Media140 Sydney: A Review

Media140, held in Sydney on 5-6 November, was a media industry event ostensibly about the Future of Journalism in the Social Media Age, but largely focused on Twitter. The talkfest did not venture much beyond the world of traditional journalism and its perception of social media.

Part of a series launched in the UK and headed to Perth early next year, Media140 was hosted in Sydney by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, with CEO Mark Scott delivering a competent keynote. (The only thing that stood out for me was the ABC’s social media guidelines).

Moderator Julie Posetti, former ABC journalist and now University of Canberra academic, was pleasant, intelligent and quite adept at drawing out responses from the panels.

Over the next two days, one participant stood head and shoulders above the rest: Professor Jay Rosen of New York University (via Skype from the Big Apple). Ironically, despite Prof Rosen’s insistence that the internet is not an echo-chamber, his pithy comments and witty rejoinders echoed across the twitterverse following his Media140 appearance.

Not present were any creators of the tools that sparked the online social media revolution, which would have made the proceedings so much more interesting. Both the stage and the auditorium were populated mainly by journalists and a few social media executives, academics, one boring politician, and one soon-to-be-former ghost twitterer. One or two pure social media consultants were thrown in for good measure. Among the latter was Laurel Papworth, who delivered a particularly insipid and soporific defence of bloggers in the talk on Do Journos do it better? – especially as the audience were still under the spell of a sparkling performance by Stilgherrian (who seems to use only one name.) Laurel’s decision to use Gary Hayes’ Social Media Counts web app as a prop was a distraction for the audience and a bit of a disaster for her because she lost their attention, despite having some good things to say. (One interesting observation: ‘No blogger that I know of has a horoscope, crossword and sports section to make up for lack of attention on the part of the reader.’)

Stilgherrian, as already mentioned above, stood out in the panel discussing Do Journos do it better? Tongue firmly in cheek, the media consultant and successful blogger tapped the dictionary definition of journalism to declare: ‘If you’re not a journalist you’re not doing journalism, therefore you’re not merely bad at it, you’re not even doing it at all!’ His parting line – ‘When everyone is connected, what does the capital-J journalist do that’s worth charging money for?’ – was punchy, especially in light of Caroline Overington’s hints at her employer News Ltd’s upcoming iTunes-like pay model for online news.

The likes of Overington and Fairfax journalist Annabel Crabb were oblivious of the fact that the event was about social media, opting instead to take swipes at each other’s employers on stage.

Among the more intelligent and informed personalities present was John Bergin, director of digital news at Sky News, although I would not agree with all of his views. Bergin said ‘passive news consumption is all but extinct,’ but I beg to differ: news consumption has never been passive; people have always been active with views and opinions in response to news, but they just never had the right tools to reveal their own thoughts and take their conversations to the wider world. Now they do, and the sheer volume of talk has unhinged traditional media types or, as Norg Media CEO Bronwen Clune described them, ‘the audience formerly known as the media.’

Riyaad Minty, head of social media at Middle East news giant Al Jazeera, was a star at the event. Minty highlighted how Al Jazeera has successfully married its traditional media model to social media such as Twitter, and how the network’s Creative Commons Repository of images and videos of the Gaza conflict was widely used by filmmakers, activists, independent media, and even school children. The final slides in his thought-provoking presentation said: ‘telling the truth is hard… even if it is only 140 characters at a time.’ On the other side of the spectrum from Minty’s optimism about social media was Fairfax Digital editor-in-chief Mike van Niekerk, who insisted that Twitter was ‘highly overrated at the moment.’

In the end, the most memorable quotes were from Prof Rosen:

‘There’s no such thing as information overload; there’s only filter failure.’
‘Audience atomisation has been overcome.’

The gong for the least memorable appearance at Media140 goes to a certain Malcolm Turnbull. The only two things I remember are that, for Malcolm, email remains the ‘killer app,’ and his twitterer is a ghost. Or was, until a certain Adolf Hitler video made its appearance on YouTube recently…

There was, inevitably, a profusion of social media-speak – terms and phrases that everyone seemed to be mouthing very authoritatively. But as always with jargon, I had the impression that few of those present grasped the full meaning and weight of most terms. Having recently heard a lot of the same lingo at the e-Commerce Expo in London, for me it was deja vu all over again (to quote that venerable American thinker, Yogi Berra).

I have an aversion to using hackneyed terms, so I will not list them here. I am not an echo chamber.

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One thought on “Media140 Sydney: A Review

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