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Todd Gitlin’s keynote JiC speech transcript: The four wolves who crept up to journalism’s door

Following our round-up of the Westminster students coverage of last week’s Journalism in Crisis conference, we’ll link to one final item:

Professor Todd Gitlin’s keynote speech, given via Skype, on the first day of the Westminster University / British Journalism Review Journalism in Crisis event (May 19):  ‘A Surfeit of Crises: Circulation, Revenue, Attention, Authority, and Deference’.

Gitlin, who is professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, talked about how four wolves have arrived at the door of journalism ‘simultaneously, while a fifth has already been lurking for some time’. These were the wolves no-one was expecting, because everyone’s been crying wolf for so long. Gitlin spoke mainly in regards to American journalism because ‘it is what I know best’.

He used quotes and statistics from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism ‘Changing Newsroom’ 2008 report, and also his own anecdotal evidence and academic references, to illustrate the predicament – which he feels is fair to call a number of ‘crises’ – that journalism faces.

Here are a few choice extracts:

  • The four wolves at the door, and the fifth one lurking: “One is the precipitous decline in the circulation of newspapers.  The second is the decline in advertising revenue, which, combined with the first, has badly damaged the profitability of newspapers. The third, contributing to the first, is the diffusion of attention.  The fourth is the more elusive crisis of authority. The fifth, a perennial – so much so as to be perhaps a condition more than a crisis – is journalism’s inability or unwillingness to penetrate the veil of obfuscation behind which power conducts its risky business.”
  • Circulation of newspapers: “Overall, newspaper circulation has dropped 13.5 per cent for the dailies and 17.3 per cent for the Sunday editions since 2001; almost 5 per cent just in 2008.  In what some are calling the Great Recession, advertising revenue is down – 23 per cent over the last two years – even as paper costs are up.  Nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone.  Foreign bureaus have been shuttered – all those of the Boston Globe, for example, New England’s major paper.
  • “I have been speaking about newspapers’ recent decline, but to limit the discussion to the last decade or so both overstates the precipitous danger and understates the magnitude of a secular crisis—which is probably a protracted crisis in the way in which people know—or believe they know—the world.  In the US, newspaper circulation has been declining, per capita, at a constant rate since 1960. The young are not reading the papers.  While they say they ‘look’ at the papers online, it is not clear how much looking they do.”
  • “The newspaper was always a tool for simultaneity (you don’t so much read a paper as swim around in it, McLuhan was fond of saying) at least as much as a tool for cognitive sequence.  What if the sensibility that is now consolidating itself—with the Internet, mobile phones, GPS, Facebook and Twitter and so on – the media for the Daily Me, for point-to-point and many-to-many transmission—what if all this portends an irreversible sea-change in the very conditions of successful business?”
  • The Clamor for Attention: “Attention has been migrating from slower access to faster; from concentration to multitasking; from the textual to the visual and the auditory, and toward multi-media combinations.  Multitasking alters cognitive patterns.  Attention attenuates.  Advertisers have for decades talked about the need to ‘break through the clutter,’ the clutter consisting, amusingly, of everyone else’s attempts to break through the clutter.  Now, media and not just messages clutter.”
  • “Just under one-fifth of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 claim to look at a daily newspaper – which is not to say how much of it they read. The average American newspaper reader is 55 years old. Of course significant numbers of readers are accessing – which is not to say reading – newspapers online, but the amount of time they seem to spend there is bifurcated.  In roughly half of the top 30 newspaper sites, readership is steady or falling.  Still, ‘of the top 5 online newspapers –  ranked by unique users – [the] three [national papers] reported growth in the average time spent per person: NYTimes.com, USAToday.com, and the Wall Street Journal Online.’ One thing is clear:  Whatever the readership online, it is not profitable.”
  • “The question that remains, the question that makes serious journalists tremble in the U. S., is:  Who is going to pay for serious reporting?  For the sorts of investigations that went on last year, for example, into the background of the surprise Republican nominee for Vice President, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.”
  • Authority: “Journalism’s legitimacy crisis has two overlapping sources: ideological disaffection from right and left, and generalized distrust. Between them, they register something of a cultural sea change.  The authority of American journalism has, for a century or so, rested on its claim to objectivity and a popular belief that that claim is justified. These claims are weakening.”
  • Deference: “We have seen in recent years two devastating failures to report the world – devastating not simply in their abject professional failures but in that they made for frictionless glides into catastrophe.  The first was in the run-up to the Iraq war (…) More recently, we have the run-up to the financial crisis (…) Given these grave failures of journalism even when it was operating at greater strength not so long ago, one might say that rampant distrust is a reasonable and even a good thing.”
  • Resolutions: “The Project on Excellence’s conclusion is that ‘roughly half of the downturn in the last year was cyclical, that is, related to the economic downturn. But the cyclical problems are almost certain to worsen in 2009 and make managing the structural problems all the more difficult.’ Notice the reference to ‘managing the structural problems.’  They cannot be solved, they can only be managed.  The unavoidable likelihood, pending a bolt from the blue, is that the demand for journalism will continue to decline and that no business model can compensate for its declining marketability.  No meeting of newspaper people is complete these days without a call – some anguished, some confident – for a ‘new business model’ that would apply to the online ‘paper.’  The call has been issued over the course of years now.  It might be premature to say so, but one might suspect that it has not been found because there is none to be found.”
  • “What I do know is that journalism is too important to be left to those business interests. Leaving it to the myopic, inept, greedy, unlucky, and floundering managers of the nation’s newspapers to rescue journalism on their own would be like leaving it to the investment wizards at the American International Group (AIG), Citibank, and Goldman Sachs, to create a workable, just global credit system on the strength of their good will, their hard-earned knowledge, and their fidelity to the public good.”

