07 Feb Journalism, so what?
About a week ago I found this amazingly complex visualisation about Donald Trump’s business ties. Now that I am studying data journalism and programming on the second to last university course, I couldn’t help to admire the amount of work Kim Albrecht put into it. (In his words it was a weekend project.)
While playing around with Albrecht’s illustration I found it to be very intriguing but at the same time it was missing so much information. One click after another I wondered how does this actually affect me or anything for the matter. I know that the ties and network of Trump are of big significance but with Albrecht’s tool it was impossible for me to understand or comprehend.
Albrecht’s visualisation is a beautiful piece of information but it doesn’t have any context in it. And much like majority of journalism, it doesn’t answer the question so what.
Seven majority-Muslim nations not impacted by the travel ban have business ties to President Trump. “So what, why should I care?”
In Sweden child brides are allowed to live with their adult partners. “So what, does this affect your life somehow?”
Sami people’s culture is used to promote tourism in Northern Finland. “So what, why is that a problem?”
In March 2016 Finland’s national broadcasting company Yleisradio, Yle, arranged a talk show about the feeling of insecurity caused by immigration. To the talk show Yle had invited members of the congress, victims, professors, police officers – and the chairman of a islam hating, extreme right association.
Before the talk show had even started, Yle was flooded with criticism for letting a racist organisation have their say. Yle defended its choice by saying that they wanted to give a fair chance to all extreme opinions, both immigration positive and negative. This justification didn’t make things easier: Yle was accused of helping and making fascism look like an equal counterpart to acceptance and understanding.
The way Yle invited and defended their choice made extreme right a new normal. They got to represent their opinion as one and true, equal to others. And the viewers? They were left by themselves to decide what to do with all the information they received.
This is not responsible journalism.
Responsible journalism is not only about providing information and different views. It is about putting information and views into context. Responsible journalism doesn’t leave the readers alone with the information. It helps the reader in understanding why that information is important.
Responsible journalism answers the questions so what.
From the autumn courses at the uni, a sentence stuck to my head: “News have to provide people tools to deal with the worries of the world.” News values tend to favour events of negative kind. This in itself increases worry and anxiety, and the more we broadcast, the more we worry. Is it okay to leave it up to the audience to cope with this worry? I think not.
The media landscape it not what it used to be. The change is not only about new tech and platforms. Most of all it is about a new kind of audience with diverse expectations and needs. These needs need to be met, truthfully in all possible aspects. That is why we as journalists have to answer the questions how and why, clearly and transparently. We have to be the ones in the making of a new media for the new audience.
By taking a stance as something that affects the world instead of something that only reports on it, we might be able to see a change in the world and people’s’ lives. A change that is based on understanding instead of assumptions. A change that is based on ruthless transparency and explanation instead of alternate facts. A change that is based on an evolving audience instead of transforming ways of publishing.
If we as journalists concentrate in tech instead of people we might just as well ask: “Journalism, so what?”
If we as journalists are not responsible and if we don’t take responsibility we might just as well ask: “Freedom of speech, so what?”
If we as journalists don’t take a stance in creating the society we live in we might just as well ask: “Democracy, so what?”