Will they still need us? Will they still feed us? Political journalism in the digital age.

On September 25th, 2014, celebrating 40 years of journalism at Curtin University, Walkley Trustee Laurie Oakes delivered a lecture titled: ” Will they still need us? Will they still feed us? Political journalism in the digital age.”

A must-read for those interested in the future of journalism in a world of rapidly changing technology, Oakes offers six reasons for optimism about the future.

Read extracts of the lecture below, and download the full address here.

I came across an interesting line in a Huffington Post article recently. It read: “Someone very sexy once told me journalism is a sexy profession.”

I’d have to say I can’t quite see it myself, but maybe I’m wrong. If journalism WAS sexy it might help to answer a question that’s been puzzling me.

Why are so many really bright young people still enthusiastic about studying journalism when career prospects these days are so uncertain? Why does including the word “journalism” in the title of a course apparently continue to guarantee bums on seats? I’m pleased that people still want to be journalists. I can’t imagine a better job. But it must be obvious to everyone by now that we’re producing many more journalism graduates than are ever likely to find jobs in the news business in its present state.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM NUMBER 1.

Newspapers are still with us.  At an international symposium on online journalism earlier this year, the executive editor of The Washington Post Marty Baron exulted: “We’ve survived. We’re still here.”

REASON FOR OPTIMISM NUMBER 2.

Despite the bad news we keep hearing about declining advertising revenue, falling newspaper circulation and job losses, good journalism, quality journalism, is still being produced. A lot of it.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM NUMBER 3.

Paywalls are starting to give hope. This is really important.  The matter of money has been at the bottom of much of the pessimism about journalism. With traditional business models broken, how was journalism to be financed? While it was being given away, the future looked bleak indeed—except, perhaps, for an operation like The Guardian backed by a charitable trust; or for media outlets able to depend on philanthropic supporters; or for publicly funded media organisations like the ABC or the BBC.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM NUMBER 4.

Concern for quality is now affecting on-line outlets that used to scorn traditional journalistic standards and values.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM NUMBER 5.

The idea that people would access raw information on the net without the need for journalistic involvement has proved overblown.  In the book Out of Print–Newspapers, journalism and the business of news in the digital age, George Brock describes how the founders of WikiLeaks believed that information spoke most powerfully if not mediated by journalists. But they found that, when material was presented online raw, without commentary or explanation, much of it was incomprehensible and so hardly made an impact.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM NUMBER 6.

The storytelling capabilities and techniques available to us are greater than ever. New journalistic tools provided by digital technology are astonishing. Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes in the US for 12 years, said when he retired early this year: “In many ways, we’ve entered the golden age of journalism”.