Full transcript at this link…

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How Westminster students covered last week’s Journalism in Crisis conference

I got a peek behind the stage curtain last week, at the University of Westminster / British Journalism Review Journalism in Crisis conference (May 19/20). Geoffrey Davies, head of the Journalism and Mass Communications department, gave me a mini-guided tour of the equipment borrowed for the event – it allowed the live-streaming of the conference throughout; a real bonus for those at home or in the office.

Jump to video list here (includes: Mark Thompson / Nick Davies / Paul Lashmar / Boris Johnson and a host of academics and journalists from around the world)

The Journalism.co.uk beat means that we cover a fair few industry and academic conferences, and so we get to compare the technology efforts of the hosts themselves. While Twitter conversation didn’t flow as much as at some events (not necessarily a negative thing – see some discussion on that point at this link) the students’ own coverage certainly made use of their multimedia skills. I contacted a few of the students and lecturers afterwards to find out a few more specifics, and how they felt it went.

“We streamed to the web via a system we borrowed from NewTek Europe, but might purchase, called Tricaster. It’s a useful piece of equipment that is a television studio in a box,” explained Rob Benfield, a senior lecturer at the University, who produced the students’ coverage.

“In this case it allowed us to add graphics and captions downstream of a vision-mixer. It also stores all the material we shot in its copious memory and allowed us to store and stream student work, messages and advertising material of various sorts without resorting to other sources.

“Some of our third year undergraduates quickly mastered the technology which proved to be largely intuitive. We streamed for two solid days without interruption.”

Conference participants might also have seen students extremely diligently grabbing each speaker to ask them some questions on camera  (making Journalism.co.uk’s cornering of people a little bit more competitive). The videos are linked at the end of this post.

Marianne Bouchart, a second year at the University, blogged and tweeted (via @WestminComment) along with postgraduate student, Alberto Furlan.

“We all were delighted to get involved in such an important event,” Bourchart told Journalism.co.uk afterwards. “It was an incredible opportunity for us to practice our journalistic skills and gave to most of us a first taste of working in journalism. I couldn’t dream of anything better than to interview BBC director general Mark Thompson.

“We worked very hard on this project and we are all very happy it went on that well. My experience as an editor managing a team of journalists to cover the event was fantastic. We encountered a few scary moments, some panic attacks, but handled the whole thing quite brilliantly in the end – for inexperienced journalists. I can’t wait to be working with this team again.”

