Chance for journalists to re-engage with public

Posted on November 29, 2011

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THE way out of the ”current crisis” in journalism will partly depend on redefining what news is as well as on journalists being more responsive to audiences, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Herald and Sun-Herald , Peter Fray, said last night.

Mr Fray called for a ”new compact” between journalists and editors and their audience, embracing the concepts of public good, collaboration, diversity, accountability and transparency.

”It’s easy to blame the business model, but I suspect there is something else going on here. The journalism has failed to keep up with needs in society, failed to engage audiences on their own terms, failed, in short, to write what people might want to read,” he said in a keynote address at the University of Sydney last night for a fellowship he recently completed with the media and communications department.

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Mr Fray said he was not speaking on behalf of Fairfax or the Herald but his views were based on his 25 years’ industry experience and on his time at the University of Sydney.

”The current crisis is an opportunity to restate and then re-invent what journalists and editors do and what audiences may want,” he said.

”Journalism is not about one thing: hard news in the name of the public good. There are many other functions, some of which receive scant attention or, in fact, are often derided – to the detriment of the audience,” he said.

For example, other roles for journalists might include analysis of events and ideas, advocacy for particular causes or ideas and engendering social empathy.

”These are all valid roles, though an inordinate amount of time is spent seeing the crisis in journalism through the prism of the press failing its fourth estate functions or its cousin, the public right to know,” he said.

He said investigative journalism and political journalism were vitally important and he did not advocate a move away from them. ”What I am saying is that we need to become more sophisticated and radical about the way we talk about journalism and its roles.”

The future of journalism must be collaborative – with other media, traditional and non-traditional, but especially with audiences, he said.

This includes working with ”citizen journalists” to tap into public opinion and monitor governments.

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