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Can journalism survive in the digital era?

April 13th, 2010Posted by in Events, Online Journalism

On Sunday the Edinburgh International Science Festival event ‘Journalism in the Digital Age: Trends, Tools and Technologies’ posed the question: Can journalism survive in the digital era?

There to address the issue were a panel of speakers from the worlds of journalism, academia and public relations, each of whom gave a five minute presentation followed by a brief Q&A.

Sarah Hartley, who oversees the Guardian’s new Beat Bloggers initiative, pointed out that people are “no longer happy to passively receive” information. She suggested that news organisations now have to accept that it is “the end of us and them”, and factor in audience interaction as an integral part of their workload. She also pointed out that creating web-specific content is essential rather than merely recycling print content on the web.

Kate Smith, media lecturer at Edinburgh’s Napier University spoke on the role of educational institutions in helping trainee journalists prepare for the future media environment and suggested that the basic principles and values of journalism should still be emphasised. Video games and PR expert Brian Baglow, who gave a presentation on citizen journalism, echoed her sentiment, assuring journalists that they had “skills and understanding that most bloggers don’t” and were still needed for their “expert investigation and analysis”.

Iain Hepburn, digital editor at the Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail shared his love of podcasting, praising the “intimacy” of audio and the “visceral appeal” of video. Hepburn went on to claim that affordable, easy to use products like Flip cameras were allowing journalists to make “documentary quality” films without any prior expertise, and described how a smartphone can now be used to cover events where previously several pieces of kit would have been necessary.

Finally, Martin Belam, information architect for, took us through a potted history of journalism, beginning with the very early years, when “storytelling was concentrated in the hands of some monks”, to today’s world where even local newspapers such as The Belfast Telegraph can reach a global audience. He also spoke about the increasing demands on journalists for real-time coverage, the effect of social media/online pressure groups on news, and the potential of the semantic web.

It wasn’t until the Q&A session that the thorny issue of the industry’s financial future was raised, with one journalist in the audience asking: “How are we going to get paid? Mercedes don’t give away cars, but you are all giving away content everyday online.”

The panel had no concrete answers, but Rupert Murdoch’s new paywall model and Jeff Jarvis’ arguments in favour of a link economy were given serious consideration.

There was also some hope that a proven willingness to pay for mobile apps could lead to more substantial subscription based models for e-readers such as the iPad.

Milo McLaughlin is a freelance multimedia journalist specialising in arts and technology. He blogs at

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