The digital age, the rise of online media and social media, the fall of newspaper dominance, multichannels, paywalls, two major media reviews, media reforms, anti-siphoning list -the changes go on and on.
Trying to make sense of it all in 13 minutes every week, and monitoring wayward behaviour, has been no small feat. But it’s what we’ve come to expect of ABC’s watchdog show.
“What we could see coming five years ago came, to put it bluntly,” Holmes told TV Tonight. “Mostly in terms of the print models of the traditional newspapers, particularly. Although I think that Free to Air television will be in almost as much trouble and indeed possibly Subscription Television too, although that’s still down the track a bit.
“What’s definitely hit has been what everyone has been predicting -the death of newspapers. Obviously they’re still a little way off but I don’t think it’s perhaps as far off as we thought it might be. Especially for Fairfax. I’m sure News Limited will keep going for quite a while longer with newspapers. But the whole emphasis has gone to Online. The whole economics of it has changed, the jobs that journalists do is changing rapidly and making good, accurate, considered journalism harder and tougher than it ever was simply because of the amount of deadlines that people have, are expected to get through, and the steady reduction in the staff of the big newsrooms.
“Another change that directly affects Media Watch, and there are two really, is that what people read or consume in the way of media is already a far wider range than it used to be and of course that means the individual audiences for individual media, whether they be television or print or whatever, are smaller.
“So a programme like Media Watch which depends on the concept of a mainstream media that most people either do watch or could if they wanted to, is somewhat endangered. What do we cover when a lot of the stuff that people are actually consuming has got very small numbers?
“At the moment we don’t cover the blogosphere and things like that very much but probably my successor will start doing that more because it is increasing in significance.”
Indeed the rise in the internet and social media has meant that whilst the ABC show used to be almost a lone voice, there are more outlets analysing a much larger media landscape.
“There’s the Mumbrellas and Crikeys and lots of political websites of one intonation or another and they’re all in different ways critiquing the media,” he says.
“Also social media has given the public a weapon that it never used to have whereby in its own right it can challenge the mainstream media and can wreak considerable damage when it wants to as we saw with the ‘Destroy the Joint’ type of movement and as we saw after the 2DAY FM prank call or as we saw, for example, after the girl was killed on a quad bike.
“They were all examples of ordinary people being able to put far greater pressure on the mainstream media than its ever had to put up with before, and far greater pressure than they could ever be put under by Media Watch. So I think that’s a very interesting phenomena too.”
But the popularity of online also has its downsides: incorrect info and its inadvertent re-reporting.
While the online world feeds all manner of conspiracy theories, including that the media distorts information, Holmes still sees value in our larger newsrooms -something which may surprise his critics. In his final editorial tonight, he’ll be reiterating the positives in Australian media.
“In terms of getting good, reliable information the notion that everything is going to be fine and dandy once you got rid of the wicked mainstream and everybody can find out their own information is probably dead wrong,” he explains.
“I’ll be saying that whatever negative things we inevitably have to say on Media Watch, and in many ways we are reinforcing peoples’ mistrust and even contempt for the mainstream media, that it’s a kind of unfortunate by-product of us doing our job. But I think we will be a great deal the poorer if we don’t have large media organisations that essentially talk to everybody and enable a national conversation.
“If we all get stuck in our little boxes of only reading the views we agree with I think that could be quite dangerous for the national conversation and I hope it doesn’t happen.
“As (publisher) Eric Beecher is always saying, there is no substitute for those big, national newsrooms in terms of generating stories they still generate by far the majority of the agenda that everybody else picks up and talks about -whether it’s people on talkback radio, blogs or whatever.
“In the absence of those newsrooms with 200-300 journalists who are actually paid to find stuff out it’s quite concerning to know what we are going to be talking about and whether we’ll be talking about things that matter.”
While the UK media has been put through the wringer as a result of its hacking scandal, Holmes maintains that on the whole the Australian media is nowhere near as blemished. This year he counts 4 of 35 items in which individuals had to be seriously defended, 3 of whom lived overseas and only 1 being resident of Australia.
“The number of individuals who have been featured on Media Watch because they’ve been really badly done by the media is not that high. It is not that common in this country for individuals to be really badly treated. A lot of individuals feel pissed off because there are slight inaccuracies or they feel they’ve been slightly unfairly treated. But compared with all the phone hacking and stuff that went on in the UK there’s no evidence of that happening here,” he insists.
“The media here is not as bad in some ways as you might assume if you just watch Media Watch and nothing else.
“That’s not to say it’s perfect and we’re never short of material but it could be a lot worse.”
TOMORROW: PART 2: Jonathan Holmes on ACMA, social media, and what’s next.
Jonathan Holmes exits Media Watch tonight at 9:20pm on ABC1.