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Dispatches from the future?

punch1Two signs of the changing mediascape went live today. The first is News Ltd’s new online venture The Punch, which is being headed by ex-Daily Telegraph editor, David Penberthy. Obviously it’s early days, but the site aims rapid-response news and opinion, with an emphasis upon debate and conversation (you can read Penberthy’s launch post here).

Thus far the venture’s mostly been notable for its efforts to secure contributors prepared to work for free, which given the thing’s being backed by News Ltd, who presumably have a business plan which involves monetizing the whole thing as quickly as possible, seems a bit cheeky, to say the least (Guy Rundle has a few things to say on this point in today’s Crikey!).

That said, it’s an interesting venture, not least because of the choice of Penberthy as Editor. Whatever you think of Penberthy’s politics or his whole man-of-the-people schtick, the guy’s smart, he can write and when he’s not trying too hard he’s bloody funny. And while I’m constitutionally suspicious of the sort of issue-by-issue championing of “common sense” papers like the Tele trade in, it’s manifestly clear he’s got a genuine gift for that curious combination of democratic levelling and ratbaggery that distinguishes the best tabloid journalism (this is the guy who sent a muzzle to Germaine Greer, after all).

More interestingly though, his time at the Tele was notable for his determination to open the paper up to its readers. As Editor he exposed himself to readers through regular liveblogging, and during the last Federal election campaign he sought and – more importantly – responded to feedback from readers about the campaign and his paper’s coverage of it. And more broadly, he oversaw the expansion of the Tele’s online presence and its energetic culture of discussion and debate (a culture which strays into uncomfortably racist territory from time to time, but which is notable for its energy nonetheless).

So, how does The Punch look? I’ve not had time to dig too deep, but it’s definitely an intriguing creation. The first thing is to say that I’m not keen on the blog-based layout, since it makes the process of checking out new content pretty labour-intensive. And it seems a pity a site which wants “to encourage a civil and illuminating standard of debate” begins by declaring “[i]t’s not a fancy, la-di-dah site aimed at people with three university degrees” (though even as I type that I can’t believe I’m allowing myself to rise to that particular bait). Oh, and there’s so much content just keeping up with what’s new looks like a full-time job. But all that said, it’s energetic and full of potential, and perhaps most importantly, it represents a genuine attempt on the part of News Ltd to try and rethink what they might be doing in the online environment. Maybe they could put some money into one aimed at us la-di-dah types next.

Meanwhile, Swinburne University’s Institute for Social Research has announced it is establishing The Foundation for Public Interest Journalism, a not-for-profit foundation intended to explore new models for investigative journalism:

“The foundation will support investigative, interactive journalism while exploring ways of making good journalism sustainable in the new media age.

“It will fund worthy journalism projects initiated by either members of the public or practising journalists, and is likely to incorporate approaches from similar projects overseas, such as www.spot.us.

“Projects will be assessed on their capacity to serve the public interest, with priority given to issues that are under-reported by the traditional media (read more).”

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. ‘And it seems a pity a site which wants “to encourage a civil and illuminating standard of debate” begins by declaring “[i]t’s not a fancy, la-di-dah site aimed at people with three university degrees” (though even as I type that I can’t believe I’m allowing myself to rise to that particular bait).’

    No, neither can I. If I can restrain myself, anyone can.

    June 1, 2009
  2. Saline #

    Re Swinburne:
    Of course, Huffington announced a fund to revive the art of investigative journalism some months ago.

    June 1, 2009
  3. She did, though I suspect la Huff’s fund’s interest in Australian questions is likely to be pretty limited . . .

    June 1, 2009
  4. The Punch is already revealing its ugly News Ltd origins by breaching the copyright of a citizen journalist.

    June 3, 2009

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