Bridging gaps: the future of journalism?

A couple of weeks ago, we had a guest speaker for our course Journalism and Production Studies: he worked for the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (AD). He showed us a visualisation of different social media communities and their communication on Twitter in the Netherlands and Belgium. Groups like right-wing populists, more elitist left-wing communities and YouTubers were separated from each other by different colours. A huge part of the online population and communication turned out to be right-wing and populist.

The guest speaker also showed us a graph that visualised the political focus of different Dutch news media. As it turned out, a large majority of these news sources were on the left side of the political spectrum. This can be considered problematic: right-wing populism plays a big role in the online world. In fact, a huge potential audience for news outlets is being ignored by journalists. This might be explained by the fact that most people who choose a career in journalism have a left-wing bias (I’d love to talk more about the reason for this bias, but I have to respect the word limit).

In this week’s literature, many views were expressed about the question how journalism can survive in the future. Burns and Matthews focus on the need of innovative organizational structure; Van Der Haak discusses options like “visual storytelling”, crowd funding and automated content; Naldi and Picard underline the need of organisational objectives based on previous experiences. However, nobody speaks of the specific option to bridge the cultural gap between the average journalist and a large potential audience. Maybe journalists should step out of their left-wing bubble and try to create content for people who are on the other side of the political spectrum. After all, I think theye’s missing out on a lot of money.

Pien Goutier

Bibliography:

Burns, Lynette Sheridan, and Benjamin J. Matthews. ““Post-industrial” journalism as a creative industry.” World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering 11.6 (2017): 1533-1541.

Naldi, Lucia, and Robert G. Picard. ““Let’s Start An Online News Site”: Opportunities, Resources, Strategy, and Formational Myopia in Startups.” Journal of Media Business Studies 9.4 (2012): 69-97.

Van der Haak, Bregtje, Michael Parks, and Manuel Castells. “The future of journalism: Networked journalism.” International Journal of Communication 6 (2012): 16.

Memes: let’s take them more seriously

In “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online”, Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis discuss the role of memes in the current media landscape and society. Their focus lies on the manipulating effects of memes and how memes are used by far-right groups to increase visibility or attention for certain topics.

I’m definitely not a fan of far-right internet communities and their opinions. However, can’t more left-wing communities also be accused of “attention hacking” in politics? What about the memes they made about Obama and Biden?

Of course, there might not have been deliberate attempts to spread disinformation. But these memes definitely made Biden and Obama more popular than ever, through humour platforms like Imgur, even among people who weren’t interested in politics. Most of the quotes used in the memes were “fake” – they were fiction – but they worked. It even got to the point where Biden shared his favourite memes about himself and Obama with the world. “In essence, they’re all true”, he said to The Hill earlier this year.

I am not surprised about this effect. Memes are extremely “shareable” on social media and go viral easily. More easily than informative, well-structured background articles on politics, at least. They’re catchy, you can “consume” them in a blink of an eye and you don’t even have to click on a link.

I think we should start realising that memes in themselves are not just funny images showing some fiction. They have the serious potential to form and influence public opinion, even in cases where they are simply meant as entertainment. It would be interesting to use meme formats to share more “objective” information. Although, I have to admit: I’m not sure if those could still be called “memes”.

Pien Goutier

Bibliography:

Marwick, Alice, and Rebecca Lewis. “Media manipulation and disinformation online.” New York: Data & Society Research Institute (2017).

The Research That Hasn’t Been Done (Week 7: Researching Media Production)

The lack of diversity in Dutch news rooms has been a point of discussion for decades. The average journalist is supposedly a white, highly educated male who has a centre-left political preference. Ethnic minorities, women, people who had lower education than university and right-wing people are hardly represented in the newsrooms. You can read it everywhere. In 2014, Deuze said in an interview with Trouw that there are “not enough clashes” in newsrooms, because the journalists all have a similar socio-economic background and share the same values. Earlier this year, Klaske Tamerling told Red that there is still characterized by a “male culture” and that women are “scarce” in media management.

