What’s news? Not much…

Image: Wikipedia Commons

Did you see that headline on Twitter? What about the video on Facebook? Surely you read on the train this morning that article outlining the latest body-shaming trend.

Back in January my colleague Nathan Clarke penned a piece on the rise and rise of fake news in 2016.

It got me thinking about today’s media landscape, particularly the issues associated with the press’s continuous fight for eyeballs against emerging and social media that presents itself through clickbait and an endless offering of snackable content.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re heading towards a fresh take on the great Australian brain-drain by merely accepting what’s on offer and not working harder to make better news choices.

Love him or loathe him, former United States President George W. Bush said just a few weeks ago that, "…we need an independent media to hold people like me to account..."

He went on to say, “…power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere..."

And, while Bush might have been taking a pot-shot at the new POTUS and his rocky relationship with the press, it’s hard to argue the point.

Free press, empowered to question and challenge each aspect of our society is an indispensable asset to our democratic way of life. The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism summarises the role of journalism as follows:

  • to keep the public up to date with what is going on in the world;
  • to provide the public with reliable information on which they may base choices as participants in political, economic and social life;
  • to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions, to be a watchdog on those in power;
  • to help societies understand themselves; and
  • to provide the material upon which members of a society can base a common conversation.

Today, these pillars have never been on shakier ground. We’re risking a loss of the checks-and-balances as the media industry struggles to adjust to seismic change. The fragmenting effect of multiple platforms coupled with social media’s amplification of new ‘sources’ are disrupting a landscape that has been mostly unchanged and unchallenged for decades. Change that has not only impacted the basic structure of news rooms, but compromised its very reason for being – editorial relevance through the search for truth.

As Mark Baker, CEO of the Melbourne Press Club, told more than 600 of the industry’s finest at the 2016 Quill Awards: “There’s a new challenge. It’s the challenge of fake news…and fake politics, where facts no longer matter, where truth is a matter of opinion. Because of these challenges – and they are existential challenges for our societies – independent and quality journalism is more important than ever.”

A product of rapid media change is just how fast the news cycle has become. There’d be an argument to say it’s becoming too fast. If we assume that’s the case, we only have ourselves to blame - for its through our clicks and shares that we set the tone for the daily news menu and how we like it served.

This, in turn, has left us with dwindling stocks of in-depth, long-form news and analysis. The type that is painstakingly researched and compiled, then checked and rechecked from every angle. It’s virtually out of fashion – as if we’ve lost the will or ability to concentrate and absorb in-depth, considered journalism that challenges out thinking and stimulates debate and discourse.

Instead, we’re seeing headlines morph into paragraphs so they’re more searchable, media identities playing the role of expert, and a seemingly endless stream of celebrity love stories. Irony is, even they can’t be too long for risk of the dreaded TLDR (too long, didn’t read) effect.

Is it ignorance? Time? Laziness? Maybe it’s escapism that has us yearning for the literal ‘no-brainers’.

What is true is that it’s anything but news, at least not in the purest sense. And, worryingly, we’ve come to rely more and more on simplistic, snack-sized content at time when the world has never been more complicated.

Mitchell Hunt is a senior advisor for Six O’Clock Advisory - @rodeoradio2

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