[...] It seems that our discussions over the last few days have been rather doom-ridden. But this is a reflection of a number of different clashes of a cultural kind, most of all of a generational clash around the whole business of the internet.
The sense of gloom predominates mainly among people who find it hard to handle the new technologies. But there is a positive side too: the young generation is being introduced to news, to information about their world via the internet in a way. But this also means that the young don't focus on newspapers for coverage of daily events. And yet arguments in favour of the internet are incontrovertible. It is an opportunity to be seized. After all the internet breaks news rapidly in real time. Newspapers may provide the analysis but there is that initial burst that comes from the internet. For the advertising industry the net provides a precision of targeting and great benefits to the world of commerce. And it provides opportunities. For whistle-blowing, telling us about things that might otherwise be kept under surveillance, like the beginnings of the unearthing of what was happening in Abu Ghraib.
But the internet also poses self-evident dangers. Blogging is creating a new generation of superficial hacks, armies of them. There is a serious issue around quality control of newsgathering on the internet. There is concern that we are about to witness the demise of the professional foreign correspondent. The internet also plays a very negative role by encouraging nationalism, racism, sectarianism and, indeed, feeding terrorism. Yet much of the impact of the internet on newspapers is positive rather than negative. It is vitally important for newspapers not to get bogged down by fears over the power of new technology, and to focus instead more on content and quality.
That takes us on to another clash, the clash around the way in which we are seeing and have been seeing the demise of really good objective reporting. Concern is being expressed at this conference about ways in which objectivity and even truth are being sacrificed to a greater subjectivity: for example that reporters are increasingly becoming part of the story. Speakers have stressed how important it is that we establish ground rules, in order to have empirical reporting skills encouraged and developed in our new generation of reporters.
There are those who contend that we are already engaged in a “Fourth World War” which is posing serious threats to the West’s survival. Others believe in a positive outcome of the fight against terrorism – always provided current threats are handled seriously and sensitively. In this debate, we could very easily find ourselves becoming polarised about the issue of terrorism. It is a key issue, to which we often have a rather lazy approach, simply expressing angst about terror. We need to realise that as Western liberal societies we see the world through our own prism of rationalism. That is perhaps why we find it so hard to understand the motivations of those who have profound religious beliefs and beliefs of an extreme kind. It is very hard for us to even contemplate how we can respond. It may be that we are spending too much time being descriptive and that we do not have enough discipline to set ourselves the task of searching for solutions that would indicate a way forward.
Maybe this is where we might direct our discussions when M100 meets again next year. Then we might explore ways in which the media present the challenges facing us. We could also have an in depth discussion of the importance and the responsibilities of the media in democracies. The big question is just how we set about finding solutions to the very real problems, that are confronting us now. [...]