Thursday, January 19, 2017

The business of news

More than 10 years ago, after I decided to give up my dream-job I always wanted to have - journalism - I was deeply disappointed by the business of news as such. Under the pressure to become a profitable industry, journalism degenerated in a business-driven enterprise, where economic interests were dictating the angle of news and even the coverage or not of certain sensitive information for the owners. For me, as a young dreamer, such an approach was inacceptable and thus, I decided to give up the dream.
Fortunately for me, the online medium was developing rapidly and shortly enough I've found my perfect environment to share my ideas and interests, without the pressure of the profit and enjoying the professional independence I was so hungry for before. I was my own boss, spending as much time as I wanted to document a news and writing fully about issues that I was interested in. But it was no profit involved and, at least in the case of foreign affairs reporting, I decided to avoid completely to associate any financial implications to it.
Blogging was starting to develop, and more and more people were entering this environment to share their opinions and ideas. As in the case of any beginnings, there were some funny episodes, and not all the content aired was professional. Especially if you start as a lone blogger, taking into consideration the ethical standards and the golden rule of 3 sources seems to be not necessarily a main concern for the writers. Sharing was more important and if in the case of travel and leisure news, checking the facts is easier and doesn't require too much time, for foreign and home news, creating a reliable news report is always a matter of time. The longer, the better, as in the case of the good wines.
A new category of journalism was developing: citizen journalism. With the new wave of social media and high-tech tools, anyone was able to report and create the news. The most important thing was to report and share it with the world instantly, before the crew of the classical media outlets were able to reach the premises. In war areas - with limited access and sometimes without any presence of foreign journalists - or when spontaneous riots started, the rapid share of information might be the unique available reporting. But even in such cases, the documented reporting should use those snaps of information in order to create reliable news features and check directly with the authorities about various facts. Citizen journalism doesn't have the access or the desire to do this, but can provide an important piece of information, although not the full information itself.
Observing all those developments made me happy. I was jealous of all the resources available at the time dreaming about how my hard start in the field of news reporting would have been. But I was experienced enough to notice the risks as well, but was almost convinced - contrary to the pessimistic thoughts from The Net Delusion - that the good guys - aka the good journalism will always win. After all, it was the first time in history when there were enormous possibilities to do good and keep doing your job.
But the search engines and the Internet networks such as Facebook, were silently pursuing another revolution: that of the algorithms, according to which some content is more visible that the other, often promoted in exchange of minimal fees. When the amount of information produced is overwhelming, there should be a certain order to organise it, based on categories, key-words or other relevant mathematical - cold - rules. The SEO and search for visibility weren't necessarily promoting the best, but the most read news, where the visibility of a site was calculated up to the well chosen words used, based on the most searched words and expressions. It doesn't mean that this excludes the quality content to be found and read, but it requires a lot of extra work, not necessarily of journalistic nature and very often, when faced with the choice between checking facts and figures and becoming a SEO-Samurai, you rather prefer to publish an impeccable piece of news. Again, the risk might be that no one will see your story.
The phenomenon of the 'fake news' so popular during the last American elections isn't new. It is at least 8 years old when during the presidential elections in the same USA were bombarded with information about the unclear ethnic and citizenship origin of pres. Obama. I am not taking any stance for or against him, I just notice facts. The method was used in the next elections and the fact that right now it is a matter of concern is the result of the high standards the web techniques themselves reached. The fact that president elect Trump complains of being himself a victim of 'fake news' is pretty ironic, as in the last years and months, he was the main beneficiary of such campaigns. Practically, nowadays, everyone with a basic SEO knowledge and some $$ in the pocket can play with the news and support its own version of truth. The more resourceful financially and logistically, the better for a definitive version of it, even for a couple of hours or even days. Most probably, many people will prefer to keep in mind the first variant offered, without bothering to check the further developments. It is normal too, as time is limited and our attention nowadays is extremely split.
What is to be done? It is the end of journalism as we know it and the beginning of the informational chaos? The media landscape obviously changed and challenged. The business of news were never a good profitable one, unless people used blackmail and yellow media - which was all so popular at the beginning of the news too. The 'fake' news will continue to exist alongside serious information for now on and people will keep reading it, with the same appetite as they read gossip magazines. It is not a matter of human nature, but of readability and curiosity. 
However, people in the business of news do have serious obligations. First, they need to keep respecting their standards and regardless of the pressure and the stakes, to continue offering verified quality information. Second, it is important to educate both public and producers of news discernment, through online classes, books and media reports. To share experiences about how to separate 'real' from 'fake', about how to write and read responsibly. After all, there are so many people able to distinguish between a real luxury brand and a fake, because they got the proper education to do it. And if they choose to buy the fake one, they do it responsibly, aware of their choices. It is a difficult but not impossible task.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book review: They say we are infidels, by Mindy Belz

