Lateline has finished but what will replace it?

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When Lateline debuted on February 13, 1990, colour television was only 15 years old. I was about to start my journalism career at Melbourne's Herald Sun.

The photographers I worked with had to bring their film canisters back to the dark room on Flinders St and wait for the pictures to develop before choosing which image would make it in to the next day's edition.

When I was out in the field I would call the newsroom and dictate my story to a copytaker who would punch it out on a typewriter.

In the business section of the newspaper, several people were employed to cut articles out of various publications and paste them in to scrapbooks under certain subject headings that roughly matched our areas of responsibility — BHP, the dollar, interest rates etc.

That was how we did much of the research for our writing. Back then, the only thing online was your wet laundry. The internet was still four years away.

Google wouldn't launch until 1998. Social media was something that didn't emerge until 2004. There was no such thing as a Facebook friend. Just real ones. Tweeting was something birds did. Phones were largely at home, stuck to the wall. Television news was by appointment viewing only.

If you missed the bulletins at 6:00pm or 7:00pm, you listened to the short radio updates or waited until for your morning newspaper delivery to find out what was happening in the world. There was no other way of gathering information. Smartphones didn't exist until 2007.

TV production staff in the studio control room.

Lateline introduced audiences to the long-form interview. Single issue programs featured international guests given as much as half an hour to examine big ideas.

Twenty eight years ago, there was nothing else like it on Australian television. 7.30 Report was a state based program focused on local concerns.

Before the launch of Lateline, those with a curiosity for foreign news read the summaries curated by Australian newspapers. If you wanted to read global mastheads like The New York Times, The New Yorker or The Guardian, there were certain newsagents who could procure them for you or you could chance your luck at the State Libraries where the editions on file were at least a day old.

An archive photo showing a transmission control panel.

Once upon a time, the ABC did not count the local — let alone overseas — newspapers as direct competitors. But digital disruption means the ABC News website now fights for attention with every newspaper everywhere in the world.

Three of the top ten places Australians turns for news are now not Australian (Daily Mail, Guardian and BBC).

Audiences have splintered in a way that was unimaginable in 1990. News and current affairs, investigations and analysis are available wherever people choose to seek them out.

There is no longer a need to patiently watch a television current affairs program until the segment you're most interested in arrives. Modern technology allows us to time shift programs and hive off the segments we want to watch.

Emma Alberici on the Lateline set during the show's final week.

People who were once ABC diehards can now surf cyberspace for their specific areas of interest and they can do that whenever they like.

Just this week, Martin Parkinson — the head of the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (also former Treasury head) — made an extraordinary intervention in the public debate. He claimed former prime minister Tony Abbott had damaged the public service.

The interview was part of a Melbourne University-produced podcast and his interrogator was the vice chancellor not a journalist. In the past three years, other more irreverent media players have entered the market offering an alternative news digest.

While traditional newsrooms are shedding staff, BuzzFeed has taken on 1,600 employees globally since it launched in 2006. It produces 11 separate international editions with Australia (launched in 2014) already one of the group's top three markets.

A Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through glasses held by a woman.

Another site providing an alternative approach to the news is Conceived by a couple of young guys in a Sydney garage in 2013, it is already one of the country's largest online publishers. The outdoor advertising firm, Ooh!Media recently paid $11.5 million for an 85 per cent share in the company.

The Project — an innovative news and analysis program on Channel 10 — attracts as many viewers as the ABC's more serious 7:30.

Sitting down in front of the television at 10:30pm to explore weighty topics is now a difficult proposition. People prefer entertainment at night and subscription television has answered their prayers.

In 1990, Lateline never had to prise eyeballs away from the likes of Netflix, iTunes, Foxtel, Stan and YouTube.

The challenge for the ABC in 2017 is to jealously protect our brand which represents quality content consistently delivered.

We must not deviate from our responsibility to be the home of sober journalism that is accurate and fearless. That is the bedrock of our brand.

We must also respect our viewers and find them wherever they are and allow them to engage with us whenever they want.

For more than 61 years, the Australian public has put its trust in the ABC and relied on us to hold people in authority to account.

Lateline presenters

Our audiences will still want the kind of content Lateline produced but ABC management has decided that two scheduled daily evening current affair programs are not sustainable.

In a rapidly changing media landscape, they've opted to invest the money instead on groups of people pursuing investigations and specialist content.

The stories produced by those new teams will be offered through dedicated programs, on ABC Online, featured on iview and through our social media accounts. There is no glory in standing still, watching the tide of change roll over us.

I will grieve for the end of a program that has sustained me professionally and personally for a decade — six years as the presenter and four years before that as a foreign correspondent.

For those who remain sceptical about the decision to retire the show, I remind of the quip from former US president Barack Obama at last year's White House Correspondents' Dinner: "Every year, somebody at this dinner makes a joke about BuzzFeed changing the media landscape. And every year The Washington Post table laughs a little bit less hard."

Former Lateline host Emma Alberici is the ABC's chief economics correspondent.

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