The cash strapped ABC, is finally introducing a 24 hour news channel. It starts tonight and shifts to digital TV (HD). It is another example of how broadcasters have had to change and modernise to meet the fast-evolving demands of readers and advertisers.The national broadcaster has been dragging its feet on this, probably because it has lacked the resources and is over stretched.
Better late than never, given that they have the content and the charter. It is another necessary step into the digital age or economy. This is a media economy, in which the way that we use the internet, the mobile phone and iPad makes the half hour 7 pm News followed by the 7.30 Report an anachronism left over from the industrial age. The new digital platforms mean that we can follow a political crisis in real time on free-to-air and have access to more state based news.
Is this going to be more churnalism, regurgitation of press releases from within the State Circle beltway and journalists talking to other journalists endlessly repeated? The news now just bubbles along on the screens in airports, shopping malls, bus stations and squares so that we have chattering walls. The flow of news is now so incessant that an apathy towards the consumption of news is emerging, because the ratio of filler news to real news in the 24 hours news cycle is increasing.
Real news is simply not a ratings leader and the commercial mass media world is one in which journalistic principles are being thrown out the window in a frantic quest for ratings with junk news. In the 24/7 news world the ABC stands for independent free-to-air news, and as a competitor to Sky News and it will provide more fuel to the running feud between the ABC and News Corporation. Will the ABC’s service mean a greater recognition that our local politics is increasingly shaped by global forces?
Jason Wilson in The Age has doubts about this move, given that the ABC is already over stretched:
The new station is being propped up with ”savings” to be made elsewhere – by asking journalists to do more, by poaching personnel from their current posts elsewhere in the organisation and by recycling existing material.The problem is that the broadcaster is already noticeably overstretched. There are fewer foreign bureaus, local radio newsrooms have been pared back, and for years critics have been saying that for all Kerry O’Brien’s doggedness, without solid investigative support his interviews on The 7.30 Report have become ritualistic. Four Corners still breaks occasional stories, but spends too many months of the year off the air.
He asks whether we as viewers – and voters – be prepared to put up with a continuing substandard performance across the broad sweep of news and current affairs offerings as the price of these corporate ambitions? The (relatively tiny) audience that wants continuous news can surely avail themselves of a pay-TV subscription or flick on the ABC’s free News Radio.
The ABC, as a broadcaster, has little choice given that its coverage of the Rudd execution was flawed. It does need to step into the digital age, and that means a 24/7 television news services. However, Wilson says that we should ask questions about the size of the anticipated audience for this service — and about who will actually use it in a post-broadcast media world.
There’s every indication that other similar initiatives, like BBC 24 in the UK, have struggled to transcend that audience — which is also the group that Sky relies on for its daytime ratings here. A 24-hour ABC news network will likely be part of the smorgasbord of specialised material available to news junkies like me whose appetite for political content is effectively bottomless. It will, in other words, be largely serving a niche market which is already well catered for. Is this the best way to use the ABC’s finite resources?
Wilson wants the ABC to focus more on depth than shallow continuous coverage by, for example, renewing the investigative remit of 4 Corners in order that it might pursue a greater number of important, complex national stories, the ABC would be providing something that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere and which Australian democracy urgently needs. He also reckons that the ABC should develop its online offerings —go hard on the ABC Local websites, pursue ABC Open, streamline online analysis offerings, and own that space.