New Media Tastes Sweet

As traditional media outlets face the reality of failing business models some journalists are finding favour in online startups with a twist. Katherine Bransgrove reports on 'New Media's Upstarts'.

“One of the most popular articles of all time was my article on iced vovos,” said Mel Campbell of online site The Enthusiast

“No one else is really doing this kind of thing,” she said.

Ms Campbell joined the Melbourne Review’s Luke Stegemann, Chris Were of DelibNow, Michael Gawenda of the Centre for Advanced Journalism and Lauren Martin of The Global Mail for a panel discussion on “New Media Upstarts”

Experienced journalist and presenter of ABC’s Radio National Sunday Extra, Jonathan Green, led the discussion.

The panelists said that unlike most traditional media their specific content attracted an audience to their websites.

“We’re looking at ways to specialize,” Ms Martin said.

“If you become an authority in a particular area people will come to us.”

The panelists said twitter was an example of new media that differed from traditional journalism.

“I think twitter is a sharing system,” Mr Stegemann said.

“It’s all about the link.”

However Mr Gawenda said new media sites like The Drum resembled old media in their reluctance to encourage conversation.

“The Drum is a commentary site,” he said.

“It isn’t a conversation - it is an old form of commentary.”

Chris Were from DelibNow, which described itself as “a democratic news platform,” said encouraging conversation raised new issues.

“The difficulty is having the right tools to moderate a conversation,” he said.

“The loudest are the ones who get heard - not necessarily the best.”

Ms Campbell agreed you had to be vigilant that your online conversation wasn’t hijacked.

“You’ve got trolls and articles whose only point is to make people angry,” she said.

Mr Stegemann said new media has also blurred the line between professional and citizen journalists.

He said ninety percent of writers for The Melbourne Review were not journalists.

“You find people, be they architects, poets, politicians, a lot of these people are engaged in really interesting things and they write about them very well.

“We provide a platform for a lot of people and all the writing that comes in is quality checked.”

Michael Gawenda agreed the journalistic landscape had altered dramatically.

“The explosion in journalists’ salaries that began in the eighties is over,” he said.

“We’re living in a time where new models are developing for different types of journalism with far lower production costs and far lower staff costs.

“That was the case forty years ago.

“In a sense we’re living in Back to the Future.”

Mr Stegemann said that The Melbourne Review gained revenue entirely from advertising.

“Without the advertising we simply don’t exist,” he said.

“We have no qualms about the fact that we need to make money.

“It’s a business - end of story.”

Mr Gawenda suggested a body like the Australia Council could be set up to fund journalists and media venues.

“The fact is that good journalism enriches the culture in which we live,” he said.

“In Australia we need support.”

But the other panelists were not convinced a government body deciding their funding.

“We should have a process where we vote and collectively decide who gets funding,” Mr Were suggested.

One thing is certain. Media is changing and young journalists must adapt to it.

“I wouldn’t discourage you from taking that traditional path of getting into a regional newspaper and getting some basic training on those papers,” said Mr Gawenda.

“But that path is less open to young journalists than it was in the past.”

Ms Martin agreed.

“Five years ago people weren’t using facebook and twitter like they are now,” she said.

“I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like in five years but I think it will be a lot different and print journalists are no longer where they are five years ago either.

“I think people have come to embrace online as a news story telling landscape.”

“Really it’s about the story.”