I've rarely read a book that made me feel so bad for not paying too much attention to a lot of small phenomenon taking place in the Middle East. Of course, I am reading daily about the latest political and geopolitical positions about the war in Syria but in a sea of information I am rather tempted to look at the big picture. In this big picture the plight of Christians and the tremendous efforts to survive and challenges to escape are rarely featured.
Mindy Belz, editor of the Christian-oriented publication World Magazine, traveled often to Iraq, Jordan and Syria and got in touch with leaders of the faith or simply believers telling their stories and trying to escape. Not many are successful, among them many community leaders, brutally killed, kidnapped as a way to terrorize entire communities. 'Wherever there are Christians, they come and chase them', is one of her many observations from the intensive ground reporting work. The sense of the everyday life is completely distorted, and simple facts and gestures are read differently, based on the current terror threats. For instance, after explosives were often hidden in packages of spices, 'Residents grew to fear the smell of cinnamon' in the Mosul area. There are many more examples which offer a different view on the everyday life in this part of the world, that doesn't often appear in the big media. 
Personally, I've found extremely worrisome the huge number of lives took away during this what seems to be a neverending conflict. Just think about how many people are affected when one person dies. What happens then when thousand of people are killed just in a couple of hours? Terrible.
When it comes to the political decision makers, the author is outlining also the failures of the current and past American policies, that although pledged in favour of a non-involvement, ignored the human aspects and created a vacuum of power where nothing was put after the intervention to put an end of the Saddam Hussein regime. 
It is a book well documented and written, with many details and facts. To be read because we are humans that should not be indifferent by the fate of other humans.
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange of an honest review

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The past, present and future of News Media

What is the future of the news in the era of instant communications? What is the future of journalists in general? Too much available information does not mean an informed public and highly professional journalists and books about media and its news industry are always welcomed, for their efforts to go beyond the daily informational shots.
Through a historical investigation into the domain, done by authors with journalistic experience themselves, The News Media - to be released this September - aims at offering a view into the future. With the fast forward development of communications in general, the curiosity is legitimate and especially for the journalists themselves, it requires at least some minimal forecasts. 
With an almost exclusive focus on the US media history - although other countries are incidentally mentioned - it presents the struggle of the media to get recognition and access to information from the etablished authorities and a fair overview of the current state-of-arts of the digital information era, this book is a reliable source of information for political science and journalism students. It can interest as well anyone curious to get a short update about the history of journalism. the chapters are structured based on short snapshots of information, which make the lecture easy and focused. 
When it comes to the future, the predictions, as expected, are careful. An interesting remark though: 'It is hard to be totally certain about anything related to the future of news. But if there's one thing we can say with same degree of confidence, it is that national (and even international) news organizations and brands will probably be more economically successful than local or regional media outlets'. However, I think that in fact media are getting more localized and focused on micro- rather than on global events, and the audiences tend to be more fragmented and thus setting their own local agendas.
 The domain is vast and the selection is always problematic. This book gives interesting insights into the field, but fails elegantly to open too many perspectives.
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher via NetGalley.com