by Matt Kelly
“Journalism is definitely different in the digital age. Back in the day, the Townsville Daily Bulletin had a gigantic press room with huge rolls of paper,” said Alex Mitchell, the acclaimed Australian journalist with 50 years’ experience in newspapers.
“Now all we need is an iPhone to look up cricket scores, movie times and news from around the world.
“If you were in the office 50 years ago, you were considered a ‘bludger’ because you weren’t out getting a story. I can’t understand that you can claim researching on the internet as journalism.”
“Journalism is finding out what powerful people are concealing. My job is not to release press releases. This idea that we can all become a jock sitting on a computer is ridiculous,” he said.
Alex Mitchell and Heather Brooke, winner of the Judges’ Prize at the 2010 British Press Awards and author of The Revolution will be Digitized, were speaking at the Journalism 2.0 seminar at the Sydney Writer’s Festival.
“I see the role of a journalist as a hired gun for the public. As journalism reporters decrease, we’re going to see more corruption. Who’s going to keep these power players accountable?” Ms Brooke said.
“It’s much cheaper to remain in the office. Much cheaper to re-write press releases. There are people that would rather read journalism articles over press releases and blogs because a true journalist digs. They call people and do research.
“News shouldn’t be free. News should be expensive. It gives the public this false sense that journalists are happy doing the work for nothing,” she said.
Ms Brooke talked about professional experiences that have shaped her journalistic career, including covering Julian Assange and the Wikileaks saga.
“Wikileaks is in the business of journalism, however dumping data online, liberating slabs of information is not true journalism. They’re not verifying or signposting. They’re not deciding what it is the people need to know about,” she said said.
“You can’t change society by going online. You’re not on the streets. If you want to change Governments, influence powerful people, live in an egalitarian society, get out among the people,” she said.
Mr. Mitchell supporting Ms Brooke’s view by relating some of his own experiences.
“Some people wouldn’t know a scoop if it fell over them. In the end you’ve got to talk to the people. I’m an old style journalist. I used to carry around my contact book everywhere I went. The day I waved goodbye to the Sun-Herald I had this journalist come up to me and ask ‘Can I have your contacts book?’ I said ‘No,’ they were the lifeblood of my journalistic life,” Mr Mitchell said.
Both Ms Brooke and Mr Mitchell said they didn’t feel they were a better journalist because of the digital age.
“The digital age has changed journalists, what they are and how they work.” Mr Mitchell said. “There’s a sense that we all become seduced that everything is available. Vigilance has to rise because of the digital age, not be leveled out, because that’s the way journalism is going.”