Journalism must compete with ‘fake news’ in the digital world where many consume their news.
Journalism author and Brookings Institution commentator Tom Rosenstiel has spoken to many journalists in the US and Europe and reflected on what changes are needed in the new media environment. He developed seven principles for news reporters that encourage the use of new news-gathering techniques with a commitment to practices to build faith in traditional journalism outlets. Below are highlights of his thinking with a link to the full Brookings article.
1. Journalists must operate in a media landscape that is structurally different from the past.
In addition to citizen journalism and commenting media, there are now outlets, like Breitbart, that resemble news media, but actually promote political propaganda, not balanced news. Journalists must continue to produce articles that are fact-checked, but that is only the first step to avoid being drowned out by louder, unverified voices.
2.Journalists must begin to do verified reporting out in the open, with the public, producing news as “collaborative intelligence.”
Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold used the internet and his Twitter followers to track down evidence that the Trump Foundation had violated the law to buy a portrait of Trump that was hanging in his Doral Country Club in Florida. After receiving a tip about the portrait, he searched Google to see what the portrait might look like. He asked his Twitter followers if they knew where the portrait was now and whether it was being used for commercial rather than charitable purposes. One follower located it at the Doral Country Club from trip advisor photos. A Univision anchor saw Fahrenthold’s query to corroborate that the portrait was still on display. He booked a room at the country club for the night. He was able to email photographic confirmation to Fahrenhold less than 24 hours following the tip – a process that might have taken the reporter six months to investigate without online allies.
Twenty years ago, the original meaning of objectivity was closer to transparency when it entered journalism from social sciences, Rosenstiel explains. As intellectuals were becoming more wary of unconscious bias, “it was a call for journalists to adopt more disciplined and transparent methods of reporting. Technology has made that… recovered meaning of objectivity and more urgent than ever.”
To stand out from the noise on the internet, journalism must be more reportorial, hyper-focused on verification and transparent.
Create New News Formats
3. Journalists must invent new story forms that reveal the skeleton of their reporting and make their evidence more explicit.
In the past, news stories began as a narrative. Today, those stories are shortened and curated on the outlet’s page as well as other sites. The new atomic unit of news must focus on the reporting – what the story learned – and the proof that verifies it. Rosenstiel calls on journalists to adopt forms and templates that make the proof more visible.
One template could be a news story with a box of five questions:
• What is new about the story?
• What is the evidence?
• Who are the sources?
• What proof do they offer?
• What is still missing or unknown?
These questions are usually hidden conversations between editors and reporters.
When these questions are made public, two things happen:
1) It raises the bar for reporters, forcing them to flesh out their evidence. Weak sourcing will be exposed in the answers.
2) These templates will guide readers to become more savvy news consumers.
4.News outlets need to be more explicit in labeling “news” vs. “opinion” or “news analysis.”
Because news and opinion are frequently merged in mobile news feeds, such labeling is more important than ever. In surveys, 59% of the public has told Pew Research they prefer when the press reports just the facts without interpretation, while 69% want the press to fact-check claims of politicians. Such labels can be embedded in content so it travels with the article when it is picked up by another source.
5.Journalists should cover the important stories, not “bark at every car.”
With a president who tweets incessantly, it is easy to get distracted from the major story. “Ultimately, we must watch what leaders do,” Rosenstiel notes. “Journalists need to watch for public malfeasance, stealing, corruption, law breaking, private enrichment, rewarding friends and abuse of power.” The public still gives high marks for the role of journalist as investigator or watchdog.
Use a Calm Tone
6. We need journalists to report calmly, avoiding inflammatory words.
Labeling a public statement a lie (suggesting intentional deception) vs. a falsehood (an inaccurate statement) can limit your reach as a writer. Says NPR News VP Mike Oreskes: “It is well-established …in social science research that if you start out with an angry tone and say something the listener disagrees with, they will tune out the facts.” A factual approach with a neutral tone will be more convincing to readers.
7. Understand how information flows. It is not sufficient to gather and report news more transparently. Disseminating the story to the widest audience, requires using social media platforms, news aggregators and other tools to ensure that the story is shared by others who find the reporting important and compelling.
“The goal of fake news is not to make people believe the lie,” writes Rosenstiel. “It is to make them doubt all news.” Propagandists have gained ground in the public square because they study the way networks work, “reverse engineer algorithms of social media and put their lies into streams in ways that are effective,” Rosenstiel concludes. “The bearers of fact need to be no less sophisticated.”
Read full article here.