A bright future

As I read the manifesto The Transformation of American Journalism Is Unavoidable written by Emily Bell, I was thinking to myself: ‘Do I really want to be part of an industry without a future?’ Bell argues that because there is no ‘similarity of methods among a relatively small and coherent group of businesses, and an inability for anyone outside that group to produce a competitive product’, we are no langer able to speak about a news industry anymore. Furthermore, she quotes William Gibson: ‘The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.”

But then I saw this article on Newsweek.com. The last two sentences of the articel read: “The best days of journalism aren’t in the past. They are just beginning.” It was written by a 10-year old girl named Hilde Kate Lysiak (probably with some help of her father Matthew). Hilde runs her own little newspaper, called The Orange Street News. “People will still continue to tell me that it’s such a shame that I’m in an industry with no future”, Hilde writes. “But I know the truth: that reporting the news is not only important, but the best job in the world.”

Ofcourse, there are many arguments to think of and say: ‘You little girl, you don’t know anything about the real world’. But I’d rather take the optimistic approach and stand by her. Yes, journalism as a profession is under pressure, but are we to go down without a fight? Rather not. Let’s focus on seize the opportunities the modern world offers journalists instead of constantly focus on its shortcomings.

(words 255)

References

Bell, Emily., The Transformation of American Journalism,. Columbia Journalism School,. 3th december 2014.

http://www.newsweek.com/10-year-old-reporter-future-journalism-699133

#Sinterklaasbestand

Denis McQuail sums up the characteristics of what can be considered as news in ‘What is Journalism? How is it linked to Society?’ (2005). According to McQuail, news needs to be ‘new’, of course, and should have some sort of relevance to current events. News should be written from a neutral perspective, McQuail says, and should be ‘independent’.

On Thursday, the Dutch newspaper AD (Algemeen Dagblad) posted a news article which could raise some questions if we look at the characteristics of news by McQuail. The AD calls up for a  #Sinterklaasbestand. Wait, what? This sounds more like political activism rather than objectively reporting about this discussion. Just by summing up the opinion of famous Dutch people such as farmer Jos Sloot (from Farmer wants a Wife), vlogger Braboneger and football manager Henk Fraser the AD tries to end a political discussion.

So, this raises some questions: Do newspapers like the AD give themselves a new role in the media landscape? And why do they think that they should act like this? Aren’t they afraid to lose their sense of objectivity? Or is it just an extension of the list characteristics of news as pointed out by McQuail in 2005?

I think this is a bad development. Full objectivity is an utopia, but political activism by a newspaper is another extreme.

References

McQuail, Denis. “What is Journalism? How is it Linked to Society?” Journalism and Society. London: Sage, 2005. 1-26. Print.

https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/wij-pleiten-voor-een-sinterklaasbestand~afb68a40/

(words 235)

Audience, have a seat

Edson C. Tandoc Jr. & Ryan J. Thomas (2015) write in their article The Ethics of Web Analytics about the danger of ‘click-worthy stories’ and the way journalists focus on what will be read by the public or the audience. If we keep on focussing on the audience and focus on what they want to read, we – as journalists – minimize our own perspective.

Tandoc Jr. & Thomas argue that journalism might lose their function as ‘steward’ of the greater good: democracy. Instead, journalists might serve as a ‘butler’ who just serve up what their (differentiated) audiences want to read, based on what they have clicked before. Too big a preoccupation with analytics will thus prevent the journalist from fulfilling his most important task: function as a watch dog.

In my opinion, the outlook of Tandoc Jr. & Thomas is too bleak. It sure is a sort of risk, media just following audiences to generate more clicks. But audience management and engagement forms between public and production is in a lot of cases still in its infancy. Most of  the media companies still use it quite superficially; simply counting up visitors. In the near future, I expect media (papers and other outlets) will use more advanced ways to use audience figures and engage audiences in more developed ways.

