On November 15, 2017 Amsterdam had the honour to host the sixteenth News Xchange annual conference, that took place at the historical building at the Beurs van Berlage. The event, started off in Ljubljana Slovenia in 2002, gathers more than 600 international media experts, including journalists, bloggers and start-up entrepreneurs every year. The aim is to discuss new ideas, thus being inspired by the others’ points of view through “the art of conversation”. An intellectual lounge welcomed hundreds of people for a two-day meeting, focusing on the future of journalism, and the undeniable implications of living in the digital age.
But what is journalism nowadays, and what are the tasks a journalist is required to fulfil? How has this profession changed since the advent of social media? And, finally, what are the measures to be taken, in order to avoid the decline of the news landscape?
These are some of the questions that Amy Selwyn, News Xchange Managing Director, together with speakers from broadcasting companies such as CNN, AFP, and ABC News, has tried to answer, favoured by an intimate atmosphere, where dialogue appears to be possible despite different cultural backgrounds.
Hard times for… journalists! But is the situation seriously as bad as they say? Generally speaking, the XXI century has been labelled as the end of traditional journalism. The downturn of the print, giving way to the spread of technology within the media environment, represents a turning point of epochal magnitude for the history of the so-called Fourth Estate. The new equipment and platforms available, on which the greatest part of this sector appears to be investing at the moment, make journalism faster, and cheaper. Consequently, more money is employed to form generations of future journalists, developing multitasking skills suitable for the demands of a modern information market.
The aim is to discuss new ideas, thus being inspired by the others’ points of view through “the art of conversation”
The evolution of the journalistic world
Today, the reporter’s job has become much more complex than how it used to be: as stated during the conference, it’s not merely about being an impactful writer; the role of a journalist is now to range simultaneously over a wide variety of fields, including photography, video making, and storytelling. Not only journalists, but also news consumers are affected by the evolution of the journalistic world, that, according to CNN’s Tommy Evans, “puts people in the position to tell their story”.
A concrete example of this is given by the work of Yusuf Omar, co-founder of the project Hashtag Our Stories: recognised as Thomson Foundation’s Mobile Journalist of the Year, besides receiving the Snapchat’s Social Impact Storyteller Award (2016), Yusuf, and his wife Sumaiya travel around the globe to empower local communities to witness their reality, through the use of personal devices. The purpose is to develop a multi-channel network “of daily shows on mobiles, for mobiles” (Omar, 2017), capable of defeating misinformation by raising public awareness. “Journalism is finding things out”, argues the young couple: but what happens when fake news threatens the reports trustworthiness, disseminating unreliable information online?
The validity of news
The possibility to write, read, and share stories worldwide, within a fraction of a second, acts as a double-edged sword when it comes to news covering: on one hand, it is proven by daily experience how most of the stories on the agenda lately pop up on social networks, progressively replacing the official sources in supplying the news room. On the other hand, the unquantifiable number of facts present on the internet makes the cross-checking extremely complicated for the editorial boards: the result is that the validity of many news items appearing on those platforms remain unchecked. When false information is made public, the role of journalism itself is seriously exposed.
In this respect, Campbell Brown, former NBC News correspondent and CNN reporter, has recently been hired by Facebook to lead the “Journalism Project”, of which the goal is “to bring the world closer together” (Brown, 2017). How? Disabling the accounts considered responsible for the increase of fake news, so as to progressively rebuild community trust; the starting point of this process will therefore be an improvement in the safety of navigation. “Truth is the ultimate weapon, and truth is what journalism wants to provide”, states the journalist, in response to who sees the deal with the social media giant as a betrayal against her journalistic career.
Not even technology should ever be able to change the reason why people, despite the paradoxes of this century, still believe in the importance of journalism
Whether it be a 360° camera recording each angle of what happens in a refugee camp, or the rise of Snapchat as tool enabling selfie-journalism, it doesn’t really matter in the end. Not even technology should ever be able to change the reason why people, despite the paradoxes of this century, still believe in the importance of journalism. The power of giving voice to those that wouldn’t have one, together with the willingness to inform the population as a whole – regardless of races, cultures, or social status – were, and have to remain the two core principles of journalism. No screen, animation, nor augmented reality should ever divert the attention from those that are the ethical and moral implications of being a reporter.
Follow the instinct, without relying on artificial frames, and risk money for stories that are worth to tell: only in this way will increase our chances of achieving the Golden Age of journalism.
Cover: Gilda Bruno / Final editing: Ramona Nouse