapers can publish it—so papers are forced to add more dramatic elements to stories, in order to appeal to readers.

“It’s not like back in the day when you were reflecting on the event and describing it to the people who weren’t there. Now everything is already live on TV or online,” he said.

Indeed, even an old newspaper hack like FitzSimons says he is losing sight of the newspaper as the pinnacle of journalism.

“I don’t care where I am in the paper, I care where I am on the website,” he said.

“I even started tweeting now, cos I know it sells books.”

The online media boom is undoubtedly changing the way news is written and consumed. Even though it has the benefits of being instantaneous, transparent and interactive, is it pushing well-researched, ethical journalism into extinction?

This is a question that needs further attention as we shift over to a new media paradigm. Let’s just hope that not too much is lost in the transition.

Madeleine Brown is a Creative Writing student at Southern Cross University.

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