THIS WORLD HAS never been in more need of good, well-researched journalism. It is tempting to write the words “old-fashioned” here too. And if by old-fashioned, what is meant is detailed, neutral, in-depth and well thought-out writing, then old-fashioned is what is called for.
Around the world there are squeezes from all directions, stifling what the public is allowed to know, and what it is allowed to say or write. From government pressure to mafia threats, from commercial agencies to reputation- damaging (ro)bots, the right to speak and report is under huge pressure.
And good journalism must be there to unmask those threats. With the rise of the words “fake news” comes a spirit that seems to think that I can apply this phrase to anything I disagree with. So the epithet “fake news” was out of its box and being used to try to disarm reporters and to undermine public belief both in research, experts, truth and often journalism.
So, this is a time for journalists and journalism to step up and do a really excellent, thorough job of discovering and publishing the news: that’s not a news broadcast or publication that is just a hodgepodge of opinions based on very little research; nor a news story that has so much spin in it it’s hard to discern any actual facts. There are those that might argue that the media has been through a pretty unimpressive period in the past 10 years, with some valiant exceptions. The line between the news and opinion pages has become increasingly hard to distinguish. So, it might be less than surprising that the public might have lost faith in news sources.
Social media has played a massive part in this. Hysterical opinion goes down a storm, instantly shared across platforms; while well-argued journalism, with more facts than screeching, tends to stay in its box, unread. And, of course, there are signs that attention spans are melting away. So not only does every item have to be now, now, now, but we can only be bothered to read the first line, or look at the picture.
Sadly, research from Stanford University shows young people are gathering their “news” from social media without bothering even to click through on a link. They also have trouble discerning the difference between a social media-placed advertising feature and a news story from a well-established news media company. So shareable opinion has become king, and news has melted away and merged into a hybrid of what it once was.
But journalists need to take back the news wherever they can, and re-establish it as a well-researched, investigated piece of information, not an outpouring of ill-informed thoughts. And the public has to take some responsibility too. We need to be capable of a bit more dissection and scepticism when we see stories, rather than swallowing them whole without thinking.