News & Commentary

Razer: the ‘end of journalism’ is about more than journalists

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Last week in the publication Crikey, my comrade Guy Rundle did that annoying thing he has been doing for years and wrote much better than me. Now, before you complain that the recommended piece is paywalled and not available as free pleasure, I’d like you to consider why your purchase of this speciality product, and many others, has become necessary. Rundle writes, as we have here at Daily Review, about the market-led end of journalism.

Actually, Rundle writes first about all those other articles about the end of journalism; those that don’t mention the market:

The “farewell to journalists” article has become so much a staple of Australian newspapers now that it might eventually become a section in its own right — the photos of glum-looking people in hot-desked office spaces, the articles with tepid anecdotes about people you’ve never heard of, etc, etc. Births, deaths, marriages, redundancies.

Journalists write very ardently about their own decline. Bound to the belief that theirs is a trade more crucial to the functions of the good society than any other, they have come to cover problems in their own sector with special interest. In the past few decades, we have seen monumental changes to the nature of labour in Australia—retail is in decline, conditions for healthcare workers are damn unhealthy, manufacture is all but lost. What we have not seen in recent years from journalists is a focus on this general job security and wage loss that is in any way proportionate to their industrial self-interest.

Passionate pieces like this by The Guardian’s Katharine Viner are, well, very passionate. The much-shared essay, which is largely concerned with the matter of “truth” and how devoted to that goal The Guardian is, does make the point, as have others, that journalism is threatened by market conditions. Completely “true”. What is also true, however, is that our general publications, like The Guardian or The Age, are, as Rundle reminds us, no longer in the business of offering us a general view of life; a “grand narrative”.

Of course, these general publications cannot ignore the stuff of most people’s daily lives absolutely—editors retain some awareness that readers might have some curiosity about whether their own jobs are about to be devoured by clever robots or idiotic policy. We’ll still find a story, say, on the loss of jobs at CSIRO or Toyota, if we can get past the many headlines leading to stories on the end of Fairfax or the ABC.

But, look for the general thread in these general publications that will help us understand a labour crisis that affects us all, and you’ll be disappointed. As Rundle writes, journalists from these publications have in recent decades, “been trained to regard all news events and stories as atomised, disconnected, part of no wider pattern.”

If we do not count the occasional piece by Monbiot or this racy favourite by Thomas Frank, we do not find accessible accounts of our era in The Guardian. Both Tariq Ali and Slavoj Žižek—old and amusing guys who just love their grand theory—have both spoken publicly of the paper’s reluctance to publish their work.

One popular, and feasible, explanation for this is purely political. As teleSUR writes, the paper has shown a recent revulsion for the socialism to which it has been somewhat historically attached. But, I think Rundle’s explanation is closer to the mark. Socialist thinking is by its nature more systemic or big picture. It’s not the only kind of thinking that tries to view history as a thing, not just a collection of events. But it’s the only kind of thinking that adamantly refuses to see history in any other way.

“A company that has failed to cover in any general way the neoliberal employment practice it now itself encounters must now unlearn the atomisation Rundle writes about.”

Our general publications, whatever their declared political bias, are no longer general. Our journalists, such as Rundle, who offer a more generalised and connected view of the present and its history now write for niche publications. The grand narrative has, perversely, become a specialty concern and about the only time we get a passionate editorial about The State Of All Things is, per the Viner piece, when “all things” basically amount to general journalism, and its purported fight for the truth.

There is no need to wonder that general press got it so wrong on Trump, on Corbyn, on Brexit. Of course they did. All of these surges against the best advice of The Guardian were led, in great part, by voters’ concerns for their wage security. These voters may be misguided, and they certainly were in the belief that the monstrous Trump could bring the jobs back. But, seriously. The only jobs these publications are writing about with any real zeal are their own.

I was, of course, sad this year to see more job loss at Fairfax, that once great local media institution to which I owe great personal debt as both reader and writer. But this grief is mine, and a trifle when we consider the injury to other much larger industries. A company that has failed to cover in any general way the neoliberal employment practice it now itself encounters must now unlearn the atomisation Rundle writes about. Or, it must, along with so many of our newspapers, just declare what it is: a niche publication for people who want to talk about other people who don’t understand the “truth”. It is most likely that the latter will occur.

