Are we witnessing the death of Australian journalism?

By - CTL
July 18, 2017

By Dorothy Thompson.

So bad would it appear to be, that the Australian Federal Parliament has set up a Senate committee with three of its most gifted, articulate and august luminaries, to investigate the parlous state of Australian Journalism, their instructions are to report back to it, (the Parliament) by the end of this year.

This public inquiry, consists of the afore said luminaries are; Senators Sam Dastyari, Nick Xenophon, and Jackie Lambie who are to examine the structure of media organisations, their tax arrangements, as well as the increase in so-called fake news.

It is hard to think of three better qualified Senators to spearhead such an inquiry.

Below are the Terms of Reference:

TERMS OF REFERENCE (as published on the Parliament Of Australia’s web site)

(1) That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism, be established to inquire into and report on:

(a) the current state of public interest journalism in Australia and around the world, including the role of government in ensuring a viable, independent and diverse service;

(b) the adequacy of current competition and consumer laws to deal with the market power and practices of search engines, social media aggregators and content aggregators, and their impact on the Australian media landscape;

(c) the impact on public interest journalism of search engines and social media internet service providers circulating fake news, and an examination of counter measures directed at online advertisers, ‘click-bait’ generators and other parties who benefit from disinformation;

(d) the future of public and community broadcasters in delivering public interest journalism, particularly in underserviced markets like regional Australia, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities;

(e) examination of ‘fake news’, propaganda, and public disinformation, including sources and motivation of fake news in Australia, overseas, and the international response; and

(f) any related matters.

(2) That the committee present its final report on or before 7 December 2017. 

Sam Dastyari. Photo Tim Bauer

The egregious Sam stated: “We’re going into this … looking for a solution,” he told reporters in Canberra. “We’re not looking here to give anybody a kicking.”

“We want to know, what is the business model that allows any entity – public, private, third sector, whatever – to keep well-resourced journalists in the field, keeping this building and its people accountable and serving up the news and information that we need to maintain a healthy democracy.”

Senator Xenophon added, “The Australian journalism industry was in crisis. “These are matters that must be dealt with,” he said. “This goes to the heart of our democracy. If we want the fourth estate to be vibrant and diverse we need to deal with the issues that this inquiry raises, including fake news.”

“If we don’t grapple these issues as a matter of urgency you’ll see more journalists and camera operators and others that make the news happen losing their jobs. Because you simply cannot have a situation where you have Facebook and Google – between them raking $3.2 billion in ad revenue – and piggy-backing and cannibalising the content of Australian journalists and Australian newsrooms.”

Senator Xenophon also said, “media organisations should be able to take on content aggregators, search engines and social media sites that cannibalise content”. 

However given the so-called freedom of the press, it is hard to reconcile just what role this inquiry should play. No doubt all will be revealed in due course.


Some people are fearful over the future of newspapers. Recently released figures show circulation collectively continues to decline. I don’t expect things to change any time soon.

In Melbourne, an important milestone has been reached. According to a Roy research finding, for the first time, the average print circulation for The Age’s Monday-to-Friday edition has dipped below 100,000, with an average of 97,014 over the past 3 months. That’s a fall of 9.9% year-on-year. The Sydney Morning Herald is hovering just above 100,000 with a circulation of 102,633 – a fall of 10.3%. On its current trajectory it will probably fall below 100,000 in the next audit. Both cities have populations of nearly 5 million, which suggests there’s around one paper per 50 people in circulation. Five years ago, both papers had at least double that circulation with a lot fewer residents.

Is this any surprise given the claptrap Fairfax publishes on a daily basis?

For a while now it has been fashionable to speculate on when Fairfax will cease to print metropolitan newspapers and focus its efforts entirely online. The official line is the company will continue to print papers for as long as there is money to be made. It’s hard to quibble with this logic. But with print circulation figures the way they are it won’t be long before the cash runs out.

More than half the people who click on this article will apparently stop reading within 15 seconds. That’s not just speculation: it’s statistics. Data collected from over 200 million website visits to news and media sites revealed that 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on any one page.

To the vast majority of journalists who love what they do and hope that their efforts will hold a reader’s interest until they reach the last full stop, this statistic should be frighting. But in an increasingly digital age where we’re used to getting information in fewer than 140 characters, it seems likely that attention spans will continue to decline at a rate similar to circulation.

As far as this writer can see it, Journalists have two choices:

  1. Accept the fact that more than half of the people who visit their pages won’t actually read what they have to say.
  2. Adapt to the new ways people are using technology to get their information, and adjust their content accordingly.

In the digital age, the most significant change in how we consume content boils down to one word: engagement.

Traditionally, journalism is a one-sided relationship: journalists write and readers consume, however, technology is blurring the line between communication and content. When we wake up and see notifications on our mobile phones, news stories are intermixed with texts, emails, and social media updates. As a result, consumers look for engaging content that makes them feel like they’re part of a conversation, not a diatribe.

Traditional digital media outlets are driven by impressions: their goals are to get as many clicks as possible on their articles. But having a high click through rate isn’t meaningful in the long run if people are spending mere seconds viewing your content.

This misplaced focus on impressions can compromise journalistic integrity: when a writer’s success is measured by how many clicks their articles get, they often have to scramble to find trending topics and end up churning out low-quality click bait in ever increasing quantities.

In the short term, this strategy might get more clicks and generate ad impressions but is it the answer? Not alone, but it is a start.

Times are changing, and journalism isn’t exempt from this. It’s already happened to the bookstores of the world and look what’s happening with the taxi industry and Uber. Now, it’s happening to the publishing industry too.

Whilst researching this article I came in touch with the views of Gary Vaynerchuk. Vaynerchuk is an American serial entrepreneur, four-time New York Times best selling author, speaker and internationally recognized Internet personality. He first came to public attention as a leading wine critic who grew his family’s wine business from $3 million to $60 million. Vaynerchuk is now best known as a digital marketing and social-media pioneer at the helm of New York-based VaynerMedia and VaynerX.

Vaynerchuk is an angel investor or advisor to Uber, Birchbox, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, among others. He is a regular keynote speaker at global entrepreneurship and technology conferences.

“Content is absolutely being redefined in today’s mobile environment,” Vaynerchuk who has three of his own independent media hubs in the works says, “of the publishing industry’s break away from tradition. Inevitably, some of the big names today won’t be as relevant in the future.” 

“Just like Hilton and Marriott now find themselves struggling to compete with Airbnb, long-standing media behemoths now have to compete with smaller platforms that provide content in ways that are more appealing to the end user”. 

“That’s why adapting to trends in content creation and consumption is do-or-die for the publishing industry. As the way we engage with our content continues shifting, the conventional article format just won’t cut it anymore. Instead of clinging to tradition and watching their readership dwindle, journalists and publishers need to stay on top of the game and tailor their content accordingly so that they’re keeping up with the modern consumer”.

It is sobering to consider what Aldous Huxley wrote in his novel Brave New World in 1931. Set in London in the year AD 2540, the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to profoundly change society. But not even he could predict the Internet & the impact it would have.





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