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2017: Only quality journalism can survive media ‘disruption’

The doom and gloom shrouding the Thai media scene this year is set to deepen in 2017 thanks to the combination of a slowing economy, worsening digital TV finances and sustained print readership.

But a small, hardcore band of professional journalists are determined to ride out the “perfect storm” in the conviction that high-quality and high-impact journalism is more than just a commercial product in search of a business model. Yet if it is indeed a “cultural form worthy of support and protection”, how do those who still have faith in the profession go about coping with the disruptive technologies?
Every year, Harvard University’s Nieman Lab asks some of the smartest people in digital media and journalism what they think is coming in the next 12 months.
Zizi Papacharissi, professor and head of the communication department at the University of Illinois, offered what I consider one of the most inspiring takes:    
“Technology is a gift for journalists. Mobile and social media afford ways to bridge the growing gap between journalists and several forgotten publics. Technology is not here to generate revenue for newsrooms. It is here to help journalists forge civic connections with communities that were left behind as small newspapers closed and media coverage became centralised.”
She added: “In the battle for clickbait headlines, journalism lost its spine. It is time for journalism to a take time-out for introspection – to ask who we are, who we want to be, and who we want to serve. Think: What is news, and what is noise? Do both deserve the same amount of attention? Take a look in the mirror. A slow, careful and timely look. Of course, the mirror only reveals what one wants to see.”
The new year will see a return to professionalism – fact-checking, building trust and reaffirming the basic ethics in journalism.
Dannagal G Young, associate professor of communication at the University of Delaware, told Nieman: “Walter Lippmann was right. There is no substitute for experts in a field, parsing information and serving as the arbiters of truth, and reifying our faith in a shared reality, a shared body of facts.”
She pointed out that the rise in digital technologies has been accompanied by trends that are fuelling the decentralisation of control across our cultural and political institutions – from the declining power of political parties, to a growing lack of faith in traditional journalistic institutions, to public scepticism towards science and intellectual authority.
The result is a “giant power vacuum that’s being filled with noise, flattery, and disinformation”, she writes.
Facebook, somewhat belatedly, is trying to invent tools to fight “fake news”. Twitter has accepted that its platform is being used as a mechanism for the spread of hate. Most social media platforms are under great pressure to come up with appropriate and effective solutions before losing more users and more revenue.
The spike in paid subscriptions to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal is evidence of the public’s faith in “professional, objective journalism”. There is a strong case underlining the importance of accountability journalism – and the need to pay for it, the academic said.
Does that mean we reject technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), which some see as a threat to journalism itself?
The answer is no. On the contrary, all professional journalists should embrace new technology  – but use it to enhance quality of work that includes in-depth investigations and long-form journalism, rather than focusing on superficial social media posts that offer more heat than light.
Francesco Marconi, manager of strategy at the Associated Press, echoed that point, saying the future of news depends on journalists working alongside smart machines.
“The first wave of this symbiosis was news automation, where artificial intelligence systems generate written stories and alerts directly from data. The goal is not to displace journalists from their jobs – it’s about freeing up their time from labour-intensive tasks so they can do higher-order journalism,” he told Nieman.
“This means AI-powered interfaces capable of providing context to topics in real time and even optimising a news report based on its dateline and subject matter.”
Marconi predicted that in 2017, AI will help journalists do more investigative work by analysing massive sets of data and pointing to relationships not easily visible to even the most experienced reporter.
I have no doubt that the combination of AI and journalism will enable journalists to conduct deep analysis, uncover corruption, and hold people and institutions accountable. Isn’t this a great way to fight the ongoing noise about “fake news” that seems to have overtaken the media landscape?
Despite the overwhelming influence of social media that offer nothing more than “quick takes”, it is clear that people still crave a good story – with lucid explanation and smart analysis of events around them.
Excellent journalism based on ethics and care – recognising the fact that technology is but a delivery system, not a value system – will win the day. Quality journalism is crucial if we are serious about building a buttress against the torrent of fake news unleashed over the last year.
It is perhaps the only hope we have for rebuilding the collapsed public trust in society’s core institutions.

Published : December 28, 2016

By : Suthichai Yoon The Nation

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