As much as I miss the grand narrative of old journalism, I’m not going to talk big and predict its future. But, I think I can tell you this with confidence: journalism is going to be small. Or, let’s be posh and say “bespoke”.

The future for all press can be sniffed in publications like this one. Of course, we at Daily Review, a modest concern that seeks to cover only culture and arts—albeit in a general and not an atomised way—might not have a place in the future. But, there will, eventually, be a shift that accommodates businesses like ours. So long as some of us readers hold on to the jobs with which general press has been so unconcerned, we will hold on to the need for big accounts of the society, the economy, the family, the self, the culture.

It’s not only out of self-interest that I ask you to consider safeguarding our survival to that point. To be blunt about it, I’ll be okay even if Daily Review is not. Your donation is not a donation directly to Helen, a freelancer who currently finds herself a little over-employed. (I put this down to a case of scarcity, not of talent. I fumble toward grand narratives. Many of my peers have been trained, as Rundle says, to see no interconnection between events.)

It is self-interested, sure: “Fund the niche publication that pays me!” And it’s certainly self-interested to ask you to help fund something that I personally enjoy reading—I have come to trust the reviews of Ben Neutze, in particular, to help me make the best use of my time in front of the screen or the stage.

But, I am being a bit historical and general about the whole thing, I reckon. This is a place where we can train readers and writers alike not to be atomised in their thinking. This, I think, is worth a buck or two.

Do you value independent arts and culture journalism and would you like to help us to produce more of it? Find out more here.

17 responses to “Razer: the ‘end of journalism’ is about more than journalists

  1. Ain’t it good to know the same company that printed the front page of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH on Wednesday, 5 July 2017 is the one that will soon control CHANNEL 10 as well.

    Not an angle Sarah Harris is likely to voice on STUDIO 10 any time soon …

  2. Helen – as always a pleasure to see you writing. Even if I don’t agree with you, you are always eloquent, or at the very least, direct and thought provoking and make me reevaluate my thinking. Bravo – as that is especially valuable!

    This is a topic in which I absolutely agree with you. Journalism is most definitely going to be bespoke, and the ones that publish the “truth” which we most need to hear are the ones that are going to have the least reach to do so.

    Since the takeover of the Internet in our lives, there are far more efficient ways to be informed, misinformed, disinformed, distracted, bored, fall down rabbit holes. Just as gone are the days of manufacturing things in Australia, so gone are the days where information was treated of something of value when so much of it is available for free. This is, of course, assuming that all information is of equal value, which any sane person will realise isn’t.

    I’m unsure whether the state of journalism is a victim of corporatism, or a corporates/governments are running a grand conspiracy to leverage journalism to their own ends and journalism (as a whole, not necessarily individuals of moral standing in the industry) is complicit to it. The reality is likely a combination of both. The navel gazing is not going to engender a whole lot of sympathy.

    Thank you once again!

  3. I clicked on this article because it had your name on it. As a reader who has never met you, I have come to trust it, as I trust the name Rundle, to be associated with grand narrative thinking that helps me construct and maintain my own grand narrative . I don’t judge either of you on any one article, but on the years and years of work you have done. Many thanks for it and I hope you can keep going.

  4. Publishing has been fragmenting for years. It’s not so much dying as finding new ways to do the same thing. We used to rely on our daily newspapers to cover the arts and culture, but that’s now one of those fragments. If Daily Review can hold on long enough to build a decent-sized audience the relevant advertising will follow.. Whether niche advertising will be enough to sustain your vision is the big question, because the dynamics of advertising are changing too. Right now your real challenge is marketing yourselves to your potential audience, and you’ll achieve that by understanding what your readers want and giving it to them. Build it and they will come. .

    1. Jean: Yeah, right. Dry that one out and you can fertilize the lawn

      — FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

    2. Hi, T.
      Thanks so much for your comment.
      I appreciate your concern, and do get your advice, which amounts to: keep attracting readers and the revenue will come.
      Unfortunately, being a success in terms of audience no longer guarantees this.
      The better publications of the Australian past, The Age and the SMH, didn’t stay in business only became they were good. They had the Classifieds to fund them. When online took over this businesses, these one-time Titans began to fail.
      The market is never perfect. It doesn’t keep businesses going simply because these businesses deliver good products. Think of Windows, foe examples. It’s buggy and clunky. I’d rather use another OS. But Gates’ actions as a businessman made it the system many of us were forced to use.
      Realty TV is made by networks because it has very low production costs. We like drama more. But this is what is profitable.
      Plenty of great online publications with vast readership go down. Advertising dollars are better spent with Google and Facebook or on your social media manager.
      The advertising revenue model worked in a different era. It no longer does.

