Some seriously savvy media practitioners, and interesting regional variations on the issues facing journalism nationally and internationally. Those are my main impressions on the morning after the night before (yes, gentle reader, there was free beer and pizza). The night before being the Future of Journalism conference in Hobart last night.

A couple of things that were good news to me, and interesting. One was the clear statement by the Fairfax Media owned Launceston Examiner editor Fiona Reynolds that regional newspapers/news organisations have an opportunity. The revenue base has not yet been eroded by new media in the same way as the metros, and therefore there is time to adapt and learn from the mistakes and lost opportunities of the past. I couldn’t agree more. Let’s hope we see more of that kind of strategic thinking higher up the Fairfax tree.

I have, of course, written on the lack of such strategic action at Fairfax  previously. Possibly I was wrong. More likely, I think, is that this kind of integrated, strategic thinking is only just getting going at Fairfax. And that’s putting it optimistically.

Hobart Mercury editor Garry Bailey surprised and gratified me  by saying he agreed with most of what I had to say in my presentation. I didn’t embarrass him by asking him if that included my statement that Murdoch was talking moralistic tosh when he accused Google of being a thief. But while being up with the latest, Bailey, too, made the point that particularly in regional areas, newspapers have a long way to run.

One thing I liked about what he said was that reporters must be encouraged to social network as part of the job. By doing this they will connect with “an incredible variety of people” and be able to inform the editor what the audience thinks, rather than the other way round.

Chief reporter for the Mercury, Sue Neales, told me an interesting story over the pizza about how the newspaper recently used Facebook to find the Tasmanian victim of the recent Somalian tsunami.

Another surprise – and a distinct deja vue experience – was the hostility directed by some at Tasmanian Times founder Lindsay Tuffin.  Indeed, I got a bit hot under the collar when there seemed to be suggestions that Tuffin should not use the forum to state his belief that for all their self-belief, the state’s newspapers are not as warmly regarded by their audiences as they would like to think.

Now to be frank I don’t look at Tuffin’s internet only Tasmanian Times often enough to say anything authoratative about it. It may be a crock for all I know. But the kind of comments and dismissiveness directed at the larrikin Tuffin reminded me strongly of the disdain directed at Crikey founder Stephen Mayne a decade ago and still present in some quarters.

Yet Mayne founded Crikey, which today employs journalists and keeps others, including me, on retainer. He established what has proven to be a sustainable business. Which of us can say the same?

Mayne, too, was and is a maverick and a larrikin. One criticism of Tuffin’s venture I heard over the pizza last night is that it does not yet make money, or employ anyone. Well,that was true of Crikey as well for a long time. Tuffin told us that while he has yet to break even, he is beginning to tap te advertising market and the audience has responded to his appeals to philanthropy. Memories of the Crikey army of old.

Another local luminary said that Tuffin is different to Mayne because he doesn’t do journalism, only opinion. I don’t know the publication well enough to comment, but would welcome the opinions of Tasmanians on this blog. A quick look at today’s edition of the Tasmanian Times will suggest one reason for the hostility. Tuffin takes a stick to the local mainstream media.

Why is it that some (certainly not all, perhaps not most) journalists have become the new conservatives, while much of society, and most big institutions, are all around them opening themselves to the public/ the audience? If we are frightened of diversse opinion, and most of all if we are frightened of our audience, then something has gone seriously wrong.

But the overwhelming impression from last night was not of conservatism, but of a community hungry for innovation and keen to talk it over. Props to the Media Alliance for putting on these gigs. Where do your dues go? Well, it was nice pizza.

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