Re-imagining journalism

Everyone acknowledges that the news industry is in deep crisis. While the prognosis varies and the prescriptions for revival differ, everyone seems to believe that in order to be reinvented, journalism has to be re-imagined.

I follow three academic centres that track the news industry closely: the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. All of them are tracking the multiple factors that have contributed to the crisis, including digital disruptions, the shrinking advertising market, the trust deficit and the debunking of journalism by the political leadership.

The crisis has also touched some public broadcasting organisations which have a dedicated revenue stream. For instance, BBC is to make 450 staff working on its regional programmes in England redundant as part of cost-cutting measures which will see many well-known local television and radio presenters lose their jobs.

A task requiring collective thought

CJR has been organising a series of discussions titled “The Search for Solutions” under its “The Journalism Crisis Project Webinar Series”. One of the suggestions that came from the fourth webinar was that “saving” the industry was the wrong model. Heather Chaplin, Founding director, Journalism + Design at The New School, New York, said the industry’s best hope is to re-imagine the free press for the 21st century. She said: “The minute that you realise, wait, my job isn’t to try to save the thing; my job is to reinvent something new — the possibility space expands exponentially… What does the free press that we want look like, and what conditions need to be in place for it to happen?”

I have been interacting with readers for 400 weeks trying to be an interlocutor between them and the newspaper. What is abundantly clear is that journalism is a public good and should survive for the sake of democracy. As CJR said, “The public needs journalism, and journalists need to ask where the current model is failing, and how it can be rebuilt.” The task of re-imagining journalism cannot be left to journalists and media managers alone. It requires the collective thinking of all stakeholders. Readers, as the raison d’etre of journalism, are the substantial stakeholders and their inputs are essential in reworking the contours of journalism for the 21st century.

Elements of legacy journalism

What are the essential elements of legacy journalism we need to retain and what are the elements that can be altered or even rejected? Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel spelt out 10 elements common to good journalism. They are: 1) Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth; 2) Its first loyalty is to citizens; 3) Its essence is a discipline of verification; 4) Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover; 5) It must serve as an independent monitor of power; 6) It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise; 7) It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant; 8) It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional, 9) Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience; and 10) Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news. The business model and revenue streams are inextricably linked with these core elements and the stakeholders have to come up with a compelling reason for abandoning any one of these elements.

An important distinction

These key elements also paved way for the crucial distinction in a broadsheet daily like The Hindu: the difference between news and views. In the U.S., the current debate is about the idea of objectivity in journalism. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Wesley Lowery recently wrote an interesting piece in The New York Times on the question of objectivity. According to him what most editors call objective journalism “is constructed atop a pyramid of subjective decision-making” and has been defined “almost exclusively by white reporters and their mostly white bosses.”

Over the next few weeks, I solicit the opinions of our readers on how to re-imagine journalism by looking beyond the obvious pitfalls such as the impact of post-truth narratives that flow from the top and the economic strain caused by the pandemic.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 10:01:59 PM |

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