  5. I’m not normally one to rationalise, either my world view, or what is occurring around me.

    Dpo I care about what has happened to the reportage of the day? You bet. Am I angry at the mismanagement of the major quality newsprint providers in Ausatralia (Fairfax and to a lesser degree, The Australian). Yes, I bloody well do!

    I purchase the SMH every day and the Fin on Fridays and Saturdays. and for my money I EPXECT AN UNEQUIVOCAL COMMITMENT TO QUALITY! A diversity of informed, erudite opinion from investigative journalists; News as up-to-date as technology allows;
    all leavened with the advertising necessary to maintain that quality. That so many sections of human endeavour are considered to be
    un-newsworthy is an affront to the readership. It is little wonder circulations is falling – a vicious cycle (and I mean cycle, not circle) of change management, management bungles, (which include corporate myopia).

    Will I be sorry if the SMH folds? A small regret, but ultimately, no. Fairfax management have fundamentally betrayed the trust of its readership, by cheapening their product, by steadily reducing the resources necessary to produce a quality paper. When I pick up my Saturday edition, for instance, I toss some 20 to 30 pages out immediately, because they concern “The Sport of Fools'” – no reductions, there, except for the proof-readers and copy holders who are no longer relevant.

    The only paper that now qualifies is The Saturday Paper, which I unequivocally support, along with The Monthly which take up a lot of the slack the Metros don;t provide.

    I have sought out the relevant on-line e-zines, such as Daily Review, because I ave a focus on the arts, The Conversation (though the
    jury’s still out on that. Crikey, though I do wish they’d stop exhorting me to subscribe. So, it’s cherry-picking time for me,
    which includes the electronic media. I have found a weapon beyond price. When the media reportage turns to politicians
    spruiking their self-important bleatings, to justify their actions, I simply mute them. I am no longer interested in what they have to say, because they is relevant to me. Try watching Trump without the sound. It is simply hilarious. He has ‘body language’ lessons,
    but forgets them as he goes along. His gestology is akin to the Three Stooges, and they were doing it for exaggerated effect.

    Enuff! My exasperation knows no bounds. As recompense, the 76-year-old gets to vent his frustrations in public and my
    internet and search skills are on the improve.

  6. Have just this very day been responding to a request from The Age to provide feedback on its website. So I talked about quick click news and the sensationalism of continually updating us on the most horrible people in the world doing the most horrible things to others, or just as bad in some instances, not doing anything at all. It is utterly disempowering for the reader when it is just there, in your face, the facts (if you’re lucky). The grand narrative as you and Guy Rundle point out, has disappeared and with it, all semblance of humanity on many digital news sites. But it’s worse than this because journalism needs to be providing alternative perspectives, critical analyses, in-depth reporting and investigative journalism on issues that are affecting us all. True journalism, and yes, that includes the grand narrative, photojournalism, illustrative journalism and satire, hold people to account and it doesn’t take much insight to understand how important that is right now.

    So thank you Daily Review for a human alternative and I will get to you a small donation in appreciation.

  7. Helen,
    If you want to see how “grand narrative” can be done you need to get hold of John Micheal Greer’s “Archdruid Report” Blog, currently not that easy to find, but if you go to http://www.ecospohia.net and hunt arount a bit you will find a link to an archive or two.

    Brilliant writing over 10 years about the human condition and its predicament.

  8. Neither Fairfax or News saw it coming or took it seriously and when the changes came, as they always do, with what seemed like devastating speed, it was all catch up from there.
    Or ketchup.
    Now we can choose our sources that we feel that we can trust. And most of the best are not behind a paywall- contributions are voluntary.
    What’s next?

  9. One of my favourite sayings about journalism is from the late Harold Evans (editor of the Sunday Times and then the Times, before falling foul of Rupert, and author of several journalism textbooks): words to the effect “Every newspaper story ever written was 100% accurate, except to the handful of people who knew what actually happened”. As someone else said: “the truth is rarely pure and never simple”. Well done Helen. Journalism is being disrupted as are many other industries. As long as people can still read and want to do so, there should be journalism in some form. How we get paid is another matter.

