New media models were up for discussion at the Brisbane Writers Festival, with a panel of journalists commenting on the successful and not so successful formats taking the place of a declining print media.

Susan Johnson, Jeff Sparrow, John Lanchester and panel chair Stephen Romei agreed that moves by print media to place content online and charge readers through paywalls had been an unsuccessful move in many cases.

They said the online media model needed much work, that it had been delivered in a poor format by many print-based publications and that its failure was largely because people do not want to pay for content that is not unique.

“There are glimmers of hope, but the industry isn’t following it. They are fighting to be like each other,” said Jeff Sparrow.

He held up the Australian Financial Times as an example of a successful model that worked, because people had reasons for reading it, and the content was unique.

The Christian Science Monitor had already ditched its print version entirely. Others would follow as declining advertising revenues and costly printing overheads lead to drastic job cuts in the sector.

John Lanchester said the “complete silence from the political class” on the matter of a struggling print media was worrying, as the loss of journalism would leave a “giant echoing void in debate”.

“People in power getting away with things will be very alarming. It is vital to have that space in which people congregate,” he said.

The panel suggested the following could be new models by which people paid for news:

  • Subscriptions folded in contracts with other services such as pay-TV
  • ABC could absorb print publishers
  • Micropayments to writers paid through readership subscriptions
  • Independent philanthropy.

The panel also discussed issues of quality in journalism, the online anonymity that breeds trolling and the ability for media to update or fix stories after they have been published online. Panel chair Stephen Romei noted that journalism would continue, but the form it would take was still yet to become clear.

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