In a speech last night entitled 'Is news over?', the former Times international editor questioned the role of journalists and the very nature of journalism in the digital world. He told the audience of students and media professionals gathered at City University that the rapid development of technology had prised the concept of news out of the hands of traditional media.
"The ability for anyone to produce something called news, circulate it, discuss it and edit it brings an oligopoly to a brutal end," he said.
"Until recently journalists could rest secure in the knowledge that it wasn't easy for anyone to claim to be a journalist unless they were in a position to use the capital-intensive equipment to publish or broadcast. That barrier to entry has of course gone."
Brock told how news, once the binding factor in so many communities in the form of a local paper, was now created by online communities which "form, congeal, dissolve and disperse" at a speed unimaginable to previous generations.
On the inevitable question of how to fund journalism, Brock was candid. "There is no law of economics which guarantees that when one business model fails, a replacement one is immediately available," he said.
Yet he went on to suggest that we should be grateful for "ever cheaper, ever lighter" multimedia devices, which allow stories to be told in the broadest possible form, with both audio and visual dimensions. With the decline of newspapers, however, he stressed the importance of maintaining the role of the written word.
"We have to find a way to make sure that words survive in the equation. Each technology tends to affect the way news is reported on that particular platform and some of the most successful ways of telling stories seem to weave words, video and sound together. I only plead that words, so beautiful and so useful, don’t get squeezed out."
Throughout his address, Brock insisted that journalists, if they are to survive, must begin reassessing how they regard themselves and their place in the new structures of the digital world.
"If journalism is to be valued, and perhaps even paid for, that worth has to be clear to people who are not journalists. Journalists have to start by accepting that they don't automatically hold the powerful place in the new information system that they held in the old," he said.
He concluded by telling the audience that journalism is indeed valuable, but reminded those present that challenging times lie ahead.
"We're entering a new communications age and making the argument for journalism all over again needs a little more critical self-appraisal than we have been used to doing. The worth of journalism is real, and its case will need to be made often in the next few years."
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