Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Journalism Matters: Outcomes

Over the weekend I attended the Journalism Matters conference in Wellington. The conference brought together journalists, academics, journalism educators and corporate representatives, and was organised by the EPMU to debate the state of New Zealand's news media and what can be done to improve it". Here's a rundown of the Sunday session.

Disclosure: I was invited to cover the conference by the EPMU.

Sunday morning had run over time, so the summit closed with a very rushed session on "possible solutions". This included some resolutions being passed, which I'll reproduce in full:

  1. The EPMU will lead a review of journalism in NZ over the next 6 months, inviting public submissions on the effects of growing commercial pressures on journalism, journalists' pay rates and the resulting loss of talent to PR, freelance pay rates, union membership, public interest broadcasting and the growing pressure on journalists to serve multiple media at once.
  2. The EPMU will also review the Journalists' Code of Ethics, available as Rule 42 of the EPMU rules at: http://www.epmu.org.nz/SITE_Default/about/rules/default.asp. Public submissions will be sought for this review too. The code needs to be updated to take account of new technology.
  3. We want taxpayer funding of TVNZ to be increased to a level that allows it to be a true public service broadcaster.
  4. We urge everyone concerned about democratic media to take every opportunity to create new media outlets committed to providing people with information about public issues in a coherent form, facilitating an exchange of ideas about those issues and building a sense of social cohesion as a foundation for social action.
  5. We support the work of the Bruce Jesson Foundation and urge other funders to fund independent investigative journalism on important public issues.
  6. We will establish a Movement for Democratic Media, with membership open to all NZers as well as the union, to create, support and link local websites and other media outlets reporting on public issues, and to campaign for publicly funded broadcasting.

The first of these is quite broad, and there was a lot of concern about whether it could do a proper job in only six months. But it might be useful in finding ways to avoid Alastair Thompson's doomsday scenario for print media. The fourth seems to be encouraging people to start blogs and generally just make some noise. The last was first suggested in Simon Collins' contribution to the commercial pressures forum as a means of

giv[ing] some coherence to all those bloggers and citizen journalists out there by encouraging a network of local news websites dedicated to public issue journalism... Any individual local news site, say in Wellington, would be lost in the vastness of the web, but if we could link it up with sites around the rest of the country, which share their best stories on a national news site, the combination could rival the commercial websites like Stuff and nzherald.co.nz.
But this seems to have morphed into a sort of advocacy group instead. Still, advocating for public broadcasting is important, and hopefully we'll see someone emerge to do it.