Why I Won’t Miss Press Gazette

Because for all its “impact and authority”, Press Gazette was
never really like that for me. For one reason or another, I’ve found
myself working in the trade magazine niche of specialish magazines, and
the whole specialist magazine sector was never well covered by Press Gazette.
Journalism is a broad church, if you’ll excuse the cliche. Print
publications aren’t great at covering sucha  range of activity – but
the internet excells at it.

I think the lack of centralisation of the discussion about digital
journalism is one of its strengths: it’s dozens of over-lapping niche
discussions. The fact that ideas and debates move between journalism
educators, and local hacks, and trade journalists, and national press
hacks is one of the joys of the new way of talking about journalism,
and any new site has to acknowledge and be part of that.
Journalism.co.uk has done that very successfully, I think, which is why
I have far more affection for it than for the Media Guardian, which is
still more of the “we are the centre” model.  

Pushing for one centralised hub for discussion feels, to me, like
another example of harking back to the pre-internet days when there
could be one or two dominant players.

What Martin is calling for already exists.Genuine debate and discussion is happening now, in this
blog post, in hundreds like it, in forums and on Twitter and in
ever-increasing numbers of places across the web. There are probably
more words being published about journalism right now than at any other
time in its history. And if we don’t learn the lesson of that, and
realise that that is happening to every industry, hobby and interest,
then many, many more journalistic jobs will be lost. 

  • Angus Batey

    Hello Adam,

    Interesting argument, as always.

    I think you’re right in your analysis, but I draw different conclusions. There may be more debate and discussion now than in the past, but keeping up with it all never been more thankless a task. The overlapping niches mean that the vibrancy of the discussion in one area may be entirely missed elsewhere, even if the arguments and lessons are widely applicable, because the multiplicity of voices and forums mean most participants won’t have time to stray too far outside areas they feel most engaged with. I only know about you from our mutual membership of an NUJ email network, and came to this posting via your Twitter update linking to it. We work in different journalistic areas yet share plenty of concerns, but it’s kind of down to luck that our paths have crossed. That suggests there is still a considerable need for some centralisation, as Martin Cloake argues. While some discussions are better off taking place between specialists, there are many vital and urgent debates that affect most of us, and we’re not really going to get the most out of the opportunities all this media affords us if we have to spend too long tracking them all down. Maybe that’s where blogs like yours come in, but that still ultimately means someone is doing the job of trying (and inevitably failing) to keep on top of every aspect of a widespread discussion.

    Cheers,

    AB

  • zamiel.livejournal.com

    The cynic in me suggests that the day of the Central Hub aggregators has passed, and the era of the “experimental aggregator” is here. That is, if someone wants to try and be an aggregator, specializing in linking together conversation and debate across the sphere, they can. At almost no cost. Just start up a blog and start linking and drawing connections; if folks find them sufficiently useful, their readership (and tip0offs) will grow. If not, they’ll die.

    Since one hasn’t grown organically, yet, I’m betting the memetic ecosphere for aggregators in the “journalistic writing” niche doesn’t need one yet, but given how easy it is to start whipping something up, it’d be easy to experiment with. Hell, might be worth tinkering with some kind of semi-automated system that took tagged entries from folks’ del.icio.us and/or Google Reader shares and simply noted appearance frequencies, et al.

    Do I want to build it? No. But it’s a relatively straightforward idea. Would anyone use / read it? Now there’s the rub.

  • martincloake

    Adam, I agree that PG had its failings – and I mentioned the paucity of its magazine coverage on my blog. And I agree that the “dozens of overlapping niche discussions” on the web is a real strength.
    But, as Angus Batey says, it takes time and effort to keep up with everything that is being said, and establishing something which is a first port of call could serve to direct more people to even more of those links and discussions.
    With PG closing, and Andy Dickinson shutting up shop, at least for now, some useful resources have been lost. Journalism.co.uk is OK, and I’ve found much of it useful, but it gets some things wrong too sometimes and it doesn’t yet feature the breadth or depth of analysis that seems to be being suggested in some areas. Perhaps the answer is to develop this area of jco.
    “Centralisation” is an emotive word, and I do hope this discussion doesn’t turn into one of those “old media versus new” debates. Diversity can be enabling and democratising, but can also lead to atomisation. Having a generally-accepted central point to go to can help provide authority in a constructive, rather than command, way and also serve to strengthen the points to which it connects.

