6 November, 2007
A bit of a different story today. Yesterday I had to defend the new internet-based journalism in the “Stand up for journalism” debate organised by three journalists’ unions in Brussels. The discussion focused on the commercialisation of media and its negative impact on journalists’ jobs. Speakers and union leaders Aidan White (International Federation of Journalists IFJ) and Lorenzo Consoli (API, the association of international journalists) deplored the political fall-out of the fight against terrorism (‘”suspicion against media, more spin”) and the media’s drive for profitability and shareholder value. “This is one crisis-to-far for modern journalism”, White said.
Both speakers wished that journalism would return to its role as “watchdog of democracy” and embrace “civic journalism”. They were joined in their pessimistic look on the precarious situation of journalists in Brussels by NUJ respresentative Leigh Philips, who pointed to different challenges for the EU media: advertising and sponsoring business models, “work for no pay” jobs, fake independents and the “exploitation of interns”.
As former chief editor of one of the targeted media I share their concerns but not their “black-and-white” analysis which smells too much like the “we are the good and they are the bad” (sponsoring models CAN be married to strong editorial independence if you have a good and courageous editor and a publisher who understand that this independence is the company’s main capital).
I got very upset, however, when my friend and colleague Lorenzo started an attack on the internet saying good journalism can never been done from behind a PC screen googling the news (most good internet journalists ARE doing more than that, dear Lorenzo) and criticising the “speed first-quality later” drive of some internet media. This demonising of the internet and the new media by the traditional journalist media is not new. We had to fight for years with the corporatism of these organisation before EurActiv journalists were able to get accredited and I have still to see the first action of the unions to get some of the good bloggers into the accreditation system.
Now let’s make the link between quality of journalism (and journalists) and my usual subjects: climate and energy security. After having neglected the issue for years, I feel there is now an “over-dramatisation” of climate issues (probably indeed because publishers and editors feel it “sells”). There is also – as other have already demonstrated – an over-representation of climate sceptics’ positions because of the “need to be balanced” false interpretation of quality journalism (look at the way most big media are still making a “climate expert” of Björn Lomborg). Last but not least, there is an big lack of understanding of energy issues and the connection between climate change and energy by most traditional journalists.
And it is exactly here that new media have become the new instruments of the “civic” public good journalism that White and Consoli are yearning for. The most interesting and challenging energy journalism now can no longer be found in the Times, the Guardian or the Washington Post but on blogs such as the Energy Bulletin, the Oil Drum or European Tribune.
So, dear journalist friends, let’s indeed stand up for journalism but not for the whining old-fashioned version but for a new, critical and courageous journalism whatever media channel it is using.Author : Willy De Backer