How many times have we heard that handy little phrase thrown around to sow discord when the news agenda hasn’t suited, say, a sitting President, for example?
Commentators have turned away from the word fake, and are now more inclined to call it ‘false news’, which takes back the power of the idea from King Fake himself and is more apt an expression anyway.
We live in an age of unprecedented disinformation and where, thanks to the interwebs, there are more channels to spread it to. Where once the role of the journalist and media more broadly was to act as the gatekeeper of the ‘truth’, or, to quote an Aussie expression coined by ex-politician Don Chip, ‘keeping the bastards honest’, these once bastions of shining light are being pushed further and further to the brink of extinction.
Well, not all of them. Some of the big international mastheads are seeing upticks in their digital subscriptions and engagement, while others are being bought up and either eventually dismantled or subsumed into bigger media entities, which of course leads to more layoffs in newsrooms and ever-shrinking, more homogenous provision of news.
This week in Australia, Australian Associated Press called it a day after 85 years in the biz. For anyone who works or has worked in the press, this is an ominous sign of much, much worse to come. It came about because its owners, Australian news organisations News Corp. Australia, Nine Entertainment Co., Seven West Media and Australian Community Media pulled the pin on the grounds they were pulling way above their own financial weight and in effect subsidising competitors who had access to the service at far less cost.
Given AAP is renowned for its fair and impartial reporting and its extraordinary reach across rural and urban Australia, this is a major blow to not just the wider media industry, but to anyone who values the provision of news. While the larger media organisations might use some of the cash they were pumping into AAP to beef out their own newsrooms, meaning the job losses won’t be as bad as they immediately seem, the potential loss of diversity and objectivity is devastating.
It’s easy to blame the ex-owners of AAP for this, and sure, media organisations ended up not being agile enough in adapting to digital disruption, so they are partially to blame for not better finding ways to unshackle from the broken revenue model and find other ways to monetise, but we, the general public, must also take some blame.
Pre the internet, besides those who hoped to cop some free news at their local cafe where the newspaper was provided as part of the experience, people PAID for news. Not just the buck or so they shelled out as the newsstand, but rather for their eyeballs passing over all those (yes, irritating but necessary) ads squished in between the news. Ads that brought in revenue that paid the journos and editors and sub-editors and typesetters and everyone else involved in the production process of getting that news to the people.
This is why I get so very very angry with fools like the current (I stress ‘current’ because…I give ya ONE THING TO DO AMERICANS, ONE THING…) US President when he undermines what is left of the free press, and twerps who own massive social media companies pretending they are not publishers and therefore able to let go through to the public all manner of, let’s call it what it is, BULLSHIT AND LIES.
But I am also weary and jack of seeing or hearing so many people complain about the press and question why they should have to pay for their news…even though they would never try to get on a plane without a booking or enter a movie without a ticket or walk into a store and just take a carton of milk and walk out without paying.
Ok, some would, but you know what I’m saying.
I had been feeling less doom-n-gloom about the press in the last few years…it felt like there might still be the chance to save it from its very own end of days.
But with the end of AAP, I predict more of the same unless we, the public (and maybe some government intervention) step up and pay for our news and recognise that the world will become a dark, dark place if we do not have a fair, free and objective press to shine a light into its darkest places.