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Young Minds, Old News

Noah Rosenberg, Marc Fennell, Erik Jensen. These guys are the smooth forehead on the fresh face of journalism in the digital age. Not yet creased by wrinkles, leaning forward in their chairs, they chatter like excited schoolboys as they discuss how they’re writing their own rules and forging ahead in the post-print era.

With newsrooms short on time and traditional media outlets cutting budgets, these three storytellers have found ways to report what they think is important in ways that consumers think are engaging. Rosenberg, Fennell and Jensen were among the speakers at the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival examining the tension between old media formats like newspaper and radio, and the new platforms of social media, websites and podcasting. Can they all co-exist? Should they?

In the bright, Byron Bay morning light, New York City resident, Noah Rosenberg, is in conversation with Jacqui Park, Chief Executive of the Walkley Foundation. Rosenberg is the founder of Narrative.ly, a website dedicated to telling human stories, mostly in the shape of long-form articles, but also video and photo journalism.

Revealing what drove him to start his nearly-three year old company, Rosenberg says that after years of rushing to file stories each day on print publications, he ‘wanted a place to do something deeper and tell the stories that fall through the cracks.’

To combat oversaturation and reader apathy in the 24 hour news cycle, Rosenberg’s formula is to publish only one story online each day. This means readers have time to absorb what’s being offered and to connect emotionally with the subject.

In line with the current trend for analytics, where everything we do online can be measured and evaluated, Rosenberg and his team try to pinpoint exactly what makes us linger on some stories longer than others.

The answer is emotion. ‘Without emotion, what’s the point?’, he says.

As the lunchtime queues disperse, a panel with a combined work history of about 80 years in journalism settles in to consider the future of newsmaking, and who’s really in charge.

In the blue corner are the heavyweights: George Megalogenis, former senior reporter at The Australian and author of several acclaimed books on modern Australian politics and economics, and Kate McClymont, award-winning investigative journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald. In the red corner, representing the agile, flexible Generation Y, are TV and radio producer and presenter, Marc Fennell, and former Fairfax journalist and now editor of The Saturday Paper, Erik Jensen.

McClymont is optimistic about the future of her particular breed of storytelling. ‘I think society is always going to appreciate when powerful people are held to account’, she says.

But, as even she admits, it’s impossible to dismiss the extent to which her continued success in the field is dependent on her employer, Fairfax Media, allowing her to pursue such in-depth, time consuming and sometimes costly work.

In her spirited manner, McClymont also readily embraces new technologies to engage with her audience, regularly tweeting from inside court rooms to make the proceedings more exciting for readers.

Megalogenis, who has turned his skilled prose into books and documentary series recently, provides a grounding, comforting presence on the panel. His calm explanations of political history and the development of Australian media culture envelop and comfort like the warm fibres of a cable-knit cardigan.

Megalogenis laments the constant interruptions that online news reporting has brought to the reporter’s day.

‘You can’t write a story that people are going to remember if you are constantly chasing the next minute’s headlines’, he argues.

While funding is being cut for in-depth storytelling across other mediums, long-form journalism in the radio world has found a home in podcasting, says Fennell, who presents a weekly technology podcast on Radio National. He reckons, ‘if it weren’t for podcasts, RN would have been mothballed years ago’. Instead, this modern audio platform has made RN’s particularly segmented, niche reporting accessible and lasting for a greater audience.

Jensen, like Rosenberg, went out on his own to deliver content that he thinks traditional newspapers are increasingly unable to provide. With his weekly publication, The Saturday Paper, Jensen is meeting what he sees as a need for less trivial, more trustworthy reporting, choosing to focus on long-form journalism and expert analysis in a print format.

Half of his audience, says Jensen, are reading papers for the first time. Perhaps they’re after an experience, not just content, wanting to flip through a paper instead of scrolling down, down, down.

If the schoolboys are proving anything, it’s that the playground is much bigger than we all thought. And, for the time being, there’s room for everyone.

For more insights from other speakers at the Byron Bay Writers Festival 2015 see my review of the festival  published over at www.aphramag.com 

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