There’s an issue, however. The socio-economic characteristics and political preferences of Dutch journalists have not been the subject of extensive research for a while now. Neither are there any recent, hard numbers of the male-female ratio in newsrooms. In 2015, NRC discovered that only 3 per cent of the editorial workers at NOS, RTL Nieuws, Nu.nl and several Dutch newspapers had a non-western background: that’s something we know. But apart from that, we don’t know much about the journalists working for these media now. The research in which Deuze extensively showed the homogeneous characteristics of news rooms in the Netherlands (most journalists being white, male etc.), dates back from the time when the Dutch still paid with the florin.

Why is nobody researching this topic anymore? Are journalists afraid to undermine their own profession, while academics are simply not interested enough to find out? I mean, the relevance of this topic in media production can’t be denied, so somebody should study it. Maybe I should start reading Dencombre’s “Good Research Guide” and go find things out myself.

Pien Goutier

Bibliography:

Denscombe, Martyn. The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects. McGraw-Hill Education (UK), 2014.

 

 

A Hype Machine

News organisations analyse quantitative data, which allows them to create online content that the audience wants to read. For example, journalists analyse which items are being clicked on and for how long people read them. The analysis can provide information about which topics, formats and angles “work” well online. It tells journalists how to produce clickable, likeable and shareable content.

In this new media climate, “hypes” emerge more easily than ever. Topics that are trending on social media, frequently make it to the news. At the same time, topics that are covered by news websites lend themselves for catchy tweets and facebook posts. Sometimes it seems like the public and news sites are merging into one big, hype reinforcing machine.

The #MeToo discussion about sexual harassment presents a striking example: the hype was fed constantly by both news media and audiences. Stories about sensitive cases circulated freely on social media. The analytics of news sites have undoubtedly played a part in the “success” of #MeToo. News rooms must have benefited willingly from the potential of the topic, at least to a certain degree. They might even have prioritised certain points of view in the debate that would generate most online attention.

it is highly questionable whether such developments are desirable. According to Sébas Diekstra, who was in this broadcast of DWDD, the #MeToo buzz forms a threat to jurisdiction. Media attention can result in judicial disadvantages for everyone: suspects, perpetrators, victims and indirectly involved parties.

According to Edson and Thomas, “the expertise and judgment of the producer are disregarded in favor of the transient needs of the consumer”. Well, I am afraid hey are right. Audiences might be getting what they want, but not what they need. If journalists want to stay a gatekeeper, drastic measures are needed.

Pien Goutier

 

Cited article:

TANDOC JR, Edson C.; THOMAS, Ryan J. The ethics of web analytics: Implications of using audience metrics in news construction. Digital Journalism, 2015, 3.2: 243-258.

 

The more you know

I am obsessed with language. I automatically listen carefully to people’s choices of words, their accent and their syntax. It’s because of this weird obsession that I often end up reading articles like this one: about language. At the same time, I frequently think articles about language are simplistic and one-sided. After all, once you actively dedicate a part of your life to something – which can be language, but also fashion or football – you read an article about that topic more critically.

Prenger and Deuze mention in their article that the public no longer trusts media. People think the content is bad, meaningless or even fake. This goes hand in hand with another development: people “snack” news online, often through social media. You might have noticed yourself: you simply read articles that appear on your Facebook timeline. They are typically about things you’re interested in and things you know. That’s how the algorithm works.

I think that there’s a strong relation between the growing distrust in media and the timeline “news snacking” development. We continuously read articles about things we’re already familiar with, which allows us to easily spot the imperfections. For me, it’s articles about language, for example. I read those articles very critically and I usually think they lack depth. However, if I were to read an equally simplistic article about politics in Azerbaijan, I would easily find it amazing: I simply don’t know any better.

Therefore, my theory is that our timeline news consumption results in some kind of general scepticism about media. And I find it a shame. Of course, media representation can’t be a perfect copy of reality. But we could still learn great things from it, especially if we step out of our timeline bubble. I’d still love to read about Azerbaijan, for instance.

Pien Goutier

 

Bibliography

Deuze, Mark & Prenger, Mirjam. (2016), “The structural history and theory of innovation and entrepreneurialism in journalism”, in Boczkowski, P. & Anderson, C., Remaking the News, (Cambridge: MIT Press).

