Public knowledge forum

When

11.00am–10.30pm

4 November 2013

Where

Sydney Opera House

Dramatic shifts in the media industry threaten traditional reporting. What is the new journalism, does it inform the public, and what does this mean for democracy?

The Public Knowledge Forum brought together distinguished opinion leaders from technology, politics, and the press to help answer pressing questions about the future of journalism and its impact on governance and public policy. How has the technological and economic disruption of the media business affected journalism’s ability to hold institutions accountable? In a world of fragmented audiences and time-shifted media consumption, can the new media still create the common pool of knowledge on which democratic self-government depends? Is our usage of the internet as a platform for news degrading or enhancing the quality of our public conversations?

Launching with Life after truth: The death of journalism and what this means for democracy, presented in conjunction with the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, the Forum presented a full day of lively and challenging panel discussions, and the opportunity to be part of the audience for the ABC's Q&A program, which was broadcast live from the Sydney Opera House.

Sunday 3 November - Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Life after truth: The death of journalism and what this means for democracy
The mass media model that brought breaking news into our homes has crumbled under the weight of digital media. As newspapers shrink and media empires disappear, what has happened to the concepts and ideals that underpinned them? The relationship between 'news' and 'truth' and the idea of journalism as a crusading vocation with a special role in defending democracy may be two of the casualties of this upheaval. If traditional 'news' has become a toxic stew of violence, opinion, and gossip, are we looking at life after truth? Does this mean democracies without informed citizens, or can new media give democracies what they need? Can we look forward to a new era of real freedom of information, or will the technologies that fractured the old systems crush the utopian dreams of the new one?

Conrad Black, former media proprietor

Annabel Crabb, ABC chief online political reporter

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist

with James Fallows, The Atlantic national correspondent

Monday 4 November - Public Knowledge Forum

Official welcome and introductionBates Gill, CEO of the United States Studies Centre

The Honourable Marie Ficarra MLC, Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier of NSW

James Fallows, The Atlantic national correspondent

Session one: The nature of journalism

Have internet-enabled platforms for journalism amplified existing characteristics of the news media, such as partisanship and commercial pressures, rather than creating new challenges? Was journalism ever ‘objective’ and does it need to be in order to perform a useful function in society? What are the implications for citizens of a partisan or ideologically driven media? What does a ‘post truth’ environment mean for journalism and the political debate? Has public confidence in the rigour and usefulness of the news media declined in a permanently damaging way?

Jonathan Holmes, former MediaWatch presenter

Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of The American Interest

Jay Rosen, New York University professor

with Leigh Sales, ABC 730 host

Session two: News media as watchdog

How has the technological and economic disruption of the media business affected journalism’s ability to hold institutions accountable? Do newspapers and other traditional media organisations still play a dominant role in setting the public agenda? Are new media organisations, individual journalists, or other institutions (such as universities) capable of filling gaps created by resource cuts in traditional media organisations? Are some important subjects or communities affected by this deficit more than others? What is the appropriate role of citizens in the watchdog process? What are the implications for journalism of the current national security climate?

Melissa Chan, correspondent for Al Jazeera

Mary Kissel, member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board

Eugene Robinson, columnist at the Washington Post

with Helen Dalley, Sky News host

Lunch: A conversation

Conrad Black, former media proprietor

The Honourable Bob Carr, former Australian foreign minister

Session three: Common ground

In a world of fragmented audiences and time-shifted media consumption, has our shared understanding been undermined? Who determines what information is considered important after the traditional bundle of news has been dismantled? Does an increased reliance on niche and partisan news sources change people’s relationship to politics? What, if any, implications does this have for social cohesion, the health of our democracies and public policy making?

John Judis, editor for The New Republic

Mary Kissel, member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board

Iain Walker, executive director at the newDemocracy Foundation

with Sara James, correspondent for NBC

Session four: Engaged audiences

What affects have the use of social media platforms had on journalism? Does having direct and active relationships with the 'audience' change the way stories are chosen and told? Does this engagement represent a welcome corrective to the imperfect closeted journalism of the past or is it a threat to the quality of public knowledge and political participation? What are the implications of the rise of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, as popular vehicles for sharing and distributing news

Hal Crawford, editor in chief of ninemsn

Nicole Hemmer, American media and politics scholar

Jonathan Rauch, Brookings Institution and The Atlantic

with Julia Baird, New York Times columnist and host of The Drum on ABC TV

Session five: News as serious business

Is the 'market' for news being set by audiences' tastes and expectations or the incentives and preferences of media organisations and journalists? Is it a cause for concern that 'worthy' news might attract small audiences or has it always been that way? Is our usage of the internet as a platform for news degrading or enhancing the quality of our public conversations? Many consumers of news are overloaded with information, but do they know less than ever about current events?

Jay Newton-Small, correspondent for Time

Robert Schlesinger, opinion editor at US News & Word Report

Kate Torney, director of news at the ABC

with John Barron, ABC host and journalist

Session six: Where to from here?

In this dynamic media environment are there causes for optimism about the viability of serious journalism and the standard of political debate? What are the most promising approaches being taken by news media organisations and other institutions, such as governments and universities, to meeting the information needs of communities?

Eric Beecher, journalist, editor and media proprietor

Paul Kelly, editor-at-large for The Australian

Jay Rosen, New York University professor

with James Fallows, The Atlantic national correspondent

ABC Q&A

The Public Knowledge Forum was an initiative of the United States Studies Centre with the support of the NSW Government.