Can Jour­nal­ists Sur­vive the Me­dia Dis­rup­tion?

Trillions - - Contents - Some con­tent by A. D. Mcken­zie

Given the sorry state of me­dia and an on­go­ing war against jour­nal­ists in some coun­tries, on March 23, UNESCO held a col­lo­quium en­ti­tled Jour­nal­ism un­der fire: Chal­lenges of Our Time at which there were lively de­bates from lead­ing schol­ars, jour­nal­ists, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies and me­dia de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions about the re­cent chal­lenges posed to jour­nal­ism by “fake news” as well as the tech­no­log­i­cal and eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tions re­shap­ing the me­dia land­scape.

The event was spon­sored by UNESCO’S Di­vi­sion of Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion and Me­dia De­vel­op­ment with the sup­port of the In­ter­na­tional Pro­gramme for the De­vel­op­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the World As­so­ci­a­tions of News­pa­pers and News Ed­i­tors (WAN-IFRA), and the Gov­ern­ments of Fin­land, Switzer­land, France, Latvia, Lithua­nia and the Nether­lands.

In or­ga­niz­ing the col­lo­quium, UNESCO said it hoped to "strengthen free­dom of ex­pres­sion and press free­dom, since mod­ern so­ci­eties can­not func­tion and de­velop with­out free, in­de­pen­dent and pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism".

What the par­tic­i­pants failed to ad­dress is that news has al­ways been to fake a cer­tain ex­tent. Only now, some of it is so grotesquely fake that it de­means the en­tire in­dus­try and ob­scures the con­cept of news.

While the meme that 90% of U.S. me­dia is con­trolled by 6 cor­po­ra­tions is not true, it used to be al­most true. And it is true to­day that main­stream me­dia in the U.S. is in­deed con­trolled by a few sin­is­ter cor­po­ra­tions who pur­sue their own so­cio-po­lit­i­cal agen­das.

Me­dia is a pow­er­ful form of so­cial en­gi­neer­ing and is used by those in power to pro­tect and ex­pand their power. It in­flu­ences what peo­ple think and feel and shapes their be­hav­ior. Who we are as in­di­vid­u­als is to a great ex­tent a re­sult of the movies, mu­sic, news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, ads and books we have con­sumed.

Start­ing in the late 1890's, Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst used his news­pa­pers to shape pub­lic opin­ion through what came to be called yel­low jour­nal­ism. He was so suc­cess­ful at it that other pa­pers started to imi­tate him. He is even cred­ited with start­ing the Span­ish-amer­i­can war and cer­tainly played a ma­jor role.

The Rock­e­feller's thought that U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in World War I would be highly prof­itable so they got to­gether with J.P. Mor­gan, Cole­man du Pont and H.H. Rodgers of Stan­dard Oil to cre­ate the Na­tional Se­cu­rity League and used news­pa­pers to cre­ate war hys­te­ria and gen­er­ate sup­port for Amer­ica's en­try into WW I.

Be­fore the U.S. en­tered the sec­ond World War, Hol­ly­wood, ra­dio and print me­dia par­tic­i­pated in a con­spir­acy to shift a peace-lov­ing neutral coun­try into one ea­ger to join the war. Af­ter the war they kept it up and helped es­tab­lish Amer­ica as a na­tion of per­pet­ual war.

The CIA was founded pri­mar­ily to serve the in­ter­ests of the Amer­i­can rul­ing class, not func­tion as a na­tional in­tel­li­gence agency for the ben­e­fit of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Al­most noth­ing the CIA has done or con­tin­ues to do ben­e­fits the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

Af­ter WW II, the CIA came to se­cretly in­flu­ence not just U.S. me­dia but also other me­dia around the world. Even to­day, the CIA is still deeply en­tan­gled with not just ma­jor me­dia but also con­trols a sur­pris­ing amount of seem­ingly in­de­pen­dent or pro­gres­sive me­dia.

