[Logos from WSJ and Youtube]
You may have heard about the YouTube monetisation fiasco. If not, here are some examples of YouTubers talking about it.
In short, certain YouTube videos have been demonetised or blacklisted because advertisers are boycotting YouTube. Why are these advertisers doing this? Because of an article in the Wall Street Journal about an ad appearing on a video with hate speech in it.
Now, because of the paywall, I’ve been unable to read the full article, but that’s not really what I want to talk about. I want to use this issue as a stepping stone to discuss whether a news organisation should consider the impact of their article before posting it.
On the one hand, of course the news is supposed to impact the real world. Many politicians have had their careers ruined by scandals reported by newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal. The whole point of journalism is for reporters to keep important figures from continuing to screw people over. So is it fair to hate the Wall Street Journal because they posted something they thought was newsworthy and could have a negative effect on businesses?
This is not a simple question, as there isn’t a detailed code of ethics that every single journalist has agreed on. Some organisations, for instance, ban their journalists from using anonymous sources and even refuse to hide the identities of social media users, though others defend the use of these sources because it can not only give journalists more information but can also protect whistleblowers and victims of abuse. It’s easy to agree that victims of crime should be allowed to remain anonymous given the online hatred some may experience if their identities are revealed, but can this code of ethics be transferred to protecting YouTubers from having their livelihood taken away over the negative actions of a few political extremists?
This exaggeration of issues is a problem that can be seen in all news. A story about a terrorist killing dozens of people is juicier than a common illness killing more. Journalists have a sensationalist bias that can potentially make newsreaders believe that a problem is bigger than it actually is. However, just because this is common does not make it right.
The only conclusion I can draw from all of this controversy is that journalists should consider not whether their story could negatively impact on the people they write about but whether this risk is worth the reward of informing and bettering the public. I can’t tell the Wall Street Journal that they definitely got this balance right or wrong (again, there’s a paywall) but I do think that a story should be written if the people it negatively impacts deserve it, which is why watchdog journalism is used against corrupt politicians rather than abuse victims. Journalists need to consider who they’re writing about before they start writing.
[Image by geralt]
ABC News has an Instagram with 132 thousand followers. Some of their posts go into the thousands of views.
So clearly news organisations can use mobile phones to mobilise potential readers. But have they replaced old technology when it comes to writing, shooting and editing news stories?
Perhaps not yet. Even with technological advances in video making, television news organisations such as the BBC still use big cameras to film their shows.
However, the use of mobile phones to prepare news stories is growing and it’s easy to see why. They are a thousand-in-one deal, with apps and websites being used to not only gather data such as interviews and video but also to conduct research and store what journalists have written. It can even lead to journalists finding new stories by looking at a politician’s Twitter, which has kickstarted many a story.
Computers have already made typewriters, with their slowness and inflexibility for error, obsolete. In today’s media landscape smartphones are beginning to replace comparatively bigger, bulkier computers. This is especially important in an age where news is instant and journalists are expected to write stories soon after a newsworthy event occurs. A reporter may struggle to haul a computer or even a laptop to the scene of a crime and have the story ready to upload online before another media company picks up the scoop first. Imagine holding a laptop as you stand and recording an interview with it! Smartphones are so much lighter.
Mobile phones are becoming crucial for journalists to create and distribute stories quickly and, because of millions of resources at a journalist’s fingertips, accurately.
[Photo by picjumbo_com]
The Nieman Foundation posted this last month and it has me thinking.
With new innovative storytelling methods such as those used in this New York Times article, have the writing fundamentals of the past become obsolete?
The short answer is no.
Despite my issues with the current state of journalism, even I can see that the basics of effective storytelling are still relevant today. While it is easier to skip writing strong, newsworthy stories based on truth, the internet has also made it easier to find out what those storytelling basics are, judging by the number of YouTube videos on the subject.
The New York Times article mentioned earlier still starts with a hook to capture readers’ attention and contains content from interviews including written quotes and video recordings. There is also important data explained in an easy-to-digest way.
News organisations still expect their journalists to know how to find interesting stories and how to structure them. Even the embarrassingly unprofessional use of clickbait by many news sites shows that journalists know to write something that has readers interested from the beginning, in that case through headlines. Writing interesting stories that people actually want to read rather than skim over is more important than ever in this oversaturated market.
As for the heart of strong journalism (objective accuracy), that is still desired from news organisations such as the Associated Press. Media Moguls and newsreaders still want engaging, factual stories.
High-quality video, audio, GIFs and graphics are just new tools to tell strong stories. Knowing how to construct such stories is incredibly important in the saturated digital market.
Image by pixel2013
A quick google search for ‘news sites’ gives you 872 million results. With all of these options, and news being on so many different platforms from YouTube videos and Facebook feeds to online essays about current events, one would think that journalism has never been better. However, it is just as difficult if not more difficult for journalists to uphold journalistic ethics.
It is easy to point and laugh at the ‘yellow journalism’ of the past with its focus on scandal over content, but the clickbait headlines of websites such as Buzzfeed are not much different. One Buzzfeed article in the news section is ‘Which Ousted Arab Spring Ruler Are You?’ Multiplatform journalism has blurred the lines between silly pop culture stories and hard news stories as both are often on the same sites, which makes finding substance-based new stories difficult.
Clickbait headlines are written with as little information as possible to entice the viewer. If a person scrolls past they have little to no information about what could be an important topic. This allows fake news such as the unverified Donald Trump dossier to spread with little fact checking from casual newsreaders.
Keeping moral integrity is also difficult for journalists in an age where everyone can look for anything. Facebook Live has resulted in millions of people watching murders, rapes and suicides. It is virtually impossible for ethical journalists to keep people from watching disturbing content that do more harm to watch than good.
The vastness of internet content has made writing important, accurate news easy for journalists to simply skip.
This video explains the sad reality of clickbait’s popularity:
[Image from Meditations.]
Aspiring journalists may be fearful about the future of journalism. With 16 Fairfax journalists being sacked just last year, many don’t know if a job in journalism is going to get them anywhere. I would argue that journalists do have a future provided they have the ability to adapt their skills to multiple platforms. It is also important for aspiring journalists to consider how the changes in the global political sphere will alter the ethics of journalism.
One aspect of journalism that is being questioned is the idea of non-partisan journalism. Professor of Political Science Justin Buchler argued that non-partisan journalism is “inoperable” in a world where Donald Trump lies more than other US politicians. The first piece of advice I would give to aspiring journalists is therefore that they scrap the idea that both sides are equal and instead focus on what the facts are. It’s about ‘objectivity’, not ‘neutrality’.
As for changes in technology, journalists must be prepared for any changes in technology, even if those changes eliminate part of their job. An example of this is the Artificial Intelligence used to write short news stories for The Washington Post. Journalists must be prepared to write longer, more in-depth pieces that AI simply can’t write. Another way to stay relevant in the age of robots writing stories is to be able to take photos, video and audio, and edit them to create a multimedia news story.
However, according to a report by Poynter, employers still want the same core skills of traditional journalism such as accuracy and reaching deadlines, the latter of which is important in a 24-hour online news cycle.
Here is a video showing the importance of engagement with technology: