Date: June 23 2012
Weird that when the news broke that Fairfax was axing 1900 jobs, closing printing presses, chopping its broadsheets in half and ''monetising'' digital content that there was a certain element of glee mixed in with the shock, horror and awe. This ha-ha 'tude didn't come from journalists in other parts of the media, however. The media pool in Australia is too small for anyone to rejoice about job cuts and financial meltdowns anywhere (plus, by Wednesday, News Limited had its own bad news).
The prancing on the grave stuff came from the punters.
People I'd never heard of got in touch this week to let me know they were cool that Fairfax was in deep trouble and that Gina Rinehart might interrupt the whole ''editorial independence'' vibe.
''Just because you are a journalist do you think you are independent? Go Gina!'' an anonymous dude said. Someone else (who's Twitter profile picture is a pig with wings) told me that Fairfax jobs were under threat ''because public [sic] does not see these papers as fair and balanced''. ''AussieRice'' informed me that, ''I wont be paying when the pay wall goes up.''
Elsewhere on the interwebs, Tweeters reckoned that it would not matter if Farifax tanked.
''Who cares about #fairfax #paywalls - i get my news from #twitter''. Others suggested that if Rinehart buys Fairfax, ''read something else''. Another punter - using the #QandA hashtag - observed, ''we'll all be fine at the ABC.''
It's not unusual that when a news event happens, even if it is the news itself, that there are divergent opinions. And that those opinions contain a certain element of snark. But for all the experts and interested observers this week worried about the state of the media, there has been a concerning element of ''so long, suckers''.
This is not just about jobs for journalists and ensuring that I have a career that lasts longer than Julia Gillard's prime ministership. Nor is it about whether newspapers continue to exist in paper. If a significant chunk of the already tiny Australian media environment shrivels up and dies, it is a problem for everyone.
There are many reasons why the media in general and Fairfax in particular are struggling right now, but I'd wager that part of the problem is that people beyond the media don't see the media as their problem.
Sure, people complain about how woeful the media is: apparently it was a lot more informative, objective, witty and amazing in the 1980s. But they see this woefulness as the media's pickle. And hence the media's pickle if it ceases to exist.
Those within the media have a responsibility to do the best - most interesting, factual, fair and incisive - job they can amid shrinking budgets and dwindling bums on newsroom seats. But those who consume it - and care about the quality they consume - are not divorced from the process.
For one thing, readers influence what appears on new sites and where it appears. As author John Birmingham pointed out this week: ''Although comment threads and letters to the editor bemoan the decline in standards of journalism … most readers are less interested in hard news than they are in complete tosh.''
The media needs to encourage audiences to support the kind of media they say they want - by watching, clicking or reading a story that isn't about Lindsay Lohan's boobs and importantly, PAYING for it.
I wonder how many of the people who complain how crap the media is pay for anything they look at or read? Professional quality news and analysis is not free to produce. It should not be free to consume.
But it's not just about the prevalence and prominence of trashy celeb stories versus serious investigations and hard policy. Newspapers are a community resource in the same terms as schools, hospitals, cops and roads.
You might get all your news from Twitter and Q&A but chances are, in Canberra, social media is not going to go to the courts or the Legislative Assembly and pay attention, let alone apply scrutiny. They won't be explaining long and short-term weather trends in Canberra. They won't be investigating health inspections at northside restaurants or hospital beds at Calvary.
If the media is serious about surviving, it needs to engage communities better. Get them to support local and national publications as they would a local sporting club or charity.
Yes, there is an issue when the number of journalists drops, the output required grows and the quality has a hard time keeping up. But punters could take a chance on the media. See paying for content and sticking with publications like making an investment. Maybe even help reverse the downwards trend.
Because if whole swathes of our media go the way of the dodo (and are not replaced), it won't just be a case of ''don't know what you've got till it's gone''. It'll just be ''don't know''.
Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.
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