Koetsenruijter, Bart. “Taal verandert, dat kan niet vaak genoeg herhaald worden”, de Volkskrant. 9 november 2017, https://www.volkskrant.nl/wetenschap/taal-verandert-dat-kan-niet-vaak-genoeg-herhaald-worden~a4534392/, (accessed 9 november 2017).

The changes of Telegraaf Media Groep

Telegraaf Media Groep is undergoing changes. According to an article [1] by Villamedia, Hugo Schneider (63) will be the new editor in chief for the regional newspapers of the Dutch media company. His primary task: change the websites and the physical newspapers. With less people.

How is he going to accomplish this goal? Well, he wants less website editions and less newspaper editions. Both the physical and the digital content will have to be focussed on “above-local” news. The provincial level – the province Noord-Holland, in this case – needs to be more prevalent, according to Schneider. This is supposed to result in content that is relevant for all the local communities.[2]

Under Schneider’s leadership, the content will be shifting away from locally focussed news articles, produced by a relatively big group of journalists who each have their individual focus. In fact, Witschge and Nygren (2009) describe similar phenomena. In their analysis of journalism as an increasingly challenging profession, they describe how the journalistic work is progressively becoming “planned”[4]. Also, they state that there is less and less room for the individual focus of the journalist.[5]

To me, Schneider’s plans sound as a loss. The charm of many regional newspapers lies in the fact that they cover specific topics that might not be relevant for the entirety of the country, but that are of high importance for smaller, local communities. In order to cover such topics, a larger amount of journalist is needed: journalists who each have the liberty to write about what they consider to be news, without being lead with a plan that doesn’t allow them to. Of course, for now we can only speculate on how Schneider’s plans will work out. But my hopes are not high.

Pien Goutier

[1] Rogmans, Dolf. “Hugo Schneider hoofdredacteur: krant en website op de schop.” Villamedia, 12 oktober 2017, https://www.villamedia.nl/artikel/hugo-schneider-hoofdredacteur-krant-en-website-op-de-schop (accessed 12 October 2017)

[2] Witschge, Tamara, and Gunnar Nygren. “Journalistic Work: a profession under pressure?.” Journal of Media Business Studies6.1 (2009): 37-59.

[3] Ibid. p. 43.

[4] Ibid. p. 43.

Bursting bubbles

I’ve never been a fan of utopian science-fiction. Maybe it’s because reality usually turns out to be worse, more complex and therefore disappointing (yes, I am a sad person). A classic example: utopian science-fiction writers of the past imagined that we’d be using flying cars by now. Well, we still use “ground cars” on fossil fuels. And flying cars would probably be dangerous, unpractical or polluting.

I got a similar feeling of discontent reading this article [1] about media convergence by Henry Jenkins (2004). In this article, he makes some very optimistic predictions about media consumers of a new, digital era. According to Jenkins, these consumers are resistant, “fighting for the right […] to control the flow of media in their lives.” [2] They are active and take media “into their own hands”. [3]

Jenkins must be crying by now. The average media consumer in 2017 is comfortably stuck in his filter bubble, will only read what’s for free or won’t look much further than his Facebook newsfeed. The only way he takes control of the media in his life, is by performing the clicks that feed the algorithms of his echo chamber. The consumer becomes lazy and uncreative.  This is why Bart Delwig, describing himself as “the boy in the (filter) bubble” [4], wants to quit social media. You can read it in the post [5] he wrote for Adformatie.

There is another side of the coin, though. Delwig also describes in his post how he, as a content producer, gets feedback from consumers through social media. “Thanks to [this feedback] you can improve yourself continuously,” [6] he says. I guess that, after all, Jenkins wasn’t completely wrong. Some consumers do seek to actively participate. So yeah… let’s not burst the utopian bubbles yet. For now, they can simply co-exist with filter bubbles.

 

[1] Jenkins, Henry. “The cultural logic of media convergence.” International journal of cultural studies 7.1 (2004): 33-43.