As Tandoc Jr. & Thomas note, audiences have been neglected for years. Finally, the audience gets a say and media like The Financial Times are responding to this development. For two weeks, people can apply for a job as deputy head of audience engagement. The FinTimes is offering the audience a seat in the newsroom, which is an exciting development. The future of audience engagement might be brighter than Tandoc Jr. & Thomas foresee.

Wordcount: 291

References

Edson C. Tandoc Jr. & Ryan J. Thomas (2015). The Ethics of Web Analytics. Digital Journalism, 3:2, pp. 243-258.

https://www.journalism.co.uk/media-jobs/deputy-head-of-audience-engagement/s75/a712685/

 

 

Back to the future

Mirjam Prenger and Mark Deuze write in “The structural history and theory of innovation and entrepreneurialism in journalism”: “In this context there is room for innovation in niche media, specialized and personalized media, and media that provide particular services to specific people”. (2006) So to say, the context of growing distrust and a fragmented media landscape.

A good example of the growing room for niche media in the Dutch media landscape is The PostOnline (TPO). They claim to be an online platform without any ideology or dogma. And they present the news that is left for nothing by other media: ‘When everyone is asleep, we are awake’.

In fact, TPO caters quite a right-wing audience. Website Joop.nl (another Dutch example of a website writing for a niche, leftist audience) labeled TPO ‘the Dutch alt-right’. To me, it’s questionable whether these niche websites, writing for a rather specific audience, could be considered ‘innovative’.

To me it seems to be a step back in time, it reminds me of the Dutch ‘verzuiling’, where every social group got its news from its own newspaper, reading about their own community, talking to their own people. Niche media is doing the same, offering specific content to a specific audience, which makes me wonder whether these outlets should be considered ‘innovative’.

(220 words) 

References

Deuze, Mark & Prenger, Mirjam,. “The structural history and theory of innovation and entrepreneurialism in journalism”, forthcoming in Boczkowski, Pablo & Anderson, Chris, Remaking the News,. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2016. Print

Not just watch. Play.

Estadio Camp Nou, Barcelona: Almost 100.000 people on a Saturday evening watching twenty-one footballplayers, Lionel Messi and a referee on a 100 meters by 60 meters green surface. They are just sitting there, sometimes singing, sometimes waving, but they are there, passively waiting for there heroes to entertain them. Waiting, from a distance, for something to happen.

This image reminds me of the old style of news consuming. As argued in Industry Conceptions of Audience in the Digital Space by Joseph Turow and Nora Draper (2014) the audience played a minor role in the massmedia production, as they were fully depending on the preferences of editors and publishers. Waiting for the news(selection) to be served. Turow and Draper notify that this news consuming has changed over the last few decades (especially in 20th century), but forget to elucidate this change by not referring to the temporary developments on social media.

For example with the introduction of Facebook Live, we have become more then just watchers. We can decide what we want to see, when we want to see it and how we want to see it as well. Moreover, we are able to ‘produce’ the news, as Facebook states it: ‘Create, Discover and Share’. So from being on the sidelines of the pitch, we have become part of the playfield.

(216 words)

References

Turow, Joseph and Draper, Nora (2014). Industry Conceptions of Audience in the Digital Space.

Facebook, https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2016/04/introducing-new-ways-to-create-share-and-discover-live-video-on-facebook/1.

F(r)amous Ybeltje

Andreas Schuck and Alina Feinholdt argue in their article News Framing Effects and Emotions that news framing refers to the observation that ‘media can portray one and the same topic in various ways’. Every sentence we read, every image that we see that relates to a single subject has a choice behind it. Last year, De Volkskrant faced some framing-issues, although they said they didn’t intend to frame. They opened up their newspaper with a big picture of the safety-controls at Schiphol Airport. The driver that was checked, was an Arab man with a beard. He wrote the newspaper a letter, put it all over the internet, saying he felt framed. Was he?

