As a punter, books written on media – particularly ones based on the relationship between traditional media institutions and the internet – fascinate me. I don’t want to be a journalist as I am quite happy in my small business, but I am an avid devourer of news who happens to work in the IT industry. I include this disclaimer before discussing Tim Dunlop’s book, “The New Front Page: New Media and the Rise of the Audience” to make it clear that I am not a media insider. I am the ‘Audience’ Mr Dunlop refers to.
I see on Twitter the awful disrespectful tone of the #MSM hashtag applied to anything in the media that some Tweeps disagree with. I have also done my fair share of whinging when I can’t comprehend why something is not reported that I feel should be, or when I am told by journalists that “I don’t understand the context” or “It’s just politics, that point is not important…” etc.
I do understand that many are doing a job, they have editors, they don’t normally choose their own headlines and are often overworked. What I did not understand until I read Tim Dunlop’s book is why so many journalists are aggressive, aloof or blatantly ignore you when you do ask a polite question. I wonder why some journo’s are on Twitter, as it is interactive, though quite a few like to chat amongst their own elite professional group, with the odd tweet to the unwashed masses flogging a piece they have written.
As a person on Twitter who asks too many questions, this comment really appealed to me as I have thought to myself, “Hello, do you want me to buy your paper or subscribe at all”?
“Commenters, and those who speak to you via social media, are not the enemy; they are the audience.”
“The New Front Page” gives an excellent, easy to understand though detailed explanation as to how we have come to the stage we are at now in the relationship between traditional media and online interests.w Tim Dunlop has done a serious amount of research and I thoroughly appreciated it. Many authors writing on contemporary topics tend to forget that the reader may not be au fait with the history surrounding that topic and gloss over even limited explanations, and thankfully this is not the case here.
Not that the reader is treated like an outsider who knows nothing about the industry. Instead Tim has subtly included the reader in the information that he is imparting. As anyone on Twitter would know, there is a hard core cadre of people who watch the news, journos and politics like a hawk, though most of us slide in and out due to ‘life’.
I was not aware of how blogging got started or how newspapers in the US first handled them. I was not aware of the disconnect between reporting of the Iraq War and what experts were saying online.
Margo Kingston and I arrived on Twitter at the same time and luckily happened to interact and got to know each other by chance. I knew that she had been an ex-journalist and I knew she had an interest in citizen journalism, though I had no idea how important her contribution in the form of ‘Webdiary’ was back in the early days of newspaper online experimentation. I now have a much better understanding why the progression of offline to online news has been so slow and often erratic.
This sort of background knowledge is important to understand how we have reached the awkward stage we are at now. From the pieces I have read on The Drum from Mr Dunlop, I would have expected this book to be more critical of traditional media, but anyone expecting a bashing of the mainstream media will be disappointed. Faults and mistakes in the media are pointed out in a thoughtful, questioning way as to what went wrong and various solutions or positions that could be taken in the future to ensure they stay viable without quality journalism being as a casualty.
In fact, Tim seems to be more concerned about democracy and having informed citizens. He is not a limited, online only fanbois as this quote below referring to the role of Journalism being fundamental to our democracy illustrates.
“Critics on social media and elsewhere are quite correct to point out how badly the mainstream often does this work, and all power to them. But no matter how righteous such complaints are, the fact is – and let me put this bluntly – democracies need a mainstream media more than they need citizen journalists.”
Some journalists will not be happy with some examples of media failures in this book, though Tim does not relate them to hit out at the media, but to show what went wrong in the past and what the media should be aware of to make themselves more important to their audience.
Both media and politics are treating citizens as a demographic to be marketed to instead of citizens or audiences who should be listened to and catered to. Punters can’t make good decisions without good information and maybe if we received solid, fact-based information from the media we could as citizens make informed decisions which would result in better democratic choices.
I truly hope that journalists and media experts read this book. You may not agree with all that Tim Dunlop has to say, though at least think of the questions he is raising with an open mind.
I also suggest that social media punters read this book, as it will give you a better understanding as to where many journalists are coming from and how we can both ‘assist’ and ‘insist’ that we as the audience are catered to at the level we expect.
Most bloggers I am familiar with are not ‘pretend’ journalists, though they are normally curious and questioning in nature, “The New Front Page” will answer some questions for you and at the same time give you more to think about.
This book was not quite what I was expecting it to be, though I’m far from disappointed. It is a bookshelf keeper to be referred to again over time, to be the base of discussion and debate on the back deck over drinks.
For that, Tim Dunlop, I thank you, and look forward to more stimulating, thought provoking writing from you in the future.