Debunked: Four myths about journalism today
Journalism faces some huge political, economic and technological challenges, but behind the gloomy headlines there is a lot to be excited about. Andy Chatfield, course co-leader of Falmouth Flexible's MA Journalism, tackles four lazy myths about the state of the profession.
Myth 1: Journalism is a dying profession
Journalism is changing but certainly not dying.
The media landscape has transformed more in the last 20 years than in the preceding 120 – and ‘jobs for life’ are certainly thinner on the ground.
But the technological changes which have stripped away parts of the mainstream media, including many local and national newspapers, are now creating unique and exciting opportunities for vigorous, collaborative and profitable independent journalism. Where the reporting, production and distribution of news once required a lot of people and a lot of money, a lot can now be achieved by one creative soul armed with a smartphone. Add a decent wifi or 4G signal and the world is our oyster.
For the agile and enterprising, these are very exciting times. Organisations like the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists offer extraordinary opportunities for global collaboration, while new payment experiments by companies like Blendle and hashtagourstories typify a new can-do, problem-solving spirit.
Myth 2: Everyone is a journalist these days
A lot of people seem to THINK they’re journalists - and it’s true that anyone with a phone and a Twitter account can capture and distribute news of fires, crashes and protest marches rapidly and often with great impact.
But such citizen journalist, however powerful, rarely provides little more than the first hit of raw information in the news cycle.
Verifying facts, putting events into perspective, and following the ripples that any significant story creates takes more than 280 characters and 10 seconds of dramatic shaky video.
Trained journalists area still best placed to corral this material to help citizens make sense of the world and, in the words of the American Press Institute, ‘provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments’. Commentators like Mandla Chinula of ijnet suggest quality editorial, not clickbait, is the future of profitable journalism.
Falmouth Flexible's part-time, online MA Journalism will help you think radically, learn to adapt and exploit new forms of news media. Contact our Course Advisor team to find out more about the course and the application process.
Myth 3: Reporters are amoral cynics
Our MA Journalism is predicated on the opposite assumption – that the febrile politics of our times is spawning a generation of journalists who care about their communities, nations and the world - and want to make a positive difference.
This is not the same as activism. Journalists still need to keep a healthy distance from the politicians, community leaders and businesspeople they are holding to account and rigorously apply core principles like accuracy.
But they can choose which stories to tell and how to tell them, giving a voice to those with little power, exposing misconduct and highlighting the essential truths in complex issues such as climate change.
As long ago as 1997, BBC reporter Martin Bell argued for something he called the ‘journalism of attachment’ in the context of war reporting – the victims needed representation. It provoked a lot of debate in media circles, such as this article after the death of Marie Colvin in Syria, but Bell was arguing against the kind of bland neutrality which can dehumanise some journalism – and prefigured a trend which seems to have accelerated since.
Myth 4: News organisations just peddle ‘fake news’
The web is awash with lies and with claims by often very powerful people, from the US President down, that journalists are spreading it.
The mainstream media has its black sheep like any industry, but accuracy and fairness remain at the heart of journalism practice and its codes of conduct in democracies worldwide. Indeed, the polarisation of political debate and the challenges of sorting the wheat from the chaff in the whirl of social media and aggressive bot activity have led to a renewed commitment by many leading media organisations to the disciplines of verification – or fact-checking, in simple language.
For all the controversies surrounding its shortcomings as a news aggregator, Google itself is playing a growing role in helping reporters spot and debunk fake news, such as in this initiative in India, while many news outlets provide readers with tips on how to spot dodgy stories. The Guardian has gone one step further, running a project called Newswise which helps primary school children decode reliable and unreliable information in fun and engaging ways.
Trust is the fundamental currency of journalism – no reporter, newspaper or broadcaster can last long without it.
Falmouth Flexible's part-time, online MA Journalism will equip you to work independently, anywhere in the world. Contact our Course Advisor team to find out more about the course and the application process.