  • Martin, while I understand the desire to have a centralised place, I just don’t think the social web works that way. In the 8 years I’ve been active in blogging, I’ve yet to see a single site rise to prominence for a single topic matter in the way you suggest. Instead, you tend to see atomisation in the way you suggest, but not necessarily in a bad way. Instead, as each area of discussion grows, it breaks down into sub discussions with two or three dominant voices within each sphere and many, many periphery voices. But there will always be areas of overlap between the different discussion spheres, with a dominant voice in one sphere often being a periphery voice in another – and these connectors, if you will, will bring the most important issues to the attention of others.

    Three years ago, I could just about comfortably follow everything that was happening in the journo discussion space. Now I can’t. But I don’t care – because the most important stuff finds its way to me, even on blogs I’ve never encountered before. That’s the nature of internet discussion.

    Theoretically, I can see the appeal of a centralised space – but I think the growing volume of discussion would quickly render such a site unwieldy, and prone to just being a popularity test, as, say, Techmeme has become. And empirically, I just don’t think it happens, because internet discussion is just too dynamic and too prevalent to be organised like that.

  • martincloake

    Adam, yes, there’s much to think about, and much that prompts thought about the wider media world. I tend to start any analysis from the question of ‘what’s it for?’ So, a centralised forum for discussion would, I’d say, clearly not be worth addressing for the very reasons you outline. And for the main reason that you identify – discussion is already going along very nicely across the web.
    But a centralised forum for analysis, which in turn sparked and evaluated discussion, is something different, and would benefit if it had some authority beyond simply being an individual expression of individual opinion. It’s a bit like why I still use the BBC (and I know there is another huge discussion we could get into here) or The Times or Runners World or World Soccer – online and in print. I know that, despite their faults, the processes those brands go through to publish and research are, on the whole, fairly reliable.
    This is where this discussion leads to the larger questions of how, why and where we use the web to communicate and how, why and where we use it to produce journalism. The two things are not the same.
    I don’t dismiss what is seen as a traditional model of establishing authority and reliability in a central space as necessarily elitist or outdated. I think what journalism is about is establishing trust and authority in order to distinguish it from what is simply comment. I know that gets a lot of people’s backs up, but I think they’re being oversensitive. There is a difference between journalism and comment, but one is not necessarily better than the other – it depends on the circumstances.
    When you say the most important stuff finds its way to you, you can’t possibly know. You do know what you think is important amongst the stuff that finds its way to you.
    There is nothing elitist or outdated about establishing a space in which anyone who thinks they have a contribution to make can contribute. The web, in fact, makes that easier because of linking and different considerations of space. In turn, anyone interested in keeping up with debate and discussion would know that this space would be a good starting point. As people grew to find the space more reliable, so its reliability would grow, more quickly and with more depth than many different spaces developing separately.
    I agree the PG didn’t do that enough, and neither does the NUJ magazine The Journalist. And BJR is narrowly academic and newspaper-focused. But I think there just may be enough feeling generated by the closure of PG to make the jump to what would be something useful.
    It would be pretty odd if the journalist’s trade could not produce a trade publication.

  • zamiel.livejournal.com

    The biggest problem with the idea of any kind of central hub for analysis, as I see it, is there’s no way to establish “authority” in any meaningful sense anymore, and particularly in journalism. In particular, there’s been plenty of opportunity to “establish authority” when the practice was more feasible in print, and while there are loci that claim authority, the fact they haven’t maintained it in the shift from Old to New Media implies to me that the authority that they claimed was arrogation rather than earned.

    There’s an important thing that comes to mind when I see this in your comment:

    “But a centralised forum for analysis, which in turn sparked and evaluated discussion, is something different, and would benefit if it had some authority beyond simply being an individual expression of individual opinion.”

