This guest blog is a companion to the Voice America interview: Democracy on the Run: How Strong and Capable Leaders Can Impact Listen Now. The interview was recorded as part of the International Leadership Association conference series. The blog is reproduced and shared with permission by mastersincommunication.org.
Leaders and citizens need accurate and unbiased information to act responsibly. As citizens, we must develop an understanding of events unfolding in our environment and determine how we will engage. Voting is obviously one major action that requires comprehensive and unbiased information.
By the same note, leaders, those responsible for setting their organizational course, revising direction and engaging with employees to drive toward results must have accurate, complete and unbiased information.
In an era where leaders have access to more information, it has become harder to know where to look to find accurate, complete and unbiased information. For this, we must turn to the field of journalism and we must take responsibility for being well informed. The people we lead, and all of our stakeholders rely on us to make well informed decisions.
The information we need comes from journalists!
Today’s journalism is a far cry from what it used to be. In the past, you received the majority of your news and information from your local newspaper published every morning.
If you didn’t get it there, you watched the evening news after dinner. Add in a few national newspapers, and that was it.
Today, relying on only one source to receive all of your news and information seems unheard of. Newspapers are still around today, but we have so much more to go along with them. We don’t have to wait an entire day for our news anymore – we wait mere seconds.
Now we see the news as it’s happening instead of getting recaps of it the next day. With the rise of the internet and the 24/7 news station, we have an abundance of news sources directly at our fingertips.
Journalism as a whole has changed in response. Instead of having time to fact check, journalists are urged to be the first to break the story. This rush to first often leads to misinformation being published, causing confusing and sometimes outrage.
What used to be a cardinal sin is now less of an issue because being the first to hit publish is such a priority.
Let’s take a look at what journalism is today, and some of the people changing it.
What Really Is Journalism?
Journalism is the act of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.
Journalism is the product of every newspaper you read, every news station you watch, and every news article you read online.
Journalism is meant to place the public good above all else and uses specific methods to gather and assess information. In other words, journalism is meant to benefit the people, and journalists should routinely check what they’re reporting on to be sure the information is verified and accurate.
Why Data Journalism Matters More Than Ever
Another side effect of the internet and the amount of data at our fingertips is the rise of data journalism. Data journalism is the use of data and number crunching to uncover, better explain, or provide context to a news story.
Data can be the tool used to tell a story, the source upon which a story is based, or both at the same time. It often involves the use of statistics, charts, and infographics.
Data journalism has become important because, in today’s world, anyone with a smartphone and social media account can be a journalist. Multiple sources add information over social media, blogs, and videos as the news story is happening. It’s an information overload, and opinion often clouds facts.
The goal of data journalism is to be the one who provides context to an event and aims to explain what it really means.
An excellent example of data journalism is a story ProPublica published about animal extinction across the globe. Using data from recent biology studies, they found that today’s extinction rates rival those during the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Journalism In The Age of the Open Web
At the risk of beating a dead horse, the open web has changed everything. The way we consume data will never be the same.
Data used to come in a fixed, complete form. Books, newspapers, and documentaries. When you received it, it was finished and in its final form.
With digital news in the open web, your news source is almost a living, breathing thing. It is always changing, always evolving, and continuously being developed. That blog post you just read could be edited and revised several times over.
There is information everywhere that people consume anytime they want. They don’t need to go to the store to buy a book or a newspaper anymore. All they have to do is reach into their pocket and enter a quick Google search, and they’ll discover a wealth of knowledge on the subject.
Today’s journalists face a new set of challenges. They’re no longer the runaway experts in the fields they write in. Today, their readers may be smarter, and better informed than they are.
Now if you don’t listen to them, work with them, work for them, give them what they want and need, they’ll go somewhere else. And there are plenty of other places they can go.
What Journalism Is Missing Today
Even with the rise of the internet, 24/7 news stations, social media, and smartphones, something is missing from today’s journalism.
We’re more connected to the news that we’ve ever been. News companies have journalists working around the clock that can push us a story as it happens, no matter when it happens.
We’re more informed than we’ve ever been, and we have limitless choices of where we want to consume our news. So, what are we missing? The answer is simple.
The one thing journalists don’t have on their side anymore is time. They have to be first. They have to be fast. They don’t have time anymore to become deeply engrossed in their stories. They don’t have time to learn and ponder on their stories. They rely on quotes from other experts to shape their stories.
True investigative journalism is an art that is slowly fading. One of the main reasons is the money isn’t there for it anymore. Doing a real investigative piece takes a lot of time, which in turn takes a lot of money.
The ad revenue they’d earn for the story would likely be a small fraction of what it cost to produce it. Because of this, investigative journalism is being replaced by 5-10 blog posts a day that will never have as much substance as an actual investigative piece.
Battling Fake News
Something else that has come with the age of the internet is the rise of “fake news.” Anyone with a computer and internet access has the ability to make their own website and write news stories. However, not everyone is an educated journalist.
Your neighbor down the street that starts his own blog isn’t going to follow the same standards that the mainstream journalists follow. I mentioned earlier that journalism is meant to put the public good over everything else. That’s not always the case with the hundreds of blogs that pop up daily.
Most people that start those blogs are worried about pushing their own agenda and voicing their opinion. They only use facts that support their cause and ignore the rest.
Then they call everything that doesn’t support their opinion or push their cause fake news. When in reality, fake news is everything that isn’t based on fact and data.
Anyone can post their opinion, but not everyone can be a journalist. So when the news is so saturated by blogs and websites only worried about what fits in their narrative, how do we know who to trust? How do we separate fact from fiction?
We must keep an eye on the source. We need to be sure that the website or blog, or even Twitter account, that we’re getting our news from is only reporting facts without the bias of their opinion.
Here is a list of a few large journalism brands that report real facts, not alternative facts.
- The New York Times – Some consider the New York Times the most influential publication around. The NYT upholds ethical standards of reporting and includes the classic elements of journalism in America.
- The Wall Street Journal – The Wall Street Journal is the largest circulated newspaper in the US. The WSJ is still the top brand among daily business publications in the entire world. It has won several Pulitzer Prizes for editorials and columns that are backed up by thorough fact-based reporting and bold arguments.
- The Washington Post – The Washington Post is the paper that brought down Nixon during the Watergate Scandal, and it upholds it’s intellectual traditions today. Under the ownership of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the Post is perhaps the most forward-thinking publication of the day while winning Pulitzer Prizes, hiring the best and brightest reporters and producing big scoops.
The Need to Support Journalism
Even with all the fake news and alternative facts that run rampant today, journalism is still critical for ours, and any democracy in the world. We can’t let the bad apples tarnish our opinions of the journalists with integrity that report facts and information.
The most important function of journalism is to convey information. This is a critical part of the democratic decision-making system because it brings transparency and makes sure that the decisions being made reflect what the people really want.
When people claim that the media is the enemy, they are doing a disservice not only to the real journalists but to the people in their society. Without a free press, the line between fact and fiction will be blurred, opening up a Pandora’s box of problems.
While there are problems that need to be fixed, journalism at its core is desperately needed.
We Live In A New World
We’re no longer dependent on a single news source anymore. We have more information available to us than ever before. The freedom we have to access and share news is a fantastic thing, but it also comes with great responsibility.
Our access to data and news sources from around the globe is absolutely incredible. The amount of good we can create due to the open web can change the world.
But it can also cause hate and divide entire nations. Anyone can post their opinion and call it fact. They can disregard fact and call it fake news. The potential for hostility is just as high as the potential for good.
Journalism isn’t the issue. Journalism at its core is the process of spreading news and information. We have to protect journalism and instead go after the entities perverting it.
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