Journalism is being refashioned in a thousand ways but do we understand the fundamentals of the challenge? This wide-ranging article by CUNY journalism professor @jeffjarvis sets out some basic false assumptions that the news media has still not faced properly. It touches on some obsessions of mine.

Jeff’s questioning of “the primacy of the story as journalistic form and…the risk of valuing drama, character, and control over chaotic reality” is just the starting point.
He quotes neuroscientist Alex Rosenberg on journalism:
‘journalists have to work harder to dig out the real motives behind the actions they report. Stop trying to explain what people do as actions driven by motives, and start taking on major social trends and figure out how the structure of cultural variation…imposes outcomes.”
Critical to this is a much more sophisticated and strategic understanding of the role that emotion (feelings, values, identity) plays in the way that people consume and use news.

 

While greater public news literacy is good, it’s actually the journalists who need to become more socially/human literate. As I argue in this article, that means drawing on disciplines like anthropology to use emotions for understanding, not just sensation.

Jeff also cites David Weinberger on how AI/ML might actually help in some ways to correct the what John Birt called the news media’s bias against understanding. We need a mission to understand the human.

We rightly worry a lot about algorithmic biases, but is it possible that creative use of data and personalisation might help us deconstruct the idea of the ‘story’ as a relationship of understanding? It’s a key question for my latest project looking at how newsrooms are using AI

We’ll be looking at the economic and ethical issues around AI but for me one of the core questions is how it might reshape the fundamental purpose as well as the production of journalism. Details of the research project in this blogpost.

As Jeff writes, this goes beyond some tech fix:
Journalism requires a different starting point: not getting and writing stories to fill a Gutenberg-era product called a publication, not convincing ourselves and our public that we can summarize and explain their world in the neat confines of text, not merely saying what happened today or will tomorrow. Instead, I want to imagine a journalism that begins with the problems we see and reaches across disciplines to seek solutions. (You might expect me to turn to technology but, no, I am looking to academic fields of study that have much to teach us about the society we serve.) Thus a reimagined journalism would not act as gatekeeper but as bridge.
But perhaps if journalism can reach out beyond its usual thinking then challenges such as polarisation and the lack of generative democracy and healthy political discourse can at least be addressed by the news media?
This article by Professor Charlie Beckett, Director of Polis, LSE @CharlieBeckett
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