New media vs old media… a phoney war
I spent most of Monday at the ‘Media Diversity; Why does it matter?’ conference in Dublin. In general, the quality of contributions was pretty high: most impressive for me was John Lloyd’s perspective on the challenges facing media in the context of the UK hacking scandal and its changed role in the era of the internet, but Karin Wahl-Jorgensen’s warning of the dangers posed by online personalisation was also thought-provoking, as was Aphra Kerr’s direct challenge to the current media monoculture in Ireland. And Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte’s brusque delivery and rapid departure didn’t obscure the fact that his speech contained some intriguing pointers about the Government’s plans in this area.
However, most reports of the event, whether in newspapers, online sevices, or conversations on Twitter, focused overwhelmingly on the comments made by Alan Crosbie, chairman of the company which owns the Examiner and Sunday Busines Post newspapers. Those comments were certainly eyecatching: Crosbie’s contention that there was a ”threat to humanity posed by the tsunami of unverifiable data, opinion, libel and vulgar abuse in new media” was guaranteed to get some reaction. But they didn’t fairly reflect the span and depth of the issues addressed over the course of the day.
Such is life, you may say. It’s inevitable that news organisations will latch onto the most colourful quote. And Laura Slattery, for The Irish Times, and Christine Bohan at The Journal both gave some flavour of some of the other contributions.
But the focus on Crosbie’s comments, the comments themselves and the inevitable snarkfest which followed on Twitter and elsewhere showed up once again the depressing shallowness of the ‘debate’, such as it is, about how media is transforming and what implications that transformation might have for our society and culture.
The same phenomenon could be seen around opinion columns by Fintan O’Toole and Conor Brady published this week in The Irish Times. As it happens, I didn’t agree with some of the content of these pieces, and thought they illustrated the conceptual hurdles faced by people coming from a print background when faced with the glorious, turbulent, messy, liberating force which is the Internet. But those faults paled into insignificance beside the glib, ill-informed nature of much of the reaction.
Is it possible to have a coherent debate about new media without descending into a sterile ‘new vs old’ argument? It seems to be possible in the UK and US, where journalists, bloggers, theoreticians and others are engaged in some really interesting, provocative ongoing discussions. Unfortunately, Ireland still seems to be several years behind the curve.