How can cybernetics play a role in reimagining the future of journalism?

Taking a cybernetics approach to reimagining journalism.

Picture of ANU School of Cybernetics

Written by: ANU School of Cybernetics
16 Mar 2023

News Events

Panelists at the Peter Greste provocation.
Panelists at the Peter Greste provocation.

Reimagining the world of journalism for how it can best benefit society into the future requires complex thinking and the knowledge of various systems.

To reconsider journalism as a public good rather than a commercial enterprise raises questions of funding mechanisms and independent regulation amongst other intricate problems.

The ANU School of Cybernetics in collaboration with the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society invited Professor Peter Greste to participate in Provocations, a live, interactive academic event seeking to shed light on competing visions for a sustainable future.

Professor Greste is an award-winning journalist, author and academic. He spent 15 years with the BBC before joining Al Jazeera, where a series of events left him sentenced for prison in Egypt, starting a lifelong campaign for press freedom.

“Unless we are prepared to reconceptualise and rethink the way that news operates, we are headed for a very difficult future,” Professor Greste said.

In response to Greste’s provocation, facilitator Professor Katherine Daniell and panellists Associate Professor Andrew Meares from the ANU School of Cybernetics and Dr Rebecca Pearse from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society discussed a range of topics on the future of news digitalisation and democratisation. This involved questioning how we might move towards a more equitable and diverse mediascape, representative of the public good.

The rapid switch from print to increasingly digitalised news and media has resulted in fundamental changes throughout the industry, with outlets that have historically relied on advertisements for funds being increasingly pushed towards subscription-based models.

This, Peter argues, is producing journalism that is “going to be shoutier, that’s going to be triggering to your audience, that’s going to inspire them to reach into their pockets and start pining up hard cash.”

“If we can re-engineer a system entirely, we are much better placed to create an information ecosystem that works not just for us as a community, but our democracy as a whole.”

The shift is of widespread importance due to the impact of news and journalism not just in education, but more broadly in community engagement and widespread accountability.

“Media has a real role to play in exposing problems and keeping the government to account,” Dr Pearse said.

“We need to question how we make journalism relevant to the vast majority of people who switch off when it comes to important issues such as climate change.” 

Cybernetics has a role to play in this fundamental shift of thinking when considering not only the impact of AI on society, but by learning glimpses of the future through frequencies of the past.

“The world we live in today is partly because of the conversations around cybernetics. By changing the boundaries, looking at what is actually happening, and asking some tricky questions, there is a way to open up and create these new possibilities,” Meares said.

“The cybernetics approach takes into account not just the financing, business model for journalism, or the standards of journalism but the whole kit and caboodle. The way in which information flows and feeds back into the system is fundamental to the way we should tackle this problem and ultimately solve it,” Greste said.

In his reference to cybernetics and a way of thinking through knowledge systems, Greste and fellow panellists explored this complex problem, and centred discussions around what might be a complex solution.

The full-length provocation and panel discussion is available on YouTube.

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