Week 7 — Multimedia: force for good — and danger

When I was reading through the Ethical Journalism Network’s Untold Stories: How Corruption and Conflicts of Interest Stalk the Newsroom, edited by Aidan White, I couldn’t help but make a connection to multimedia.

The articles that comprise the book address problems of corruption and conflicts of interest in different regions/countries across the globe. The essays cover Western Balkans, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Turkey, United Kingdom and Ukraine.

To varying degrees many of the issues might be applied to the practice of journalism in the United States, but the States are not included.

Multimedia is not covered, specifically, but its influence can be felt throughout. For instance, in Rich Peppiatt’s “The self-inflicted wounds that point to enemies within media,” about United Kingdom press practices, he points to the challenge of dealing with how “ownership of a particular story will last only until the moment it is published online.”

From that moment is gets picked up by the other organizations, “cannibalised” (sic) by others and in so doing veracity, verification gets cannibalized along with it. Inherent in this process is the relentlessness of the machine-like tendency to keeping pushing out the same old stories, regardless of their truthfulness.

Peppiatt goes on to chronicle not the relentless machine but that profit motive behind the machine. While I agree with Peppiatt’s point: that the enemies of media come from within, and his target is inside and at the top in corporate offices; my own point is that the medium can be its own worst enemy–if it is not reeled in.

That is where I found Tim Porter’s post, “New Values for a New Age of Journalism,” (April 10, 2005) on his blog First Draft a ray of hope. Despite have been written over 10 years ago, Porter’s contribution is highly relevant today. In a way, it also shows that the deep and insightful thinking about digital/multimedia has been going on for sometime.

Porter’s comments are prescient. In the post, he calls for new values that meet today’s requirements (2005’s are still pertinent in 2016) the way the old values met the needs of the technology and the readers of its day. For instance, he takes to task the value of breaking stories as an industry standard.

He writes: “Old Newsroom Value: Competition. The obsession with being first leads to a buffet line of bad journalistic behavior – deal-cutting …, anonymous sources, lop-sided stories (with follow-ups often receiving lesser play than the original, errors, out-right chicanery and plagiarism.”

And he adds: “New Value: Context. Thoroughness serves readers, not sources. Information, with more reporting, becomes education. Transparency trumps anonymity.”

The most telling value swaps discipline for speed: “Today’s news today – or even tomorrow – is useless to readers if they can’t make sense of it. Break the news tight; go longer, more-layered in the next pass to tell it right. Mid-length he-said, she-said reports provide neither.”

This way of thinking is totally in line with Kovach and Rosenstiel’s thinking from their book Blur, which seeks to educate readers to today’s news reality and advocates for readers to learn “ways of skeptical knowing.”

With both EJN’s Untold Stories addressing worldwide concerns and commentators like Porter and Kovach and Rosenstiel, it will only be a mater of time for readers to catch on. (I am eternally hopeful, of course.)

Perhaps, that is why news corporations turn to speed–because multimedia can and does speed things along, especially toward lining corporate pocketbooks; the corporation may very well know their time is limited and they have to make what they can while they can.

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