Week 11 – Student journalism’s expanding roles

Yes, it makes sense that journalism programs embrace the new while holding on to the old. In this instance the new is technology, and the old is values. News needs to present accurate accounts of what is happening so that citizens can be informed. Informed citizens are then in a position to make informed decisions. That is hope. Some participants in running for the presidential campaign have turned accuracy and truth on their heads. That is, I believe, an accurate statement. Of course, I keep reading accounts of campaigns from yesteryear that are supposed to have been worse than what is happening today. It is hard to believe, and I don’t think that fact exonerates these recent candidates and their efforts. Neither does it do anything for the populace.

That said, embracing new delivery systems is integral to journalism. How those delivery systems uphold the principles of journalism or the values of journalism needs to be gauged, not by profitability but by whether people are informed well. In “Cultural production of ignorance provides rich field for study,” Michale Hiltzik of the L.A. Times reports on agnotology, “a neologism signifying the study of the cultural production of ignorance. He focuses on industry, in particular, Big Tobacco but others, too, and their efforts to undermine scientific studies.

Without going into great detail, you can read the story here, the publicists/marketers of these companies used a type of psychological technology to reduce scientific truths about tobacco and vaccines to lies in the minds of those who should have been convinced otherwise. So, yes, I agree that journalists, especially young ones, need to embrace the new technologies, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Vox, Instagram, Snapchat and how many others, but I also strongly encourage them to be alert to the psychological technologies unleashed by these social media that can be used to propagate that leave readers unhinged as well as uninformed and the old values kicked to the curb.

I do not pretend to understand the ironies and paradoxes that permeate this brave new world. For instance, this story, “Study: People view information Twitter as less credible than on news websites,” by Jeff Sonderman on the Poynter website, finds what the headlines indicates. And yet, people sign up for Twitter and get information from it that colors their views of politics and how many other areas in their lives. How many followers does Donald Trump have, again? Twitter is a tool that can be used to manipulate rather than inform. And remember, while Yahoo is not the vehicle it once was, its developers drew on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels for the name.

Which leads me to the major point of this post, which is that rather than shorter pieces, readers need, and tend to read, longer pieces that provide them with pertinent information. See “Shorter isn’t better, photos aren’t always alluring and deep digging pays off, recent report concludes” and “Bob Woodward: ‘You get the truth at night, the lies during the day‘” both on Poynter.  The former says that readers give up their subscriptions when news operations do not provide them with pertinent information. Time is too precious to waste, so they look for other avenues to get their news. Here I add that these people are not engaging so much in the Journalism of Affirmation, looking for news that conforms to their opinions, but rather these people are looking for information.

The latter includes this: “Woodward, … believes the future of long-form journalism lies in nonfiction books, not in newspapers or online.” With the complexity of and the current state of news in the throes of figuring out how to maintain the old values, perhaps the way to the hearts of citizens is a more comprehensive approach that puts the news into context with longer, more involved reports, that rather than sunder society provide a unifying principle–the truth exists and journalists will get at it, eventually: It is important to wait a bit. This approach is not new, having been laid out by Kovach and Rosenstiel in their books, the Element of Journalism and Blur, but also is something that is being practiced, and whose practice is forcing journalists to alter their ways of working.

The prime example these days is the unfolding story of the Panama Papers. In at least one NPR story, one of the principles behind the reporting said in so many words that he had to completely unlearn his way of working–not as a solo entity but as part of team. See “Panama Papers Leak Is The Result of Unprecedented Media Collaboration.”

Guidelines, protocols and staff manuals need to provide parameters for the use of new technology. At the same time, students need to embrace new ways of working that keep the old values and principles of journalism alive and well while taking on reverberations of these technologies–some psychological ones–and deflate or deflect them.

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