Goldsmiths University: the Futures of News write-up

As promised, here are some notes from the Futures of the
at Goldsmiths University  last Saturday.
For my initial reaction, see my previous post.

The morning session was opened by Martin Turner, Head of Operations for BBC
Newsgathering. His presentation was far and away the most on-the-money one of
the whole morning, but it was telling that the conference chair had only made
one note on it, compared to copious notes for other speakers.

outlined the shifts happening in media right now and suggested the
corresponding changes in organisational behaviour may not be enough to save the
media as we know it. In fact, he was the first (and, I think only) speaker on
the day who acknowledged that real innovation is being driven by small firms
and people outside the major media players.

Martin suggested that the only innovation by
major media businesses have been ad (and thus revenue) focussed.Coupled with
healthy(ish) online ad spend this has helped reinforce the notion that
if there’s still profit in the
broadcast/linear media model why would you drop it?

I think
Martin was also the only speaker to talk about:

  • aggregation
  • algorithms
  • community filtering of news

All of
which he claimed were part of the future of news and the media. But Martin also suggested that
with a proliferation in user-generated content, will the desire to produce
news dry-up or change dramatically? Unsurprisingly he had no answers.

In the afternoon,
Goldsmith’s Natalie Fenton presented on the research project’s predicted
directions. In Making Sense of the News in a Digital Age: Journalism and
, she proposed the thesis: "F
orms of news journalism can contribute to the
process of democracy – which is both a marker of modernity and an inherent
feature in modern life and democratic structure."

Well, that all gets my vote and so did the
parameters of the work Goldsmiths is set to undertake, which will
investigate how speed of access, poly-centricity and
multiplicity and interactivity and participation all affect the news
production and consumption process. What is being attempted, we were told, was: “a
macro-societal investigation into micro-organisational changes.” But, of course!

However, a couple of the other presentations
presented interim
research that seemed to look at online developments from the perspective of
‘what will journalism/media etc look like in the future’.But yet some of the ideas
they discussed (e.g., the BBC’s responses to multi-platform media production)
were – while interesting – not particularly ground-breaking. 

I asked as much during the Q&A session and although the answers
recognised that staying ahead of the curve was a challenge when
setting out research
there was an amazing outburst from one of the project

She raised her hand to ask a question but then
delivered a rant about why citizen journalism doesn’t really exist. She added
the caveat she spoke as a former journalist but her argument
that CJs were nothing more than super-sources missed the point entirely for me.
Haivng heard Dan “father of CJ” Gilmor discuss the same issue I found
Goldsmith’s take pretty dismal.

Obviously, I drink the social media Kool-Aid
good ‘n’ proper and accept that any solid research needs to be as unbiased as
possible, but then again the woman from Goldsmith’s seemed to be as against
social media as I am for, so that can’t be too even-minded!

More to come….

Technorati tags: Goldsmiths University, Futures of News, Martin Turner, Natalie Fenton, citizen journalism


  1. Angela Philliips says:

    I am not against social media. I just think its time we started to define our terms. There are a number of different kinds of things going on at the moment; there are commentators (bloggers) who do sometimes produce new information (just as columnists have always done)but mostly comment on what is already out there. Bloggers have the same relationship to the mainstream press as the alternative media has always had and I welcome the fact that it is easier for them to get an audience than it used to be. Then there are witnesses who can now show us what they see because they have mobile phones – that means that journalists can use those images as well as using witness statements. Then there are people whose job it is to collect information, collate it and put it into a usable form for the people who don’t have time to search it out for themselves. They are journalists most are working for organisations which pay them, some are working for alternative collectives or for themselves for free. There is also a fourth group. they are people who contribute their work for free to existing publications and in so doing undermine the already extremely low wages of journalists. They have existed for a long time – well before the net and used to called euphemistically ‘community journalists’.
    Journalists, who provide information for the vast majority of those people who still prefer to get their news from established sources, should be held to account by the law and codes of conduct. The fact that they don’t necessarily behave responsibly doesn’t mean that it is no longer desirable that they should be expected to.
    The exciting bit of what is happening for me is the impact that the audience is starting to have on journalists – I absolutely welcome the idea that people can easily write in and correct what is being written. That is far more interesting than the idea that everything old (like the attempt to uphold standards) should simply be swept away by something new called citizen journalism.
    It is the idea (which was palpable at the conference) that a citizen journalist (ie an amateur journalist) is something better waiting in the wings to replace professional journalism which irritates me. What is this category? What does it consist of and why is it better? Is someone who writes for IndyMedia a citizen journalist? Or an activist? Or a journalist who hasn’t been paid? What happens when a ‘citizen journalist’ manages to get advertising revenue? Do they suddenly become journalists? Ought people working on their own account be subject to a code of conduct so that they don’t produce columns talking up the products of their sponsors? How would we know if they did? These seem to me to be questions in need of an answer and will be just some of the things we will be looking for I hope.

  2. I see exactly what you mean, Angela, but my point is partyl that your point of view is entirely consistent with a way of thinking in a pre-interent world.
    Attempting to categorise things, concepts, people etc into easily defined boxes was necessary to make sense of things. The internet allows us to suspend categorisation until we need it. It proves a challenge to business as well as research – anything that relied on an old world order.
    My argument is that research needs to accept this fluidity in order to really make sense of what you’re researching.
    It may sound daft but it’s the same idea that in order to do business in the new world order you need to change the way you work – as an example take a real-life bookshop vs Amazon.
    However, research (in my personal, non-academic belief) can rely on theory to justify the new methodologies required. For instance a lot of post-structuralist philosophy seems to articulate just the perpetually open-ended ideology that the internet presents us – researchers, businesses, anyone – with. Thanks for stopping by and getting this far!

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