2010 Andrew Olle Media Lecture – Alan Rusbridger

I heard part of this broadcast on the weekend, and have since read the transcript. It will be televised tomorrow (November 24) at 11am on ABC1, and it’s worth catching. There’s an mp3 for download on that page as well.

The Andrew Olle Media Lecture was established in 1996 by the presenters and staff at 702 ABC Sydney (formerly 2BL) to honour the memory of ABC Radio broadcaster Andrew Olle, who died in 1995 of a brain tumour.

On Friday 19 November, 2010, the man named Editor of the Year three times in the UK, noted for winning high-profile legal cases for free speech, and oversaw the bringing together of The Guardian’s paper and digital operations, Alan Rusbridger, delivered this Andrew Olle lecture.

a man standing at a podium before a projection screen

Alan Rusbridger, Editor, The Guardian by Toastwife, on Flickr

Rusbridger examines the common comparison made between the digital publishing revolution and the Gutenberg press publishing revolution in terms of rewriting the landscape for the dissemination of information, analysis and opinion, and concludes that the digital publishing revolution is a far more profound change to our intellectual landscape because it is no longer simply the transmission of ideas from one to many, but rather a reciprocal communication between many that is unprecedented and which is leading to the splintering of the Fourth Estate.

He also takes aim at the false distinctions made between public broadcasting/journalism subsidised by taxpayers, and corporate broadcasting/journalism subsidised by advertisers – nobody in the news business is asking its consumers to pay the actual direct cost of what the news costs to produce.

In the middle of all the turmoil we’re living through it’s clear that the subsidy model of serious general journalism is – with one or two exceptions – the only one that actually works at the moment.

That subsidy may be a Trust, an oligarch, a patriarch, a billionaire, a sister company, a licence fee, an income direct from public revenue… or an advertiser.

In the turbulence of the coming years – when, as the new media academic Clay Shirky puts it, the “old model is breaking faster than the new stuff gets put in place” – we may all come to rely on some form of medium-term subsidy.

If you include advertising, then we’re all members of what some like to call the ‘subsidariat’.

We are fooling ourselves if we expect people to meet the real, direct, cost of providing the news.

Next in the crosshairs was the concentration of ownership of media and the push for ever more consolidation in the name of economies of scale and integrated media delivery. He’s not a fan.

Now, I realize that even raising this question immediately translates, in the minds of some, into an argument about Rupert Murdoch.

It’s not. There’s no one I would want to have that much power. Not the Scott Trust, not the BBC, not Arthur Sulzberger, not the General Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Not even the saintly David Attenborough.

He then castigates people who simply look askance at Twitter and who have probably not even heard of Tumblr or Flipboard.

I’ve lost count of the times people – including a surprising number of colleagues in media companies – roll their eyes at the mention of Twitter.

“No time for it,” they say, “Inane stuff about what twits are having for breakfast. Nothing to do with the news business.”

Well, yes and no. Inanity – yes, sure, plenty of it. But saying that Twitter has got nothing to do with the news business is about as misguided as you could be.

Here, off the top of my head, are 15 things, which Twitter does rather effectively and which should be of the deepest interest to anyone involved in the media at any level.

After listing his 15 things, Rusbridger reminds us that Twitter is only one form of interactive, collaborative, real time social media acting as a hub for information exchange, and that other interactive media are building collaborative communities via their different strengths (and weaknesses) that all need to be understood by traditional/legacy media organisations for the benefits they bring as well as the challenges they present – the social web is still largely parasitical on legacy media, but to Rusbridger that’s a feature rather than a bug, because of the reciprocity of linkage and responses.

we should be relentless in learning all we can about how people are using this post-Gutenberg ability to create and share… and import those lessons back into our own journalism and businesses

In particular he views The Guardian as shifting to become a platform rather than just a publisher, and is scrutinising many people’s ideas for how to further develop its collaboration with its readers as active participants in disseminating news.

Some of the more radical ideas will work, some won’t. But a failure to experiment is more dangerous than trying new things.

This open and collaborative future for journalism – I have tried the word ‘mutualised’ to try and describe something of the flavour of the relationship this new journalism has with our readers and sources and advertisers – is already looking different from the journalism which went before.

The more we can involve others the more they will be engaged participants in the future, rather than observers or, worse, former readers. That’s not theory. It’s working now.

Fascinating stuff. He wrapped up with some exploration of this idea:

To quote one blogger, the social web is not really about the end of what came before, but the starting point for what comes next: richer and more complex societies.

See that? Rusbridger gets Web 2.0 – his transcript links to the blogger in question, instead of just using hir words without reciprocation. It’s a fine idea – richer and more complex societies via the transformative power of collaborative information sharing. It’s a grand goal.

P.S. ABC Online has all the Andrew Olle Memorial Media lectures available for listening. Over the summer I might listen to see how the speakers have viewed the state of the media changing over the last 15 years.

Categories: media, technology

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1 reply

  1. Nice wrap up TigTog, thank you very much!

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