    It seems to me that one of the biggest take aways in the shift to social media is the absolute destruction of the idea that underpins your thought, and to state it directly:

    “All authority is only an individual expression of individual opinion.”

    There might be folks that agree with that expression, they may say similar things, but ultimately it is that and only that. The only authority is what the reader issues a commentary based on their own judgement. They may judge some folks “authorities.” Those people and their opinions become hubs of activity and exchange emergently. But in the New Media, authority can’t be trivially arrogated, it has to be allocated. Which is, ultimately, why what you’re wanting won’t happen.

  • martincloake

    Alexander,
    I’m afraid I don’t agree with the kind of relativism that seems to underpin your argument. If we accept there is “no meaningful way” to establish authority, particularly in journalism, then we might as well give up and society would be the poorer. Bob Woodward’s view and Richard Nixon’s were not both equally valid, all authority is not “only” an individual expression of individual opinion, the view that the earth is flat can be genuinely held, but it lacks the authority of scientific proof.
    This could come across as sharply put, it’s hard to convey nuance on a blog thread, but you seem to contradict your own argument anyway. If there’s no way to establish authority, then there’s no way whether the authority is established by the writer or the reader.
    What you seem to end up saying is that people will judge the validity or authority of something for themselves based upon what they read over a period of time. That’s how brands build trust, and it’s what I’m suggesting could happen with a central forum that compliments, rather than replaces, the many existing forums for discussing journalism.
    My original suggestion was just that, a suggestion. It’s also a suggestion that other people have floated. It might not work, but I don’t think it can be dismissed – like rather too many viewpoints these days – as simply indicative of “old media”.
    All of which is intended in a constructive spirit.

  • Tom Davies

    This is an interesting and important discussion but I do think what Martin’s saying is being misinterpreted by others as a call for some kind of old-school (nay, Reithian) ‘authoritative centralisation’, when that’s not really the issue.

    It’s clear that anything like the old-style weekly newsy newspaper-dominated Press Gazette isn’t coming back, but we sometimes overstate how vibrant and inclusive what’s replaced it actually is. For example, I’m currently sitting in a busy office full of journalists. I suspect maybe two or three people in it, max, have come across this blog. Most journalists don’t spend much of their down time reading about journalism. When copies of PG would flying about, however, most people would have a quick glance through it.

    So while Adam’s right to say that more analytical words are written about journalism now than at any time in history, and that this is a good thing, we need to be careful about overestimating the numbers of actual people involved in writing, reading and discussing them. And there is something of an arrogance in saying “most of the important stuff makes its way to me”. Who decides what’s important? And sometimes it’s good to be confronted by the stuff you’re not that interested in and that you don’t find that important.

    Sober perspectives are, as ever, important here.

  • And there is something of an arrogance in saying “most of the important stuff makes its way to me”.

    How on earth is that arrogant? It’s nothing to do with anything I do, because other people are the ones who push it in front of me. In many ways, it’s a statement of passivity, rather than action. It’s certainly significantly less arrogant than me, as a journalist, saying “everything that’s important will be presented by my colleagues in this publication”.

  • Actually, if you’re not aware of the origin of the idea that important news will find its way to you, it’s worth reading this article: Finding Political News Online, The Young Pass It On. Jeff Jarvis picked up on it and ran with it somewhat.

  • zamiel.livejournal.com

    “Bob Woodward’s view and Richard Nixon’s were not both equally valid, all authority is not “only” an individual expression of individual opinion, the view that the earth is flat can be genuinely held, but it lacks the authority of scientific proof.”

    Common misperception. We’re not discussing Truth, we’re talking about Authority. Unfortunately for the very idea that you can establish a central hub of journalistic analysis and introspection, Truth and Authority only usually travel in the same boat and sometimes then only grudgingly. If you were simply talking about creating more discussion and better discussion wherever it might spring up, or trying to create an open garden where it would bloom under some kind of oversight, you might be closer to something that would work.

    But that’s not what you’re saying.