"We'll know our dis­in­for­ma­tion pro­gram is com­plete when ev­ery­thing the Amer­i­can pub­lic be­lieves is false." Wil­liam J. Casey, for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor, 198., Leaked by Se­nior White House Cor­re­spon­dent Sarah Mcclen­don. So, it is wrong to imag­ine that jour­nal­ist and news me­dia were ever truly the bea­cons of truth. They have long been pur­vey­ors of fake news but is only re­cently that their lies have be­come widely known.

For western jour­nal­ists to start whin­ing only now about fake news is worse than disin­gen­u­ous. For jour­nal­ists in other coun­tries, they may have some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for whin­ing.

Dig­i­tal Me­dia the Great Dis­rup­tor

Ac­cord­ing to UNESCO, "tech­no­log­i­cal, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions are in­ex­orably re­shap­ing" the com­mu­ni­ca­tions land­scape. Which is putting it very mildly.

The In­ter­net and dig­i­tal me­dia has rad­i­cally al­tered the me­dia land­scape and to­day peo­ple have an al­most un­lim­ited choice of in­for­ma­tion from all kinds of sources. Tra­di­tional main­stream me­dia is be­com­ing ir­rel­e­vant.

At no time in hu­man his­tory have we had ac­cess to so much in­for­ma­tion from such a wide va­ri­ety of sources. Any­one can now be a writer, vis­ual artist, mu­si­cian, teacher or film-maker and up­load their ma­te­rial for the world to view and judge. Any­one can also now dis­sem­i­nate lies and dis­in­for­ma­tion. One no longer needs to be a me­dia mogul con­spir­ing in smoke filled rooms to mis­lead the pub­lic.

No longer are we limited to what the pow­ers that be want us to see, hear and think.

This great in­for­ma­tion lib­er­a­tion was sup­posed to have el­e­vated hu­man­ity, but the re­sults have been mixed. It has ex­posed cor­rup­tion and hid­den agen­das and cre­ated great change in some coun­tries, but it has also brought out the worst in hu­mans and put it on dis­play for all to gape at and com­ment on.

Just as any­one can now ex­press them­selves in pos­i­tive ways and ac­cess end­less amounts of use­ful in­for­ma­tion they can also ex­press them­selves in neg­a­tive ways and ac­cess de­struc­tive in­for­ma­tion. Trolls and crim­i­nals dom­i­nate many parts of the In­ter­net.

If hu­mans were more in­tel­li­gent they would flock to the new sources of in­for­ma­tion with the most re­li­able and use­ful in­for­ma­tion, but that isn't hap­pen­ing.

In­stead they tend to flock to large dis­in­for­ma­tion me­dia out­lets while of­ten ig­nor­ing other more re­li­able sources of me­dia.

But, not ev­ery­one has de­volved into a dig­i­tal me­dia troglodyte. Some peo­ple still read and want qual­ity con­tent.

As me­dia has tran­si­tioned from print, broad­cast TV and ra­dio to dig­i­tal, the tra­di­tional busi­ness model of news has mostly col­lapsed. Ad­ver­tis­ers now go through Google to place ads at a frac­tion of what they had paid for ads be­fore and can choose to only pay when some­one clicks on their ad.

It used to be that a print news­pa­per with a few thou­sand read­ers could sus­tain a small staff from ad­ver­tis­ing and sub­scrip­tions. Those days are long past. Now one needs mil­lions of read­ers and to load up a site with ads and gen­er­ate ad­di­tional rev­enue from other sources.

How­ever, some news­pa­pers have sur­vived the dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion. Pa­pers like the New York Times have sur­vived by boost­ing sub­scrip­tions to dig­i­tal con­tent. The UK Guardian sur­vives by sell­ing mem­ber­ships.

Be­cause read­ers are so over­whelmed with ads and me­dia, their at­ten­tion-span has de­clined to a level where many sim­ply don't re­spond to le­git­i­mate news of im­por­tance and re­spond only to the most crude and base forms of in­for­ma­tion.

