Face the Future: Tools For a Modern Age

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By Antje Bormann

A panel of journalists came together to discuss their take on the future of journalism, to mark the publication of Face the Future: Tools For A Modern Age.

The first to present his thoughts at the event, which was moderated by Raymond Snoddy of BBC Newswatch was Kevin Marsh, until recently executive editor of the BBC College of Journalism.

He set out the issue of the ever-expanding information universe with equally diversifying ways of accessing and transmitting information, which is exciting but not really journalism, as many seem to think. Journalism to him is rather a small, precise part of this information universe whose distinction lies in the ability to sift through the deluge of information, filter out items of value to the audience, investigate and analyse them properly, and finally report them honestly, all things that require special skills, mindsets and commitment.

Laura Oliver, community co-ordinator for Guardian News and Media, added another twist by saying that new media, like Twitter, Facebook and blogs should not be discounted as some of the writers are in fact professional journalists, and even some of the amateurs are committed, skilled and reputable sources of information. An important new skill for journalists therefore is to establish credentials for online sources and to verify the information gleaned from them. However, this is still rather uncharted territory with more grey areas than in the past.

Judith Townend, a freelance journalist currently working on a PhD, replied to the question if we could expect new developments every six months that she hoped so. The example of MySpace should be a warning to anyone who mistook new online media for an end in themselves rather than a tool. Facebook is well established in her opinion due to its size but it is not a good news source as it is about its members’ personal lives, whereas Twitter has its own limitations that make it not particularly efficient, amongst them that it is not representative of society at large. She cited journalists on Twitter who ask colleagues for case studies to flesh out preconceived stories and just pick the bits that fit as an example of ‘lazy journalism’ using new media, even from professional journalists.

In the following debate this question was picked up again, and an interesting argument was that what is seen as ‘lazy journalism’, like journalists not going out and talking to people to get a story but being stuck in the office, is sometimes simply a consequence of the rolling news issue of continually having to update, leaving no time to do the actual journalistic work.

Other questions looked at the way editors may influence journalism in attempts to ‘pander to their readership’; new online media allowing the return to citizen journalism as the historical precursor of commercial journalism; how news organisations go about establishing trust and their brand value, especially where paywalls are in place; and whether declining news viewing figures really mean that people are less interested or simply signify a shift in the way they access news.

Face the Future: Tools For A Modern Age is edited by John Mair and Richard Keeble and published by Arima Publishing.