So, here’s the pitch. I am a journalist and academic, an editor and manager. I want to be an innovator, a risk-taker. I want to help ensure that journalism survives and thrives — and makes money.
The future of journalism is collaborative. It will need many partners: by necessity and desire, journalists will increasingly work with each other and with people from disciplines. Some of those disciplines are obvious and ubiquitous, some not so.
At any one time my current partners may well include an economist, an UX expert, a developer and web designer. It will include peers, friends and strangers.
If I have learnt anything in three decades as a journalist and editor, it is that reporters don’t and can’t sit alone atop Mt Journalism thinking they — and only they — know best. It has taken the best part of 30 years to understand that. I am now trying to make up for lost time.
The most important collaborator is the audience or audiences. Again, it’s taken me too long to realise the importance and power of the audience. I am here now.
I have spent the past few years trying to work out how to harness the digital tools on hand (and those coming) for the mutual benefit of journalists, editors and audience. In late 2011, during my time as publisher and editor-in-chief of the Herald, I took time out as a fellow of Sydney University. The resulting keynote speech was my first attempt to delve into this issue. It was a scratch on the surface, a flea bite on the elephant.
I have now, as of November 2015, returned to the academy, again with the audience in the front of my mind and the desire to innovate in my heart.
Back in the day, as a journalism student in the 1980s, I came across New Journalism and fell under its narrative spell. The writings of Wolfe, Capote, Hunter S, and later Janet Malcolm remain a source of joy and inspiration.
But what’s needed now is a newer and broader journalism that yes, is about the content (in many forms, in many platforms) but is deeply and urgently concerned about the business model. I have been fortunate to have worked inside of large media companies during a time when, by dint distribution, they had plenty of money and influence.
As we all know, the game has changed. We now live in an age of media abundance, decadence even: the biggest publisher in the world is Facebook. It’s not a media company. It’s a platform. But it’s the waterhole around which millions of people gather for their news.
The end of media scarcity — and the rise and rise of a distributive economy — has profound implications. Take the notion of failure: we are taught in school to avoid it and yet in the digital environment we have to embrace it.
Failure is a sister of risk, a brother of innovation: entrepreneurial journalists will become familiar with all three. After my own start-up failure, I jumped back into big media where much innovation is happening but where it’s easily avoided.
Embracing the chance to think about risk, innovation and journalism in the academy is, I hope, an inspired choice. As I write, the signs are positive. I’ll keep you posted.