Click-bait is the new driver for many In­ter­net users, who are lured away from semi-le­git­i­mate news sources by lurid fake sto­ries listed un­der "spon­sored con­tent", "from the web" to sites with mostly fake con­tent and lots of ads. It used to be that be­ing a jour­nal­ist en­gen­dered a cer­tain amount of re­spect, ac­cess and pro­tec­tion from abuse. No longer. Now jour­nal­ists are rou­tinely in­sulted, as­saulted, de­nied ac­cess, ar­rested and even mur­dered.

In fact, war crim­i­nal Obama il­le­gally put two jour­nal­ists on his kill list and Trump has kept them on it. 46-year-old Bi­lal Ab­dul Ka­reem is an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen 54-year-old Ahmed Zaidan, is a se­nior jour­nal­ist with Al Jazeera and is a Syr­ian and Pak­istani cit­i­zen.

A re­cently filed law­suit states: "Dur­ing the past year, Ka­reem has nar­rowly avoided be­ing killed by five sep­a­rate air strikes, at least one of which was car­ried out by a drone."

One of the rea­sons why jour­nal­ists are tar­geted is be­cause there are fewer neg­a­tive con­se­quences. With the mas­sive di­lu­tion of at­ten­tion from over-sat­u­ra­tion of me­dia, no me­dia has the power it once did and Amer­i­can pres­i­dents can lit­er­ally get away with mur­der and hor­rific war crimes be­cause the me­dia no longer stim­u­lates ac­tion on the part of the peo­ple.

In Hon­duras, the U.S. spon­sored narco-dic­ta­tor­ship has killed more than two dozen jour­nal­ists in re­cent years with lit­tle or no con­se­quences for the killers.

UNESCO sta­tis­tics show that more than 800 jour­nal­ists have been killed world­wide over the past decade, and al­though the agency has been work­ing with gov­ern­ments and the press on ways to end im­punity for the killers of me­dia work­ers, at­tacks on jour­nal­ists con­tinue on a daily ba­sis.

Yet killing, im­pris­on­ing or abus­ing the "mes­sen­ger" is only one as­pect of the assault on pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism. The dis­sem­i­na­tion of so-called fake news, with "main­stream" me­dia com­pa­nies some­times in­volved, has led to con­fu­sion among the pub­lic about what is real and what is false and con­trib­utes to the over­all dis­trust of the press.

With wide­spread at­tacks on pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists and the rise of a new type of fake-news in­dus­try, me­dia ex­perts agree that jour­nal­ism is in­creas­ingly un­der fire. But how can the press fight back and en­sure its sur­vival?

Judg­ing by the stub­bornly de­fi­ant tone at the col­lo­quium, there may still be rea­son for hope in a me­dia land­scape rav­aged by the killings of jour­nal­ists, ver­bal abuse of re­porters, job losses, low pay and "al­ter­na­tive facts".

"When Trump said that the me­dia is the en­emy of the peo­ple, it's per­fect for jour­nal­ism," said Vi­cente

Jiménez, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the Span­ish ra­dio net­work Cadena SER. "We can erad­i­cate some bad prac­tices. It's a great op­por­tu­nity."

Jiménez was one of sev­eral me­dia pro­fes­sion­als call­ing for jour­nal­ists to clean up and pro­tect their own sec­tor, dur­ing the col­lo­quium ti­tled "Jour­nal­ism Un­der Fire: Chal­lenges of Our Times".

"Jour­nal­ism used to be a pil­lar of democ­racy," Jiménez said. "But that model is chang­ing with so­cial me­dia."

He said the de­pen­dence on "clicks" for on­line-me­dia in­come was lead­ing to "stupid" and "vile" sto­ries, and he told par­tic­i­pants that the three most-read sto­ries in Spain over the past year were fake ones. He warned that the me­dia would lose its rel­e­vance if this sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ued.

