The Future of Journalism: Will we be better informed? Part Two

In the internet age, where journalists are no longer exclusive gate-keepers of publishing platforms, access to unprecedented amounts of information had not necessarily resulted in better informed audiences, said Richard Sambrook, director of Cardiff University’s journalism centre.

“One of the paradoxes is that we have more information out there than ever and less trust in it than ever,” he said.

Reuters correspondent Amie Ferris-Rotman said the days of traditional foreign correspondents and news agencies parachuting foreign reporters in to do “white saviour journalism” were numbered.

She urged news agencies to invest in training local staff who “often produce better stories simply because they know their countries better”. Above all, the industry must resist ‘deprofessionalisation’.

“Because of what’s happened with the internet people think [journalism is] a hobby, something you should get for free,” said Ferris-Rotman. “This is totally unacceptable. If we don’t change this the world will suffer enormously and get less of a full picture.”

South African freelance journalist and trainer Raymond Joseph then joined the discussion via Skype. He told of efforts to reach remote communities by building investigative tools to gather user generated content.

Joseph said the challenge for journalists was to cut through the “cacophony” of social media noise and empower audiences to become competent news gatherers:

“Increasingly we’re digging up those voices. But we’re going to have to do the journalism because with all those voices out there we have to sort the news from the noise.”

Yet another perspective was offered by Rachel Briggs, director of Hostage UK, an NGO working with hostages and their families.

Briggs said new platforms had empowered news subjects to publish their message directly, highlighting the example of Mike Haines, who turned to YouTube to address audiences after IS militants murdered his brother David Haines.

But Briggs warned these platforms were also available to “the bad guys” with IS now “effectively running its own news channel”. Access to such graphic content presented new challenges to editorial judgement, she said, not only in news rooms but also for users of social media.

In the discussion that followed, the panel agreed that the explosion of raw information online was both a blessing and a curse for journalists, whose skills of objective verification were now needed more than ever.

“We’ve got a whole world opened up to us but it’s a very dangerous world if we’re just going to dive into it,” said Joseph, and praised the rise of verification tools and agencies.

“The same rules apply that have always applied,” said Ferris-Rotman. “If you’re a good journalist you’ve live by certain principles, you’ve been trained a certain way to think objectively to have freedom of bias, to present a nuanced view of events.”

This was the enduring value of journalistic principles, said Sambrook, in an age where the lines were increasingly blurred for audiences between journalism, PR, propaganda, advertising and lobbying.

“In this new environment if [the public] don’t understand that difference there’s a problem. . . . they’re consuming junk food without realising it.”

You can watch the event and listen again here: