Kate McClymont: ‘New media doesn’t yet have the capacity to hold the powerful to account’

Kate McClymont: 130912: SMH/News/Staff: Portrait of SMH investigative journalist  and alll round lovely person Kate McClymont at Fairfax studios. Photograph by James Alcock.

Kate McClymont

Sydney Morning Herald investigative journalist Kate McClymont believes that new media do not yet have the capacity to deliver robust investigate journalism.

Speaking at the St James Ethics Centre’s IQ2 debate on the proposition ‘Good riddance to the media dinosaurs’, McClymont said that “for a free and fearless press”, new and traditional media needed to “coexist”.

“The things we do, we do well. You don’t yet have the capacity to do that. You don’t yet have the capacity to hold the powerful to account,” she told the panel of new media experts.

The debate panel saw Margo Kingston (No Fibs), Sophie Black (Private Media) and Tim Duggan (Sound Alliance) argue against traditional media, with McClymont (SMH), Sarrah Le Marquand (The Daily Telegraph) and Jonathan Holmes (The Age) taking up the defence.

Kingston, who left Fairfax Media in 2005 and founded her crowdfunded citizen journalism platform No Fibs in 2012, caused a stir when she said there was no ethical accountability in Australian newsrooms.

“There is no enforcement of ethics in the Australian media. There is no accountability,” Kinston said. “In new media, there are constantly evolving debates about what is ethical.”

McClymont countered that the Australian Press Council was one body that offered accountability and that traditional media was compelled to run apologies and corrections by them.

Kinston said: “The Daily Telegraph breaches the code of ethics it subscribes to for the Press Council every single day of the week.”

Former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes said that online news ventures could not offer the same scrutiny of state governments and local councils.

“Those are the entities that rule our lives and somebody has to watch them while they’re at it. At present it’s overwhelmingly the mainstream media with its great big news rooms that do that,” Holmes said.

“I’m not saying there can’t be start up websites and mobile platforms that detect a couple of localities and cities and states. Adelaide’s InDaily, for example, is trying to turn Adelaide from a one newspaper city into a two news website city. But all over the country, local newspapers are dying and not much is popping up in their place. Nothing besides ABC Rural and regional websites paid for by city taxpayers.

“Even in our cities as the great newsrooms of the dinosaur media shrink, courts go unreported, complex policies go oversimplified or simply ignored, decisions get taken in council chambers and state parliaments with far too little scrutiny or discussion. The ABC – shamefully in my view – has chopped its state television current affairs, allegedly to meet budget cuts. Basically because it has placed a higher priority on reaching a younger audience with a mobile, digital buzz.”

Daily Telegraph columnist Sarrah le Marquand said that the dominant Australian news sites are all produced by traditional media organisations and spruiked the competition to illustrate her point.

“On April 29 for instance, the day of the Bali 9 executions, the Sydney Morning Herald website had two and a half million hits. Perhaps out with the old in with the new-old is the most accurate summation of digital journalism in this country,” she said.

Editor in chief of Private Media, which publishes Crikey, Sophie Black, highlighted NPR’s “addictive” podcast Serial, live-tweeting of the Ferguson and Baltimore protests and Wikileaks releases as some of new media’s triumphs.

Black said: “Let’s get real: journalists have always been under pressure – victims of deadlines, commercial interests and their own human error. It’s just that on the internet, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Jack Fisher


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