  10. These days i always feel a little worse after each reading of fairfax or the australian.
    Its like opinion, facts and spin have been hurled into a blender, whizzed for 30 seconds and then published. I worked at the age in 1990 with a fine bunch of rogue pissants, in a number of fairly menial roles, but back then it seemed to stand for something and I was kinda pumped to work there. The days of the mighty ‘green guide’ every thursday are well and truly gone.

  11. I’ve said that I’d like to pop the clogs the day the Age goes fully digital. That might not be true if I can find a TAFE course on how to use a tablet. ( old fart ) One great international magazine I bought for ever died about 3 years ago. It had a policy of VERY limited advertising, back pages only. Then another more local mag died, the guy that did it said lack of consistent advertising, printing and other costs. Talking about the Age, it used to have a huge cars section, I bought 3 cars out of that section BUT it all went on line – carsales.com etc. Now cars is 4 or 6 pages. Real Estate gets a colour glossy on Saturday, front full of crummy flats for sale. I still read about 80% of the Age every day and I think its still quality BUT is it as good as it used to be ? I don’t know.

  12. I just wonder if its dumbing down the populace ? Don’t do reality shows. Might recognise KK but can’t beg sure as I have never watched nor read any of that fertiliser and yet peoples lives seem so bored the majority of viewers and possibly some readers just want to know whats happening over the fence. Yeah its a shitty day in Oz. Back to my book.

  13. I live in Perth. For the last 2 weeks our suburb has received free copies of The West and Sunday Times (now the same company) courtesy of Crown Casino.

    Everywhere we go on our daily walk the footpaths and driveways are covered in rolled up newspapers.

    It tells you how irrelevant newspapers have become to most people’s lives that they can’t be bothered reading them even when they are free.

  14. Two concepts that I am engaged with are acceleration and convergence. Aside from all the issues arising from sloppy fallacious reasoning guided by the dwindling supply distinct voices in the mainstream concentration of media is the incredible class war between those who almost have and the ones that have it all. Writers, radiologists, diagnosticians and lawyers are closer to extinction than people would believe. That the convergence of multiple disciplines into deep learning and neural nets and narrow Ai outcomes is fraught with danger due to inherent human biased algorithms baked in.

    The acceleration is is everywhere and it is approaching that point of the upwards curve that is going to be overwhelming in effect because you cannot see it happening, like a rocket flight, one second you are mashed into your cockpit seat overwhelmed by the noise and vibration and the next you are in a silent free fall. Case in point, self driving vehicles. The end of driving in industrial nations. Followed on quickly with the many rotor flying electric car. But jobs for driving, nah, the filthy rich, of course will still have privilege. Whose economy has a plan for this rapid destructive change that will improve all aspects of transportation from safety to efficiency but idle millions upon millions of bread winners? It’s the uber dream, the one where they defy governments until they win and no longer have to pay for their drivers.

    I don’t believe that people with Brexit or Trump thought for one moment that things would go back to something better. They wanted the system broken. Corruption based on arrogance and privilege with no fair shake to those rapidly being left behind, by neglect or more reprehensibly by design, was being protested. People might not be able to point to a corporate capitalistic plot on their own but they can feel it. Off-shoring, the removal of profit, wages and tax revenues. The breaking of faith with the community and exploitation of others more desperate to join the first world followed by massive mergers and downsizing feeding the maw of unearned wealth on the insider gambling ring of stocks, derivatives and speculative markets. Bailouts from political cronies and massive profit taking reducing the available pot of life savings and deferred income, pensions, shifting the burden onto the taxpayer. Automating, the return of industry, with 14 technicians, 2 engineers and 4 managers that can accomplish what used to be 4,000 good paying positions. Meanwhile as infrastructure crumble and services dwindle, cuts are made against the interests of people and handsome subsidies go to industry, education is reduced to a core curriculum and higher education becomes a debt trap.

    As long as I am preaching, one more concept. One step. That’s the distance between the most advanced thing and the next wave that matches it or surpasses it. Cell phones were never an issue when only a few people had them and telephone booths abounded. Now that they are ubiquitous they affect laws, communications, the social order and have moved from a luxury commodity to necessity. Countries like India and China were never going to string enough copper wire to catch up to Europe or the US. In one step they caught up. In African communities phone minutes became a new currency. One step.

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