    Adam expresses something very important to the discussion and it gets right to why the “cultivated green-space” idea really doesn’t work anymore when he said “most of the important stuff makes its way to me.” He decides what’s important — to him! Most of the important stuff, ie. things I’m likely to think of as important, make their way to me through entirely different channels — because Adam and I think very different things are important! I’m interested in the development of the New Media architecture almost wholly independent of the Old Media architecture, he’s interested in the shifting hybrid, and I’m sure there are folks out there who literally care nothing for blogs and social media who only want to detail the crumbling and decay of the edifice of Print. Analysis of journalism that is “important” to each of those sets is diverse! There literally could be no central authority that covered them all, yet all three are “journalistic analysis.” And each of them have sets of feeds, friends, and indicators which bring to them stories and articles they consider “important” and which any or all of the the rest would find meaningless, even trite.

    Now multiply the number of entities, the number of marginally or greatly overlapping fields by thousands. That’s the media landscape. You’re discussing establishing a branding authority but the idea of what that authority would mean is empty.

    Adam’s touched on what authority and readership really mean in the new architecture, and I want to just break it out in short points:

    • Write the truth.
    • Write well.
    • Write what you know.
    • Tell people you’re writing.

    And that’s it. Do those things consistently and well and what you’re writing will accrue authority. People will slowly begin to think what you write is meaningful and important, they’ll pass it on, and you spread through the Web of Trust. Eventually, you may accrue so much authority that when you nod to another source, some of your readers consider it an endorsement, read them, and allocate a portion of the authority (or “egoboo” as we old school UseNet grognards used to refer to it in the days before there was a web) they offer you to the new guy.

    That’s the only real authority in this system. And that’s a good thing. Authority is much closer to being earned, not simply assumed. Truth holds a much bigger weighting in the reader’s view. These are all hugely positive developments.

    Martin said:

    “What you seem to end up saying is that people will judge the validity or authority of something for themselves based upon what they read over a period of time. That’s how brands build trust, and it’s what I’m suggesting could happen with a central forum that compliments, rather than replaces, the many existing forums for discussing journalism.”

    There’s one huge problem here. Martin seems to intend this construct, this additional forum to “complement rather than replace,” the assumption being that it’s inherently different in some qualitative way. But that’s not borne out and it’s not the case: any additional fora you would create would be just that, Just Another Forum Covering Journalistic Analysis, no more important or unimportant than any of the others that pop up every day. It is just another forum. There’s no magic to it, no immediate assumptive cachet. Implicitly, you seem to suggest it would cover things you consider important that you don’t think would get pushed around by the rest of the informosphere (stepping beyond the mere blog domain).

    None of that asserts authority. None of it means anyone but you would consider the contents important. Perhaps most meaningfully, the previous sentence would be true even if the content could be objectively about “important things.” Importance being a subjective measure, that is a meaningless Platonic ideal.

    Regardless, the truth remains that if you want a theoretically “authoritative hub” of articles written about journalistic analysis, there’s only one way. Start writing it. Find another few writers to throw in. Reach out the folks who already are news-leaders and reference hubs and nod back and forth. And, most importantly, write good stuff.

    If people think it’s interesting, I’ll hear about it. Eventually. If it’s my kind of interesting.

  • martincloake

    I never used the word ‘truth’. Alexander has, and bases much of what he says on the assertion that I am arguing for something which presents “the truth”. I am actually talking about “an open garden where [analysis] would bloom under some kind of oversight”.

    Alexander says “you seem to suggest it would cover things you consider important that you don’t think would get pushed around by the rest of the informosphere (stepping beyond the mere blog domain).” I don’t.

    “Regardless, the truth remains that if you want a theoretically “authoritative hub” of articles written about journalistic analysis, there’s only one way. Start writing it. Find another few writers to throw in. Reach out the folks who already are news-leaders and reference hubs and nod back and forth. And, most importantly, write good stuff.” Alexander, this is what a number of people, including me, are suggesting. We seem to agree, although you have put a lot of effort into arguing that what you’re suggesting here is not possible – is in fact old media arrogance.

    I find Alexander’s final comment interesting. “If people think it’s interesting, I’ll hear about it. Eventually. If it’s my kind of interesting.” The very multiplicity of voices means this is unlikely to be, and now I am using the word, true. And the word interesting is, er, interesting. I am not particularly “interested” in what I see as an obsession with medium over message in some quarters. But I think the discussion is important. It is an efficient use of time and resources to go to a point where one is more likely – not certain, just more likely – to find information and opinion which carries some authority. I refer you to my point about Runner’s World or World Soccer or Construction News etc.