[2] Ibid., pp. 37

[3] Ibid., pp. 38

[4] Delwig, Bart. “Ik stop met social.” Adformatie, 25 september 2017, http://www.adformatie.nl/blog/ik-stop-met-social (accessed 2 October 2017).

[5] Ibid.

 

The tired journalist

I’ve always been fascinated by the “art” that is journalistic writing. The journalist is often caught between conflicting factors of importance, which can make his work pretty tiring. He has to write quickly, but he needs to stay truthful. He needs to offer interesting insights, but his articles can’t be too long. His work needs to be informative, but also “nice to read”.

And sometimes it goes wrong. Even for experts.

Take Oscar Garschagen, who has been a reporter in China for NRC during a decade. Today it was published by NRC that he’ll leave the organization, since he has made “serious mistakes”[1]. He used material of other media without proper citations, attributed quotes to the wrong persons and presented blog quotes as if they were interview quotes.[2]

What a fool, you might think. And trust me, I do not approve of his actions either. But somehow, I can see where he was coming from. Especially after having read this article by Strömbäck et al.[3]

The article shows that it is rather common for journalists to not work in accordance with their news values. When “making” news, they appear to be more public-focused and process-focused than their values would allow them to be. They choose topics that are cheap and simple to cover, that are easy to explain and that contain a certain amount of drama.

Isn’t that exactly where things went wrong for Garschagen? Wasn’t it in his pursuit of efficiency, convenience and thrilling content where he lost sight of his values as a journalist? He just wanted to produce interesting stories with high readability, without having to move mountains.

Once again: I don’t seek to justify Garschagen’s actions. But I am glad that NRC has said goodbye to him respectfully. After all, he probably just needed some rest.

 

[1] Vandermeersch, Peter. “NRC-correspondent Oscar Garschagen verlaat krant na journalistieke fouten.” NRC, 20 September 2017, https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/09/20/nrc-correspondent-oscar-garschagen-verlaat-krant-na-journalistieke-fouten-13094272-a1574113 (accessed 20 September 2017).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Strömbäck, Jesper, Michael Karlsson, and David Nicolas Hopmann. “Determinants of News Content: Comparing journalists’ perceptions of the normative and actual impact of different event properties when deciding what’s news.” Journalism Studies 13.5-6 (2012): 718-728.

The future is here… or is it?

Recently I’ve been googling about artificial intelligence (I only have an arts degree, so sometimes I force myself to step out of my comfort zone). I stumbled upon an article published by The National Post on August 25: “’We have a problem’: Racist and sexist robots”.1

I’ll summarize the article. Experts have discovered that artificial intelligence is increasingly discriminating against women and non-white people. For instance, systems designed to pre-select candidates for University places or estimate eligibility for loans tend to give preference to white males.

The article suggests that the difficulty lies in the data feeding the robots. These data reflect social inequalities and prejudices. An example: when researchers asked a robot to finish the sentence “Man is to computer programmers as woman is to x”, the robot answered “homemaker”. The machine had based his answer on Google News texts.2

The post reminded me of an essay3 on automation in media industries. We’re talking about different types of “selection” here, but the principle is similar. Demand prediction and content creation by algorithms in media industries are also data-driven.4 These tools play a big role in media production.

Does this mean that algorithm-based tools in media production will also become increasingly racist and sexist? I don’t know. But I imagine that certain “things” or topics could be excluded increasingly by these tools. More discriminative productions might thus be made and re-feed the algorithms, resulting in a progressively discriminatory effect.

Of course, I don’t know much about algorithms. And they might get better. However, I think a serious difficulty of algorithms is that they are based on data of the past. They can be fuelled by things we want to let go of. I’m glad that media industries still use humans, who can think differently and take creative steps towards change.

 

[1] Bodkin, Henry. “’We have a problem’: Racist and sexist robots”, National Post, 25 August 2017, http://nationalpost.com/news/world/we-have-a-problem-racist-and-sexist-robots (accessed 13 September 2017).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Napoli, Philip M. “On automation in media industries: Integrating algorithmic media production into media industries scholarship.” Media Industries Journal 1.1 (2014). https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B28EIPTuGoQWenNZYW5BZ2dQYXM (accessed 13 September 2017).

[4] Ibid.