I’ve meaning to write a wee post thanking Young Labour for inviting me along to speak at their Summer School the other weekend. I’m told it’s a bit of a tradition at these summer schools to have some speakers from outside the party to give a different perspective, which is a bloody good idea. Falling into my natural role of nitpicker, I gave a critique of Labour’s web-presence, which they seemed to take pretty well. Scoop’s Alastair Thompson and I also spoke on the role of the Internet in politics, particularly in relation to traditional and emerging media, including our respective sites. Alastair’s insights were fascinating and, well, I hope I didn’t ramble too much.
I think we’re in interesting times for the media. The creation of the Fairfax/APN foreign-owned duopoly in our print media began an asset-stripping process where maximum profits were extracted by slashing costs (ie the number of journos and their pay), which has led to declining quality of output. The rise and rise of the Internet has dramatically accelerated this process in three ways:
Both APN and Fairfax are in severe distress because of this – the Herald is effectively for sale but there is no buyer. And there is nothing to be done about it – the tide of Internet-driven change is washing over the traditional print business model and no King Canute will be able to turn it back.
Now, the prolonged recession is set to make things much worse very quickly. I have heard industry estimates that some major newspapers will see their revenue drop 25% this year, mainly due to falling ad revenue. The inevitable reaction of the owners will be to further slash journo numbers and their pay even (heaven forbid the owners should cut their dividends). That, of course, will only promote the decline in standards and drive readers to other sources of news.
Something new is going to emerge from the long collapse of the traditional print media and the rise, from what are still small beginnings, of the Internet-based media. My worry is whether or not that new something will be able to fulfill the vital, if largely abandoned at present, role of the media in a democracy as the fourth estate.