Category Archives: Online Journalism

The new face of independent Australian journalism

“Independent media can go to where the silence is and break the sound barrier”

Amy Goodman

Independent journalism has never been more important in the Australian media landscape.

With an increase in corporate interests in the mainstream media, and a steady decline in profits amongst traditional mediums, independent and thorough investigative journalism has never been as necessary.

A week ago the Guardian broke the story of how Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s daughter, Frances Abbott, was granted a slightly dodgy scholarship at the Whitehouse Institute.

The vast majority of the follow-up, scrutiny and persistent investigation did not come from any mainstream source in Australia however. It came from a site once described as an “experiment in how cheaply a news outlet can be run”, an underdog in Australian journalism: New Matilda.

New Matilda’s coverage of this story has illustrated just how important independent journalism is. In the past week, virtually the entire site has been devoted to the Whitehouse story, something that more mainstream sources cannot afford to do.

New Matilda is a brave, stubborn journalistic organisation, one that demands answers and won’t stop until it receives them.

Since the story broke, they’ve posted numerous exclusive stories investigating this situation extremely closely, including testimonies from insiders, leaked documents, and the revelation that Francis Abbott was chosen “on merit” to help lobby federal government regulators.

All of these stories were exclusive to New Matilda, and hardly covered at all by mainstream sources, even the Guardian.

It is crucial, long-form investigative journalism, something sorely lacking from the Australian media world.

We’re lucky that New Matilda is even still around, with Chris Graham coming to the rescue after former editor Marni Cordell announced the site would be closing down as it couldn’t compete financially with larger organisations.

New Matilda’s recent performance proves why it was so important that it survived. This sort of scrutiny and demand for accountability is what defines good, influential journalism, and in many ways, these stories could only be covered by independent organisations. There are many other independent sources in Australia too, with the likes of Crikey, the Conversation, and the Stringer.

New Matilda describes itself as “independent journalism at its best”, and after the last week it’s almost impossible to argue with this.

(Photo: New Matilda)

Nine reasons why Buzzfeed is a real news source

Under a veil of cat gifs and endless listicles, Buzzfeed has real journalistic potential, and to ignore it would be to overlook what may prove to be a financially viable model for future journalism.

Mumbrella reported yesterday that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) will be rethinking what online content classifies as ‘news’. Buzzfeed is currently categorised under “search engines, portals, and communities”.

Australian editor Simon Crerar says the site is just as newsworthy as others, and would be the tenth most popular in the category.

“We consider ourselves a news and entertainment company in the same way that NineMSN, news.com.au and the Mail Online have a mix between hard news and entertainment content.”

Buzzfeed began in 2006 as a resource for viral content, built around a model of ‘sharing’. But now it’s making very real efforts to be viewed as a genuine source of quality journalism, hiring the likes of Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Schoofs to head an investigative unit.

Buzzfeed Australia hosted a launch in January with the Walkley Foundation, immediately signaling its intentions to move away from the viral content and towards the news.

IAB’s task is unenviable: to define what does and doesn’t constitute ‘news’. All it takes is a look at today’s Buzzfeed front page to see the issues it will be facing.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 11.04.02 AM

It features few, if any, traditional ‘news’ stories. Most is light entertainment, and there’s little evidence of the serious journalism they are now endeavoring to create.

One click on the ‘News’ tab reveals a different story.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 11.04.20 AM

There are very real, serious news stories, without any gifs or pictures of cats. This contrast exemplifies the challenges IAB will face in determining what sites are ‘news’.

If the likes of news.com.au is classified as a ‘news’, then Buzzfeed must also be included in this category.

While critics comment on pointless lists and clickbait headlines, it is undoubtedly a successful model.

The listicles provide the vast majority of revenue for the site, but this is a necessary means to provide genuine and important journalism.

Buzzfeed has found a way to survive financially and still create some journalism.

Whatever you think about their method, Buzzfeed may well have demonstrated a viable model journalism in the future, and could lead to a complete rethink of what constitutes ‘news’ in the meantime.

Outsourcing the news: how far is too far?

“The photographers are the eyes, the witness to history in the making.”

Tamara Dean, Fairfax photographer.

Last Wednesday, Fairfax announced plans to cut up to 70 full-time newspaper positions, including 75% of their entire photographers. This led staff to go on a 24-hour strike and to post support for those facing the axe.

Staff were told their work would be outsourced to Getty Images, an American stock photo agency.

Fairfax newspapers are well known for the quality of their photography, but as discussed on Media Watch last night this calibre of visual content is now in danger.

In a brilliant article published by the Conversation yesterday, Andrea Carson, a journalism lecturer at the University of Melbourne, also questioned how far companies can outsource elements of journalism before the quality is impacted.

I had the pleasure of working at the Age for two weeks earlier this year, and one of the main things that stuck with me from this experience was the importance and unique talents of photographers.

It was a slight shock to me that most of my work was done from the comfort of my desk, rather than out in the field. For the most part, it was the photographers that went out and actually observed and documented the events, not the journalists. Due to a shortage of writers and time constraints, it’s simply not feasible for journalists to be at every story when interviews can be done from the office.

I also spent time at the Border Mail, where a photographer accompanied me in the field, finding the artistic, visual side of the story while I found the written side. Many times, the photographer would also discover important information, with the interviewee often being less guarded around them rather than someone they know is a reporter.

Taylor Glascock runs a blog comparing the pictures used by two papers in Chicago: one that sacked all of its photographers last year, and another that retained theirs. The blog provides a damning illustration of the decline in visual quality when photography is outsourced.

This quality and commitment to telling a story and making a real difference cannot be maintained if photography is outsourced. Outsourcing and taking shortcuts to save money is inevitable in the 21st century, but there must be a line drawn at some point to prevent a drastic decline in the quality of journalism.