New News 2016: State of Play

“There’s been seven years of cataclysmic change each year,” said Margaret Simons, co-convenor of the New News conference.

This year’s New News conference, run by the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism and Swinburne University’s Journalism department, was in it’s seventh year, running from the 27th to the 29th of October at the Wheeler Centre and as always the conference was marked by its final hour, a “State of Play Discussion’” about what the media did well this year, and what it could improve.

 

 

This year’s panellists included:

Margaret Simons (Moderator) – Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism
Simon Crerar – Editor, BuzzFeed Australia
Lenore Taylor – Editor, Guardian Australia
Dan Silkstone – Weekends Editor, The Age

This year’s panel focused particularly on the US and Australian elections, as well as the ongoing shifts in the Australian Media marketplace (particularly as The Age continues to downsize. All editors were disappointed with how the media covered the election this year, and felt there wasn’t enough substantial scrutiny on political policy.

Each of the editors had a particular take of the year in journalism though, and each bears out further analysis and discussion.

Simon Crerar, Editor BuzzFeed Australia

Crerar was, much like the listicle and sometimes serious news service that he works for, incredibly positive about the year. He said BuzzFeed learnt some vital lessons from their first attempt at covering the federal election and was proud of his reporters (Mark DiStefano and Alice Workman) for getting out and about on the campaign trail. He also offered that his organisation was well on the way to profitability and that an emphasis on diversity meant his organisation’s coverage on refugees and LGBTIQ Marriage resonated strongly with young people because their commentators weren’t “old white guys.”

Lenore Taylor, Editor, Guardian Australia

Taylor was bitterly disappointed with the outcomes of the Federal Election coverage this year and felt it was the first time in her 20+ years as a journalist that the media had failed the public in its coverage of the election, failing to call the Federal Government to account for not having an Education or Climate Change policy. 

However, Taylor did locate some positives within the year. As an organisation, barring any mishaps, the Guardian Australia will turn a profit next year, while her journalists, particularly those responsible for the coverage of The Nauru Files were praised for their excellent coverage of serious systemic issues.

Dan Silkstone, Weekends Editor, The Age

Acknowledging the tumult of the past year, Silkstone acknowledged the efforts of his editors and staff for keeping the focus on reporting despite continued redundancies and lay offs at Fairfax. He expressed optimism that his reporters have starved off the worst the lay offs and that there will continue to be an environment  of “controlled experimentation,” pointing to the recent success of the Phoebe’s Fall podcast.

Like his colleague Silkstone was disappointed with the Australian election coverage, but pointed to the emergence of Donald Trump as the main take out for this year, and what it says about media coverage when someone like Trump so obviously neglects the established rules of debate and discourse.

Conclusion

The overall takeout from the conference was that the state of play was cautiously optimistic, with The Guardian and BuzzFeed reporting strong growth while The Age is seemingly position to operate with more stability than it did over the past 12 months.

The editors were less ensure about the trends in global coverage but expressed hope they would be in the same employment position this time next year.

 

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