In today’s world, journalism is facing multifarious challenges and they have come mostly with fast changing technology. In the West, the print editions are facing tough times to survive and, in many cases, they have altogether disappeared. But these threats are understandable since the technological advancements have changed the lives of people to an unimaginable extent.
Journalism is fighting to stay relevant as an average reader finds himself too to be a journalist with social media at his finger tips to disseminate information. But that is what the hard-core journalists who have been in the profession for long time and even presiding over the successful models of newspapers worldwide don’t agree with. For them there is no alternative to journalism when it is real.
The threats that are coming in way due to social media and the readers’ dependence on it were discussed at length at this year’s Global Editors Network summit in Lisbon. From how the newspapers need to integrate into a new model that is digital and data based to the challenges thrown by the use of social media and particularly fake news, the participants exuded confidence that it is the real time journalism that will survive since the reader has an appetite to read the correct news. US President Donald Trump’s oft repeated jibe at what he calls “Fake News” dominated the discussions. Some expressed reservation in not linking news with fake and at the most calling it “false”. “News can never be fake, call it fake information,” quipped one. “It has been turned into a weapon to mean anything a particular person doesn’t like”.
The social media platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter were focus of the discussions since they generate most of the content that does not go through the process of fact checking, editing and above all responsibility. The view was that both Facebook and Google have to take the responsibility of what it is churning out as they also are publishers “like us”. But they don’t take this responsibility. While in the West the social media platforms like Facebook are mostly used and not misused, in the developing world it is used against individuals by individuals and the menace of fake accounts and pages has not been controlled. This nuisance has badly hit its image even as it is seen as a boon as far as the freedom of expression is concerned.
Already under pressure for the data leakage, Facebook is struggling to resurrect its credibility. According to a survey by Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, these platforms have not been able to build trust among people in combating the fake news. The figures are self-explanatory: 76 percent respondents have said that Facebook is not doing enough while as 71 have said it in case of Twitter and 65 percent for Google. In ‘just enough’ category 14 percent have said it about Facebook, 17 percent for Twitter and 21 percent for Google.
At the same time the newsrooms have started adopting new strategies and the relationship has shifted since the social media are seen as a “powerful” tool to enhance the reach, despite the strong reservations journalists have against them.
In a research conducted by same school in over 1000 newsrooms in America and Canada, it is becoming clear that these relationships have changed. “41% of the newsrooms surveyed said they made major changes to news production in response to the growth of social media platforms while 42% admitted to minor changes. Rather surprisingly, given all the bad press platforms have been getting lately, 50% of respondents said that platforms have strengthened their relationship with audiences. 56% of respondents said platforms should take a great deal or quite a bit of responsibility for financially supporting journalism. And 86% of respondents said that platforms have decreased trust in journalism,” says the research.
Another research conducted by Kantar shows a decline of trust in social media and online outlets primarily because of the fake news. Out of around 8,000 people they found that newspapers, magazines and TV news outlets had retained a greater measure of public trust than digital specialists had. Overall, 58 percent of those surveyed said that as a result of becoming aware of fake news they had less trust in social media news stories about politics or elections.
For mainstream media, the figure was 24 percent. With reference to what Trump has been saying, Kantar concluded, “The efforts to brand ‘mainstream news media’ as ‘fake news’ have largely failed.”
Besides, many other issues confronting media, the threats to it and efforts to undermine its relevance came in for healthy discussions. For example, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan said, “While journalists cannot become the opposition party to populists, journalists should neither be docile, keep their mouths shut, or continue business as usual.” With the “new media” eating into the space and even the revenue of the traditional media, a new space for embracing the changes has since been created. That is why one could see an amalgam of digital players, data managers, traditional Editors and technological giants converging to give shape to a new and integrated newsroom. The chemistry between them is fast becoming a reality and this is probably because of the demands of the market.
What is interesting to see is that despite the emergence and reach of social media, which is easily available in a place like India due to cheap communication, the traditional media has not lost its sheen. While in West, the hard copies are disappearing and the shift to online/digital is becoming a new reality, in places like India the print is going to survive for long time. Fake news emanating from social media platforms has in a way made the newspapers credible.
But the challenge for them also is to not to lose the sight in competing with “breaking news” syndrome that will bring them at par with false information that is coming out of no mechanism. Fact checking, contextualization, and accuracy are the tools that are most important to follow. Losing a line between news reporting and opinion reporting is an anathema to journalism. While we need a journalism that interprets at the same time it is important to see that impartiality is the only saving tool. There is a need to differentiate between the social media and traditional media.