We Publish: a review (?)
What did the digital revolution ever do for journalism?
It’s a big topic, not only because first of all, you have to start defining words like ‘revolution’, ‘digital’, and ‘journalism’. As a Leeds-based writer – and predominantly online too – I found the recent WePublish event interesting, and in some ways educational, although it didn’t (couldn’t?) answer this question in its entirety. Chaired by Adam Westbrook, the event focused on a panel of Northern-based digital media providers: Emma Bearman (from The Culture Vulture, you might have heard of her), Nigel Barlow from Inside the M60, and Sarah Hartley, editor of The Guardian Local, exploring their experiences, ideas, and opening it up to the floor for comments and questions.
Firstly, what or who is a journalist? I wouldn’t even start to define myself in those terms, and it seemed as though maybe we ourselves, involved with the business, didn’t know for sure. The digital world seems to have blurred the boundaries of concrete descriptions like these that had previously been reserved for news desks and print rooms. Is it that a ‘journalist’ is investigative, curious, confident and stubbornly determined? Or it is that ‘journalism’ is prescribed by education, qualifications and experience?
And what about the digital revolution? While discussing what goodies it had brought – openness, accessibility, opportunity – there was a distinct feeling that with this it had brought the ‘business model’ of journalism crashing down round its ankles. How do these new forms of journalism and especially digital news media make any money? How do people get paid? With the demise of Guardian Local at the back of everyone’s minds, the discussion of ‘the dirty stuff’ seems to have become ever-so-slightly necessary.
The conversation at points veered into the traditional bemoaning of education establishments not providing for their students, which, frankly, seemed very dull. Since when have schools, colleges or universities equipped individuals with wisdom, initiative, ‘entrepreneurialism’ (used a lot that evening) or anything actually decent? That’s why people say they went to the School of Hard Knocks and the University of Life! Yes, maybe traditional education should be providing that. But when you’ve written a curriculum that’s affordable, teachable, and somehow fits in the ‘life skills’ that are needed for good journalists, you better let higher education know.
A good point was made that wasn’t really answered too: what has digital done for journalism as a genre, a skill set, a qualitative product? How has it altered ‘journalism’ as a concept? Has it really just replicated those narrowed newsrooms in mentality, but provided a slightly different job title? I think the desire here is to say it hasn’t – but I can’t be sure. Was the point of the ‘digital revolution’ to throw off the shackles of the printed oppressors and somehow move to an open, accessible platform, a complete free-for-all in the opinion stakes? Or was it to provide quality journalism that didn’t come with all the bollocks that print media has: like sponsorship, advertorial, bigotry, high running costs and censorship? Has it even done that?
Turns out this review is full of questions, rather than answers. I hope the next We Publish event will provide, if not the final say, then maybe the next step along this line of enquiry.Tags: creative, culture, guardian, journalists, leeds, review, we publish, writing