What’s the difference between news and social media?

Right now, there is quite a lot of discussion in the media as to whether or not you should pay for news. It’s a discussion worth having and one that will affect all of us one way or another because news is very much a part of our world.

You pay for magazines and books so why should newspapers be any different? Would you work for free? Would your parents work for free? Should teachers, nurses, doctors, police, and commandos work for free? The answer is no. Most people can’t afford to work for nothing so why should journalists?

To understand why you should pay for news you first need to understand the difference between quality news and social media because the two aren’t the same. Quality news isn’t a sound bite on Twitter, nor is it a vacuous (empty) comment on Facebook. And it’s definitely not a daily blog on the environmental issues affecting the Baw Baw frog. Quality news is investigative journalism. It’s about holding those in authority accountable to you and me—the general public.

A story that may take you only five minutes to read may have taken a journalist five days, five weeks or five months to research and write. That’s what investigative journalism does—it investigates, and to provide this service requires time and money.

It’s easy to forget that not all news is produced instantly when it’s delivered to us 24/7. Pictures of meteorites falling to earth in far-flung Russia and which are beamed across the planet are instant. However, a camera on a car dashboard that happens to capture such an event is not in the same league as Watergate. What is Watergate? Watergate was one of the most famous pieces of investigative journalism ever carried out. It brought down a president.

Watergate

On 17 June, 1972 five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, USA. At the time a handful of newspapers reported the break-in but nothing more. Two journalists from The Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were intrigued as to what the five men were doing there in the first place. They began to dig around and ask questions. “Why were men in masks and rubber gloves, with walkie-talkies, in the DNC headquarters at 2:00 in the morning? Who were they? What were they doing? What did they want?”

Woodward and Bernstein uncovered information suggesting that senior people in the FBI, CIA and White House knew the reason for the break-in and attempted to cover it up.

The scandal eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, on 9 August, 1974. The scandal also resulted in the jailing of 43 people, including dozens of Nixon’s top administration officials.

It was two years from the initial break-in to President Nixon’s resignation. During that time Woodward and Bernstein spent tens of thousands of hours researching and interviewing witnesses, and during that period The Washington Post’s owner, Katharine Graham, continued to support their work and pay their salaries.


ICAC Investigation in NSW

Watergate happened over 40 years ago so why is it relevant now? Well, good journalists are still asking questions and investigating corruption. Currently in New South Wales the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is investigating the alleged corruption of a previous government minister, Eddie Obeid.

The Sydney Morning Herald was instrumental in bringing about the ICAC inquiry. Journalists at the Herald questioned how it was possible that a government minister, who earns $130,540 a year, could afford to pay $8.5 million for a waterfront mansion. And was it just a coincidence that Mr Obeid stood to make as much as $100 million from land he bought just months before the government announced it would open a coal mine on that same land? The Herald investigated the story because they believed the public had a right to know if Mr Obeid had any inside information or used his political position to gain a financial advantage.


Health Services Union (HSU) Investigation

In 2012 another newspaper, The Australian relentlessly pursued the Health Services Union (HSU) and its national president, Michael Williamson, over alleged corruption. The HSU represents many of the less well-off workers in the hospital sector: cleaners, kitchen hands and aged-care workers.

The Australian questioned the employment of Mr William’s and in particular his wife who earned $384,625 from the HSU for doing filing and administrative work. An inquiry was held which found more than $20 million of questionable payments were made to suppliers without any form of tendering or contract. It is also alleged Mr Williamson engaged in cronyism (jobs for friends) and nepotism (jobs for family) in his 15 year administration of the branch, handing out contracts to suppliers in which he, his business associates, and members of his family obtained a personal benefit. The inquiry shamed the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, into stating, “I am especially angry for those low-paid workers in our hospitals whose hard-earned union dues, millions of dollars, have gone to line the pockets of greedy manipulators who betrayed their trust.”


The Leveson Inquiry UK

The British newspaper The Guardian persistently pursued the truth and cover-up of the phone-hacking scandal involving the tabloid newspaper the News of the World, which was caught hacking into the phones of murdered school-girl Milly Dowler, members of the British Royal Family, politicians and celebrities.

The Guardian’s reporting and investigation of the scandal forced the British prime minister David Cameron to announce on 13 July 2011, a public inquiry into the conduct of the News of the World. Several employees of the newspaper including the chief executive Rebekah Brooks along with the commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police resigned and were arrested. The News of the World was forced to close after advertisers boycotted the newspaper.


Since 1992 over 900 journalist have been killed around the world

Investigative journalism is an honourable profession. It can also be quite dangerous. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that 995 journalist have been killed since 1992 and over 232 are in prison.

Every year around the world hundreds of journalists are killed, harassed, or imprisoned for reporting the truth.

Journalism plays a vital role in the balance of power between a government and its people. When a country’s journalists are silenced, its people are silenced.

In a democratic society journalists provide the public with information that assists them to make informed decisions on important issues such as the economy, environment, education, health, government, and many other social topics.

Countries that don’t have a free press are countries without a democracy. Corruption, fear, intimidation and violence flourishes in those societies where journalists are prevented from reporting the truth.


Investigative journalism benefits all of us

We all have a vested interest in quality journalism. Good newspapers aren’t afraid to question politicians, governments and large corporations—that’s freedom of speech and the foundation of democracy: it’s our right to question. However, most of us don’t have the time, resources, or ability to question those in authority, which is why newspapers do it on our behalf. Good newspapers are relentless in their quest for the truth. As Bill Clinton once said, “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel”.

There are many free news sites on the Internet. Most of these sites are “aggregators,” which means they collect the news from other websites. Aggregators don’t produce the news nor do they employ investigative journalists.

Newspapers are part of the community; therefore, they have a direct interest in the people who live and work in that town or city. They look after you and your family at a local level, report the news, and deal with issues that affect you directly.

Right now, that probably isn’t much of a concern to you, but in time it will be. Quality journalism is an insurance policy against corruption. It holds those in authority accountable to you and me—the general public. And this is the reason why we must pay for quality news: it protects all of us.