A good example of the usage of frames was shown this week by the Dutch newspapers De Volkskrant and De Telegraaf. Subject: A new book of former MP Ybeltje Berckmoes on her time in the Dutch parliament for the liberal party VVD. In the book, Berckmoes writes about drunk colleagues, the strong party discipline and the fact that the PR department always had the final say. De Telegraaf hits back, as if it is protecting the VVD: they frame Berckmoes as a failed politician, who had nothing to say during her time in parliament and now just want to score. De Volkskrant chose a different version, saying that the VVD should take some lessons out of Berckmoes’ story.

No windeggs for Ybeltje so far: the book is already up to its third print. What would Berckmoes say about the framing-issue after all?

References

Schuck, Andreas T, and Feinholdt, Alina. News Framing Effects and Emotions. Published Online: 15 May 2015. 1-15. Print.

De Telegraaf, https://www.telegraaf.nl/nieuws/373049/de-vuile-was-van-de-vvd

De Volkskrant, https://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/-mislukt-kamerlid-ybeltje-berckmoes-schrijft-meedogenloos-boek-over-vvd~a4518437/

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News is in the eye of the beholder

A few days ago I read an article about a comic writer named Ramón Esono Ebalé. Not many of us will know about him. He was arrested by the police in Equatorial Guinea. Ebalé made a comic about president Teodoro Obiang. Since 1979, Equatorial Guinea is an African dictatorship under Obiangs command, so any form of satire is prohibited.

The fact that this ‘news’ was on the homepage of ‘De Volkskrant’ and on this newshomepage only seems pretty strange to me. If we look at the news values as mentioned in the article What Is News? Galtung and Ruge Revisited by Harcup and O’Neill (2001) it is hard to suggest that this political message of a comic writer in Equatorial Guinea suits (one of) these values.

First of all, it is not a big story. People get arrested all the time in a dictatorship like in Equatorial Guinea. That is not a shocking event. Secondly, it is not about very famous people. Not so many Dutch citizens or readers of ‘De Volkskrant’ have heard of Teodoro Obiang, let alone from Ramon Econo Ebalé. And there isn’t a cultural link between our two countries as well.

Galtung & Ruge suggest in The Structure of Foreign News (1965) that ‘since we cannot register everything, we have to select’. And in that case, the reader or news consumer depends (fully?) on the editors and journalists or in this case the designers of the homepage. What we see as news, is very often decided and selected by editors and journalists.

References

Galtung, J., & Ruge, M. H. (1965). The Sturcture of Foreign News. Journal of Peace Research, 2(1), 64-91.

Harcup, T. & O’Neill, D. (2001), ‘What is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited.’ Journalism Studies, 2(2), pp. 261-280.

www.devolkskrant.nl, https://www.volkskrant.nl/buitenland/politiek-tekenaar-gearresteerd-in-equatoriaal-guinea-om-satire-op-president~a4517368/.

‘Fake news? That’s not real!’

Facebook tries to help its users at dividing real news from the fake productions. They do that by ‘tagging’ the so called false messages as ‘fake’. But this helpful method seems to work the other way around, according to a major new Yale study. Yet, certain groups – in this case Trump supporters and adults under 26 – are more likely to believe a story when it’s flagged as false. They don’t care about the ‘tag’.

So Facebook tries to tame their algorithmic beast and capture its mistakes by human hands. Is that even possible, at this point in time where algorithms shape the Facebook timelines? Caplan and boyd describe the algorithms as the gatekeepers and editors of our media production era. But, in contrast to (most of the) humans, they don’t have any ethical norms. They don’t care about right or wrong, true or false, but ‘post’ whatever produces the most clicks.

And now Facebook adds people to the process of shaping the Facebook-timeline (a major news source) as gatekeepers. But that seems too late. (Part of) the audience no longer believes these human editors. For me, this raises the question: what are more effective ways to fight the fake news flow in an era of algorithms ?

Bibliography

Caplan, Robin, and boyd, dinah. Who Controls the Public Sphere in an Era of Algorithms. Data&Society (2016).

Schwartz, Jason. Tagging fake news on Facebook doesn’t work, study says. 9 september 2017.

Jelmer Kos