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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Sign O The Times

A couple of weeks ago my friend Ariadne Massa, Chief Sub-Editor and long standing journalist with The Times (of Malta), asked me to answer some questions on "on how the changes in technology impact the media business in Malta" for an in-house diploma organised by her newspaper bosses.

In the spirit of this blog and everything it has come to represent over the last 6 years, I asked Ariadne to reproduce her questions and my answers right here on my blog. Feel free to comment at the bottom of this blog post.

1. There has been an emergence of citizen journalism. What do you believe is the impact this has on the way traditional journalists report?

I believe that traditional journalists look at citizen journalism in one of two ways. The first way is to ignore it as something not worthy of their attention; how can someone without the proper training, professional experience or ample resources do what they do? The other way is for them to pillage and plunder whatever they can get from citizen journalism to fill their pages and airtime. By extension, I'd say that traditional reporting has been impacted depending on the approach adopted out of these two camps. Those ignoring it do it at their own peril and lack of respect for their audience. Those who get it realize that their profession is no longer as privileged as it once was.

2. Does citizen journalism provide a clearer picture of the news or is it unaccountable vigilantism?

I think it does both these things. It cuts through the stylistic way the news reports what's going on to give perspectives that are unheard of in traditional journalism. At the same time, if anyone can say anything they want, then that's exactly what's bound to happen too. However, I'd stress that it's not one or the other. Both are possible at the same time, in varying measures.

3. Abroad, newspapers have been dealt a blow by the internet, but this does not seem to be the case in Malta. What do you believe distinguishes us from other countries?

Size. Parochialism. (Ir)Relevance. Lack of updated higher education. Isolation. Misplaced pride. Nostalgia. Complacency. How about all of the above?

4. The newspaper industry is under siege from new media. What do you forecast will happen to newspapers by 2020?

Fewer people will want to read a newspaper printed on paper but they will not stop wanting to get the news that's relevant to them. Also, the newspaper industry will continue to realize that the newsprint cycle is no longer in step with contemporary lifestyles. Front page news at any early hour of the morning will continue to become more and more irrelevant as it's reporting something we've already heard about as it happened or through other media available on demand, where and when we want them.

5. What do you believe newspapers should do to face the challenges ahead?

Answers to this question depend in large part on the size of the newspaper and the community it serves. I don't think I can give a decent answer to this question here and (with all due respect to the interviewer) I wouldn't really want to unless I was being paid or given proper professional credit for it.

6. Please feel free to add any other comments which you feel are relevant.

What the newspaper industry really needs to realize is that the intermediary role it once served is being relegated to the junkyard of history. The industrial age, which gave us the newspaper industry, is being superseded by what some call the information age, where information wants to be free. By free we mean both as in no cost and as in freedom, of course.

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