Sydney Writers Festival: How the news has changed

This panel discussion about the news cycle was fascinating. Led by the Wheeler Centre’s Sophie Black, the other participants were Sydney Morning Herald journalist Kate McClymont, Vanity Fair correspondent Gabriel Sherman, NBC News reporter Katy Tur and ABC 7.30’s Monique Schafter.

These are my notes, and may not be perfect quotes, nor is it the complete discussion. 

KM – we are more informed but analytics direct you to what you already like. An echo chamber. It feels bombarding.

MS – the news is faster and repetitive.

KT – With President Trump it is very difficult to keep up. When USA is awake, it’s constant. Trump always wants to be in the headlines, and so many voice talking about one thing over and over. It’s endless and addictive. In cable, we call it the wheel of death – the desire to push new things, which evolves into incremental updates over the course of the day or night.

GS – President Trump’s tweets are presidential statements. We have to report them. But also want to talk about behind the tweets – the motivation and strategy (if there is one). President Trump had a habit of calling Fox news from 2011 and he used the platform to test responses to ideas.

SB – Is Fox new state TV now?

GS – In this case, the TV is programming the people by suggesting stuff to him, and he says yes. This isn’t how it used to be.

SB – Are you enjoying it?

KT – President Trump is tearing at the fabric of our democratic institution for his own needs. It’s a train crash, but it’s also history. So I want to be there.

GB – President Trump doesn’t believe in the media, and undermines it regularly. As a reporter, you have to report what he says even when it’s false.

KT – We have an obligation to fact check, which makes our job (as journalists) more important than ever.

GB – President Trump uses his voice to ensure people see all the media as fake.

KT – President Trump doesn’t see the USA as the good guys, and he uses this to justify why he should behave as badly as Russia.

(Long discussion about killing journalists)

GB – President Trump is emboldening other non-democratic leaders. It has a ripple effect to other countries.

KM – He polarizes civil debate with a shift to violent language.

KT – I’m seeing it everywhere, not just politics. He’s taken the discourse to the gutter where he is most comfortable, and it’s seeping in everywhere.

Social Media

KM – Deadlines for journalists have changed, and that erodes the ability to stop and think critically. The data tracks how far through an article someone reads, so the old style of an inverted pyramid doesn’t matter. If you want to keep the reader to the end, you have keep them engaged. It has improved our writing craft.

MS – Social Media is great for accessing interviewees. I can talk and meet people online easily.

KM – Readers love live blogging stories.

GB – The biggest downside is that there is no ‘off the record’ anymore. Powerful people are more wary with doing interviews.

KT – It’s easy (on social media) to take moments out of context with short characters limits.

GB – The out of context comments means people are less willing to do long form interviews, as bits are pulled out with no nuance. There is less trust between journalist and politician or high profile person.

KT – The younger generation have grown up with social media, and should be better at filtering out the truth. Or will they be worse? Our best weapon is knowledge.

GB – We should be teaching media awareness in schools.

(Discussion on education and media awareness, and the ways fake news infiltrates real news)

KT – The news should make you uncomfortable. Facts are stubborn.

SB – Why are you a journalist?

KM – We can still do good work, and break investigations. Keep plodding on. (KM talked about death threats during different investigations, etc).

KT – The truth matters.

MS – I do this to capture authenticity.

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