    Adam, I am not for a moment saying “everything that’s important will be presented by my colleagues in this publication”. I think what Tom Davies says is worth thinking about.

    I don’t think any of this is anything to fall out over, or for anyone to denounce anyone as being out of touch, authoritarian or anything else. There’s a thread of relativism here that I happen to think is not productive, but that’s a point of view. I think it’s too easy to come across as heated in a web discussion, and it’s a characteristic of the – awful word – blogosphere that is particularly unattractive. Discussion is valuable, and issues don’t have to be black and white.

  • Angus Batey

    Coming back to this after a few days is – to coin a phrase – interesting.

    The key thing for me here is this notion that “everything” of interest will eventually hove into view. And the crux for me is somewhere between these two thoughts:

    Firstly, I’m interested in some aspects of this discussion, but were it not for the chance making of Adam’s acquaintance online a few months ago I wouldn’t be aware of it, so the part luck has played in me reading this is prominent in my thinking about the issues raised. I probably don’t qualify as anything like a fully engaged participant in new media: my online habits have been shaped by what I suppose are the philosophies (or more likely habits) I’ve picked up over a lifetime of interacting with traditional media. My TV watching is still predominantly based around scheduled programming, where some centralised hub decides what to broadcast and when, and I watch or not on that basis – despite me having a Virgin Plus box which in many respects renders scheduling irrelevant other than to determine the earliest time a particular programme can be watched. My online habits follow similar patterns to my print habits – when I have specific questions I want answered I seek out places where the answer may be found and decide on the worth of the information and its trustworthiness by examining the source (the same process as researching a topic in a library), but when I’m just browsing to see what’s out there I tend to go to the same series of hubs – titles – I know and trust and feel comfortable with. So if there’s a discussion that might interest me, but I’m not specifically trying to find it, and it isn’t being covered by one of the sites I visit regularly, it’s highly likely I’m never going to see it, regardless of how interesting I’d find it.

    But the second and equally powerful thought is that, of bleeding course, I did find this. It is interesting to me. Ergo, Adam’s point is unarguably correct, if only in this one specific instance.

    Along with others above, I’m also not at all keen (or, indeed, interested) in getting into a “which is best? Old or new media?” debate, here or anywhere really. But I think I’m beginning to understand why they’re so prevalent and why the positions get so entrenched. Essentially, I’ve grown up with and got used to a system of media where information is pushed towards me; the current and evolving landscape’s key differing characteristic is that it requires the engaged (and, yes, interested) user to be much more proactive. So there will be an element of impatience and exasperation from those who carry out this more labour- and time-intensive form of engagement with media towards those of us stuck in ways that probably seem lazy and disinterestedly passive. Recognising that difference, and how it affects attitudes during discussions like this, is about as far as I want to go down that route.

    Dunno where all that leaves me, really, other than that I remain pleased to be aware of this discussion, but less pleased to be aware that there are certainly hundreds more similarly provocative and useful conversations being had which I don’t know about. I’d still definitely prefer it if the process of finding them relied less on unfocused search or happenstance. I still ultimately would be happiest if there was a single place I could add to my list for daily or weekly visits which would point me in the direction of the discussions that I wouldn’t otherwise know I wanted to know about. But I do also understand the way the wind is blowing, and accept that it’s far more likely that I will change my media habits than it is that such a hub would be built.

    Cheers,

    AB

  • Along with others above, I’m also not at all keen (or, indeed, interested) in getting into a “which is best? Old or new media?” debate, here or anywhere really.

    It’s not of great interest to me either – I’ll argue about how the two are different until the cows come home, but I still love print, and should probably blog more about how I think print and social media can usefully support each other. Another one for the list. 🙂

  • martincloake

    Adam, Angus – it seems we share similar views. And Adam – that is one for the list – I’ll keep an eye out for when you do post. But drop me a line too, just in case 🙂