It’s common knowledge that the fourth estate is on the decline. The media world is changing and traditional outlets have failed to adapt at the same speed. Consequently, the business model behind journalism has become unprofitable - but does anyone care?
Possibly not, if you ask British investigative journalist Nick Davies, who suggested there’s no promise that the profession of journalism will last. Listening to Davies speak at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, it was a disheartening idea for a recent journalism graduate such as myself, but an idea that makes sense.
The future of media was a theme at this year’s writing festival that occupied the Aotea Centre last weekend, drawing in journalists such as Davies and Ken Auletta to discuss its revolution. Davies exposed the UK phone hacking scandal that shook the Rupert Murdoch media machine, meanwhile Auletta is a longtime New Yorkercolumnist and author on all things media.
When society distrusts the media, a deteriorating industry is of little interest to the public. Ethical malpractice by a minority of journalists has disgraced the wider profession for all, argued Davis. Yet this lack of public outcry is worrying for investigative journalists who work to expose corruption and keep those in power accountable, this opinion shared by both Davies and Auletta. However, while investigative journalism is necessary, statistics continuously show it also generates the least hits.
These days, hits are everything for a media world that has been forced to turn digital on the Internet. It grieves us to think a story about The Bachelor will get more hits than a story about the government spying on us, but in reality it will. Basic business instinct tells you to keep writing about The Bachelor, and less about the government.
To drive these hits, several media companies made the decision last week to strike a deal with Facebook. Leading news publishers such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, National Geographic and Buzzfeed have decided to experiment in feeding their new stories directly to Facebook to publish. The theory is that Facebook, a powerful distributor with its 1.44 billion global users, will reach more readers at a faster speed. According to Auletta, this is a "frienemy" business relationship.
Friendly because publishers gain more readers and have access to Facebook's customer data, meanwhile Facebook have the chance to gain advertising revenue. Enemy because as the technology world continues to advance, aren't these publishers and Facebook competitors? If more people go to Facebook for their news, readers and advertisers may draw away from the original news website destinations. Tech giants like Facebook and Google are not one-trick ponies, Auletta said, and they are constantly growing as a threat to traditional media.
Auletta, recent author of “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It”, spent an elongated time in the Google officers to understand how the company clicks and its future plans. The problem, he said, is that behind these tech companies are engineers who love to bend the rules and judge their success on measurable results, such as algorithms and speed. What these bold engineers can't measure - or grasp - are things such as fear. While tech companies love to push boundaries, they fail to measure the public’s fear about personal privacy, Auletta said.
With the climate of media quickly changing, neither Davies or Auletta expressed certainty about its future. Yet both agreed the prospect of investigate journalism disappearing doesn’t look good.