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Journalism under fire

James Huang | 2021.07.25

The last ten years were defined by the twin technological disruptions of mobile and social media, which fragmented attention, undermined advertising-based business models, and weakened the role of journalistic gatekeepers. At the same time, social and political disruptions have affected trust in journalism and led to attacks on independent news media in many countries. The next decade will be defined by increasing regulation of the internet and attempts to re-establish trust in journalism and a closer connection with audiences. It will also be rocked by the next wave of technological disruption from AI-driven automation, big data, and new visual and voice-based interfaces. All this against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty which will throw up further challenges to the sustainability of many news organisations.

Transcription, automated translation, and speech-to-text text-to-speech services will be some of the first AI-driven technologies to reach mass adoption this year, opening up new frontiers and opportunities for publishers.

Every morning, over coffee, I check the news. I can’t say it’s exactly uplifting at the best of times, let alone in these dark days. But in my job, I can’t afford to stay blissfully ignorant about the world. I rely on good journalism to inform and enrich my work, just like millions of others around the globe.

But imagine if reliable news sources suddenly disappeared. Where could we turn for our information? Say a total news blackout happened right now, during the pandemic. Look at your social media feed. Who could you rely on to share reliable, potentially life-saving updates?

This scenario is no exaggeration. Few may realize it, but the pandemic is pushing public interest media to the edge of extinction. Journalism for the common good, the kind concerned with public well-being and safety, is in grave trouble almost everywhere in the world.

Ironically, this is happening at a time when we are hungrier than ever for accurate information. When crises hit, we turn on the news in record numbers.  But in the internet age, bigger audiences often don’t translate into higher revenues for media outlets. In fact, these were plummeting long before the pandemic, even as audience engagement grew.

This grim picture has prompted warnings that the pandemic is a media extinction event. In wealthy and low-income nations alike, newsrooms are closing, shedding jobs, and leaving behind news deserts in their wake. These growing gaps in news coverage create the perfect environment for lies, myths and disinformation to multiply and spread.

After all, most journalists see debunking lies and myths as a central part of their work. Last year, more than 80% of media professionals surveyed by the International Center for Journalists said they encountered disinformation in their work at least once a week. One in four said it happened multiple times a day.  Yet good journalism goes further than fact-checking. It tells the human stories behind hard statistics and breaks down complex information into relatable narratives with the power to drown out dangerous lies and myths. This puts journalists on the front line of the fight against the infodemic, just as they are experiencing a spike in threats, violence and intimidation against them.

Challenging times like these serve as a reminder that trustworthy news isn’t a luxury, but an essential public good. Those who serve it to us with our morning coffee need help to emerge stronger. Whatever happens next, however bad the news gets, let’s value their service a little more.

Journalism under fire
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