A sample of the Westminster students’ coverage:

If you missed the Journalism.co.uk own coverage, here’s a round-up:

Videos from the Westminster University students at this link. Interviewees included:

  • Paul Lashmar, Is investigative journalism in the UK dying or can a ‘Fifth Estate’ model revitalise it? An examination of whether the American subscription and donation models such as Pro Publica, Spot.US and Truthout are the way
  • Haiyan Wang, Investigative journalism and political power in China —A case study of three major newspapers’ investigative reporting over Chenzhou corruption between April 2006 and November 2008
  • Maria Edström, The workplace and education of journalists – myths and facts
  • Shan Wu, Can East Asia produce its own “Al-Jazeera”? Unravelling the challenges that face channel NewsAsia as a global media contra-flow
  • Yael .M. de Haan, Media under Fire: criticism and response in The Netherlands, 1987-2007
  • Esra Arsan, Hopelessly devoted? Turkish journalism students’ perception of the profession
  • Professor James Curran, ‘Journalism in Crisis,’ Goldsmiths College
  • Marina Ghersetti, Swedish journalists’ views on news values
  • Igor Vobic, Multimedia news of Slovenian print media organisations: Multimedia on news Websites of delo and žurnal media
  • Anya Luscombe, The future of radio journalism: the continued optimism in BBC Radio News
  • Tamara Witschge,The tyranny of technology? Examining the role of new media in news journalism
  • Juliette De Maeyer, Journalism practices in an online environment
  • Colette Brin, Journalism’s paradigm shifts: a model for understanding long-term change
  • Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou, Crisis equals crisis: How did the panic spread by the Greek media accelerate the economy crisis in the country?
  • Matthew Fraser, Why business journalism failed to see the coming economic crisis
  • Michael Bromley, Citizen journalism: ‘citizen’ or ‘journalism’ – or both?
  • Vincent Campbell, ‘Citizen Journalism': A crisis in journalism studies?
  • Martin Nkosi Ndlela, The impact of technology on Norwegian print journalism
  • James S McLean, The future of journalism: Rethinking the basics
  • Mathieu Simonson, The Belgian governmental crisis through the eye of political blogging
  • Nick Davies, freelance journalist and author of Flat Earth News
  • Boris Johnson, Mayor of London
  • Jonathan Coad, partner at Swan Turton solicitors
  • Mark Thompson, BBC director-general
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    What was that Boris? Carve up the licence fee?

    May 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events

    Last of the blog posts from last night’s Charles Wheeler award speeches, but just to share with you a question from London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to BBC director-general, Mark Thompson. Over to you, Boris:

    “I really wish I hadn’t decided to ask this question.

    “I love the BBC and I’m a big beneficiary from the BBC, but I have to say listening to your [Thompson's] critique, I thought you were showing some sort of guilt about what the BBC website is doing to other commercially operated websites, you know, run by newspapers and you were trying to say the BBC might paddle it, that guilt, by sharing resources online (…) I understand it would be a very good way forward.

    “I don’t quite know how it’s going to work. I wonder if the simple solution might well be to carve up the licence fee and give a slice of it to the Sun, some to the Daily Mail…”

    Thompson answered, to paraphrase, that it probably wouldn’t work very well.

    A little more fully: there are countries where they’ve tried that, said Thompson. And the problem is, he said, that if you’re not careful, the ‘subsidy you need’ gets a bit bigger every year; and secondly, as a public service broadcaster one would ‘begin losing the critical mass’ in terms of the organisation’s culture, calibre of the output and public accountability.

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    ‘Babel-like cacophony drowning out perception’ but new media still developing, says Paxman

    So, as reported on the main site, and in John Mair’s tribute to the fearsome journalist, Jeremy Paxman collected the inaugural Charles Wheeler Award last night. His Newsnight colleagues had put together a little tribute, which as David Dunkley Gyimah pointed out on Twitter, is a ‘This Is Your Life’ style must-watch. Journalism.co.uk will try and obtain an embeddable link asap.

    In the meantime, enjoy the clip at the end of this post: when Paxman dipped his toes into YouTube waters for Newsnight (which, incidentally, BBC director-general Mark Thompson later confessed to never having seen till that evening: “I had no idea  – I’d missed that”).

    So Journalism.co.uk asked Paxman: you’re a little sceptical about social and new media, then?

