Sharing and hearing under-represented voices is fundamental to the work of Open Road. In this blog Dr Lucinda Rose Stroud shares her research and opinions on the future of journalism post pandemic.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has led to growing information inequality, reducing trust, and a growing and significant minority of ‘infodemically vulnerable’ who make little or no use of news and do not trust the news media.
With the proliferation of Fake News, conspiracy theorists, the rise of the Alt-right, misinformation and disinformation has spread like wildfire – it is fair to say that we live in a time where the very nature of journalism is in question.
Trust in news has eroded worldwide with the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report (2020) reporting that fewer than four in ten people (38%) across 40 markets surveyed say they typically trust most news (Newman et al. 2020). Trust has fallen by double digit margins in recent years in many places, including the United Kingdom (Fletcher 2020).
The Covid-19 Pandemic has led to growing information inequality, reducing trust, and a growing and significant minority of ‘infodemically vulnerable’ who make little or no use of news and do not trust the news media. A first estimate of the size of this group has grown from a small minority of 6% early in the crisis to a significantly larger minority of 15% by late August 2020. This is an estimated eight million people who are more at risk of being at best less informed and at worst un- or misinformed.
Can we reverse the trust eroded and can we have sources that offer unbiased information? There is a sense that while the internet has made it far easier for information to be shared and made accessible, it is very hard to maintain quality. A return to local journalism and journalism training schemes seems to be where the future is leaning.
Local news has become even more significant as more people are spending time working from home and need to know the latest news about where they live.
The google Relief Fund has already invested $39.5 million in funding to more than 5,600 publishers in 115 countries to allow reporters to cover the COVID crisis, driving audience engagement and generating subscriptions – recipients included the North-East’s Press and Journal. Facebook Community News Project has spent nearly £7M since 2019 and has enabled the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ ) to oversee the recruitment of 80 trainee ‘community journalists’ over two years, placing them at the heart of local newsrooms in nearly 80 news outlets. In light of the COVID pandemic they have extended the programme stating, ‘Local news has become even more significant as more people are spending time working from home and need to know the latest news about where they live’. In both of these schemes there is a focus on finding trainees from a range of socio-economic backgrounds giving those communities often voiceless in mainstream media a voice and a means of telling their story.
However, should Google and Facebook be the pioneers for this movement? It was not so long ago that there was the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal expose this is alongside innumerable allegations of Google misusing search results, tax avoidance and amassing personal health data. Should we trust these platforms to support reliable journalism? It is a question that needs serious consideration in regards to the ethics and values the industry faces.
Journalists are no longer reporting the news but now must consider the format it’s told on and how to maximise the exposure for the content they create.
Perhaps however, this supports the current emphasis on entrepreneurialism. Journalists are no longer reporting the news but now must consider the format it’s told on and how to maximise the exposure for the content they create. There are numerous platforms that have been created to help support journalists who may not have a staff job (increasingly harder to secure). Platforms such as The Byline project, launched earlier this month, is a free digital tool that streamlines the local news reporting process. Reporters can use the open-source software that enables the public to support them financially through their digital ‘tipping’ technology. This platform has an emphasis on sharing underrepresented voices and this can only be a good thing for society. Patreon is another platform that encourages audiences to subscribe and support journalists.
An emphasis on sharing and hearing under-represented voices is also fundamental to the work of Open Road and there will be many opportunities for those voices to be heard.
This may be appealing to journalists as they infer that they help journalists remain authentic and ‘Escape the clickbait treadmill. Eliminate trolls and noise. A Dependable revenue.’ The movement towards audience funded journalism means that journalists can have more freedom in what they write without the constraints of editorial decision making and can cultivate their own voice. It also suggests that any systemic barriers that have prohibited voices from underrepresented and marginalized communities can now be heard and that those individuals have a means to earn whilst reporting on issues that affect their lives and their communities, this is essential for democracy. An emphasis on sharing and hearing under-represented voices is also fundamental to the work of Open Road and there will be many opportunities for those voices to be heard.
The industry is in flux, but the key skills required are largely the same mainly enthusiasm, curiosity, confidence, perseverance and interpersonal skills. These attributes are essential for the journalist of the future to have and cannot simply be replaced. The re-emphasis on local reportage, the cultivation of authentic voices and subscription services all offer the possibility to build trust back to our news. Through hearing a variety of perspectives from voices marginalized in the past this will only serve to reinstate the values of journalism of truthfulness, accuracy, diligence and fairness – all essential to help society rebuild and regenerate in the post Covid-19 socio-economic and political climate.