Car­los Dada, co-founder and ed­i­tor-in-chief of El Faro dig­i­tal news­pa­per, based in El Sal­vador, stressed that a dis­tinc­tion had to be made be­tween "me­dia" and "jour­nal­ism". As an ex­am­ple, he said that dur­ing a cer­tain pe­riod in his coun­try, jour­nal­ism was un­der fire while me­dia com­pa­nies grew rich, partly by be­ing po­lit­i­cally com­pli­ant and go­ing about busi­ness as usual.

Dada said that tech­nol­ogy was "not only a threat" but that it was also a "huge op­por­tu­nity" in ar­eas such as us­ing data in in­ves­tiga­tive sto­ries, for which El Faro is known in Latin Amer­ica.

Still, the busi­ness model that has long served the press in gen­eral is chang­ing, and the sec­tor is uni­ver­sally scram­bling to adapt in ever-trans­form­ing ter­rain, par­tic­i­pants pointed out.

As some pan­elists noted, how­ever, many jour­nal­ists work un­der po­lit­i­cal dic­ta­tor­ship – in coun­tries that are United Na­tions mem­ber states – and they "pay with their lives" or with their lib­erty for telling the truth, as one speaker put it.

While crit­ics have par­tic­u­larly slammed so­cial me­dia com­pany Face­book for its role in spread­ing false news sto­ries, the com­pany is adamant that the re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with its users.

"You'll see fake news if you have signed up to fake news sites," said Richard Al­lan, a for­mer politi­cian and Face­book's Vice Pres­i­dent of Pol­icy for the Euro­pean, Mid­dle East and Africa (EMEA) re­gion, who par­tic­i­pated in the col­lo­quium.

Ex­plain­ing how the com­pany's "al­go­rithm" works for show­ing con­tent, Al­lan said that the "vast ma­jor­ity" of what users saw in their feed was the "sum" of ma­te­rial to which they con­nected. He told the col­lo­quium that Face­book was try­ing to ad­dress the is­sue of fake news, but he added: "We don't want to be the world's ed­i­tor."

If Face­book is un­will­ing to be a gate­keeper, who would take ac­tion though, asked Maria Ressa, a for­mer CNN cor­re­spon­dent and now ed­i­tor-in-chief and CEO of on­line news site Rap­pler in the Philip­pines.

"We have not only mis­in­for­ma­tion ... we have dis­in­for­ma­tion," she said, de­scrib­ing the de­lib­er­ate spread­ing of false sto­ries in tar­geted at­tacks against in­di­vid­u­als, groups or poli­cies.

For Serge Sch­me­mann, a New York Times writer and ed­i­tor, "fake news is more a symp­tom than the real prob­lem". A cru­cial is­sue is how jour­nal­ists are now ex­pected to pro­duce news, with of­ten too lit­tle time or re­sources to work on an in-depth story.

But, said Sch­me­mann, "We will adapt, we will sur­vive... We have to re­main hon­est re­porters."

A key to sur­vival may be get­ting the pub­lic in­volved, ac­cord­ing to David Levy, di­rec­tor of the Reuters In­sti­tute for the Study of Jour­nal­ism.

In an in­ter­view on the side­lines of the col­lo­quium, he told IPS that for pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism to con­tinue, it will have to get peo­ple to value the ser­vice enough to pay for it.

"Some­times or­di­nary peo­ple see jour­nal­ists as part of the prob­lem, rather than the so­lu­tion, and jour­nal­ists have to change this im­age by get­ting rid of bad ethics and prac­tices," he said.

Fi­nan­cial sup­port is al­ready a pos­si­bil­ity through crowd-fund­ing, sub­scrip­tions and phi­lan­thropy, Levy said. In ad­di­tion, the proper func­tion­ing of pub­licly funded me­dia – where politi­cians re­frain from in­ter­fer­ence while still hold­ing the me­dia ac­count­able – was an es­sen­tial part of the so­lu­tion, he added.

De­spite all these views and the or­ga­niz­ing of one con­fer­ence or col­lo­quium af­ter an­other (there will be a slate of them on World Press Free­dom Day, May 3), the out­look re­mains trou­bling, even dire, for many jour­nal­ists in the field.

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