    “It’s a joke [his YouTube video - see below]! One of the functions of journalism, seems to me, [is that] it sifts and analyses – and it’s great to have a lot of raw material, but someone still has to sift it to make sense of it,” he said.

    There are occasions, for certain stories, he said, ‘when one spends a lot of time looking at blogs… comments… it’s just time wasted.’

    “We haven’t yet developed a mechanism for synthesising what comes out  – we’re currently at a stage where someone goes to a rally and writes down the comments of everybody there. That’s no way to report an event – it doesn’t tell you very much,” Paxman said.

    “We still need journalists forming perception and analysis of what’s happening – that’s getting drowned out by this Babel-like cacophony. But we’re at a very early stage of development with it. I think there are new things going to happen.”

    And, does he still advise wannabe hacks to go and do something more sensible and worthwhile, like become a brain surgeon?

    “You do it [give advice] with a certain knowledge that those who are determined won’t be put off anyway. But, I think, overall, the prospects in this trade are not good,” he told Journalism.co.uk.

    “Wages are being cut – [there are] apparently respectable newspapers which actually survive on work experience people – and not paid. This is no good! When you’re 21 you don’t think about it. You’ve got to think about it: the longevity of it, [being able to] afford to put a roof over your head and feed your kids etc.

    “It’s always been a young person’s trade I think, but it’s even more that now.

    “I personally believe in it of course – I think it’s a really worthwhile activity. But it is, I think, the case that there are more immediately socially worthwhile things that you could do with your life. I just think these are strange circumstances.”

    Paxman trying out YouTube:

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    Why Jeremy Paxman is the new Charles Wheeler

    May 20th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events

    Tonight he steps up to get the first ever Charles Wheeler Award at Westminster University from his boss Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general. Paxo is now the worthy wearer of Wheeler’s Crown. Well deserved.

    Charles loved words and using them. So does Paxman. Witness this week, Paxman calling Esther Rantzen a ‘retired television nabob’. Ouch.

    It’s what good journalists do; we use words. Charles transformed any film which he reported. I’ve seen very so-so stories become very good watches when reported by Wheeler. Paxman, lest we forget now that he is in a warm studio, was the best film reporter of his generation. Look at some of the films from the Central American frontline 30 years ago. The man learned early.

    Charles liked to cause mischief. All good hacks do. He was once heavily censured by the BBC bosses for being rude to royalty on tour. Did he care? Not a jot! Think Paxman and Blair: ‘Do you and President Bush pray together?’ and my all-time favourite to Shaun Woodward, the new MP for St Helens in deepest Lancashire: ‘Mr Woodward did your butler vote Labour?’ (Woodward is very rich and was parachuted to St Helens. He did have a butler).

    Charles was less the master of the studio than Paxo has become. Charles always looked a mite uncomfortable, Paxo not. A caged animal waiting for its prey. It’s no wonder Gordon Brown refuses to be interviewed by him. Paxo takes Newsnight up a gear when he presents it.

    Both are, to use that wonderful English word, ‘curmudgeonly’. So what? There are too many smiling faces on TV and too many autocuties. Curmudgeons find things out – even if they do not make huge numbers of friends. But then good hacks are loners.

    For all of their similarities (and differences) who can begrudge Paxo the title of King of the TV Journalism jungle? Not me.

    John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He produced last month’s Media Society Annual Award Dinner for Jeremy Paxman.

    Note: updated with subbing corrections 21.05.09

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    Journalism in Crisis 09: Reporting from the University of Westminster

    May 19th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Journalism, Online Journalism

    Greetings from the nice and cheerfully named Journalism in Crisis event at University of Westminster – a collaboration between the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, in association with the British Journalism Review.

    We’ll be tweeting from @journalism_live when we can using tag #jic09 – the wifi is proving a little temperamental – with updates. Fuller updates on the blog and main site will follow – tagged ‘Journalism in Crisis 2009′.

    The timetable is pretty big to paste here, so we’ll link to it instead. The only problem is choosing which sessions to go to – there are three varied panels for each set.

    Observers from afar, let us know if there’s anything you’d particularly like to hear about.

    Anyway, if you’re an attendee, come say hello: Journalism.co.uk is the one glaring at her laptop when the wifi dips out.

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