2013 Public Knowledge Forum
Life after truth: The death of journalism and what this means for democracy
The mass media model that brought breaking news into our homes has crumbled under the weight of digital media. As newspapers shrink and media empires disappear, what has happened to the concepts and ideals that underpinned them? The relationship between 'news' and 'truth' and the idea of journalism as a crusading vocation with a special role in defending democracy may be two of the casualties of this upheaval. If traditional 'news' has become a toxic stew of violence, opinion, and gossip, are we looking at life after truth? Does this mean democracies without informed citizens, or can new media give democracies what they need? Can we look forward to a new era of real freedom of information, or will the technologies that fractured the old systems crush the utopian dreams of the new one?
Official welcome and introduction
Bates Gill, CEO of the United States Studies Centre
The Honourable Marie Ficarra MLC, Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier of NSW
James Fallows, The Atlantic national correspondent
Session one: The nature of journalism
Have internet-enabled platforms for journalism amplified existing characteristics of the news media, such as partisanship and commercial pressures, rather than creating new challenges? Was journalism ever ‘objective’ and does it need to be in order to perform a useful function in society? What are the implications for citizens of a partisan or ideologically driven media? What does a ‘post truth’ environment mean for journalism and the political debate? Has public confidence in the rigour and usefulness of the news media declined in a permanently damaging way?
Session two: News media as watchdog
How has the technological and economic disruption of the media business affected journalism’s ability to hold institutions accountable? Do newspapers and other traditional media organisations still play a dominant role in setting the public agenda? Are new media organisations, individual journalists, or other institutions (such as universities) capable of filling gaps created by resource cuts in traditional media organisations? Are some important subjects or communities affected by this deficit more than others? What is the appropriate role of citizens in the watchdog process? What are the implications for journalism of the current national security climate?
Lunch: A conversation
Conrad Black, former media proprietor
The Honourable Bob Carr, former Australian foreign minister
Session three: Common ground
In a world of fragmented audiences and time-shifted media consumption, has our shared understanding been undermined? Who determines what information is considered important after the traditional bundle of news has been dismantled? Does an increased reliance on niche and partisan news sources change people’s relationship to politics? What, if any, implications does this have for social cohesion, the health of our democracies and public policy making?
John Judis, editor for The New Republic
Mary Kissel, member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board
Iain Walker, executive director at the newDemocracy Foundation
with Sara James, correspondent for NBC
Session four: Engaged audiences
What affects have the use of social media platforms had on journalism? Does having direct and active relationships with the 'audience' change the way stories are chosen and told? Does this engagement represent a welcome corrective to the imperfect closeted journalism of the past or is it a threat to the quality of public knowledge and political participation? What are the implications of the rise of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, as popular vehicles for sharing and distributing news?
Hal Crawford, editor in chief of ninemsn
Nicole Hemmer, American media and politics scholar
Jonathan Rauch, Brookings Institution and The Atlantic
with Julia Baird, New York Times columnist and host of The Drum on ABC TV
Session five: News as serious business
Is the 'market' for news being set by audiences' tastes and expectations or the incentives and preferences of media organisations and journalists? Is it a cause for concern that 'worthy' news might attract small audiences or has it always been that way? Is our usage of the internet as a platform for news degrading or enhancing the quality of our public conversations? Many consumers of news are overloaded with information, but do they know less than ever about current events?
Session six: Where to from here?
In this dynamic media environment are there causes for optimism about the viability of serious journalism and the standard of political debate? What are the most promising approaches being taken by news media organisations and other institutions, such as governments and universities, to meeting the information needs of communities?