Five Quick Questions with Emma Johnson
Lay-offs. Online convergence. A mass of content and noise. Citizen journalists, clickbait and PR. Digital platforms. Political influence. Mainstream media. Funding. Regulations… Journalism is operating in unprecedented territory in Aotearoa.
Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand is a multi-author book that explores the changing nature of journalism in this country: as it once was, as it is today, and as we might imagine it working in the future.
Freerange Press has gathered a wide range of voices together to build an in-depth discussion on a rapidly changing industry. Don’t Dream It’s Over looks at how journalism is evolving in response to the current environment and how it might flourish again. The book explores the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional media and seeks new directions we could take to enhance journalism’s role as the fourth estate and as an important pillar of democracy.
We caught up with project editor Emma Johnson to get in inside scoop on Don't Dream It's Over (and, because we're book-obsessed, what books she's reading and what's on her bookshelf!)
Tell us about the genesis of this project.
At Freerange we have found that the multi-author approach to challenging or complex topics has been a really effective opening up of discussion. We think that it is important to canvass a range of views in situations where no one person is ‘the’ expert. One of the contributors to our last multi-author book, Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, was Giovanni Tiso (co-editor on this book). He came to us with the idea that this gathering of diverse voices would be an effective means of looking at journalism in Aotearoa – we loved the idea as we had noticed that several themes regarding media in post-quake Christchurch had arisen from our last book. So it was a natural evolvement. There were other important junctures too – Rachel King’s early support for this project (WORD); a call out for submissions, open to all… and this project is ongoing with discussions and events.
What pressures is journalism currently facing?
Journalism has always been hard (as our contributors attest to), but it is a new kind of hard. It is navigating unprecedented territory. There are big questions over how to pay for quality journalism and how to make it viable. There are fewer journalists and more people in PR; mass budget cuts and lay-offs, which result in an emptying out of experience in the newsrooms; journalists are stretched and the money and time for public interest, investigative and long-form journalism are reduced. Social media and clickthroughs prevail; the audience is fractured. So then there is the question of reaching the audience – people are gathering information from a range of sources and there is no longer a hub or predominant mainstream source around which to gather, which is so necessary for public interest, chance encounters and an exposure to new views. So many challenges!
What new opportunities does journalism have in the future?
There are all of these amazing news tools and technologies – journalists have more technology in their bags than would have been contained in an entire newsroom some thirty years ago, which means many new ways to tell stories. There is the capacity for instant diffusion online – there are no longer set deadlines as such, which gives flexibility. The new financial models and ways of producing journalism that challenge old hierarchies are particularly exciting. Or as one of our contributors, Toby Morris, says in his piece, entitled ‘Last Days at the Typewritter Factory’: ‘Now journalism can be anything’.
If we came to your home and looked at your bookshelf, what would we find?
On the working front: dictionaries and style-guides, encyclopedias and reference books. On the pleasure side: novels and literary non-fiction.
What was the last book you read that made you feel challenged in new ways; emotionally, politically, or intellectually?
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel series called My Struggle – I am up to number three. There is great urgency and honesty in the writing and I find the ones dealing with his childhood and teenage years so awkward, sad and frightening – yet full of dark promise. He is a fantastic writer – the everyday becomes utterly compelling.