Giovanni Tiso: The future is unwritten

Giovanni Tiso 600px
Giovanni Tiso 600px

Giovanni Tiso is one of the editors of “Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand.” A writer of contemplative, intelligent essays, he casts his astute eye on media every day, challenging the status-quo. He will be joining Simon Wilson, Paula Penfold and Sara Vui-Talitu on Sunday to discuss the role of media in the changing landscape of the internet.

How has your relationship with the media changed over the years?

It feels like all the changes happened when I moved to New Zealand, in 1998: that’s when I stopped buying newspapers and started using the internet, initially mostly to keep up with the news back in Italy. I couldn’t read the paper here or watch the news, both seemed to be speaking a language I didn’t understand, or talking about a country that bore very little resemblance to the New Zealand I was getting to know.  I switched to radio and the web. Later, blogs were a great resource for helping me connect different information sources in a way that made more sense for me.

What do you identify as problems in contemporary journalism in Aotearoa/NZ?

We have both a quality and a quantity problem. It’s hard to open one of our two main media sites without recoiling: what digital editors in particular seem to think we ought to be interested in is childish nonsense. The quality journalism we have is carefully hidden, presumably because it is perceived as not generating enough revenue. Then when something like the Christchurch earthquakes or dirty politics happens we are reminded that having a thin (and poorly unionised) journalism profession makes the public very easy to manipulate. Democracy needs good journalism. We need to be informed about the basic facts of our society.

Looking back, what have we lost in journalism? And what have we gained?

I’m not nostalgic for the journalism of old, here or overseas, but there have been undeniable losses in whole sectors of journalism, such as coverage of court proceedings or local government. I think it was Paula Penfold who recently noted that our political gallery has also been greatly shrunk. And I may have my reservations about the dominant style of political reporting, but there needs to be someone who sits through the select committees and the press conferences – someone who has experience and a deep understanding of how government works. The gains we have made, in terms of plurality and inclusion for instance, won’t mean a lot unless we can incorporate those old jobs into new journalism.

What excites you about the future of journalism?

That it’s yet to happen, mostly. The industry is in deep crisis and I’m not naïve enough to think it simply equates to an opportunity – it’s still a crisis above all. But it will force us to look at all the discrete things that journalism used to do, and the ones that it still does, and to think more consciously about how we can preserve and expand those functions. The political alternative is to let the market sort its own, which is clearly the approach taken by our current ministers in charge: so the field is entirely ours. The other side, as it were, has vacated it.

Another thing that excites me is that more people are having a say: more people are critics, more people do journalism, sometimes without even realising it. In the disability sector, for instance, the best analyses often come from service users or people who are excluded from services. It’s so much easier to connect now, and to make this information available to one another. I think there is a great future in that, in all areas of society.

Giovanni Tiso will be discussing journalism in Aotearoa with his colleagues and book contributors Simon Wilson, Paula Penfold and Sara Vui-Talitu  at 12 pm on Sunday September 11